James Forsyth

Why are the Pakistani Taliban being given another opening?

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There is a depressingly predictable story in The New York Times today about reconstruction in the Swat Valley. Here’s the key section:

“the real test of Pakistan’s fight against the Taliban in Swat will take place here, in the impoverished villages where the militant movement began.

But more than two months after the end of active combat, with winter fast approaching, reconstruction has yet to begin, and little has been accomplished on the ground to win back people’s trust, villagers and local officials say.

The lag, they argue, is risky: It was a sense of near-total abandonment by the government that opened people to the Taliban to begin with, they say, and the longer people are left to fend for themselves, the greater the chance of a relapse.”

This is infuriating. As soon as the Pakistani’s military campaign was over in Swat, it was obvious that a rapid reconstruction effort was needed to prevent more people from being radicalised and to stop the Taliban and other Islamist groups from being able to step in to fill the gap left by government. But once again, this hasn’t happened.

As the article makes clear part of the problem is that aid organisations and the UN do not operate in places where the security conditions are deemed too dangerous. A Taliban bomb which kills several UN staff succeeded in halting the UN’s reconstruction work.

But to stop reconstruction because of the security situation is self-defeating; it makes it far too easy for the Taliban to achieve its goals. What is needed—given that foreign militaries operating openly inside Pakistan’s borders is a no-go—are UN PRTs which would add a military presence to reconstruction efforts and enable it to continue despite Taliban attacks.