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In Pakistan the major political parties are trying to persuade the military to go along with another round of peace talks with the Taliban. The generals don’t trust the Taliban but the politicians have the public pressuring them to find relief from the terrorist threat. Pakistan has tried peace talks before, without much success. Eighteen months ago the government held secret peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban and not much came of it. The Taliban demanded the army withdraw from all of Waziristan and, in effect, turn border security over to the Taliban. The Pakistani Taliban said they would reduce terror attacks in Pakistan, but no one believed that. The Pakistani Taliban also claims to have regained control of much of the tribal territories, including the Swat Valley
(right outside the tribal territories). This is propaganda, not reality. The Pakistani Taliban still have armed men in many parts of the tribal territories, often operating from bases across the border in Afghanistan. The Pakistani Taliban are still very much at war with Pakistan and loudly striving to "avenge" the death of Osama bin Laden and other foreign terrorists who had come to help. The major problem with making peace with the Taliban is that it has been done several times before, and the Taliban always broke the truce and used the peace process as a tool to fight the military. Yet there are many tribal leaders who are urging the terrorist groups to make peace or risk having these tribes turning against them. The constant Taliban violence has made life more difficult in the tribal territories, a place where life is hard to begin with. While many tribesmen like the Taliban goal of imposing sharia (Islamic) law all over Pakistan, they are less certain that this will deal with the hated lowlanders (the majority of Pakistanis, who are not Pushtun) and their corrupt ways. The Taliban are now seen as another form of corruption, a bunch of religious zealots who have turned into gangsters and murderous ones at that.
There will be national elections in Pakistan in May. The big issue this time around is who will not be running (as in pro-military candidates). Pakistanis are openly asking why they don’t get to vote on who runs the military. Until the last decade this was a topic that was rarely (and not without great personal risk) discussed openly. Several things have changed these attitudes. This include the increase in terrorist activity inside Pakistan, Indian openly declaring that Pakistan was no longer its major security concern, and the Pakistani military being forced to admit that the Indians are right and the major security problem for Pakistan is the Islamic terrorists who run wild throughout the country. But the biggest jolt was how the American commandos came in two years ago and killed Osama bin Laden, who was living in a “military” city and within shouting distance of the Pakistani Military Academy. The Pakistani military did not detect the Americans sneaking in and did not mobilize their troops and air power before the raiders were safely back in Pakistan. This shocking event made clear two things, that the Pakistani military was incompetent and, despite very public denials, the military did indeed support the very Islamic terror groups who were killing so many Pakistanis. The generals did what damage control they could but this was a stain that could not be removed or explained away. The military has lost its cloak of invincibility and invisibility. Pakistanis can now admit that they see the generals as a bunch of liars and pretenders. For decades the military got away with blaming India or the United States for any terrorism that occurred inside Pakistan. That fairy tale no longer floats. Pakistani journalists, at least the ones who want to risk death or kidnapping (at the hands of the military), can dig up facts to support these new views of the military. The generals have to deal with the fact that their old world is gone and there’s no going back. Yet there is no universal agreement on that within the military and for an organization that long prided itself on discipline and agreed-upon goals, this factionalism is disturbing. It’s not just that the people don’t trust the army, the army doesn’t trust the army either.
In the Pakistan portion of Kashmir the army is being accused of kidnapping a local man and then torturing him to death. The dead man lived in Lahore and had returned to visit family in an area near the Indian border. Pakistani soldiers apparently believed the victim was an Indian spy and tortured the man to death trying to prove it. In the past the army could talk their way out of something like this by blaming the death on “Indian spies.” But Pakistanis no longer believe this stuff and are demanding that the army prosecute and punish those who murdered this civilian. The army has been staging attacks on Indian border guards in this area for the past few weeks, leaving five Indian and Pakistani troops dead. Tensions were high on both sides of the border.
The Indian force (over 80,000 police, most of them in paramilitary light infantry battalions) trying to eliminate leftist (Maoist communist) rebels in eastern India are pressuring the government for more military type equipment. The police are particularly keen to obtain the use of more helicopters and some armored vehicles. The helicopters make it easier to search for Maoist camps or rebels groups fleeing from a major attack. The armored vehicles would reduce police casualties in areas where the Maoists are using a lot of roadside bombs. The military is resisting calls to share their resources with the police, despite the fact that the campaign against the Maoists remains the major paramilitary operation in the country.
In the Pakistani tribal territories (Peshawar) the Taliban have warned a major cell phone market to ban the sale of videos and ring tones for the increasingly popular smart phones. If this threat is not heeded, the Taliban say they will bomb the market place, which is a popular attraction in the largest city in the tribal territories. Cell phones are enormously popular among the tribesmen, even those who belong to the Taliban. But the Islamic radicals believe music and videos are un-Islamic. The only ring tones allowed are those that deliver an Islamic message (the call to prayer or someone reciting lines from the Koran). The Taliban threat against the cell phone market place may be a bluff because such an attack would turn many tribesmen against the Islamic radical group, which already has a large number of enemies in the area.
In northwest Pakistan (the Orakzai tribal area near Waziristan and the Afghan border) the army and air force attacked two Islamic terrorist camps, killing at least six terrorists. The security forces have been trying to drive the Pakistani Taliban and Haqqani Network out of the Orakzai area for several years. This has succeeded in the valleys but has proved more difficult up in the mountains. The military now claims that 92 percent of Orazkai is free of Islamic terrorists.
Pakistani terror group Lashkar i Jhangvi continues to kill Shia Moslems in the southwest (Baluchistan). At least six Shia have been killed in the last two days.
March 2, 2013: Two policemen in Indian Kashmir were killed by Islamic terrorists.
