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

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

That Unintended Consequence

By most accounts, the Pakistani Army is performing well in the Swat Valley. The advance is slow but steady, and while the Taliban remains in control of some of the larger towns in Swat, the military is slowly squeezing them out and deliberately taking back the area.

But there are several concerns to this. First of all, the Taliban won't fight head on:

Highlighting the difficulty, some extremists are simply melting back into the civilian population so they can fight another day, as they have during previous clashes over the past 18 months in Swat.

"You cannot distinguish between a Talib and a normal citizen," said Maj. Gen. Sajjad Ali, who commands troops in the northern portion of Swat. "The area is densely populated, and it's very easy for the terrorists to hide."

Second, the assault has already created almost 2.4 million refugees, according to the UN, and that displacement has fostered yet more extremism.

The government has been overwhelmed by the human tide that has washed over the northwest as about 2 million people have fled fierce clashes in Swat. With Pakistan experiencing its largest exodus since the nation's partition from India in 1947, only a fraction of the displaced civilians are receiving assistance in government-run camps. The rest are fending for themselves or getting help from private charities, including some that are allied with the very forces the Pakistani army is fighting in Swat.

Refugee camps in Pakistan have been prime recruiting grounds for militant groups ever since the Soviet invasion forced millions of Afghans to cross into Pakistan in the 1980s. Now, concern is growing that this latest wave of displacement will create a fresh crop of Pakistanis with grievances against the government and loyalty to groups that seek to undermine the state through violent insurgency.

The government says it is aware of the peril, but it appears incapable of mustering the resources it needs to provide shelter, food, water and medicine to so many people.

In essence, the Obama Administration forced the Pakistani government to deal with the threat within their borders. The government simply has no means to deal with those affected by such an offensive, and so we all must live with the unintended consequences. That's not necessarily an argument for not embarking on the offensive in the first place. But surely we can recognize the complexity of the situation, and that even the assumed "good options" have terrible outcomes embedded within them. Obviously the short-term solution, since the offensive will not be called back, is to pour humanitarian aid into the country and hope that the refugee camps don't become breeding grounds.

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