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Battle for Pakistan: Is it for real?

“We’d like to see the bodies please.” That was a foreign journalist at Tuesday’s briefing in Islamabad.

world Updated: May 12, 2009 23:03 IST
Hindustan Times

“We’d like to see the bodies please.” That was a foreign journalist at Tuesday’s briefing in Islamabad.

“By tomorrow,” said Pakistan’s chief military spokesman, Major-General Athar Abbas, “We hope to show you pictures and movies of the fighting.”

That’s how sceptic the world — and Pakistan itself — are: They will only believe the military action is for real when they see photos of bodies.

So how is the current army operation different from previous go-and-stop ventures?
“It is a valid question,” said Talat Masood, an analyst and retired army general.
It’s been a quick turnaround.

In April, President Asif Ali Zardari signed a law that imposed Islamic law in Swat and other parts of Malakand division after Parliament backed the resolution.

But the Taliban moved out of Swat into the adjoining districts of Buner and Shangla.
It was clear they weren’t going to lay down their arms as agreed.

On April 24, Army Chief Parvez Kayani said an “operational pause” for reconciliation should not be mistaken as a concession to militants.

“It (the army) will not allow the militants to dictate terms to the government or impose their way of life on the civil society of Pakistan,” Kayani said in a statement.

Two days later, the army was back.

Analysts said it looked like the army aimed to drive the Taliban out from cities and leave them alone in the rural areas.

This worries many.

Does the battle end with cities and towns being cleared of the armed extremists? No, say analysts.

“The civil administration would have to be brought back to its feet,” said General Masood.
For Pakistan, the good news is that previously divided public opinion is starting to back the government.

“Possibly, the whole exercise of signing a peace agreement with the Tehreek-e-Nifaz-Shariat-Muhammadi of Sufi Mohommad and then its break-up was not a futile effort,” said human rights activist Fouzia Saeed.

Also, the image of the Taliban has taken a battering.

Men like Ibn-e-Amin, alleged to be one of the most brutal Taliban commanders, helped.
Earlier this year, Amin’s men invited a council of local elders (jirga) to a mosque in Matta tehsil in Swat and entered into negotiations to settle disputes.

In the middle of the talks, Amin walked in and shot dead all the elders.

Khairullah, an eyewitness, said that after shooting them dead, Amin took a hatchet and started to cut up the corpses.

This was done to establish how brutal the Taliban can be.

Never in the history of the Pathan people has a jirga been attacked.

“Our Pathan traditions are being challenged,” says Aurangzeb Khan from Pir Baba, a village in Buner .

The Taliban have gone too far.

But the question being asked is: How serious is the government of Pakistan?

First Published: May 12, 2009 22:57 IST