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Pakistan needs 'shift' to beat the Taliban

Taliban member in Buner region of Pakistan
It will take a concerted and long-standing effort to rid Pakistan of the extremists

The latest deadly bomb attack in the Pakistani city of Lahore has once again highlighted the threat posed by the Taliban. The militants now face a much more determined government, people and army - but there is a long way to go, argues guest columnist Ahmed Rashid.

After a month-long military campaign that has created nearly 1.5 million refugees, some 15,000 troops of the Pakistan army are now well on their way to retaking the Swat valley from the Pakistani Taliban.

Twice since 2006 the army has been driven out of the valley by extremists - but this time they appear determined to eliminate the Taliban and secure the valley over the long term so that refugees can quickly and safely return home.

However major extremist threats still remain while the civilian government and the army's need for a long-term strategy against them is being debated.

Paradigm shift

The Swat campaign is the first time that the army has appeared determined to wipe out extremism in one region.

Pakistani soldier

Pakistan will need to make a major shift in its national priorities that will be not so much based on enmity with India

The military campaign has been buoyed by a dramatic shift in public opinion against the extremists, the support of all major political parties and the international community, who have promised major international aid.

Without all these factors coming together it is unlikely that the army would have been so determined.

However eliminating extremism from the entire country will need a strategic paradigm shift by the government and the army.

Such a shift will affect domestic and foreign policy, relations with Pakistan's neighbours and a different set of national interest priorities.

Some 10% of the country is still under the control of the extremists.

The Pakistani and Afghan Taliban - and al-Qaeda - are headquartered not in Swat, but in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) adjacent to Afghanistan.

Senior Afghan Taliban leaders are also based in Balochistan and Sindh provinces from where they provide logistics for the Taliban's war against US and Nato forces in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile militant groups in Punjab who have fought in Indian-administered Kashmir - frequently at the behest of the military - remain active.

Some groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba - which was accused of carrying out the attacks in Mumbai (Bombay) last year that killed more than 170 people - have set up relief camps for refugees in northern Pakistan as an Islamic charity.

Guerrilla attacks

The government's immediate aims must be to secure Swat so that the refugees can return home and not become a recruiting base for the Taliban.

Taleban members in north-west Pakistan
At present the Taleban can roam in some towns with impunity

But it will have to show much better management than it has up until now to help them rebuild their homes and livelihoods.

Thousands of troops will have to be based in Swat indefinitely to hold the valley and counter future Taliban guerrilla attacks.

Even after victory in Swat, extremism will remain a potent threat to Pakistan, undermining its economy, politics, social development and threatening the entire region.

For the US and Nato, Pakistan was once an appendage to their Afghan policy. Now it is their major concern.

There can also be no long-term solution to militancy without eliminating the command and control centres of the militants in Fata. So far the fighting there has been largely left to the under-armed and under-trained paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC).

Last August, when the FC deployed in Bajaur, the government promised that its actions there heralded the start of a campaign that would retake control of all seven tribal agencies.

Instead, nine months later the FC is still battling the militants in Bajaur.

That will have to change, but for the regular army to deploy in Fata in sufficient numbers and equipment, major external funding and military aid will be needed - which Washington and Nato countries will have to provide.

The army will have to get rid of its aversion to accepting Western training in modern counter-insurgency warfare.

However 80% of the army is deployed on the Indian border - and a dramatic improvement in relations with India has to take place before it can feel secure enough to move tens of thousands of troops from that border to Fata.

Before giving such assurances the Indians will demand that Islamabad also wind up groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, which the military continues to regard as a strategic asset.

For the army to give up on such groups there will have to be major progress on sorting out the multiple disputes between India and Pakistan - such as the Kashmir question and the sharing of river waters.

An equally decisive shift will be needed to deal with the Afghan Taliban leadership in Pakistan, which the army also treats as strategically important.

Pakistan's improved relations with Afghanistan since the advent of the civilian government reflects a major positive shift, but ultimately the Afghan Taliban will have to be given a timeframe to open talks with the Kabul government and leave Pakistan.

In order to deal with Fata and the overall threat of extremism, Pakistan will need to make a major shift in its national priorities that will be not so much based on enmity with India, but focused more on domestic threats and the economy.

Yet at the same time Pakistan's neighbours will also have to be more accommodating, changing their attitudes and policies in the region in order to make such a strategic shift by Pakistan both possible and sustainable.

