Pakistan Falters Against Taliban

January 27, 2009 at 10:59 pm | Posted in Lifescape | Leave a comment
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Map showing the location of Swat District (hig...
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Pakistan Falters Against Taliban in Swat Valley Shaheen Buneri | 26 Jan 2009 World Politics Review PESHAWAR, Pakistan — In October 2007, former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf deployed more than 25,000 security forces to Swat Valley in northwestern Pakistan to fight against Taliban militants under the command of Maulana Fazlullah and restore peace to the picturesque valley. At the time, military commanders claimed that the whole mountainous region would be cleared of all militants within two weeks. The locals hoped the heavy deployment of security forces would be instrumental in defeating the rising tide of militancy that increasingly threatened their lives and property. Fifteen months later, the inhabitants of Swat valley are witnessing a completely different scenario: Bearded militants, wearing camouflage outfits and carrying heavy machine guns, have destroyed schools and bridges, and openly administered “Islamic” punishments to so-called “U.S. spies” and government sympathizers, in broad daylight in the main square of Mingora, Swat District’s main town. Taliban administer punishment to a local resident for dealing in drugs (Mushtaq Ahmad Sadiq). Officials claim that Fazlullah’s militants have destroyed more than 170 girls’ and boys’ schools in the area. The conflict has displaced half a million people out of the valley’s 1.7 million inhabitants. Sher Ali Khan, a government employee and resident of Mingora, says government security forces have failed to arrest or kill any important militant commanders, and that the majority of people killed in the operation have been civilians. “More than 1,200 civilians, mainly children and women have been killed so far,” he told World Politics Review. Military sources deny reports that the Taliban now control 90 percent of Swat Valley, and say that the military action will continue until the government’s authority is restored in the region. But Ret. Brig. Mehmod Shah, a former administrator in Pakistan’s tribal areas, believes that the military cannot restore peace without the visible support of Pakistan’s civilian government. “The President of the United States can visit Iraq and Afghanistan to raise the spirit of his soldiers, but you have not seen a political leader or a government minister who has gone to Swat and supported the military commanders fighting the Taliban,” he added. The differences between civilian leaders and military commanders over the the strategy used in the operation further aggravates the situation. North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) Minister for Information Mian Iftikhar Hussain recently assured media in Peshawar that the Pakistani army was in control of the situation in Swat, although he added that if it failed people had no other choice but to pray to God. A number of Swat residents interviewed say that when Maulana Fazlullah started his campaign through his pirated FM radio station in 2006, the government completely ignored his activities and provided him the time and space needed to become a militant commander. “I fail to understand who brought Fazlullah to Swat and who provided his militants with weapons to play havoc with our lives? Now he is the commander of his own army with weapons, vehicles and food supplies,” says Kabir Shah, who migrated to Peshawar when security forces shelled his village close to Mingora. He added that Pakistan’s political leadership is corrupt and directionless, while the military establishment is lacking both vision and a counterterrorism strategy. Pakistan security forces patrolling in Matta Sub division of Swat Valley (Mushtaq Ahmad Sadiq). Political analysts believe that if the Taliban are not defeated in Swat, they might spread to other settled districts of the North-West Frontier Province. Last month, Fazlullah’s militants targeted a boys school in neighboring Buner district with a suicide bomb that killed 46 people, including 15 children. “Swat is a test case for the country’s military and political administration. It’s high time to know the real reasons behind the failure of military action in Swat and to devise a comprehensive strategy to fight terror in all its manifestations. If you lose Swat it means that you lost the whole of Northwest Pakistan,” says Syed Irfan Ashraf, a Peshawar-based political analyst. Although the current wave of violence recalls the lawless tribal areas close to the Pakistan-Afghan border, Swat is located in a settled area of the North-West Frontier Province. Often called the “Switzerland of the East” because of its geography, it is a prime tourist destination and a major social and cultural center for the whole region. Its pristine beauty, snowcapped mountains, rivers and rare Bhuddhist archeological sites are known all over the world. It has not historically been an area where fundamentalist religious thought prevailed. Shaheen Buneri is a TV and online journalist based in Peshawar Pakistan. Title photo: Pakistan security forces patrolling in Matta Sub division of Swat Valley (Mushtaq Ahmad Sadiq).

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