India-Pakistan: True Lies

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October 9, 2008:  In Pakistan, the government has ordered all 70,000 of the remaining Afghan refugees (there since the 1980s Russian invasion of Afghanistan) in Bajaur to return home. In the last few months, some 20,000 have already fled back to Afghanistan. Most of the two million Afghan refugees went home after the Taliban were chased out of power in late 2001. But those who remained in Pakistan tended to support Islamic radical groups and the Taliban. The Pakistani government has been trying to get these people to go home, and now they are forcing them to do so. The fighting in Bajaur continues, with more local tribes turning against the pro-Taliban tribes and clans. In the Pushtun tribal tradition, survival is paramount, and switching sides is acceptable if you are about to get hurt bad. Many tribes have supported, or tolerated, the Taliban because the government did nothing when the Taliban began throwing their weight around (as in burning girls schools or forcing video shops to shut down.)

The Pakistani offensive continues in the Swat Valley, where more of the Taliban and tribal leaders are getting cornered and killed. There are also more losses among the civilian population, because one of the primary weapons the army has is the ability to cut off electricity and road access. This has led to more disease and untreated illness among the tribal civilians. That in turn has led to more of the tribal leaders switching sides.

In Kashmir, Indian troops spotted Islamic terrorists trying to cross over from Pakistan using a high (5,000 meter) pass. Troops were sent up and spent most of the last ten days fighting the Islamic gunmen they found up there, killing at least 13 so far. The terrorists are using such difficult routes because all the easier ones are monitored and guarded by Indian troops. But the high altitude passes are monitored as well. The difficulty of getting people across the border has been increasing for the past six years, since India began installing new sensors and equipping troops with thermal imagers. These are very effective in the high, and cold, mountains.

Pakistan also has economic problems. Rising inflation and a lack of foreign currency (needed to pay for imports, particularly of food) are approaching critical levels. The inflation is caused by the government habit of promising more goodies than it can deliver. The government then prints more money to pay for the politically attractive handouts, and that causes high (over 25 percent) inflation. The lack of foreign reserves is partly the result of all the corruption (too many officials stealing foreign currency held by the government). Nothing unusual in all this, except that the newly elected government increased the handouts, and more government cash is unaccounted for.

The newly elected president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari,  has been making the rounds, visiting neighboring countries and allies in the West. He has made several statements which have enraged many Pakistanis back home. He called the Islamic terrorists in Pakistan terrorists. Most Pakistanis consider them "freedom fighters," but the rest of the world tends to go with the terrorist label. Zardari also said that India was never a threat to Pakistan. Again, this is something that is not appreciated back in Pakistan, where "defending the country against Indian aggression" has long justified all manner of excesses. But, in fact, India has never had any interest in taking over Pakistan. The place is a mess, and India has plenty of domestic problems already. Zardari is a widower, whose wife was the assassinated (by the Taliban) politician (and former Prime Minister) Benazir Bhutto, was very popular. Zardari has long been dogged by corruption charges, and recently received a pardon. Before he was elected president, the office has some key powers removed (like being able to dissolve parliament and call new elections.) Zardari is more of a figurehead than his predecessors, and is also seen as less of a team player. Apparently.

October 8, 2008: The head of the ISI gave members of Parliament a rare briefing. Although secret, and apparently superficial, some details leaked out. In the last fifteen months, over 1,200 Pakistanis have been killed by Islamic terrorist attacks (including 117 suicide bombings). In the last seven years, nearly 1,400 security forces personnel have died fighting Islamic radicals (Taliban and al Qaeda). Most Pakistanis blame the American campaign against the Taliban for all the Islamic violence inside Pakistan. The ISI briefing pointed out that the Americans (and other Western nations) were trying to defend themselves from international Islamic terrorists who found sanctuary in Afghanistan (until late 2001) and Pakistan (since late 2001). This was one reason for closing the briefing to the media. Pakistanis don't like to be reminded of the long time presence of Islamic radicals in their midst.

October 5, 2008: In Kashmir, India has imposed an indefinite curfew, to curb the ongoing demonstrations by Moslem separatists. While the Islamic terrorism in Kashmir has declined, the  anti-Hindu attitudes have not. Moslems and Hindus have been trying to drive each other out of northern India for centuries. Old hatreds die hard. Mass anti-Hindu demonstrations have become popular of late, and the Indian government is using the curfew to try and shut down the crowds. This intolerance is a growing problem in India, where Hindu extremists have been using increasing violence against Christians in eastern India. There, the situation is complicated by the fact that Maoist rebels will try to gain local support by fighting the Hindu extremists, and protecting Christian villages.  Anti-Christian violence has become more of a problem in Pakistan as well, because Islamic radicals seek out and attack all non-Moslems. While Hindus and other minorities are attacked in Pakistan, the Christians get particular attention because they are seen as associated with the West. The Islamic radicals are further enraged because the Christians back things like schools for girls.

October 3, 2008: A house exploded in North Waziristan, near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The cause was apparently a U.S. Hellfire missile, fired from a Predator or Reaper UAV. About twenty people were killed, eight of them Arabs, the other local Islamic radical leaders. This attack brought forth a vow of revenge from the Taliban. Apparently some key Taliban and al Qaeda leaders were killed. The Taliban renewed their threats to local tribesmen who are known to sell information about the movements of Taliban and al Qaeda. The Taliban has had some very public executions of suspected spies, but everyone knows that the informers are everywhere, and the Taliban usually just grab anyone who is odd or suspicious and cut his head off in an attempt to scare the real informers into silence. But the money is good, and too many of the tribesmen are tired of all the commotion and unrest the Taliban and al Qaeda have brought to the region. The fact that the Pakistani army is more of a presence, and nuisance, is blamed on the Taliban. Same with the American UAVs and commandos, who appear out of nowhere and kill quickly. Sometimes the Americans hit the wrong target, which makes everyone nervous. The tribesmen want an end to all this extremism and counter-terror operations in their backyard. It's been going on for three decades now, and that's too long for many of the Pushtun people along the border.

In Pakistan, a suicide bomber blew himself up near the home of a prominent politicians in Punjab, during a celebration of Eid (the end of Ramadan). This killed twenty and wounded twice as many. Attacks during religious celebrations has long been a particularly dumb idea. It doesn't terrorize as much as it enrages the very people the Islamic militants are trying to connect with and lead. Instead, the Islamic militants are seen as a bunch of mindless butchers, and public opinion turns against them even more. No wonder the Americans have been able to create an informer network in the heart of "Taliban country."

 

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