The growing struggle within the Pakistani government over how to handle Islamic terrorism is hurting the military and encouraging the Islamic terrorists. The Pakistani military (and its intel branch, ISI) generally refuse to consider shutting Islamic terrorist sanctuaries for groups that are peaceful in Pakistan but willing to make attacks on neighboring countries. This creates angry neighbors who demand action but in Pakistan it makes the military appear more needed than it actually is. While Afghanistan’s internal problems (corruption, ethnic and religious animosities) are caused and sustained by Afghans it doesn’t help that neighbors like Pakistan actively support and encourage the most disruptive groups in Afghanistan. The Pakistani military needs to maintain the fantasy that the Afghan barbarians are still a potential major threat to Pakistan and that India seeks to invade and annex Pakistan.
The “Afghan invaders” has some historical basis but there has not been a major invasion for over 500 years and the last serious minor incursion was a century ago. But the memory lingers. The “India wants to annex us” myth had enough support among Moslems living in British India to get Pakistan created when the British left India in 1948. But ever since then the evidence has continually piled up the Hindu majority India regards Pakistan as a troubled and troublesome neighbor, not a candidate for conquest. This reality has never been accepted by the Pakistani military and the unofficial, unwritten and illegal strategy long used by the Pakistani military is causing a lot more problems for Pakistan and in the long run that is a good thing for Afghanistan and India. The growing popular resistance to the myth in Pakistan will mean less Pakistan-sponsored Islamic terrorism and criminal activity. The Islamic terrorism angle is obvious but the criminal activity is mainly the Afghan drug gangs which were created and sustained by the Pakistani military. This began when the military forced the drug production out of Pakistan and into Afghanistan in the 1980s. After that Pakistan sustained it by tolerating (and profiting from) the criminal behavior needed to get essential (and illegal) chemicals (for turning opium into heroin) into Afghanistan and the heroin out to the rest of the world. This was fine for the generals and troops collecting bribes at the borders and ports, but the majority of Pakistanis eventually realized they were the losers because millions of Pakistanis became addicted to the cheap and easily obtained drugs while everyone paid for corrupt atmosphere. The cost of the Pakistani military fantasy was paid in blood, mainly by Pakistanis and Afghans.
The situation is different with India. Unlike Pakistan and Afghanistan, India only suffered 898 terrorism related deaths in 2016 and Islamic terrorism was not the major cause of violent unrest for India. The tribal rebels in northeast India accounted for 22 percent of the terrorism deaths in 2016. The Maoists in eastern India were responsible for 48 percent and Islamic terrorists (mainly in the northwest near the Pakistan border) the other 30 percent. This can be explained by the fact that India is basically a much less violent place than Pakistan (or Afghanistan). Adjusting for population Pakistan has always had 15-20 times more violence per 100,000 people than India. In Pakistan, it's not just al Qaeda and Taliban, but many other religious and political factions killing each other. For India that sort of thing is simply not present to the same extent. The tribal rebels are a problem throughout the region but are at their worst in Pakistan and Afghanistan because of the traditionally aggressive (with each other and outsiders) Pushtun tribes who dominate local politics along most of the Afghan-Pakistan border.
Since 1948 Pakistan has tried to use that kind of border chaos against India, with mixed results. The Pakistani military was quite proud of its efforts to increase violence in Kashmir in 2016. Casualties among Indian security forces there hit a record high of 82 in 2016. Deaths had not been that high since 2008 when they were 85 for the year. That was down from 244 in 2005. Violence in Kashmir was highest since 2008 largely because the Pakistani military needed a distraction for the many Pakistani voters and politicians who are again trying to curb the power of the military. But India has always managed to cope with this sort of thing more effectively than Pakistan and that was embarrassing for military leadership in Pakistan.
So far in 2017 the security situation is not getting any worse in Kashmir even through it is the main target of Pakistani border mischief. Despite the Indian success in dealing with LeT (Lashkar e Taiba the main Pakistan-based Islamic terrorist group), the Pakistanis have adapted in a way they would rather not boast about openly. There are apparently fewer 300 LeT fighters left in Indian Kashmir so Pakistan is actively pushing a safer and apparently more successful approach; the Internet. This effort actually began informally in 2015 but then came 2016 and everyone agreed that social media use in Kashmir was largely responsible for violent incidents (demonstrations, riots, rock throwing) tripling. But the violence of the demonstrators rarely escalated to fatal levels.
