For nearly a week now the American CIA and their Pakistani counterpart (ISI) have been arguing over what exactly happened to the kidnapped American-Canadian family Pakistani troops freed from the Haqqani Network on October 12
. Everyone agrees that the family was held captive for five years but the ISI insists they were held in Afghanistan while the CIA says it has evidence that the family was held in Pakistan all that time. Pakistan has long denied any connection with Haqqani, much less control of the group, but there is much evidence that ISI works closely with Haqqani. This entire incident is suspect and as more details leak out it becomes stranger still.
American Caitlan Coleman, her husband Canadian Joshua Boyle were captured by the Taliban in 2012 while hiking in eastern Afghanistan. Coleman was pregnant at the time and when rescued had three young children. Boyle considered himself a humanitarian and was friendly with some Islamic terrorists before taken. In any event the couple ended up with the Haqqani Network, which often bought foreign captives to use in efforts to get Haqqani Network leaders freed from Afghan jails. Normally Islamic terrorists could use bribes to get such men freed but the Haqqani Network was particularly unpopular in Afghanistan because the group had gone from being Afghan warriors fighting Russian occupation in the 1980s to mercenaries who have long worked for Pakistan to carry out horrific bombings in Afghanistan, with more of the victims being innocent civilians. This has always been denied by the Pakistani military and ISI but Afghans, Indians and Americans have plenty of evidence to prove otherwise. Boyle and his wife appeared in some “proof of life” videos as Haqqani continued to try and use the couple (and their growing family) to get Haqqani prisoners out of Afghan jails. That failed and when rescued the couple and their children did not appear to have been mistreated.
A new (since early 2017) American government apparently ordered the couple to be found and freed no matter where they were and who held them. The family were soon tracked to a Haqqani hideout in Pakistan and Pakistan was told to either get the family freed or the U.S. would send in commandos to do it and the Pakistani generals did not want that. The 2011 American raid that killed Osama bin Laden in his Pakistani sanctuary (that ISI long denied existed) was an embarrassment the Pakistani military has still not recovered from. Another incident like that would be much worse. So Pakistan staged their own “commando operation” near the Afghan border and got the captives (at least the Canadian Boyle) to go along with the cover story (that the family were locked in a car trunk when the rescue took place and all the kidnappers were killed and only Boyle received a minor injury). The U.S. offered to fly that family home via a stopover in Afghanistan but Boyle refused. He did not want to enter any area where the U.S. might detain and question him. So the family flew back to Canada where Canadian intelligence is also curious about exactly what went on with this long captivity.
Meanwhile Pakistan insists the family was held most of the time in Afghanistan, not Pakistan and whatever other information Pakistan was willing to share was apparently not being made public. In an effort to placate the Americans Pakistan did announce its security forces were in daily contact with American forces in Afghanistan about counter-terror operations along the border. This assurance is more promise than performance and is really aimed more at discouraging more American airstrikes or commando raids inside Pakistan. There appear to have been at least five American UAV missile strikes just across the border in Pakistan during 2017. That’s up from three for all of 2016 and down from 14 in 2015 and over 300 between 2008 and 2014. Pakistan also insists that there will be no joint operations along the Afghan border and is, as far as the U.S., Afghanistan and India are concerned, being as non-committal and evasive as ever.
One very tangible Pakistani achievement along its Afghan border was the recent completion of the first 43 kilometers of its new security fence along the Afghan border. The fence consists of two three-meter (nine foot) high chain link fences running parallel, two meters apart, with three rolls of barbed wire in that two meter gap. Construction began in South Waziristan (which borders Afghanistan’s Paktika province and Pakistan’s Baluchistan, where the Afghan Taliban still maintain a sanctuary). The fence construction was announced in March 2017 and intends to extend along the entire 2,600 kilometer border with Afghanistan. This is part of an effort to hinder the Pakistani Taliban, and other illegal groups (terrorists and smugglers) from easily moving back and forth. After the Paktika portion of the fence is completed construction will continue along the border with the Afghan provinces of Nangarhar and Kunar. These provinces are where there has always been a lot of lawless activity and these days it is full of Islamic terrorists hostile to either Pakistan or working for Pakistan (against Afghanistan). The new plan will continue giving priority to areas where there are the most problems but will not stop there and eventually (by the early 2020s) have a fence along the entire Afghan border.
