May 6, 2010:
The core of Taliban power in Pakistan is in a region called FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas). This small (27,220 square kilometers) and thinly (3.1 million) populated region has long been the lawless wild west for Pakistan. The "tribal territories" are actually much larger (extending all along the Afghan border, and part of the Indian and Iranian frontier as well), but FATA is where most of the action is. FATA not only includes North and South Waziristan (Taliban Central), but also the Khyber Pass (the main road into Afghanistan.)
Last year, there were nearly 4,000 incidents of terrorist violence in FATA, leaving over 5,000 people dead. So far this year, the pattern of violence (although not the death rate) has changed. There are fewer low level (often resulting in no deaths) terrorism actions, and more battles, with high body counts. If current trends continue, this year will see another 5,000 terrorist related deaths in FATA.
All this violence is fairly recent. Back in 2005, there were only 285 terrorism related deaths in FATA. But then it began growing, as the Afghan Taliban, flush with drug money, began building up their bases, and allies, in FATA. Terrorists got another boost in 2008, when al Qaeda, fleeing defeat in Iraq, moved men and money to FATA. This led to more Islamic terrorism throughout Pakistan, and a backlash. That involved the first ever army invasion of FATA and some of the other tribal territories, last year. FATA was the hardest hit, and over 100,000 troops, and thousands of police and paramilitaries now swarm over the region, using helicopter gunships, artillery and smart bombs to kill rebellious tribesmen. The kill ratio is very unfavorable for the tribes, with over ten tribesmen killed for every soldier or policeman slain.
The tribal leadership has noticed this shift in power. For thousands of years, the Pushtun tribes were supreme in their mountain, and often able to invade and plunder the more populous lowlands. But now that equation has shifted, and the more astute tribal leaders are making peace, and helping the army get rid of local troublemakers. These are usually Islamic radicals, who have become very unpopular in FATA. There have always been young guys with guns and bad attitudes wandering around the hills. But now you have louts like this with a sense of spiritual superiority as well. As if being poor and illiterate were not bad enough, now you have some self-righteous maniac telling you to shut off the music and videos. The Taliban and al Qaeda won't be missed.