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Refugees will judge Pakistan's anti-Taliban fight

Islamabad must be accountable to people fleeing the Swat Valley region.

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Like water running downhill, Pakistani refugees are streaming from the mountains and valleys of the greater Swat region, where a peace agreement between militant Taliban Islamists and the central government has completely broken down.

Local officials are expecting as many as 600,000 to 800,000 displaced people – a wave that could help wash out public and government tolerance of the Taliban, or, conversely, heap more disapproval on Pakistan's ineffective leadership.

Much depends on how these refugees are treated, on how quickly and definitively the Pakistani Army moves to defeat the Taliban insurgents in the region they're fleeing, and – if the Army is successful – on what the refugees encounter once they return home. If Pakistan's government can defuse the Taliban threat and win public confidence, Islamic terrorism will have suffered a serious blow.

Public alarm over the Taliban and their extreme brand of Islamic justice is quickly escalating. At first, the militants appealed to fellow Muslims in the untamed northwest of this struggling democracy. They won sympathy by railing against foreign infidels (the US and its allies) and against the government's support of those infidels. They promised to restore law and order.

In February, Islamabad mistakenly thought it could keep the Taliban in check through a deal that promised Islamic sharia courts in exchange for the insurgents' disarmament.

But the Taliban's harsh interpretation of Islamic law has since turned many against them. Horrified refugees confirm reports of public flogging, brutal killings, and the burning of schools and police headquarters. And the Taliban did not lay down arms, but rather moved aggressively toward Islamabad, coming within 60 miles of the capital.

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