Pakistan could be losing ground to the Taliban

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LISA MULLINS: We have heard a lot about how the Taliban have taken control of parts of Pakistan, and we've reported on the Pakistani military's efforts to wrest back that control. Well there's a new map put together by the BBC's Urdu Service. It illustrates the extent to which the Taliban are strengthening that grip. The map of Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province shows that Pakistan's government controls only 38% of this pivotal region that's on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Aamer Ahmed Khan is the Editor of the BBC Urdu Service in London. So I am, Amir, on the BBC website right now. Our listeners can go to theworld.org. They can link onto this map. For those who aren't looking at it right now, could you describe it for us?

AAMER AHMED KHAN: Well, if you look at the map of the Northwest Frontier Province part of Pakistan, this is the northern part of Pakistan on the left, you will see Afghanistan. Now in between the Northwest Frontier Province and Afghanistan, you will see a tiny strip which is the tribal areas where a bulk of the fight against Al-Qaeda and Taliban have taken place in the past and indeed continues to take place now. The map actually reflects what we have been reporting over the last 12 to 18 months or so, and the intent is to get a kind of visual idea of what is the spread of the Taliban in that area and what is it that actually Pakistan is dealing with.

MULLINS: Okay, so you have color coded the map into rust colors where the Taliban has complete control. Gold color, mustard colors where the Taliban has some kind of presence, and then there is the government controlled area which is in green. The government controlled area represents what percent and the Taliban presence or the complete Taliban control area represents what percent?

KHAN: When we say "government control," what in fact would be explained is that the government exercise more or less complete of it. That's about 38% of the total area. That means about 62% is either completely in Taliban control or partially in their control or at least there they have some presence which tends to weaken the rate of the government. Now, of this 62%, our research suggests that about 24% of this area is more or less in complete Taliban control.

MULLINS: It is alarming to see the extent to which the Taliban according to your map has control of the region. The Pakistani government though says your map is not accurate. They say it's highly inflated in terms of the control of the Taliban, grossly exaggerated. How did you get your information for this map?

KHAN: It's all based on what we have been reporting over the last year and a half and it's very, very difficult for the government to admit that it has lost control over its own territory. But the fact of the matter is that in trying to wrest this area back from Taliban control, this 24% that we have marked on the map, it's led to a displacement of nearly a million people from those areas. Such is the intensity of this battle.

MULLINS: One other question. We have reports of NATO convoys that are trying to deliver supplies to some of these areas in Pakistan are being shot at by the Taliban. Do the people of these areas, in fact, people who might be receiving these supplies, do they accept Taliban rule? As we know, there are many, many who have fled, but are they welcoming the Taliban? Are they fighting the Taliban as they move in?

KHAN: It's very difficult to say. As we heard Pakistani President Ali Asif Zardari was saying today in his press with the British Prime Minister, they rule through fear. They move into an area, they scare the local population into keeping quiet. So as long as this element of fear is there, it's very, very difficult to say whether there is indigenous support for the Taliban in these areas or people are just not rising up against them for ideological reasons.

MULLINS: All right, Amir Khan, Editor of the BBC Urdu Service. Thank you very much.

KHAN: Okay, thanks. Bye.