As a stunning attack in Pakistan's Swat Valley highlights growing militancy along the Afghan border, a new Pentagon report calls for President Barack Obama to turn up the heat on Taliban bases in Pakistan.
In Swat Valley yesterday, thousands of Taliban fighters were said to have overrun a police station in Shamozai, south of the valley's main city, Mingora, reports Agence France-Presse.
Taliban fighters kidnapped 30 Pakistani policemen after a day-long siege and fierce battles in the northwest Swat valley, regional police commander Dilawar Khan said Wednesday.
Thousands of Taliban fighters laid siege to the police station in the area of Shamozai on Tuesday. The army was mobilised to rescue the police and break the circle of Taliban rebels surrounding the building, security officials said.
While security officials took credit for rescuing the captives, Reuters reported that the Taliban released their captives after extracting promises that the policemen would quit their jobs.
If the numbers are accurate, the Taliban force would be one of the single largest ever assembled in the valley, signaling an alarming uptick in violence.
Heightening concern, the Taliban's stringent enforcements – bans on music and dancing, and edicts issued against women traveling alone – have now spread to Orakzai Agency, one of Pakistan's federally administered tribal areas and an area of high strategic value, reports The Daily Times.
Orakzai, which borders Kurram in the west and Hangu district in the east, provides a means to the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to expand its influence to Peshawar through Khyber Agency. The organisation has already made its presence in the region known by attacking truck terminals for Afghanistan-bound supplies for NATO and US forces. Despite government attempts to block their infiltration, the Taliban recently celebrated their "complete control" over the region by inviting a group of journalists to the area in a show of power.
Developments like this have helped shape a strategic shift within the Pentagon. The Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US military are expected to release a report to President Obama advising a harder line against militants in Pakistan, says a Politico report.
The Pentagon's top military officers are recommending to President Barack Obama that he shift U.S. strategy in Afghanistan - to focus on ensuring regional stability and eliminating Taliban and al Qaeda safe havens in Pakistan, rather than on achieving lasting democracy and a thriving Afghan economy, officials said....
In their report, the Chiefs concluded that the existing American goals in Afghanistan, established by the Bush administration, are overly broad and ambitious. The report does not call for abandoning U.S. hopes of turning Afghanistan into a moderate Western-style democracy, or for halting counter-narcotics efforts, but it does suggest making those steps part of a long-term vision, rather than a goal....
[T]he Chiefs are recommending a broader effort to train and equip Pakistani security forces to conduct counter-insurgency operations in the tribal areas, and to apply pressure on Pakistan's military and intelligence services to sever their ties with militants, one of the officials said.
The Pentagon report comes as Washington and Islamabad are locked in a heated debate over how best to contain the spread of militancy in Pakistan. The Obama administration is expected to make greater demands on Pakistan to curb militants – a message to be delivered by Obama's new special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, points out the Chicago Tribune.
Officials in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India have reacted uneasily to the appointment of envoy Richard Holbrooke because of indications the veteran diplomat, nicknamed the "the Bulldozer," intends to shake things up in the troubled region....
Holbrooke has called for vigorous action to deal with extremist sanctuaries in Pakistan. He charged that Pakistan has the power to destabilize Afghanistan—"and has."
Pakistan is standing its ground. Last week, in an op-ed published in The Washington Post, Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari counseled the Obama administration, and Mr. Holbrooke, not to question Pakistan's commitment.
Ambassador Holbrooke will soon discover that Pakistan is far more than a rhetorical partner in the fight against extremism. Unlike in the 1980s, we are surrogates for no one. With all due respect, we need no lectures on our commitment. This is our war. It is our children and wives who are dying.
Mr. Zardari urged Congress to pass a bill authorizing $1.5 billion in development aid to Pakistan, saying "Assistance to Pakistan is not charity; rather, the creation of a politically stable and economically viable Pakistan is in the long-term, strategic interest of the United States."
But Zardari also echoed the Pentagon's call for more equipment to fight Taliban insurgents.
To the extent that we are unable to fully execute battle plans, we urge the United States to give us necessary resources -- upgrading our equipment and providing the newest technology -- so that we can fight the terrorists proactively on our terms, not reactively on their terms. Give us the tools, and we will get the job done.