Andrew Buncombe in the Independent:
Before it fell under the mounting influence of the Taliban two years ago, the stunning, rugged valley was a popular tourist destination for middle-class Pakistanis and – unlike the tribal areas – was seen a part of “Pakistan proper”. But after militants took effective control of the valley and then, in April, spilled into several neighbouring areas, including Buner and Lower Dir, no more than 60 miles from Islamabad, there was mounting pressure on the government to act.
The Obama administration considers the operation a test of resolve for President Asif Ali Zardari and the Pakistani military following years of claims that the army has been reluctant or unable to go to war against the militants. In turn, the Pakistani leadership has pitched the operation as nothing less than a fight for the survival of the country. As such, to this point, it appears to have a fair degree of popular support – even if Mr Zardari himself does not.
Had the government tried to do a deal with the Taliban?
Among the population of Swat – which until 1969 was a so-called princely state and not fully incorporated into Pakistan – there was mounting frustration with the official justice system. People complained about corruption and bureaucracy. The valley had a tradition of Sharia or Islamic law and the Taliban seized on the people’s desire for speedier justice to push for the establishment of Sharia. The militants’ version of this code, however, was overwhelmingly brutal; girls schools were burned, people were flogged or beheaded and women were banned from appearing in public.
Despite this, the government brokered a ceasefire deal in February that involved the establishment of official Sharia courts. But the Taliban failed to meet its end of the deal and lay down its weapons. In April, as the Taliban started to extend its grip into surrounding areas, the military launched its operation. More: