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Pakistan's sharia cease-fire: I knew it wouldn't work, Zardari says

Political and military leaders in the region try to look to the positive as Taliban fighters entrench in Pakistan's Swat Valley.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor, Ron SchererStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / May 10, 2009

After weeks of watching the Taliban make unprecedented inroads toward the Pakistani capital, political and military leaders Sunday sought to address the limits of the insurgency that spans the Afghan-Pakistani border.

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Three crucial figures in arresting the Taliban's advance – Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and Gen. David Petraeus, commander of US forces in the region – spoke on Sunday news shows, casting the threat as grave but not yet capable of toppling a government.

Their comments came as the Pakistani Army continued its latest bid to stop the Taliban from moving ever-closer to Islamabad. The offensive in the strategically important Swat Valley is intense, already forcing some 200,000 residents to flee – a number that could increase to a half million, aid groups say.

In what is perhaps an indication that the Taliban have overplayed their hand, the Army appears to be moving against the threat seriously: commandos have been deployed to the area with the expectation that they might have to fight house to house, the Telegraph reports.

In a taped interview aired on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday, President Zardari said Pakistan is involved in "a war of our existence." But he did not believe the Taliban could overthrow Islamabad. "We have a threat, yes, but a collapse, no," he said.

The Army's advance in Swat marks the failure of Pakistan's boldest attempt yet to compromise with the Taliban. In February, Islamabad had agreed to implement Islamic law in Swat in return for a cease-fire. Though Zardari signed the deal into law, he had repeatedly hesitated to do so – weighing American opposition against Pakistanis' widespread desire for a peaceful end to the fighting.

The collapse of the deal has borne out his original qualms. "I didn't think it would work, because [the Taliban] are not a rational people," he said.

For now, he said, Pakistan has 125,000 troops on the ground. Although more soldiers might improve the situation, "we think they are sufficient."

Also on "Meet the Press," Afghan President Karzai said that a surge of US troops in his country – with 21,000 more coming this summer – is overdue: "It should have happened six years ago." But he added, it is not "too late."