September 24, 2021: Pakistan admits that more Chinese will be working and living in Pakistan over the next four years. By 2025 Pakistan expects to host as many as five million Chinese. This is being celebrated by the government as Chinese confidence in doing business in Pakistan. Many Pakistanis and even more Afghans are considerably less enthusiastic.
As the Pakistani government openly celebrates the Taliban victory, the Pakistani military are celebrating their own victory over Pakistani elected officials who opposed continued military and ISI support of Islamic terrorism, the drug trade and Taliban violence in Afghanistan. Now the army sees itself firmly in control of Pakistan and able to compel voters to do as they are told. The current prime minister, who got elected with considerable military help in 2018, was nicknamed “Taliban Kahn” long before he entered politics a decade ago. By 2018 Pakistan had serious money problems and sources of foreign aid and loans were drying up, in part because Pakistan was internationally recognized as a supporter of Islamic terrorism.
Khan visited the United States twice in 2019, first in July to get a sense of how bad things were and then in September for the annual UN meeting of world leaders. Kahn gave several speeches and interviews in which he repeated that Pakistan, unlike many Arab states, would never recognize the existence of Israel and that the United States was responsible for any Islamic terrorism in Pakistan. This, according to Kahn, started back in the 1970s when it was the United States that persuaded Pakistan to allow Afghan rebels to embrace Islamic terrorism as a means of driving the infidel Russians out of Afghanistan. Kahn insisted Islamic terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan are all the product of American and Indian schemes to weaken Afghanistan and Pakistan. At one point he insisted there is no such thing as Islamic terrorism and that what the West calls “Islamic terrorism” is nothing more that Moslems trying to defend themselves from infidel (non-Moslem) aggression. This twisted logic was right out of the propaganda playbook the Pakistani military has used for decades. Kahn called the Indians Nazis and the Americans confused.
During his earlier July visit Kahn admitted that for the last fifteen years his country had lied about the presence of over 30,000 armed men in Pakistan and Kashmir working for 40 Islamic terror groups. That deception was one of the reasons the U.S. had recently cut off all aid to Pakistan. The prime minister also pointed out that Pakistan was now shutting down the Islamic charities, religious schools and other groups that supported Islamic terrorists.
The July visit was because Pakistan was and still is broke, increasingly unable to borrow money and dominated by its military, whose Islamic terrorist support and corruption are a large part of the problem. Kahn needed cash but he was only willing, or able, to admit part of what was actually going on back home. Kahn did not admit that Pakistan created the Taliban, a group that took control of most of Afghanistan in the late 1990s and granted al Qaeda sanctuary. Kahn insists that Pakistan had nothing to do with the September 11, 2001 attacks when, in fact, the Pakistani military support for the Taliban was very much a factor. Kahn also did not admit that his military was still making the key decisions and that recent Pakistani elections were heavily influenced by the military. That malign influence was apparently what prompted Kahn to threaten nuclear war with India to settle their differences over Kashmir. By making this threat Kahn was trying to get the UN to be more sympathetic towards the Pakistani situation.
Kahn would not discuss the fact that he himself is considered under the control of the military. The American president responded to this with public praise, but no resumption of aid.
Many in Pakistan considered the Kahn visit a success but anyone who pays attention to how that American president negotiated realized that this president was generous with praise but disturbingly consistent and decisive when it comes to core issues. In this case the core issue was that Pakistan is controlled by its military which, in turn, wants the Afghan Taliban to have more power in Afghanistan and for that to happen foreign troops, especially the Americans, must be gone. Khan came to America desperate and left with no assurances of financial relief. Two months later he returned with a different message and it is unclear what it is supposed to accomplish.
Best guess is that Pakistan had given up on getting anything out of the current Republican president and that they might have an easier time if they can make nice to the Democrats, who were seeking to oust the Republican government in 2020. You can see this strategy in action as Pakistan has sent many U.S. educated Pakistanis, especially those with PhDs and successful careers in Pakistan, to give talks at universities or any part of the U.S. that opposes the American government refusal to bail Pakistan and its military out a financial crisis that was made in Pakistan, not the West. Pakistan was especially desperate because no American president in the past had been so determined to halt Pakistani sponsored Islamic terrorism in Afghanistan and India. This has also caused violence in Iran and Central Asian states. Even the UN has agreed that Pakistan was at fault here. The Pakistani military cannot afford to accept responsibility and now they have control of Kahn, the elected leader of Pakistan who, apparently, will say whatever he is ordered to say.
