by Shaun Appleby, Sat May 16, 2009 at 05:15:00 PM EDT
The military operations in Malakand against the Taliban continue, with a critical stage, the occupation of Mingora, likely to take place in the next few days, as reported after the briefing of parliamentarians from Pakistan's leading parties on Friday:
The leaders were briefed in camera by the COAS and the Director General of Operations, Maj-Gen Javed Iqbal, at PM's House and reassured that special care was being taken to avoid collateral damage and that a decisive advance had been made in Mingora and its suburbs.
The army officers said the city had been encircled from all sides and it would be cleared of militants very soon. The leaders were informed that militants were on the run after army's penetration into areas where troops had no access earlier.
They were also told that Fazlullah, believed to be the head of militant Taliban, was not in control of all the groups fighting in Malakand and that the militant groups were receiving money and arms through Waziristan and Afghanistan.
Ahmad Hassan - `Mingora besieged, to be secured soon' Dawn Media 16 May 09
As far as military strategies go it would appear that this is a sound one, given the numeric superiority but unwieldy nature of the army. Occupying the surrounding countryside before descending on Mingora is effective and a significant departure from the half-hearted efforts of years past.
But as we know the real challenge of 'complex wars' is political, not military, and in that respect the Pakistani civilian government seems to be achieving some success, both in uniting political factions behind this operation, at least for now, and mobilising public opinion against the Taliban as a matter of national sovereignty and security:
COAS General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani's in-camera briefing to the parliamentarians on the situation in Swat elicited a unanimous stand in favour of the military operation. This unity among the leadership on an issue of such great importance augurs well for the federation. The Taliban were using Swat as a base to spread their network to other parts of the country and carry out suicide attacks across the country. They were also advocating a way of life that was neither in accordance with the spirit of Islam nor the vision of the founding fathers of the country. The government's attempts to hammer out a negotiated settlement of the conflict had met with little success because the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan could not reconcile itself to the idea of accepting the writ of the state.
Editorial - In both camps The Nation (Pakistan) 16 May 09
It seems pretty clear that the task of wresting control of the NWFP and FATA from the Taliban is going to be a long and difficult one for Pakistan and any expectations of a sudden and dramatic improvement there is likely to be disappointed, especially considering that in Bajaur, apparently, the Taliban have reasserted their presence shortly after the winding down of the operations of the Frontier Corps in February. According to a disputed BBC analysis only 38% of this region is under the control of the Pakistani government and the very nature of the Taliban insurgency makes it difficult for the unwieldy Pakistani Army to effectively bring them to a decisive action, a tactical reality understood by British colonial generals well over a century ago.
However public opinion seems to be hardening against the Taliban's excesses in recent months and the military continues to loyally discharge it's constitutional role. Politically, everything hinges on the All-Parties Conference of the National Assembly, scheduled to be held in Islamabad on Monday. If the coalition factions, at least, remain united behind their leadership, such as it is, the recent geopolitical gamble by the Obama administration should perhaps be seen as a qualified success in response to a very difficult situation.