India-Pakistan: Symbolic No Longer Satisfies


May 23, 2017: In northwest India (northeast Pakistan) Kashmir border violence continues to spiral out of control. A local hotline was established, apparently more for publicity than peace, but on the Pakistani side of the hotline the message was the same; we are not at fault. This is mainly about the Pakistani military needing a justification for their wealth (much of it gained via corrupt practices) and power (to overthrow a government they see as a threat to themselves). Creating a military crisis with India has been a favorite tactic but it is also bringing Pakistan growing international criticism and demands that something be done with the Pakistani military leadership, if only because the generals also harbor and sustain several Islamic terrorist groups who do their bidding outside of Pakistan.

Pakistan also has a hotline with Afghanistan, which they have been using since early April so that military commanders on both sides of the border could quickly contact each other to deal with an unexpected border incident. Britain helped Afghanistan and Pakistan negotiate some new security cooperation deals, including regularly exchanging details of people wanted for criminal activity along the border. Afghanistan is one of many neighbors who see the Pakistani military as a threat.

A Common Enemy

Today Pakistan announced that at least 200 Internet social media activists were under investigation for spreading negative material about the military. So far the government has only been able to identify about ten percent of the people behind the social media accounts. The government plans to prosecute while the military may, as it has done so often in the past, quietly kidnap and even murder some of these critics and let those “disappearances” terrify the others into silence. This Internet crackdown is a rare case of cooperation between the Pakistani government and military as they join forces to try and impose censorship on Internet social media that has been a little too effective in exposing corruption and worse in Pakistan. This year there has been more criticism of the Pakistani military (for deception, supporting Islamic terrorism, for corruption, for censorship) via the Internet. There are accusations that this social media crackdown is really about discrediting PTI, a popular political party (founded by sports hero Imran Khan in 1996). PTI wants to make Pakistan stronger by being anti-corruption, anti-Islamic terrorism and all for the military being subordinate to the elected government. PTI attracts a lot of young voters and that includes many of the growing Pakistani Internet savvy generation. As a result PTI uses the Internet to effectively expose government and military misbehavior (especially corruption and military support of Islamic terrorism). The current government is also seeking civilian control of the military but one thing the current political leadership and the generals agree on is that PTI means to put them both out of business and must be dealt with. Unfortunately this is not a new fight and failure to shut down PTI on the Internet only makes PTI more popular with the voters. There is a real possibility that PTI could not form of reform coalition that could win control of the government via elections.

As recently as 2008 it had become obvious that years of misbehavior had caught up with the Pakistani army and intelligence agencies. Their use of terror against non-Moslems (mainly Pakistani Christians, Hindus and Sikhs) and tribal rebels (especially in Baluchistan) was no longer hidden by censorship and media controls. The growth of the Internet brought with it the demise of the unenforceable media control laws. While the liberated media remained very nationalistic and pro-Islam, journalists also looked more closely at the terror campaigns sponsored by the military and intelligence agencies against Pakistani opposition groups. The murders and disappearances used by the military could no longer be hidden, and killing journalists was no longer as effective as it once was. But the killing and intimidation continues.

In March 2014 Pakistan was shown that older forms of censorship didn’t work anymore either and actually backfired. This was demonstrated when the government censored the 9,000 copies of the International New York Times that are printed and distributed in Pakistan. The local printer was ordered to simply leave blank the portions of the front page and inside pages where the 4,800 word story could be found about how Pakistani officials knew where Osama bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan before the Americans found and killed the terrorist leader in 2011. This backfired because too many Pakistanis had access to the Internet and knew what was going on. The government ordered blank spaces in the newspaper did not hide misbehavior it actually publicized it.

Meanwhile there have been more efforts at curbing Internet news. In late 2012 Islamic political parties in Pakistan forced the government to block over 20,000 websites, including YouTube, for displaying material considered critical of Islam. In addition the pro-Islamic parties organized dozens of demonstrations to protest, often violently, an American film accused of being anti- Islam. These demonstrations are part of an effort by the Islamic parties to establish themselves as censors for all Pakistanis. That did not work.

The 2012 crackdown began earlier in the year when the government blocked national access to Twitter for most of the day, apparently because of blasphemous (to some Moslems) activity on Twitter. Every day, if not every hour, there is something on Twitter that Islamic conservatives would consider blasphemous. What the Pakistani government particularly dislikes about Twitter is that it is a speedy conduit of reports on bad behavior by the Pakistani officials. Shutting Twitter down for a sustained period would be enormously unpopular.

