Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani president, said he instituted emergency rule for the extra powers it would give him to push back the militants who have carved out a mini-state in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
But in the last several days, the militants have extended their reach, capturing more territory in Pakistan’s settled areas and chasing away frightened policemen, local government officials said.
As inconspicuous as it might be in a nation of 160 million people, the takeover of the small Alpuri district headquarters this week was considered a particular embarrassment for Musharraf. It showed how the militants could still thumb their noses at the Pakistani army.
In fact, local officials and Western diplomats said, there is little evidence that the 12-day-old emergency decree has increased the government’s leverage in fighting the militants, or that Musharraf has used the decree to take any extraordinary steps to combat them.
Instead, it has proved more of a distraction, they said, forcing Musharraf to concentrate on his own political survival, even as the army starts its first offensive operation since the Nov. 3 decree.
The success of the militants in Swat has caused new concern in Washington about the ability and the will of Pakistani forces to fight the militants who are now training their sights directly on Pakistan’s government, not only on the NATO and U.S. forces across the border in Afghanistan, Western officials said.
After several weeks of heavy clashes, the militants largely control Swat, the mountainous region that is the scenic jewel of Pakistan, and are pushing into Shangla, to the east. All of these sites lie deeper inside Pakistan than the tribal areas, on the Afghan border, where al-Qaida, the Taliban and assorted foreign and local militants have expanded a stronghold in recent years.
In Alpuri, the administrative headquarters of Shangla, a crowd of militants easily took over the police station, despite the emergency decree, Mayor Ibad Khan said. “They came straight to the police station, it was empty,” he said in a telephone interview. The district police officer had run away. “I am still searching for him,” Khan said. Asked why the police station was empty, he said, “I am asking myself the same question.”
The shelling of militant positions in several subdistricts of Swat, and in neighboring Shangla in the last several days, was the first significant action by the Pakistani army in the area, Western defense officials said.
One Western diplomat said that a government military briefing Thursday in Islamabad was designed to convince foreign countries of the feasibility of the government offensive. Instead, the official said, the presentation only underscored the Pakistan army’s lack of counterinsurgency skills as it tries to battle about 400 well-supplied and well-trained militants in the region.
In the past, the government has relied on paramilitary forces, the Frontier Corps and the constabulary to control Swat, which is part of North-West Frontier Province.