The prime minister insisted Saturday that Pakistanis are increasingly supporting military action against Islamic extremists, while authorities reported that an offensive in a northwestern tribal area killed 16 more suspected militants.
The combat in Bajur – where a top official said militants have been forcing families to give up their sons to fight – came as police said they had launched a crackdown on militants on the outskirts of the northwest's main city, Peshawar, capturing 35 suspects.
More than 1,000 militants have been killed since Pakistan launched the offensive in Bajur in early August, officials said. The effort has won praise from U.S. officials, who say al-Qaida and Taliban fighters use Bajur and other tribal areas as staging grounds for attacks across the border in Afghanistan.
The offensive, which could last up to two more months, proceeds as Pakistan struggles with economic problems, power shortages and violence throughout the country, including a truck bombing that devastated the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad a week ago.
Many Pakistanis have complained that the government's alliance with the U.S.-led war on extremist groups has bred violence in their country.
But in a speech to business leaders in the southern city of Karachi, where three suicide bombers blew themselves up to avoid police capture Friday, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said the tide was turning against domestic extremism.
He said some tribes on the Afghan frontier have set up their own militias to root out militants and are warning foreign fighters to stay away.
“Today when we are taking action, when the army comes out, the whole masses go along with them,” Gilani said. “People are supporting the government. People are against terrorists.”