By late 2016 it was noted that a LeT “Cyber Team” was recruiting Moslems with social media skills to keep young Moslems in Kashmir angry enough to continue demonstrating against Indian security forces and Indian control of the province. This is the Palestinian model of resistance that uses constant Internet based propaganda about the need to for Moslems to do whatever they can to drive out non-Moslems (Jews in Israel as well as Hindus in Kashmir). ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) also used the Internet to recruit but that was to attract people to kill for the cause. The Palestinian model is an easier sell because the risk of death (when throwing rocks or fire bombs at police) is much lower and most participants gets to enjoy their success. LeT is an Islamic terror group organized and long supported by the Pakistani military, mainly to organize and carry out terrorist attacks in India. That has not worked out over several decades of trying and it appears that the Pakistani military and ISI (their intelligence organization) concluded that a shift in strategy was needed. But admitting they were emulating ISIL was not considered useful so the entire operation has been kept quiet.
On February 22 Pakistan launched another major counter-terror campaign, similar to one launched in mid-2014 but this time covering the whole country, not just the tribal northwest. This was in reaction to a recent outbreak of Islamic terrorist violence that killed more than a hundred civilians. Because of that there was a spike in Islamic terrorism related deaths in February (114 civilians, 23 soldiers and police and 125 Islamic terrorists) in Pakistan. The total Islamic terrorism related deaths for all of 2016 was 1,803 (150 a month), compared to 3,682 for 2015. Islamic terrorism related deaths for March were 28 percent of what they were in February and about 20 percent more than for January. Until the wave of attacks in February Pakistan expected to have, for the first time since 2005, a year where there were under a thousand Islamic terrorism related deaths. Back in 2005 there were 648 dead and in 2003 only 189. Pakistan blames the Americans, India and non-Moslems in general for the growth of Islamic terrorism violence in Pakistan since 2003. India, with six times as many people, has kept annual terrorism (mostly not Islam related) to under a thousand a year since 2012.
In the first month of the new Pakistani offensive at least 30 Islamic terrorists were killed along with nine security personnel. But several major Islamic terrorist attacks were disrupted and hundreds of suspects arrested. The 2014 counter-terror campaign was supposed to eventually cover the entire country but that never happened because the military believed it could control most of the Islamic terrorist groups outside of North Waziristan and keep terror attacks inside Pakistan down. That was working until February 2017. The military is again under pressure from Pakistanis and the neighbors to crack down on all Islamic terror groups.
Bangladesh Cleans Up
In what used to be the other half of Pakistan (Bangladesh) 2016 and 2017 (so far) have been difficult for local Islamic terrorist groups. After a slow start this year security forces staged a number of raids in March that left 14 Islamic terrorists dead (in addition to five civilians and two soldiers.) The raids seized a considerable amount of bomb components and some completed bombs. Much evidence about these Islamic terrorists was also collected, which led to more raids and arrests.
Compared to 2015 Islamic terrorism deaths more than doubled in Bangladesh (going from 64 to 121) in 2016. Yet compared to Pakistan (with a ten percent larger population) Bangladesh still had only seven percent as many terrorist deaths that took place in Pakistan (1,803 in 2016). The spike in Islamic terrorist activity for Bangladesh in 2016 was traced back to external sources. The most obvious one was Pakistan but police have concluded that the largest Islamic terrorist attack of 2016 (in July) was also largely triggered by external events. It was initially though that this attack was entirely a local operation by JMB (Jamaat ul Mujahideen Bangladesh). While ISIL took credit for the July 1 attack those who carried it out belonged to JMB, which has been around since 1998 and wants to turn Bangladesh into a religious dictatorship. To that end JMB did establish an alliance with ISIL.
