Pakistani Army Advances; UN Estimates 2.3 Million Refugees

The Pakistani Army said Tuesday morning that, as part of its Swat campaign, it had taken control of another strategic center, Maalam Jabba, which had been a stronghold of and training center for the Taliban Movement of Pakistan led by Mawlana Fazlullah.

The military said it continues a slow advance in Mingora, the largest city in Swat, but commanders say that it may take as much as ten days to secure the city. Military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said that the slow pace was intended to avoid major damage to the city and to clear the roadside bombs set by the retreating Taliban.

Pakistani Taliban leader Mawlana Fazlullah announced a ceasefire on Monday, saying he had instructed his fighters to lay down their arms (though not to surrender), in part to avoid harm to innocent civilians. The Pakistani military says that it is in fact still meeting violent resistance from the Taliban, and dismissed Mawlana Fazlullah’s announcement as a cynical ploy. Dawn reports, “Army spokesman Maj-Gen Athar Abbas said the militants ‘have started using ploys to escape. They are now remembering the civilians whom they used to behead and decapitate.’ He said the operation in the city would go on as planned.”
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The LAT reports that the Obama administration is pressing China to provide more training and equipment to the Pakistani army in its fight against the Taliban. China has a doctrine of “harmonious development” that discourages foreign adventurism, so it isn’t Beijing’s first instinct. It recently declined to send troops to fight in Afghanistan alongside NATO. But Pakistan is near to China’s Xinjiang Province, which is traditionally Muslim, and which has seen some separatist violence, and Beijing fears the spread to its realm of Talibanism.

The massive military operation in the midst of a populated area has now displaced 2.3 million persons, according to the UN.

Dawn editorializes that the dsiplaced persons situation threatens the economy of the North-West Frontier Province, insofar as the military operation has kept farmers from harvesting their crops and therefore left them with no money to buy seed and equipment for putting in next year’s crop.

Aljazeera English reports on the hardships of Swat refugees living in tents in 115 degrees F.

The transcript of my interview with Bill Moyers, alongside journalist Shahan Mufti, on the Swat campaign, is now availabe on the web (click the hyperlink earlier in this para.)

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