Pakistan: the next two weeks critical?

April 30, 2009

The Pakistan Army is fighting to regain control of the Buner valley to stop a Taliban advance deeper into the heartland, a battle that could determine the course of action the United States adopts in the near future.

Two weeks is what U.S. Central Command chief General David Petraeus is giving the Pakistani establishment to destroy the Taliban in Buner, some 60 miles from Islamabad, and begin to reverse the tide in the rest of the northwest region, according to Fox News.

It quoted Petraeus as saying that the Pakistanis had “run out of excuses” and were finally serious about combating the threat from the Taliban and al Qaeda. But because of a history of offensives that were not carried to their conclusion and even ended up in a reversal of positions, the U.S.military had suspended judgment. It would wait to see concrete action by the government to finish off the Taliban who remained in control of parts of Buner.

U.S. President Barack Obama was a bit more positive, although he made clear at his news conference in Washington that he remained “gravely concerned” about Pakistan.

Obama said the Pakistani military had begun to realise the biggest threat to the country’s stability came from militants operating within, not old rival India. “On the military side, you’re starting to see some recognition just in the last few days that the obsession with India as the mortal threat to Pakistan has been misguided, and that their biggest threat right now comes internally,” Obama told a news conference in Washington.

Has there been a shift? If it has, it could certainly be of far-reaching consequence. The New York Times reported earlier this week that Pakistan had moved 6,000 troops from the eastern border with India to fight militants on its western flank along the border with Afghanistan.  These were troops that had been deployed in the east after tensions rose following the attacks in Mumbai in November which New Delhi blamed on Pakistani-based guerrillas.

Moving six thousand troops from an army of hundreds of thousands is hardly a tectonic shift in posture that remains India-focused, but at least it is a start, said  Fareed Zakaria on CNN.

And these are not just voices from abroad, which are clearly beginning to border on the hystrerical. Pakistan’s Dawn says the army shouldn’t stop at Buner, or Lower Dir, another area that it won back last weekend. It must go into the Swat region which it said was the “epicentre of militancy” and where the militants have shown little willingness to stick to a peace deal even after the administration agreed to their demand for sharia law.


[Reuters photos: Generals Petraeus and Kayani; refugees from Buner]


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