The Taliban have certainly been emboldened recently, taking over control of a town, Buner, which is just 60 miles from the capital of Pakistan. Since then, there have been daily reports of fighting between Pakistani military forces and radical elements, including the bombing of whole areas: "Heavy fighting raged for a fourth day across north-western Pakistan today, as Pakistani troops battled for control of a strategic valley and Taliban guerrillas struck back with suicide attacks and an assault on a military post that resulted in 10 soldiers being captured. The Pakistan military said it killed up to 60 militants during 24 hours of combat in Buner, a mountainous district 60 miles north of Islamabad, where helicopter gunships pounded Taliban positions and soldiers fended off attacks from an explosive-laden vehicle... Today's fighting brought the death toll from six days of violence to over 170 people, and the unrest was spreading to other parts of Malakand division" (Guardian 01/05/09).
In the wake of the 'peace deal' made by the Pakistani government with the Taliban over the implementation of Sharia law in the Swat area, American Secretary of State Hilary Clinton made a speech announcing that Pakistan's government was "basically abdicating to the Taliban and the extremists." Despite being toned down after heavy criticism from Islamabad, this speech was the latest recognition of the fact that the Obama government is now firmly focussed on its new so-called 'Afpak' policy: the recognition that the key to control of Asia and the Middle East is not Iraq but Afghanistan and Pakistan. This theme has been taken up by Gordon Brown in a recent visit to British troops stationed in Afghanistan in which he described "..the lawless and contested border area between the two as the new ‘crucible of terrorism'" (Guardian 30/04/09).
British and US ambitions for Afghanistan have now had to be 'toned down' - there is no longer the desire to create a Western style democracy, but a rather more limited aim of helping the Afghan government create a 'functioning state', which may seem like a sick joke given that roughly 7 years after the official fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan the Karzai government barely controls Kabul, let alone anywhere else. The perspective here is for what used to be called the war on terror to more and more become actualised in Pakistan with ever increasing dangers, both for its population and the wider region - a potential second 'failed state', a regression to a barbaric implementation of literal Sharia law (already happening in areas under Taliban control) and, most ominously, the question of control over the country's nuclear arsenal.