Pakistan's Islamists Take A Step Too Far

Last week yet another militant victory in Pakistan had many fretting that the country's capital could also soon fall to the Taliban. After Islamists swept into the populous Buner district, just 60 miles northwest of Islamabad, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared it posed a "mortal threat" to the world, and Fazlur Rehman, a Pakistani parliamentarian, predicted that the Taliban would soon be perched on the hills overlooking the capital.

But the rumors of Pakistan's demise have been exaggerated. The Islamists are on a roll—this victory was made possible by a peace deal the government signed with them in the nearby Swat valley earlier this year—but they may have now reached their limits. The Taliban are almost exclusively Pashtun, and advancing farther would take them into Pakistan's Punjabi heartland, where they have little support. And while Pakistan's army may be tired of the conflict, it still vastly outmans and outguns the extremists, and would take a stand if they tried to push farther into the interior. The Taliban seem to know this—and that they've already bitten off more than they can chew, lacking the manpower to effectively administer the areas now under their control. Sure enough, even as panic rocked Islamabad and Washington at week's end, the gunmen began withdrawing from Buner. They may be extremists—but they're realists too.