Friday, May 8, 2009
Pakistan changes course, attacks Taliban militants
What a difference a visit to the White House makes! From Pakistan comes word that the government under seige from Taliban militants in the Swat Valley has launched a full-scale counterattack against Taliban militants aimed at returning the area to Islamabad's control. An army spokesman in the garrison city of Rawalpindi said Friday that scores of Taliban fighters had been killed in the initial attack by up to 15,000 soldiers and security forces, the Washington Post reported. The new attack comes just one week after Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai met with U.S. President Barak Obama to discuss the ongoing fighting in Afghanistan and, until then, Pakistan's apparent unwillingness to take on the Taliban. We know the Taliban from its fundamentalist Islamic rule in Afghanistan from 1996-2001, when it was ousted by a Western coalition composed primarily of U.S. troops. Under Taliban rule, women were forced to cover their heads in public and were not permitted to attend school. But Pakistan and its new civilian government, headed by Zardari, the widower of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and current Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani, have conceded control of the once-prosperous Swat Valley to Taliban forces, which promptly began moving into nearby Bunder and Dir in an apparent effort to expand their territory. But the army spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, told a news conference that Pakistani forces were determined to defeat the "miscreants" and "anti-state elements." Abbas' talk followed up Gillani's speech to the nation Thursday in which the start of the offensive was announced. Both Abbas and Gillani said there was no reluctance on the part of the army to fight the Taliban, but officials wanted to give the peace agreement negotiated in January a chance to work. But Western nations had criticized the agreement as appeasement, particularly after the Taliban imposed Islamic law in Swat. Reuters said the army's stepped-up military posture appeared to have wide popular support, even though it was criticized in some circles as capitulating to the United States.