India-Pakistan: The Great Taliban Hunt

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August 17, 2009:  The Pakistani military budget has been increased by over half a billion dollars, to pay for ongoing operations in the tribal territories. There, small groups of pro-Taliban (or simply anti-government, it's often hard to tell them apart) tribesmen continue to fight soldiers. The Taliban continue to burn down schools, an act that is particularly popular among the mainly illiterate tribesmen who fight for the Taliban, and particularly unpopular with most of the tribes in the territories. One must not forget that the Taliban are an unpopular, but violent, minority in the tribal territories. Such minorities have long wielded disproportionate power, until the majority mobilized against them. That's what is happening now, with tribal militias hunting down and killing Taliban groups, and scaring off many more. The Taliban dare not mobilize a large force, because of Pakistani air power and artillery. Moreover, there are at least 13 Taliban factions, and most are hostile to one or more other Taliban factions since the death of Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud on August 5th.

In the last two years, the Taliban have fallen from favor with most Pakistanis. A recent (early June) national opinion poll show that 70 percent of Pakistanis oppose the Taliban (compared to 33 percent 18 months ago.) In the last two years, it's become increasingly obvious that the Taliban were out-of-control and determined to impose a religious and tribal dictatorship on the country. Thus began a war with the radical tribesmen, which has left over 2,500 dead in the last two years. The U.S. didn't do very well in the opinion poll, with 64 percent of Pakistanis hostile. But that has been consistent for some time, as most Pakistanis see America as an ally of India (and most Indians see the United States as an ally of Pakistan.) Politicians in both countries like to demonize the United States, because they know the Americans won't do anything about it.

Rumors that the Taliban had made unsuccessful attacks on Pakistani bases holding nuclear weapons, proved to be untrue, or at least unproven. American and Pakistani officials came out and insisted the Pakistani nukes were safe.

In southern Pakistan, Ali Sher Haideri, the leader of an Islamic radical faction, was murdered by an unidentified gunman. There are dozens of such factions in Pakistan, who spend most of their energy fighting each other, rather than the government. Sunni and Shia groups are most prominent.

The Indian government believes Pakistan based Islamic terrorists are planning new attacks inside India. The Pakistani government is being asked to help round up the plotters and halt the attacks.

August 15, 2009: Pakistan is changing the rules in the seven federally administered tribal areas (FATA), allowing political parties for the first time. FATA comprises that part of the tribal territories along the Afghan border. Some 27,000 square kilometers in size, and containing 5.6 million people (mostly Pushtun tribes), this is where the Taliban have been strongest. FATA has always had a separate set of laws, which depend more on tribal leaders than elected officials (thus the ban on political parties, which would be a direct challenge to tribal elders.) But even many tribal elders have sought the authority to establish political parties, thus the change.

August 14, 2009:  On the border between Indian and Pakistani Punjab, Indian police caught four armed Pakistanis trying to sneak into India. The four were captured alive after a brief gun battle. The four arrested men were carrying four kilograms (nine pounds) of heroin, and a night vision device. The heroin is from Afghanistan, and an increasingly common item found on illegal border crossers. But the night vision device is normally only found in the hands of Pakistani military, or Islamic terrorists. The four arrested Pakistanis are still being questioned, to determine who they represent.

Overnight, Indian police found and defused eight bombs in Kashmir. Every year, in the last two decades, Islamic militants in Kashmir have sought to launch strikes and terror attacks on August 15th (Indian independence day.) The violence has been declining since 2004, when India and Pakistan agreed to undertake peace negotiations. But is soon became apparent that many of the Islamic radical groups in northern (Pakistani controlled) Kashmir were out of (Pakistani government) control, and eager to continue the violence.

August 13, 2009: In Baluchistan (southwest Pakistan) a suicide bomber attack left five dead. The targets were apparently police, but the terrorists missed, and killed civilians. There were also a few attacks on police elsewhere in the province. The Baluchi tribes believe they should get a larger cut of taxes on natural resources (especially natural gas) being exported from the province. Naturally, this is a popular cause, and there is no shortage of young men willing to fight and die for it.

August 12, 2009: Rival Taliban factions fought gun battles in South Waziristan (Pakistani tribal territories), in the wake of the death of Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud (whose main talent was keeping the many factions from killing each other.) There was no designated successor to Baitullah Mehsud, and several warlords who believe they should have the job. Some of these guys are willing to fight for it, and are doing so. Meanwhile, tribal leaders representing the majority of the people in the tribal territories have mobilized to fight the Taliban. All this is generating several hundred casualties a day, as the tribal territories turn into a shooting gallery, with Taliban gunmen the most frequent target. For their part, the Taliban, and their al Qaeda (mostly foreign terrorists) allies are striking back at anti-Taliban tribal elders, using death squads and suicide bombers.

 

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