Pakistan and the battle for Peshawar
Peshawar is such an important city for Pakistan that it can be hard to write about it without sounding shrill. It is significant strategically since it lies near the entrance to the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan. But it is also important emotionally – not only is it a Moghul city and an ancient Silk Route trading hub, but it is also a Pashtun town on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line , the ill-demarcated border between Pakistan and Afghanistan imposed by British colonial rulers that splits the Pashtun people of the region in two. For Pakistan, fighting for control of Peshawar is probably comparable to what France and Germany felt about Alsace Lorraine before World War Two.
So when the New York Times publishes an article about Peshawar being at risk of falling into Taliban hands we must pay attention. “In the last two months, Taliban militants have suddenly tightened the noose on this city of three million people, one of Pakistan’s biggest, establishing bases in surrounding towns and, in daylight, abducting residents for high ransoms,” it says. “The threat to Peshawar is a sign of the Taliban’s deepening penetration of Pakistan and of the expanding danger that the militants present to the entire region, including nearby supply lines for NATO and American forces in Afghanistan.”
The Daily Times says it more dramatically, with a Kiplingesque notion of what the fall of Peshawar to Taliban control would mean for Pakistan: “The Taliban are no longer at the gates of Peshawar, they’re inside, making their presence felt in the largest city in the NWFP (North West Frontier Province),” it says.
Pakistan has just launched an offensive against Taliban fighters near Peshawar in an attempt to re-impose government control. As I said at the beginning, it’s hard not to sound shrill about a place that few outsiders understand. But history is in the making here, and the battle for Peshawar is one we all should watch.