Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Pakistan Still Menaced by Taliban

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Pakistan Still Menaced by Taliban

Article excerpt

Washington and Islamabad seem to agree-for the time being, at least-on the necessity of combatting the Taliban and al-Qaeda. To counter the Taliban's expansion into Pakistan's Swat Valley and North West Frontier Province (NWFP), including Dir, in the Himalayan foothills, the government of President Asif Ali Zardari, with U.S. backing, if not urging, launched a military operation against the Taliban in mid-March. This caused an exodus of more than two million people seeking refuge in adjoining areas of the country. Four months later, the internal refugees were allowed to return to their homes, with 400,000 returning in the first two weeks, according to official reports.

That does not mean, however, that the original problem has been resolved. Even the government does not claim to have killed or captured a single top Taliban leader. The trouble is that, except for a few foreigners like Saudis, Uzbeks and Chechens, the Taliban are primarily Pashtun-as are an estimated 25 million Pakistanis-and enjoy the backing of the religious elements living in the rural areas of the country. In a July 28 statement, Lt. Gen. Nadeem Ahmed, head of the Pakistan army's Special Support Group, sought the "people's support" to capture the Taliban and its leaders.

During the military operation against the Taliban, there have been several suicide bombings in various parts of Pakistan, including Peshawer (NWFP), Islamabad, Lahore (Punjab province), Quetta (Baluchistan) and Karachi (Sindh). On July 28 the governent reported that it had rescued around 200 youth between the ages of 9 and 14 who had been held for over a year by a madrassa (religious school) in NWFP. The young men had been so indoctrinated that some of them were willing to "die for Islam" and considered their own parents "infidels." Such extremism, if not resolved now, could spread to the rest of Pakistan, with widespread repercussions. …

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