Taliban Slowly Holding Sway Over Pakistan
BY ROBERT BIRSEL
The battle is in the hearts and
minds of Pakistani society and
I think we’re losing.”
Pakistan has repeatedly vowed
action to stop militants but
analysts say denial and dithering
and a seething resentment
of the United States among the
Pakistani people have stymied
Escalating violence by militants and
the consolidation of their grip in some
places and infiltration into others, have
raised fears about the spread of Taliban
Nuclear-armed Pakistan falling under
the sway of al Qaeda-linked militants is a
nightmare scenario for United States and
India and would doom U.S. efforts to stabilize
“There’s a great sense of angst, a sense
of unraveling,” said Adil Najam, professor
of international relations at Boston
University. “It seems that everyone has lost
control, including the military, of where
things are going. I don’t think they’ve
given up the fight, it’s just they don’t seem
to know what they can do,” he added.
President Asif Ali Zardari secured more
than $5 billion in aid last Friday after
telling allies and aid donors in Tokyo he
would step up the fight against militants.
The pledges pushed up a stock market that
has gained 33 percent this year.
But elsewhere the mood is grim.
Audacious militant attacks in the eastern
city of Lahore and blasts elsewhere
over recent weeks have sapped confidence.
Asuicide car-bomber killed 25 soldiers and
police and two passers-by in the northwest
As well as across the northwest, the
Taliban are infiltrating into Punjab
province and Karachi city, analysts say.
The release on bail of a cleric who used to
run a radical Islamabad mosque has added
to a feeling that the militants are on a roll.
Rumors of attacks on schools have
spread panic and embassies have warned
citizens of the danger of attacks and kidnapping.
Members of Pakistan’s moderate
Muslim majority say they feel intimidated
by a vocal and aggressive minority.
Compounding the unease is a sense that
the government has been distracted by
political wrangling and is in denial.
“The general impression and perception
at this stage is the government lacks
the will to assert itself,” analyst Hasan
Askari Rizvi told Dawn television. “They
are denying the threat that is moving
Policy has been flip-flopping between
inconclusive military offensives and peace
deals that critics say embolden the militants.
The International Crisis Group thinktank
says responsibility for counter-insurgency
has to be transferred to civilians
from a military that continues to have links
with some militant groups it sees as tools in
its confrontation with India.
“It’s inept in the way it conducts operations,
it suffers huge losses, and then it
signs peace deals, it appeases the militants,”
said the group’s Pakistan director,
Under the latest peace pact, authorities
have virtually handed over the northwestern
Swat region to the Taliban to end violence.
But the militants have already
pushed out and taken over a new area 100
km (60 miles) from the capital.
“The implications of appeasement are
obvious,” said Ahmed. “Peace deals have
been signed from a position of weakness
and the militants have gained ground. It is
Government Losing the Battle
Optimists had hoped the end of military
rule with a general election last year would
see public support coalescing around a
strong stand against the militants.
But while the Taliban have been taking
advantage of grievances against corrupt
courts and greedy landlords to win support,
they have also been able to capitalize on
widespread resentment of the United States
exacerbated by its attacks on militants with
missiles launched from pilotless drones.
“I’m not sure the drones have actually
done anything to reduce militancy but they
have strengthened the Taliban argument
more than any other thing,” Najam said.
“The Taliban have cornered the anti-
Victory over the Taliban hinged on
public opinion, he said.
“If ordinary Pakistanis can turn against
the Taliban then we can win this. If they
don’t, if they continue to be lukewarm
because the Taliban are supposed to be
anti-American and all that, then there’s no
way you can win this,” Najam said.
“The battle is in the hearts and minds
of Pakistani society and I think we’re
BY ROBERT BIRSEL