March 1, 2013: In Pakistan (near the Khyber Pass) Islamic terrorists blew up another school. This sort of thing is very unpopular among most tribal families, but the Taliban consider anything but a religious education as unIslamic.
February 28, 2013: For the third time this month the Pakistani military insisted that it would not interfere in the May elections. There is much fear that the military will rig the vote in order to insure that pro-army legislators are elected, at least enough of them to prevent a serious effort by the politicians to assert civilian control over the military. For a long time the military has selected its own leaders and seen its demands for more money and autonomy granted by frightened politicians.
In northwest Pakistan (Orakzai) the military attacked three Islamic terrorist camps, killing at least eight terrorists.
In Bangladesh a court sentenced a senior Islamic conservative politician and religious leader (Delawar Hossain Sayedee) to death after he was convicted of committing war crimes during the 1971 civil war with West Pakistan (back when Bangladesh was East Pakistan). Sayedees followers promptly went on a violent rampage in an effort to coerce the government into letting Sayedee live. The violence has killed about 40 people so far and the government seems unlikely to back down. Families of the many victims of the 1971 violence have long striven to see the surviving culprits brought to justice. Many current Islamic religious leaders in Bangladesh were young Islamic militants in 1971, and supported West Pakistani efforts to suppress separatist activity in East Pakistan. What is now Pakistan (then West Pakistan) was always more into Islamic radicalism than Bangladesh, where the local Islamic radicals are still considered a danger. That's one reason why there is a lot less Islamic terrorism in Bangladesh than in Pakistan. Another reason is that the Islamic clergy of Bangladesh never became as radicalized as their counterparts in Pakistan. Part of this was due to history and culture, partly to closer ties between Pakistan and the oil-rich Arab states in Arabia. A lot of that oil money went into funding conservative Islamic missionaries, and a lot more of those missionaries went to Pakistan than to the less hospitable Bangladesh. While not all Pakistanis agree with their conservative, and often radical, Islamic clergy, there is tremendous social pressure to keep quiet about such disagreements.
February 27, 2013: Police in northwestern India (Punjab) arrested a long wanted Sikh terrorist leader (Narain Singh Chaura) and two of his associates. There was a major outbreak of terrorism by Sikh separatists in the 1980s. Pakistan provided sanctuary and support for the rebels (and still does). That violence nearly disappeared since the early 1990s. Narain Singh Chaura was arranging for more weapons and bomb making materials to be smuggled in from Pakistan so that the Sikh terrorism could be revived. There are a lot fewer Sikhs willing to join radical organizations now, but Narain Singh Chaura was the kind of fellow who could get at least a few together and commit some righteous homicides.
February 26, 2013: In Pakistan (near the Khyber Pass) Islamic terrorists killed a policemen who was protecting a polio vaccination team. The UN provides cash and specialists for these vaccination programs, but the UN warned Pakistan two months ago that unless there were security guarantees for its medical personnel (recruited locally), the polio vaccination program in dangerous areas would not be resumed. So Pakistan provided police escorts, which seem to be working as none of the vaccination team were hurt in this latest attack. Thousands of Pakistani children have not been vaccinated because Islamic militants have been attacking the medical personnel in the last year, killing at least a dozen of them. Usually the attacks are in the tribal territories, but some of the latest killings were outside the territories. In several countries (especially Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan) Islamic radicals believe polio vaccinations are part of a secret Western plan to harm Moslem children. Polio can only survive in a human host and infected Pakistanis sometimes travel to other countries and spread the disease.
February 25, 2013: The U.S. and the Pakistani military are at odds over whether a Taliban faction in South Waziristan (the Mullah Nazir Group) are “good” or “bad” Taliban. The U.S. recently declared the Mullah Nazir Group as international terrorists (mainly for their murderous activities in Afghanistan) while the Pakistani military openly praises the Mullah Nazir Group as “good Taliban” because they don’t carry out terrorist attacks inside Pakistan.
February 24, 2013: In Pakistan there was a nationwide electricity blackout for two hours, mainly because of faulty equipment in the electrical distribution system. Increasingly over the last few years there have been mass demonstrations to protest power blackouts. Because of insufficient electricity supplies these blackout have been more frequent. Government officials have been warned about this shortage for years but the corruption did what it usually does and prevented a solution. That's how it goes in Pakistan, lots of problems, which creates more conspiracy theories than solutions.
February 22, 2013: Pakistan arrested the leader (Malik Ishaq) of terrorist group Lashkar i Jhangvi, which was responsible for attacks on Pakistani Shia over the last few weeks. This terrorism left over 200 dead and the Shia (about a fifth of the population) are enraged. In response to this the government went out and arrested over 170 suspects (many of them Lashkar i Jhangvi members) and used force when necessary (leaving four dead). The military had long protected Malik Ishaq, who has frequently been accused of orchestrating violence but never successfully prosecuted. As the media dig more into Malik Ishaq’s background the more enraged many Pakistanis become over how the military has supported Islamic terror groups over the years. More than any time in the past, the military is under pressure to cut its ties with terrorist groups. That will not be easy to do because many of these connections are decades old. Moreover, the military is deeply involved in suppressing tribal unrest in Baluchistan (southwest Pakistan, where the recent Shia attacks took place) and regards outfits like Lashkar i Jhangvi as allies in this effort. The army is also fighting charges that it has kidnapped and murdered thousands of Baluchi tribesmen suspected of being involved in the resistance (the Baluchi tribes want more autonomy and a bigger share of the money from natural gas fields in the area).
February 21, 2013: In eastern India (Bihar State) a Maoist roadside bomb killed six policemen and two civilians.