How the Taliban took Buner
Initially, Buner was a hard place for the Taliban to crack. When they attacked a police station in the valley district last year, the resistance was fearless. Local people picked up rifles, pistols and daggers, hunted down the militants and killed six of them.There is more.
But it was not to last. In short order this past week the Taliban captured Buner, a strategically vital district just 60 miles northwest of the capital, Islamabad. The militants flooded in by the hundreds, startling Pakistani and American officials with the speed of their advance.
The lesson of Buner, local politicians and residents say, is that the dynamic of the Taliban insurgency, as methodical and slow-building as it has been, can change suddenly, and the tactics used by the Taliban can be replicated elsewhere.
The Taliban took over Buner through both force and guile — awakening sleeping sympathizers, leveraging political allies, pretending at peace talks and then crushing what was left of their opponents, according to the politicians and the residents interviewed.
Though some of the militants have since pulled back, they still command the high points of Buner and have fanned out to districts even closer to the capital.
That Buner fell should be no surprise, local people say. Last fall, the inspector general of police in North-West Frontier Province, Malik Naveed Khan, complained that his officers were being attacked and killed by the hundreds.
Mr. Khan was so desperate — and had been so thoroughly abandoned by the military and the government — that he was relying on citizen posses like the one that stood up to the Taliban last August.Today, the hopes that those civilian militias inspired are gone, brushed away by the realization that Pakistanis can do little to stem the Taliban advance if their government and military will not help them.
This is an example of the utter failure of the Pakistan government to protect its people and support those who could help it fight the Taliban. It is a massive failure of comprehension of the needs of a counterinsurgency operation. The laconic reaction to the aggression of the Taliban is hard for an outsider to comprehend. It makes no drama Obama look hyperactive.
The Taliban tactical retreat appears to be just for show to help the government handle the reaction of the US more than to really leave these people alone. The government still has not moved its forces into the area, although it is threatening operations in Swat from whence the Taliban came. Hopefully the troops will perform better this time, but if Pakistan is still keeping its best troops out of the battle, they are making a huge mistake.