For reasons of geography, ethnicity, military inferiority, and ancient rivalries, they represent neither the immediate threat that is often portrayed nor the inevitable victors that the West fears.
It has become the statistic heard round the world. The Taliban are within 60 miles of Islamabad. Just 60 miles. Every dispatch about the insurgents' recent advance into the Pakistani district of Buner carried the ominous number.
Washington quivered, too. A top counterinsurgency expert, David Kilcullen, reiterated that Pakistan could collapse within six months. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said flatly if the country were to fall, the Taliban would have the "keys to the nuclear arsenal." On a visit to Islamabad, Sen. John Kerry – the proctor of $7.5 billion in Pakistani aid as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – warned bluntly: "The government has to ratchet up the urgency."
The Pakistani military did launch a major counteroffensive that has sent 2 million people fleeing their homes. For now, both the US and many Pakistanis appear to be relieved that the military has drawn a line at least somewhere, in this case in the fruit orchards of the Swat Valley and the city of Mingora, north of Islamabad.
Yet Pakistani analysts and officials here caution that the casus belli of all the commotion – the infamous 60 miles and the threat of an imminent Taliban takeover – is overblown. The Visigoths are not about to overrun the gates of Rome. Bearded guys with fistfuls of AK-47s are not poised to breeze into Islamabad on the back of white Toyota pickups.
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