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Here are some of your comments on Ahmed Rashid's article.

Pakistan at this time is facing worst crisis of its history. Drone attacks by the US over the tribal region has killed hundreds of innocent people. The survivors consider themselves unsafe, and as a revenge (according to their tradition) they attack American and Pakistani forces. By fighting the Taliban it is not possible for world to defeat them. The only way is to stop the drone attacks immediately, negotiate with these people and convince them that Pakistan and the US are not their enemy. If Pakistan continues its operation against them, there are more chances that they will move towards other parts of the country and other parts of Afghanistan. Before long the entire region will be destabilised.


Muhammad Fayyaz, Pakistan

The problem in Pakistan is much deeper, and a frontal assault alone will not solve much in the long run. It is true that the Pakistan army is able to conduct the Swat operation successfully because of domestic, political, and international support. However, if things keep continuing like this, it will get bogged down, and public support will change. The army needs to go further, use its intelligence agencies and find out where the weapons, the support and the training are coming from. If it is true that India, or Iran, or the US in Afghanistan is behind the insurgency as many in Pakistan are saying, then these countries must pay for their irresponsible actions, no two ways about it.
Fahad Chughtai, United Arab Emirates

Very true, Mr Rashid. But I think that the key to defeating the the extremist threat in South Asia also lies with India. It is the largest and strongest country by far, and should accept its responsibilities as such. If India allows a settlement of Kashmir that lets the Pakistani establishment save face, it will mean the beginning of the end for Taliban.
Shehzad Shah, Pakistan

To restore Swat to its pristine past will undoubtedly require as stated a major influx of troops; it's long past time to move a major part of the army "protecting" the border with India to protect the lives of people actually and daily living with a palpable threat - not the hyped-up so called threat of an Indian invasion.
James T Sykes, USA

This is a monster created by Pakistan itself and now it is paying the price of it. There is an old saying what you reap is what you sow and that is exactly what is happening with Pakistan. As a neighbour to Pakistan I must assure people in that country that India will never attack you if you do not create problems for us. We are a democratic country and a peace-loving country. It's up to Pakistanis to clear up this mess and make the right noises with India. This will not only benefit you in living in peace but India can be your window of opportunity economically as well.
Chitranjan, India

I think the government must take decisive action against the militants before winters, but first they should clear Swat and Malakand, then start military action in North and South Waziristan. I don't think that the militants control as much as 10% of the country. I think it's much more likely to be not more than 3%. I think that we should also appreciate the efforts of the government and army in ridding us of the militant scourge.
saqib, pakistan

There's hardly anything further to add to the article except to commend the renewed mood in Pakistan to do battle against the Taliban. No state worthy of the name can allow its territory to be under the armed control of self-proclaimed groups fostering division, hatred and least of all religious oppression.I wish the Pakistani army every success in its drive to seize back control and sovereignty over every inch of Pakistani soil no matter how long it takes or the means required to achieve that ultimate goal.There can be no question as to what's at stake in one of the remotest areas of the country or its far wider implications spilling over well beyond Pakistan's borders. Therefore the relevant countries must render support to all those forces who've engaged with the Taliban using the only language they are likely to understand so as to stabilise Pakistan and promote world peace.
Carlos Filipe JM Miranda Collaco, Portugal

Pakistani society had got a long way to go before ridding itself of extremism. It is not a matter of few military victories over Taliban, which is easy. To start with Pakistan can stop fighting with India over Kashmir and forget about it. This is important since this has given Pakistani military and the religious establishment carte blanche to make Pakistani society more extremist, which in turn breeds the Taliban. Apart from breeding violent extremism, this military-religious combine has kept the people in a pervasive medievalism, and made the country dependent on donations and aid from abroad. Unless the Pakistani mindset comes out of medievalism and enters modern ways of thinking and producing, the Taliban will keep rising.
V.C.Vijayaraghavan, Uk

The Lahore incident also seems to raise questions in terms of friendship between the Taliban and Inter Service Intelligence (ISI), It seems to be the first occasion where an ISI office has been included in the target. Does it mean that the old friendship is off and its a display of anger by the Taliban for being left alone? The extremists might submerge themselves into mainstream Pakistani population, which will mean the government will in effect end up looking for a needle in a haystack. Its obvious that the current military operation has put immense pressure on Taliban, who are trying to deter the government by tactics such as Lahore's attack.
Abbas, Australia

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