The Pakistani government has launched an offensive against Taliban forces that have crept close to Peshawar, reversing a policy of negotiations in a hail of mortar shells. Islamabad began to worry that the radical Islamist forces pose a real threat to the major city and acted to push them back. However, this may not be all that it seems:
Pakistani forces bombarded suspected militant hide-outs with mortar shells Saturday as the government launched a major offensive against Taliban fighters threatening the main city in the country’s volatile northwest, officials said.
The offensive in the Khyber tribal region marked the first major military action Pakistan’s newly elected government has taken against the militants operating in areas along the border with Afghanistan.
The government had said it preferred to try to defuse tension with the groups through negotiations, but with threats to the city of Peshawar growing in recent weeks, the military decided to take action. Khyber also is a key route for U.S. military supplies into neighboring Afghanistan.
A round-the-clock curfew was imposed in the Bara area bordering Peshawar, and heavy contingents of troops were deployed, blocking the main road into Khyber, said Mujeeb Khan, a senior local official.
It’s the first major show of force that Pakistan has staged since the parliamentary election took policy out of the hands of Pervez Musharraf. Until now, the PPP/PML-N ruling coalition has eschewed military force for negotiations, much to the dismay of Afghanistan and the US. Earlier this week, Pakistan finally committed to stopping the Taliban from staging attacks across the border, but it was the threat to their own cities that finally moved Pakistan off of its policy of appeasement.
However, people shouldn’t get too excited, at least not yet. The apparent target of this attack is not the Taliban forces of Baitullah Mehsud but of his rival, Haji Namdar, the leader of the Vice and Virtue Movement within the Taliban umbrella. His forces kidnapped 16 Christians from Peshawar (and later released them), and the expansion of VVM/Taliban around Peshawar indicated something bigger was afoot. The terrorists had begun posting notices demanding that people seek justice through their shari’a courts rather than Peshawar’s civil courts.
This could just be an effort by Pakistan to narrow down their negotiations by eliminating Mehsud’s rivals. It could also be meant as a signal to Mehsud that negotiations have their limits. In either case, the Pakistanis hace learned a lesson: leaving terrorists to their own devices doesn’t work. The policy of appeasement didn’t bring about a live-and-let-live attitude among the Taliban, but an urge for expansion and aggression. Perhaps Islamabad might rethink their experiment with appeasement and rejoin the fight against radical terrorists before they really do lose an entire city.