Bombing Shows Pakistan Militant Groups Uniting

When a car bomb blew up in Lahore today 200 miles north of here, it destroyed an intelligence agency's interrogation room where agents were interviewing suspects from a militant organization based near this dusty city in southern Punjab, according to an intelligence official and a friend of one of the agents.

But the Punjabi militant group, known as Lashkar-e-Jungvi, didn't take responsibility for the attack, which killed 30 people and wounded 250 more. Instead, the Taliban, which is based near the Afghan border, claimed responsibility.

This was just the latest sign that diverse militant groups from across the country are uniting, just as Pakistan has started to shows signs it is cracking down on the very terrorists it once helped create -- and now admits threaten the very future of the state.

Here in the dusty plains of southern Punjab, where the vast majority of the population spend their days farming fields, there is a palpable sense among the police that a war is brewing.

The militant groups with roots in this area -- created by Pakistan's military to fight Indians in Kashmir -- have become stronger and have turned their ire inward since then President and Army Chief Gen. Pervez Musharraf banned them after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

And police officials say as the groups here grow in strength, they are unifying to a greater extent in the past with Taliban fighters. Earlier this week police officials say Taliban fighters were arrested in the northwest Punjab border town of Mianwali.

The Taliban and Punjab militant groups "are working hand in glove," says Malik Iqbal, the former Lahore city police chief.

Analysts fear that if militant groups that used to either ignore or even fight each other team up, they could extend their ability to attack the country's security forces, whose resources are already stretched thin.

"Ultimately we're going to reach a tipping point where the Taliban will have opened so many fronts in Northern Pakistan, in Punjab, that it will be almost impossible for the army to deploy against so many fronts which are so distant from each other geographically," says Ahmed Rashid, the author of "Descent into Chaos" and who lives in Lahore.

Al Qaeda, Pakistan Militant Groups Linked, U.S. Officials Believe

U.S. officials believe the Punjabi groups are stronger and more radical than ever, with links to al Qaeda. Some, officials say, are offering themselves up as guns for hire to any terrorist organization that wants their help.

Pakistani and U.S. officials blame Lashkar-e-Jungvi for teaming up with the Taliban to attack the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore in March, as well as helping destroy the Marriott hotel in Islamabad last year.

Militants who have trained in Punjab or studied in its religious schools were also partially responsible for the 2005 bombings of public transportation in London.

Part of the problem, Pakistani police officials admit, is that the state has never created a basic police force with enough training or manpower to take on well-armed and well-funded militants. The province's chief minister recently doubled police salaries, which had been less than $100 per month.

"Police is not trained for this purpose. It's a force against crime. It's not force against terrorism," said Saud Aziz, the police chief in Multan, the largest city in southern Punjab. "The threat is increasing because we are not tackling the problem."

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