India-Pakistan: A Tantrum Too Far

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December 14, 2011: The Pakistani military wants some respect. Actually, it wants a lot of respect and wants Pakistanis to stop saying mean things about their generals and their pampered officers. It's been a bad year for the military's image. The biggest disaster was the American raid in May where U.S. commandos landed at a compound not far from the Pakistani military college and killed Osama bin Laden, who had been living in the midst of Pakistani military facilities for years. That produced unusually loud criticism of the military which led to some prominent journalists being threatened, jailed, or killed. This only produced more anti-military reporting and popular outcries against the generals.

There followed reports of an attempt by the civilian government to enlist American aid in a crackdown on the Pakistani military leadership. It's unclear who was behind this but the generals were not amused. The generals were even more annoyed with more vocal criticism from American leaders (political and military) about the continued Pakistani military and intelligence support for Islamic terrorist groups. This was typified by the generals continually refusing to shut down two notorious terrorist sanctuaries (in the northwest in North Waziristan and in the southwest in Quetta). Then there was a November border incident where 24 Pakistani border troops were killed by return fire from across the border in Afghanistan. The generals declared that it was all too much and that the Americans (and Pakistani politicians) must change their tune or else. The generals insisted that this attack was deliberate. To punish the Americans the generals halted supply shipments into Afghanistan and cut military relationships with NATO. There were threats to shoot down CIA UAVs that had long operated over Pakistani terrorist sanctuaries. There have not been any UAV missile attacks since November 15th.  NATO refused to apologize for the incident and blamed Pakistani commanders for the friendly-fire losses. But the Pakistani military saw this as an opportunity to rally popular support and force the Pakistani government to stop pestering them about corruption and cooperating with Islamic terrorists.

At the same time, more dire actions were threatened if the U.S. cut its military aid to Pakistan. American legislators are cutting the aid anyway. The Pakistani generals are threatening another coup if Pakistani politicians and voters don't deliver more support for the military. Many Pakistanis lined up behind the generals like they used to. Yet there is growing popular opposition to the generals, who have become a privileged caste. The military justifies all their privileges and immunities on the need to defend the nation from the threat of Indian invasion. But India has never been interested in invading. This is an invention of the Pakistani military which would not do so well economically and politically without a major external threat. This has been a political scam of enormous proportions and more Pakistanis are becoming aware of it. The generals are worried, which is why there are a growing number of rumors in Pakistan about another military takeover.  

It's not that the U.S. is getting more popular in Pakistan. Decades of anti-American propaganda have left its mark. But the generals are down in the polls and the generals usually only see that kind of unpopularity when they are running the government (which has been about half the time since Pakistan was created in 1947.) It appears that the generals do not want to take over the government again, at least not just now. But they do want locals and foreigners to stop the criticism and demands.

The Pakistani terror groups have noted all this tumult and have reduced their terror attacks in Pakistan. The government publicly thanked the Taliban for this recently, giving rise to rumors of new peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban. But the terrorists don't need peace talks they just need to be left alone in the tribal territories so they can resume building their own little religious dictatorship there. Once that is done they can move into the rest of Pakistan and aid the Taliban in Afghanistan.  But terrorist violence in Pakistan (usually in the tribal territories along the Afghan border) is down 40 percent so far this year. The military and police pressure on the terrorist groups, demanded by NATO and assisted by U.S. UAV attacks on terrorist leaders, had an impact. The terrorists were hurting but now the military seems to have changed its mind about doing what the Americans wanted.

President Zardari of Pakistan will remain in Dubai until the end of the month to recover from his recent heart attack. This makes the civilian government weaker against any bullying by the military. Zadari has usually been pro-American and hostile to the Pakistani generals.

In Pakistan's largest city, Karachi, the violence has remained low after a flare-up earlier this year left over a thousand dead. Religious and political militias are still there but are locked down by a heavy police and paramilitary presence.

The island nation of Seychelles has asked China to come in and establish a military base. It is hoped that will help keep Somali pirates away. The presence of these pirates has hurt the local economy and any help is appreciated. Seychelles has already sent about a hundred of its troops to China for training. A year ago a Chinese hospital ship visited and treated over a hundred people. Chinese warships going to, or from, Somalia have stopped for visits. But a base would be another matter and something India wants to avoid. Seychelles is 1,500 kilometers off the African coast and 3,000 kilometers southwest of India. The Seychelles islands have a total population of 85,000 and no military power to speak of. They are largely defenseless against pirates. So are many of the ships moving north and south off the East Coast of Africa. Three years ago Somali pirates began operating as far east as the Seychelles, which are a group of 115 islands off the east African coast. India has provided assistance to the Seychelles, as has NATO, but it apparently has not been enough. The Chinese are considering the request but it seems likely that the Chinese Navy will only use the Seychelles for resupply and shore leave and not build any base facilities. However, if the Chinese want to really annoy the Indians a "base" of some sort will be built and opened with great fanfare.  

December 11, 2011: In Indian Kashmir a senior government official escaped an assassination attempt by a group of Islamic terrorists. One soldier was killed and eight more people were wounded. This was the first attack of this sort in Kashmir in several months. Terrorist violence in Kashmir is down nearly 50 percent for the year. There are still attempts by Pakistani Islamic terrorists to sneak across the border but fewer of them and more of these crossings are detected and intercepted.

December 10, 2011: U.S. military personnel finished pulling out of Shamsi air base in Baluchistan (southwest Pakistan). The base was one of several that the U.S. used to operate their UAVs from. But in the last year the U.S. has moved most of these operations to Afghan bases. There is a minor advantage to using Pakistani bases for the UAVs, as they spend less time getting to their patrol areas on the Pakistani side of the Afghan border. In the past, Pakistan had demanded the U.S. withdraw from these bases but the American personnel stayed. This time they left.

December 9, 2011: In eastern India Maoist rebels kidnapped seven men working on a bridge. The Maoists do this to discourage construction of transportation projects which make it easier for the police to get into Maoist controlled territory.

December 6, 2011: President Zardari of Pakistan suffered a heart attack and was flown to Dubai for treatment.

In India Maoists carried out several days of attacks, leaving over 40 people killed or wounded. Railroad tracks were destroyed in several places and police caught some Maoist bombers before the bombs could be set off. The Maoists are dealing with growing police pressure by making more attacks against highly visible targets (like the railroads). Attacks against the police are meant to intimidate the cops and reminding everyone that the Maoists can kill police, not just run from them.

 

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