Courtesy Reuters

Letter From Mardan: A War of Unintended Consequences

The Fight for Control of the Swat Valley and the Future of Pakistan

One day this month, Faridun Karimdad, a 36-year-old farm worker, was lying on a cot in a gloomy hospital ward in Mardan, a town in Pakistan's northwest. He inched onto his right side to show me the splatter of dried blood above his left hip. The day before, as Karimdad and his family prepared to flee the village of Khot in the Swat Valley, a mortar exploded outside his home, shattering his hip and killing his son and two daughters. He could live with his loss, he told me, if he believed the Pakistani military's offensive would bring peace -- if only the brief peace his village enjoyed after the Pakistani government negotiated a cease-fire with Taliban fighters last February.

Karimdad, like many of the refugees fleeing the fighting in Swat, blames both sides for violating the terms of the deal. The government had agreed to recognize sharia, Islamic law, in the region if the militants agreed to lay down their arms. But peace did not hold for long. The Taliban continued pushing into mountains toward the capital, Islamabad, and claimed territory in the neighboring district of Buner.

Then, in early May, facing harsh criticism from the United States for ceding territory to the militants, the government launched a heavy-handed military offensive against the Taliban in Swat -- a mission that Karimdad, like many in his situation, believes is destined to fail. The Pakistani military claims to have killed more than 1,200 Taliban fighters and is now waging street battles and searching houses for militants in Swat's main town of Mingora.

Although the ongoing offensive suggests that Pakistan may finally be committed to confronting the threat of militancy within its borders, its reliance on overwhelming, and often indiscriminate, firepower suggests that the military's longtime focus on a conventional war against India has left it unequipped to launch a sophisticated counterinsurgency with the tactics necessary to maintain public confidence in the campaign. Karimdad told me that he is doubtful the military will ever

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