LAHORE, Pakistan – At least two dozen militants once supported by the government have split off to lead one of Pakistan's newest and deadliest terrorist , working with al-Qaida at remote camps near the Afghan border to carry out attacks in the center of this U.S.-allied country, police say.
The emergence of the network known as the Punjabi Taliban risks destabilizing Pakistan's political and military heartland. The group, named for Pakistan's most populous and richest province, is closely allied with the Pakistani Taliban, which the U.S. blames for last month's failed Times Square bombing.
Pakistani believe they are beginning to understand the network after months of interrogating captured fighters. But the government is divided over how to counter the group, with federal officials pushing for a stronger crackdown in Punjab and provincial officials arguing that the army needs to target the training camps in the remote northwest.
Key leaders are from Punjab. They include a notorious militant once arrested for trying to assassinatePresident Musharraf
Terror attacks in Punjab began about two years ago, and the Punjabi Taliban is now believed to have been behind most of the major ones. Those attacks include last fall's audacious raid on army headquarters in Rawalpindi and last month's gun-and-grenade strikes that killed nearly 100 members of a minorityMuslimsect in Lahore.
The recent killings prompted federal officials to criticize the Punjabi provincial government for not doing enough to crack down on militants. The interior minister suggested a military operation may be needed like those carried out over the last two years near theAfghan.
But much of the rhetoric was political point scoring between rival parties that control the two levels of government. Federal officials have shown little willingness themselves to crack down on other Punjabi militant groups, which started with government support in the 1980s 1990s to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan and Indian troops in Kashmir.