India-Pakistan: A River Runs Through It


October 24, 2008:  In Pakistan, the army continues to battle Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in the Bajaur and Swat valleys. In the third Taliban stronghold, North Waziristan, the Taliban are keeping their heads down, noting the beating their fellow radicals are taking elsewhere. The Waziristan Taliban are maintaining the peace deal signed with the government earlier this year, despite continued American missile attacks (Hellfires fired from Predator and Reaper UAVs).  The Taliban are, however, suspected of kidnapping prominent people in Waziristan, including a prominent doctor. This caused the government to shut down all the clinics in North Waziristan, until the doctor was released.

Pakistan has persuaded some of the tribes in pro-Taliban areas to switch sides. This is often not too difficult, as the tribes along the border spend more time fighting each other than in going after outsiders. The U.S. is providing money and weapons for these pro-government tribes, as well as tribesmen who join the Frontier Corps (the locally recruited security force that watches the Afghan border.) The Pakistani government has also declared that all illegal foreigners (Islamic radicals) will be expelled from the border areas.

The Afghan drug gangs, seeing their Taliban allies taking a beating in Pakistan, have sent guns and money across the border, to help out. The Afghan drug gangs have become the main supporters of the Taliban on both sides of the border. Two decades ago, Pakistan pushed the heroin production business across the border into Afghanistan. Pakistani officials have warned their Afghan counterparts that taking bribes from the drug gangs does not work in the long run. The large amount of opium and heroin produced leaks into the local culture, producing a plague of local addicts that poisons society and causes many new problems. More and more Afghan officials are coming to understand that, but many  are still on the drug gang payroll, so cooperation against the Taliban by the two countries is still spotty. But Pakistan and Afghanistan have agreed not to have any more peace talks with the Taliban and to keep fighting the Islamic radicals.

The increasing anti-Taliban attitudes in Pakistan has produced more tips from locals, and provided American UAVs with more targets. At least once a week, Hellfire missiles hit a building along the border, killing Taliban and al Qaeda personnel. These attacks seek to take out the leadership, but often they just kill some gunmen staying over for the night. The Taliban are still seeking the local "spies" who are alerting the Americans and identifying the buildings where the terrorists are staying. The information the Americans are getting appears to be very accurate, but a lot of it can be coming from high-resolution cameras in UAVs and aircraft, and electronic eavesdropping that appears to pick up everything. Meanwhile, anyone who is in the least bit suspicious risks a beating or beheading.

October 23, 2008:  In a worrisome development, Maoist rebel groups in eastern India have formed alliances with tribal separatist groups in the northeast (particularly Manipur, which is on the border with Myanmar.)

October 22, 2008: In and around Mumbai, India, there has been several days of violence because a right-wing politician was arrested. The conservatives are hostile to migrants from other parts of India.

October 21, 2008: In northeast India, a bomb went off outside a military base in the city of Imphal, killing 17 and wounding 30. Tribal separatists have long been fighting the government over the policy of allowing migrants from other parts of India to flood into the region. The day before, a grenade was detonated outside the well guarded compound of a senior politician.

October 19, 2008: Over the weekend, Pakistani troops moved into a large Taliban training camp in the hills surrounding the Swat valley. Over 60 Taliban died in the camp, which consisted of dozens of structures and many habitable caves. The air force bombed the camp before the troops moved in. Similar operations continue in the Bajaur valley.

October 18, 2008: The recent death of Pakistan Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud has caused, as expected, a split in the local Taliban solidarity. A large number of Taliban in North Waziristan have split away to form a "local Taliban" group. This new outfit announced that it would not fight the Pakistani army, but would instead concentrate on supporting the fighting against foreign troops across the border in Afghanistan. That will be difficult, because the gunmen are coming the other way now, with Afghan Taliban sending fighters to try and rescue the Taliban movements in the Bajaur and Swat valleys. When the Taliban is crushed in those valleys, the army indicates that it will move on to North Waziristan. This won't be the first time the flatlanders have gone into the hills to pacify the Pushtun tribes. The British did this as recently as 1945, two years before they "gave" the previously independent Waziristan to the newly created state of Pakistan. North Waziristan is only 4,700 square kilometers, and 365,000 people. But most of the adult men have guns, and using them is considered both an obligation and something of an outdoor sport. Despite its smaller population, North Waziristan is considered a tougher objective than the  Bajaur and Swat valleys. The North Waziristan tribes can put over 30,000 armed (if not very well trained or equipped) men into action. Like Bajaur, a river runs through it (the Tochi, and into Afghanistan via the Tochi pass.)


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