India, Pakistan and Bangladesh recently celebrated the 70
anniversary of British India (and centuries of British rule) being replaced with independent India and Pakistan (which, after 25 years, split into Bangladesh and what is now Pakistan). Today these three nations have a population equal to China but have fared differently when it comes to economic growth. After 70 years India has seen its GDP per capita increase 5.5 times, Pakistan 3.9 times and Bangladesh 2.4 times, Neighbor China saw an increase of 17.9 times. Back in 1947 the GDP per capita in India was 38 percent higher than China while in what is now Pakistan it was 50 percent higher and in Bangladesh 21 percent higher. In 1947 China has just ended four decades of rebellion, civil war, invasion and one more civil war that put the communists in power. During that time British India was much more peaceful and undergoing the industrial revolution and the attendant changes. The Chinese economy didn’t grow much more quickly than that of India until the 1980s when the Chinese government decided to give economic (but not political) freedom a chance. India always had political freedom but the economy was crippled by corruption and state control. In the 1990s India introduced more economic freedom but still, like Pakistan and Bangladesh, suffered more from corruption than neighboring China. There were also cultural differences between the four nations but it is interesting to see how the four did after 70 years of independence.
In Pakistan The Military Abides
The Pakistani military is keeping up the pressure in northwestern India (Kashmir) despite the growing pressure from India, the United States and Afghanistan to back off. The Pakistani army Islamic terrorism based campaign to conquer Indian Kashmir has been going on for 30 years and India still has Kashmir. But over 40,000 people have died in the violence on the Pakistani border and inside Indian Kashmir. China is not helping. While energetic in fighting Islamic terrorism against Chinese wherever they may be (especially those inside Pakistan) China continues to block Indian efforts to add Pakistan based Islamic terrorist leaders to the UN list of international terrorists. People on the list are subject to all manner of economic sanctions not to mention considerable difficulty in travelling outside Pakistan. China is not concerned with these Islamic terrorists because Pakistan has assured China privately that these Islamic terrorists work for the Pakistani military and are part of an effort to reduce Islamic terrorism inside Pakistan and China.
The Chinese are impressed with the power of the Pakistani military and continue to maintain better relations with the Pakistani military than with the elected leaders of Pakistan. Another example of why occurred recently when t
he Pakistani Supreme Court decided that elected Pakistani government officials (rather than military) are to be punished more severely 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) were under pressure to resign and it was tacitly agreed that the Supreme Court would clarify the situation. On July 28th the court declared that Nawaz Sharif had to go. This decision was seen by most people in South Asia as a victory for the Pakistani military. The Pakistani politicians saw it that way and accused the judges of siding with the generals. The Pakistani generals are probably more corrupt than the politicians but they are also more disciplined, ruthless and heavily armed. Thus when details of the massive corruption first 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, were also found to have Panama Paper links but the politicians are insisted they were 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 and 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 was apparent that 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 (true or not) for the offshore accounts not containing any money stolen from the government. But for government employees (like army officers) subsisting on a government salary, details of large fortunes hidden away in foreign banks are more difficult to explain away. The military deals with this more effectively by sacrificing some of the greedier and less discreet officers and insisting their “internal investigation is continuing” until senior politicians start getting investigated and punished.
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. That apparently did not happen, if only because those working with the nukes are more carefully selected and constantly monitored. 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 2012 the 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.
The American Threat
In an effort to persuade Pakistan to stop supporting violence in Afghanistan (and elsewhere) the Americans are withholding military aid more frequently. For example in 2016 the U.S. was willing to pay up to $900 million in reimbursements for Pakistani counter-terrorism efforts but threatened to withhold nearly half of that. 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 the 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. This provides another way for the military to ensure that the Islamic terrorists on its payroll remain docile inside Pakistan.
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. That means India has to deal with more Pakistani-backed Islamic terrorist and separatist violence in Kashmir. This has been increasing since 2015. In 2016 there were about twenty terrorism related deaths a month in Kashmir and because of increased Pakistani aggression this is it is about 40 percent higher so far in 2017. Because of the increased
Pakistan has benefitted from cracking down (since mid-2014) on local Islamic terror groups that carry out attacks inside Pakistan, especially those that attacked 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.
With help from India and the U.S. Afghanistan is becoming more vocal and aggressive about Pakistan continuing to tolerate pro-Islamic terrorists religious schools (madrasas) in Pakistan that specialize in training young Afghans, many of whom ended up back in Afghanistan as suicide bombers or members of the Taliban. Afghanistan now accuses Pakistan of colluding with the Afghan Taliban to kidnap Afghan children and get them across the border to these Pakistani madrasas. This is something that had long been known but kept quiet because of a desire not to antagonize the Pakistani military and intelligence (ISI, or Inter-service Intelligence). Offending the ISI is no longer an issue.
For the first time since 2008 another ancient and unresolved border dispute between China and India escalated because China wanted it to. This is taking place in an area called the Doklam plateau, near the Tibet border, Bhutan, and Nepal Sikkim State in northeastern India. 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 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 the Doklam plateau and 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 (Chinese) people” 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. There has not been much violence aside from some fistfights and rock throwing.
