On Thursday in Pakistan, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani announced that the Pakistani government would seek no further peace deals with the Pakistani Taliban but was rather dedicated to defeating them and reasserting national sovereignty in the northwest of the country. The speech marked a major change in policy for the Pakistani government, which has fought militants in the Pushtun areas off and on for years. Gen. Pervez Musharraf was the first to attempt to conclude a truce with them, in 2006. A similar truce was proposed for the Swat Valley by the provincial government of the North-West Frontier Province, dominated by a Pushtun nationalist party earlier this year, but has decisively broken down over the expansionism of the guerrillas, who attempted to expand their territory from Swat into nearby Buner.
In Washington, President Asaf Ali Zardari pledged that the offensive in Swat would go on until the situation returned to “normal.”
Chief of Staff Ashfaq Kayani affirmed that the Pakistani military fully recognizes the internal threat to the country of the Taliban.
Although most of the pressure on Zardari to crush the Taliban militarily is coming from Washington, Pakistan’s other major patron, China, also has a strong interest in the struggle. Militants of the Red Mosque in Islamabad took Chinese acupuncturists in Islamabad hostage in 2007. And, separatist Muslims from Xianjiang province have in the past received training in areas of Pakistan controlled by the militants. Some 60 Chinese companies are carrying out 122 projects in Pakistan, and there are 10,000 Chinese engineers and technical experts there. China would like to see the situation stabilize in part because Beijing wants less rather than more American military presence on its borders.
On Thursday, Pakistani authorities reported that 55 militants had been killed in Swat and that 300,000 inhabitants of the valley had been displaced by the fighting. (Isn’t that sort of disproportionate?)
Aljazeera English reports on the Pakistani army’s push into Buner near Swat, and the massive refugee problem that the fighting is creating.
Apparently what is happening is that the Pakistani army is ordering the civilian population out of Swat and Buner, in hopes of having a clear shot at the Taliban, who thereby would be deprived of civilian cover. In turn the latter are trying to close the roads out, to keep the civilians inside so as to use them as human shields or as anonymous throngs into which they can melt where they are defeated by the army.
For the repercussions on the UK’s million-strong Pakistani community, see Michael Goldfarb.
For the odd hothouse atmosphere of hysteria in Washington that has helped to produce this sudden displacement of half a million people in the name of imposing stability, see Tom Engelhardt at Tomdispatch.com.
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