- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistani forces captured and critically wounded a senior Taliban militant yesterday, the second successful targeting in two weeks of a terrorism suspect as the government faced growing Western pressure to crack down on cross-border attacks into Afghanistan.

But in a reminder of the growing militant threat destabilizing Pakistan, a suicide bomb wounded a candidate and killed seven others as he campaigned for next week’s parliamentary elections.

Also, Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan was missing and feared kidnapped as he traveled in a volatile Pakistani tribal region.

The arrest of Mansoor Dadullah, brother of slain Taliban military commander Mullah Dadullah, was a boost for the U.S.-backed campaign against the Taliban and al Qaeda, though it also demonstrated that militant chiefs operate inside Pakistan despite its deployment of 100,000 troops along the border.

A Jan. 29 U.S. missile strike on a militant hide-out in the northwestern tribal belt killed Abu Laith al-Libi, a top al Qaeda commander in Afghanistan.

Mansoor Dadullah was caught in the southwestern province of Baluchistan, but there was some confusion over exactly how and where.

The Pakistani army said Mr. Dadullah was wounded along with five militant associates in a firefight with security forces near a village in Qila Saifullah district after they sneaked across the border from Afghanistan.

Local intelligence officials placed the clash in neighboring Zhob district, describing it as a raid conducted by security forces against the militants hiding at a religious seminary.

Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, the army spokesman, denied initial reports that Mr. Dadullah had died. “Dadullah was arrested alive, but he is critically wounded,” Gen. Abbas said.

Western and Afghan officials have long said Baluchistan is used by the Taliban as a base for its operations inside southern Afghanistan.

Pakistan has denied that Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar is hiding in the Baluchistan capital, Quetta.

In the past year, Pakistani security forces have struggled to contain a wave of attacks as Taliban militants have expanded their influence, particularly challenging the government’s control of the lawless northwest.

In the latest violence, a suicide attack in the North Waziristan tribal area wounded an independent candidate running in the parliamentary elections Monday and killed at least seven other persons.

Nisar Ali Khan’s candidacy was informally supported by the Awami National Party, a secular group of ethnic Pashtuns seen as opposed to the Taliban.

Underscoring the insecurity of the border region, Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Tariq Azizuddin, was reported missing and feared kidnapped as he headed yesterday by road from Peshawar in Pakistan to Kabul.

The threat by Islamic extremists is among a range of crises battering this nuclear-armed country as it prepares for elections.

With the election days away, a survey released yesterday by a U.S.-funded group with ties to the Republican Party found that support for President Pervez Musharraf had plunged to an all-time low and that opposition parties appeared poised to score a landslide victory.

The survey by the International Republican Institute found that 75 percent of the respondents wanted Mr. Musharraf to resign, and only 15 percent approved of his performance. Only 9 percent thought Pakistan should cooperate with the United States in the war against terrorism, the survey said.

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