Pakistan's real battle: government vs. Army
Though the situation in Swat Valley is improving, the military's success is upsetting Pakistan's fragile internal balance of power.
A few months ago, Pakistan looked as though it was falling apart. The Taliban were solidifying their hold on territory in the north and staging shocking attacks deeper and deeper in Pakistan's heartland.Skip to next paragraph
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Though the situation in Swat Valley is improving, the success of the Army is upsetting Pakistan's fragile internal balance of power.
As part of a last-ditch effort to stem the violence, the civilian government in April voted to cede control of the Swat Valley to the Taliban. Sharia law was enacted in the region, hundreds of girls' schools were closed, several policemen beheaded, and a video of the flogging of a teenage girl made it to the Internet, horrifying audiences in Pakistan and abroad. Just as bad, the Taliban were not satisfied and moved forward into Buner district, only 60 miles from Islamabad.
Public outcry over these events was directed at the Army, which seemed to refuse to fight a looming internal enemy (the Taliban) in order to prolong an unnecessary rivalry with an external one (India). Commentators in Pakistan and abroad blasted the Army for secretly supporting the Taliban and other terrorist organizations in order to foment trouble with India.
The Obama administration stressed the need for conditions on US military aid and vowed not to write a "blank check" for Pakistan's Army. At the time, it seemed that this overpowered, overfunded behemoth was destroying the country.
In response to the growing uproar – and after several attacks on its own facilities and men – the Army began counterinsurgency operations in the Swat Valley district in mid-May. By June it had recaptured several cities and was well on its way toward a victory against the Taliban in Swat. By July, it was wrapping up the campaign.
This push has generated a storm of news coverage.
On the one hand, there is deep concern for the 2 million or so refugees left in the wake of the fight. On the other, the military has received a fair share of commendation for its successes and for finally fighting "the right war" – the war against the Taliban.
Yet even as the overall situation in the Swat region improves, Pakistan's basic problem remains: From its inception, the Army has consistently and successfully competed with the civilian government in Islamabad for supremacy.
Now, the balance of power between the Army and Islamabad is shifting once more in the Army's favor. After the dust settles in the region, it is not clear that the generals will be willing to return to the barracks.