ISLAMABAD - A successful army offensive, a shift in public opinion against the militants and the killing of top Taliban leaders have given grounds for cautious optimism in Pakistan as progress across the border in Afghanistan appears stalled amid spiraling violence and post-election turmoil.
The Obama administration has made it clear it sees victory in the fight against Islamist extremism as dependent on successes in both South Asian nations. Forging a common strategy for "AfPak," as the region is now dubbed in Washington, is a key priority.
Five months ago, nuclear-armed Pakistan was seen by some as on the verge of collapse, with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying the country was "abdicating" to the Taliban.
To the relief of the West, the army moved forcefully against the Swat militants in April in a campaign that thrived with public support. Last month, the head of the Pakistani Taliban was killed in a U.S. missile strike, and questions remain whether its new leader can maintain the group's ability to launch large-scale terrorist attacks.
Still, no one is saying overall victory is in sight. "Clearly there are victories but there are still a lot of Taliban and there are still a lot of battles to come," said Kamran Bokhari, Middle East and South Asia director for U.S.-based global intelligence company Stratfor. "But for now the government still has the upper hand."
The security situation in neighboring Afghanistan has deteriorated with increased roadside bombings, suicide attacks and ambushes. Bokhari said the uncertainty in strategy and cold feet among allies in Afghanistan has emboldened the Taliban there, and it remains unclear if the raging insurgency can be put down even with the deployment of more U.S. forces, which is now being considered in Washington.
"Even if you have all the troops you need, is it still a battle that can be won?"