India-Pakistan: A Matter Of Honor



July 23, 2008: Al Qaeda has openly admitted (via a video of an al Qaeda leader) that it was responsible for recent suicide bombings in Pakistan (including the one at the Danish embassy). Meanwhile, Iran and Pakistan have agreed to form a joint religious council to try and reduce the Shia-Sunni violence that has been going on in Pakistan for decades. The two countries will also improve economic relationships and improve border security.

The Pakistani border tribes are going through their own civil war and revolutions. New technologies and new ideas are upsetting the ancient traditions. For example, 150 tribal couples (from Sindh and Baluchistan, not the pro-Taliban Pushtun tribes), who had defied tradition and arranged marriages, have petitioned the government for protection from tribal killers. The 150 couples found each other because of the Internet and cell phones. Defying arranged marriages has long meant facing the risk of getting killed by your family or tribe. But this new situation shows you the extent of the problem with traditional ideas being threatened, and tribal leaders striking back with death squads. Arranged marriages and "honor killings" (of women who disobey) are a touchy subject throughout Pakistan (and South Asia). But the tribal leadership is being threatened from several directions. Young men, made wealthy and well armed by the drug trade, refuse to obey their tribal elders. Other tribesmen, hearing a call from God (to join the Taliban or al Qaeda) have also ignored their tribal leaders. The government has backed the tribal leaders, making it difficult to help the independent minded couples trying to evade tribal death squads. Tribal politics are a dirty business, and always has been. The violence in the tribal areas of Pakistan, just from battles with the army and police,  has been creating over a hundred casualties a week in the last month or so. In addition, there are even more injuries and deaths from feuds and "matters of honor."

The tribal unrest has made it easier for the government, and the U.S. (via the Special Forces or CIA) to recruit informants in the Pakistani border areas. But the Taliban has responded by launching witch hunts, killing unpopular or suspicious tribesmen, after accusing them of being spies. The point is made, even if justice is not served.

India's Maoist rebels are bracing for more intense government attacks, now that the current government coalition has been reshuffled (leftist parties walked out, but were replaced by other minority parties). This particular bit of parliamentary maneuvering was critical for the Maoists, because for decades the legitimate Indian Communist Party, and some leftist allies, had forced the government to use restraint in dealing with the Maoists. This enabled the Maoists to spread, and become an even bigger threat.

July 22, 2008: In Afghanistan, a senior Taliban commander was killed, the third one this year. In Pakistan, where all the senior Taliban leaders are based, the Taliban leader for Afghanistan's Helmand province, surrendered to police. This is believed to have something to do with the civil war festering inside the Pakistani Taliban. Different factions have been killing each other leaders. All this is the result of Taliban (religious disputes) and tribal (real estate and money disputes) politics getting mixed up.

In southwest Pakistan, Baluchi tribal separatists fought with the army. There were over a hundred casualties among the tribesmen, and far fewer among the troops. The Baluchi tribes have been fighting, unsuccessfully, for years, to gain more autonomy, and a greater share of the wealth from natural gas fields on their territory.

July 21, 2008: The war in Pakistan's tribal territories, along the Afghan border, continues. The army is pushing Taliban units out of towns. The Taliban drive in, using several dozen trucks and cars (especially SUVs, which are very popular with the leadership), terrorize a town, and sometimes loot a bit. Any local police or government officials either go hide, or flee. In a day or so, the army shows up, and the Taliban take off at the first sight of them. But often the army brings helicopter gunships, which can catch the Taliban convoy, shoot it up, and cause casualties (although most of the Taliban usually get away.) The Taliban, using an ancient tradition, continue to take police and soldiers prisoner, and offer them in trade for imprisoned tribesmen (some of them there for common crimes like theft or murder.)

July 20, 2008: Police in Pakistan's Swat valley caught three suicide bombers before they could carry out their attacks. One of the bombers was a 13 year old kid, the product of an Islamic religious school.

July 19, 2008: Opinion surveys in Pakistan show 70 percent of voters prefer negotiations with the Taliban, versus military action. The Taliban know this, because the non-tribal Pakistanis, while the majority (about 80 percent of the population), have feared tribal violence for centuries. Periodically the tribes would raid the lowlanders, and do much damage. The tribes can't do that anymore, so they have turned to supporting terrorists, who now threaten to take these attacks to the major cities. In the past, the only reliable way to deal with the hostile tribes was to negotiate and, in effect, bribe them. This is what the people want, but the government knows that the pro-Taliban tribes are not united, and a deal with one will not prevent another from continuing their terrorist violence.


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