Meanwhile the elected government and the military still have a major disagreement over the continued military/ISI support for Islamic terrorists. The military leadership, despite some growing internal disagreements, continues to support Islamic terrorists who operate against Afghanistan, India and Bangladesh. The elected officials have to handle foreign affairs and Pakistani diplomats report increasing hostility from the rest of the world over this issue. That includes China, the major military and economic patron of Pakistan. While the Chinese are not disturbed by anything the stirs up trouble within India, they are, in general, against nations that quietly support this sort of thing. The Chinese deliver their criticism quietly and discreetly. Everyone else does not and this makes it more difficult for the government to negotiate (especially trade and immigration deals) with the rest of the world. The generals are unmoved, in part because they see their decades of affluence and immunity at risk. Many Pakistanis understand that will not end well. The military tried to cope by increasing its efforts against ISIL, al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban, all groups that are at war with the military, not on their payroll. The public views that as an apology by the generals, not some kind of gift.


While Pakistan has a growing economy (at least five percent annual GDP growth) that still leaves it way behind many of its neighbors, especially India, Iran and China. Foreign economists point out that Pakistan has still not made much progress against corruption, Islamic terrorism and lawlessness in general. Most disturbing is the growing number (now over 100,000 a year) of young, educated Pakistanis getting jobs in Pakistan but then saving money so they can immigrate (legally or illegally) to the West or anywhere that is less corrupt, violent and intolerant.

Another example of Pakistan’s economic woes was seen in 2016 when Iran became Afghanistan’s largest trading partner as exports and imports reached $1.8 billion. Pakistan, long the largest trading partner, fell to $1.2 billion. The decline in Pakistan trade was partly because of frequent Pakistani border closings over border disputes or disagreements over how to deal with Islamic terrorists operating on both sides of the border.

A Bloody Lie

In northwest India (Kashmir) Pakistan violated the ceasefire five to six times a week for the last year. Pakistan does this mainly with machine-guns and mortars (82mm and 120mm). Nine have died on the Indian side, it is difficult to get reliable data on Pakistani losses. On both sides of this border the land is thinly populated, mostly by farmers and such. But the increased violence has led to nearly a hundred schools being closed, interrupting the education of nearly 500 students.

Kashmir border violence instigated by Pakistan was way up during 2016, as it was along the entire Indian border. But half of the nearly 600 ceasefire border violations in 2016 were in Kashmir. This was in violation of a 2003 agreement between India and Pakistan. In December 2015 Indian and Pakistani military leaders met on the Kashmir border to reaffirm efforts to reduce violence on the LOC (Line of Control) in Kashmir. Yet such incidents still occur despite the 20o3 ceasefire. Because of internal politics in Pakistan the Pakistani army revived the border violence in 2016. This was all about the continuing battle between elected Pakistani politicians and the military over the threat from India. The Pakistani generals justify their large budget and numerous other privileges by the need to deal with the Indian threat. But there is no Indian threat. The Pakistani military refuses to accept that and the border erupts once more as the Pakistani generals try to justify their privileges and powers. This is no longer seen as just a local issue. The Pakistani military is also under growing domestic (by elected Pakistani politicians) and international (especially American) pressure to cease all support for Islamic terrorism but has not shown any indication of changing. For example the new head of the Pakistani military, appointed at the end of 2016, spent much of his career working directly with forces (military and Islamic terrorist) causing violence on the Indian border and in Kashmir. The growing LOC violence is hailed as a major victory for the Pakistani military against Indian aggression.

Rot At The Top

India has a military leadership problem outside the military. It took less than a month for the Indian para-military CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) to investigate and report on why 25 CRPF men were killed during a Maoist ambush in Chhattisgarh State. The main reasons were poor CRPF intelligence gathering in general and especially in Chhattisgarh State. CRPF has a massive presence (28 battalions) in Chhattisgarh (and elsewhere in eastern India) and these intel problem has been in the news before. So has the lack of cooperation between the Interior Ministry (which controls the CRPF) and the Defense Ministry (which has much better intelligence gathering capabilities, as well as much better officer and combat training programs). In addition to the intel failure there was also a lack of skill and preparation among the officers involved in the battle. The leadership failure is present at all levels, as well as in the Interior Ministry itself. No one expects anything to be done because this sort of thing has happened before and the main result is CRPF commanders being encouraged to pay more attention to maintaining a low media profile. That means easing up on the Maoist rebels, who have fans in the media as well as parliament (where the Communist Party is still a powerful presence). The trigger for this particular investigation was a late April Maoist ambush involving about 300 rebels and a hundred CRPF para-military police guarding and participating in a roadbuilding project. The attack left 25 police dead and six wounded. The Maoists used automatic weapons and grenades and fled before reinforcements could arrive from a CRPF camp two kilometers away. 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 and the second such ambush in this area this year. This was embarrassing for the government which had been reporting that this area had been largely cleared of leftist rebels. The government is investigating the situation to discover what they got wrong, but they already know and don’t want to talk about it.

Back in 2015 India responded to similar defeats by increasing (with 17 new battalions) its para-military CRPF for operations in Kashmir and eastern India. 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 12 if the 17 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 and increasingly unpopular. But the CRPF is criticized for not being able to finish the job and this recent incident and the reasons why is the best explanation anyone is going to get.

