In Pakistan the military leadership is not happy with the situation inside their country. The most immediate annoyance is the arrest of former dictator and head of the military Pervez Musharraf, on April 19
. Musharraf had returned from exile recently to run for president (“to save the country”) but misjudged the degree of popular hatred for his years of military rule and the military in general. This is the first time such a senior military officer has been arrested. While the current leadership of the military has an idea of why this is so, many retired generals and admirals are clueless and threatening some kind of retaliation. The generals currently in charge know better and understand the officers and troops are increasingly split over what to do. Half a century of just seizing control of the government for 5-10 years at a time no longer works for the generals, and the treatment of Musharraf (who took over in 1999 and was eased out by popular disgust with military rule in 2008) is the evidence none of the generals want to see.
Aside from the ever-present corruption, the big problem is Islamic terrorism, which the military has actively supported since the 1970s. This eventually backfired badly. When the Taliban (a creation of the Pakistani military) took over Afghanistan in the mid-1990s, gave al Qaeda sanctuary, and got nailed by the U.S. for supporting the September 11, 2001 attacks, Pakistan found itself at war with Islamic terrorism (the alternative being war with the United States). This led to the death of 47,000 Pakistanis, most of them civilians killed by Islamic terrorists.
The military blames all this on the Americans and most Pakistanis agree. Blaming someone else for your mess is a fairly common human reaction and one that is particularly popular in Pakistan. Blame shifting will not solve anything and the military is unable to escape responsibility for causing the current mess. A growing number of Pakistanis are admitting as much. Pakistanis also can’t help but notice that Bangladesh (formerly “East Pakistan”) did not adopt Islamic terrorism in the 1970s (after seceding from Pakistan in 1973) and has had far fewer problems (and casualties) from Islamic terrorism since then. Bangladesh still has the corruption (which thrives throughout South Asia) but is generally seen as a safer and saner place to live.
The military leadership would like to be done with the United States and sees the 2014 withdrawal of most NATO forces from Afghanistan as an opportunity to interfere more energetically in Afghan politics. But while the troops will be gone, NATO and the U.S. will not. Pakistan is still a sanctuary for Islamic terrorists and this makes all of the neighbors (including China) unhappy, and the military is still dominated by officers who will not abandon the monster (Islamic terrorism) they created.
Islamic radicalism was supposed to deal with the corruption and provide a powerful weapon against India. This failed on both counts and is now killing more and more Pakistanis. Worst of all, it has emboldened the politicians into believing that they can actually exercise control of the military. While the constitution calls for this, the generals have never accepted this concept. But the generals have lost a lot of popular support and fear another coup attempt may be one too many and could trigger a civil war that would destroy the good life the senior officers (especially the retired ones) have enjoyed for over half a century. To the West this is a very scary situation because the Pakistani generals control over a hundred nuclear weapons and civil war would put those weapons at risk (of being used or seized by Islamic terrorists). The Pakistani concept of progress seems to mean going from bad to worse.
Pakistan’s neighbors China, Afghanistan, and India are concerned about this mess. China sells Pakistan weapons and consumer goods and considers Pakistan one of its few allies. That said, a Pakistani meltdown can’t really hurt China much. Afghanistan and India are another story. Both countries have suffered from decades of Pakistani meddling and fear even more pain if Pakistan should implode. The rest of the world also fears this because Pakistan would likely remain a terrorist sanctuary but one with loose nukes added to the mix. No one, not even India, wants to go in and try to set things right. So the world frets and hopes for the best. The other neighbor, Iran, sees an opportunity. Shia Moslems are a minority (about a fifth of the population) in Pakistan and under growing attack from Sunni Islamic terrorists. Iran has tried to persuade Pakistan to do more to protect its Shia, but chaos and collapse in Pakistan is seen by Iran as an opportunity to help their fellow Shia and maybe grab a stray nuclear weapon.
