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India-Pakistan: Seeking Doctor Death
   Next Article → SRI LANKA: Grinding Them Down

February 8, 2008: The fighting in Pakistan's tribal region along the Afghan border has left over 300 dead so far this year. For all of last year, the death toll was 800. Most of the current fighting is against the several thousand gunmen who serve Pushtun warlord Baitullah Mehsud in Waziristan. These gunmen are allied with the few hundred al Qaeda fighters in the area.

These Islamic radical forces launch terror attacks, most of them ineffective, and engage acts of banditry (theft, extortion, kidnapping, assassination), but cannot withstand direct confrontation with the army (and its artillery and warplanes). If the Pushtun Islamic radicals get too feisty, the army and police go after the families of rebel leaders. That usually leads to calls for a truce and peace talks. The army worries about the loyalty of the many troops who are Pushtun or Islamic conservatives. So far, discipline has held.

The Islamic radicals have a problem with factionalism. Lots of Islamic radicals want to run their own operation, so you have over a hundred factions. Baitullah Mehsud runs one of the largest ones, and many of the smaller factions are working with Mehsud. The favorite weapon has become the suicide bomber and roadside bomb. But few of these are used, at least compared to Iraq. However, these weapons have the same impact, killing more civilians than soldiers or police, and turning more of the population against the radicals.

Baitullah Mehsud has become the main target of the army, and this has forced Mehsud to call for a ceasefire and truce. The army has refused, and continues to move against Mehsud controlled villages. Mehsud hasn't got sufficient firepower to stand up to the army, nor has he got enough trained terrorists to put a dent in the army's combat power. Pakistani generals now believe that Mehsud's organization has been responsible for protecting al Qaeda for the last few years. That means that the defeat of Mehsud could reveal where Osama Bin Laden has been hiding out. Mehsud, however, is an elusive fellow. This time, however, the Pakistani army is out for blood, the growing number of terror attacks, and the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, has turned this into a death match.

British detectives have concluded that the force of the bomb blast killed Benazir Bhutto (when her head hit the hatch of her armored car), not the three bullets fired at her. Police have arrested four suspects in the investigation of the Bhutto killing.

Meanwhile, there are still a few terror attacks each week in southwest Pakistan, where Baluchi tribal separatists continue to resist. Indian police arrested two Moslems who had trained in Pakistani Kashmir to make bombs. The two terrorists were on their way to southern India, with orders to recruit Moslem medical and engineering students for terror attacks. Also captured were bomb making materials.

Elsewhere in the region, India has beaten down most of the Islamic radicalism in Kashmir, but is seeing more Islamic radicals showing up among the 150 million Indian Moslems. Not a lot, but it only takes a few Moslem university students to join the cause, and provide enough competence to carry out more terror attacks. India also has ongoing problems with tribal separatists in the northwest, and Maoist rebels throughout eastern India. These two groups mostly result in what passes for corruption and banditry, and the police deal with most of it. Islamic radicalism is stalled in Bangladesh, but it's still there.

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