Two years later Pakistan was more broke and openly taking credit for the recent Taliban victory. Pakistan is looking for some financial rewards for their clever strategy against the Americans. So far that is not happening and many Pakistanis and Afghans are wondering how much this victory will cost them.
The Afghan victory has also exposed disagreements in the Pakistani military high command, where many believe that ISI is forgetting who they work for and trying to leverage the “ISI victory in Afghanistan” into something that gives the military intelligence agency more power that it deserves or can handle. The current head of the ISI appears unconcerned. On September 10th the ISI commander (general Hameed) was summoned to military headquarters, where guards removed the ISI flag from his car before allowing it to enter. Hameed was then escorted to the AG (Adjutant General, the chief legal official in the military) and told he was being charged with insubordination for his recent unauthorized visits to Kabul. Hameed was allowed to leave and he promptly petitioned the commander of the military for a pardon and after a meeting with him it was granted.
Several senior generals are Shia and Pakistan is careful not to offend Iran. Hameed was not suitably critical of Taliban leaders and factions that favor an increase in attacks on Afghan Shia. Hameed wants a new Afghan military, staffed by loyal (to Pakistan) Taliban and, apparently, the ISI as well. There is no way to pay for this because both Pakistan and the new Taliban government are broke. If the ISI has a workable plan for this, they have not shared it with their military superiors or the Pakistani government that has to somehow obtain the money and popular support for such a scheme.
Back in the 1980s and early 1990s Pakistan hosted two-thirds of the seven million Afghans who fled their country to escape the Russians during the 1980s and subsequent civil war. After the Taliban were defeated in late 2001 about 40 percent of those Afghan refugees went home. Most went voluntarily but over half a million were forced out of Pakistan and Iranian refugee camps. Most unregistered Afghan refugees are in Pakistan, where many live outside the tribal territories and are left alone as long as they behave, or don’t get caught. It appears that at least a million are trying to get out now and that number will grow depending on how chaotic the situation is in Afghanistan the second time around.
In 2021 Pakistan got the Taliban to agree to limit illegal migration and they appear to be doing that. That only slows down the flow of refugees because over the last two decades a people smuggling industry has developed. As incomes and aspirations rose many Afghans could afford the fees people smugglers charged to get people to Pakistan, Iran or the West. For the people smugglers, business is booming because many families who were not planning to leave have changed their minds with the return of Taliban and another civil war. These families have sold everything they have to get out of the country. The cheapest smuggler service is providing counterfeit border crossing documents, plus a bribe to dubious but greedy border guards. Afghans can legally enter Pakistan if they can prove they have kin in Pakistan they are visiting. Millions of Afghans have such family connections. Another valid reason is medical. With the right documents you can get in that way. The number of Afghans crossing the border with valid documents has more than doubled during August and continues increasing. Pakistan will tolerate those who are just passing through on their way to the West but many new refugees plan to settle down in Afghanistan, at least for a while. The Pakistan government does not want more of that because Afghans in general bring lots of crime and other problems with them. Since the 1980s many Afghan communities have developed outside the tribal territories, and these often host all manner of illegal activity, especially in big cities.
The refugees from the late 1979 Russian invasion were slow to show up at the Pakistan, and especially Iranian borders. To halt that continued flow of refugees the ISI created the Taliban and the Pakistani military provided all manner of support, and still do. If the current Taliban government does not get some cash and foreign aid, especially food and medical, the refugees will come once more, despite Taliban and Pakistani efforts to curb this migration.
September 23, 2021: In northwest India (Kashmir) soldiers encountered five armed men near the Pakistani border. A gun battle ensued with three of the intruders and the other two fleeing back to Pakistan. The dead men were identified as Pakistani Islamic terrorists because of the Pakistani currency and weapons found on them. This is the second such incident in the last week and typical for this time of year because of winter coming infiltration efforts increase.
