April 28, 2009

Pakistan’s Fight For Survival

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This week Pakistan’s military began operations to retake the strategic Buner district back from the Taliban. Last week, Buner had fallen to the Taliban as the movement expanded its reach beyond the Swat Valley, where the government had recognized its more or less defacto control by agreeing to the imposition of the Taliban’s particularly conservative interpretation of Sharia law. With the Taliban less than two hundred miles from Islamabad, it seems that the Pakistani military has finally realized that it needs to confront the Taliban. We can only hope that it’s not too little, too late.
Pakistan is of course a nuclear power, which makes the possibility of a Taliban government particularly dangerous. Nuclear weapons might proliferate among terrorist and militant organizations and the conflict with India over Kashmir could become even more explosive. There are many reasons for the spread of the Taliban within Pakistan, including the escalation of the war in Afghanistan and the weakness of the Pakistani government in many of the border regions. And though Pakistanis are worried, it doesn’t seem that until recently that the government has been taking the threat seriously.

It is clear that action must be taken to prevent the rise of a Taliban government in Pakistan, but it is also clear that the fight must be fought by the Pakistani government and people on the ground. Before the government allowed for the implementation of Sharia in the Swat Valley, the people of Buner had formed local militias to fight off the Taliban. After the government gave in, the people of Buner felt abandoned and offered no resistance when the Taliban invaded last week. Thankfully, it looks like someone in the government has realized that if the Taliban is going to be stopped, the military must take the lead. Hopefully this week’s actions will be the beginning of a larger operation, rather than just a cosmetic fix to an embarrassing situation.