Pakistan, or at least the Pakistani military, has declared that Islamic terrorism is no longer the major defense threat to Pakistan. Once more the primary threat is India. The Pakistani military believes that their two year old campaign to shut down the Islamic terrorist sanctuary in North Waziristan has solved the Islamic terrorism problem inside Pakistan. To a certain extent that is true, as Islamic terror related deaths have declined over 60 percent since 2014. India is not surprised (nor are Afghanistan and the U.S.) by this Pakistani announcement as the Pakistani counter-terror effort was really just against Islamic terrorists groups that had declared war on Pakistan. Islamic terrorists who would cooperate with Pakistan (mainly with attacks in Afghanistan and India) were left alone. This has now become a major issue with India, the United States and Afghanistan.
This all began back in January 2013 when Pakistan announced that internal Islamic terrorist groups were the main threat, not India. That caused many Islamic conservatives in Pakistan to call for “true Moslems” in the military to rise up and oppose this disturbing policy change. That did not happen. Since the late 1970s the Pakistani military leadership has supported Islamic radicalism and many Pakistanis are not willing to let go. There was agreement inside Pakistan that Islamic terrorism inside Pakistan was a problem that needed more attention. Despite this 2013 decision Pakistan did not abandon their two decade old terrorism campaign in Indian Kashmir. The Pakistani army never stopped supporting cooperative Islamic terrorists.
Even before 2013 India had declared that Pakistan was no longer their main military adversary. Pakistan has attacked India several times in the last half century and lost every one of those wars. The Pakistani military is poorly equipped and really only good for fighting Pakistanis. It’s not very good at that either and India decided the Chinese are more of a threat. China supports the Pakistani military doctrine of concentrating on India, if only because Pakistan is the major customer for Chinese weapons exports. Meanwhile the Pakistani military also has to contend with another internal threat; public opinion.
Since mid-2013, when the Abbottabad Commission report was leaked, the Pakistani military leaders realized they had to face some unpleasant realities. The Abbottabad Commission report was commissioned by the Pakistani government in June 2011 to get to the truth of how Osama bin Laden could hide out in Pakistan for a decade and the United States could send in commandos in May 2011 to attack the bin Laden compound in Abbottabad (a military town near the capital) and then get away to Afghanistan without any interference from the Pakistan military. The Abbottabad Commission did a thorough job, so thorough that when the final report was delivered in January 2013 the government ordered it kept from the public. The reason for this was that the report admitted corruption and incompetence in the government and military were the main reasons bin Laden could hide in plain sight, and also why the Americans could fly in from Afghanistan, kill bin Laden, take large quantities of documents from the bin Laden compound and get out without any casualties. After the report became public n mid-2013 the Pakistani military responded by blaming the Pakistani police and domestic intelligence agencies for not noticing the bin Laden compound in Abbottabad and admitted that the military was more concerned with guarding the border with India than the one with Afghanistan. Few people inside or outside Pakistan believed the military on this issue, and much else besides.
The Abbottabad Commission report was part of a trend that has resulted in a basic change in Pakistani attitudes towards their military. Thus, after more than half a century of getting their way, the generals are finding that most Pakistanis no longer believe that India is a threat or that their generals are honorable men dedicated to the welfare of Pakistan. No, the generals are now accused of corruption and exploiting the Pakistani people for personal gain. These problems have been getting worse since the 1980s and now the generals are seen as part of the problem, not part of any solution. It’s not just the active duty generals who are scared, but many of the retired ones as well, especially those living like very wealthy men who cannot justify their wealth. While some of the well-off generals come from the elite (and very rich) families, most do not and embarrassing questions are being asked by journalists, prosecutors and Pakistanis in general. The generals have lost every war Pakistan has been in, but they have been successful at exploiting their own government and getting rich. They are no longer seen as military men, but as thieves in uniform. One thing the military has been good at is exploiting the widely held myth that Islam itself cannot be the cause of any of the many problems (economic, social, political) suffered by Moslems. Instead, the blame is placed on non-Moslems who must be secretly attacking Moslems and causing all these problems. This sort of irrational paranoia is popular in most Islamic countries and the Pakistani generals decided to exploit it in the late 1970s.
