Pakistan launches offensive against Taliban

Pakistan launched an assault against the Taliban after the group seized control of an area located just 60 miles from Islamabad.

What happened

Pakistani fighter jets and helicopter gunships pounded Taliban positions in the Swat Valley this week, in an offensive Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called “a war for the country’s survival.” The government said it had killed more than 750 insurgents. Pakistan launched the assault after the Taliban seized control of the Buner district, just 60 miles from Islamabad. The government swiftly drove the Taliban out of Buner and then moved into neighboring Swat, which had been turned over to the Taliban as part of an attempted truce. The barrage sent some 1.3 million civilians fleeing—one of the largest migrations in the region since the partition of Pakistan and India, in 1947. Amid reports of food shortages and overflowing refugee camps, Red Cross officials warned of a “serious humanitarian crisis.” Government troops found five headless bodies near the valley’s main town, Mingora—gruesome evidence that the fleeing Taliban may be decapitating its opponents.

The operation began shortly after President Asif Ali Zardari met last week in Washington with President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai and pledged to take a stronger stand against Islamic extremism. Obama is trying to persuade a skeptical Congress to grant $7.5 billion in aid to Pakistan. Zardari and Karzai, Obama said, “fully appreciate the seriousness of the threat that we face and have reaffirmed their commitment to confronting it.”

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What the editorials said

Military success is important, said The Christian Science Monitor, but genuine victory will depend on how Pakistan handles the unfolding refugee crisis. For decades, Pakistan’s dismal camps for Afghan refugees served as “breeding grounds” for extremism. If the Pakistani government and international community allow this refugee situation to fester, Pakistanis who are already tired of their country’s “ineffective leadership” will be easy prey for the jihadists.

Unfortunately, there is little reason to think the Pakistani leadership is up to the task, said the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. And Obama’s solution—billions more in aid—hardly seems like a wise investment. Since 9/11, we’ve given Pakistan an average $1 billion a year with little to show for it. “Except for what is absolutely necessary to combat al Qaida and the Taliban, it is definitely time for Congress to cut off the rest.”

What the columnists said

Punishing the Pakistani government would be a tragic blunder, said Doyle McManus in the Los Angeles Times. It’s true that in the past, Pakistan took money we provided for fighting terrorism and used it for its arms race with India. That’s because “many Pakistanis dismissed the Islamist insurgencies in their western badlands as peripheral.” Now that Pakistanis see the mortal danger posed by the Taliban, a concerted effort to bolster democracy may have a chance—especially considering that the alternative could be a jihadist takeover of a nuclear state.

The real danger here is an overreaction, said Steve Chapman in the Chicago Tribune. Already we are hearing rumblings of possible U.S. military action to secure the nukes “if Pakistan collapses.” But the Taliban has only a few thousand men in Pakistan, and militant parties do poorly at the polls. Their best path to power is a government offensive that leads to massive civilian casualties and an anti-government backlash. Let’s pray that’s not happening right now.

The Taliban is a symptom of Pakistan’s dysfunction, not the cause, said Alex Alexiev in National Review Online. The reason the Pakistani army was slow to take on the Taliban is that many in the military share its jihadist goals. So even if the Taliban is eradicated, radical Islam will remain entrenched. “Pakistan is not a sovereign state with a military, but a sovereign military with a state.” Until it is a true democracy, Pakistan will always be one step from tyranny.

What next?

Al Qaida is using the turmoil in Pakistan to recruit new members and unleash new attacks, U.S. and Pakistani intelligence officials told The New York Times this week. The goal is “to create a feeling of insecurity, embarrass the government, and retard economic development,” Pakistani intelligence indicates. “They smell blood,” said former CIA analyst Bruce Riedel, “and they are intoxicated by the idea of a jihadist takeover in Pakistan.”

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