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Pakistan Steps Up in Terror Fight

WASHINGTON - U.S. pressure on Pakistan to crack down on Taliban extremists within its borders is paying off, American officials and independent analysts say, paving the way for progress in the war in neighboring Afghanistan.

Pakistan's cooperation marks a shift after years of tolerating homegrown extremists operating openly in the country. The government recently has pressed an offensive in tribal areas home to al-Qaeda, has arrested major Taliban figures and has signed off on airstrikes by pilotless drones that have killed important suspected terrorists.

In recent months:

- Pakistan announced the arrest Thursday of the Taliban's former finance minister, days after saying it killed 75 militants. It also discovered a network of 156 caves used by the Taliban near the border.

- After downplaying for years the presence of extremist leaders in Pakistani cities, the government last month arrested a number of key Taliban figures, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Afghan Taliban's second-in-command.

- U.S. drone strikes have increased to 53 in Pakistan in 2009 from 36 in 2008 and five in 2007, according to statistics complied by the Long War Journal website. An August strike killed Baitullah Mehsud, a major Taliban leader.

Although Pakistan hasn't done everything the U.S. asked, these developments are "all having an effect," Richard Holbrooke, the State Department's special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, said this week. "I think that in Pakistan and in Afghanistan, but particularly in Pakistan, there's been a movement, a shift in sentiment here."

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said prevailing in Afghanistan will be tough as long as the Taliban and al-Qaeda remain in the region along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The administration has pressured and encouraged the Pakistanis to go after violent extremists. President Obama backed a $7.5 billion package of military and civilian aid for Pakistan that Congress approved last year.

There remains concern that Pakistan is playing a "double game" of supporting extremists behind the United States' back, said Daniel Markey, a South Asia expert at the Council on Foreign Relations and a State Department official during the Bush administration. Still, he said, "we are seeing things now that we had, in previous years, only hoped for."

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