August 18, 2017: Vietnam revealed that it had indeed purchased Brahmos anti-ship missiles from India. Apparently both nations wanted to keep this transaction quiet so as not to offend China, which both India and Vietnam have territorial disputes with. Brahmos is a large missile and hard to keep secret if you have deployed it. India is known to have close military ties with Vietnam and has helped train Vietnamese crews for the Russian Kilo class submarines that Vietnam recently received but that India has operated since the 1990s. India has also supplied Vietnam with offshore patrol boats and had Vietnamese troops attend the Indian Army School of Counter-Insurgency and Jungle Warfare. That facility has an international reputation for excellence because Indian troops get a lot of practice in this area.
August 16, 2017: In northwest India (Kashmir) the government has begun building a hundred bullet and shell-proof bunkers in villages that have experienced the most from increased Pakistani firing across the border. Each bunker will accommodate 10-20 people. So far over a hundred Indian civilians have been killed or wounded by this cross border shooting and many more are extremely nervous. These bunkers are an experiment and if they significantly reduce civilian casualties the government will expand the program and build as many as 6,000 more such bunkers. It all depends on the Pakistani military and their determination to continue the border attacks.
August 15, 2017: In northeast India (Sikkim State) about fifty Indian and Chinese troops clashed alongside a lake on the Doklam plateau. Punches and rocks were thrown during the brawl, which was caught on video and official denied by both sides (but unofficially confirmed by troops familiar with the area).
August 11, 2017: The Russian Air Force announced that its new (and still not ready) stealth fighter had an official designation; Su-57. Formerly known as the T-50 (or PAK-FA) Russia has long had India as an increasingly dissatisfied development partner and export customer for this new “5th generation” stealth fighter. To keep India involved Russia agreed in 2016 to cut the development cost by a third (to $8 billion) with India providing half that and Russia being responsible for any additional costs. In addition three of the eleven prototypes will be built to Indian specifications and the first of these will be flown to India by 2019. In return India will buy up to 250 Su-57s. Russia already has nine Su-57 prototypes flying, although one was damaged in a fire. Indian Air Force officials have been criticizing the progress of the Su-57 program for several years. This aircraft is the Russian answer to the American F-22 and according to the Indians, who have contributed nearly a billion dollars (so far) to development of the Su-57, they are entitled by their co-developer agreement to have access to technical details. The Russians tried to withhold detailed development updates from their Indian partners. The Indians know from experience that when the Russians clam up about a military project it is usually because the news is bad and the Russians would rather not share.
August 10, 2017: In Russia, the Indian Army was embarrassed when both the T-90S tanks it bought for the annual military competition broke down during the finals of one of the competitions the 19 participating nations engage in. To make matters worse the two Russian designed T-90S vehicles were among those built under licenses in India. Russia has long blamed Indian manufacturing errors for Russian weapons built under license by the Indians having problems. The competition was part of the International Army Games which Russia has hosted every year since 2013 at their Alabino Ranges facility. While the Russians blame India for the embarrassing failure (via a broken fan belt and an oil leak) of Russia’s most modern tank designs India and Russia have other disputes about the quality of Russian work. One involves the carrier version of the MiG-29 Russia developed (at Indian expensed) and sold to India. Now Russia is using this MiG-29K itself but Russia is accused of not helping much with the reliability problems India is having with their MiG-29Ks.
August 7, 2017: In southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan) soldiers and border guards stood watch as workers began building dozens of new border outposts on what the Afghans consider the Afghan side of the border in an area called Spin Boldak. About a hundred kilometers north is Kandahar City, the original "home town" of the Taliban. Most of the construction work takes place at night but the construction sites are guarded day and night.
August 2, 2017: Off the southern tip of India The Sri Lankan Navy commissioned the newly built SLNS Sayural .An Indian shipyard completed this vessel, the first warship built in India for export, on July 22nd. Sayural is a 105 meter (226 foot) long 2,400 ton OPV (Offshore Patrol Vessel) customized for the Sri Lankan Navy. The SLNS Sayural is based on four OPVs already built for the Indian Navy. OPVs typically have fewer weapons than equivalent size warships and instead carry more gear needed for boarding and inspecting ships and dealing with search and rescue. India has been also been building smaller OPVs for itself and export for over a decade. Warships are the next step, even if they are OPVs.
August 1, 2017: There have been 285 Pakistani ceasefire violations on the Indian border so far this year compared to 228 for all of 2016. The Pakistani military has also been busy along the nearby Afghan border (in the largely Pushtun tribal territories) where there has been a decline (of nearly 20 percent) in Islamic terrorist attacks over the last few months. These counter-terrorism operations have been going on in the tribal territories since mid-2014. Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of deliberately allowing many of these Islamic terrorists to escape into rural areas on the Afghan side of the border where many of the Afghan tribesmen have tribal links to those on the Pakistan side, including some of the Islamic terrorists fighting the Pakistani government, which most Pushtuns agree is no friend of the Pushtuns on both sides of the border.
July 28, 2017: Prime minster Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan was removed from office when the Supreme Court declared that because of corruption charges related to the Panama Papers Sharifwas no longer fit to rule or be a member of parliament. Sharif was replaced by Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, his Oil Minister and generally considered free of corruption. Abbasi was Sharif’s preference and his party (PML-N or Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz), which has a majority in parliament, agreed. Abbasi is a wealthy businessman with family connections to some senior military personnel. Nevertheless Abbasi has always sided with elected officials. Abbasi quickly formed a new government which was sworn in on August 4th.