India-Pakistan: The Big Surprise


April 19, 2010: In Pakistan, the Taliban are fighting back, by sending suicide bombers against police stations, military bases and civilian targets. The security forces are better protected, and often stop the bomber before they can get to the target. That often means the bomber detonating the explosives among civilians who happen to be in the vicinity. The civilian targets have much less security.  In the past week, two Taliban suicide bombers, dressed as women in the all-concealing burqa, killed over 40 people at a refugee camp (full of people fleeing the battles between the army and Taliban.) So far this year, over 70 percent of the 700 terror attack deaths have been civilians. This makes the terrorists less popular, and reduces support for them. Terror groups never seem to grasp this, and cling to the idea that their attacks will intimidate the population and government into surrendering. That very rarely happens. But when you have a lot of people willing to die for their cause (or convince others to do so), it's the most newsworthy thing you can do. The mass media eat this stuff up, and are willing to take the terrorists seriously as long as the body count remains high. Last year, there were nearly 12,000 terrorism related deaths in Pakistan, with 70 percent of the dead Taliban and al Qaeda, 20 percent civilians and ten percent security forces. Deaths are running at the same rate this year, but the terrorists are on the defensive, and fleeing advancing government forces. This year, civilian losses are higher (25 percent of the total) and security forces lower, because the military and police are attacking and not just sitting around waiting to be attacked. More civilians are being killed by the military, which, unlike the Taliban, will pay compensation and provide medical care.

The big surprise, at least for the soldiers and police from the lowlands of Punjab and Sind, is that the fierce tribesmen are not nearly as dangerous as their reputation. The Pushtun tribes have been slaughtering lowlanders for thousands of years. But the army has found that their new tactics, which emphasize heavy use of artillery, helicopters and F-16s carrying smart bombs, has rendered the tribesmen much less lethal. The tribal warriors are still fierce, but as long as the soldiers are careful with their own security and scouting, the tribesmen die in far larger numbers than the troops.  

The Pakistani security forces have been most active in Orakzai, which is south of the Khyber Pass. It's small (1,800 square kilometers) area with  a population of 450,000. In the last month, soldiers and police have killed over 300 Taliban there. Several thousand pro-Taliban tribesmen had fled to Orakzai, after the army offensive in South Waziristan earlier this year. Taking refuge in isolated villages or camps, the Taliban hoped to stay together until the army withdrew. But the soldiers kept coming. The Taliban are short on weapons, ammo and men. Fewer new recruits are joining, as it is clear that the Taliban are at a big disadvantage in fighting the army.

Another casualty of the war against the Taliban are the refugees. About three million civilians fled the fighting in the tribal territories in the last year, and a third have not yet returned to their homes. There are new refugees created weekly, as the army chases the Taliban into new areas. The civilians are warned to flee, and usually do, as the Taliban are known to use civilians as human shields, or kill those they believe are working for the government.

April 18, 2010:  Near the Indian border, Pakistan held major military exercises, involving over a thousand armored vehicles and dozens of jet fighters. Pakistan has also been complaining of unprovoked gunfire from India, at Pakistani troops. No casualties, and there's some doubt this is actually happening. For decades, it was the Pakistani troops who frequently fired machine-guns and mortar shells across the border, surprising, and often killing, their Indian counterparts. This was sometimes done to assist Islamic terrorists trying to sneak into India. Often, it was just done to show the Pakistani people that their army wasn't going to take any abuse from India. While Indian military commanders concern themselves with a wide variety of possible threats, Pakistani commander see India as the biggest danger to them. India doesn't agree, but Pakistani military commanders need this tension (real or imagined) to justify their large budget.

April 16, 2010: The UN released an investigative report on the assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto three years ago (as she ran again for prime minister). UN investigators concluded that the problem was poor security, for Bhutto, by the police. In the aftermath, there was interference (to conceal their involvement) by the national security agency (the ISI). The army and ISI wanted Bhutto dead because she was amenable to making peace with India, and wanted to crack down on the Taliban and al Qaeda. The ISI and army see India as a major threat, and Islamic radical groups as a useful (if unstable) weapon against India. Without this threat, the army and ISI can't get as much money from the government.

In Baluchistan, Pakistan, a suicide bomber attacked a hospital and killed ten people. This was apparently the result of a fight between Shia and Sunni radicals in the area.

April 15, 2010:  The U.S. has imposed sanctions on the leaders of two Pakistani charitable trusts (Al Akhtar Trust and Al Rashid Trust), which are accused of raising money for Islamic terrorist groups. Actually, the two trusts have been in business since before September 11, 2001, openly raising money for families of Islamic terrorists who died for the cause. But much of the money also financed actual terror attacks. Pakistan has refused to shut down this fundraising, so the U.S. goes after the key people in any way it can.

April 14, 2010: Another American missile attack (via a UAV) in North Waziristan, killed four Islamic terrorists. In the last two years, such attacks have killed nearly 900 people in Pakistan, especially in the Taliban and al Qaeda base areas of Waziristan. Over 80 percent of those killed have been terrorists, most of them senior or mid-level leaders.

April 12, 2010: In eastern India, security forces have halted their search for Maoist camps and fighters. This is in response to the recent Maoist attack that killed 75 policemen. Leftist politicians are calling for a halt to the offensive, and renewed peace talks with the Maoists. But that has failed for over a decade, and the government will keep the offensive going. However, the police and army commanders are reconsidering their approach. The Maoists obviously know the terrain better, having operated in these remote areas for years (sometimes decades), and are able to mass gunmen for overwhelming attacks. Clearing how the Maoists is going to be harder than expected. It usually is.





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