JMB initially turned to violence in 2005 and has been at war with the government ever since. As police interviewed more JMB members it because clear that ISIL was a major factor in making the deadly July 2016 attack happen. Bangladesh also blames Pakistan for supporting Islamic terrorism within Bangladesh. This goes back to a 1971 uprising in Bangladesh that led to a war between Pakistan and India. Many Pakistani military leaders see this 1971 loss as a major reason for continued Pakistani hostility towards India. Not only was the Pakistani army decisively defeated in 1971, but the country lost much territory because all of “East Pakistan” actively sought to secede and become Bangladesh.
JMB thought it would grow stronger because of the July 2016 violence but the local Islamic terrorists overestimated Bangladeshi tolerance of such violence. There was little popular support for JMB and much popular hatred for Islamic terrorism in general and renewed hostility towards Pakistan.
April 2, 2017: In northwestern Pakistan (North Waziristan) two soldiers were wounded when their vehicle detonated a mine planted in the dirt road. There are few paved roads in this region which makes anti-vehicle mines more common. Despite nearly three years of major military activity in North Waziristan there is still armed resistance to the “invaders”. The army offensive doesn’t officially end until the end of 2017, and even that date may be extended. The Pushtun tribes in Waziristan have long been the most hostile to outsiders, especially heavily armed outsiders who could deal with violent resistance from the Waziri tribes. The army takes advantage of the fact that times are changing. A growing number of people native to the region are abandoning the old ways and new tech, like cell phones, allows locals to quietly call in tips about who is up to mischief. Thus the soldiers keep raiding compounds and seizing hidden (and forbidden) weapons and ammo.
April 1, 2017: In Bangladesh (240 kilometers north of the capital) police searching for Islamic terrorists in the coastal city of Sylhet encountered three and ordered them to surrender. One of them threw a hand grenade and in the brief gun battle the three were killed. This clash was the result of a major counter-terrorism operation that began a week ago.
March 31, 2017: In northwestern Pakistan (Kurram) a suicide truck bomb killed 22 and wounded nearly a hundred during an attack on a Shia prayer hall inside a crowded market place. A radical faction of the Pakistani Taliban took credit for the attack which was actually a continuation of a feud between two Pushtun tribes (one Shia the other Sunni) in the area. The Pakistani Taliban is a Sunni group that encourage attacks on “blasphemers”. This usually means Shia but there are other non-Sunni Moslem groups that will do, as well as Christians and Jews. Hindus are considered pagans and require no encouragement for a devout Moslem to go after. The Taliban also considers any Sunni who does not support them a heretic and deserving of punishment. These attitudes are incorporated into Pakistani law, which considers such blasphemy a capital crime and punishable by execution.
March 30, 2017: In Bangladesh (200 kilometers southeast of the capital) the security forces in the port city of Chittagong ended several days of raids on Islamic terrorist hideouts by sending troops into two building where armed Islamic terrorists were holding out. The Islamic terrorists had been discovered the day before and were surrounded. Negotiations were ineffective and it was clear the Islamic terrorists were armed and probably suicidal. That turned out to be correct and some of the Islamic terrorists detonated their explosives as the police entered the buildings. At least eight people were killed by the explosions. All this began two weeks earlier when police raided an Islamic terrorist hideout and captured two suspects (a husband and wife) alive and in possession of weapons and explosives.
March 27, 2017: In Bangladesh (240 kilometers north of the capital) police raided an Islamic terrorist hideout in the coastal city of Sylhet. The four Islamic terrorists blew themselves up with the explosive vests they were making. Three days earlier police had located this bomb workshop and surrounded the building. The next day two bombs went off among the people and police gathered at the security cordon, leaving two police and four civilians dead.
March 25, 2017: After years of threatening to do so Pakistan has begun building a security fence along its Afghan border. This is part of an effort to hinder the Pakistani Taliban groups based in Afghanistan from easily moving back and forth. The initial fence construction is along the border with the Afghan provinces of Nangarhar and Kunar. These two provinces are where there has always been a lot of lawless activity and these days it is full of Islamic terrorists hostile to either Pakistan or working for Pakistan (against Afghanistan). Fence construction will continue with priority given to areas where there are the most problems.
