The Taliban Expands Its Reach Within Pakistan

During the past few days, several hundred Taliban insurgents have advanced from the Swat Valley into the Buner district of Pakistan, which is a mere 70 miles from Islamabad, the nation’s capital.  The militants have also appeared in neighboring Mansehra, where the Tarbela Dam, a critical source of electricity for central Pakistan, is located.  Some have moved into Shangla and towns near the borders between Buner and other provinces such as Mardan and Swabi. 

 

On Friday, Taliban leaders announced that Islamic courts will be established in Buner during the next three days.  The Taliban hope to ultimately establish Shariah law throughout Pakistan as they have already done in the tribal areas of the country.  Shariah is widely considered to be a harsh and oppressive social system.

 

American officials are gravely concerned about the deteriorating situation in Pakistan.  On Friday, Gen. David Patraeus, the top military commander in the region, told members of the House of Representatives that Islamic insurgents threaten “Pakistan’s very existence.”

 

Earlier this month, David Kilcullen, a top adviser to Gen. Patraeus, warned that “Within one to six months we could see the collapse of the Pakistani state.”

 

On Friday, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the situation in Pakistan is in “constant, steady decline” and “definitely worse than it was two weeks ago.”

 

US officials are pressuring Pakistani leaders to fight the Taliban more aggressively, but thus far they have been reluctant to do so.  The bulk of the army is stationed on the border between Pakistan and archrival India, and most of the military has only been trained for conventional warfare and has shown itself to be inept at counterinsurgency missions.  When the security forces have confronted the Taliban in the past their heavy-handed tactics have alienated the local population that they were trying to protect from the militants.  The civilian leadership is very weak and appears unable or unwilling to force the army to take on the insurgents.  The Pakistanis may not be willing to make a major effort to go after the Islamic extremists unless the capital is seriously threatened and they are compelled to take action.

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