Over the weekend we learned that the Pakistani military announced it had retaken from the Taliban the largest city in the Swat Valley, Mingora (located 100 miles northwest of Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital), “scoring a significant victory against Taliban forces three weeks after the start of an offensive in the area,” according to the New York Times. The Times goes on to write:
The campaign is seen as a test of Pakistan’s resolve to fight its growing insurgency, which has spread substantially in the past two years, and which the United States says is compromising efforts to quell a similar insurgency in neighboring Afghanistan.
There are several encouraging signs to take from events in Swat. The first is that the Pakistani military clearly has concentrated its mind on the Taliban since the “peace agreement” broke down earlier this spring. The Taliban, on the defensive and presumably in response to the Pakistani offensive, hit Lahore and Peshawar with deadly strikes last week. The question now is if the Pakistani military offensive will be sustained and even enlarged. Its next campaign is set to target Waziristan.
Another good sign is that, according to Major General Athar Abbas, a military spokesman, the Pakistani public seems to be firmly behind the expanded offensive. “The military feels it’s in a much better position to finish the job because it has public support,” he said. This is crucial, since successful counterinsurgency efforts depend on winning over public support.
The conflict in Pakistan is causing enormous suffering; the latest government estimate is that nearly 3 million civilians have been displaced by the fighting in Swat. Many of the Taliban who were in Mingora slipped away, in order to fight another day (the military estimates that there were 5,000 militants in the Swat Valley before the operation began; it claims 1,000 have been killed v. nearly 100 Pakistani soldiers). And this war, like virtually every war, will have ebbs and flows. No decisive turning point has been reached in the fighting, which will drag on for some time to come. But progress, like setbacks, should be recognized. And in this case, the early signs of the Pakistani military counteroffensive against the Taliban are good. As General David Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command, said in an interview with Fox News’s Martha MacCallum, in Pakistan we are seeing a “fairly unique convergence uniting against the Taliban.” It will be a “tough” fight, according to Petraeus, but one the Pakistani military has clearly taken on. Militaries will often do that against those they view as fundamental threats to their state.