Pakistani forces move against Taliban
The tenuous peace deal with the militants comes under increasing strain as Taliban take areas closer to Pakistan’s capital.
A Pakistani military launched an operation Sunday into an area covered by a peace accord with the Taliban. The offensive underscores rising tensions between the government and militants as the Taliban in the past week have moved closer to Pakistan's capital.Skip to next paragraph
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Pakistani forces engaged militants Sunday in the district of Lower Dir following a Taliban attack on a convoy carrying Frontier Corps paramilitary soldiers, according to the Pakistani military. One paramilitary and several militants were reported killed after fierce gun battles.
Farhatullah Babar, the spokesman for Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, was quick to reassure the public that the peace-deal remains intact. But he also reiterated the government's desire "to root out the militants hell-bent on destroying the law and order situation."
Interior Ministry advisor Rehman Malik added to the stern language: "There is no option for them except to lay down their arms, because the government is serious now to flush them out."
Indeed, after almost a year of on-off negotiations with the Taliban of northwest Pakistan's Swat Valley, the government's patience appears to be running out.
Last week's capture by militants of Buner district, a key area merely 60 miles northwest of the capital of Islamabad, has allowed the government and its major coalition allies to find a "unity of purpose" against the Taliban according to lawmakers and analysts.
According to reports on Sunday, the Taliban maintains a strong presence there despite a promise to withdraw.
A concerted military push-back is expected within days should current talks with the Taliban fall through.
"[Till recently] there had not been an understanding as to the clear and present danger these militants pose to Pakistan," says Farah Ispahani, a spokesperson for Mr. Zardari and member of parliament for the ruling Pakistan People's Party. "Our opinion polls had taken a beating for speaking out."
Not just a frontier problem anymore
The political dynamic began to change two months ago when a series of attacks in Pakistan's most populous province of Punjab left lawmakers, civil society, and the media shaken.
"Events in Punjab like the cricket attack [in Lahore], the siege of Manawan police academy, and the suicide bombing of the police station in Chakwal [close to Islamabad] have awoken a lot of those members of the National Assembly from Punjab who before this viewed it as a problem of the Frontier," she says, in a veiled reference to the PML-N party of opposition leader of Nawaz Sharif who, with its power-base in Punjab, had previously been seen as attempting to appeal to religious constituencies by remaining ambivalent over the threat posed by the Taliban.
Now, however, Ms. Ispahani sees "a coherence between major institutions of the state as well as the media. They seem to be on the same page."
On Sunday, peace talks in Buner held between provincial lawmakers and local elders ended indecisively after Taliban members abstained from attending despite being invited, according to the Pakistani TV network, Geo.
In another display of increasing tension, interior ministry advisor Rehman Malik appeared on television to blame the Taliban for the killing of 11 children by a homemade bomb disguised as a toy in a village in Lower Dir on Sunday.
Taliban not fulfilling their end of the deal?