May 21, 2017: In southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan) Iranian troops fired ten mortar shells into Pakistan. There were no casualties but Iran had warned Pakistan that if they did not cooperate in curbing Iranian Baluchi Sunni rebels hiding out in Pakistan, there would be repercussions. Iran now believes these Iranian rebels are one of the Islamic terrorist groups secretly supported by the Pakistani military.

May 16, 2017: China has agreed to provide financing, special equipment, materials and skills to work with Pakistan to modernize 1,600 kilometers of the main Pakistani north-south rail line.

May 13, 2017: In southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan) ten local men working on a new road were murdered. It was not immediately clear if the attackers were tribal separatists or Islamic terrorists but six days later three more of these workers were killed. Because the work crew was building a road that was part of the $55 billion Chinese project to connect a new Pakistani port (Gwadar) with southeastern China, it was considered a major threat. The thousands of Chinese coming into Pakistan for this project are prime targets for Islamic terrorists and tribal separatists in Baluchistan and Pakistan has assured China that it will deal with this threat and protect Chinese in Pakistan. This is the main function of a special security force, currently 20,000 strong, dedicated to keeping the foreign (mainly Chinese) workforce safe. But there are still even more Pakistanis working on this project, often with no Chinese around. What about them?

May 12, 2017: In southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan) a roadside bomb was used in a failed attempt to kill a major Islamic politician (the deputy leader of the Senate). The target (Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri) was wounded as were another 30 people and 25 people in the convoy and standing near by were killed. ISIL took credit for the attack.

May 11, 2017: In northwest Bangladesh (Rajshahi) police raided another suspected Islamic terrorist location and were met by explosions as several members of a farm family blew themselves up. Five JMB (Jamaat ul Mujahideen Bangladesh) members died. Most of the current Islamic terrorist violence in Bangladesh can be traced back to 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 and is now considered a local ISIL affiliate.

May 10, 2017: Turkey has confirmed an order for 52 Pakistani MFI-395 Super Mushshak training aircraft. This is the largest export order to date for Pakistani built aircraft. Turkey first expressed interest in late 2016 and for a while Pakistani through they might get an even larger order. But after months of negotiations the number of aircraft came down to 52. For export customers Super Mushshak pricing is flexible to account for local customs and fees. Those details have not been released yet. Turkey is not the first export customer for this aircraft, but is now the largest and the first NATO member to buy as well.

May 5, 2017: In southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan) Pakistan accused Afghan troops of firing across the border into the Chamman area and killing 11 Pakistanis and wounding about 40. Most of the casualties were civilians. Apparently this violence is connected with disagreements over where the border is and the national census being conducted in Pakistan. Over the next two days Pakistani forces fired back and claimed to have killed fifty Afghan troops and destroyed five border posts. There was no agreement on that, or anything else until the 7th when, during the third meeting of senior officers from both sides, a ceasefire was agreed to as well as a new survey of exactly where the border is in the area where the fighting took place. The nearby Chamman border crossing is the second most active border road crossing between the two countries. Most of the 2,500 kilometers of border is rural, thinly populated and lacking roads so these road crossings are important. The border violence has been going on for years and is more about unresolved border disputes than anything else. 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.

May 1, 2017: In northwest Pakistan ( South Waziristan) raiders from Afghanistan attacked two border posts. These attacks were repulsed and the raiders fled back across the border after losing three dead and several wounded.

April 27, 2017: In northwest Pakistan, near the Afghan border ISIL and Afghan Taliban forces clashed leaving a senior Taliban leader and two of his bodyguards dead. This was a rare incident for Pakistan as most of the local ISIL forces remain in Afghanistan. The Taliban leader normally operates in eastern Afghanistan (Logar province) but frequently visits friends and family in Pakistan. These appear to be business trips as the Taliban are in charge of security for most of the opium and heroin being moved from Afghanistan to the rest of the world via Pakistan.

April 26, 2017: In southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan) ten Iranian border guards on Iranian side were killed by Baluchi Sunni Islamic terrorists firing from Pakistan. These Baluchi separatist and Islamic terrorist groups often carry out operations in Iran and flee back across the border to Pakistan or, as in this case, fire from the Pakistan side of the border. Jaish ul Adl, an Islamic terror group, took credit for this attack. Jaish ul Adl is one of several Iranian Baluchi groups in the southeast. The Baluchi are Sunni, and resent the way they are persecuted by the Shia majority in Iran. About two percent (1.4 million) of Iranians are Baluchi. Most Baluchi tribes live across the border in Pakistan (all of southwest Pakistan is called Baluchistan, or "Land Of the Baluchi", a tribe ethnically related to the Pushtun in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the Iranians themselves). These Iranian Baluchi rebels regularly operate against Iran from bases in Pakistan and have become a growing problem for both countries. Pakistan is under a lot of pressure to do something about it, so the Pakistani government at least goes through the motions of responding to each incident. Iran made a big deal over this incident and put more diplomatic pressure on Pakistan to do something more than symbolic.




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