Speaking at the National Assembly, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani said that the military could stop the Taliban and that the country’s nuclear weapons were safe.
“Does this parliament not have moral courage to stop them?” he asked.
Pakistan is on a precipice. The Swat Valley, once called the Switzerland of Pakistan for its great natural beauty, is now the Taliban’s battle ground for Islamic fundamentalism where harsh Islamic (shari’a) law is imposed on the population and fully sanctioned by the Pakistani government. In recent days, armed Taliban fighters have set up checkpoints and occupied mosques in the Buner region just 60 miles from Islamabad, declaring Islamic law before retreating after striking a deal with the government.
Will Pakistan eventually fall to the Taliban?
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “I think that the Pakistani government is basically abdicating to the Taliban and to the extremists. But look at why this is happening. If you talk to people in Pakistan, especially in ungoverned territories, which are increasing in number, they don’t believe the state has a judiciary system that works.”
Parts of the country have already fallen to Taliban, and attacks inside main cities such as Lahore have been on the rise. The Taliban have also infiltrated into Punjab province and Karachi. But that does not mean that either Pakistan as a whole or its nuclear stockpile is in danger.
According to U.S. and Pakistani officials, there is no way a complete nuclear weapon can be taken from Islamabad’s stockpile, which is protected by about 10,000 of the Pakistani military’s most elite troops. Also, the guts of nuclear warheads are kept separate from the rest of the device, and a nuclear detonation is impossible without both pieces. Additionally, the delivery vehicle — plane or missile — is also segregated from the warhead components.
So what are the Taliban after?
Their ambitions are no secret. Two prominent clerics have broadcast their intent to spread Islamic rule throughout the country, and they have been taking advantage of grievances against corrupt courts and greedy landlords to win support.
Abdul Aziz, Lal Masjid: “We are a peaceful people and we prefer a peaceful struggle. If they try to stop our struggle, you’ve seen what’s happened in the tribal areas of Swat. God willing, we have to continue our struggle, and I request that you, the people, try hard to bring Islamic law to the country.”
Most importantly, they have also been able to capitalize on widespread resentment of the United States exacerbated by its attacks on militants with missiles launched from pilotless drones. In fact, US attacks on tribal areas in Pakistan have done nothing to reduce the Taliban’s influence, but rather have backfired and strengthened it politically, and undermining what authority remained to President Asif Ali Zardari.
According to U.S. analysts and pundits, in eight short months since coming to office, Zardari has managed to cede large parcels of Pakistan’s land to the Taliban, weaken the army, and bankrupt the government. Mr. Zardari, however, blames the instability in Pakistan on the United States and insists that the presence of Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar on Pakistani soil is not his fault:
“They were pushed [into Pakistan] by your great military offensive [in Afghanistan],” he says sarcastically. “For seven years nothing has happened, and now we are weak and you are unable to do anything about it. . . . I’ve lost my wife, my friends, and the support of my countrymen . . . and in eight years you haven’t been able to eliminate the cancer.”
Zardari may have a point there. . . .