January 10, 2008:
Pakistan may not be
winning its war with Islamic radicalism, but at least it is now fighting
harder. In 2007, the security forces (army, police and tribal paramilitaries)
made a major effort to deal with the Taliban and al Qaeda groups operating
along the Afghan border. The main reason for this was that the Pakistanis had
run out of options.
The Taliban are a transnational
organization, having been created in Pakistan, but achieving their greatest
success when they took control of Afghanistan in the 1990s. More than that, the
Taliban are but one part of a collection of religious, ethnic and tribal
disputes that have been around in Pakistan for a long time. Islamic radicalism
first became a major problem in the 1970s.
The military government back then sought to use Islamic fundamentalism
as a political tool against internal and external enemies. It hasn't worked out
very well. Both politicians and generals (when they periodically took over)
thought they could negotiate with the radicals. That proved to be disappointing
as well. Last July, a ten month old truce with the Taliban came apart. It was
the usual problem. The radicals saw the truce not as an agreement, but an
opportunity. While the government kept their word, the radicals continued
terrorizing tribal leaders who did not agree with them. That is one of the
major problems in the tribal areas along the border. There are always power
struggles among various factions, as well as feuds between tribes and clans.
But since the Taliban came along, the younger, and more religious tribesmen
have been trying to take control from the more traditionalist tribal elders.
This has caused a major upheaval in the tribal areas. The Taliban were
basically organized around this cult of religious fanaticism and youth. The
old-timers have cut deals with the government in an effort to defeat their
Islamic radical foes.
If we take the fighting in Afghanistan
and Pakistan as a whole, about a third of the violence in 2007 took place in
Pakistan. That means 3,500 dead in Pakistan, most of it along the Afghan
border. The tempo of combat is slower in Pakistan, because the Pakistani
military is full of troops who sympathize with the Islamic radicals. But the
troops will fight, albeit slowly. In Afghanistan, the government has fast
moving, hard hitting NATO troops to smash the Taliban fighters. But those bad
guys have formidable allies in the form of wealthy drug gangs, who also want to
keep the government out of areas where poppies are grown, and opium and heroin
processed from that crop. The main connection between the Afghan and Pakistani
Taliban is the large amount of cash available to Pakistani tribesmen who are
willing to go fight in Afghanistan.
While most of the fighting in Pakistan
is along the border, there is still tribal violence to the south in
Baluchistan, which left 452 dead in 2007.
While the Baluchi tribes are pro-Taliban, they are mainly fighting for
more autonomy, and a larger share of the money earned from local natural gas
fields. The Baluchis are getting beaten, partly because they are only 3.6
percent of the population, while the Pushtun tribes up north are fifteen
percent. These two tribal groups comprise the poorest and least educated
Pakistanis, but the most heavily armed and willing to fight.
Elsewhere in the country, 201 people
died in sectarian violence (different ethnic or religious factions going at
each other.) Much of the violence involving the Taliban is basically sectarian,
with the non-Taliban tribesmen resisting the lifestyle rules (no music, video,
booze, shaving and so on) the Taliban insist on imposing. The Taliban are seen,
by most tribesmen, as a bunch of sanctimonious bullies. The government agrees
with that, and is eager to arrange a coalition of tribes that are willing to
shut the Taliban down. This is difficult to do, what with the current
popularity of the Islamic radicals. But as has happened many times in the past,
the Islamic radicals eventually turn too many people against them with their
violence, and failure to accomplish anything useful. That's what's happening to
the Islamic radicals in Pakistan and Afghanistan. While the Afghan group has
drug money to keep them going, the Pakistani bunch are running out of options
and local support.