Even without the fence the Pakistani military has been successful in reducing terrorist violence substantially since 2014, when it went after Islamic terror groups that made attacks inside Pakistan. There was a catch as the counter-terrorism effort left alone the Afghan Taliban sanctuary in in the southwest (Baluchistan) and several other groups that operated openly in various parts of Pakistan but always carried out attacks elsewhere (usually Afghanistan or India). That counter-terrorism effort is having continued success and terrorist related deaths appear headed for a 30 percent reduction in 2017. The anti-Pakistan Islamic terror groups have adapted to three years of heavy attack by the security forces and demonstrated their capabilities by remaining active in 2017, but not as active as previous years. There was a spike in Islamic terrorism related deaths in February (114 civilians, 23 soldiers and police and 125 Islamic terrorists) but that has since declined. The total Islamic terrorism related deaths for all of 2016 was 1,803 (150 a month), compared to 3,682 for 2015. Until the wave of attacks in February Pakistan expected to have, for the first time since 2005, a year where there were under a thousand Islamic terrorism related deaths. That is not going to happen in 2017 because during the first ten months of the year there have been nearly 1,100 terrorism related deaths. But if the trend continues there may well be record low numbers of terror victims in 2018. Back in 2005 there were 648 dead and in 2003 only 189 and the post 2005 rise in terror attacks inside Pakistan was blamed on the Americans, India and non-Moslems in general. Meanwhile India, with six times as many people, has kept annual terrorism (mostly not Islam related) to under a thousand a year since 2012.
Pakistan won’t take credit for the increased terrorism related deaths in Kashmir this year. Yet even with that India is on track to have another year of low (under a thousand) terrorist related deaths in 2017. In fact the nationwide Indian deaths are back to 2015 (under 700 deaths) levels, after a spike (to 900) in 2016. That spike was largely the work of Pakistan along the Kashmir border and inside Indian Kashmir. Bangladesh has also seen a 2017 decline (about 40 percent) in terrorism deaths. The one common factor in all these countries is the number of local Islamic terrorists who, when taken alive often boast of the support (training, equipment, sanctuary) they received from Pakistan.
India Makes New Friends
In the midst of all this turmoil within Pakistan the U.S. has been working with India more closely to deal with both Islamic terrorism and the threats from China. That means it is the U.S. and India working more closely together than they have ever done in the past. This is fine with Afghanistan which sees India as more helpful and reliable than Pakistan or Iran ever was. The Americans can be useful to pressure Pakistan to be more cooperative in dealing with border violence (especially in Kashmir). Pooling information from the U.S., India and Afghanistan has made it possible to convince the international community that Pakistani support for Islamic terrorism was real. This scrutiny has become a growing problem for Pakistan, which can no longer simply deny all the evidence of their Islamic terrorism support. While China and Russia can still be relied on to use their veto to block any major UN actions against Pakistan that veto support comes at a price. That is why Pakistan remains the largest customer for Chinese weapons. Pakistan has gone to great lengths to assist China in building links to a Chinese controlled (and upgraded) port near the Iranian border. China pays for all this construction in Pakistan, but the Pakistan government is expected to quickly respond to any Chinese requests. Russia is somewhat less demanding. Russia wants Pakistan to buy more Russian aircraft and assist Russia diplomatically (or with intelligence) as needed. So far Pakistan appears to have kept the Russians content. The Russian relationship with Pakistan makes India less willing to maintain decade’s old trade relationships with Russia. India has been increasingly demanding prompt action when there are problems with Russian military equipment and is not satisfied with the Russian response. Thus India is slowly switching to Western suppliers, despite a lot of Indian voters and politicians still favoring strong ties with Russia and none with America and Israel.
The weakening affection for communism inside India is one of the reasons that the Maoist rebels have been growing much weaker of late. Incidents of Maoist violence have fallen by more than half since 2010.
