As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, May 08, 2009

Most Dangerous Trouble Spot In The World Update

I'd like to know what triggered this, whether the White House simply demanded it or the Pakistani government realized the threat or what.

Pakistan declared war on its homegrown Islamic extremists Thursday in a dramatic move that could trigger a wider conflagration.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, in a late-night televised address to the nation, said Pakistan would launch a full-scale offensive against Pakistani Taliban guerrillas who've seized control of the vast Swat valley, which is about 100 miles north of the capital.

Pakistan will no longer "bow our heads before the terrorists," Gilani said in an 11 p.m. address as he called on citizens to rally behind the armed forces. He said that the government had tried peaceful negotiation with Taliban entrenched in the Swat valley, but the strategy hadn't worked.

Pakistan had "reached a stage where the government believes that decisive steps have to be taken," he said, and the army's job now was to "eliminate the militants and the terrorists."

This is very strange and I wouldn't take it at surface value. Especially because it appears to be a snap decision. After all, the country was clearly unprepared for the civilian exodus from Swat, suggesting that they never planned for it entirely.

Obviously the visit of Asif Ali Zardari to Washington could have sparked this. However, according to McClatchy some officials in DC still haven't seen army regiments pulled off of the border with India - so far just the paramilitary forces are leading the effort. I think the push from the Administration has been to forsake the illusion of a security need on the Indian border and put those troops into the fight. But for Pakistan to do that would unwind 60 years of history - they have always considered that the main threat. It's more likely that public opinion allowed Pakistan to move at this time.

The government's call to arms only seemed possible because of a seismic shift in public opinion against the militants, which only took place in the past few weeks after a deal with the Taliban in Swat went badly sour.

"After a long time, the people see a ray of hope," said analyst Khadim Hussain, of the Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy, an independent research organization in Islamabad. "For the first time, the majority of the population, the people in the conflict zone, and the military, are thinking along the same lines."

Nawaz Sharif just spoke out against the Taliban occupation of Swat, giving the blessing for this offensive.

If the public opinion really has moved, that would really change the dynamic in Pakistan. However, a large humanitarian crisis numbering in the hundreds of thousands seems to be the consequence of this as well. Juan Cole has more.

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