Sunday, May 3, 2009

Pakistan's Swat Valley Simmers

In Pakistan’s northern Swat Valley this week, the Pakistani Army and the Taliban have both been pushing and prodding each other in a turf war. Likewise, the Pakistani Army went on the full offensive across Swat, Buner and Dir.

The Army announced that it had recently killed 80 militants, including local Taliban commanders; a total of 170 - 200 have been killed since the Army’s offensive was launched on 26 April. The Taliban retaliated by beheading two captured soldiers.

Furthermore, as proof of the violation of the peace deal brokered earlier in the year, the Pakistani Army announced it had captured three Taliban vehicles filled with explosives that were to be used in suicide attacks. Plus, a bank had been looted, the power grid had been attacked, and a bridge was partially blown up, all laid at the doorstep of the Taliban and its forces. Overnight curfews have been imposed, but the Taliban has taken to patrolling the streets with their own armed soldiers.

Eight Islamic Sharia-law judges, known as qazis, have been appointed, and a new Sharia appellate court, called the Darul Qaza, has been established. Yet the Taliban is rejecting these government measures.

The Pakistani government, for its part, seems to be preparing to use this week’s news as collective proof of the government’s good faith, and to regard the Taliban’s actions as a broach of the agreement, thereby possibly opening up a full resumption of military activities.

Indeed, according to Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) Information Minister Sufi Muhammed, with the establishment of the new Sharia-based qazi courts, “Now anyone carrying arms would be treated as a rebel and would be prosecuted in the qazi court.” It is unlikely that the Taliban will comply with this government edict.

A major concern for the conflict is the prospect of civilian casualties and refugees. According to the Sunday Times, 2,000 hostages are being held as human shields in Pir Baba. The unrest has caused 90,000 refugees to flee the conflict zones in the NFWP; 30,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) were caused from the fighting in Lower Dir alone. However, the Pakistani government has been somewhat obscure on civilian casualties.

The Voice of America did not go into specifics of threats to the civilian populace, other than the passing reference to the execution of three civilians, instead focusing on the advance of Pakistani troops to the borders of Swat itself. If the Pakistani government declares the deal with the Taliban forfeit due to numerous violations, it is to be expected those troops will advance into the Swat Valley.

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