Archive for Friday, October 30, 2009

Journalist: Pakistan at ‘crucial moment’

October 30, 2009

— Pakistan has reached a turning point concerning the government’s stance on Taliban militants, a Philadelphia Inquirer columnist said Thursday.

As part of a three-day Counterinsurgency Center Leader Workshop at the fort, Trudy Rubin, a foreign affairs columnist who was a 2001 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her columns on Israel and the Palestinians, spoke about what she calls “a crucial moment in time” for Pakistan.

Before her visit to the country in April, Rubin said, a peace accord was signed in February between the Pakistan government and Sufi Muhammad, a well-known Pakistani militant.

The atmosphere of the country, she said, was a mix of excitement about the possibility of peace — and overwhelming fear because of Pakistani civilians’ distrust of their country’s military operations.

“There is a great bitterness against the military,” Rubin said.

In interviews during her travels in Pakistan, Rubin said, many civilians told her the military often fired weapons indiscriminately and failed to clear out civilians from military actions. Rubin said the military never actually killed any Taliban leaders.

“This signified they were not seriously going after the Taliban,” she said. “They were just going through the motions.”

Rubin said the military and government’s actions toward the Taliban “made you wonder if there was any coherent strategy to dealing with the militants.”

The impunity with which the Taliban operated was about to change, however.

Shortly after the peace accord, Rubin said Sufi Muhammad gave a speech in which he refuted the agreement and made accusations that the Pakistani government was anti-Islamic.

“That was the turning point,” she said. “That stunned everyone in the whole country. … It was really quite an astonishing thing to see.”

About three to four days following the speech, Rubin said, the Taliban began branching out of the valley of Swat, closer to Islamabad, the Pakistan capital.

“That physical movement led to a shift,” Rubin said of the government’s seeming inactivity toward the Taliban.

Rubin said military forces eventually put a stop to the movement and have since been holding to the status quo.

Life today in Pakistan, Rubin said, is far from normal, however.

It’s one thing to put a hold on a militant force, Rubin said, but to see progress, a rebuilding process has to follow.

This is where Pakistan has fallen flat, leaving Rubin to wonder which direction the country will turn at this point in its history.

“The building is not getting done,” she said. “It creates, in my mind, a wasted opportunity. If you can’t hold and build, you’re going to be going back to square one.”

While a lot has changed, Rubin said, the Pakistan government and military still have several pieces missing in their strategy against the Taliban.

“I personally felt like at this moment it’s like seeing the Titanic turn from the iceberg,” she said. “ … But I’m still not sure what course it’s on.”

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