The basic problem for the Maoists is that after fifty years of futile fighting the revolution has lost its popular appeal. The Maoist movement has seen their membership decline
by about half from the 1
they had in
That was the year the government launched a major military campaign in eastern India against the Maoists in their rural strongholds.
enior leadership suffered even heavier losses
and been embarrassed as more evidence emerged that some senior Maoist leaders had become personally wealthy by diverting millions of dollars’ worth of income to themselves or close family members
. The Indian Maoists have no outside support while the Islamic terrorists have long, and very visibly been based in Pakistan.
The Maoists were running out of cash, ammo, new recruits and, worst of all, credibility.
Factional fighting has long been characteristic of the Indian Maoists and those deadly feuds have been more common as the Maoists lose ground to a major government campaign against them. Since the 1990s there has also been more disagreement within the Maoist movement over what to make of the collapse of most communist governments in 1989-91. There was a similar (but generally non-violent) debate between Indian political parties and the general conclusion was that communism didn’t work and neither did a lot of socialist economic policies. There is still a large minority of Indian politicians who believe that communism could work if it were implemented correctly but that attitude is losing its appeal. All this has meant less popular support for buying Russian weapons, and more working with the Americans and Israel in military matters.
The Invisible Enemy
There is another major effort this year to vaccinate vulnerable Afghan and Pakistani children against polio. In 2016 there were 20 cases of polio in Pakistan and 13 in Afghanistan. There were four in Nigeria, a country that is expected to be free of polio this year or next. In Pakistan and Afghanistan there are still religious problems with vaccination. The Afghan Taliban have openly supported the vaccination program but there still some rural areas where local Moslem clerics or teachers continue to denounce the vaccinations. There is a similar situation in Pakistan, where some fringe Islamic groups will still try and kill members of the vaccination teams. Despite this continued resistance polio cases in both nations continues to decline. For Afghanistan there have been at least six cases so far in 2017 compared to 13 for 2016. In Pakistan the situation is similar with about the same number of cases in 2017. Nevertheless the global vaccination effort has worked. In the 1980s, when the polio elimination effort began there were 350,000 cases in 125 countries. For the last several years there have been fewer than a hundred cases worldwide. In the last decade the main obstacle has been Islamic terror groups who ban polio vaccinations and attack anyone trying to deliver the vaccine to vulnerable children. Islamic terrorists in general tend to believe the vaccination teams are spying for the government and that the vaccinations are a plot to sterilize Moslems.
October 23, 2017: The Chinese construction work on the new Pakistani Gwadar port facilities is visible to anyone on the ground or flying by and it was recently noticed that some features of the new port and airport facilities are clearly intended for military use. India has long accused China (despite denials) was planning to use Gwadar as a base for Chinese warships and naval aircraft. Pakistan never had a problem with Chinese military using Gwadar as it helps keep local troublemakers out. Pakistan has assured China that there would be no terrorist violence against Chinese working on upgrading the port of Gwadar and land links north to China. Pakistan is willing to pay a high price to get CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) done because it means Pakistan has an ally against Iran and even Western powers that might have some violent disagreement with Pakistan. Best of all China is picking up most of the $55 billion cost. Earlier this year China and Pakistan finally signed the agreement that grants China a 40 year lease on new facilities China is building in the southwestern port of Gwadar. The lease grants China most (over 80 percent) of the revenue brought in by port and free trade zone operations.
Gwadar is a key part of CPEC and it has the misfortune of being in a province (Baluchistan) that does not want to be part of Pakistan. China and the Pakistanis try to ignore this by not reporting on non-Islamic terror attacks on CPEC construction projects. The government has long been accused of suppressing news of tribal separatists in Baluchistan attacking government targets and especially those related to CPEC. The separatists claim to have made four attacks on CPEC construction projects (including two bridges) between July and October along with over 120 attacks on security forces and government facilities. Another thing not given much media exposure in Pakistan is the government sanctioned terrorism in southwest Pakistan. This area has long been called Baluchistan, or "Land Of the Baluchi", after a tribe ethnically related to the Pushtun in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as the Iranians. Baluchi separatists in Pakistan have been fighting the government for more autonomy (and cash from gas deposits in their territory), or even a separate state, since Pakistan was created in 1948.
