The battle for the Taliban heartland in Swat moved up a gear on Tuesday as crack commando units were airlifted to mountains ringing Peochar, the district headquarters of militant chief Fazlullah and his band of fighters. It is much too early to predict the outcome but the result will have a huge bearing on the wider fight against militancy. A rout here of the Taliban — and, ideally, the capture or surrender of Fazlullah — may demoralise the militants who still control Mingora, Swat’s largest city, and lead to desertions in other areas as well. If the military is to be believed, this is already happening in Malakand Division as a whole, where new recruits and ‘criminal elements’ who had sided with the Taliban are said to have lost their appetite for battle. The military also maintains that nearly 750 militants have been killed so far in the ongoing operation. Unfortunately, there is no way of independently verifying these claims or, in some cases, distinguish-ing between dead fighters and civilians caught in the crossfire.