Imran Khan, the newly elected prime minister of Pakistan, has proved himself very much a tool of the Pakistani military. Khan openly and enthusiastically supports the Islamic terrorist violence in Indian Kashmir and denies any Pakistani responsibility for it. The Pakistani military can now do whatever they like without any risk of criticism from Pakistani politicians. The new head of the ISI is noted for his enthusiastic support for Islamic radicalism and the use of Islamic terrorism against India. There is a dark side to all of this, even for the Pakistanis. Indian leaders are running out of options and are seriously talking of raids and air strikes against Islamic terrorist facilities just across the border in Pakistani Kashmir. If that happens Pakistan says it will also escalate and that it the direction this is headed.
Pakistan And the Undeclared Two-Front War
Pakistan also carries out even more undeclared military and terrorist operations against Afghanistan. Opposing Pakistani meddling in Afghan affairs is a popular issue among most Afghans and a growing number of Afghan leaders are calling for a declaration of war against Pakistan. Such a status has existed, in practice but unofficially, for years but Afghanistan refused to accept that reality and tried to reason with Pakistan and that has never worked. This shift in attitude, and openly discussing it, is more acceptable now because Pakistan has lost much of the support it once had in the American military and State Department (the diplomats).
The Pakistani military has stopped trying to pretend and interfered decisively in the recent Pakistani elections to get a government elected that does what the generals want. The Americans have cut all military and economic aid. Pakistan was hoping the Chinese would replace the American economic and military aid but that is not working out. The Chinese don’t give aid, they provide loans which they insist be repaid. In 2023 Pakistan has to start making payments on multi-billion dollar Chinese construction loans. This is a problem as Pakistan goes to the IMF (International Monetary Fund) for the 13th time to obtain billions in loans to avoid economic collapse.
The main cause of these frequent appeals to the IMF are by now widely accepted; the Pakistani military gets too much of the government budget. The American decision to cut military aid to Pakistan is a big deal because over the last decade that aid has accounted for nearly 20 percent of the Pakistani defense budget. The U.S. aid has declined since 2010 (when it was $2 billion) but was still significant because the current annual Pakistani defense budget is nearly $9 billion. So an extra billion or so from the Americans makes a difference. While Pakistan can turn to China or Russia for all its weapons needs it won’t have access to the best nor will it get any gifts. China and Russia expect to be paid for military goods. Meanwhile, the Pakistani Army gets 47 percent of the defense budget, the Air Force 20 percent and the Navy 11 percent.
Pakistan talks about the “Indian Threat” and in terms of numbers, there is one because India spends nearly $60 billion a year on defense, the fifth largest defense budget on the planet (behind the United States, China, Russia and Saudi Arabia). Pakistan barely makes the top 20. Indian spending is 3.3 percent of GDP while Pakistan is 2.7 percent. In 2016 Pakistan boosted defense spending 15 percent but was unable to sustain that growth rate. For the last five years, Pakistan has, on average, increased its defense spending about 10 percent a year. Neighboring India spends more than five times as much. China’s defense spending ($215 billion) is the largest in the region and second largest in the world. Defense spending in South Asia has risen nearly 50 percent since 2001. The large portion of Pakistani government spending going to the military is under growing criticism inside Pakistan, mainly because Pakistan lags way behind India and China when it comes to spending on education, infrastructure and public health.
The Pakistani government tries to justify the high defense spending by pointing out that since 2011 Pakistan has suffered $57 billion in economic losses because of Islamic terrorism. That is tragic but the neighbors (and the United States) point out that those losses are largely because Pakistan has supported Islamic terrorists since the 1970s and continues to do so even though many Islamic terror groups have declared war on Pakistan. The IMF is well aware of all this and Pakistani Finance Ministry officials cannot expect much help (unless you count the usual threats) from the military in persuading the IMF to look the other way and bail out the profligate Pakistani military once more. The Pakistani military is particularly unhelpful when it is pointed out that substantial Pakistani economic opportunities have been banned by the military for no good reason. Case in point is allowing free trade with India and Indian access, via Pakistan, to Afghanistan and Central Asia. The access fees would generate huge income for Pakistan but the Pakistani generals will not allow it because the main justification for the huge Pakistani military budget is the imaginary Indian threat.
