Pakistan turns to force against militants
In a switch from its efforts to negotiate, the three-month-old government launched an offensive in the North West Frontier Province amid a growing threat to a major city.
Pakistan's paramilitary forces launched a decisive offensive against Islamic militants encircling the strategically important city of Peshawar over the weekend – an indication that the new government is turning to military action after focusing, until now, on negotiation.Skip to next paragraph
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Troops from the Frontier Corps bolstered by tanks, armored personnel carriers, and helicopters cleared militants from the mountainous Khyber tribal area just outside Peshawar on Saturday in the first major military operation since Pakistan's new government came to power in March.
The offensive has highlighted the new government's struggle to find a clear strategy for dealing with militants. While it has never discounted a major military strike, it has focused on negotiating truces with militants, even while their spread has caused mounting alarm.
Indeed, some observers have speculated that the government used the Frontier Corps to create the impression that this was a law-and-order exercise, rather than a military one.
But analysts say that while the government has turned to military deployment, it will continue to pursue peace talks. "The strategy is the same, but the modus operandi has changed," says Ikram Sehgal, a defense analyst and editor of Pakistan's Defense Journal.
Gateway to the Khyber Pass
The threat to Peshawar, the capital of the North West Frontier Province, clearly warranted military action, say analysts. The city guards the approach to the Khyber Pass, an essential conduit for US and NATO forces fighting in Afghanistan. To lose this most strategic of cities to the militants would be a disaster for Pakistan's new government.
The offensive also came as US assistant secretary of State for South and Central Asian affairs, Richard Boucher, arrived in Pakistan for talks with the government.
"What do you do?" asks Khalid Aziz, a Peshawar-based analyst and chair of the Regional Institute of Policy Research and Training, a think tank. "Warlords are emerging like mushrooms all over the place; most of their money is generated by the bountiful Afghan poppy … it looks as if these people [the militants] are clearing the routes in the area."
Regarding the future of peace talks, he says: "We will have to pursue both courses and keep our eyes wide open. There's a growing realization among political groups here that the Taliban won't begin peace talks – but some members of their rank and file may be open to them."