…by Meg White
The place Meg puts the stuff she wrote
Taliban is in Pakistan, But Not in the News: Loose Nukes Can’t Compete With Swine Flu and Celebs

by Meg White

A major nuclear-armed power is on the verge of a wholesale takeover by a violent extremist group. But wait, Salma Hayek got married in Venice? Let me at those photos!

Not that it’s making headlines, but the Taliban is approaching the seat of Pakistani power. Last week, the militant group had control over a huge swath of land between Pakistan and Afghanistan, with only a mountain range separating it from Islamabad, according to a report from The Long War, a nonprofit news group that covers the “war on terror.”

After giving up legal concessions to the Taliban (allowing the unconstitutional imposition of the Taliban’s extremist version of Islamic law) which basically allowed the militants to take over the Swat Valley and begin the eastward march toward the capital, the Pakistani government resisted international calls for action. The militant take-over of the nearby Buner region was seen by the United Nations and the U.S. as an alarming example of terrorist aggression. This afternoon, Islamabad announced that airstrikes occurred over the weekend against the Taliban and that further incursions were in the works.

Not that you should know that. A check of the main American news Web sites at midmorning today showed littleconcern over the situation.

The Huffington Post had nothing about the Taliban insurgency in Pakistan on its front page as of 10 a.m. CDT. Their headline at the time screamed about “THE ELEVENTH HOUR CONFIRMATION” of Health and Human Services Secretary to-be Kathleen Sebelius. Immediately underneath four different stories about the swine flu epidemic, we hear that suspected “Craigslist killer” Philip Markoff’s fiancée still loves him. Good to know.

CNN.com featured neither “Pakistan” nor “Taliban” on their front page. The story did make it onto their “world” page, but was not among the top seven international stories. Apparently, it was beat out by “South African Taxis Drive Sales in Dance Music.”

The New York Times did feature the Pakistan story on its front page. The article unfortunately lacked badly-needed context, but that’s hardly surprising, given it was only 206 words long.

Despite the virtual silence greeting it, this is a serious attempt at a takeover. Reports from Pakistan’s Buner region detail terrorists looting government as well as independent aid offices and militants patrolling the streets in place of police officers.

Indications are that the Taliban intends to retain and consolidate the power it already holds over Afghanistan’s eastern neighbor. The militants have publicly invited Osama bin Laden to settle in the Swat region and have destroyed many schools in the area.

Pakistan is estimated to have 30 to 40 nuclear warheads, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Yesterday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen expressed extreme concern for Pakistan’s precarious situation after a visit to Islamabad this past weekend, yet said he still believes the country’s nuclear weapons are in safe hands. The media and the international community seem to be parroting Pakistani President Zardari’s “don’t worry” line, though reassuring facts are scarce.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the House Foreign Affairs Committee earlier this month that the U.S. government “cannot underscore [enough] the seriousness of the existential threat posed to the state of Pakistan by continuing advances — now within hours of Islamabad — that are being made by a loosely confederated group of terrorists and others who are seeking the overthrow of the Pakistani state.”

Last week, Clinton told a House appropriations committee that Pakistan posed a “mortal threat” to the world and that the U.S. bore some responsibility for Taliban influence there (to be fair, Clinton has been trying to draw attention to the problem of Pakistan since at least her presidential candidacy, to little avail).

Yet, when Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano tried to avoid panic about the swine flu scare, we get screaming 50-foot headlines. Napolitano was right when she said that “swine flu is a cause for concern, but not a cause for alarm.”

Pakistan is a cause for alarm, whether the media will acknowledge Clinton’s underscoring or not. Further on the media criticism point, there is a lot more information to disseminate regarding the Pakistan situation than in the swine flu story. How many times can we read the “wash your hands” story? Granted, with parts of the Pakistani military seemingly on the side of the Taliban and with military strikes on Pakistani militants from the U.S. criticized as ineffective, a cure for pandemic flu may be easier to secure than a solution in Pakistan.

Does this mean we will be caught with our hands in the sink while militants take over a nuclear-armed country twice the size of California, bordered by China, India, Afghanistan and Iran?

Are we scared enough yet? Here’s the real test: a link to escapist celebrity news, ripe for the clicking. Enjoy.


For more on unfolding events in Pakistan, we recommend the BBC and CNN’s Fareed Zakaria. Share your favorite sources by commenting below.

Originally published at BuzzFlash.com.

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