After the 1990s some Baluchi tribes tried to work with the Taliban and al Qaeda but that failed because the Taliban were created by the Pakistani military and al Qaeda depended on Pakistani government sanctuary and protection to survive. The Baluchi separatist problem is nothing new as Iran has been fighting Baluchi separatists for centuries. Baluchis comprise about two percent of the Iranian population. In Pakistan Baluchis are 3.5 percent of the population and are sympathetic to the fight of their fellow Baluchi in Iran, where Baluchi are a religious (Sunni) and ethnic minority in a Shia majority nation. In both countries the government efforts to suppress the Baluchi separatists is criticized for growing use of illegal methods like kidnapping, murder and tolerating Islamic terrorist violence against Baluchis (usually by pro-government groups hiding out in the area). The Pakistani government is mainly concerned with keeping thousands of Chinese working on CPEC projects in Baluchistan and that is apparently working because the Chinese will publicize and attacks on Chinese citizens outside of China.
October 21, 2017: In Pakistan police are seeking a Chinese Islamic terrorist belonging to ETIM (East Turkestan Islamic Movement) who had recently entered Pakistan with the intention of murdering the Chinese ambassador to Pakistan. China had alerted the Pakistani government a few days ago, providing the ETIM assassins name (Abdul Wali) and details from his passport. The Chinese fear that Wali is one of several ETIM men in Pakistan seeking to get assistance from Islamic terrorist groups in Pakistan to go after the Chinese ambassador and the thousands of Chinese working on CPEC.
October 20, 2017: In northwest Pakistan JuA (Jamaat ul Ahrar), a Pakistani Taliban faction that once belonged to ISIL, selected Asad Afridi to be the new leader. His predecessor (Omar Khalid Khorasani) was recently kill by an American UAV missile strike. Most of the JuA men are Pushtuns from the Khyber and Mohmand districts on the Afghan border. Since the Pakistani army attacked North Waziristan (south of Khyber and also on the border) in 2014 and shut down what had been an Islamic terrorists sanctuary, the Pakistani Taliban and especially groups like JuA (which regularly carries out bloody attacks in Pakistan) have based most of their personnel in Afghanistan. They are attacked there, especially by the American UAVs and manned aircraft. But it is still considered safer than Pakistan.
October 19, 2017: In southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan) someone threw a grenade into a group of men working on the Gwadar port wounding 26. Further north, outside the provincial capital Quetta a similar grenade attack wounded fifteen. The grenade attacks may be part of some criminal gang seeking to extort regular cash “protection” payments from the construction companies. Further west gunmen attacked some paramilitary troops, killing one and wounding four.
October 18, 2017: Pakistani troops along the border of Indian Kashmir again opened fire, for several hours, on Indian border guards and two nearby villages. There were similar incidents on the 12th and 13th. Pakistan has refused to negotiate and observe a ceasefire for the disputed Kashmir border.
October 17, 2017: Pakistan is trying to ease the pressure on the Islamic terror groups it employs for attacks inside India and is trying to get key Islamic terrorist leaders freed from house arrest and allowed to lead new Islamic political parties. In September the head of the Jamaatud Dawa, with military support, openly backed a new political party (Milli Muslim League or MML) in the elections. MML is basically a front for numerous Islamic terrorists the military supports and protects. As part of this effort the army admitted that it had “links” to Islamic terrorist groups but did not control them. This is not what members of these groups, captured outside of Pakistan, have said. Captured documents and electronic monitoring of phone and wireless communications also shows the Pakistani army connection.
