Pakistan says it retook Buner

Army pushes against Taliban

The Associated PressApril 30, 2009 

— Pakistan's offensive to push Taliban militants from a district near the capital drew little criticism from local politicians and clerics -- a sign that insurgents may have gone too far in trying to expand their reign in the region.

But despite that tacit acceptance, the nuclear-armed country remains far from consensus on the seriousness of the extremist threat it faces -- and how best to fight it.

The army said Wednesday that it has retaken the main town in Buner, a district 60 miles from Islamabad, which Taliban fighters overwhelmed this month in the wake of a peace deal that established Islamic law in the Swat Valley.

The insurgents' advance into Buner had heightened concern in Pakistan about the militants' growing reach, once largely limited to the remote, semiautonomous tribal belt. Even some pro-Taliban religious party leaders criticized recent statements by militants and their sympathizers that democracy and elections are un-Islamic.

Whether that will translate into sustained action is another matter.

Anti-Americanism is widespread in Pakistan, a mood exacerbated by U.S. missile strikes in northwest regions bordering Afghanistan.

Public support for fellow Muslims and a lack of agreement about what Taliban rule would mean also make it difficult for the U.S.-allied government in Islamabad to rally public support against the insurgents.

"All the destabilization and anarchy in the region is because of the Americans' aggressive and violent policies," said Nadir Khan, a 41-year-old merchant in Karachi. "The solution is that Americans should quit Afghanistan immediately. Extremist forces would themselves die down ultimately."

But militant activity has seemed like the norm in recent years in Pakistan, and the government has tried to cut peace deals with militant groups, annoying U.S. officials who say the pacts strengthen the insurgents.

Under the Swat agreement, Islamic law was imposed there and in surrounding districts, including Buner. The idea of Islamic law, which under the Taliban's sway would likely be harsh, prompted exceptional soul-searching in Pakistan, with critics calling the deal a "surrender."

But the perception that Pakistanis are needlessly dying in a war for the U.S. is so widespread that many people would rather stay silent about the Taliban than appear to back the United States, said Mohammed Hanif, an author and commentator.

Political analyst Mehdi Hasan said most Pakistanis do not back the Taliban's approach to religion, but "the problem is that the overwhelming majority is the silent majority."

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