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The Pakistani Taliban's Advance

Interviewee: Wendy Chamberlin, President, Middle East Institute
Interviewer: Jayshree Bajoria, Staff Writer
April 27, 2009

The Pakistani Taliban continues to take their fight closer to the capital city of Islamabad. After taking over the Swat valley in the country's northwest earlier this year and signing a peace deal with the government that imposed sharia law, in April the group expanded its operations into Buner District, just sixty miles from Islamabad. The government recaptured Buner from the militants, but news reports suggested the Taliban was advancing into the neighboring districts of Shangla, Swabi, Malakand and Mardan. The Taliban's growing influence has prompted bleak assessments from U.S. officials in Washington. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the country faces an "existential threat" from Islamic militants (LAT).

Wendy J. Chamberlin, president of the Washington-based Middle East Institute and U.S. ambassador to Pakistan from 2001 to 2002, says though a collapse of the country is not imminent, "the speed and organization the extremist groups are able to secure different districts and towns" is "alarming." She says the fact that these militants are Pakistani also poses a problem for the country's security forces. As this Backgrounder points out, the Pakistani Taliban emerged as a force of its own as a reaction to the Pakistani army's incursions into the tribal areas to hunt down militants.

Chamberlin argues the Pakistani government's policy of appeasement with the militants has failed to contain extremism, and the government and the security forces must respond with strength. One top priority for U.S. policy in the region, she says, should be to invest in "a better trained, better equipped, more professional police" for Pakistan that would be the best defense against the wave of extremism. But the United States lacks a department or agency that could take up the responsibility of Pakistani police training, Chamberlin says.

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