- Associated Press - Sunday, January 16, 2011

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — The number of suicide bombings and other attacks in Pakistan declined nearly 20 percent last year as a result of Pakistani military operations, better surveillance by law enforcement agencies and the death of key militants in U.S. drone strikes, a think tank said Sunday.

But the militant threat remains dire, and the Pakistani government has yet to develop a comprehensive policy to eradicate Islamist militants who continue to plague the country, the Pak Institute for Peace Studies warned.

“Better coordination among intelligence agencies, capacity building of law enforcement agencies, curbs on terrorism financing and, most importantly, adequate measures to prevent banned militant groups from operating across the country remained persistently lacking,” a new report by the group said.

Pakistan‘s anti-terror efforts are a key focus of the Obama administration, which wants the country to do more to target Taliban militants who regularly launch attacks against U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

The number of militant, insurgent and sectarian-related attacks in Pakistan declined from 2,586 in 2009 to 2,113 last year. But the number of people killed in attacks dropped only about 3.5 percent, from 3,021 to 2,913.

Despite the general decline, attacks roughly tripled last year in Pakistan‘s two largest cities, said the report, a sign that militants are having greater success exporting the fight far from their northwest heartland along the Afghan border.

In Karachi, a teeming city of some 16 million that has a long history of religious, political and ethnic violence, 93 attacks killed 233 people last year, up from 24 attacks that killed 65 in 2009.

Pakistan‘s cultural capital, Lahore, witnessed 44 attacks last year compared with 11 in 2009. But there were fewer casualties in Punjab province, where Lahore is the capital, because the militants carried out a smaller number of suicide attacks in crowded places.

Across the country, suicide attacks fell 22 percent, from 87 in 2009 to 68 last year, according to the report.

The Pakistani military has launched a series of operations against militants in the northwest. The campaigns have dealt a serious blow but have failed to achieve sustainable peace because of “the less than impressive performance of a weak political administration, which is beset by chronic challenges of poor governance,” said the report.

The United States also has concerns about Pakistan‘s ability to transition to effective hold-and-build efforts in cleared areas, according to a White House progress report drafted last year.

“This failure results in short-lived military gains that allow militants to regroup in these areas,” the report said.

U.S. officials also have expressed frustration with Pakistan‘s unwillingness to launch an offensive in North Waziristan, part of the country’s lawless tribal region that hosts a large number of militants who wage attacks in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani army says its troops are stretched too thin by other operations in the tribal region. But many analysts believe the military is reluctant to cross militants with whom it has historical ties and who could be useful allies in Afghanistan after foreign troops withdraw.

The United States has responded by more than doubling the number of drone strikes in the tribal region. There were close to 120 such strikes in 2010, most of which occurred in North Waziristan.

The United States refuses to acknowledge the covert CIA drone strikes in public, but officials have said privately that they have killed several senior Taliban and al Qaeda militants over the past several years.

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