The Pakistani army continues its assault today on Taliban militants in the Swat Valley. Pakistan's prime minister vowed today to "eliminate the terrorists." But as The World's Katy Clark reports, many in Pakistan see the Taliban in a different light.
This text below is a phonetic transcript of a radio story broadcast by PRI's THE WORLD. It has been created on deadline by a contractor for PRI. The transcript is included here to facilitate internet searches for audio content. Please report any transcribing errors to email@example.com. This transcript may not be in its final form, and it may be updated. Please be aware that the authoritative record of material distributed by PRI's THE WORLD is the program audio.
MARCO WERMAN: In neighboring Pakistan, the government has ordered more troops into the Swat Valley to fight the Taliban. Pakistan's Prime Minister said today the armed forces have been called in to eliminate the militants and terrorists. But many in Pakistan don't see the Taliban in that light. The World's Katy Clark reports on the group's growing strength in Pakistan.
KATY CLARK: The Taliban in Pakistan are not a single unified force. Rather, Taliban is used to describe several different militant groups, many with roots in Pakistan's tribal areas. They do have some elements in common, though, such as their appeal among Pakistan's poor. Farzana Sheik is with the foreign policy think tank Chattam House in London.
FARZANA SHEIK: Most Pakistanis do not have access to decent education. Most Pakistanis do not have access to decent health care, nor to decent housing. So I think that is a powerful incentive for many to join the Taliban.
CLARK: Pakistani journalist Shahid Sadulah says that by drawing upon the most underprivileged sections of society, the Taliban have introduced an element of class war between extremist and more moderate Pakistanis.
SHAHID SABDULAH: Then there's this heavy dose of their version of Islam, which is not the version that most educated and liberal people have of the religion â€“ and to that is then added a very heavy dose of anti-westernism, particularly anti-Americanism. If you put all the three together, you get a pretty potent mixture.
CLARK: The Pakistani Taliban are linked ideologically and tribally to the Taliban in Afghanistan, and there's a lot of cross-border interaction between the two, but their leadership and structure are distinct. There appear to be three main Taliban groups in Pakistan. Each seeks to impose Sharia law in the country. The Pakistani government signed a controversial agreement earlier this year with the Taliban in Swat that authorized a new Islamic legal system there. But analyst Farzana Sheik says the desire for Sharia law is hardly the only reason for the Taliban's growing appeal.
SHEIK: In the tribal agencies, we have had phenomenon of Talibanization arise clearly as a response to local tribes deeply resenting their traditional autonomy being compromised by the inroads made by Pakistani security forces. In parts of Swat, Talibanization there has come about as a result of a widespread perception that the justice system has failed the local population.
CLARK: And Sheik says in parts of Pakistan's Punjab Province, there's a decidedly sectarian dimension to the Taliban's appeal.
SHEIK: For example, you have Shia landlords in command of significant land holdings who are widely perceived to be weighing down on a deprived and alienated desertry consisting mainly of local Sunnis. So you have the sectarian dimension there driving across their Talibanization program.
CLARK: But topping the list of reasons for the Taliban's increasing popularity in Pakistan is the US military's use of unmanned drones to target militants along the border with Afghanistan. Again, Pakistani journalist Shahid Sabdulah.
SABDULAH: The fact that they go out and perhaps take out some third or fourth level Taliban staffer is really neither here nor there. Because they kill six times the amount of innocent people, and for every innocent person that you kill, you have a dozen who are ready to join the ranks of the Taliban by way of revenge, because revenge as you know is a very basic part of the Pahtu culture there.
CLARK: Many see the Pakistani government's attempts to reign in the Taliban as bowing to US pressure. But as the Taliban's reach spreads across Pakistan, Shahid Sabdulah says the majority of Pakistanis are no longer able to ignore the threat to their country.
SABDULAH: This is very certainly Pakistan's war. It has got absolutely nothing to do with America. Swat is a part of Pakistan. The girls schools when the Taliban were burning down Swat were not schools which were creating people to go out and fight against the Taliban. So it is definitely Pakistan's fight now.
CLARK: That's a point President Obama tried to impress upon his Pakistani counterpart during their meetings this week in Washington. For The World, this is Katy Clark.