Pakistan is at war with itself over corruption and a military leadership that has its own aggressive foreign policy that directly threatens neighboring countries and Pakistanis alike. Most Pakistanis want to change but cannot. The United States, Afghanistan and India are all being more aggressive in dealing with the lies, deception and violence sent their way by the Pakistani generals. The basic problem in Pakistan is that no one is really in charge. The military can, and regularly does, overthrow the elected government if the generals fear their power is under real threat. That means agreements with foreign countries are only valid if both the generals and elected officials agree.
This is complicated by the fact that the Pakistani military has developed their own independent (of the Pakistani Foreign Ministry) foreign policy. Wealthy Arab oil states are willing to make something of this, because they understand that the Pakistani generals are without scruples and will do just about anything to preserve their power and wealth. That involves making secret deals with other nations and that apparently includes Iran, many Arab oil states in the Persian Gulf, Russia and whoever is willing to do business with them.
While Pakistan has always (since it was created, along with modern India, in 1947) been a democracy, it did not ensure that its military would always be subservient to civilian control. The Indians take care of this. But in Pakistan the military became autonomous, corrupt and powerful enough to do whatever it liked. Although the defense spending only takes about 2.7 percent of GDP the military, mainly the senior officers, actually take at least twice that because many items (like the huge retirement benefits for officers and ownership of many commercial companies) are not officially listed as defense expenditures. Thus the Pakistani military has come to be known as “an army with a country” instead of the other way around. The elected leaders of Pakistan have not been able to gain control over their own military despite increasingly vigorous efforts to do so.
Recently there have been an increasing number of rumors, media stories and threatening denials from the military about the growing demands (from elected officials and the general public) that the military finally submit to civilian control. The generals still hint that there might be another military takeover but that is less likely than in the past. The last period of military government (1999 to 2008) did not go well for the generals. As is often the case after a coup the military gradually lost a lot of power and influence inside Pakistan. This time it was worse because the Internet allowed for many more media outlets in Pakistan to distribute news of military misbehavior. The Internet also made it much more difficult for the government to control the news. Thus until quite recently evil acts by the military were getting a lot of publicity, which greatly reduced popular support for the military. More and more journalism was coming from unidentified amateurs. The Taliban and the military both have death squads hunting down journalists who are seen as "unhelpful" but this did not stop the criticism as it had it the past, at least not at first. Complicating all this is a growing anti-corruption movement and much less popular support for military governments worldwide. Since Pakistan was created in 1947, half the time the country has been ruled by generals who took over "for the good of the country." That no longer flies and the generals began looking for another way to safeguard their wealth (gained largely via corruption) and privileges (also mostly illegal) from growing public wrath. A widely popular 2014 offensive against Islamic terrorists who stage attacks inside Pakistan was the key to making the military more popular and that made it possible to more effectively threaten and silence a lot of media criticism inside Pakistan. That situation didn’t last as Pakistani generals can see that their power has been on a gradual and unstoppable decline for more than a decade. The growing international criticism of the military corruption in Pakistan is yet another setback the military many not recover from.
Signs of the international blowback are more obvious. The Americans are withholding military aid. In 2016 the U.S. was willing to pay up to $900 million in such reimbursements but has only paid $550 million. Pakistan can retaliate by blocking road access to Afghanistan but this escalation ultimately fails for Pakistan because the only major ally they have is China and the Chinese have made it very clear that they will not join Pakistan in such an escalation. China is more concerned with the Pakistani ability to protect that thousands of Chinese coming into Pakistan each year to build new infrastructure projects. Pakistan has over 100,000 soldiers and police dedicated to the security of these Chinese and their growing number of work sites. There are still thousands of Islamic terrorists inside Pakistan who see the Chinese as a legitimate target.
Meanwhile Afghanistan and India are more aggressively fighting back at the Pakistan sponsored terrorism sent their way. This has turned India and Afghanistan into allies, which infuriates the Pakistani military. It is telling that while Pakistan supports terror against India every other Moslem nation in the region (especially Iran and Bangladesh) regards non-Moslem India as someone they can get along with. Pakistan, despite sharing a long border with Iran, is considered more troublesome and less reliable than India. Bangladesh used to be part of Pakistan but rebelled in the 1970s and despite savage reprisals from the Pakistanis, achieved independence and continue to hold Pakistan responsible for those atrocities. Pakistan has always denied the Indian, Afghan and Bangladeshi accusations but now the United States is becoming more forceful in demanding that Pakistan stop lying and terrorizing its neighbors and threating the world. All this came to a head recently in the UN where many nations, especially Afghanistan, and India, openly demanded that Pakistan stop supporting Islamic terrorist groups, particularly those that specialize in terrorizing neighbors. The Pakistan military, which always portrays itself as a victim, responded by up increasing violence along the Indian border, blaming it all on India, and risking a nuclear war because India, unlike Afghanistan, has nukes. Meanwhile Afghanistan, Iran and India are developing new trade routes that will ignore Pakistan. A growing number of Pakistanis agree with the demands expressed in the UN and are seeking to reduce the political power of the Pakistani military, which was key in creating the use of Islamic terrorists to attack neighbors.
