The Many Wars In Pakistan
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June 22, 2008: While the Taliban get most of the media attention, they are but one of several religious conflicts going on in Pakistan. In addition, there is tribal and ethnic violence. From the Pakistani point of view, al Qaeda and the Taliban are just the latest source of religious violence to show up. Note that on many weeks, from a third to half the war or terrorism related deaths in Pakistan are not Taliban or al Qaeda related, but caused by the other groups described below. Terrorism based on religious, or tribal, hatreds is old news in this part of the world, and all these other, underreported, conflicts are connected with the Taliban violence. That's because the most violent zealots tend to get involved in more than one cause, or at least have connections with other violent groups. To put this into perspective, here are the principal sources of religious, ethnic and tribal violence in Pakistan;
- Sunni versus Shia. The Shia Moslems are a 20 percent minority, and there are several radical Shia and Sunni groups that have been killing each other for decades. In addition, Sunni Baluchi tribesmen in the southwest have long been at war with Iranian Shia across the border. Not open warfare, but steady terrorism. Government efforts to stop the Sunni-Shia violence have not been entirely successful, which puts the failure to shut down the Pakistani Taliban into perspective. For example, a bomb exploded outside a Shia mosque on the 17th, killing four people. Police believe it was a Sunni terrorist group that did it. A retaliation attack is expected in the next week or so.
- Sunni (77 percent of the population) versus Christians and Hindus (each about 1.5 percent of the population). The Christians, in particular, are a popular target, because more Pakistanis are attracted to Christianity and are converting. This is considered a grave sin by Islamic radicals. The Hindus keep their heads down, but get attacked anyway. Recently, Islamic militants kidnapped 16 Christians, during a prayer service. When police chased down the kidnappers, the Christians were released.
-Sunni versus Sunni. There are several different sects within the Sunni Moslem community, and some of these are violently opposed to each other. There are hundreds of casualties a year from this violence.
- Tribal feuds- Many of the Pushtun and Baluchi tribes don't get along with each other, and the disputes are often very violent. Attempts by the army or police to break up these private wars often results in both tribes turning on the security forces. Over the last few days, battles between two tribes near the Khyber Pass have left over sixty tribesmen dead or wounded.
- Ethnic violence. Put simply, the Pushtun tribes (15 percent of the population, in the north and east, along the Afghan border) and the Baluchi tribes (four percent, in the southwest) do not get along with the majority Punjabis (45 percent of the population) or Sindhis (14 percent) in the eastern lowlands. The resulting violence has been going for over a thousand years. This is particularly important when it comes to getting the Pakistani army to take down the Taliban. The Pushtun tribesmen, who run the Taliban and contribute most of the manpower, are, well, feared by the lowlanders. For thousands of years, the tribes periodically came out of the hills to raid the wealthier and more numerous lowlanders. The larger population meant that the Punjabis and Sindhis would eventually chase the tribesmen back into the hills. But the lowlanders also found, time and again, that the tribal warriors were even more formidable, and nastier, when you fought them in their own element. Today, there's another factor. The warlike tribesmen like to make the military their career. They make great soldiers, and over 20 percent of the troops are Pushtun or Baluchi. That creates loyalty and reliability problems when you order the army to break up the Taliban. Most tribal soldiers don't agree with the Taliban, but they are reluctant to make war on their own tribes.
- The war in Kashmir. India and Pakistan have been fighting over who should control the border province of Kashmir for over fifty years. Pakistan lost two wars over the issue (India occupies most of Kashmir), and a decade ago Pakistan decided to support Islamic terrorist groups dedicated to driving the Indians out of Kashmir. This campaign has failed, although the violence continues. The Islamic radical groups are out of control (of the Pakistanis) because of the nationalism issue (most Pakistanis want Pakistan to control all of Kashmir). Shutting down the terrorist training camps in Pakistani controlled Kashmir is political dynamite, and no Pakistani politician has dared try it, yet. But peace won't happen between India and Pakistan until the Kashmiri Islamic terrorist groups are shut down.
- Gangsters and Bandits. Crime is big business in Pakistan, what with all the corruption and guns. There are dozens of major gangs, and hundreds of smaller ones. For our purposes, the most significant gangs are the ones smuggling drugs, and other goods, into Iran and Afghanistan. These guys go armed and ready to fight it out with the border police. For example, on June 15th, Iranian border guards fought Baluchi drug smugglers, killing at least five of them. This was not unusual.