September 22, 2021: Pakistan, along with China and Russia are the only three nations to still maintain their embassies in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover. All the Afghan ambassadors, including the one in the UN, remain loyal to the government the Taliban overthrew. Pakistan is counting on China and Russia to use their influence in the UN to obtain recognition of the Taliban government. That is more difficult now than it was in the mid-1990s, when the Taliban last claimed to rule Afghanistan. In 2021 many key Taliban leaders are recognized by the UN as sponsors of international terrorism. Pakistan is also widely recognized as terrorism supporter. Pakistan believes there are as many as 9,000 foreign Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan and is willing to help Taliban eliminate those terror groups. That will be difficult because the majority (about 6,000) of these foreign terrorists are Pakistanis belonging to the TTP (Pakistani Taliban) who seek to impose a Taliban-like government in Pakistan. The Afghan Taliban, despite their dependence on Pakistani support, are, like the TTP, composed of Pushtun tribesmen who have a long history of avoiding war with each other. Moreover, many Afghan Taliban believe Pakistan should have a religious dictatorship like Afghanistan now does. Pakistanis and Afghan understand how and why this absurd situation exists but many foreign nations do not. Those operating the Pakistani, Russian and Chinese embassies in Afghanistan appear to appreciate this problem and are seeking ways to make it less visible to the rest of the world. China, Russia and Pakistan believe they can make Afghanistan work to their advantage but understand this is not a sure thing. Russia got burned in the 1980s when they tried to support a communist government in Afghanistan that triggered a massive backlash from most Afghans. China sees economic potential in Afghanistan but has had a hard time doing business in Pakistan, where most of the hostile Islamic terrorists and rebel groups are kept under control. Afghanistan has no history of doing that but China sees a potential opportunity and pursues until it becomes obvious it won’t work. At that point China will declare the Taliban hostile and concentrate on keeping their influence out of China and nations with heavy Chinese investments.
September 20, 2021: In northwest Pakistan (North Waziristan) the hideout of a known TTP leader was raided and the TTP leader was encountered and killed.
September 18, 2021: Chinese media claim recent American actions make it clear that China is now dominant in East Asia and that its power is spreading worldwide. China is openly dismissive of the ability of foreign governments, especially the Americans, to defy Chinese demands. China is flaunting its power in places like Afghanistan where everyone is discovering that China has the final say over who does what there now that the Americans have withdrawn. This disrupts an
ancient rivalry between Persians and Indians over who gets what inside Afghanistan. The economic basis of that rivalry was control over portions of the Silk Road trade routes between China and points west. The Silk Road was replaced by more efficient European ships, and their firepower, six centuries ago. In the 21st century China is reviving the Silk Road as an overland and maritime network through nations friendly towards trade with and investments from China. Iran and India see this as a threat while Pakistan sees it as an economic lifeline as well as an obligation to do what China wants. In Afghanistan China is willing to do business with whoever can provide a safe environment for Chinese investments and trade. There are doubts that anyone can do that and China is waiting to see what Iran and Pakistan can do about it. India and Russia are also cautious about doing business in Afghanistan. Because of Pakistani control of the Taliban, India is now banned from Afghanistan but still has valuable trade relationships with Iran that Iran does not want to lose. China and India are currently archenemies of each other. Finally, there are the Afghan-based drug cartels that supply most of the heroin to the entire planet. While universally hated throughout the region, cartel money is a major source of income for the Taliban and the Pakistan military, which is currently running the government in Pakistan.
Although everyone regards China as a potential wealthy benefactor, the Chinese themselves are less confident. For a decade China has faced the growing prospect of a major financial disaster because of growing bad debts, a property bubble and corruption. Now a major Chinese real estate firm, sitting on over $300 billion of bonds that are as toxic as they come, threatens to trigger the long-feared financial crisis. China can avoid the bankruptcy of the real estate firm, but only for so long. As problems go, this one puts the Chinese interest in Afghanistan into perspective.
September 17, 2021: In northwest Pakistan (South Waziristan) soldiers sought to find and eliminate a group of TTP (Pakistani Taliban) believed to be based in this remote area near the Afghan border. The TTP were there and fired first. Seven soldiers died and as the TTP men fled the area, pursuers killed five of them._
September 15, 2021: The safety of Afghan Shia, now that the Taliban are back in control of Afghanistan, has become a major issue in Iran, a minor one for Syria and an uncertain one in the new Taliban controlled Afghanistan. The new Taliban government, now more openly controlled by Pakistan, is not seen as an improvement by most Iranians or the 20 percent of Afghans that are Shia. Many of those Afghans served as Iranian mercenaries in Syria and some are still in Syria because they are the best, and most expensive, mercs. The new hardline Iranian government regards “defending all Shia” as one of its core functions. Doing that in Afghanistan and Pakistan, two nations that have been notorious for persistent anti-Shia violence, is going to be difficult. So far, the Taliban have not gone after Afghan Shia, but Iran knows that could change quickly. The centuries old Sunni animosity towards Shia remains. As in the past, Iran will try to get what it can from the Taliban while remembering that many Taliban factions and individuals see tolerance for Shia as bad for Afghanistan.
