Pakistan relaunches Swat operation

The Pakistani Army has launched another operation in the Taliban-controlled district of Swat after the Taliban reportedly rampaged in the main city and ordered government officials to appear before a sharia court.

Today the military declared a curfew in the main city of Mingora, the only remaining town in Swat under the tenuous control of the government, after more than 100 Taliban fighters “stormed the streets of the town displaying arms,” Daily Times reported. The Taliban have held public executions and punishments in Mingora despite the government’s claim of control.

Shelling and airstrikes have been reported in Swat; at least two civilians were killed and 10 more were wounded when rounds hit their homes. The Pakistani military has shelled towns indiscriminately, civilians say, as they have relied on air and artillery strikes to take out Taliban targets.

The Taliban responded to the latest attacks by destroying three schools in the past 24 hours. The Taliban bombed two schools today and another yesterday despite the curfew. More than 300 schools have been destroyed over the past year, while 8,000 teachers have lost their jobs and 80,000 children can no longer receive education.

The latest military operation was launched a couple of days after Swat Taliban leader Mullah Fazlullah summoned more than 40 political and tribal leaders to stand before a sharia court in Swat of face “serious consequences.” Military officials said Fazlullah’s summons prompted the operation. Last week, Fazlullah offered “conditional amnesty for social and political workers and public representatives from target[ed] killings” if they promised to end their opposition to Taliban rule. Members of the provincial and national assemblies have been excluded from the amnesty.

The military maintains four brigades, or an estimated 15,000 troops, in Swat, yet has been unable to defeat a Taliban force estimated between 2,000 to 5,000 strong. The police force has been rendered useless after the Taliban targeted officers. More than 800 policemen, almost half the district’s force, have deserted or taken extended leaves of absence.

The chaos in Swat has sparked infighting within the Pakistani government. Two senators said the provincial government and the military have lost control of Swat, which has put the rest of the country at risk. The Taliban would “reach Islamabad sooner than Lahore,” one senator said according to Daily Times. “How can Taliban demolish schools and behead civilians during curfew?” a senator asked.

The federal government disagreed with the senators’ assessment. Rehman Malik, the Adviser to Prime Minister on Interior issues, said the situation in Swat and the tribal areas has improved since the Pakistan Peoples’ Party took control of the government nearly one year ago.

“We are on ground and fighting out the militants,” Malik said. “We have taken control of Mingora and you would see a clear change in three to four weeks’ time. I do not make tall claims and the people are the best judge. When we took over, there were rampant suicide bombings across country. [The] situation is much improved now.”

The Pakistani military boasted twice during the past two years that it would regain control of Swat. After launching the first operation to clear Swat in early November 2007, the military claimed it would clear the district by mid-December of that year. After half a year of brutal fighting, the government negotiated a peace accord with Fazlullah in May 2008. Fighting restarted in July 2008. The government said the operation would be completed by September 2008.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • KaneKaizer says:

    Is the Battle of Bajaur still going on? I haven’t heard anything about that for months, but I’m assuming the Pakistani military hasn’t taken control there.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    These operations tend to peter out. You know they are ineffective when the military stops talking about them but you repeatedly see reports of casualties from the area. Bajaur is no different. The Taliban bombed a school there today.

  • bill longley says:

    before joing the federation swat was a princely state. although it was autocratic state where the power was in the hand of WALI swat but the justice system was smooth, costless and quick… after joining pakistan swati population failed to accept pakistani system of justice which they thought was costy, lengthy and unjust… so the movement for sharia started immediately….
    sufi muhammad who was member of Jamaat e Islami ,in 1992 left JI and made tehrik -nifaz-e-shariat Muhammadi[TNSM] … in 1994 they clashed with government , and due to govt promise to introduce sharia and quick military action…the movement was controlled….
    after 94 sufi muhammad came out as the most popular leader in swat and malakand….whose influence even reached Bajor… Molvi Faqir muhammad, baitullahs number 2 is also from TNSM
    after US attack on afghanistan.. sufi muhammad took 10000 followers to afghanistan to help taliban… mullah omer tried to stop him but he insisted and took his followers there… after defeat of taliban sufi muhammad and few hundred of his close supporters managed to return… rest of his followers were either killed or captured by northern allience ….
    in 2002 government banned TNSM and arrested Sufi Muhammad….
    present conflict in swat started when son in law of Sufi muhammad , Molvi Fazulullah started his illegal radio station and tried to implement his style sharia…

  • bill longley says:

    about bajor…. things are not as simple as you people see it in west…. the coletral damage which US and nato do in afghanistan … or done as result of Drone attacks in FATA causes more people to join taliban….. i think if US and NATO will not reckon taliban as a strong force in Pashtun areas…. this war will never end
    you have to talk with them …. they tribal society of pashtuns cannot be defeated by force… learn from history

  • Neo says:

    “about bajor…. things are not as simple as you people see it in west…. the coletral damage which US and nato do in afghanistan …”

  • SamIam says:

    Such brave jihadist warriors–attacking those schools.

