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"Tide turns" in Swat as terrorists strike Pakistan mosque

Oliver Scanlan
5 June 2009

In a statement issued on Thursday evening, General Ashfaq Kayani, Chief of Army Staff of the Pakistan army, said that the Pakistan had "turned the tide" against Taliban fighters and was now pushing to eliminate their presence in the Swat valley completely. His comments were published only hours before a terrorist attack on a mosque in Upper Dir, near the Swat valley killed at least forty people with the number of wounded still unknown.

The toD verdict: Events in Pakistan over the last twenty four hours bring the security dilemma facing the Zadari administration into sharp relief. It is clear, despite the enormous humanitarian costs borne by Swat's civilian population, that the conventional military offensive being undertaken by the Pakistan military is achieving its goal of pushing back the Taliban. According to military statements, over 1,200 militants have been killed while only 90 Pakistani soldiers have been killed. The offensive is popular both with domestic political stakeholders and policymakers in Washington. It even has supporters among the now 2.5 million internally displaced civilians fleeing the violence.

However, the key question is whether this conventional military victory will bring real security to Pakistan. It is not only the attack on the mosque at Upper Dir that suggests this to be doubtful, at least in the short term. Also on Friday, Interior Minister Rehman Malik announced that suicide bombers had been arrested in Islamabad itself, and four Pakistani soldiers were killed in a bomb blast in southern Waziristan.

There is speculation that the Pakistan army's next move may be to assault Waziristan itself. It is unclear as to whether such a move would result in as swift a victory as in Swat. Richard Holdebrooke, the US special envoy, said after a meeting with Zadari that the US is encouraged by the strong stand taken by Pakistan. But, with aid agencies predicting a still greater humanitarian crisis, the risk is that this encouragement may lead to military overstretch and stalemate, the deterioration of both the domestic security and political situation and further suffering for the civilians of Pakistan's northwest.

North Korea may launch another missile

On Friday it was reported in the South Korean media that the United States is intending to implement financial sanctions on North Korea to further pressure the reclusive state into halting its missile and nuclear weapons development programmes. At the same time, the respected security think tank GlobalSecurity.org has published satellite imagery of the DPRK's launch site at Tongchang-ni indicating that the north may be preparing for another missile launch.

This will add to tensions that are rapidly reaching fever pitch, with Thursday seeing a naval standoff between naval vessels belonging to both the South and North, which was resolved only when the North Korean ship withdrew. Also on Thursday, ambassadors from the permanent members of the UN security council, together with Japan and South Korea, announced that they were close to an agreement to implement UN sanctions against the DPRK.

Obama speech sets new tone for middle east policy

In what was, in many ways, the most radical speech by an incumbent United States president regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, President Barack Obama on Thursday referred to the plight of the Palestinian people as "intolerable". Referring explicitly to "Palestine" and saying that Americans "will not turn their backs" on the Palestinians' need for "a state of their own", the gap between the rhetoric of the governments of the US and Israel appeared to widen further.

Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has so far refused to explicitly endorse the idea of a Palestinian state, instead calling for a policy of "economic" development. There is speculation that, with extreme right party Israeli Beiteinu playing a key role in Netanyahu's governing coalition, it would be impossible for him to do so politically, even if he wanted to.

Obama went on to call for a re-examination of relations between Islam and the west. It has been depicted as a bold attempt to reach out to the peoples of the middle east. Although many Palestinians, together with Arab allies, reacted extremely positively to the address, at least one major regional actor remains to be convinced. 

On Thursday, while marking anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Khomeini, his successor and incumbent Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued an excoriating critique of US policy in the region. Saying that the US remains "deeply hated" in the middle east, he said that "sweet and beautiful words" would not change that.

Violent attacks in Russia

In two incidents on Friday, six people were killed and two wounded in Russia's Dagestan and Ingushetia regions. In what is the second high profile assassination in Dagestan in two weeks, the region's interior minister was killed by machine gun fire, along with the head of the interior ministry's logistics department. In Ingushetia, four gunmen and one security official were killed in a gun battle.

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