Via Dawn, the Pakistan Army has announced that it has secured "complete control" of Mingora, the main city in Swat, and is continuing search and control operations in the region. Exactly what has been accomplished will be unclear for some time, since even the military admits that many of the Taliban have melted away as the Army has moved in.
What does seem clear, with the bombings in Lahore and Peshawar this week, is that Pakistan can no longer view the threats from militant violence as capable of being restricted to the tribal regions. The Taliban and their allies may escape to the mountains in order to fight another day. But they may also make their way, along with some 2.5 million plus IDPs, into the urbanized areas of Pakistan’s main provinces.
One traditional safety valve for Pakistan, the eastern regions of Afghanistan, is likely to become less available as the US beefs up its military presence there. In theory, the hammer of US/NATO forces will strike the Taliban, forcing it back against the anvil of Pakistan’s own military presence.
The anvil now seems to be getting a bit worried.
On Wednesday, Dawn reported, and the US embassy confirmed, that General Petraeus paid a visit to Islamabad for secret meetings to calm growing concerns of Pakistani military and civilian leaders.
‘Gen Petraeus told his interlocutors that the US had very few options other than to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan and that all possible efforts would be made to minimise its fallout on Pakistan,’ a diplomatic source told Dawn.
The government fears that the US move to boost its military presence in Afghanistan by up to 21,000 troops in a few months could further destabilise Pakistan by pushing more Taliban across the border, particularly in Balochistan. Increased US military activity may also spark an influx of refugees from southern Afghanistan.
The sources said that Gen Petraeus explained the US strategy for addressing the expected effects of the move on Pakistan and suggested closer military cooperation for dealing with the issue. ‘The US hammer and anvil approach looks good on paper, but it is impracticable,’ a source remarked.
Of course, it’s more than a little unclear exactly what the source would recommend as "practicable" to deal with the militant groups straddling the "border" of the two countries and wreaking havoc in both.
Today, Prime Minister Gilani picks up the same theme, worrying that increased US presence in eastern Afghanistan will increase infiltartion by Taliban into Pakistan.
Talking to reporters, he said he had already taken up the matter with US officials and had stated that the increased number of US military personnel in Afghanistan would build a pressure forcing militants to cross the border and move into Pakistan.
Gilani said the US authorities had promised to have greater interaction and an enhanced intelligence sharing between the countries. He said Pakistan would never allow its soil to be used for terrorist activities.
The more interesting question, at least in my mind, is the reverse — whether Pakistan’s military will have "greater interaction and an enhanced intelligence sharing" with the US. We shall see — though even if cooperation increases significantly, the Pakistanis have political interests in publicly downplaying US connections. For example, Dawn reported that during the "secret visit":
General Petraeus also offered drone intelligence gathering for the Swat operation.The sources said Pakistan might have decided against announcing the general’s visit in order to prevent speculations that it was linked to the Swat operation which the military is keeping separate from the ‘war on terror’ for fear of losing the broad national support it had gained.
It appears that Petraeus is continuing to try to convince the Pakistani military that they’re going to need some assistance, and learn a new bag of COIN tricks, if they’re going to be successful in the long-run. Sources reported that during the unpublicized visit:
Gen Petraeus told Pakistani leaders that an amount of $700 million would be at the disposal of the US military each year till 2013 under the Pakistan Counter-insurgency Capabilities Fund to meet the country’s needs in the fight against extremists.
The fund will allow the Centcom chief to work with Pakistan’s military to build its counter-insurgency capability.
The general sought proposals on ways the fund could be utilised.
Once the dust settles enough for outsiders to take stock of the Swat offensive, it’s likely that the potential uses of the COIN Capabilities Fund will become clearer to Petraeus & co. But whether the Pakistani military will finally learn to love COIN is a different matter.
UPDATE: For a taste of how delicately Petraeus and the Obama Administration are handling Pakistani sensitivities, here are some quotes from an interview he did on Fox:
"They (Pakistani army) are doing it because of the threat that the Taliban poses to them and to their country, not because of American interests. The people have come to recognise the Taliban for their repressive practices," Petraeus said.
The Pakistani army is fighting the militants "because the Taliban has come to represent a threat to the very existence of their state."
In fact, Gen Petraeus said: "They very much want to be seen as not fighting our war. They’ll take certain assistance, but by no means anything that directly affects the combat operations. There is a fierce pride in their own ability. And a good bit of that is justified."
Gen Petraeus said the Pakistani army currently seems to be determined on their own to carry out this fight against the Taliban. "And we see every reason to expect that they are going to continue to do that," he said.
"We’ve provided some other logistical supplies and other assistance. We’ve provided economic assistance," he said.
I suppose it’s too much to expect the folks on Capitol Hill to handle the situation with the same deft touch.
Cross-posted at American Footprints