Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Thousands Flee Pakistan Valley as Truce Crumbles

As predicted by anyone with an once of common sense, the Sharia law for "peace" deal with the Taliban in Swat Pakistan has only escalated the violence there. Civilians are now fleeing the area as the Taliban and the Pakistani government have started to square off. The question is, does the government have the stomach for the long and bloody battle?

Thousands flee Pakistan valley as truce crumbles

MINGORA, Pakistan – Black-turbaned Taliban militants seized government buildings, laid mines and fought security forces Tuesday in the Swat Valley, as fear of a major operation led thousands to pack their belongings on their heads and backs, cram aboard buses and flee the northwestern region.

The collapse of a 3-month-old truce with the Taliban means Pakistan will now have to fight to regain control of the Swat Valley, testing the ability of its stretched military and the resolve of civilian leaders who until recently were insisting the insurgents could be partners in peace. The government feared the refugee exodus could reach 500,000.

The developments brought Islamabad's faltering campaign against militancy into sharp focus as President Asif Ali Zardari was preparing for talks Wednesday in Washington with President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai on how best to counter an increasingly overlapping spectrum of extremist groups behind surging violence in the neighboring countries.

The Obama administration hopes to build a strong and lasting regional alliance, linking success in Afghanistan with security in Pakistan. Toward that end, the administration is encouraging Pakistan to confront — not make peace with — the Taliban and other militants.

"These violent extremists need to be confronted head on," State Department spokesman Robert Wood said. "We will be supportive."

Fearing that war could consume the region, thousands fled the main Swat town of Mingora on Tuesday, witnesses said. Refugees clambered onto the roofs of buses after seats and floors filled up. Children and adults alike carried belongings on their heads and backs.

"I do not have any destination. I only have an aim — to escape from here," said Afzal Khan, 65, who was waiting for a bus with his wife and nine children. "It is like doomsday here. It is like hell."

Shafi Ullah, a student, said the whole town was fleeing.

"Can you hear the explosions? Can you hear the gunshots?" he said, pointing to a part of town where fighting was continuing.

It is far from certain that the Pakistani public has the stomach for a long battle in Swat. Given that the militants have had time to rest and reinforce their positions in the three months since the truce took effect, any operation would involve fierce fighting in an urban setting and almost certainly cause significant civilian casualties and damage to property.

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