Pakistan — Pakistan’s army and the Taliban blamed each other Sunday for a rise in tensions that threatened to destroy a much-criticized peace deal, just days before the Pakistani president heads to Washington for talks with President Barack Obama.
The army accused militants in the Swat Valley of looting, attacking infrastructure and killing one soldier. A Taliban spokesman said militants will start patrolling Swat’s main town, and acknowledged that they cut the throats of two soldiers as revenge for the army killing two insurgents.
What happens to the peace pact is likely to figure prominently in talks between Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Obama later this week. Zardari is expected to ask for more money to help Pakistan’s battered economy and under-equipped security forces.
Under February’s peace deal, the government agreed to impose Islamic law in the districts that make up the Malakand Division in hopes that the militants would lay down their arms.
But the Taliban in Swat were emboldened, and soon entered the adjacent Buner district to impose their harsh brand of Islam.
Pakistan has insisted on using negotiations and force in tackling violent extremism within its borders. It’s an approach that worries U.S. officials, who warn that peace deals allow the insurgents time and room to strengthen.
Taliban and al-Qaida fighters already have strongholds along Pakistan’s border regions from which to plan attacks on U.S. and NATO forces in neighboring Afghanistan, and American leaders don’t want to see Swat turn into a sanctuary for them.