The point of no return could be crossed in the near future if the Taliban are not subjected to decisive and telling action. The government dithered and the army stayed its hand even as the militants who want nothing less than the state’s overthrow flexed their muscles and moved from Swat to Buner and then into Shangla. They have now agreed to withdraw from Buner, but not without conducting a huge recruitment drive that ensured that the district would remain under the control of ‘local’ Taliban.
Pakistan is ceding territory by the day and anyone who thinks that the Taliban advance can somehow be confined to ‘that’ part of the country is sadly mistaken. These barbarians cannot be confined. We have tried buying time from a position of weakness and been witness to the results. Every single ‘deal’, and there have been many of them, has only allowed the Taliban to regroup and prepare for fresh assaults against the federation. It has to be acknowledged once and for all that the Taliban are the single biggest enemy the country has ever faced since 1947.
The supposedly secular ANP has let Pakistan and the NWFP down with a thud, and the religio-political parties have made it clear, yet again, where their sympathies lie. The security forces did well to take on the Taliban in Lower Dir on Sunday. Let’s not ask at this stage why they didn’t act earlier. It is said that they moved against the militants following requests to do so by local elders and the provincial government. It is also a fact that the operation was launched after security forces came under fire.
Can we argue then that the response was more reactive than proactive? Welcome as it is, the operation in Dir may also strengthen the impression that the military cracks down hard only when its own are attacked. Taliban violence against civilians is largely ignored for some reason. The army chief said the other day that the military would drive back the Taliban if they made any further inroads. Why just ‘drive back’? These people are merciless and have no qualms about indulging in savagery.
It can only be hoped that the operation in Dir is not a one-off move aimed at countering western criticism of Pakistani inaction. To be successful, it has to be part of a wider strategy of taking on the Taliban with all the force the military commands. Tribesmen who opposed the Taliban have been losing heart ever since the Swat deal. They thought the government was on their side, and acted accordingly. They are now running scared. A clear message needs to be sent that the government, the army and the people of Pakistan are all on the same page.