How far is sixty miles?
It’s milonga distance: I’m considering attending a tango dance that is sixty miles away from my house.
It’s beach distance: I drive that far in the summer to go to the beach on a day trip.
Sixty miles is nothing.
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, April 23 — Taliban forces consolidated control of two northwestern Pakistan districts and sent patrols into a third Thursday, stepping up their defiance of a government peace deal and raising fears of further advances by violent Islamists who are now within 60 miles of this capital city.
Officials reacted with only mild concern, saying that the Taliban should comply with their pledge to lay down arms and that the peace deal should be given a chance. Pakistan’s national security adviser, Rehman Malik, said security had actually “improved” in the past two weeks but that force would be “the only option” if the Islamists did not halt their violence.
The government already ceded two provinces and the Taliban didn’t put down their weapons.
The new Taliban push comes amid increasing criticism of the Pakistani government for its confused, ineffective attempts to contain Islamist violence. Faced with a surge in suicide bombings and attacks across the country, the government of President Asif Ali Zardari has alternately tried to fight and appease the insurgents.
More than a year after democratic elections swept secular, pro-democracy parties into power nationally and in the northwest, Zardari and his allies have endorsed a peace deal that allows the Taliban to impose strict Islamic law, or sharia, on the Swat Valley in exchange for laying down their weapons.
Last year I reported on Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Pakistan’s minister of foreign affairs lecture at Princeton University. The entire gist lecture was that Pakistan is a victim of terrorism, and that Afghanistan, India and the US were to blame.
Sure enough, the WaPo article included the “blame America” factor:
A third factor in the confused national reaction to the Swat agreement, and to the wider threat of Islamist violence, is the deep resentment many Pakistanis feel about the U.S. military role here. There is widespread belief that the problem of radical Islam in Pakistan stems from the unfinished war between the United States and the Taliban in next-door Afghanistan, where tens of thousands of U.S. troops are stationed.
As if radical Islam would have never targeted Pakistan in the first place.
Qureshi last year asserted, “We are willing to take on the Taliban.” Now the Taliban is less than sixty miles away from the capital.
The WaPo now reports that Taliban Fighters Begin Retreat from Northwest Pakistan
Pullout Could Save a Fragile Peace Agreement Between Pakistan, Islamic Forces
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, April 24 — Taliban extremist forces, facing threats of an army assault and a flurry of criticism from Pakistani officials, began withdrawing Friday from a district in northwest Pakistan they had occupied for the past week.
There were reports Friday afternoon that some hardline Taliban were refusing to leave Buner, just 60 miles from Islamabad. But regional officials said they assured Taliban leaders at a meeting that Islamic law would be brought quickly to Swat and the adjoining districts if they recalled their fighters back to Swat.
Either way, the Taliban is calling the shots.
The Taliban takeover of Haripur would put the Taliban on the doorstep of Islamabad and would also put two major nuclear facilities at risk.
Haripur borders the Margala Hills, a region in the Islamabad Capital Territory. Haripur also borders the Punjab districts of Attock and Rawalpindi.
Attock hosts two major nuclear facilities in Pakistan: the Wah Cantonment Ordnance Complex and the Kamra (Minhas) Airbase. The Wah Cantonment Ordnance Complex host three sites where nuclear weapons and components are stored and assembled and aircraft and missiles are modified for use in nuclear attacks. The nearby Kamra Airbase is thought to host attack aircraft capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
Rawalpindi is the “garrison” city for Pakistan’s military. The city hosts the headquarters of the Army and Air Force, and several nuclear weapons research facilities are also located there.
During 2007 and 2008, The Taliban and al Qaeda conducted several suicide attacks at Pakistani facilities that are thought to house nuclear weapons and research facilities. It is unclear if the suicide attacks were a demonstration of the groups’ capacity to penetrate security at sensitive locations or merely attacks on targets of opportunity.