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.