Pakistan Says Militants Switch to "Soft" Targets

August 11, 2002
RAWALPINDI, Pakistan -- Pakistan said on Saturday Islamic militants, blamed for two raids on missionary institutions this week, were increasingly attacking "soft" targets, and that intelligence must improve to counter them.

The government was responding to calls for greater security for Pakistan's three to four million Christians in the wake of separate attacks on a missionary school and missionary hospital in which a total of 10 people, including one attacker, died.

"The authorities must beef up security for Christian institutions and places of worship and come down hard on those behind these horrifying acts of terrorism," wrote the respected Dawn newspaper in an editorial.

Pope John Paul condemned the attacks as "heinous crimes" which could not be "condoned or tolerated".

Major-General Rashid Qureshi, a spokesman for President Pervez Musharraf, said Pakistan had only limited resources to throw at the problem, particularly with hundreds of thousands of its troops still posted along the border with India.

"But this calls for further vigilance, for better intelligence where preemption and prevention should take over from tracking down culprits after the act," he told Reuters in Rawalpindi, the military headquarters near Islamabad.

In the wake of the attacks, police have already been briefed on how security may be improved at the major Christian centres and communities in the populous Punjab Province, according to Lahore Bishop Alexander John Malik.

_______ School, Hospital Targeted ___________ On Monday a protestant school near the resort town of Murree was attacked by three gunmen who shot dead six Pakistanis, including two security guards. The assailants are believed to have committed suicide on Tuesday when challenged by police.

On Friday attackers lobbed two hand grenades at a crowd of women filing out of a morning service at a presbyterian chapel in Taxila, killing three nurses and injuring over 30. One of the attackers also died.

Qureshi condemned the attacks, but said they would not deflect Musharraf from clamping down on militant Islamic groups.

Militants are angry with the military leader for supporting the U.S.-led war against the ousted Taleban militia and the Ql Qaeda network it sheltered in neighboring Afghanistan.

His promise to crack down on Pakistan-based Kashmir guerrillas blamed by India for raids on its section of the disputed Himalayan region has further alienated militants.

Pakistan backed the Taleban and continues to lend "political" support to Kashmiri rebels, although guerrillas are known to have been supplied and trained by Islamabad in the past.

"These attacks will only further cement the resolve of the government to fight extremism, terrorism and violence, and we remain committed to removing it from the soil of Pakistan," Qureshi said.

He was hopeful that the choice of two "soft" targets this week suggested that militant groups, several of which have been banned by Musharraf, were finding it harder to pose a real threat to national security. "I find a level of frustration and panic among them. They have been universally condemned. They have now diverted to soft targets, like schools, mosques and churches all over Pakistan."

Dozens of people, including foreigners, have been killed in suspected Islamic militant attacks throughout the country since last October.

Qureshi blamed arch-rival India for failing to de-escalate tensions over the disputed Kashmir region, meaning Pakistan had to divert resources to patrol the India-Pakistan border.

"India has tried to build up pressure on Pakistan and has diverted most of our armed forces away from the Afghan border and the cities," he said.