India-Pakistan: March 21, 2004


Pakistani troops fighting in the South Waziristan tribal area have captured or arrested about a hundred al Qaeda during the six days of fighting. Interrogations indicates that al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is not in the area, but rather the al Qaeda fighters are defending Tahir Yuldash, founder of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Many of the al Qaeda fighters are Uzbeks. There are also many Chechens and a lot of Pakistanis (Pushtuns from the Yargul Khel tribe.) Tribal elders have been brought in to try and convince the Yargul Khel fighters to give up. While many Pushtun tribes have been providing shelter for Taliban and al Qaeda, not all the tribes, or tribesmen, agree with getting mixed up with the Taliban or al Qaeda cause. The government, using a combination of threats of military retaliation, and bribes, has given the anti-al Qaeda factions in the border tribes the ability to act against pro al Qaeda and Taliban factions.

The siege in Waziristan continues, and may go on for several more days, or even a week. 

The Pakistani government has, since the nation's founding in 1947, wanted to exercise control of the northwest tribal areas. But the tribes were too strong, and the government too distracted by disputes with India to force the issue. Over the following decades, the government gained some control in the tribal areas, a little here and a little there. In the 1980s, there was a crackdown on the drug production (opium and heroin), mainly because it was creating a growing number of Pakistani addicts. This showed the government that it could confront the tribes and win. But this was also a time when the tribal areas were flooded with Afghan refugees from the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. Pakistani military intelligence (ISI) was providing money, weapons and other support. This made the army welcome in the tribal areas. But now the Pakistani army has come to stay, even though many of the "army" troops are actually local tribesmen serving in paramilitary border defense or police forces. 

The campaign against al Qaeda and Taliban will go on for a while, and Pakistan sees that as providing sufficient time to change the politics of the border region. Hunting for bin Laden is an excuse, taking political power from the border tribes is the objective. But for the United States, the Pakistani army's growing power in the tribal areas means that al Qaeda and the Taliban have fewer places to hide. 


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