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Pakistan's capital now resembles besieged city

A boy walks in a market in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Sunday. An onslaught of violence has hit the capital, including an attack on International Islamic University. Many schools have closed, and some parents are keeping children at home from schools that are open.

Associated Press

A boy walks in a market in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Sunday. An onslaught of violence has hit the capital, including an attack on International Islamic University. Many schools have closed, and some parents are keeping children at home from schools that are open.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — An onslaught of militant violence has transformed the capital from a sleepy oasis to something of a city under siege, with its tree-lined streets barricaded, schools shuttered and jittery residents wondering when the next attack will come.

The fear shows how Taliban and al-Qaida-led insurgents based along the Afghan border have brought the war into Pakistan's political and diplomatic heart, something they hope will force the government to halt a new army offensive into their stronghold.

The unease has been heightened by the range of targets attacked despite a nationwide security clampdown. Suicide bombers hit the International Islamic University and a U.N. office in Islamabad; militants took officers hostage for 22 hours at army headquarters in the neighboring city of Rawalpindi; commando-style raids paralyzed the eastern city of Lahore; and bombs have ripped through markets in the northwest.

More than 300 people have been killed, most civilians.

Islamabad began changing in mid 2007, when the army besieged and then stormed its Red Mosque after militants inside refused to surrender. About 100 people were killed.

Vowing vengeance, militants based in the lawless, tribally controlled region along the Afghan border began a vicious campaign against targets associated with the government, security forces and Western interests.

With many people choosing to stay at home, owners of restaurants and shops popular with foreigners and wealthy Pakistanis say their earnings have dropped by 50 percent in the two weeks since the start of the latest government offensive.

Many schools remain closed following the university attack, while principals try to secure them. Workers are busy building thick concrete barriers to stop suicide car bombers.

Many parents have chosen to keep children at home even when their schools reopened.

In the face of the attacks, the resolve of the country's politicians, army generals and people to take the fight to the militants appears to be holding. But support for the offensive is complicated by the unpopularity of the government and a belief that the violence would stop if the United States pulled out of Afghanistan.

Pakistan's capital now resembles besieged city 11/01/09 [Last modified: Sunday, November 1, 2009 10:06pm]
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