Pakistan army pays heavy price in Taliban war

By Michael Georgy

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan, May 20 (Reuters) - Retired army captain Zafar Tajammal dismisses U.S. demands for Pakistan to do more to fight Muslim militants as he chokes back tears.

His son Captain Bilal Zafar was killed in the prime of his life, cut down by a rocket-propelled grenade while leading a charge against entrenched Taliban fighters.

"I loved him so much that once I told him 'I will not get you married. Because I love you so much I am afraid I will not be able to share my love with your wife'," he said, sitting under a huge poster of the commando and the last SMS sent to relatives.

Zafar Tajammal, a retired army captain and father of Captain Bilal Zafar. Reuters

"If there was an American dignitary sitting in front of me I would certainly try to ask him, 'What else can a human being do more than sacrificing their life? Has any other army in the world suffered so many casualties fighting militants?'"

That's a question that has often strained relations between the United States and Pakistan, and it's being asked once again after U.S. authorities said a Pakistani-American was behind the attempted bombing in New York's Times Square.

Pakistan's Taliban claimed responsibility and threatened to carry out suicide bombings in major U.S. cities. Washington wants Islamabad to both crack down harder on Afghan Taliban who cross the border to Afghanistan to support a raging insurgency there, and on homegrown Taliban insurgents.

Many in the United States may wonder why Pakistan, with one of the world's biggest armies, can't just wipe out the Taliban.

The suggestion that Pakistan is not trying hard enough infuriates army officers who remember their fallen comrades. The military says the casualty figures speak for themselves. Pakistan has lost 2,421 soldiers fighting militants since 2004, the military says. In Afghanistan, 1,777 U.S.-led coalition troops have died since 2001, says website

There are currently 147,400 Pakistani troops stationed in the west and northwest along the Afghan border fighting militants, while total coalition troops in Afghanistan will number about 140,000 when a U.S. troops surge is complete.

The army, which has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its history, says a series of offensives have badly hurt the Taliban. But the Taliban still carries out suicide bombings and brazen attacks, including one on army headquarters in Rawalpindi.

Part of the problem -- in Washington's view - is Pakistan's concentration on India, its long-time rival and fellow nuclear-armed power. Pakistan has poured most of its energy into waging and preparing for conventional warfare against India, not tackling Taliban guerrillas waging jihad.

For now, Pakistan may have to rely on sheer determination to defeat the Taliban, and memories of those who died trying.

Captain Bilal Sunawar wanted to be buried at the foot of his mother's grave. He got his wish after being killed by a rocket-propelled grenade in a battle with the Taliban.

"Do not stand at my grave and cry. I'm not there. I did not die. I'M SHAHEED (a martyr)," reads his gravestone.

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