May 6, 2009

RED ON RED:

Pakistani Army Poised for New Push Into Swat (CARLOTTA GALL, 5/06/09, NY Times)

Two weeks ago, the Taliban used the territory all but ceded to them under the accord to push into another district, Buner, just 60 miles from the capital, Islamabad, prompting American calls for tougher action.

A new operation in Swat may signal the harder stance American officials have been looking for. But the question remains whether the Pakistani military has the will and ability to sustain its operations against the insurgents, the vast majority of whom are Pakistani.

The American special envoy for the region, Richard C. Holbrooke, said Tuesday that the situation in Pakistan was fragile, but he welcomed the turn toward wider military action.

“Until yesterday, the momentum did not appear to be in the right hands,” he told Congress. “The army has now begun a major offensive. We’ll have to wait and see how it goes.”

The Pakistani military has battled the militants reluctantly in the past, but it is now engaged in heavy fighting with the Taliban in two other districts, Buner and Dir, that border Swat in the North-West Frontier Province.

Those campaigns are daunting enough. But the task in Swat remains hugely difficult, not least because the military had already failed to drive out the Taliban in two years of fighting before it finally conceded to the February truce and agreed to allow Islamic law to be imposed in the valley.

But public opinion in Pakistan has undergone an important shift against the Taliban since the deal, and it has now apparently given the military more confidence to move with full force.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 6, 2009 7:07 AM
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