November 26, 2007:
There are four different wars
going on in Pakistan. In the streets of the capital, thousands of political
party members demonstrate for their disgraced (for corruption and incompetence)
leaders. The political parties are based on giving out jobs and other goodies
to the activists who bring in the votes. The major parties are the creations of
politicians from the handful of families that control much of the
national wealth. The way it works in Pakistan, 5-10 years of bad government
brings about a military takeover, and more virtuous (although not always more
competent) rule when a general rules. People get tired of that after a while
(the current general, Musharraf has been in power eight years) and demand their
elected politicians back. In this case, the two leading contenders, Bhutto and
Sharif, are rejects from the past who still maintain popularity with the party
activists. Musharraf has been under pressure to give up his post as commander
of the army. That job is not being done well, as so much time must be spent
dealing with presidential affairs, and the pressure from the political parties.
And if Musharraf does turn over command of the army, he is at greater risk of
another army coup. What Musharraf hopes to do is hold new parliamentary
elections in a few months, win them, and beat the political parties at their
own game. Musharraf has been much less corrupt than his predecessors, and his
rule has brought much prosperity. He's under attack, but he's not a lost cause.
Opposing the generals and democrats are the tribal
separatists (especially the pro-Taliban ones) and the Islamic extremists (al
Qaeda terrorists seeking a religious dictatorship.) There are two groups of
tribal separatists. In the southwest, the Baluchi tribes are agitating for more
autonomy (and cash from gas deposits in their territory.) In the past week,
there have been dozens of demonstrations to protest the death of a Baluchi
tribal leader in Afghanistan (where he was allied with the Taliban). The only
real violence were a series of bombs planted along the main line of the
railroad in Baluchistan. Four members of a repair crew were wounded by one of
In northwest Pakistan, the Pushtun tribes are
trying to hold back growing government control. This is low key, lackadaisical
warfare, which is how the tribes fight. The current hotspot is the Swat Valley,
where a radical cleric has rallied Pushtun followers to oppose government
control. Over 150 people, mostly armed tribesmen, have died there in the last
week, as the army shuts down key roads and halts food supplies to rebel
tribesmen who have barricaded themselves in three villages.
Al Qaeda's principal weapon is the suicide bomber.
Two of these attacks killed 35 people in the capital. The bombers were going
after people working for military and intelligence headquarters. The terrorists
actually have a lot of supporters in both places, as many educated Pakistanis
despair of democracy ever working for them, and still see a radical solution,
like a religious dictatorship, as the only hope for the nation. These
supporters are a minority, but a persistent one.
Lastly, there is religious violence between radical
Sunnis and Shia. Christians and other religious minorities are also attacked,
but the Shia are numerous enough to organize and fight back. While these
radical Sunni groups espouse the same religious hatred as al Qaeda, they have
been around far longer. That's one reason al Qaeda was able to move here from
Saudi Arabia and be welcomed. In the last week, nearly a hundred have died in
northern Pakistan, as Sunni and Shia militants fight each other, and security
forces sent in to restore peace.
These four wars have been doing on for a while, in
most cases since Pakistan was founded sixty years ago. There's no end in sight,
and now the army has nuclear weapons.
India is also having problems
with terrorism, although not to the same degree as Pakistan. The communist
Maoist rebels in eastern India are now under attack regularly (years of
negotiation having failed). The Maoists have had to shift their attention to
the more aggressive police, rather than the rural businessmen and government
bureaucrats that had been the targets for so long. In northern India, more
Islamic bombs are going off. These are apparently a spillover from a decade of
Islamic terrorism in Kashmir. That disputed (with Pakistan) region has become
too inhospitable for Islamic terrorists, and more of them are moving south into
Hindu India. This is a much less hospitable environment, but what's a suicidal
religious terrorists to do?