The most active legal crossing is Torkham Gate in northwest Pakistan. Normally about 15,000 Afghans use this crossing each day along with about $4 million worth of goods. Torkham was closed several times during 2016 because of ongoing border disputes between Pakistan and Afghanistan. In the southwest (Baluchistan) Chamman is the second most active border crossing with Afghanistan. Most of the 2,500 kilometers of border is rural, thinly populated and lacking roads. The border violence has been going on for years and is more about unresolved border disputes than anything else. Torkham has always been the main border crossing with Pakistan because on the Pakistani side is the Khyber Pass. This is the easiest way to get from northern Afghanistan to the lowlands (most of Pakistan and all of India) beyond. Most of the Afghan-Pakistani border is still called the “Durand Line.” This was an impromptu, pre-independence invention of British colonial authorities and was always considered temporary (or at least negotiable) by locals. This was mainly because the line often went right through Pushtun tribal territories. However, the Afghans are more inclined to accept the Durand Line, and fight to maintain it. Thus recent Pakistani efforts to build more fences and other structures on their side of the border as an attempt to make the Durand line permanent and no longer negotiable. Afghans who use the border are also angry at a new Pakistani visa policy, which requires regular users of the crossings to get a visa. Officially this is a security measure, but given the rampant corruption in Pakistan Afghans see this as another opportunity for Pakistani border officials to demand bribes.
Pakistan is following the example of India which in October 2016 announced that it would build a security fence along its entire 2,900 kilometer border with Pakistan and this effort would be completed by the end of 2018. The new fence design is called five layer because it uses multiple sensors (vidcams, night vision cameras, thermal imagers, ground surveillance radar, seismic sensors and laser barriers) to provide layers of surveillance that intruders have to penetrate to get into India undetected. All the sensors are linked to control centers which can deploy rapid reaction forces or aerial surveillance as needed. All this will make it still more difficult for Islamic terrorists to get into India. The Pakistani fence along the Afghan border will not be this complex but will include 420 small “border forts” that will house troops along with some sensors (like ground radar).
March 24, 2017: In eastern India (Jharkhand State) three leftist rebels died while fighting with a rival group of Maoists. The gun battle attracted police attention but by the time the police arrived all but one of the surviving rebels had fled. One was arrested and large quantities of weapons, ammo and equipment were seized. Factional fighting has long been characteristic of the Indian Maoists and those deadly feuds have been more common as the Maoists lose ground to a major government campaign against them. Since the 1990s there has also been more disagreement within the Maoist movement over what to make of the collapse of most communist governments in 1989-91. There was a similar (but generally non-violent) debate between Indian political parties and the general conclusion was that communism didn’t work and neither did a lot of socialist economic policies. There is still a large minority of Indian politicians who believe that communism could work if it were implemented correctly.
Burma has ordered more military equipment from India. In this case it is $40 million worth of anti-submarine torpedoes. India has earlier sold Burma submarine detection equipment.
Pakistan announced that Raheel Sharif, one of its retired generals, had been granted permission to lead the IMAFT (Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism). Founded (in late 2015) IMAFT is largely funded by Saudi Arabia. At first Pakistan was reluctant to participate but eventually joined the other 40 members. Raheel was selected to lead IMAFT in January but not everyone in Pakistan was comfortable with that. When Saudi Arabia announced IMAFT it named 34 Moslem nations (Bahrain, Bangladesh, Benin, Chad, Comoros, Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, Guinea, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Maldives, Mali, Malaysia, Morocco, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Qatar, the Palestinians, Pakistan, Senegal, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, the UAE, and Yemen) as members. Indonesia, largest Moslem nation on the planet, was described as considering joining. The nation with the largest number of Moslems, India, was apparently not invited to join. All the current members are largely Sunni. Some nations are not welcome, like Iran, Syria and Iraq. This is because the Sunni Gulf States (led by Saudi Arabia) are at war with Iran, which considers Syria and Iraq allies. Pakistan has not announced exactly what it would do as part of this new coalition but did make it clear it will not take part in any operations against Iran or Syria. Such compromises were required to get enough senior Pakistani politicians and generals to agree.
March 23, 2017: Pakistan held its annual Republic Day parade and for the first time a contingent of Chinese troops marched. Republic Day commemorates 1940 agreement by Moslem leaders in colonial India to establish a separate Moslem state rather than remain part of the larger Indian state.
