India-Pakistan: Showdown


January 15, 2012: Pakistan is entering a slow-motion civil war, with its armed forces on one side, and its elected politicians and most Pakistanis on the other. The trigger for the current crises is the accusation that the civilian politicians had tried to get U.S. backing for an attempt to purge the Pakistani officer corps of anti-democratic individuals, and reorganize the military so that it is firmly under civilian control. This would cause thousands of senior officers to lower power and money. Many more active and retired officers would lose economic benefits. The military pays lip service to civilian control of the armed forces, but threatens another coup anytime the government tries to interfere with military matters. The big fear here is that there will be another coup (the last one was in 1999, and lasted until 2008) and that the politicians will call their supporters into the streets to block the military efforts to take over the government (replacing elected officials with officers). Such a confrontation could be bloody, especially if many soldiers refused orders to fire on civilians.

This war has been brewing for decades, as the military became more corrupt, greedy and unreliable. While the Pakistani military exists to protect the nation, it has never won a war and actually causes more tension with powerful neighbors, making Pakistan more, not less, at risk of war. For over three decades, the military has, pretty much on its own authority, waged war with India, using Islamic terrorists. The military has taken a growing portion of the national wealth and done nothing to aid economic growth, social welfare or national security. Now, the elected officials, who are also quite corrupt, are confronting the generals. This is risky, as if the military does not agree to submit to civilian control, there could be civil war, or another period of military dictatorship. The senior officers who benefit from this sorry situation find themselves with less support, even within the military, this time around. The lower ranking troops don't do so well economically, and are exposed to family and civilian friends who are increasingly unhappy with the cost (in cash and fear) of the Pakistani armed forces.

The current crisis has been building for a long time, but the immediate cause was the U.S. raid into Pakistan last May which found and killed Osama bin Laden. This exposed the military as liars (for insisting they had no idea where bin Laden was, despite the fact that the terrorist leader was staying in a compound in a military town) and incompetent (the military could not detect, or do anything about the raid). Years of growing anger and dissatisfaction with the military exploded into unprecedented opposition to military corruption and abuse of power. The generals are fighting back, with the usual pre-coup threats. This time, the politicians are not running for cover, but (some of them) standing and demanding that the military obey the law and submit to civilian control.

In the midst of this there is also an increasingly assertive Supreme Court, which is also insisting that the constitution be obeyed. For politicians, this means the judges are striking down laws that halted corruption investigations of senior politicians (including key ones currently trying to impose civilian control on the military). It's not a good time to be a politician in Pakistan.  

The proposed (by the Taliban) truce with the military has quietly gone away. The terror attacks continue. Last year there were 120 attacks, mostly in the northwest (the tribal territories), compared to 96 for the year before. One reason for the current showdown between the military and the government is over the refusal of the military leadership to continue the offensive against the Taliban, particularly the Taliban sanctuary in North Waziristan.

India has all but declared victory over Pakistan in disputed Kashmir. Security officials there declared Kashmir safe enough for tourists. Indian tourists have been increasingly common over the past few years, but the "safe for tourists" comments was meant for foreign visitors, who spend a lot more money and used to make Kashmir a very prosperous place. But decades of Pakistani-supported Islamic terrorism in Kashmir destroyed the tourism industry, and much else besides. There is still terrorist violence in Kashmir. Last year, there were 183 terrorist related deaths there. But 63 percent of the dead were terrorists, and only 19 percent were civilians. The year before (2010), there were 375 deaths (72 percent terrorists, 10 percent civilians). But most of the deaths took place in remote parts of Kashmir, near the Pakistan border. Here, the Indian troops have been increasingly successful at stopping Islamic terrorists trying to sneak over from Pakistan. It may take another few years of peace before the foreign tourists flock back to Kashmir, but Indian commanders are confident they can keep their trend going.

January 14, 2012: In northwest Pakistan, near the Khyber Pass, a group of Taliban, including four suicide bombers, attacked a police station. The terrorists were repulsed, leaving four terrorists, three civilians and a policeman dead.

Three Iranian soldiers, arrested after they pursued a Pakistani man into Pakistan on January 1st, were released and allowed to return to Iran. The three were fined $100 each for illegal entry into Pakistan.

January 11, 2012: The Pakistani prime minister fired his Secretary of Defense (an army general) and appointed a civilian. The army threatened to refuse to cooperate with the civilian Defense Secretary.

In Baluchistan (southwest Pakistan) tribal rebels ambushed two truckloads of soldiers and killed 14.

In North Waziristan, an American UAV fired a missile and killed four Islamic terrorists. This is the first such attack since November.

January 10, 2012: In northwest Pakistan, a bomb in a bus station killed over 30 people. The victims belonged to an anti-Taliban tribe and the attack was seen as another attempt to intimidate pro-government tribes.

January 9, 2012: In eastern India, police arrested a wanted Maoist leader and a companion. Also seized were weapons and key components for ten bombs.

January 8, 2012: In the Pakistani city of Karachi, police killed a local Taliban commander and an associate. The two were stopped, and identified at a checkpoint, and tried to shoot their way out.


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