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Pakistan Reportedly Preparing Assault on Militants

ANDREA SEABROOK, Host:

Philip, first of all, tell us about the Swat Valley and the Islamist hold on the region.

PHILIP REEVES: Well, the important thing about the Swat Valley is that it really is not the tribal areas, which we've heard so much about between Pakistan and Afghanistan. This is an area which is regarded in loose parlance as the sort of mainland. It's where Pakistanis went to have their holidays. It had a skiing resort in it. It's an area which many people in the cities look at very nostalgically, particularly now, because it has been, in large part, taken over by pro-Taliban elements led by this unusual cleric known as Maulana Fazlullah, which is his name, but also known as the FM mullah because he operates this illegal FM mobile radio operation on which he rallies his troops and he appeals for Shariah law and the army in Pakistan has been trying to track him down with American assistance. But it's finding that very, very difficult because he keeps moving his location.

SEABROOK: So until recently, it was known that these Islamist, sort of pro-Taliban guerrillas, had a hold over the tribal areas but now this is moving in to the more mainland areas, as you say.

REEVES: Yeah, that's right. And for that - that is very significant. I mean, it's very significant sort of psychologically for Pakistan. The idea that they are creeping into the heartland of the country itself is preying on the minds of many Pakistanis. And it should be said that Benazir Bhutto, who is now in outright opposition to General Pervez Musharraf, the military ruler of this country, is making a great deal of that, because she knows how strongly Pakistanis in, particularly in the Punjab and in the Sind where you find a lot of kind of metropolitan, cosmopolitan, secular-thinking, Western-leaning Pakistanis. They feel very strongly about this trend, this tendency.

SEABROOK: So this mullah, how many fighters does he have? How entrenched are they?

REEVES: Well, I don't know the answer to that because, you know, I haven't counted them but the Army, of course, has a figure, as is often the case. I remember the Americans used to offer figures for the insurgency in Iraq and the British in Northern Ireland used to do the same thing. They were never reliable. But in this case, the Pakistani army estimates that there are four to five hundred what they call miscreants. Although the evidence is that they are quite well-organized insurgents who are intent on overthrowing Musharraf. And they have an intelligence wing. They have a logistics wing. And so the operation that the Pakistani army is about to launch will likely be quite a difficult one.

SEABROOK: Philip, you mentioned Benazir Bhutto pushing on Musharraf on these tribal regions. How does this army operation in the Swat Valley fit into the picture of the current political turmoil in Pakistan?

REEVES: So it is an important factor if the army can reemerge from this and say that it has brought some stability in Swat. That will be an important plus for Musharraf.

SEABROOK: Thank you very much.

REEVES: You're most welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.
Andrea Seabrook
Andrea Seabrook covers Capitol Hill as NPR's Congressional Correspondent.