June 21, 2008: Afghan president Karzai threatened to send his troops into Pakistan in order to stop the movement of Pakistani Taliban into Afghanistan. In some recent battles, over half the dead or captured Taliban turned out to be Pakistanis. While Pakistan no longer denies the presence of Pakistani gunmen in Afghanistan, they threaten war if Afghan troops enter Pakistani territory.
The Pakistani government decided to hire 10,000 Pushtun tribesmen, at $240 a month each, to maintain law and order in the tribal areas. Meanwhile, special army and police units will go in and kill or capture Taliban and al Qaeda who refuse to surrender. All this is mainly in reaction to Taliban terrorist activity, which appears to be spreading to the more densely populated, non-tribal parts of the country (particularly the cities). It's a plan, but carrying it out is another matter.
June 20, 2008: Pakistani security forces along the Afghan border are increasingly concerned about the growing number of attacks on truck traffic. Not just the military convoys, but also the ones carrying goods for Afghanistan, and towns on the Pakistani side of the border. Some of the tribes, as well as the Taliban, have used the growing unrest as an excuse to make some cash by hijacking trucks. This includes food shipments to areas where there are shortages and growing hunger. The Taliban have warned truckers to stop carrying cargo for NATO forces in Afghanistan. This has caused a major political problem in Pakistan, where the trucking operations are big business, and the government cannot afford to lose control of the roads. But to clear out the bandits means taking on the Taliban, and some of the pro-Taliban tribes. As usual, Pakistani military commanders are not certain of the loyalty of the tribesmen in uniform. Some of those tribesmen are officers.
June 19, 2008: Another Pakistani man was sentenced to death for blasphemy (for defacing a Koran and saying nasty things about Islam). This is not unusual, and happens several times a year. There were 134 executions in Pakistan last year, mostly for non-religious crimes.
On the Kashmir border, Pakistani border guards mistook Islamic terrorists, fleeing back into Pakistan after being detected by Indian border guards, for Indian troops. The resulting firefight left four Pakistani troops dead and three wounded. The Islamic terrorists suffered an unknown number of casualties. The Indians suffered none.
June 18, 2008: The May 21 peace deal between the Pakistani government and the Taliban is on hold because the government does not believe the Taliban can control their more radical factions. As a result, the government has not released all the Taliban prisoners it said it would. The Taliban are still attacking police and troops in the tribal territories. There have been about a hundred casualties a week from this violence.
June 17, 2008: India's Chhattisgarh state has become the main battleground for the Maoist rebels who are trying to turn India into a communist dictatorship. As the government has sent in more police and soldiers, the Maoists have changed tactics. They have been trying to avoid the government forces, while increasingly attacking economic targets (mainly railroads and electricity supplies). The Maoists have some support among the poor (who have legit grievances), but mostly use terror and threats to get cooperation for general strikes and the payment of "revolutionary taxes" to fund the thousands of Maoist gunmen living in the bush.
June 16, 2008: U.S. commanders doubt the wisdom of providing training and financial support for Pakistani frontier guards along the Afghan border. That's because most of the border security force is recruited locally from the Pushtun tribes. This was originally done to provide border guards who knew the area, and were not fatally alien to the local tribesmen. But at the same time, the border guards tend to side with the tribesmen when it comes to outsiders. Already, two American soldiers, and many more Afghans, have been killed by the border guards. U.S. commanders have many reports, and compelling evidence, of the Pakistani border guards aiding the Taliban. Afghan and U.S. forces have become more aggressive against fire coming from the Pakistani side of the border. This has led to exchanges of machine-gun, mortar and artillery fire. Recently, U.S. smart bombs landed on the Pakistani side, causing an uproar in Pakistan. This is threatening arrangements to help train Pakistani troops. But then, more and more U.S. officers find that a questionable activity.
June 15, 2008: Bangladesh has passed new laws to make it easier to prosecute Islamic terrorists. It is believed that there are over 10,000 Islamic radicals, and supporters, in the country. India is finding more and more of the Islamic terrorist activity it is encountering has help from groups based in Bangladesh.
June 14, 2008: Pakistan, at the behest of Iran, is searching for 16 Iranian Shia security guards who were kidnapped by Sunni Baluchi tribesmen. The Baluchi tribes are constantly raiding across the border, partly in support of the Baluchi minority in southeaster Iran. These Iranian Baluchis are Sunni Moslems and often persecuted by the Shia majority.
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