Pakistani support for Islamic terrorist violence in Afghanistan is why the Afghan economy is in trouble and Afghans are increasingly hostile to their eastern neighbor. One reason Western troops are tolerated in Afghanistan, which has, for thousands of years been hostile to foreigners, is because the Westerners and Afghans are both eager to shut down the drug trade and keep the Pakistanis out. The Afghan prime minister is demanding that his newly elected Pakistani counterpart do something about what is happening Afghanistan. So far the official Pakistani response is; “not our fault.” Pakistani prime minister Imran Kahn is more concerned with nations considered more important to Pakistan, like Saudi Arabia and China. To Pakistanis, Afghanistan is more than of a potential problem than anything else. But to Afghanistan, and most of the world community, the biggest problem in Afghanistan is not the Taliban or the drug gangs, but Pakistan.
The Afghan Taliban is divided over the issue of being controlled by Pakistan and being held responsible for the growing number of Afghan drug addicts. Then there is the role of Pakistan in sustaining the chaos Afghanistan has suffered since the late 1970s (when Russian backed Afghan communists tried to start a revolution). The communists were followed by a Russian invasion, drug gangs, an Islamic revolution, civil war and Pakistan seeking to take control in the 1990s with their Taliban movement. Pakistan did serve as a base for millions of Afghan refugees and thousands of Afghan rebels during the 1980s but that led to Pakistan believing it could continue to support violence in Afghanistan if it was deemed to be serving Pakistani interests. The Pakistani created and supported Taliban had control of Afghanistan (or at least most of it) from the late 1990s until 2001. That led to the American invasion and Pakistan continuing to support the drug gangs and Taliban while assisting the U.S. in its “war on terror.” Many Americans want to just leave. The problem is just getting out leaves Afghanistan at the mercy of Pakistan, Iran and Russia, as well as all the drug gangs, Islamic terror groups and numerous Afghans who oppose the drugs and all the outside interference. The drugs and Islamic terrorism will still be major exports. The West can leave Afghanistan but the ills of Afghanistan won’t leave the West and that is just fine with Pakistan.
A growing number of Afghan Taliban leaders want peace and an end to being manipulated by the Pakistanis. Despite that, the senior Afghan Taliban leader and the Pakistani generals are not inclined to consider peace talks because of all that money from the drug gangs as well as the ability to “control” (or at least disrupt) Afghanistan. The U.S. recently repeated its accusation that Pakistan had done nothing about the Pakistan sanctuary for the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani Network and several other Islamic terror groups that do the bidding of the Pakistani military.
Afghans note that the economic growth experienced after 2001 slowed down considerably after NATO withdrew most of its forces in 2014. The Taliban failed, as they long claimed they could, take control of the country after the foreign troops left. The rural population suffered the most after 2014 because that’s where the Taliban had the easiest time disrupting local security. After 2014 the majority (over 60 percent) of Afghans lost ground economically. Even the urban population, which tended to continue to see economic growth, were dismayed at the increasing control Pakistan was achieving via their proxies (Taliban and drug gangs). Despite growing international condemnation for this Pakistan maintained good relations with China, Iran and Saudi Arabia and got away with it.
India reports that so far this year border violations by Chinese troops are down 20 percent compared to 2017. But that still means there were 137 illegal border incursions by Chinese troops so far in 2018. In September China agreed to establish multiple hotlines along their mutual border and also between the defense ministries of both nations. This revives previous efforts to establish a hotline. In 2016 China and India have worked out and agreed to details of a hotline for commanders on both sides of the LAC (Line of Actual Control). Also known as the MacCartney-MacDonald Line the LAC is the unofficial border between India and China. The LAC is 4,057 kilometers long and is found in the Indian States of Ladakh, Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Himachal, and Arunachal. On the Chinese side it is mostly Tibet. China claims much territory that is now considered part of India. There have been hundreds of armed confrontations over the last few years as one side or the other accuses “foreign troops” of crossing the LAC. The agreement fell apart when India went ahead, despite Chinese protests, and expanded its military ties with the United States.
