Counter-Terrorism: Pakistan And The Enemy Within

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June 4, 2011: Wikileaks documents recently revealed that, five years ago, Pakistani generals told their American counterparts that some Pakistani troops from rural areas, especially in the tribal territories, were being radicalized and radicalized air force personnel working on F-16s had been ordered to sabotage aircraft being used to hit Taliban and al Qaeda targets. These plots were detected before any serious damage could be done, and more stringent screening was established for troops working on valuable weapons systems like the F-16s.

Pakistan has about fifty flyable F-16s, with 18 more on order. It is considered the core of Pakistani air power. The U.S. F-16 is one of the most modified jet fighters in service, and Pakistan's older F-16s are being upgraded by a Turkish firm (the Turkish Air Force has 240 F-16s). The F-16 is an excellent fighter that can also function as a bomber and ground attack aircraft. It can carry four tons of bombs. For the last two years, Pakistani F-16s have been heavily used in the tribal territories, along the Afghan border, dropping smart and dumb bombs, and giving the pilots experience using targeting pods. This is the first combat experience the Pakistani F-16s have received.

Loyalty in the Pakistani armed forces has always been something the leadership could not take for granted. The basic problem is the ethnic and religious hatreds in Pakistan do not disappear when someone joins the military. The Pushtun tribes (15 percent of the population, in the north and east, along the Afghan border) and the Baluchi tribes (four percent, in the southwest) do not get along with the majority Punjabis (45 percent of the population) or Sindhis (14 percent) in the eastern lowlands. The resulting violence has been going for over a thousand years. This is particularly important when it comes to getting the Pakistani army to take down the Taliban. The Pushtun tribesmen, who run the Taliban and contribute most of the manpower, are, well, feared by the lowlanders. For thousands of years, the tribes periodically came out of the hills to raid the wealthier and more numerous flatlanders. However, the larger population meant that the Punjabis and Sindhis would eventually chase the tribesmen back into the hills. But the lowlanders also found, time and again, that the tribal warriors were even more formidable, and nastier, when you fought them in their own element. Today, there's another factor. The warlike tribesmen like to make the military their career. They make great soldiers, and over 20 percent of the troops are Pushtun or Baluchi. That creates loyalty and reliability problems when you order the army to break up the Taliban. Most tribal soldiers don't agree with the Taliban, but some are reluctant to make war on their own tribes. So far, this has not been a problem, but the potential remains.

 

 


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