India-Pakistan: The Curse And The Cure


April 21, 2009: Back in the late 1970s, when the army generals running Pakistan (for the third time since it was formed in 1947), the guy in charge, general Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, decided to back the many Islamic radicals in the country, who believed Sharia (Islamic) law, not the secular common law inherited from the British, should be the law of the land. The problem with that was that Sharia, in the fine print, called for a religious dictatorship, run by clerics. Neither the politicians nor the generals in Pakistan wanted that, but many local Islamic radicals did, and they used general Zia's support for Sharia to push for an Islamic republic. The Islamic radicals got a boost in the 1980s, when the Russian (Soviet) invasion of Afghanistan brought in billions of dollars a year from Saudi Arabia and other pious Gulf oil millionaires. Along with the money came Arab volunteers, to join the fight against Godless communism in Afghanistan. It also brought in some U.S. money and the CIA, but the major players, and paymasters, were the Gulf Arabs and their very conservative form of Islam. Pakistan served as the base for millions of Afghan refugees. Protected by American military power, the Afghans used their Pakistani bases to wear down the Russians, who eventually left Afghanistan in 1989 (the same year communist rule collapsed in Eastern Europe, followed by the dissolution of the Soviet Union over the next two years).

Islamic radicals in Pakistani military intelligence came up with the idea for creating the Taliban in the mid 1990s, as a way to settle the civil war raging in Afghanistan in the wake of the Russian withdrawal. The Taliban ruled most of Afghanistan in the late 1990s, alienating most Afghans. Many Pakistanis were similarly dismayed by the failure of Islamic rule in Afghanistan, but the Taliban also took hold in Pakistan. After all, Pushtun tribes lived on both sides of the border. In fact, there were twice as many Pushtun in Pakistan as there were in Afghanistan. While the tribal people (the Pushtuns and Baluchis) are less than 20 percent of the population, many non-tribal Pakistanis (over 80 percent of the population) still believe that Islamic law is a cure for the corruption and inefficiency that cripples the country. But most Pakistanis recognize that general Zia's use of Islamic conservatism and Sharia did not work. Islamic rule was a disaster in Afghanistan, and was equally harmful in Iran and Sudan.

However, the minority in Pakistan that still believes in Islamic rule, are fanatical about it, and willing to kill, and, more importantly, die for it. This is where the Pakistani government is in big trouble. Up to a third of the population are believers in Islamic law as the cure for the country's problems. Many of these true believers are in the army and government bureaucracy. Thus going to war with the Islamic radicals risks rebellion and mutiny in many parts of the government. For that reason, the government must constantly reassure the West that Pakistan's nuclear weapons are "safe" (under the guard of troops who are immune to calls for Islamic radicals to have nukes). In the meantime, the government is paralyzed with fear that if they take decisive action against the radicals, the nation might collapse into civil war.

The Pakistani government and people are split on the issue of Islamic rule, and how to deal with corruption. The latter is the primary curse in the country, inhibiting economic growth and effective government. But much of the corruption is wrapped up in traditions that many Pakistanis are comfortable with. This web of feudal, religious and familial obligations keeps most of the population poor, and a minority (which has always run the country, and military) quite wealthy. India bit the bullet sixty years ago, and passed laws stripping many Indian nobles and landlords of rights and properties that kept many poor Indians in a state of feudal servitude. No such reforms in Pakistan, and the country continues to suffer for it. Islamic radicals like to promise freedom from feudal obligations, and this is very popular. But many Pakistanis note that religious rule in Afghanistan and Iran simply replaced one form of economic tyranny and corruption with another, and the poor people were still poor and without power. But many Pakistanis are so desperate that they ignore (or are ignorant of) the lessons of Afghanistan and Iran, and step forward to fight, and die, for the Islamic revolution.

The U.S. is increasingly frustrated by the incompetence of the Pakistani government in dealing with Islamic radicals (Taliban and al Qaeda). Thus the U.S. has been expanding its activities in the tribal territories over the last few years. First it was more intelligence gathering. That was, of necessity, done quietly, and the Pakistani government didn't complain much. Then, about a year ago, the use of UAV missile attacks on al Qaeda leaders increased. There were protests in Pakistan, which the U.S. got away with ignoring. Pakistan and the U.S. benefitted from the death of these foreign terrorists, and these al Qaeda foreigners had few followers or supporters in Pakistan (even in the tribal territories). Then the U.S. expanded the attacks to Taliban leaders recently. These guys had more followers in the tribal territories, but the U.S. and Pakistani government both wanted them dead. Now the U.S. is jamming the illegal Taliban radio stations that spread the Islamic radical line in many parts of the tribal territories. The U.S. is offering the Pakistani government jamming equipment, and the Pakistanis are inclined to take and use the gear.

The Taliban and al Qaeda are hitting Pakistani troops several times a week with suicide bombings and gunfire. Soldiers manning checkpoints in the tribal territories are a frequent target. The army is responding with air raids and artillery fire on Islamic radical targets, particularly leaders. Over the weekend, more than fifty died from such violence in the tribal territories.

Violence in Indian Kashmir has left ten dead in the last few days, including four policemen. Maoist violence in eastern India has reduced (to 45-55 percent) voter turnout in the elections underway there.

In Bangladesh, a senior intelligence official was arrested for involvement in the sales of tons of weapons to rebels in northeastern India. The ten truckloads of weapons were seized, in Bangladesh, five years ago, but the investigation to find those responsible got nowhere. That was because so many senior government officials were involved in the gun running. But that government is gone, and the current one is after the corrupt officials.

April 20, 2009: The prosecution of those responsible for last November's terror attacks in Mumbai, India, has filed charges against 47 people, 35 of them Pakistanis. India also launched an Israeli made radar satellite. This bird uses a high resolution SAR radar to obtain detailed images in any weather. India will use it to keep an eye on China and Pakistan.

April 16, 2009: In Pakistan, a panel of judges has granted radical cleric Abdul Aziz bail, and released him from house arrest. Abdul Aziz was accused of complicity in the Red Mosque terrorism in the capital. Two years ago, this resulted in a bloody police raid on the Red Mosque. Now Abdul Aziz is back at the Red Mosque, calling for Islamic revolution and daring the government to arrest him again.

In eastern India, Maoist election day violence left at least 16 dead.

April 15, 2009: The Taliban group that negotiated a peace deal in Pakistan's Swat Valley, now say that it is un-Islamic for them to disarm. That was part of the deal with the government, which basically gave the Taliban control of Swat. Most of the locals don't want to be ruled by the Taliban, but the government does not want to commit the army to a battle for the strategic valley northwest of the capital.




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