Counter-Terrorism: Hell To The Chiefs


September 6, 2010: The Taliban in Pakistan are having a real hard time this year. One way to measure this is with the number of tribal elders killed by the Taliban in the tribal territories. Normally, tribal elders are left alone, as they act as judges and negotiators within, and between, tribes. Even so, in a normal year, 5-10 are killed for one reason or another (feud, anger at a ruling, or just some random act of violence). Two years ago, this death rate peaked to 24 in the tribal territories. This horrified the tribes (and all tribal elders) and things calmed down last year, at least when it came to tribal elders. But so far this year, about 30 tribal elders have been killed, mostly by the Taliban. The reason is the two year offensive into the tribal territories by the Pakistani armed forces. The Taliban want to discourage tribes from siding with the government. The Taliban believe that threatening or murdering tribal elders will keep the tribes friendly, or at least neutral, towards the Islamic radicals.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani offensive has been stalled all Summer. The long anticipated offensive into North Waziristan (4,700 square kilometers, and 365,000 people), has not happened. Meanwhile, the government continues to negotiate cooperation, or at least no hostility, from local tribal leaders. But many in North Waziristan have long backed Islamic radicals (Taliban, al Qaeda and smaller, similar, groups). The army wants to go in and shut the Islamic radicals down quickly, but if too many armed men come out to fight, the battle could drag on. Many tribal warriors will, as is their custom, fight from their hillside fortified compounds, with their families cowering behind the walls, but vulnerable to the artillery and aerial bombs the Pakistani military now favor. Pakistan does not want a lot of dead civilians, the Islamic radicals know it, but the troops appear ready to come in anyway. Meanwhile, many Islamic radicals have fled North Waziristan (and often get caught or killed while doing so) and reinforced the Islamic radicals already operating in Punjab (205,000 square kilometers, 93 million people). There, Islamic radicals are far more rare, and the police are much more powerful. But the influx of fleeing radicals from the tribal territories has created several cells that are starting to kill people.

Pakistani troops continue to hunt down armed groups of Taliban in the rest of the tribal territories, particularly Bajur, Orakzai and Swat. For much of the Summer, there were over a hundred casualties a week from these operations, most of them Taliban or civilians. With so much army pressure on them for so long (over a year), the Pakistani Taliban have called on the Afghan Taliban for help. But the situation is bad in Afghanistan as well, where the Taliban there are complaining of the lack of reinforcement, weapons, ammo and cash they used to receive from their Pakistan bases.

The Pakistanis continue to vigorously deny charges that some of its intelligence and political officials cooperate with the Taliban. Charges continue to be made, but little real evidence is put forth. It appears that there are many Pakistani officials, as with the general population, who back Islamic radicalism. But despite up to a third of the population favoring Islamic radicalism, the government is officially against it. But at the same time, the Pakistani military openly pushes the idea that India is just waiting for an opportunity to invade and conquer Pakistan. On the Indian side of the border, there is no interest at all in taking control of Pakistan. India is prospering, while Pakistan is a mess. Pakistanis don't like to dwell too much on that, and prefer the fantasy that their much larger, and richer, neighbor covets them.



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