It took just a few months for the Pakistani military to clear the Swat Valley’s lush, mountainous tribal terrain of its Taliban usurpers last summer, using some 30,000 troops to dislodge the guerrillas from the once-bustling tourist haven, 80 miles northwest of the capital Islamabad. Now, however, almost a year after winning the war, the same number of troops are still in place in order to hold Swat, rebuild it and prevent a Taliban resurgence — and that may keep Islamabad from going after the extremists in other parts of Pakistan’s unruly frontier with Afghanistan.
The U.S. has often appealed to Pakistan to do just that, specifically against elements in North Waziristan. More than 200 miles south of Swat, the tribal territory is a base for militants targeting U.S. troops just across the border in Afghanistan; it is also believed to be a refuge for senior al-Qaeda leaders. Yet the Pakistani military has refused to go into North Waziristan because it says its forces are already stretched thin (the bulk of the country’s troops are stationed along the eastern border with India, the nation Islamabad still considers its primary foe). (See pictures of refugees fleeing the Swat valley in 2009.) Continue reading