No end in sight to Swat Valley turmoil

Devjyot Ghoshal | TNN

The Taliban are once again cutting a bloody swathe through Pakistan’s picturesque Swat valley.

As
reports appeared on Tuesday announcing a renewed Taliban onslaught in
the Swat valley, there seems to be a lack of consensus as to the
reasons behind the Pakistani military’s loss of control in the former
tourist haven. The strategically vital Valley, 120 km northwest of
Islamabad, has witnessed an increasingly violent insurgency since 2007.

Last week, a Taliban commander in the region threatened to
kill girls who attend school and ordered parents to stop sending their
daughters to school by January 15. Strategic expert and former Indian
high commissioner G Parthasarathy said: “They have been unsuccessfully
fighting there for over two years. It has been a halfhearted effort and
this is not because of any troop redeployment.”

However,
Pakistani journalist and political analyst Habib Akram disputed the
reports of the debacle and felt that the fight was far from over.
“There isn’t a complete fall and it is really a matter of perception.
The fight is continuing and is yet to be decided. But the government
forces are losing ground,” Akram told TOI from Lahore. He also asserted
that there hasn’t been any troop reduction in the narrow valley. “The
government of Pakistan has officially said that if India builds up
pressure on the east, then we will be compelled to reduce troops on the
western border. Pakistan wouldn’t reduce troops there unless it has
to,” he added.

Arjun Ray, a former Indian Army general,
said it was in the strategic interest of Pakistan that troops stay in
the Swat region. “I think the grand strategy is that Pakistan will
provide the anvil and US and Nato troops will act as the hammer. If
Pakistan switched troops then the Taliban will come in. But there could
be a certain amount of thinning out of troops,” he said.

Former
external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha attributed the turmoil in the
valley, better known as the Switzerland of Pakistan, to the inner
machinations of the Pakistani establishment. “This is a precursor of
how things are going to happen. The civilian rule in Pakistan is
titular and the Pakistani Army are in cahoots with the Al Qaida. This
is a deliberate ploy,” Sinha said.

This article appeared in the Times of India, Kolkata edition, on January 01, 2009. The author would like to acknowledge the invaluable help of Phyza Jameel, journalist and fellow Frontline blogger, for helping him get the view from the Pakistani side.