As India achieves a higher GDP growth rate than China and will soon have more people than China it has become popular for Indians to seek other comparisons. That does not work out well. India is playing catch-up with China when it comes to explosive economic growth and India has several serious shortcomings that China is much less burdened with. For one thing, the Indian workforce is less educated than the Chinese. This is due to the rampant corruption throughout Indian public education. China, in comparison, has far higher standards in public education. While China has problems with corruption the problem is much more severe for India, especially in the government. This means key decisions (like military procurement and educational or other reforms) are delayed for years, or decades, because of corruption and political deal-making. It’s a cultural thing and India will have to work hard to become competitive with China. On a practical level, Indian military capabilities are inferior to the Chinese because of the corruption and government sloth. For example, the Indian military cannot get needed new weapons or essential support to keep existing one operational. Efforts to improve roads and other infrastructure in border areas claimed by China are way behind schedule because the government delays and procrastination. These are not new problems but have been around for centuries. China overcame them and if India does not China will always have the upper hand in tech, economy and military power.
In 2017 the United States created CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act) which made it difficult, and in some cases impossible, for Russia to get paid for weapons exports or Iran (since May 2018) for its oil exports. India, which has been improving diplomatic and military relations with the United States is potentially subject to the full force of CAATSA as it tries to carry out major ship and air defense purchases from Russia and continue import large quantities of oil from Iran. India hopes to get an exemption on all or some of these purchases. India and Russia have already agreed to pay for the ships and air defense purchases without using dollars. India would pay in its currency (the rupee) and Russia could use the rupee to buy goods from India. However, full use of CAATSA seeks to prohibit even that and given the control the Americans exercise on the global banking system going full CAATSA would be a major problem for Russia and India.
India is in the process of trying to buy four more Talwar frigates from Russia (for $2.2 billion) and five batteries of S-400 SAM systems (for $5.4 billion). These transactions reflect two problems India is having with military procurement. The first is that India felt it could be capable of building all its own warships by now, as well as modern air defense systems. That turned out not to be the case. While two of these Talwars will be built in India the first two will come from Russia and there will be substantial purchases of Russian shipbuilding technology to enable India to build the other two Talwars. The two Russian built Talwars already exist as Admiral Grigorivich class frigates. These are the Russian versions of the Talwars with some differences in weapons and electronics (that can easily be changed). Russia has not put these two ships into service because they do not have their turbine engines, which are manufactured in Ukraine. After Russian invaded Ukraine in 2014 Russia was unable to get military equipment it had on order with Ukraine. But India can buy the turbines and has made arrangements to do so and have them installed. There is already a problem with building more nuclear subs in India. India discovered with its first locally built nuclear sub (Arihant) that Indian shipbuilders were not really ready to build more nuclear subs without substantial technology transfer. Details of these deals are still being worked out. Meanwhile, India has twelve more nuclear submarines it is ready to build in India, but not with the current state of Indian nuclear sub construction capabilities.
Indian security officials now believe that the Maoist (leftist rebels in eastern India) problem will be largely gone in three years or so. In other words, by the early 2020s. The current numbers bear this out. So far this year 131 Maoists have been killed, nearly 1,300 arrested and sixty have surrendered. An unknown number of Maoists simply deserted and new recruits are harder to come by. But, as the old saying goes, the enemy has a vote.
Maoist leaders see the same trend but are scrambling to find ways to halt the decline. Maoist rebels in eastern India continue to lose ground, personnel and purpose. There are a growing number of senior leaders who are either tired of decades of violence and no progress or because of disagreements over strategy. Maoist leaders have tried to keep this internal crises secret but that proved impossible. There were similar problems all the way down, through middle management to most Maoist fighters who had been at it for a few years. All noted the stalemate and growing hostility from the rural people Maoists claim to serve. In 2017, for the first time since 2008, there were fewer (about 800) than a thousand violent incidents caused by the communist rebels. This is another aftereffect of the growing loss of support. For example, until 2008 India’s Maoist rebels were “protected” because most ruling government coalitions included Indian communists. But after 2008 that was no longer the case, largely because communism had been declining as a political force within India and had reached the point where this particular bit of parliamentary maneuvering no longer worked. A powerful Indian Communist Party was critical for the Maoists, because for decades this very legitimate and very popular political party, and some leftist allies, had forced the government to use restraint in dealing with Maoist violence. This enabled the Maoists to spread, and become an even bigger threat. After 2008 the government went to war with the Maoist rebels and has been winning. The growing realization by Maoist leaders that there is no practical way to reverse this trend is seen, by the Maoist leadership, as more likely to destroy the Maoist movements than the relentless government paramilitary offensive. Maoist leaders also realize that many of their armed followers are turning to banditry and are seen by rural people as gangsters rather than revolutionaries.