For India and Afghanistan this Pakistani aggression has not let up. The Afghan Taliban still enjoy a sanctuary in southwest Pakistan just as the Islamic terrorists operating against India have sanctuaries throughout Pakistan and immunity from prosecution (although a few are arrested occasionally to placate foreigners like the United States or India enraged about a recent attack).
The Karachi Relapse
At the start of 2016 Pakistan believed that the sharp reduction in Islamic terrorist and gangster violence in Karachi meant the city was recovering from a decade of escalating violence. Two recent high profile crimes (a murder and a kidnapping) have changed that perception and that is itself a serious problem for the military. Karachi is the largest city in the country (14 million people, eight percent of the population) and produces a quarter of the GDP. But after 2001 violence there rapidly increased and seemed out of control. In 2013 the government and military agreed to cooperate in pacifying Karachi. Military involvement in policing cities has always been contentious in Pakistan but the situation in Karachi is considered a special case. The offensive against Islamic terrorists in the northwest, begun in mid-2014, uncovered (via prisoners and captured documents) plans by several Islamic terror groups to carry out a major expansion into Karachi. In response the army shifted forces to Karachi in 2015. As a result in 2015 major crime (murder, kidnapping, extortion and grand theft) were all down more than 60 percent. Murders were reduced to 943, half the number in 2014. That’s still 6.7 murders per 100,000 population. But in 2012 the murder rate was 15 per 100,000 which was very high for areas outside the tribal territories. In 2013 the rate went up to 18. For comparison purposes, the murder rate for all of Pakistan is 7.8, while it’s 3.5 in India and 2.4 in Afghanistan. In the Western hemisphere it’s about 8 while in Europe it is between 3 and 4. Middle Eastern nations have rates of between 5 and 10. The United States rate is about six per 100,000 and even lower (4.4) in the largest American city (New York), which has eight million people. There are other parts of the world that are more violent. In Africa, especially Congo, Sudan and South Africa, you very high murder rates. Only South Africa has a sufficiently effective government to actually keep accurate track of the murder rate, mostly from crime, but it's over 50 per 100,000. So crime rates in Karachi are a big deal in Pakistan.
The increased violence in the city was somewhat of a surprise because in Karachi the Islamic terrorists had some unique disadvantages. Many Taliban fled the fighting in North Waziristan and went to Karachi, which has a large Pushtun population. Actually the population of Karachi has doubled since 2001 in large part because so many Pushtuns (Afghan and Pakistani) have moved in to Karachi to get away from the tribal feuds and Islamic terrorists in the northwest. So when the Taliban show up in a Pushtun neighborhood they are often quietly reported to the police. Cell phones make this easy, and unlike the tribal territories, the Taliban cannot shut down cell phone service, even briefly, in Karachi. Despite the Taliban connection the main goal of the security operations in Karachi is to shut down (or greatly reduce) the criminal activities of the Islamic terrorists and their political allies. These groups, especially the political ones, need money and they find it easy to use extortion and kidnapping to raise cash. The dozens of separate crews (often part of a larger Islamic terror group) have been identified pursued and killed or captured. Another target is the many religious schools that are actually bases and training centers for Islamic terror groups. Dozens of illegal religious schools in Sindh province (where Karachi is) were found to have links with Islamic terror groups. Most of those religious schools are in Karachi and the government went after all the illegal (refused to register and be monitored) religious schools, starting with those know to be used by Islamic terrorists. The most difficult foe in Karachi has been the many gangs (some Islamic radicals, many not) with connections to the two feuding political parties in Karachi and the surrounding Sindh province. It was the violent practices of these two political parties in Karachi that made military intervention there acceptable. Even many leaders of these two parties quietly went along with the Karachi operation, in the hope that it would break an escalating cycle of violence. What the military fears is that many of the violent gangs and Islamic terrorist groups have not been destroyed but are instead laying low, waiting for the government to withdraw all the additional police and paramilitary infantry they sent in since 2013.
