India-Pakistan: My Sanctuary Or Yours


May 17, 2015: Pakistan has been pressuring Afghanistan to either go after Pakistani Taliban leader Mullah Fazlullah, who has moved his headquarters to eastern Afghanistan (Nuristan Province, northeast of Kabul), or allow Pakistani troops to do it. Afghanistan is still (after nearly two weeks) debating what to do. Mullah Fazlullah has tribal allies in eastern Afghanistan (where many tribes straddle the Pakistani border) and making a major effort to get him might cause long-term problems between the national government and the tribes in Nuristan Province. This area is remote and thinly populated (130,000). It has long suffered a large Taliban presence. Mullah Fazlullah has been active in the area for several years and has lots of allies. Afghanistan is also reluctant to go after Mullah Fazlullah with Afghan troops because the Americans are already seeking to kill the Taliban leader via a UAV air strike. American Special Forces have also been active in this area for a long time, at least in terms of intelligence work (reconnaissance and recruiting informants) because Nuristan has long been a favorite smugglers route. Afghanistan is also not happy with the current Pakistani propaganda campaign that accuses India of supporting the Taliban (all factions) and the tribal separatists in southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan). Most Afghans accept the fact that the Pakistanis created the Taliban in the early 1990s. The Pakistani branch was created in 2007 when a coalition of Pakistani Islamic terrorist groups formed a coalition to destroy the Pakistani government and replace it with a religious dictatorship. The Afghan branch has been headquartered in Baluchistan since late 2001 in a sanctuary that has always been off limits to American UAV missile attacks. Afghanistan might be interested in going after Mullah Fazlullah if Pakistan would shut down the Baluchistan sanctuary but Pakistan refuses to even consider that. This confirms Afghan suspicions that all this “India backs Islamic terrorists” talk is just another part of the long-term Pakistani effort to extend its control over Afghanistan.

The continuing Islamic terrorist violence inside Pakistan has caused other problems. For example there are the refugees. Nearly two million people inside Pakistan have fled their homes, nearly half of them in the last year in response to the offensive against Islamic terrorists in North Waziristan and adjacent areas (like Khyber and South Waziristan). These recent military operations caused 900,000 people to flee in 2014, compared to 140,000 in 2013. Now the government is trying to persuade most of these recent refugees to return home. Many are reluctant to do so because they don’t believe government claims that the Islamic terrorists are gone or won’t return (from Afghanistan or elsewhere overseas or even in Pakistan).

The offensive against Islamic terrorists in the northwest, begun in mid-2014, has had some interesting side effects. Because of the large number of captured documents and prisoner interrogations there have been more raids and arrests outside the northwestern tribal territories. This has caused confirmed suspicions that Islamic terrorists have been planning a major expansion into Karachi (the largest city in Pakistan, where about eight percent of all Pakistanis live). The army has shifted forces to Karachi where the battles are different and the Islamic terrorists have some unique disadvantages. Many Taliban fled the fighting North Waziristan and went to Karachi, which has a large Pushtun population. But for over a decade  many of those Pushtuns have moved to Karachi to get away from the tribal feuds and Islamic terrorists in the northwest. So when the Taliban show up in a Pushtun neighborhood they are often quietly reported to the police. Cell phones make this easy, and unlike the tribal territories, the Taliban cannot shut down cell phone service, even briefly, in Karachi.

Another problem the Pakistani Taliban suffers from is factionalism. The 2014 offensive has made the existing factionalism worse as has the recent appearance of ISIL and its appeal to the more extreme members of the Taliban.

