India-Pakistan: Coming Out Swinging In Swat


February 2, 2009: In Pakistan, the army is responding to the Taliban offensive in the Swat Valley. For over two years now, a few thousand Taliban have been waging a terror campaign against the 1.4 million people living in the valley. The army has had up to five infantry brigades, and thousand of police, in the valley to restore order. But the pro-Taliban tribesmen operate as guerillas, using villages up in the side valleys (higher up in the mountains, where the thick pine forests make it easy to hide) for bases. The Swat Valley has long been a front line in the cultural battle between the clannish, and religiously conservative Pushtun tribesmen, and the better educated, less doctrinaire people from the lowland areas of Punjab and Sind. The Taliban seek to establish the primacy of their way of life, and that means no schools for girls, and no outside cultural influences (music, videos). The Taliban are willing to kill to get their way. The government has agreed to a death match with the Taliban over the issue, and troops are once more moving on the areas where the Taliban have tried to set themselves up as the local government in the Swat Valley.

The United States insists that it will continue its campaign of seeking out Taliban and al Qaeda leaders, and killing them with Hellfire missiles.  Dozens of terrorist leaders have died this way in the past year. Officially, Pakistan protests these attacks, as they reveal how helpless, or hapless, Pakistan has been in dealing with the restive tribesmen. For thousands of years, the one thing governments on the plains of Punjab and Sind (the densely populated areas that form the core of Pakistan) had to do was keep the unruly mountain tribes under control. Pakistan is having a hard time doing that, and this is leading Pakistanis to question the legitimacy of their own government. So while the Pakistani government publically protests the Hellfire attacks, they privately take advantage of the growing losses among the terrorist leadership.

More Afghan Taliban are moving into Pakistan, where it is believed the Islamic radical organization has a better chance of establishing a secure base. The foreign (NATO/U.S.) troops in Afghanistan can go wherever they want and are unbeatable on the battlefield. Thus the Taliban have to keep moving there. But the Pakistani Army is not as powerful across the border, so Afghan Taliban are coming across to make sure that the Pakistani troops do not move too far into tribal territory. The Pakistani government does not, and has never wanted, to fight a major war with the Pushtun tribes. But the Pushtun support for international terrorists has proved to be an increasingly embarrassing liability. This is made worse by recent Taliban attempts to shut down all Pakistani government activity in the tribal areas. This includes badly needed foreign aid projects (many of them American). In some respects, the Taliban are willing to compromise, in order to placate complaints from the bulk of the Pushtun tribesmen living along the border. For example, the Taliban campaign against the education of girls (less than a quarter of the adult women in the tribal areas are literate) is very unpopular, especially the policy of burning down or blowing up the school buildings (over 300 so far, mostly in the Swat Valley). So some Taliban leaders have agreed to allow education of girls up to the 4th grade (basic literacy, but little else). The Taliban believe educated women are troublesome and un-Islamic.

The Taliban have been calling on Islamic conservatives throughout Pakistan to back them. But while a third of the population is religiously conservative (and only 20 percent are tribal), most are not willing to participate in a religious war over the issues the Taliban is most exercised about (an Islamic Republic, suppression of women and Western cultural influences.)

In the last week, Pakistan has moved its army and police forces into positions to threaten Taliban groups in the tribal areas. Daily, there are more clashes, and the fighting is now generating over a hundred casualties a day. It's not a big war, even though there are over 120,000 soldiers and police in the border area, and over 10,000 armed tribesmen answering to Taliban leaders.

Today, a UN aid official (an American) was kidnapped in Baluchistan (southwest Pakistan, a normally quiet part of the country that does suffer from banditry and tribal separatism).

February 1, 2009: Pakistan has agreed to prosecute 125 people it has arrested for involvement in the Mumbai attacks three months ago. India would prefer to prosecute, and how effectively Pakistan carries out the proceedings will have a lot to do with India's future behavior. India has threatened all manner of mischief if Pakistan doesn't do the right thing in response to the Mumbai attacks.

In eastern India (Maharashtra), a police patrol was ambushed by Maoist rebels, with at least fifteen policemen dead. Meanwhile, through eastern India, in areas where Maoists operate, locals are forming vigilante groups to oppose Maoist  efforts to establish a separate government. This includes Maoist "taxes" (extortion attempts on anyone who appears to have money). The vigilante movement beats and kills the Maoist officials, which often brings on an attack by dozens, or hundreds, of armed Maoists.

January 28, 2009:  In Pakistan, troops defeated Afridi tribesmen outside Peshawar, the largest city in the tribal territories. At least twelve tribesmen were killed. The Taliban operations there have contributed to a major crime wave in Peshawar. So far this month, for example, there have been 20 kidnappings in the city of three million. Police blame some of these crimes on the pro-Taliban tribesmen coming into town to make a little money. Further north, in the Swat Valley, troops moved against Taliban camps, seeking to put an end to the terror campaign the Taliban have been waging in the area.




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