October 18, 2018: Pakistan is expelling 18 foreign (mostly British) NGOs providing about 11 million Pakistanis with educational services (especially for girls), job training, emergency relief and medical care. This will shut down projects costing about $130 million and employing 1,100 Pakistanis. The military accuses foreign NGOs in general of engaging in espionage (not likely) and (more likely) revealing facts about military misbehavior that military leaders would rather be kept secret. Previous elected governments had resisted these military demands but the new government is pretty much controlled by the military and does what the generals want.
October 17, 2018: In southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan) Iranian Jaish al Adl Baluchi rebels from Pakistan (where these rebels often establish bases) crossed the border into Iran and kidnapped 14 Iranian police manning a border post. Apparently, those at the border post were unconscious after eating a meal containing drugged food. Jaish al Adl took credit for the operation and said it was in retaliation for Iranian attacks on Iranian Baluchis (who are Sunni Moslems). There was also the recent (late September) border clash in which a Jaish al Adl leader was killed. Iran has urged Pakistan to find the missing Iranian border guards as they are believed to be in a Jaish al Adl facility in Pakistan. Jaish al Adl has been around since 2012 and is the successor to Jundallah and perpetuates Iranian Sunni Baluchi resistance to Iranian Shia rule. The Iranian and Pakistani Baluchis have family, tribal and ideological links and that makes it easier for an Iranian Baluchi Islamic terror group to establish and sustain bases in Pakistan. This is a constant source of friction between Iran and Pakistan because the Iranians could shut down groups like Jaish al Adl were it not for the Pakistani sanctuaries. Pakistan is unable to suppress its own Baluchi Islamic terrorist and separatist groups.
October 14, 2018: In southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan) Afghan troops fired on Pakistanis building the new border fence about 60 kilometers from the Chaman border crossing. In response, Pakistan closed the Chaman border crossing for several hours. The Chaman crossing is on the main road between Quetta (capital of Baluchistan) and the capital of Kandahar province in Afghanistan. Afghanistan and Pakistan don’t agree on exactly where the border is and that becomes a problem when one side builds a border fence.
October 9, 2018: Pakistan is no longer participating in the anti-piracy patrol off Somalia. The reason is the American refusal to pay for the fuel the Pakistani warships use while on patrol duty. That money was considered part of what the U.S. paid Pakistan to participate in counter-terror operations. All that aid has been cut because Pakistan refuses to halt support for Islamic terrorists who operate in Afghanistan, India and other nations in the region.
October 7, 2018: China has agreed to sell Pakistan 48 Wing Loong 2 UAVs for somewhere between $100 million and $200 million. These are similar to the American MQ-9 Reaper but somewhat smaller. The Chinese UAV uses Chinese equivalents of the Hellfire missile for combat missions. Pakistan has been operating a few smaller Wing Loong 1 UAVs since 2015. These are similar to the American MQ-1 Predator. Negotiations are underway for most of these UAVs to be assembled in Pakistan. This is the largest export sale for this UAV since it was first offered in 2016/
October 4, 2018: Pakistan agreed to provide counter-terrorism, communications, intelligence and logistics training for Nigerian forces. This includes Pakistan assisting in the recruiting and training of a Nigerian special forces battalion.
October 1, 2018: In northwest Pakistan (North Waziristan) a group of Pakistani Taliban gunmen crossed the border from Afghanistan and attacked a Pakistani border post. The attack was repulsed and seven of the Islamic terrorists killed and three wounded.
September 30, 2018: In northwest India, a Pakistani helicopter strayed across the border for two or three minutes and then turned back to Pakistan as Indian troops opened fire with heavy machine-gun and two jet fighters were ordered aloft to intercept.
September 27, 2018: In southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan) IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps) troops across the border in Iran (Saravan) ambushed a group of Iranian Baluchi rebels entering Iran from Pakistan (where these rebels often establish bases). Four of the rebels were killed and two wounded (and captured). One of the dead was a known leader of rebel group Jaish al-Adl. Several other rebels escaped the ambush and fled back into Pakistan.