The Pakistani Army recently made public one of the reasons why they were able to run thousands of Islamic terrorists out of North Waziristan in the last ten months, killing nearly 2,000 of them, while losing only 200 of their own troops. Pakistan had adopted the American practice of realistic training centers. The American effort began when the National Training Center (NTC), a 147,000 hectare (359,000 acre) facility in the Mohave Desert at Fort Irwin, California was established in 1982. There the United States Army revolutionized the training of ground combat troops with the development of MILES (laser tag) equipment for infantry and armored vehicles and the use of MILES in a large, "wired" (to record all activities), combat training area. Other countries soon realized the importance of these innovations and a growing number of nations built their own NTC clones. NTC type training centers are usually built to enable a combat battalion or brigade to go through several weeks of very realistic combat exercises. After 2001 the United States established more training centers that specialized in irregular warfare and training smaller units. The Pakistani version concentrated on training individual soldiers and small units. Most NATO allies, plus Israel, Russia and China eventually followed with their own versions of NTC.  By the time the Pakistani troops began their North Waziristan offensive in mid-2014 nearly all the infantry involved had gone through this realistic training. The Pakistanis already knew this sort of thing worked because there had been a number of smaller operations against the Islamic terrorists after 2009 and it was noted that the troops who went through the specialized training did much better. That’s because one of most unnerving things about combat is the uncertainty, especially for those who are experiencing it for the first time. This uncertainty causes first-timers to make mistakes, and that gets people killed.

The Pakistani decision to not get involved in Yemen, as an ally of Saudi Arabia, continues to be a major diplomatic problem. The most recent Pakistani response (or excuse according to the Saudis) is to point out that over 20 percent of Pakistanis are Shia and Pakistan is heavily involved with battling local Islamic terrorists. Off the record Pakistanis point out that most of this Islamic radicalism began in Arabia, financed by Islamic charities sponsored by Arab oil money (from governments and wealthy individuals). The oil rich Gulf Arabs are angry with what is perceived as ingratitude and betrayal. Pakistan also publicly announced it would cooperate with Iran to try and solve the Yemen unrest (where Iran backed the Shia rebels) peacefully. That was seen as insulting to Saudi Arabia, which had publicly asked Pakistan to join the Saudi led coalition (Qatar, UAE, Kuwait, Egypt, Sudan, Bahrain, Morocco, Jordan, and Egypt) fighting Shia rebels in Yemen. At the same time Pakistan assured Saudi Arabia that Pakistan would provide military assistance if the territory of Saudi Arabia were invaded. That would only happen if Iran attacked as the Yemeni Shia rebels know that, for them, such a move would be counterproductive. All this began in Early March when Saudi Arabia asked Pakistan to join a Sunni Arab coalition against Iranian aggression and send warplanes, warships and a brigade of troops to help deal with the Shia rebellion in Yemen. Pakistan declined apparently not willing to antagonize Iran. Pakistan got a similar request in 1979 when Shia clergy led a revolution against the Iranian monarchy and talked of attacking the Sunni Arab states. For most of the 1980s Pakistan had an armor brigade stationed in Saudi Araba and served as a threat to eastern Iran, which borders Pakistan. Since then Pakistan and the Shia religious dictatorship in Iran have learned to get along. Many Pakistanis are Shia and Pakistan has its hands full trying to halt Sunni Islamic terrorists from attacking those Shia. Those attacks anger Iran and Pakistan does not want to make that worse.

The Pakistani government is concerned with the fact that some of the new ISIL recruits have come from Islamic terrorist groups still on the payroll (because they confine their attacks to India or Afghanistan). Because of pressure from the United States and Afghanistan the offensive in North Waziristan hit the Haqqani Network, a group that had faithfully refrained from attacks inside Pakistan. It is, however, believed that the government gave Haqqani warnings about air attacks on their camps and helped them “flee” to Afghanistan. But the anti-India Islamic terrorists are still operating throughout Pakistan and operating training camps openly in Pakistani Kashmir. The government is pressuring these groups (especially the LeT) to work harder to oppose ISIL.

In northwest Pakistan (North Waziristan) an American UAV used two missiles to kill five Islamic terrorists. The U.S. has carried out nearly 400 of these UAV missile attacks Pakistan since 2004. Over the last few years most of the American UAV activity has shifted to Afghanistan. At the same time the Americans have expanded and upgraded their armed UAV force.

