Pakistan looks to highway to fight militancy

Wed Nov 2, 2011 5:59am EDT
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By Hafiz Wazir

WANA, Pakistan (Reuters) - Deep in Pakistan's unruly tribal areas, army engineers protected by soldiers on mountaintops spend hours every morning combing the earth for Taliban bombs before embarking on a special mission.

After determining there is no danger, they use machinery to cut through rugged terrain to build a highway Pakistan hopes will give it an edge over militants by connecting the underdeveloped region to the central economy.

It is one of several "Quick Impact Projects" designed to win over the population of the restive South Waziristan area, home to some of the most dangerous militant groups in the world.

"When the economy prospers, mindsets change. When there is opportunity for business and commercial activities, people focus on that and less on violence," said Zahid Raja, spokesmen for the army's construction and civil engineering wing.

"That is how there is an overall impact on security."

Pakistan has in the past resorted to military offensives in South Waziristan and nearby areas against militants seeking to topple the U.S.-backed government.

But the operations proved to be stop-gap measures at best, and failed to weaken groups like the Pakistani Taliban who seem to carry out suicide bombings at will.

Now the army seems to be adopting a more comprehensive strategy by investing in the highway that will connect South Waziristan to major cities in Pakistan, as well as Afghanistan.   Continued...