The Pakistani Border Campaign
In northwest India (northeast Pakistan) Kashmir border violence continues to spiral out of control. This is mainly about the Pakistani military needing to create a military crisis with India as part of an effort to silence criticism of them inside Pakistan. Kashmir border violence incidents are leading to more casualties in Indian Kashmir with Islamic terror related deaths set to be double what they were in 2016 and reaching levels (nearly 400 a year) not seen since 2010.
Although Pakistan instigates most of these incidents they almost always declare that any Indian return fire was what really started. This scam has been documented often but the Pakistani military knows that if they just deny it that will work inside Pakistan, where they have terrorized most of the journalists into submission.
For India this means Islamic terrorist and separatist violence in Kashmir has been increasing since 2015. In 2016 there were about twenty terrorism related deaths a month in Kashmir and it is about the same so far in 2017. Because of the increased Pakistani aggression in Kashmir 2016 was also the first time Pakistan suffered fewer terrorism incidents than India. Last year Iraq was first with nearly 3,000 attacks while Afghanistan was second with nearly 1,400. Then came India with nearly a thousand and Pakistan with about 700. Pakistan has benefitted from cracking down (since mid-2014) on local Islamic terror groups that carry out attacks inside Pakistan, especially those that attack the government and military. But two things haven’t changed. First most of the attacks in India have nothing to do with Islamic terrorism but are the result of leftist or tribal rebels in eastern and northeastern India. Most importantly, adjusted for population Pakistan still suffers more than four times as many attacks as India. Moreover the attacks in India killed far fewer people because most had nothing to do with Islamic terrorism, which concentrates on killing as many people as possible (and nearly all of them Moslems). Overall attacks in India killed over 80 percent fewer people than those involving Islamic terrorism. Meanwhile Pakistan proclaims (internally) that the increased border violence in Kashmir is a great achievement against archenemy India. Despite all that effort deaths in Indian Kashmir are down in July although so far this year it looks like 2017 will see at least a third more deaths in Kashmir than in 2016. All that mainly to help protect corruption in the Pakistani military.
The Panama Threat
Currently the Pakistani Supreme Court is deliberating the extent to which Pakistani government officials (military and elected) will be treated in light of the Panama Papers revelations that linked most senior officials and many senior officers or their families to secret offshore bank accounts. Many Pakistani elected officials (including prime minister Nawaz Sharif) are under pressure to resign but that won’t happen until the Supreme Court releases its ruling, which is expected any day now. When details went public the military promptly dismissed many officers who were identified in the Panama Papers. Most of the officers dismissed had worked on border security and apparently cooperated with the drug and took bribes to help get the opium and heroin into Pakistan (and then to the world via the port of Karachi). Bribes were also used to get industrial chemicals into Afghanistan so the opium could be refined into heroin. Many politicians, including the prime minister, have also been discovered to have Panama Paper links but these are insisting they are innocent. This is all rather recent because the Panama Papers (over 11 million leaked documents showing details of secret, and often illegal, offshore bank accounts) became available in early 2016 in the more corrupt nations, like Pakistan, had quite an impact.
There is a growing anti-corruption movement in Pakistan but the corruption is so extensive that it is believed a minority of senior government and military officials are not corrupt. Many of the politicians identified in the Panama Papers come from wealthy families and can make a case for the offshore accounts not containing any money stolen from the government. But for government employees subsisting on a government salary, details of large fortunes hidden away in foreign banks is hard to explain away.
India and Western nations were alarmed that some of the Pakistani officers dismissed because of the Panama Papers revelation were associated with the nuclear weapons program. Moreover some ISI and army officers believe that such corruption was patriotic because some of the drug money they received went to fund the “black budget” (money used to support Islamic terrorism operations that the military wanted no paper trail connecting them to).
The military has long claimed that it was above the courts. But that assertion has eroded over the decades and this time the army arguments may fail completely. This would be a major change because as recently as
he head of the Pakistani army openly warned the Supreme Court to not threaten the authority of the military. Pakistani army lawyers had recently rejected a Supreme Court order that two retired generals be tried for vote fraud in the 1990 elections. This was seen as the army defying the authority of the courts and insisting that the army was above the constitution and control by an elected government. Since the army has more men with guns, who are willing to use those weapons to defy democracy, the army has always prevailed. Since 2001 the army has also increased the pay and benefits for lower ranking soldiers, to ensure loyalty in cases like this. The officers, especially the higher ranking ones, have always been well treated. The army insists on receiving a large chunk of the national wealth. All this has become more widely known and the generals are being more careful with their public image, as the lower ranking troops are increasingly siding with the civilian voters. Despite these efforts the stature and authority of the military has declined year by year.