India continues its operations against its largest terrorist threat. It isn’t Islamic terrorists but rather leftist communist rebels. India is now sending in more specialist equipment and people to deal with this situation. In 2013 India assigned ten UAVs to special national police units operating against Maoist rebels in eastern India. This made a big difference, although were initially thought to be futile because the Maoists tended to operate in forested areas. The police battalions there had long demanded more air support and UAVs were preferred to manned aircraft because the unmanned aircraft can stay in the air longer to patrol areas where you could see who was on the ground. The government has kept the military out of this operation, instead mobilizing 100,000 police personnel most of them in special counter-terror battalions and smaller police commando units. The UAVs initially were used in Chhattisgarh state which has the most intense Maoist activity. The anti-Maoist campaign is one of patrols, raids and constant intelligence gathering. In 2009 the Maoists dismissed the recent government mobilization of 75,000 police, paramilitaries and commandos for a major offensive against the rebels. Many Indians thought this effort was doomed to failure. The Maoists certainly were not going to be intimidated into surrender. But the government was eager to reduce Maoist power, if only to reduce the damage Maoists are doing to the local economy. Attacks on economic targets rose from 70 in 2006 to 85 in 2007, to 110 in 2008 and even more in 2009. Railroads (stations and tracks), electricity transmission lines and mobile phone towers were the main targets. While the offensive did not have the immediate effect the government had hoped for it did have a big impact on Maoist strength (decreasing it) and activity (less violence). More rural people turned against the Maoists. As always the best ally the Maoists had was the continued rural corruption. But after decades of Maoist violence the rural people had come to reject the Maoists as well. Most of the hard core Maoist support is now in urban areas where communism still has many fans. The growing anti-corruption campaign throughout India points out that the anti-Maoist effort would go better if there were less corruption in rural India. Even many Maoists agree with that.

May 16, 2015: In southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan) over 400 troops, acting on a tip), raided an Islamic terrorist hideout and in two days of fighting killed at least 33 terrorists and arrested over a dozen. The Islamic terrorists involved here were linked to attacks all over the country, not just in the southwest.

May 15, 2015: In southeast Pakistan (Karachi) a lone assassin shot dead a senior police commander, the third such killing this month.

In northwest Pakistan (North Waziristan) the army began a major effort to dislodge Islamic terrorists from the Shawal Valley. This is one of their last hideouts in North Waziristan as well as a longtime smuggling route into Afghanistan and base for many smugglers. The army moved several thousand troops into the area for this operation which is being supported by artillery, warplanes and helicopters (transports and gunships). The Pakistanis are cooperating with Afghan troops in the other side of the border to share information and coordinate operations to minimize the number of Islamic terrorists who try to move their operations into Afghanistan.

May 14, 2015: In northwest Pakistan (North Waziristan) warplanes bombed Islamic terrorist camps, killing fifteen. Ground troops reported that some of the dead were not Pakistani. Elsewhere in North Waziristan the army released 29 Afghans captured during the fighting and found to be illegal migrants, not Islamic terrorists. As a good will gesture the 29 were handed over to Afghan authorities on the border.

Although the Indian prime minister was warmly welcomed on his official visit to China, state controlled TV was, at the same time, showing maps that depicted parts of India as actually belonging to China.

May 13, 2015: In southeast Pakistan (Karachi) six armed men on motorcycles stopped a bus and killed 45 passengers they identified as Shia. Both ISIL and the Taliban later took credit for the murders.

May 12, 2015: In Bangladesh four Islamic terrorists hacked to death a popular blogger who frequently posted comments critical of Islamic terrorism. This was the third such murder this year as the local Islamic terrorists try to silence Internet based criticism coming from within Bangladesh. These three killings have generated more hatred of Islamic terrorists but the government has not been able to completely suppress the radicals in this Moslem majority country. Radicalism and the use of terrorism is an ancient Islamic tradition that always has attracted some righteous and murderous adherents.

May 10, 2015: A recent (May 5th) meeting of senior military apparently led to a new round of accusations that India was responsible for most of the Islamic terrorist violence inside Pakistan. In a rare move the Indian foreign intelligence agency (RAW) was specifically mentioned. Blaming India for Pakistani problems is nothing new. After decades of using the same old lies and deceptions the anti-Indian propaganda campaign the Pakistani military wages against India becomes embarrassing, but mainly to foreigners. For example, accusations that most of the Islamic terrorism in Pakistan (and Afghanistan) are the result of Indian intelligence efforts are absurd unless you take it on faith that it is true and many Pakistanis believe it. When foreign leaders and media question these accusations the Pakistani military promises to present compelling evidence to back its claims. The evidence never shows up and Pakistan has become an international joke (at least in intelligence agencies) because of this. But inside Pakistan laughing at or criticizing these myths can get you arrested (by soldiers) or killed (by ISI agents).  This latest round to anti-Indian propaganda also reflects other changes inside Pakistan. Public opinion has been turning against the military who are increasingly seen by most Pakistanis as dishonest, corrupt and incompetent. For many Pakistanis the 2011 American “invasion” to kill Osama bin Laden, who had been living for years next to the national military academy, was what convinced many people that the military was the problem, not the solution. The generals have noted that despite a brief increase in anti-American sentiment ever since 2011 more and more Pakistanis have become pro-American and more suspicious of the Pakistani government, military and intelligence agency (ISI). More Pakistanis are also becoming vocal about how corruption within the country, not vague conspiracies by foreigners, are the real problem.

