India-Pakistan: Marching Towards Pushtunstan


December 18, 2012: Pakistan's problems along the Afghan border are mostly about the difficulty of integrating its Pushtun and Baluchi tribes into the nation of Pakistan.  In southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan) there are the Baluchi and in the northwest there are the Pushtun. Both groups are very territorial and hostile to outsiders. But people from Punjab (48 percent of the population) and Sind (29 percent) are better educated and possess technical skills lacking in the Pushtun tribal territories (16 percent) and Baluchistan (7 percent) and must be brought in to do work requiring education and experience. While Sind province has economic development levels similar to India, the tribal territories are more similar to the less developed nations in Africa.

What the tribes lack in economic development they make up for in terms of aggressiveness and hostility towards the more numerous and wealthier lowlanders. For thousands of years these mountain tribes raided and plundered their lowland neighbors. But the last time that happened was nearly a century ago, when Pushtuns from Afghanistan joined tribal brethren on the other (British India) side of the border and headed for the lowlands. The tribesmen didn't make it far and spent three months trying. Folks along the border still talk about that one.

When Pakistan was created in 1947, the tribes were still not pacified and were a sixth of the population. Over the next 65 years, many Pushtun and Baluchi moved into the lowlands (especially the cities, like Karachi) while many lowlanders moved into the tribal areas, bringing needed skills and a veneer of government and modern civilization. But the tribal leaders and their ancient form of government persisted, as did the custom of most adult males being armed and ready to fight (or turn into a bandit). This, as much as the corrupt and self-serving Pakistani military has defined and defiled the history of Pakistan.

In the Pakistani tribal areas, the five year long government effort to gain control and shut down Islamic terrorist (Taliban and al Qaeda) activity has created a state of constant terror for the population, who are threatened by the Islamic terrorists as well as the soldiers. The problem with all this is that the tribal areas have never been controlled by the Pakistani government (or the British colonial government before them). The tribes were allowed to run their own affairs, as long as they did not raid outside their territory. That agreement was violated over the last decade when the Islamic terrorists made attacks against Pakistani officials all over the country. The government made several of the traditional “punitive raids” after September 11, 2001, but none of these took control of all the thousands of fortified tribal compounds that dot the border zone. In addition to over 100,000 soldiers, the army uses thousands of local policemen in these operations, which is a problem because the cops are often related to the rebellious tribesmen. About fifteen percent of army units are men from the tribal areas. To further complicate matters, there has been, since the 1990s, a major change taking place in how the tribes run themselves. The centuries old system of letting tribal elders settle disputes and make decisions is being overthrown, often violently, by a system based on armed entrepreneurs who are, in effect, gangsters. There have long been entrepreneurial warlords up in the hills but the custom is more widespread now and these new crime lords are often working with Islamic terrorist organizations. In the last decade over 500 tribal elders have been killed by the gangster or Islamic radical thugs, and many more elders have shut up or fled to the cities. The tribal areas have become pretty wild, and the government wishes it would all just go away, but it won’t. The Americans and Europeans just across the border in Afghanistan, worried about the new al Qaeda camps in Pakistan that are training terrorists for attacks in the West, are planning on leaving even if the Pakistani tribal territories are still on fire. The Pakistani government tried to negotiate peace deals with the tribes that would shut down terrorist activity. That did not work because the Islamic terrorists are on a Mission From God and that is non-negotiable.

Despite all this, Pakistani troops continue to go after Taliban in the tribal territories. Thousands of armed Taliban gunmen have fled across the border into Afghanistan but some are still sneaking around on the Pakistani side and causing mayhem. The Taliban had been terrorizing the locals and extorting money from the tribesmen and the truck drivers. The army responds by threatening tribesmen with arrest or death if they do not provide information and stop cooperating with the Taliban. It’s a no-win situation for civilians in the tribal territories.

The government is also out to fundamentally change the way things are run in the tribal areas. The century old agreement (between the British colonial officials and the Pushtun tribal chiefs) gave the tribes a lot of autonomy, in exchange for peace. But nearly a decade of Taliban unrest has pushed the government to face the problem (of tribal governance) head on and is beginning to tear up the 1901 agreement. Not all the tribal people, and their leaders, are unhappy with this. The Taliban terrorism has exposed the weakness of tribal government. Many believe that change can't be any worse than what is happening now in the Pushtun tribal areas of the northwest.

In the Baluchi tribal areas of the southwest the army is also using a terror campaign to suppress tribal rebels. But here there is little Islamic terrorism in Baluchistan, nor much popular anger about corrupt tribal leadership. There is a lot of resentment against the corrupt national government and the natural gas fields in the area, which export most of the gas and profits, for the benefit of the crooks running the government. The Baluchi tribal rebels want more autonomy and money and less corrupt and abusive outsiders.