For the first time since 2008 another ancient and unresolved border dispute between China and India escalated. This is taking place in northeastern India where Sikkim State borders China to the north, Bhutan to the east and Nepal to the west. Sikkim is small (7,100 square kilometers) and has a population of less than 700,000. East of Bhutan is the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims most of. China claims smaller bits of Bhutan and Sikkim. The problem with Sikkim is that it was an independent monarchy until 1975 when the king allowed a referendum on joining India, which won. China protested Sikkim becoming part of India in part because of the border disputes China long had with independent Sikkim. The current incident began in mid-June when China began building a road into Bhutan that was seen as part of a Chinese effort to threaten the Siliguri Corridor (a 22 kilometer wide strip of land between China and Bangladesh that connects northeast India to the rest of India). India had agreed to help Bhutan oppose Chinese efforts to just grab the disputed area (which is 3,000 meters up on a plateau that has no real value to anyone). China and India had signed an agreement in 2012 to respect the existing Bhutan border. But like most Chinese territorial claims revived recently incidents like this serve to make the Chinese government look like it is “serving the people” (who cannot choose their leaders because China is a communist police state) and are carried out at little cost in lives or money. So thousands of Chinese and Indian troops have been moved to this inhospitable part of the world because the Chinese government wants some good publicity inside China.
July 22, 2017: In northwest Pakistan (Khyber) the army reported they had completed regaining control of the Rajgal Valley near the Afghan border. This operation began on July 16th and involved clearing 250 square kilometers of remote hills and forests of Islamic terror group camps, especially the ones being used by ISIL to move men and equipment between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The last phase of this operation involved using special operations troops to kill or chase away Islamic terrorists camped out at the highest point in the area; Brekh Top. For the Pakistanis casualties were kept low by using a lot of airpower (for surveillance and smart bomb attacks) and artillery. This was technically part of the massive anti-terrorism campaign that began in mid-2014 in North Waziristan and was scheduled to end at the end of 2017. For the last year most of the air and ground action has been in adjacent tribal areas like Khyber. The campaign that began in North Waziristan involved heavy use of F-16s, helicopter gunships and army artillery. The air force also provided pretty good aerial reconnaissance. To keep friendly casualties down ground troops did little attacking and spent most of their time manning checkpoints on the borders of North Waziristan and mounted regular patrols along those borders. Despite this those borders still provided many opportunities for people to sneak past the troops. Most of the North Waziristan border is with Afghanistan and that was not as tightly guarded, which made it relatively easy for Islamic terrorists to hike across the border to villages that are hospitable to Pakistani Islamic terrorists. Pakistan was mainly interested in clearing out any Islamic terrorists hostile to Pakistan and that has largely been accomplished. About 5,000 people died so far in this three year old campaign, 90 percent of them Islamic terrorists (although some of these were civilian bystanders) and the rest the security forces, mainly soldiers. Over a million civilians fled the fighting and only about half have returned home so far. Pakistan shares details of these operations with Afghanistan, the United States and China. However Afghanistan points out that there is no way to confirm details of what Pakistan claims to have accomplished in operations like this and often the result, on the Afghan side, are often not detectable.
July 21, 2017: The United States is withholding a $50 million reimbursement (for counter-terror operations) to Pakistan because Pakistan has refused to shut down sanctuaries for the Haqqani Network in Pakistan. The Americans have evidence of Haqqani still operating in Pakistan which the Pakistanis are unable to explain.
In Kashmir Indian border police found 66 kg (146 pounds) of heroin hidden in a truckload of Pakistani sugar. Some trade is allowed across this border but because Pakistani gangs control most of the heroin smuggling from Afghanistan to the rest of the world, any cargo coming from Pakistan is subject to search.
July 20, 2017: India turned down the Chinese offer to mediate the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan. China also has territorial claims on Kashmir and is a close ally of Pakistan.
Afghanistan criticized Pakistan for making a big deal about attacking Haqqani Network and Afghan Taliban bases on the Pakistani side of the border but ignoring similar bases in Baluchistan (Quetta) and the Pakistani capital (Islamabad).
July 19, 2017: The U.S. has provided Pakistan with fifty Fido X3 explosives detectors as part of more than a decade of assistance in dealing with Islamic terrorism. While a lot of the aid has been stolen the Pakistanis are quite serious about halting Islamic terrorist violence inside Pakistan and appreciate getting modern equipment with a known track record in the West. In the past corrupt security officials have been known to buy useless explosives detectors because such deals provided huge bribes to the purchasing officials.
