Does Pakistan have a strategy for dealing with Taliban?
Taliban militants have established control of a strategically important area only 70 miles from the capital, law enforcement officials said Wednesday. The move is part of an unrelenting push by the Taliban toward the heart of Pakistan.There is little to see in terms of a response from the government. Adm. Mullen is back in Islamabad, and he is probably also asking what their plan is.
Heavily armed militants were patrolling villages and local police had retreated to their station houses in much of the city of Buner, a rural area adjacent to Swat, where the Taliban seized control from the Pakistani army in February, they said. Buner is a gateway to a major Pakistani city, Mardan.
“They take over Buner, then they roll into Mardan and that’s the end of the game,” a senior law enforcement official in the North West Frontier Province said.
The expansion of the Taliban into Buner comes 10 days after the government of President Asif Ali Zardari agreed to the introduction of Sharia law in Swat, a move that the Obama administration has criticized as too much of a concession to the Taliban.On Wednesday Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she was concerned that Pakistan was allowing the Taliban to spread and emboldening the militants by giving into their demands.
The takeover of Buner is particularly significant because the people there have tried in the past year to stand up to the Taliban by establishing small private armies to fight the militants. Last year when the militants encroached into Buner, killing policemen, the local people fought back and forced the militants out.
The UK Times says:
...The government needs to find a way to protect the people of Buner at a minimum. They seem to want to resist the Taliban and a good counterinsurgency operation to protect the people would have a good chance of success. The main problem is that the government has resisted to date US training for counterinsurgency operations. It is time to start resisting the Taliban instead of US offers of training. Hopefully Mullen is making that point.
The militants, carrying rocket launchers and machineguns, also set up checkpoints to search vehicles as many residents fled the area. Local security forces remained confined to police stations and camps.
The fundamentalist movement struck a peace deal with Islamabad recently after a terror campaign in the neighbouring Swat Valley. Under the agreement the militants were allowed to establish an Islamist administration and Sharia courts. In return it was supposed to disarm but has failed to do so.
The Swat Valley has been transformed into a Taleban stronghold from which the movement is extending its influence towards Pakistan’s urban heartland.
Critics said that the deal between the Taleban and President Zardari risked increasing a potent insurgency and threatened the Government’s already tenuous control in other areas.
In Buner, a region with a population ofabout 500,000, the Taleban have established bases at mosques and banned music and television. They have stopped women from entering the popular shrine of a Muslim saint and now want to introduce Islamic law.