  • Mr T says:

    One thing missing from your analysis Neo is the impact of Islam on the thinking process in these areas. I think it has a major impact on their decision making and thought process. It just seems incomplete to analyze the actions and inactions in that part of the world in terms of security, or economics and politics without addressing the role of Islam.

  • Render says:

    “…cannot be defeated by force…”
    Wanna bet?

  • bard207 says:

    bill longley
    you have to talk with them
    The U.S. tried talking to the Taliban in Fall 2001 about expelling bin Laden & Co. The Taliban weren’t receptive to doing that.
    In recent years, the Pakistani government has talked to the Taliban and made several peace deals and the Taliban have broke them.
    I fail to see the point of talking to the Taliban when history illustrates that they are not interested in negotiating a compromise (bin Laden issue in 2001) and/or break the deals that they have agreed to with Pakistn.
    Perhaps the fundamental thing that you are failing to understand from the Western POV, is that we have votes at various levels to determine our laws and legal standards. If the majority of the voters decides that our current group of leaders — legislators is making poor decisions, then they will likely be voted out of office in the next election.
    There are numerous religious groups in the U.S. that have varying degrees of conservative leaning such as Mormons, Amish, Quakers, Seventh Day Adventist, Jewish, Muslims etc. They don’t consititue a majority of the voting public and thus have minimal influence over the laws enacted. Still, the majority is accomodating enough to let those adhering to conservative religions to practice them in relative peace. The flipside is that the religious conservatives aren’t running around in large numbers with guns and other weapons frightening the general population and battling with the police and the military to force a change in our laws to suit their minority POV.

    The Pakistani — Taliban way is the faction with the most firepower and ruthlessness is determining the laws and legal standards for the entire group — population.
    The Taliban and similar doesn’t appear to be open to accomodation for minority religious groups to have different forms of worship and traditions. The Sunni versus Shia violence throughout Pakistan is indicative of that lack of tolerance for those who don’t adhere to the majority religion.
    By limiting or outright depriving girls a quality education, the Taliban is severely crippling the future for roughly half the population. A focus on religious studies for male students in Taliban controlled schools is also handicapping their future in a rapidly changing world.
    Just because the way of the gun has always been the deciding factor in that part of the world doesn’t make it right. The Taliban and similar need some Tough Love and the various Pakistani governments over the years have been unwilling to provide it and create needed change in the FATA and NWFP.
    There will be very little buyin from the U.S. — Western World to the Pakistani way of running a country and caring for its citizens no matter how often you have to talk with them and similar is proposed here by various commenters.

  • David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 01/29/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  • JG says:

    I would like to know what you would compare to The Taliban from previous rulers or civilizations in the past? Are the crusaders? The rule like Nazis and they kill like them. The victims just don’t make it to the camp. I find them disgusting. I think they are disrespectful to all humans. How will history look at them? How many people have the taliban killed over the years? Are they commiting holocaust? I think so!!!!

  • JT says:

    Taliban and their Pasthun housekeepers can be easily defeated. It happened in recent past when Taliban were kicked out by a force which was no bigger than the size of LAPD. That is fresh in minds of most people and should never be forgotten. There is no doubt in my mind that not only Pashtun and Taliban mix be eliminated but Laden will be brought to justice, dead or alive. Their is no airforce to fight against, no armored battalions, just a militia. When it really gets going, Taliban will evaporate, literally. Ordinance will be the operative word.
    Remember it happened earlier, less than 10 years ago.

  • Liz says:

    bard is right… Talking things out is not an option for the Taliban. They have never and will never have an inkling of respect for anyone or any country that doesn’t live 100% as they believe.

  • sam tilston says:

    The US’s best option is to increase security around southern Afghanistan’s primary population centers so the Taliban has less influence over the local populous. Also, we need to do a better job of intercepting and frustrating Taliban efforts. I don’t expect any love for the US from the local population, only that the Talibans inherent violence will make the local populous increasingly weary.

  • Jafridi says:

    Swat operation is primarily a money spinning operation by the Pakistan Government and the Army. The main victims of this operation is the Pushtoon population of Swat, more than 2 m have been displaced from their homes and are languishing in squalid conditions in poorly equipped camps under 120 F hot conditions.
    The operation was launched under US pressure, in order to score with US / NATO forces, and to get qualified for a US$ 1.5 b “bounty”.
    A secondary aim of the Urdu / Punjabi Pakistani dominated government is to crush the ethnic Pushtoon population of Swat. “Rise of Taliban” is the easiest excuse through which the Pakistani government can use western money and resources to disenfranchise Pushtoons. Taliban gained popularity in Swat after Pakistan Army killed more than 300 mainly Swati girl students in the Lal Masjid operation in Islamabad in July 2007.


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