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Pakistan Army's challenge: holding onto gains against militants

As the government prepares for a major operation in South Waziristan, it's eyeing lessons learned from previous campaigns that were cut short in the face of weak public support.

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As the Pakistani military zeros in on Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan, it is trying to break a pattern in which initially successful operations have lost ground, allowing militants to regain their strength.

Previous operations to flush out militancy have faltered for a number of factors. This time, say analysts, the military is better prepared in counterinsurgency tactics, as seen in its recent battle in the Swat Valley. Most crucially, the government's efforts have popular support, something that's often been lacking in previous operations.

"A lot has changed both globally and domestically," says Badar Alam, a senior editor at Herald, a leading political magazine. "All these factors have ganged up to give the operation the force that it has."

Unsustained operations

Brig. Mahmood Shah (ret.), a security analyst and the former senior bureaucrat of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, says that governments in the past have not been willing to fully tackle militants because of public skepticism.

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