Because of the lack of Islamic terrorism in Baluchistan, and a lower level of tribal violence in general, the Pakistani courts have been more receptive to Baluchi pleas for relief from the army terror tactics. A decade ago such an investigation would be unthinkable, but now the Pakistani courts are threatening to hold the army accountable for its kidnappings and murders in Baluchistan. This has led to courts being more receptive to calls for similar investigations in the Pushtun tribal territories, or areas, like the Swat Valley, just outside the territories, where the Taliban has operated.

Some Pakistanis are also worried that once NATO troops leave Afghanistan in 2014, that the country will fall into civil war between the Pushtuns in the south and the more numerous non-Pushtun tribes in the north. This brings with it the prospect of another attempt to create a Pushtun nation (Pushtunstan). The Pushtun territories extend from Pakistan (from Quetta in Baluchistan to north of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad then west to Kabul, Kandahar, and the Iran border). Most of the 40 million Pushtuns are in Pakistan. Electronic media have made it possible for the Pushtun nationalists to get their message out, like never before, to the many isolated Pushtun tribes. This has made a Pushtunstan movement more of a reality.

A coalition of non-religious political parties in Bangladesh shut down most of the country with a general strike in support of a law banning Islamic political parties. The Islamic parties are small but numerous (over 25 of them). The strike and massive demonstrations are mainly against efforts by Islamic parties to replace secular law with Islamic law. The Islamic parties are also accused of supporting Islamic terrorists, who have had a hard time getting established or operating in Bangladesh. Islamic terrorism and law are not popular in Bangladesh.

Calls for more progress against Maoist rebels in eastern India are being met with complaints that corruption and incompetence by the state governments are major contributors to continued support of the Maoists. While the leftist rebels survive on theft and extortion, they usually do this by targeting families and businesses that are seen as corrupt and exploitative themselves. The national police have found it’s easier to go after the armed Maoists than deal with local corruption that keeps the Maoists popular.

December 17, 2012: Near the Khyber Pass in northwest Pakistan a terrorist car bomb went off near a crowded market, killing 17 and wounding many more.

December 16, 2012: In northwest India, on the Pakistani border, six Indian soldiers were killed by a snow avalanche, while another soldier is missing. This took place near an army camp on the Kashmir border. The camp, like those of the Pakistanis just across the border, is at an altitude of 6,500 meters (20,000 feet) or higher. These are the highest military camps on the planet, the result of not precisely demarcating the border on the 75 kilometer portion of the Kashmir border formed by the 6,500-7,000 kilometer high Siachen glacier. The reason for not precisely marking that part of the border was the inaccessibility of those 75 kilometers of ice and thin air. This bizarre situation all began in the late 1970s, when Pakistan began a campaign of Islamic terror attacks on Indian Kashmir. In response, India moved more police and troops to Kashmir and in 1984, moved troops onto the Siachen glacier to block Pakistan based Islamic terrorists from sneaking into Indian Kashmir. No terrorists appear to have ever used the glacier route into Indian territory but with the high levels of terrorist violence in Indian Kashmir, desperate measures seemed reasonable. Pakistan responded to the Indian action by moving troops up onto the glacier as well. Since then over a thousand soldiers have died, and even more injured, while serving in those harsh conditions (thin air, intense cold, constant snow and ice, plus frequent inaccessibility). After September 11, 2001, the two countries began negotiating a ceasefire and one was signed in 2003. This ended the frequent gunfire on the glacier (usually initiated by the Pakistanis), but efforts to negotiate a withdrawal of troops from the glacier have so far failed.

December 15, 2012: In the Pakistani tribal territories (Peshawar) Islamic terrorists attacked the military side of the airport outside the city. The attackers were repulsed, with five of them killed as they used rockets, suicide car bombs, and gunfire to try and get inside the military area. Some of the rockets missed and hit a nearby residential area, wounding 30 civilians. The surviving attackers were pursued and cornered in a village three kilometers from the airport. There, one policeman and five terrorists were killed. The Taliban took credit for the attack.

December 10, 2012: In northeastern India (Bihar state) Maoists killed one of their own and left his body in a public place. The dead man was accused of being a police spy. There are more and more of these in the Maoist ranks as years of growing police pressure weakens the resolve of many Maoists.

In northwest Pakistan (Kaki) three Taliban armed suicide bombers attacked a police station. The attack was repulsed but ten people were killed (four police, four civilians, and two terrorists). One of the terrorists got away.


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