Saturday, June 30, 2012

Taliban danger

ANOTHER day, another attack from across the Pak-Afghan border inside Pakistan. On Wednesday night, the attack in Upper Dir was not as damaging as the one launched Sunday — security officials claimed that the only deaths were of militants involved — but it underscored the deteriorating security conditions in the area. The savagery of the Swat Taliban led by Maulana Fazlullah is well-known. At the height of their power in the Malakand region they committed atrocities that made them stand out even in the world of militant violence. Having lost their fiefdom in 2009 but with their leadership on the run, there was always the likelihood they would creep back in and use tactics like beheadings and overrunning security check posts to sow fear in the region again. That is precisely what seems to be happening, notwithstanding the fact that the military does physically dominate the area in which Fazlullah and his band of violent Islamists ruled for several years.

Two points need to be made. One, pushing out militants from one area — whether into an adjoining tribal area or across the Pak-Afghan border — is not a long-term solution. Only a concerted effort on both sides of the border to clamp down on militancy will stabilise the region. However, that process cannot be selective. There is a suspicion in Pakistani security circles that Afghan and foreign forces in Afghanistan are, at the very least, looking the other way while Pakistan-centric militants pour across the border — a tit-for-tat response to the Pakistani security establishment which refuses to squeeze the Haqqanis in particular on this side of the border. But that is a dangerous game in which only so-called non-state actors win. Better, then, for the Afghan, Pakistani and American governments to cooperate instead of engaging in what amounts to proxy warfare that could spiral out of control. The other point is that the Malakand operation was a success story that gave the inhabitants of the area a chance to rebuild their lives without the Taliban menace. Unless security is strengthened there, the perception that the Taliban are returning will only grow and may well prove a reality.

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