Back in January the Pakistani military also said it agreed with the decision to put five leaders of Islamic terror group Jamaatud Dawa under house arrest and shut down its charities which actually collect cash for Islamic terrorist operations, frequently against India. This sort of crackdown has been used before and it was always temporary. India believes Pakistan is, as it did in 2001 (after Pakistani based terrorists attacked the Indian parliament building) and 2008 (after a major attack in Mumbai) going through the motions of cracking down on the terrorist organizations. In 2001, Lashkar e Toiba (which planned the recent Mumbai attacks) and Jamaatud Dawa (which provided money and other support) had its leaders put under house arrest and its offices closed temporarily. When the media heat was off Pakistan, the terrorist leaders were released, and the terrorist organizations reopened their offices under new names. Until 2008 India negotiated with Pakistan to reverse that decision. But Pakistan insists that the terrorists dedicated to seizing Kashmir from India are too popular inside Pakistan to really shut down. Since the 2008 Mumbai attack India has been pressuring Pakistan to really, really shut down operations like Lashkar e Toiba. Pakistan continues to resist in the expectation that it would get away with doing nothing. That has become more difficult as the international community, including the UN, has recognized Lashkar e Toiba and Jamaatud Dawa as terrorist organizations and threatened to declare Pakistan a "terrorist state." That would be interesting, as Pakistan has nuclear weapons and is keeps encountering evidence that Islamic terrorist groups are seeking an opportunity to seize one or more of these atomic bombs.
October 15, 2017: In eastern India (Chhattisgarh State) several hundred Hindu radicals attacked a Christian church during Sunday worship, ransacked the church and beat many of the worshippers, nine of them seriously. India has been more energetic and effective in controlling sectarian violence but it still occurs and politicians do not like to back enforcement of the freedom of religion guarantees in the constitution. Unless the attackers kill someone (which is usually the case when Hindus go after Moslems or vice versa) the government does not consider it a serious matter. Normally Indians from different religions get along but ambitious politicians or religious leaders are often tempted to exploit the religions differences to expand their own power.
October 9, 2017: In southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan) Sunni Islamic terrorists fired on a truck carrying Hazara men, killing five of them. Nearly half a million Afghan Hazara (nearly all of them Shia) have fled to Pakistan since the 1980s to escape the violence, including Afghan Sunni Islamic terrorists who see the Hazara Shia as heretics. Since early 2016 at least twenty Hazara have died like this in Baluchistan because those anti-Shia Sunni groups exist in Pakistan as well and have become more intent on attacking Hazara refugees from Afghanistan. .
October 4, 2017:
In northwest Pakistan (Kyber region) someone fired from Afghanistan (Nangarhar province) and killed a soldier and wounded another at a newly established Pakistani border post. The Afghans complain that more than 80 rockets have been fired into Afghanistan from Pakistan in the last two days. There were apparently no casualties in Afghanistan.
October 1, 2017: In northeast India (Arunachal Pradesh) troops stationed there noted that across the border in Tibet a new 409 kilometer highway from the provincial capital of Tibet to the Indian border had been completed and opened for use. While Arunachal Pradesh is an Indian state China claims that it belonged to Tibet in the past and thus China has a claim now. Both countries have been building up their forces along this border and highways like this one make it easier to rush military forces to the border or across it and into India. West of Arunachal Pradesh India also noted that China still has an above average number of troops in Chumbi Valley, from which China launched a June incursion into Indian territory on the Doklam plateau. That confrontation was settled in late August. The two nations blamed each other for this confrontation in a very inhospitable part of the world. The Doklam plateau is where the Tibet border meets India’s Sikkim State. China is also building new roads to this part of the Tibet/India border.
September 27, 2017: On September 27th China announced that its J-20 stealth fighter had officially entered service. Earlier in 2017 Chinese officials admitted that at least a dozen J-20s had been delivered to the Chinese air force as part of a new fighter squadron. This information was apparently released to help with export sales because the recent official announcement comes at the same time that a Chinese press release about China-Pakistan relations seemed to confirm that Pakistan had agreed to buy J-20s. Numbers were not announced and there are still questions about how effective the J-20 actually is. Pakistani interest in the J-20 may have more to do with the fact that China is the only major-power ally they have, their main supplier of weapons and, best of all, a neighbor.
The manufacturer of the J-20 (CAC, Chengdu Aircraft Company) also produces the JF-17 and J-10. The JF-17 is a joint effort with Pakistan and Pakistan is the main customer. The twin engine J-20 made its first flight in 2011 and is a 36 ton fighter similar to the 38 ton American F-22 and 37 ton Russian T-50. The J-20 is stealthy enough to perform as a nuclear bomber for Pakistan.