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Potemkin battles

Potemkin battles

Publication: The Indian Express
Date: April 30, 2009
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/potemkin-battles/452667/

Introduction: something is too pat about the Pakistan army's actions against the Burner Taliban

Just when it seemed advisable that Pakistan measure the Taliban threat in terms of its ability to hold the extremists to their word - as against the dramatic sport of calculating the physical distance of the militants from Islamabad - that distance and how effectively and sincerely the Pakistani government is battling to drive them back, has now assumed paramount importance. Of course, that only reaffirms the need to hold them to their word. The Swat peace deal was always a problem because it let the Taliban spread to adjoining areas, effectively negating the writ of the state. In the first week of this month, the Swat Taliban entered Buner district, about 60 miles from the capital. At the end of last week, the Taliban made a show of withdrawing, only to get involved in a battle with the Pakistani armed forces forthwith.

The Pakistani establishment, amid arm-twisting from the United States to focus on the real threat of the Taliban instead of India, appeared to at last wake up and launch aerial campaigns against militant positions in Buner, along with a ground offensive. But despite the strong words from Interior Minister Rehman Malik about the government's intention to thwart those trying to destabilise Pakistan, it cannot be gainsaid that there's something odd about the whole episode. For one, it all seems a bit too well-coordinated or well-timed - the militants entrench themselves in Buner and Shangla, they pretend to withdraw but hold on, the government warns and the military moves in, heavy casualties are reported and then the Swat deal is under threat. All the while, the establishment breathlessly publicises its action for the benefit of its benefactors. Could events have followed a different course without the US admonition and conditions to aid?

The situation in Pakistan is grim. But the Buner offensive also looks rather stage-managed. Regardless of the army's action, there is, after all, no evidence of a shift in the core relationship between the armed forces and the extremists. It's time Pakistan answered whether it's going to end that relation or not. Otherwise, it would still be deceiving the world and deluding itself against the Taliban.

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