Pakistan has a problem with women. In the tribal areas, Islamic radicals burn schools (170 in the last two years) for girls and declare it illegal for women to work outside the home. The parliament openly condemns this Taliban/al Qaeda policy. But at the same time, the nations highest court declares that honor killings (murdering a young woman for marrying or dating someone her family does not approve of) are not crimes. The high illiteracy rate among women has long been a major reason for lack of economic progress in Islamic nations. In Pakistan, overcoming the problem means going to war with Islamic conservatives, and the government has been reluctant to do that.
While the aggressive activities of the Taliban in the Swat valley (which is 160 kilometers to the northwest of the national capital Islamabad), the army and police continue to go after Taliban groups along the border. There are hundreds of casualties a week, most of them Taliban. The army uses its artillery and aircraft a lot, because the Taliban can't really do much against these weapons. As for Swat, Taliban activities there have been a major embarrassment for the government. Apparently there has been another futile attempt at negotiations, followed by another military offensive. The government says it will smash the Swat Taliban by the middle of February.
Much to the dismay of Pakistani transportation companies, the U.S. has begun getting supplies via Russian and Central Asian railroads. The inability of the Pakistanis to quickly deal with Taliban and bandit attacks on truck traffic crossing the Afghan border, led NATO and U.S. commanders to order setting up the other routes. So now Pakistan has lost its monopoly on this lucrative business, and many government officials are not happy about it.
There was a sharp increase in violence in Pakistan last year. Deaths went from 907 in 2005, to 1,600 in 2006, 3,500 in 2007 and 8,000 last year. Pakistan suffered more from Islamic radical violence than neighboring Afghanistan. Last year, about 6,000 died in Afghanistan, while Pakistan lost 8,000. There were 2,100 terrorist attacks last year, leaving 2,300 dead. Battles between terrorists and security forces left 3,200 dead. Interestingly, only a third of those dead were in operations involving the army and police (either attacks on tribesmen, or clashes along the border itself). About 40 percent of the dead were the result of tribes fighting each other (usually pro-government groups against pro-Taliban ones.) The government arrested over 4,000 Islamic radical suspects last year.
In response to the government attacks, the Taliban have increased their attempts to terrorize the population. Bus drivers have been ordered (without a lot of success) to remove music and video systems from their busses. Playing recorded music and video is a major competitive tool competing bus companies use for long routes along the Afghan border. The Taliban appear to be trying to anger as many people as possible. As a practical matter, the Taliban represent less than a third of the tribal population along the border, and trying to impose restrictive lifestyle rules on others does not work. But the Taliban have not figured that out yet.
The big change last year was an elected government returning to power. For a decade, a military dictatorship had run the country, and their policy was to avoid fighting the pro-Taliban tribes along the border. That policy did not work, and allowed the Taliban to grow stronger. So when the civilian government came in, the army went to war with the Taliban big time. Recently, the Taliban responded by releasing a list of 45 senior political and government officials that are now marked for assassination.
Pakistan continues to arrest Islamic militants India has accused of being responsible for last years Mumbai attack. But Pakistan refuses to turn over to India any of the terrorists, and, based on past performance, Pakistan will soon release the arrested terrorists, and allow the terrorist groups to operate openly once more (under a new name.) But Pakistan says this time it will be different. India will just have to wait and see.
India, which has long possessed much more military power than Pakistan, is now measuring itself next to China, and finding itself wanting. China spends more than three times as much ($60 billion a year) on defense, and has twice as many troops (two million). Indian defense officials are calling for more money. But China has nearly three times the GDP of India, as well as higher literacy rates and a better educated workforce.
January 23, 2009: In Pakistan, two American UAVs crossed the Afghan border and launched four Hellfire missiles at two different targets. At least 18 people were killed, at least five of them known terrorist leaders. This attack answered the question many Pakistanis were asking. Would the new U.S. president continue these unpopular (to many Pakistanis) missile attacks on terrorist leaders? While Pakistani military and police commanders appreciate the U.S. hunting down and killing the terrorist leaders, many politicians make a big deal of the U.S. "violating Pakistani territory." As a practical matter, Pakistanis complain, but don't interfere with the UAV operations.
January 22, 2009: Threats of Maoist terror attacks forced many businesses (and government operations) to shut down briefly in the states of Jharkhand, Bihar, Orissa and West Bengal. The Maoists were also protesting increasing aggressive, and effective, operations against the communist rebels.