Meanwhile, the generals have more pressing matters to deal with. The Pakistani military has agreed to provide 70,000 troops to protect voters during the May 11th elections. The Taliban and some other Islamic terror groups have declared the elections un-Islamic and are attacking candidates where they can (mainly in the tribal territories). The government is mustering some 600,000 security personnel to guard 73,000 polling places. However, only about 30 percent of these voting sites are considered to be at risk, and these are where the security personnel will concentrate. In the last few weeks political violence related to the elections has killed or wounded several hundred people.
In the Pakistani tribal territories (near the Khyber Pass) troops have spent four weeks fighting Taliban gunmen in the Tirah Valley. The army has been using regular troops as well as SSG commandos and pro-government tribesmen. So far over a hundred terrorists have been killed, along with 30 soldiers and tribal allies. The army has been trying to clear the Taliban from this border area since 2009, but have been unable to keep the Taliban from returning. When pressed hard enough, the Taliban retreat across the border into camps and villages in Afghanistan. They are sometimes attacked there but because the Pakistani Taliban are not attacking anyone in Afghanistan, the local security forces concentrate on those who do (mainly the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network, which is based in North Waziristan, an official terrorist sanctuary the Pakistani government refuses to shut down).
Indian and Chinese officers are still discussing why twenty or so Chinese troops have been camped out ten kilometers inside Indian Kashmir since April 15th. China says their troops are not inside India, something India disputes. Neither country seems eager to escalate this, or resolve it. China says it will withdraw if India will abandon an observation post in the mountains that overlooks Chinese positions. The Indian outpost is in Indian territory but the Chinese don’t like being watched. The Indians refuse and point out there have been three other Chinese incursions recently, but these troops did not linger. India sees all this as the Chinese way of applying pressure on India to withdraw from territory claimed by India. So far it is not working, except that it is annoying and causing more commotion inside India than in China.
May 3, 2013: In Pakistan gunmen killed the lead prosecutor into the 2007 murder of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. No one took credit for the killing and the usual suspects include the military, Islamic terror groups, and even some political parties. The prosecutor may have been closing in on someone who did not want to be identified and had assassins on the payroll.
May 2, 2013: On the Pakistani border (opposite Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province) border police fought their Afghani counterparts who captured and burned down a Pakistani border post. One Afghan policeman was killed and then was hailed as a hero in nearby towns and cities. This violence was all about an ongoing dispute about exactly where the international border is. Recently Pakistan built some new border posts forward of previous ones but, still, according to Pakistan, on Pakistani territory. This has led to shooting between Afghan and Pakistani border guards. There’s also a tribal rivalry element to all this. Most of the Afghan-Pakistani border is occupied by Pushtun tribes. This frontier, still called the “Durand Line” (an impromptu invention of British colonial authorities) was always considered artificial by locals 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. The Pakistanis believe absolute control of the border is impossible, and attempts to stop illegal crossings cause additional trouble (as tribesmen do not like excessive attention at border crossing posts). This recent violence is also linked to years of anger over Afghan Taliban and other terrorists hiding out in Pakistan and Islamic terrorists (fighting the Pakistani government) hiding out in Afghanistan. This has led to regular Pakistani shelling of suspected terrorist camps in Afghanistan, which often kills innocent (or semi-innocent) Afghan civilians. The Afghans protest and the Pakistanis refuse to halt the shelling and rocket fire.
April 27, 2013: In eastern India (Chhattisgarh) two policemen were killed when Maoists ambushed a police patrol.
April 26, 2013: In northeast India police arrested two senior Maoists and found documents confirming suspicions that Maoists were seeking to shift many of their efforts to the northeast. This would give the Maoists someplace where they could grow and replace losses they are suffering in eastern India. There, several years of vigorous government efforts to destroy the Maoists have caused the communist rebels significant losses.
April 25, 2013: The government has banned a musical video satirizing the Pakistani military as corrupt and inept. The three young Pakistanis who created the video were not arrested or killed (yet) by military death squads. This was considered remarkable and another sign of weakening military power.