In northwest Pakistan (North Waziristan) two tribes, after years of futile negotiations, went to war with each other over a land dispute. Before the army could arrive and restore order, three days of fighting left 47 dead and nearly as many wounded. Such bloody feuds a common throughout the tribal territories and in Afghanistan and throughout Central Asia.

May 8, 2015: In northern Pakistan (Naltar valley) one of three military helicopters carrying people to a ski resort crashed, killing the ambassadors of Norway and the Philippines. The passengers in the three helicopters were guests to a ceremony in a new ski resort presided over by the prime minister. The Taliban later claimed they hit the helicopter with a missile and released a video showing four Taliban firing a SAM-7 missile at a helicopter. The military insists the damaged (but intact) Mi-17 helicopter suffered a mechanical failure while coming in for a landing and that there was no evidence of missile damage. The Taliban insist they thought the helicopter contained the prime minister, who was actually flying in from another direction.  

May 2, 2015: In northwest Pakistan (North Waziristan and Khyber) warplanes bombed Islamic terrorist camps, killing 44. In late 2014 ground troops began advancing through parts of Khyber that had become Islamic terrorist hideouts, repeating what was still going on to in North Waziristan next door. Currently the main fighting in Khyber is to drive Islamic terrorists out of the Tish Valley.

May 1, 2015:  In Pakistan the government officially declared victory in North Waziristan and adjacent Khyber. While operations (on the ground and from the air) continue the government considers the main population centers free of Islamic terrorist groups and is providing cash and transportation to get 101,788 families from North Waziristan and 86,107 from Khyber back to their homes.

April 30, 2015:  Eight months after Pakistani police arrested ten men involved in the attack on Malala Yousufzai in 2012 a court convicted all ten and sentenced them to life in prison. The 15 year old Malala Yousufzai fled to Britain, along with her family, after the attack to receive better medical care and protection from Taliban threats to hunt her down and finish the job. The Pakistani Taliban insists they have the right to kill women who criticize Islamic radical ideas. The Taliban responded to the media uproar over the Malala Yousufzai shooting by declaring war on journalists (especially foreign ones) and promising murder attempts against the most troublesome journalists. That helped limit how long the media uproar over shooting lasted. Islamic terrorism still has a lot of popular support in Pakistan, where paranoia about an American led war on Islam remains a popular excuse for all that is wrong inside Pakistan. But the pressure to hunt down and punish the Taliban who organized the assassination attempt on the teenage girl continued and eventually the government identified and arrested all the Taliban involved in planning and carrying out that attack. All ten were from the same area (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) where Malala Yousufzai lived with her family. Some of those arrested admitted that the attack was ordered by Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah.

April 28, 2015: In Pakistan the government carried out its 100th execution since it decided last December 17th to lift the six year old ban on executions. Most of those killed by hanging have been Islamic terrorists. This change was because of that December 2014 terror attack on a school that killed 132 children. Pakistan has over 8,000 people in prison with death sentences. Nearly half of them are their because of terrorist activities and the government said it would execute many of them. Islamic terrorist groups are scrambling to try and bribe or intimidate judges to prevent the execution of at least some of the condemned. Apparently the Islamic terrorists have had little success in halting the executions, although at this rate it will take over 20 years to kill everyone on death row. Meanwhile prison officials are double checking the identities of those awaiting execution because of a growing scandal involving criminals paying other men to take their place in jail and serve their sentences for them. It is unlikely that this would happen with someone on death row, but in Pakistan anything is possible.




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