March 20, 2017: Claiming it was for humanitarian reasons Pakistan reopened its primary Afghan border crossings. Pakistan had closed the two main crossings (Torkham and Chamman) on February 16th because of a major attack inside Pakistan by the Pakistani Taliban, some of whom are hiding in eastern Afghanistan near the border.
March 19, 2017: In northwest India Pakistani troops again opened fire across the border. This occurred at two different sectors of the border. Indian border guards returned fire and apparently there were no casualties. This is the fifth such attack since March 9th when machine-gun and mortar fire from the Pakistani side killed an Indian soldier. These incidents are less frequent since February although there was another one on April 3rd.
In northwest Pakistan (South Waziristan), across the border in Afghanistan’s Paktika province, an American airstrike killed Qari Yasin, a local al Qaeda leader and bomb expert who is from Baluchistan and has many connections within the Pakistani Taliban. Yasin was responsible for planning several major attacks in Pakistan. Islamic terrorists have been trying to operate from bases across the border in Afghanistan, especially Paktika province and that is responsible for most of the violence in eastern Afghanistan. In September 2016 a similar attack killed Raees Khan Mehsud, the leader of major faction of the Pakistani Taliban.
March 17, 2017: Pakistani Taliban crossed the Afghan border into Pakistan near the Khyber Pass and attacked a border post. Two Pakistani soldiers died, along with six civilians and attackers. Pakistan complained to Afghanistan but was told that this was largely the fault of the Pakistanis whose offensive in North Waziristan had driven thousands of Islamic terrorists into eastern Afghanistan and there were not enough troops and police available to deal with such an influx of armed men.
In northwest Pakistan (South Waziristan) two Pakistan Taliban leaders were killed by an American airstrike just across the border in Afghanistan’s Paktika province.
March 12, 2017: Pakistan put into service its first LY-80 LOMADS (Low to Medium Altitude Air Defense System) air defense battalion equipped with Chinese made weapons and equipment. LY-80 is the export version of the Chinese HQ16A system which the Chinese developed from the Russian Cold War era SAM-6. This system will become the standard LOMADS in the Pakistani military.
March 11, 2017: In eastern India (Chhattisgarh State) Maoist rebels ambushed CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) para-military police in a rural area and killed twelve of them and wounded four using roadside bombs and gunfire. The shooting went on for two hours before CRPF reinforcements arrived and the rebels fled. The rebels were able to steal twelve assault rifles and other equipment from the dead and wounded police before departing the area. Apparently few if any of the rebels were killed or wounded. This was the largest loss of para-military police in a single actions since 2015.
Back in 2015 India responded to similar defeats by increasing (with 17 new battalions) its para-military CRPF for operations in Kashmir (five battalions) and eastern India (12 battalions.) The CRPF is the principal national police organization dealing with terrorists and rebels. Founded in 1939, and retained when India became independent in 1947 by 2010 the CRPF had nearly 200,000 personnel. It deployed over 70 battalions of para-military police back then, including seven “rapid action” battalions that can be quickly sent to any part of the country, to deal with outbreaks of violence. The CRPF is heavily involved fighting Maoists. Since 2010 the CRPF has been expanded 50 percent with most of the new battalions (of about 1,100 men each) going to eastern India for use against Maoist rebels. This campaign has been successful because the CRPF now had enough personnel to clear Maoist groups out of most rural areas where the leftists had become a dominant factor in local affairs. The ambush today was a failed Maoist effort to prevent a company (114 men) of CRPF police from taking control of a key rural road the Maoists had long controlled. When the shooting was over the CRPF, not the Maoists, controlled the road.
March 7, 2017: In northwest Pakistan (near the Khyber Pass) troops carried out two raids and in both cases encountered armed resistance that left fifteen Islamic terrorists and two soldiers dead. The raids were to obtain information on local Islamic terrorist activities and that was apparently accomplished.
March 6, 2017: In northwest Pakistan (Mohmand) Pakistani Taliban attacked three border posts from Afghanistan. Five soldiers and at least ten attackers died.
March 3, 2017: Pakistan opened its Afghan border crossings for two days as a humanitarian gesture.