India-Pakistan: The Badlands


February 28, 2012: Pakistan officially denies there is any direct connection between the Pakistani Army, ISI (Pakistani intelligence), and Islamic terrorists. The government has recently admitted that Islamic terrorists have had cooperation from unnamed prominent Pakistani civilians. But a growing number of former (mostly retired) military and intelligence admit that the terrorist connections did exist. Few of these men will openly admit these connections, lest they endure retaliation. The army and ISI are known to kidnap and murder critics. Pakistan is living a dream/nightmare of having created and sustained Islamic terror organizations for decades yet never admitting the role of the government in this. The denials are wearing thin.

Pakistan remains a much more violent place than India. Each month there are 5-10 times as many terrorism related deaths in Pakistan as in India (a country with six times as many people as Pakistan). Most of the violence is (and always has been) in the Pushtun and Baluchi tribal territories along the Afghan and Iranian borders. These lands have always been poor (except for the recently discovered natural gas in Baluchistan and, centuries ago, some parts of the Chinese "silk road" that passed through Pushtun lands) and the local empires simply ignored the Pushtuns and Baluchis. For thousands of years these were the "badlands" that civilized people avoided. The many Baluchi and Pushtun tribes were too isolated from each other, and in love with their own independence, to allow formation of Baluchi and Pushtun states. But the Baluchis are overcoming their differences, much to the discomfort of Pakistan. The Pushtuns are as divided as ever, united only in their hostility to outsiders (a category which sometimes includes other Pushtun tribes). Worse for the Pushtuns, they form the majority of the Taliban and are far more into Islamic terrorism than the Baluchis.

Pakistani intelligence (ISI) has approved the renewal of American UAV missile attacks in the tribal territories (mainly North Waziristan). The attacks had been halted for six weeks as a result of a border incident last November 26. There have been nearly 300 of these attacks in the last decade, most in the last three years. There were 45 in 2009, 101 in 2010, 64 last year, and about six so far this year. ISI officially condemns the attacks but allows them because it's the only way to keep the Islamic terror groups under control. Otherwise the terrorists will turn to attacking Pakistani targets. Efforts to get the Pakistani terror groups to direct their anger at foreign troops in Afghanistan did not work. The terrorists are not happy with these air attacks and insist that nearly all the victims are civilians. The terrorists went so far as to allow Western journalists to enter areas where the missile attacks take place to see for themselves. But interviews with tribesmen revealed that only ten percent of the missile attack victims were civilians. The rest of the dead were terrorists, often foreigners that local tribesmen hated.

Pakistan's army and intelligence services have been taking a lot of international heat for the years of state-approved terrorism against tribal separatists in Baluchistan (southwest Pakistan). The Baluchis want autonomy and a larger share of the revenues from natural gas operations in their lands. The ISI and army have ordered the media they control to come up with stories to explain all the kidnappings and murders of tribal activists. The general story line is that the violence (against the government as well as the tribal activists) has been organized by Israel, the CIA, and other foreign intelligence agencies. Few Pakistanis will openly criticize these stories as that could get you killed. But the true story does get out via the Internet, although you sometimes have to wade through a lot of noise (flame wars and Pakistani government efforts to bury critical posts with a flood of pro-government replies).

The Indian campaign against Maoist rebels is more successful at hunting down rebel camps than it is in dealing with the underlying problems. Rural property and government corruption keep the Maoist afflicted areas producing new rebel recruits. Even if the Maoists disappeared tomorrow these areas would still have plenty of unrest. But coping with corruption, and the way the crooked officials and businessmen make rural economic development so difficult, has not been easy. The corruption and poverty appear more intractable than the Maoists.

Indians are angry at China for protesting the visit of the Indian Defense Minister to the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh on the 20th. The occasion was to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the state of Arunachal Pradesh. India was quite upset that China would make a statement like that. But this is just another escalation in a long-running border dispute. India's military preparations to defend Arunachal Pradesh make it more likely that there will be some violence along the disputed border. India is not only concerned about the land fighting but is building an aircraft carrier and submarine force to block Chinese attempts to control Indian Ocean trade routes. The situation in Arunachal Pradesh has recently become hotter as Indians become aware that China has, since 1986, occupied 28 square kilometers of Indian territory. This Chinese move was made quietly in a remote area that Indian troops did not regularly patrol. When it was discovered Indian commanders pointed out that the Chinese had much more numerous forces on their side of the border. So India took no official notice of the incursion, and no one else was even aware of it until recently. In 2010 India announced a five year plan to increase Indian abilities to deal with any Chinese aggression against Arunachal Pradesh (which China claims as a part of Tibet). The Chinese claims have been on the books for decades but in the last decade China has become more vocal about it. That's one reason India has been rapidly increasing its defense spending. But since both nations have nuclear weapons a major war over Arunachal Pradesh is unlikely. But India fears that China might try to carry out a lightning campaign (a few days, or a week) and then offer peace terms (with China keeping all or part of Arunachal Pradesh). Since neither country would be willing to start a full scale nuclear war over Arunachal Pradesh (a rural area with a population of about a million people, spread among 84,000 square kilometers of mountains and valleys) the "grab and parley" strategy has to be taken seriously. In the meantime, China keeps finding ways to annoy India over this issue.

While relations with China are getting worse the situation is improving with Pakistan. This is largely because many Pakistanis are realizing that over half a century of war or hostility with India (mainly over Kashmir) has hurt Pakistan much more than India. While Kashmir (and which country should control all of it) is still a hot topic in both countries, more Pakistanis are willing to shove the Kashmir dispute into the background and instead move ahead with reestablishing full economic and diplomatic ties with India.

Israeli officials are openly complaining that Indian police have evidence of Iranian involvement in a February 13 terrorist attack in India against Israeli diplomats. Israel believes India is keeping quiet so as to not cause problems with Iran, which is a major Indian trading partner. Indian media speculate that their government is waiting to gather irrefutable proof before accusing Iran.

In northern Pakistan two gunmen attacked a bus full of Shia and killed 18 people. Violence between Shia and Sunni (who consider the Shia heretics) is a growing problem but has been getting worse over the last few decades.

February 27, 2012: In the Pakistani tribal territories (Khyber) a bomb went off at a political rally, killing five people. The people at the rally belonged to an anti-Taliban political party.

February 26, 2012: Pakistan completed the destruction of the compound Osama bin Laden was living in when American commandoes found and killed him last May. It was also revealed that the architect who designed the bin Laden compound often worked for ISI.

February 25, 2012: In Pakistan (North Waziristan) an American UAV crashed outside a village where it exploded and burned. It appeared to have come down because of mechanical difficulties. Some tribesmen went out later and carried away pieces of the UAV.

Four bombs went off in the vicinity of Karachi, Pakistan interrupting rail service in the region. There were a dozen smaller blasts that caused insignificant damage.

February 23, 2012: In Indian Kashmir two avalanches hit a military camp, killing 19 soldiers. It's been the worst Winter in decades and army units guarding the highland border areas are having a hard time of it.

February 19, 2012: A roadside bomb killed two Pakistani soldiers in Baluchistan. In the nearby Pushtun tribal territories eight anti-Taliban tribal militiamen and a soldier were killed by bombs.





Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close