India, Afghanistan and the United States have become increasingly aggressive in demanding that Pakistan end the sanctuary it has provided the Afghan Taliban since 2002 and other Islamic terrorists since the 1980s. Pakistan has agreed, several times since 2001, to shut down all Islamic terrorist sanctuaries. It never gets done and the Afghan Taliban continue of operate openly in southwest Pakistan. In northwest Pakistan Islamic terrorist camps continue to train Pakistanis (and a few Indians) to become effective terrorists and cross the border into India to kill and terrorize.
Afghan officials also accuse Pakistan of controlling much of what the Afghan Taliban does, including ordering terror attacks inside Afghanistan. If Pakistan continues to deny any involvement with all this Afghanistan is threatening to take the matter to the UN and other international tribunals. Meanwhile the main Afghan Taliban sanctuary remains in Quetta. This is the capital of Baluchistan and just south of the Taliban homeland in Kandahar and Helmand provinces. Quetta was always off limits to the American UAVs and remained a sanctuary despite constant and increasingly angry calls from the United States and Afghanistan to shut down the sanctuaries.
The recent American UAV attack in Baluchistan that killed the head of the Afghan Taliban shook up Pakistani leaders because it means the possibility of escalation of tensions with the United States that could create a situation Pakistan could not handle. Moreover Pakistan is not eager to make this an international crusade to accuse the United States of “invading Pakistan” with armed UAVs. Too much attention paid to why the UAVs are really there would not benefit Pakistan at all.
The reality is that Pakistan considers Afghanistan a client state. The Afghans are considered a collection of fractious tribes pretending to be a nation. Many Pakistanis believe Afghanistan must be controlled by Pakistan, one way or another. This is why Pakistan created the Taliban in the mid-1990s. Then there is the economic dependence. With no access to the sea, most Afghan road connections to ports are via Pakistan. The Afghans have long resented this. With another Taliban leader dead there is fear that the Afghan Taliban, weakened by internal divisions and the hatred of most Afghans, is increasingly turning to the Haqqani Network for help in planning and carrying out attacks. Apparently the current head of the Haqqani Network became (sometime before the end of 2015) the number two leader of the Afghan Taliban and put in charge of all military operations.
The Haqqani Network has survived since the 1980s by being very much an obedient servant of Pakistan. That meant no terror attacks in Pakistan and, when called on, carrying out specific attacks that Pakistani intelligence (ISI) wanted (usually in Afghanistan). Unlike the Afghan Taliban, Haqqani keeps most of its operations in Pakistan and operates in Afghanistan (mainly between the border and Kabul) to carry out attacks and run their various criminal activities (for raising cash). Founder Jalaluddin Haqqani died in 2o14 and his successor (Siraj Haqqani) continued to cooperate with the Taliban and maintain subservience to ISI. Because Jalaluddin Haqqani helped Mullah Omar and other Taliban leaders escape Afghanistan in 2001 there has always been a sense of mutual dependence. For that reason Haqqani leaders were able to help fix the mid-2015 power struggle within the Taliban and thwart the recruiting efforts of ISIL. Given that Haqqani works for ISI, Pakistan is believed to have played a role in this new arrangement. The Afghan government protested to Pakistan about this but, as usual, Pakistan insisted it had nothing to do with Haqqani, the Taliban or supporting Islamic terrorism of any kind. The Taliban reconciliation deal appears to have involved an understanding, by the end of 2015, that if anything happened to Monsour a powerless figurehead would be appointed the new leader and Siraj Haqqani would officially run the Haqqani Network and unofficially call the shots for the Afghan Taliban. That’s what happened in late May after Monsour was killed by an American UAV missile attack.
