Pakistani Army Prepares to Fight the Taliban

The Pakistani army is preparing to launch a new offensive against Taliban militants in the Swat Valley, which was ceded to the miliant group in February as part of a peace agreement brokered by the Pakistani government.  Thousands of residents are fleeing the area in anticipation of the upcoming attack.

The Taliban have been flagrantly violating the February peace deal.  Two weeks ago, the militants moved into the Buner district, which is a mere 70 miles from Islamabad, the nation’s capital, and other neighboring areas.  The military preparations underway signal a recognition by Pakistani leaders that the Taliban currently pose a significant threat to the government.  For years, the US has been encouraging the Pakistanis to make greater efforts to battle the Taliban to little avail.

It is unclear what the results of the impending campaign will be.  In the past, the Pakistani military’s counterinsurgency tactics have been heavy-handed and alienated the very people it was trying to protect, although the Taliban’s imposition of strict Islamic law in towns that it governs have also upset locals and made citizens more amenable to government efforts to combat the extremists. 

The army may be unwilling to continue fighting the Taliban once they have been expelled from the Swat Valley and areas near Islamabad.  Many members of the army and intelligence services are sympathetic to the Taliban and believe that the group is primarily a threat to the US and its Afghan allies rather that Pakistan.  Moreover, the civilian government is weak and may be unable or unwilling to compel the army to sustain a war with the militants.  Thus, while the US will welcome the imminent battle, the achievements of the effort will almost certainly fall short of what the Obama administration desires.

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