India-Pakistan: Taliban Fall Back



September 16, 2008: The war against the Taliban is running into problems with international borders. On the Pakistani side of the border, there are about 100,000 Pakistani army and paramilitary troops operating against the Taliban, while on the Afghan side there is a similar size force containing Afghan and foreign (NATO, U.S. and Afghan) troops doing the same. All this to chase down fewer than 20,000 armed tribesmen who refuse to behave. The tribesmen back the Taliban, which calls for a religious dictatorship in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The tribesmen have long memories. Five centuries ago, Pushtun tribesmen were part of an army that marched down out of the mountains and conquered lowland Pakistan and most of northern India. Those days are gone, but many tribesmen didn't get the memo. In any event, most of them are illiterate and impoverished and don't pay a lot of attention to reality. It's been that way for a long time, and larceny has always been seen as a legitimate path to prosperity. The Pushtun tribesmen don't like outside interference, although, over the centuries, the tribes have been beaten many times when they tried to extend their power beyond their remote vallies.

Taliban terrorism has killed about 1,200 people in Pakistan during the last year, while the security forces are currently killing several hundred terrorists and Taliban fighters a month. Although the Taliban have many sympathizers in the military and intelligence agencies, this no longer prevents the army from fighting the Taliban (to prevent the tribesmen from taking over towns and cities along the border.) But it does prevent cooperation with the American counter-terror forces. The United States has a lot of information on where the terrorists, especially al Qaeda, are in Pakistan, but having Pakistani troops act on that information doesn't work. The terrorists tend to get tipped off by their fans in the army and intelligence agencies, and this endangers the informant network the U.S. has set up in the tribal areas. The Pakistanis admit this is a problem, and has long been tolerating some American operations inside Pakistan. For several years, U.S. Predator UAVs were tolerated, along with an occasional Hellfire missile fired at meetings of senior terrorist leaders. But many such opportunities would be better exploited if  commandoes were sent in to capture the terrorist leaders. In the last few months, the U.S. changed its policy, after quietly warning the Pakistani leadership, and allowed commando raids despite Pakistani protests. It didn't take long for the Pakistani terrorists and media everywhere to get hold of this and raise a stink. This forced the Pakistanis to go through the motions of protesting and vowing to fight the American invaders. The Pakistanis threatened to halt NATO supplies, which go from a Pakistani port, via truck, into Afghanistan. But that's a hollow threat, as Pakistan depends on American weapons and other military aid, to equip Pakistani forces sufficiently so they can deal with archenemy India. Pakistan's only other supplier is China, which provides decidedly inferior weapons, at least compared to the American stuff.

Taliban gunmen are standing and fighting in their strongholds along the Pakistani-Afghan border. In places like Bajaur, 50-100 Taliban a day have been killed this week. Several hundred thousand civilians have fled to avoid all the shooting, shelling and bombing. The Taliban have been able to slow down, but not stop, the troops. In the past two weeks, U.S. Predator UAVs have launched their missiles five times against terrorist targets in Pakistan. The Taliban are playing down their losses to these attacks, and grinding out the press material featuring the civilian casualties. The Taliban and al Qaeda try to keep civilians nearby, to use them as human shields. This sometimes works, and when it doesn't, you can claim that the attack is a war crime.

In Indian Kashmir, Islamic terrorists continue sneaking across the border, from their camps in Pakistan. The crossings tend to increase this time of year, because soon the Winter snow will shut down many crossing points (up in the mountains, where forests make it easier to sneak past the border guards.)

September 15, 2008: In Pakistan's Swat valley, the Taliban have released 25 paramilitary police who were taken prisoner two months ago. The army has been hammering the Taliban in the Swat valley, and the Taliban are trying to persuade the army to stop. Apparently, the army is under orders to keep going until the Taliban no longer control territory.

In the last month, at least 35 Christians have been killed in central India by Hindu fanatics. Local Hindu politicians are trying to turn the murder of a Hindu cleric into an anti-Christian crusade. Most Indian Christians are converts from Hinduism, usually by poor, lower caste Hindus. This angers higher caste Hindus, who try to organize violence against Christians in general. The fear is that the Christians are trying to destroy Hinduism via conversion. The Hindu violence has never been widespread, and it's local demagogues who stir up violence, and are often, but not always, arrested for it.

September 13, 2008: Five bombs went off in India's capital, killing 21 and wounding a hundred. Police had feared this, because of the growing number of young Indian Moslem men turning to Islamic radicalism. This is coming from long-term anti Moslem tensions in India. Islam failed to convert India to Islam when Moslem armies arrived five hundred years ago. Realizing that the Hindus were resistant to Islamic conversion, the Moslem rulers adopted a policy of tolerance. This persisted through two centuries of British rule. But Islam was founded on conquest and forced conversion, and that remains a popular concept with many Moslems. Most Indian Moslems adopted milder forms of Islam, but many young Moslems are attracted to more conservative and violent approaches. Al Qaeda is urging these kids to kill for the cause, with the idea being it would cause civil war and an opportunity for Moslems to take control of India. That doesn't make much sense, but we're dealing with religious fanaticism here, and logic has little to do with it. There are believed to be several hundred organized Islamic terrorists in India, with a few dozen of them being particularly active.

September 11, 2008: Pakistani troops continue to battle al Qaeda and Taliban gunmen in of the Bajaur region along the Afghan border. Troops killed about a hundred tribesmen and foreigners today. The foreigners are believed to be al Qaeda. Those that are captured admit as much. Bajaur is one of the more active areas where Taliban gunmen cross into Afghanistan.

September 10, 2008: Pakistan's newly elected president, Asif Ali Zardari,  met with the Afghan president and pledged to work together to defeat the Taliban.  Zardari's wife was the assassinated (by the Taliban) politician (and former Prime Minister) Benazir Bhutto. Zardari has long been dogged by corruption charges, and recently received a pardon. Before he was elected president, the office has some key powers removed (like being able to dissolve parliament and call new elections.) Zardari is more of a figurehead than his predecessors.

Pakistan also has problems with tribesmen making cross border raids into Iran. In the southwest (Baluchistan) Sunni Baluchi tribesmen are fighting to help their fellow tribesmen just across the border, who have long been at odds with the Shia government of Iran. Shia and Sunni have had religious and political differences in this part of the world for centuries.

In northern Pakistan, near the Afghan border, Islamic militants apparently were responsible for a grenade and gunfire attack on a Sunni mosque, leaving 20 dead and 30 wounded.

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