India has largely been able to thwart efforts by Pakistan based Islamic terrorists to carry out attacks within India but there is still a lot of violence in Kashmir, which Pakistan has claimed unsuccessfully since the late 1940s. There were 146 Islamic terrorist incidents in Indian Kashmir in 2015. These clashes, most of them on the border against Islamic terrorists trying to sneak in from Pakistan, left 169 dead (64 percent of them Islamic terrorists, 19 percent security personnel and 17 percent civilians). There were also 181 border incidents involving Pakistani troops firing into India, often to distract the Indians and assist Islamic terrorists trying to cross the border nearby. This ploy rarely works anymore and causes few casualties. In 2015 eight security personnel and 16 civilians were killed. India usually returns fire and Pakistan always accuses the Indians of having started it. Numerous agreements between India and Pakistan have been negotiated that were to halt this border violence but the Pakistani army is notorious for ignoring orders from its own government and the Pakistani elected politicians have no ability to make its military obey. By 2011 India had reduced Islamic terrorist related violence in Kashmir by over 95 percent since the 2001 peak. Despite that Pakistan keeps recruiting, training and sending Islamic terrorists into India. The violence in 2016 is running at the same levels as 2015.
India And The New Cold War
This is all about the shift in South-Asian alliances since the Cold War ended in 1991. Pakistan is particularly worried about the growing ties between India, Afghanistan and Iran. Pakistan and Iran have never been close. Before the British showed up and united India in the 19th century there were north Indian empires that for centuries fought Iranians for control of Afghanistan. Relations between what is now Afghanistan and Pakistan were never good and are no different today. Then there is China, the only superpower ally Pakistan can sort of depend on. China supports Pakistan in part to try and weaken the growing U.S.-Indian alliance. That has not worked out so well.
During the Cold War India, while officially neutral, had long been an ally (and admirer) of Russia and a major export customer for Russian weapons. India still has a powerful Communist Party but after 1991 India and Russia began to drift apart and India gained more international support for its efforts to expose and halt the Pakistani use of Islamic terrorists. Two decades of that pressure has convinced many Pakistanis that this secret war tactic had not only failed but was also counter-productive. So far the military leadership, despite growing internal dissent, has refused to come clean and shut down their “good Islamic terrorists” (as opposed to the bad ones who wage war against Pakistan).
June 23, 2016: Pakistan declared that it had completed a three year effort to build a 1,100 kilometer long trench along most of the Afghan border in northwest Pakistan. The trench is 3.4 meters (11 feet) deep and 4.3 meters (14 feet) wide. This ditch cost over $130 million to build and inhibits illegal movement across the largely unmonitored frontier.
June 22, 2016: In Pakistan (Karachi) a popular singer (Amjad Sabri) was shot dead, apparently by the Pakistani Taliban. Sabri was popular for his religious music. He was a Sufi Moslem and most Islamic terrorist groups hate Sufis. Moslem radical groups in Pakistan have been terrorizing Shia, Sufi and other Moslems sects for decades. Since 2008 there have been 13 entertainers murdered by Islamic terrorists in Pakistan. Nearly all Islamic terrorists are Sunni Islamic radicals that believe anyone who is not Sunni is not really Moslem and must comply with Sunni religious practices or die. This sort of violence has been a problem in Pakistan even before Pakistan was created in 1947. The Sufi sect of Islam used to be dominant in Pakistan, but since the 1980s more militant forms of Islamic have proliferated with the support of the military. This was fostered by missionaries and money from Saudi Arabia, who preached intolerance and violence against non-Moslems and Moslems who are not extreme enough. This extremist form of Islam has been a major factor in preventing India and Pakistan from making peace. According to Islamic radicals, Hindus are the worst kind of infidel (non-Moslem) because, unlike Christians and Jews, they have no common religious roots with Islam. Actually, Hindus do, as there was a lot of Hindu influence in Arabia when Islam was founded 1,400 years ago, but the founders of Islam choose not to openly recognize their Hindu roots. Thus the harder line on Hindus.
