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PAKISTAN: THE BATTLE WITHIN
Pakistan diary: Media wars
Is the military's capture of a Taliban stronghold a decisive moment in the conflict?
Last Modified: 13 May 2009 12:09 GMT

 

The Pakistani military says the capture of the Taliban stronghold was vitally important [EPA]

Imran Khan, Al Jazeera's reporter in Pakistan, will be filing regular dispatches from the country as the army battles Taliban fighters in the North West Frontier Province. 

Peshawar, Wednesday, May 13, 06:43 GMT

The army is really selling its side of the story.

On Tuesday, it proudly told the media that it had managed to capture a key Taliban stronghold, Gatt Pachar.

The humanitarian crisis persists as thousands of families are displaced by fighting [AFP]
This mountain is the base of Mullah Fazlullah, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban.

It is said to house armed fighters, training camps and arms dumps.

Capturing it was key.

But has it made a difference?

Well, yes and no. Denying the Taliban any ground is crucial. But were key Taliban leaders there at the time?

It would appear not. That's an issue.

The longer Mullah Fazlullah evades capture, the more of a totem he becomes, and a symbol for the Taliban fighters.

That gives him strength and power beyond his tactical skills.

Speculation suggests that Fazlullah remains in the Swat valley. Sources close to the Taliban have told Al Jazeera that Fazlullah knew that the army would target his base and that, by leaving fighters there, he was able to escape along with the senior leadership.

That's important because the Taliban has plenty of fighters, but what the group lacks is men with military knowledge to guide them.

Experts say the Taliban's senior leaders have that knowledge, which encompasses guerrilla warfare, bombmaking and other skills.

If Mullah Fazlullah and men such as his senior commander Ibn-e-Amin perish, then the army can say the Taliban has been defeated.

So far, the Taliban insists that its leaders are all still alive and battle goes on.

So, while the army sells its message of success, success, success others are less sure.

The humanitarian crisis continues; so far, the government says 1.3 million have been displaced. Ordinary Pakistanis are watching the pictures on their television screens nightly and wondering how on earth this spells peace.

Peshawar, Tuesday, May 12, 2009, 09:22 GMT

Peshawar is a town with a past littered with the ghosts of war.

A palpable fear now hangs over the city after frequent deadly attacks [EPA]
Traditionally it has inhabited the crossroads between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

It was here the British Empire headquartered its great game against Russia in the 19th century.

It is here that the Afghan mujahidin gathered logistics to fight their war against Russian occupation in the 1980s.

This dusty town with its cobbled alleyways was the place where CIA agents mingled with their Pakistani counterparts to conduct their war in Afghanistan after the twin towers in New York fell.

And now Peshawar is once again at the centre of conflict.

It's already home to thousands of refugees fleeing those wars in Afghanistan.

But this time its war is raging within Pakistan's borders and those refugees are Pakistani.

It's had an incredible effect on Pakistan.

The media here have dubbed this the biggest movement of people since partition, when millions crossed the new border between Pakistan and India in 1947.

"The media here have dubbed this the biggest movement of people since partition... in 1947"

Ordinary Pakistanis have taken to the streets demanding the fighting stops.

One taxi driver told me he fears the break-up of Pakistan.

Another shop owner in one of Peshawar's hotels says war will only make the situation worse, that the Taliban will hide in the mountains and fight until the bitter end.

The bitter end.

It's worth thinking about how exactly Pakistan will end its military operation.

The government wants a swift operation that will allow them to claim victory.

Analysts say the army wants to be able to secure the area quickly and withdraw leaving the police in charge.

At the time of writing, the end is nowhere in sight.

The only thing we can say with any degree of certainty is that Pakistanis will flood into the camps and the battle still rages.

Source:
Al Jazeera
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