India-Pakistan: The Greatest Story Never Told



March 21, 2010: In Pakistan's tribal territories, the pro and anti Taliban factions are fighting it out. There are clashes and casualties daily. The animosities are partly generational (ambitious young guys want to take over), partly ideological (secular versus religious solutions). This was made possible when the army moved into the tribal territories last year. This gave the older leaders (the "tribal elders") support, because the more dynamic and fanatic Taliban leaders successfully used terrorism and sheer audacity to intimidate the more numerous moderate tribesmen. Now, with the unprecedented (in the history of Pakistan) presence of the army in the tribal territories, the tribal militias are able to hunt down the surviving Taliban groups, and demanding they disband. Many already have, but those who have not are being forced to fight, or keep running. Many are fleeing to Afghanistan, which is not very safe, but is marginally safer than the Pakistani tribal territories.

Despite this success, many tribal leaders are calling on the army to finish off the Taliban. But the army fears getting involved in a lot of "Taliban fighting" which is actually a tribal feud. Then there's the matter of cost. It's costing the government billions of dollars to run this operation in the tribal territories. That's money the generals can't steal, and it's sorely missed. The Americans are unwilling to foot the entire bill, and Pakistani troops from the lowlands are not enthusiastic about fighting the tribesmen. Watching the tribal warriors kill each other, however, is another matter.

Meanwhile, tribal chiefs try to shame the generals by mentioning Sri Lanka, where, a year ago, the army defeated a rebel movement. But that took years of fighting, and the Pakistani army is not willing to lose thousands of troops for that kind of victory. If the tribes don't want the Taliban running their lives, then purge the Taliban from your communities yourselves. The generals also point out (quietly) that, if the army has to finish this fight, there will be more civilian casualties. While the air force has lots of smart bombs now, these will still kill civilians being used by the Taliban as human shields. And the army artillery and helicopter rockets are not aided by GPS.

The most terrifying aspect of the current war is the increased success of American UAVs, and their Hellfire missiles, for killing Taliban and al Qaeda leaders. This makes it kind of personal for the leaders, and paranoia has been rampant. The Taliban tend to believe they are tracked mostly by local informants, and are always looking for suspects. Anyone appearing suspicious enough is tortured, usually to death, to obtain information about American methods. The suspects usually know nothing, but are frequently beheaded, as a warning to others.

The arrest of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the chief Taliban military commander, last month, has resulted in complaints from some Western diplomats that this sort of thing was done by Pakistani Islamic radicals, in the government, to upset peace talks with the Taliban. Baradar was seen as more willing to negotiate. Pakistani and Afghan leaders see this as absurd, as there are plenty of Taliban leaders to talk to, and most are, to one degree or another, willing to make a deal. This sort of thing makes many Pakistanis wonder whose side their Western allies are really on.

In Kashmir, India has noted a sharp decrease (by at least a third) in terrorist activity this year, and far fewer foreign terrorists (only about a third of them are from Pakistan or elsewhere.) Over the last two years, 75 percent of the terrorists killed were foreigners. Part of the reason for this shift is better security on the Line of Control (border between Indian and Pakistani Kashmir), but there are also fewer attempts by Islamic terrorists to cross the line. The Pakistani government offensive against Islamic terrorists in the past year seems to have drawn in the Islamic radicals who usually specialize in attacks on Indian Kashmir. The success of the Pakistani counter-terror campaign has caused many terrorists to unite and try to halt the government effort.

As the Pakistani government regains control over more of the tribal territories, they are finding that many local officials had become very corrupt. Partly, this was a response to Taliban, and tribal pressure, when officials had no army or police to back them. So you make deals with the locals, take what bribes you can, and keep your head down. No more. These officials are now being asked to step up, and many are turning out to be ineffective. The government is slow in replacing them, partly because replacements are reluctant to take over such jobs in the tribal territories, no matter how pacified the army insists the region is.

The Indian offensive against thousands of armed Maoists in eastern areas of the country, is making life difficult for the communist rebels. Leaders are being caught, some of them quite senior. A surprising number of key Maoists are surrendering, using the presence of so many police and troops, as an opportunity to quit the rebel group. Maoists execute anyone they suspect of disloyalty. In general, Maoists try to keep their key people isolated from government controlled populations. This makes arrest, and desertion, less likely. But the government invasion of their territory has disrupted this isolation. Of particular importance were the medical clinics the Maoists had established in areas where they had driven out the government officials. These clinics were ostensibly to treat locals, but their main purpose was to keep Maoists from having to use hospitals, in government controlled areas.

Some of the most senior Maoist leaders have apparently disappeared. In response, leftist politicians, and Maoists themselves, are calling for an investigation of the police, to see if these senior Maoists are being held illegally and tortured. The Maoists have threatened terrorist attacks if these secret arrests have taken place.

March 20, 2010: In Lahore (a city of 10 million), Pakistan, police seized 200 kg (440 pounds of explosives, suicide bomb vests and other terrorist supplies. Several arrests were made. These raids have become increasingly successful. Last week, 4.5 tons of explosives were seized, and arrests are being made daily. As the capital of Punjab province, Lahore is a favorite terrorist target. But most of the population is very hostile to the Islamic radicals, if only because most of the victims of attacks are civilians. The terrorists insist they only target the government and security forces, but the attacks are not skillful enough to avoid civilians being the most frequent victims.  The prevalence of cell phones has made it easy to report suspicious behavior.

In southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan), several terror attacks, left seven dead. Three of the dead were Shia Moslems, indicating an upsurge of Shia-Sunni violence in the area. Sunni Moslem tribesmen have been running a terror campaign across the border in Iran for over a decade, which has inflamed the ancient animosities between Shia majority Iranians, and Sunni Baluchi tribesmen in Pakistan and Iran.

March 18, 2010: American and Pakistani officials announced that a UAV missile apparently killed al Qaeda leader Hussein al Yemeni. This guy was believed responsible for planning the suicide bomb attack on a CIA base in eastern Afghanistan last December. The number of UAV missile attacks on Taliban and al Qaeda leaders is increasing, causing noticeable disruption in al Qaeda and Taliban operations. The terrorist leaders are reluctant to meet to discuss who the replacements will be, and spend much more of their time concentrating on personal security. Yet the American missiles keep finding them. The American intelligence effort is believed to be a combination of electronic monitoring, air reconnaissance, data mining and local informants. Details are obviously kept secret, but it will make a fascinating story when it finally can be told.


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