More evidence that the Pakistani government is unable — or unwilling — to confront and subdue the growing influence of the Taliban. Far from being outraged by the suggestion, then, perhaps the Pakistani government should actually consider asking an apparently all too willing India to intervene?
“Radio spreads Taliban’s terror in Pakistani region,” by Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Pir Zubair Shah for the International Herald Tribune, January 25:
PESHAWAR, Pakistan: Every night around 8 o’clock, the terrified residents of Swat, a lush and picturesque valley a hundred miles from three of Pakistan’s most important cities, crowd around their radios. They know that failure to listen and learn might lead to a lashing — or a beheading.
Using a portable radio transmitter, a local Taliban leader, Shah Doran, on most nights outlines newly proscribed “un-Islamic” activities in Swat, like selling DVDs, watching cable television, singing and dancing, criticizing the Taliban, shaving beards and allowing girls to attend school. He also reveals names of people the Taliban have killed for violating their decrees — and those they plan to kill.
“They control everything through the radio,” said one Swat resident, who declined to give his name for fear the Taliban might kill him. “Everyone waits for the broadcast.”[…]
With the increasing consolidation of their power, the Taliban have taken a sizable bite out of the nation. And they are enforcing a strict interpretation of Islam with cruelty, bringing public beheadings, assassinations, social and cultural repression and persecution of women to what was once an independent, relatively secular region, dotted with ski resorts and fruit orchards and known for its dancing girls.
Last year, 70 police officers were beheaded, shot or otherwise slain in Swat, and 150 wounded, said Malik Naveed Khan, the police inspector general for the North-West Frontier Province.
The police have become so afraid that many officers have put advertisements in newspapers renouncing their jobs so the Taliban will not kill them.[…]
The crisis has become a critical test for the government of the civilian president, Asif Ali Zardari, and for a security apparatus whose loyalties, many Pakistanis say, remain in question.
Seeking to deflect blame, Zardari’s government recently criticized “earlier halfhearted attempts at rooting out extremists from the area” and vowed to fight militants “who are ruthlessly murdering and maiming our citizens.”
But as pressure grows, he has also said in recent days that the government would be willing to talk with militants who accept its authority. Such negotiations would carry serious risks: security officials say a brief peace deal in Swat last spring was a spectacular failure that allowed militants to tighten their hold and take revenge on people who had supported the military.
Without more forceful and concerted action by the government, some warn, the Taliban threat in Pakistan is bound to spread.
“The crux of the problem is the government appears divided about what to do,” said Mahmood Shah, a retired Pakistani army brigadier who until 2006 was in charge of security in the western tribal areas. “This disconnect among the political leadership has emboldened the militants.”
From 2,000 to 4,000 Taliban fighters now roam the Swat Valley, according to interviews with a half-dozen senior Pakistani government, military and political officials involved in the fight. By contrast, the Pakistani military has four brigades with 12,000 to 15,000 men in Swat, officials say.
But the soldiers largely stay inside their camps, unwilling to patrol or exert any large presence that might provoke — or discourage — the militants, Swat residents and political leaders say. The military also has not raided a small village that locals say is widely known as the Taliban’s headquarters in Swat.
Nor have troops destroyed mobile radio transmitters mounted on motorcycles or pickup trucks that Shah Doran and the leader of the Taliban in Swat, Maulana Fazlullah, have expertly used to terrify residents.
Being named in one of the nightly broadcasts often leaves just two options: fleeing Swat, or turning up headless and dumped in a village square.
When the army does act, its near-total lack of preparedness to fight a counterinsurgency reveals itself. Its usual tactic is to lob artillery shells into a general area, and the results have seemed to hurt civilians more than the militants, residents say.
In some parts of Pakistan, civilian militias have risen to fight the Taliban. But in Swat, the Taliban’s gains amid a large army presence has convinced many that the military must be conspiring with the Taliban…