June 20, 2016: In Pakistan (Karachi) the son of senior judge for Sindh province was kidnapped. It is unclear if this was done for ransom or to terrorize judges into doing something for gangsters or Islamic terrorists.
June 19, 2016: In Bangladesh police caught up with a notorious Islamic terrorist leader known only as Sharif. Despite efforts to take him alive after a brief gun battle Sharif was dead. Sharif was known to be chief of training for ABT (Ansarullah Bangla Team), an Islamic terrorist group banned in Bangladesh in May 2015 because of indications this group was responsible for many of the twenty (since 2013) murders of critics of Islamic terrorism. Several non-Moslems were also killed. ABT was formed in 2013 with Pakistani help and encouragement. The police won’t say what other evidence they have of ABT involvement in all these deaths but it was known that police have been searching for ABT members with increasing effort since 2015.
June 18, 2016: An uncle and brother of former Pakistan Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud surrendered to the army along with four other Taliban. Hakimullah Mehsud was killed in 2013 (by a U.S. UAV) and replaced by Mullah Fazlullah. This led to feuds with the Mehsud clan that continue. The Pakistani Taliban has been greatly diminished by the 2014 military occupation of their sanctuary in North Waziristan. Despite that the groups survives and is still lethal.
June 17, 2016: The U.S. announced that because Pakistan was lying about shutting down some key Islamic terrorist groups (like the Haqqani Network, al Qaeda and several that operate against India) in Pakistan, over $300 million in American aid was being withheld.
June 15, 2016: In the northwest the army has used artillery against Afghanistan in addition to machine-gun fire during three days of fighting on the border near the Torkham Gate border crossing. This violence has left two dead (one Afghan and one Pakistani) and 25 wounded. This violence has been going on for years and is more about unresolved border disputes than anything else. Torkham is the main border crossing with Pakistan and where thousands of people and vehicles pass through each day. On the Pakistani side is the Khyber Pass which has long been 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. 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.
June 14, 2016: In Pakistan the government has officially admitted that the Americans have cut their military aid, especially sales of new F-16s or upgrades for older ones. Pakistan has refused U.S. demands that all Islamic terror groups in Pakistan be shut down. Pakistan was particularly eager to buy eight new, late model, F-16s at a steep (over 60 percent) discount using U.S. foreign aid. Pakistan refuses to admit it is harboring Islamic terrorists, despite the fact this has long been an open secret and the proliferation of cell phones with cameras has made this secret even more visible. India and Afghanistan are constantly capturing more Islamic terrorists who are Pakistani or locals who admit there were trained and armed by Pakistan. In eastern Afghanistan there are regular clashes between Afghan and Pakistani Taliban. This month alone those battles have left over a hundred dead or wounded. The Afghan security forces sometimes intervene or at least come around to make arrests or recover evidence. Pakistan accuses Afghanistan and India of making it all up. As a result of this the Pakistan air force now has a major problem because many of the 70 Pakistani F-16s are aging and switching to another modern fighter from ally China will cost more than Pakistan can afford. China is willing to sell Pakistan weapons, but not give them away or even offer large discounts like the Americans did.
June 12, 2016:
In the northwest near the Afghan border Afghan and Pakistani border guards fired at each other at the Torkham border crossing. One Afghan soldier was killed and several on both sides were wounded before it all stopped just before dawn on the 13th. The two countries blamed each other for shooting first but this sort of violence has flared up before.
June 8, 2016:
In the east (Paktika province) an American UAV used missiles to destroy vehicles that had just crossed the border carrying weapons smuggled in from Pakistan for the Haqqani Network. This attack also killed Sirajuddin Khadmi, the head of logistics (supplies of everything) for Haqqani, who is believed to be the main target of the attack. Khadmi was a major supplier of smuggled weapons and other contraband and worked under the protection of the Haqqani Network.