Murphy's Law: The Terrorist Supermarket In Pakistan

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January 22, 2009: The war on terror in Pakistan has been a bloody one. Since 2003, nearly 14,000 have died from terrorist violence in Pakistan, most of them in the tribal territories along the Afghan border. Some 47 percent of the dead were terrorists (Taliban and al Qaeda), while 39 percent were civilians (most killed by terrorists). The remaining 14 percent of the dead were security personnel. That's about 2,000 soldiers and police.

In the last three years, suicide bombers have become a more common weapon. Most of them have come from the Meshud tribe in Waziristan. Here, a small group of Meshud tribesmen have been recruiting teenagers to be suicide bombers. The Meshudi terrorists claim they can take a volunteer and train and equip them for a suicide bomb attack in six hours. This follows the pattern in Iraq, were a few terrorist cells produced most of the suicide bombers. In the past year, the Pakistani army concentrated on Waziristan, and the Meshud tribe.

While the Meshud, and most of the Taliban fighters, were from the Pushtun tribes, about ten percent of the deaths have occurred in the southwest, where the Baluchi tribes have been fighting for autonomy, or independence (depending on the tribe). The Baluchi support the Taliban and Islamic terrorism, but don't get involved as much themselves. The Baluchi terrorism is low key, often attacking infrastructure. The Baluchi want a larger share of the natural gas produced in their territory, and attack gas facilities to make their point. It's not the same kind of war that the more numerous Pushtun tribes to the north are fighting.

In the last year, Pakistan has sent 120,000 troops into the Pushtun tribal territories. Under pressure from the NATO countries fighting the Taliban and drug gangs in Afghanistan, Pakistan has steadily increased its efforts against the Pushtun tribesmen. This took a particular jump when a civilian government took over from the military dictatorship that had been running the country for the last decade.

In response, the terrorists are trying to move their operations into the non-tribal, and more populous, provinces of Punjab and Sind. There are many Islamic conservatives in this, the Pakistani heartland (in terms of population, culture and the economy), but there are even more people who oppose Islamic terrorism. There are police (corrupt, but fairly efficient, especially if most of the population is cooperating) who have proved effective against terrorists. Al Qaeda has suffered its most losses in this heartland, even where terrorists were hiding out in strongly pro-Islamic neighborhoods. It only takes one anti-terrorist local with a cell phone to blow the cover.

The most common source of violence in the heartland has been sectarian violence. Sunni and Shia extremists kill each other, and everyone abuses Christians and Hindus (minorities the state tries to protect.) This violence has been increasing. There were 247 sectarian related deaths in 2002. That jumped to 619 in 2004 and peaked at 630 in 2007. There were 505 such deaths last year. The increase was partly related to the growth of al Qaeda, which is the most violent Sunni extremist group to come along in some time. Each death creates a desire for revenge, and the high death toll over the last few years will reverberate for a few more years.

 


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