India-Pakistan: The Courage of Cowards


June 2, 2009: In Pakistan, troops are moving into the hills surrounding the Swat valley, chasing the fleeing Taliban gunmen. The Taliban tried to make a stand in Mingora, the capital city of Swat district, but were unable to stand up to trained troops. The Taliban are also suffering from their unpopularity, with the locals quick to assist the troops in finding the rebels. Although over half the civilians fled in advance of the fighting, many stayed (often to protect homes and property), and used radios and cell phones, as well as face-to-face communications, to pass on valuable intelligence about the hated Taliban (who have some fans in the valley, but not enough). Pakistani troops are also on the move in Waziristan, where the Taliban are also falling back. These retreats are part of the Pushtun way of war. The Taliban forces can easily disperse, with the gunmen going back to their homes, if need be, hiding their weapons, and being ready for another leader to rally (and/or hire) them. The problem with the tribal territories is establishing loyal and competent police and paramilitary forces that can stand up to a tribal militia. Basically, any area in the tribal territories can muster about ten percent of the population (the number of men with firearms) if there is a charismatic leader (or someone offering enough cash and gifts to followers). These guys will swagger around, and even fight (if they believe they have the edge). But they will also loot at any opportunity, and be difficult to control. Then again, if the enemy gains an edge, your tribal fighters will wisely run away, to fight another day. Thus, in six weeks of fighting in the tribal territories, mainly in Swat, fewer than 2,000 have died (60 percent of them Taliban, ten percent of them troops and the rest civilians caught in the crossfire.) There are about 50,000 troops in the area, and fewer than 5,000 armed tribesmen working for the Taliban factions. There are a few million civilians, more than half of them tribal people, the rest had ancestors from the lowland provinces of Sind and Punjab. Most of those in the cities and towns of the tribal territories (tribal or lowlander) dislike the Taliban, and vice versa.

Taliban and al Qaeda terrorist cells continue to carry out one of two suicide bomb attacks in the tribal territories each week. In response to the recent fighting in Swat, the attacks have spiked at one or more a day. The targets are supposed to be police or soldiers, but the victims tend to be civilians.

Police have screened many of the million plus refugees from the tribal territories fighting, and found several dozen Taliban operatives. The refugees are quick to let the police know when a Taliban operative is spotted.

June 1, 2009:  In Pakistan's Swat valley, the major city, Mingora, has had its power and other utilities restored, making it possible for over 200,000 refugees to return. Meanwhile, in North Waziristan, over a hundred Taliban raided a boarding school for boys, and kidnapped 71 teenage students, and nine faculty. The captives were rescued the next morning when the convoy carrying the gunmen and captives to a Taliban stronghold in South Waziristan, ran into troops along a road.

In Kashmir, there have been three days or riots over the death of two Moslem women. Police say the two fell into a stream and drowned. Moslem separatists accuse the army of kidnapping, raping and killing the two women.

India's low level war with communist (Maoist) rebels in the east, and tribal (and Maoist) rebels in the northeast continues to occupy the attention of over 20,000 special police. There are clashes each week, as police patrols find rebel camps, or run into large (often up to several hundred) groups of rebels moving through rural areas. The government considers these rebels more of a bandit problem, than a serious threat to the state. The violence from Maoist, tribal and Islamic radicals caused fewer than 5,000 deaths last year (in a country with a billion people). There were more deaths from class and religious violence. Last year, over 5,000 Indian women were murdered because of disputes over dowries. But the Maoist, Islamic and tribal violence is political, and directs many of its attacks against government officials. This tends to get more attention from the government.

May 28, 2009: In Pakistan, the government announced plans to increase police forces by over 100,000, in addition raising the pay, and training standards, of police and intelligence personnel.

May 27, 2009: Taliban suicide bombers attacked an intelligence headquarters in the Pakistani city of Lahore. This killed 30 and wounded over ten times more. The ISI (combined intelligence agency) reacted swiftly, locating and arresting dozens of suspects. These included some prominent Islamic radicals that had long been strangely immune from police attention. The ISI had long been accused of working with Islamic radicals, and gaining a degree of immunity from terrorist attacks. But in the last year, many pro-Islamic radical ISI officials have been removed, and the ISI has been more aggressive in going after Islamic radicals. This Lahore bombing is the Taliban response.


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