The war in Afghanistan and
Pakistan, between the governments and Islamic radicals, has become so violent
this year that Pakistan is now the center of the war against Islamic terrorism.
So far this year, over 8,000 people have died in this part of the world due to
Islamic violence. About half the deaths are in each country. It is really the
same war, with the Taliban and al Qaeda active in both places. Al Qaeda has
moved its money, and most of its leaders and technicians, to this part of the
world, after being defeated in Iraq. Al Qaeda has declared Afghanistan and
Pakistan their new main battleground. On a more pragmatic level, this is al
Qaeda's last stand. There's nowhere else in the world, outside of the tribal
areas of Pakistan, along the Afghan border, where al Qaeda could find refuge.
Their allies, the Taliban, are a Frankenstein like monster, created by the ISI
(the Pakistani CIA) fifteen years ago. Recruiting Afghan exiles, and students
from religious schools (founded by Saudi religious charities during the 1980s),
the ISI armed these Talibs (religious students) and sent the Taliban into
Afghanistan to win the civil war there and bring order out of the chaos. That
only worked for a few years. But the Taliban ideas caught on with some of the
Pushtun tribes on both sides of the border. These tribes want to rule both
countries, but because of their short lived Taliban success in the late 1990s,
believe they have a shot at running Afghanistan again.
another matter. Al Qaeda would have its hands full if it tries to take over
Pakistan. Aside from the fact that the vast majority of the population is not
fundamentalist, those who are tend to the be the fiercely tribal types who
don't want Arabs telling them what to do. While South Asians and Arabs have
traded for thousands of years, they have never developed very warm relations.
One reason the Taliban lost power so quickly in Afghanistan in 2001 was because
the large al Qaeda presence there. The Arabs, who were the largest component of
al Qaeda, exhibited open disdain for the Afghans (who, like most South Asians,
biggest problem is that most of their support is among the Pushtun tribes, and
these only comprise 15 percent of the Pakistani population. They are also the
poorest and least educated minority. A unique feature of Pakistan is that it's
165 million people are all minorities, although the Punjabis (44 percent of the
population) are the dominant one (not just in numbers, but in education and
income as well). Closely allied with the Punjabis are the Sinds (14 percent), and
together these two groups pretty much run the country. What these lowland
people have not been able to run are the Pushtun and Baluch tribes up in the
hills. This has been a problem for thousands of years. The hill tribesmen are
fearless warriors, but the lowlanders are more numerous, disciplined and, in
the end, more than a match militarily for the tribes. The hill people can
threaten and raid, but they can't conquer.
Pakistan was created in 1947, the policy towards the tribes was largely one of
live-and-let-live. That has fallen apart with the growth of Islamic radicalism
(seen as a cure for the corruption and poverty of the nation). This religious
fervor calls for more violence throughout the country, with the goal of
establishing a religious dictatorship. The Islamic radicalism never caught on,
in a big way, among the Punjabis and Sinds. There are plenty of Islamic
radicals in the lowlands, but they are split into many factions, and some of
the factions (especially Sunni and Shia) are at war with each other. The tribal
radicals can make a lot of noise, carry out terrorist attacks and threaten all
those who disagree with them (including many Pushtuns and Baluchis). But they
can't take over the country. It's been tried before, and this time around the
lowlanders have something their ancestors didn't, aircraft and helicopters that
can go after the tribesmen in the mountain redoubts. That's already happening,
and more and more of the tribal leaders are figuring out the implications. If
the lowlanders get really mad, especially if the Taliban and al Qaeda try to
set up their own little terrorist kingdom up in the hills, there will be lots
Afghanistan, the Pushtuns make up 40 percent of a much smaller (25 million)
population. But most of the Pushtun tribes want nothing to do with the Taliban.
The Pakistanis, and the Americans, thought they could work out a deal with the
Taliban. That ended on September 11, 2001 for the Americans, and over the last
year for the Pakistanis. The recent bombing in the Pakistani capital, where
nearly 400 people were killed or wounded by a Islamic terrorist suicide
bombing, has finally pushed the Pakistanis to accept the same reality the
Americans have been fighting. You can't cut a deal with the Islamic radicals.
You can offer amnesty if they surrender (this worked in Algeria, Egypt, Iraq
and elsewhere), but the hard core, and the leadership, will fight to the death.
You have to work with them on those terms. That works.