Counter-Terrorism: Al Qaeda Drug Gang Busted By Irate Tribesmen

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April 16, 2007: Pakistan took advantage of the recent fighting between Pushtun tribesmen, and al Qaeda members who have been hiding in the hills along the Afghan for the last five years. The dispute was, as usual, about money and power. The Islamic radicals in question are mainly Uzbeks, and others from Central Asia, plus some Chechens and Arabs. Most of the Arabs still in the area have behaved themselves, but that's mainly because they still receive cash from patrons back in the Persian Gulf states. The Central Asian guys had no such backing, and had to find a way to support themselves. They found work in the smuggling business. This included moving drugs into Pakistan. Worse yet, the Central Asians began distributing the opium and heroin in Pakistan. The government couldn't touch them, because the Central Asians were protected by the Pushtun tribes in the area. But that protection came at a price. You had to pay, if you wanted to stay. As the government put more pressure on the tribes to kick the Islamic radicals out, the tribes demanded more money from the Central Asians. More money was not forthcoming, and words were exchanged. The Central Asians demanded that the tribes protect them, as the Uzeks and their friends were "holy warriors," as well as drug dealers. The heated words turned to gunfire, as the Islamic radicals tried to intimidate the tribal leadership. This included kidnappings and murders. It worked for a while, but in the last few months, there was a consensus among the tribes that the Central Asian gangs had to go. The success of the drug business had attracted more Central Asians, plus some Chechens and Arabs, to the area. There were now about a thousand of them, their power was increasing, and the Pushtun tribes agreed that it was time to fight.

The Pakistani government in the area, while generally hands off, did pay attention to what was happening. The officials from the central government tended to be men born in the region, who had gone on to get college degrees, or joined the army and achieved high rank. The officer corps has a disproportionate number of Pushtuns, as a military career is seen as an honorable one for an ambitious young man from one of the tribes along the Afghan border. As these guys got older, the government often tapped them to serve as provincial officials in the tribal areas. This practice paid off when the officials offered help from the army, if the tribes went after the Central Asians. The army provided air reconnaissance, some helicopter gunship support, and some artillery fire. The tribes supplied all the guys with guns, and suffered several hundred casualties, while they destroyed the Central Asian operations. There were about 300 Central Asians killed in the last month, with nearly twice as many on the run.

Although the Central Asians had largely abandoned Islamic radicalism, they were still thought of as "holy warriors" by many tribesmen, and the Central Asians may find new homes in the region. All this makes the hundreds of Arab al Qaeda up in the hills nervous. Osama bin Laden and many of his senior aides and advisors are believed to be among the Arabs in the hills. The Pakistani government knows this, as do American Special Forces operating on both sides of the border. The tribesmen killed or wounded fighting the Central Asians might have angry, vengeful kin who are now willing to rat out bin Laden, or even senior Taliban.

The war with the Central Asians has disrupted Taliban operations. But there's also been local resistance due to locals getting tired of Taliban religious fanatics telling them what they could not do. The Taliban don't know when to stop. They keep coming up with new items that are forbidden. When they get to the stage where they forbid playing of music and dancing, especially at weddings, people get upset. There have been several brawls, and some gunfire, between Taliban and locals over these issues.

While the Taliban would prefer that the world pay attention to suicide bombings and gun battles in Afghanistan, the more interesting stuff is happening in the Taliban "rear", across the border in Pakistan.

 


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