July 18, 2017: Air India wants to start flying directly from India (Delhi) to Israel but Israel objects to flights passing over Pakistan because if the aircraft had any problems it would have to make an emergency landing in Pakistan and Israeli citizens would be subject to abuse, even kidnapping, by the Pakistanis. But using a direct route that avoids Pakistan makes the flights longer and more expensive.
July 15, 2017: In the southwest on the Iran border someone (described only as “foreign terrorists”) in Pakistan fired machine-guns and several mortar shells into Iran, wounding two civilians. Iranian forces immediately returned fire killing one of the terrorists and wounding two others. The rest of the terrorists (apparently Iranian Baluchi rebels) retreated further into Pakistan.
July 14, 2017: A senior Facebook executive met with the Pakistani Interior Ministry to discuss Pakistan demands that Facebook monitor and censor Facebook posts that Pakistani law considers blasphemous against Islam, especially if the message was posted by one of the 33 million Pakistani Facebook users. Such actions are a capital crime in Pakistan and a Pakistani Facebook user was recently sentenced to death for such a post.
July 12, 2017: Indian and Burmese military commanders are again trying to develop better ways to improve security along their 1,600 kilometer common border. Tribal rebels in northeast India continue to set up camps on the Burmese side of the border and from there carry out attacks inside India. Most of the border is in remote, thinly populated areas and since 2012 India and Burma have been cooperating a lot more to share information on what is happening along their common border. The most common problem on the border is smugglers, especially those moving weapons or illegal drugs. Burma is planning to build a fence along this border, not so much to block illegal crossings but simply to mark it.
July 8, 2017: In the southwest Iranian border guards fired three rockets across the border into Pakistan (Baluchistan).
July 7, 2017: The president of India completed a three day visit to Israel. This was a historic first because an Indian head-of-state had never visited Israel before. Aside from the symbolism, India announced more trade deals with Israel, which has become a major military supplier for India. Thus among the trade deals was an Indian order for the Israeli Iron Dome anti-rocket/artillery system (which would be very useful in Kashmir). This visit marked the official end of 70 years of India deferring to its Moslem population (which is larger than that of Pakistan) and decades of close ties with Moslem states at the expense of good relations with Israel. Israel offered India help dealing with Islamic terrorists that Pakistan began using aggressively against India in the 1990s. India noted that Israel was a major supplier of military equipment worldwide and was especially good when it came to border security and dealing with Islamic terrorism. The alliance between Israel and India has grown stronger since 2001 and now India is quite open about it. There are more and more signs of shifts in long-established alliances involving Israel.
July 4, 2017:
In the northwest, just across the Afghan border (in Nangarhar province) an airstrike killed three ISIL men, two of whom were later identified as Pakistani. The Afghans complain that this is a common occurrence and Pakistan even allows the return of these dead Pakistanis to their families in Pakistan.
After two weeks of deliberation Afghan leaders agreed to a Pakistani proposal that the two nations run joint-military patrols along their common border and cooperate more closely in halting illegal cross-border activity. Afghanistan was wary of this proposal until assured by American officials that the U.S. was also skeptical and would be monitoring Pakistani compliance closely.
June 28, 2017: Afghanistan accused Pakistan of supplying the Afghan Taliban with heavy weapons (mortars and rockets) on the Pakistani side of the border. Such weapons have been detected inside Afghanistan and the Afghans have plenty of evidence.
June 23, 2017: In Pakistan three major Islamic terror attacks (in Quetta, Parachinar and Karachi) left more than 90 dead and at least 300 wounded. Pakistan blamed Afghanistan, accusing them of tolerating Pakistani Taliban camped out in eastern Afghanistan, especially Kunar province. Afghanistan has, f0r years, pointed out that these camps are in remote, sparsely populated areas and the Taliban are protected by local tribesmen. If Afghan troops go in the Taliban simply move, sometimes back into Pakistan. Moreover, the Afghans point out that Pakistan will not even admit that they still shelter the Afghan Taliban (openly in Quetta, Baluchistan since 2002) and the Haqqani Network (more discretely in several Pakistan locations.
June 20, 2017: In southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan) a JF-17 fighter shot down an Iranian Shahed 129 UAV that was at least three kilometers inside Pakistani airspace. Since 2014 Shahed 129s have been spotted in Syria and Iraq (near Iranian border) doing surveillance. In early 2016 a video on Iranian TV showed the Shahed 129 using laser guided air-to ground missiles. Iran did not make a big deal about the UAV lost over Pakistan and quietly told the Pakistanis that there was probably a navigation error. Iran is trying to persuade Pakistan to abandon Saudi Arabia as an ally and work closely with Iran instead. This is a hard sell as Pakistani ties with Saudi Arabia go way back. Moreover both nations are Sunni majority states and while some Pakistani officials favor more cooperation with Iran most Pakistanis do not. Iran and Pakistan both kept quiet about this incident.