February 8, 2008:
The fighting in
Pakistan's tribal region along the Afghan border has left over 300 dead so far
this year. For all of last year, the death toll was 800. Most of the current fighting
is against the several thousand gunmen who serve Pushtun warlord Baitullah
Mehsud in Waziristan. These gunmen are allied with the few hundred al Qaeda
fighters in the area.
These Islamic radical forces launch
terror attacks, most of them ineffective, and engage acts of banditry (theft,
extortion, kidnapping, assassination), but cannot withstand direct
confrontation with the army (and its artillery and warplanes). If the Pushtun
Islamic radicals get too feisty, the army and police go after the families of
rebel leaders. That usually leads to calls for a truce and peace talks. The
army worries about the loyalty of the many troops who are Pushtun or Islamic
conservatives. So far, discipline has held.
The Islamic radicals have a problem
with factionalism. Lots of Islamic radicals want to run their own operation, so
you have over a hundred factions. Baitullah Mehsud runs one of the largest ones,
and many of the smaller factions are working with Mehsud. The favorite weapon
has become the suicide bomber and roadside bomb. But few of these are used, at
least compared to Iraq. However, these weapons have the same impact, killing
more civilians than soldiers or police, and turning more of the population
against the radicals.
Baitullah Mehsud has become the main
target of the army, and this has forced Mehsud to call for a ceasefire and
truce. The army has refused, and continues to move against Mehsud controlled
villages. Mehsud hasn't got sufficient firepower to stand up to the army, nor
has he got enough trained terrorists to put a dent in the army's combat power. Pakistani
generals now believe that Mehsud's organization has been responsible for
protecting al Qaeda for the last few years. That means that the defeat of Mehsud
could reveal where Osama Bin Laden has been hiding out. Mehsud, however, is an
elusive fellow. This time, however, the Pakistani army is out for blood, the
growing number of terror attacks, and the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, has
turned this into a death match.
British detectives have concluded that
the force of the bomb blast killed Benazir Bhutto (when her head hit the hatch
of her armored car), not the three bullets fired at her. Police have arrested
four suspects in the investigation of the Bhutto killing.
Meanwhile, there are still a few terror
attacks each week in southwest Pakistan, where Baluchi tribal separatists
continue to resist. Indian police arrested two Moslems who had trained in
Pakistani Kashmir to make bombs. The two terrorists were on their way to
southern India, with orders to recruit Moslem medical and engineering students
for terror attacks. Also captured were bomb making materials.
Elsewhere in the region, India has
beaten down most of the Islamic radicalism in Kashmir, but is seeing more
Islamic radicals showing up among the 150 million Indian Moslems. Not a lot,
but it only takes a few Moslem university students to join the cause, and
provide enough competence to carry out more terror attacks. India also has
ongoing problems with tribal separatists in the northwest, and Maoist rebels
throughout eastern India. These two groups mostly result in what passes for
corruption and banditry, and the police deal with most of it. Islamic
radicalism is stalled in Bangladesh, but it's still there.