Saturday, May 9, 2009

Pakistan offensive highlights unintended consequences of warfare

Now we can see why Pakistan was so reluctant to go to war against the Taliban in the Swat valley. In the two days since Islamabad launched its all-out campaign to force the radical Islamic group's fighters from their strongholds, hundreds of thousands of residents have fled the area and sought refuge at U.N.-run refugee camps along Pakistan's long border with Afghanistan, according to the Associated Press. Pakistan's attack began Thursday, at least partially in response to pressure from the United States and other Western nations, which were highly critical of Islamabad's peace deal with the Taliban in January that surrendered control of the valley. The Taliban promptly imposed Islamic law in the former tourist locale and began expanding its influence to the neighboring Buner and Lower Dir districts, just 60 miles from the capital, the AP said. Pakistani officials said they wanted to give the peace deal a chance to work before going on the offensive. The flight of so many residents from the war zone, where Pakistan has sent 15,000 soldiers backed by warplanes, has created a humanitarian crisis on top of the region's already dire security, economic and political problems, the AP said. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani convened an emergency cabinet meeting today and authorized millions of dollars in relied to the border region, calling the campaign a "war of the country's survival." Taliban militants dominate the tribal region just across the border in Afghanistan, where the United States believes al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is hiding. Pakistani and U.N. officials say as many as 500,000 people could be displaced by the fighting, the AP said.

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