September 12, 2021: Turkey is seeking to make the most out of the Afghan situation by forming closer relationships with Pakistan and Turkic nations in Asia. Today special operations troops from Turkey, Pakistan and Azerbaijan came together for a week of joint training exercises. Meanwhile an Indian contingent of troops is on its way to Russia to take part in a week of joint training with forces from a dozen other countries, but not Pakistan or China. These two do have observers at the joint training exercise.
September 8, 2021: China is also seen as a threat to some countries now that the Taliban are back in power. Today the Russian national security advisor arrived in India to confer with his Indian counterpart and later announced that both countries agreed on the danger Taliban control of Afghanistan is to the region and called on Pakistan to halt its support for the Taliban and halt its support for other Islamic terrorist groups. Russia had tried to improve its relations with Pakistan but found China had a veto on who Pakistan could play with. China is better insulated from any Islamic terrorism the Taliban seek to export. China has also been more successful at keeping the Afghan heroin and opium out. Russia reacted in other ways to the new Afghan threat and announced joint military exercises between Russian forces and those of the three new nations Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan that now border Afghanistan plus Kyrgyzstan, which borders China and Tajikistan. Russia has maintained close military, economic and diplomatic ties with the “stans” who are suffering from the Afghan drug cartels that used their countries as markets for the drugs as well as a smuggling route to other parts of Eurasia. Now more Islamic terrorists from Taliban Afghanistan will be added. Russia and the stans bordering Afghanistan also stand ready to support the armed opposition to the Taliban, just like before. That cooperation has apparently already begun, without any official announcements or consultation with China.
The Taliban need support from Pakistan and especially China. Pakistan has become an economic vassal of China and gains powerful support in the UN and against international criticism for supporting Islamic terrorism. China is offering the same arrangement to the Taliban government but most Taliban factions oppose being in the pay of the Chinese. Up until now China had accepted Pakistani assurances that Pakistan would continue to control the Taliban leadership after the Taliban replaced the elected government. China was aware of the Taliban disunity over Pakistani influence and Pakistan sent the head of ISI to Kabul to deal with how this was interfering with the formation of a Taliban government. Pakistan needs a clear win in Afghanistan and they are not getting it. The ISI plan has become a shaky house of cards but the new Taliban government was dominated by pro-Pakistan Taliban. The anti-Pakistan Taliban leaders were denied positions in the government they believed they were entitled to. That risks the anti-Taliban factions resuming their violence against Pakistani interests in Afghanistan. If that happens, Chinese investments are not going to happen.
Then there is the ancient rivalry between Persians and Indians over who gets what inside Afghanistan. The economic basis of that rivalry was control over portions of the Silk Road trade routes between China and points West. The Silk Road was replaced by more efficient European ships, and their firepower, centuries ago. In the 21st century China is reviving the Silk Road as an overland and maritime network through nations friendly towards trade with and investments from China. Iran and India see this as a threat while Pakistan sees it as an economic lifeline as well as an obligation to do what China wants. In Afghanistan China is willing to do business with whoever can provide a safe environment for Chinese investments and trade. There are doubts that anyone can do that and China is waiting to see what Iran and Pakistan can do about it. India and Russia are also cautious about doing business in Afghanistan. Because of the Pakistani control over the Taliban, India is now banned from Afghanistan but still has valuable trade relationships with Iran that Iran does not want to lose. China and India are currently archenemies of each other. Finally, there are the Afghan-based drug cartels that supply most of the heroin to the entire planet. While universally hated throughout the region, cartel money is a major source of income for the Taliban and the Pakistan military, which is currently running the government in Pakistan.
September 3, 2021: In Afghanistan (Kabul) disagreements between the Haqqani Network Taliban leaders and those opposing a new cabinet dominated by Haqqani men led to a gun battle that the Haqqani group won. While similar to the Taliban, Haqqani were a separate faction that worked with the Taliban since the 1990s and became the most trusted group working directly for Pakistan and the ISI. This close relationship with Pakistan and the ISI angers many otherwise loyal Taliban. One of those wounded in the gun battle was a Taliban leader who had contact with the Americans and opposed Pakistani domination of the new government.
August 31, 2021: In southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan) counter-terrorism troops raided an ISIL hideout and killed eleven ISIL members. This ISIL group had recently killed two policemen and was apparently planning a lot more violence.