China and India are threatening each other over who should do what in Maldive Islands just south of India. This conflict heated up at the end of 2017 when China and the Maldives signed an agreement that allowed China to build and operate a “Joint Ocean Observation Station”. This monitoring station would be built on an atoll that is the closest part of the Maldives to India. Opposition politicians in the Maldives claim China has already taken possession of sixteen small islands and that China has been investing heavily in the Maldives economy and influential politicians.
This agreement was apparently obtained by Chinese bribes and assurances that there would be more Chinese investments. Meanwhile the Maldives government is in chaos over elected officials and the Supreme Court judges disagreeing about who should actually be in charge. The tiny (248 square kilometers spread over 1,192 coral atolls spread over 90,000 square kilometers of water off the southern coast of India) nation has a mostly Moslem (98 percent) population of 430,000 plus 100,000 foreign workers (a third of them illegals). Most of the population is concentrated on about 15 percent of the islands. The per capita income is about $10,000 and most of it is based on tourism followed by fishing. Many young men have been attracted to Islamic terrorism but there is not much religious violence in the Maldives. While a democracy the religious parties and military have kept the government in turmoil by asserting decidedly non-democratic powers.
Over the last decade India has become alarmed at growing Chinese investment in neighboring countries (like Sri Lanka, Maldives and Bangladesh). Chinese firms are more experienced and effective at arranging these foreign investments and India’s smaller neighbors feel more comfortable with investment from distant China rather than neighbor (and sometimes big bully) India. The Chinese economic investments often have military implications, like China building satellite ground stations in Sri Lanka, a major port in Pakistan and now an “Ocean Observation Station” in the Maldives.
China had earlier persuaded the Maldives to join its OBOR (One Belt, One Road) project. The Maldives would be part of the “maritime road” going from Chia, through the newly annexed South China Sea and into the Indian Ocean and sea routes to the Persian Gulf the Suez Canal and East Africa and beyond. The Maldives government has always been unstable and Islamic radicalism is still an issue there. Islamic terrorists were never able to establish themselves in the Maldives, although they tried. In 2007 three men were sentenced to 15 years in prison for carrying out a terror bombing attack three months earlier that wounded a dozen tourists. The Islamic radicals were intent on destroying the tourist industry, which is the main source of income in the Maldives, because they saw it as un-Islamic. Most people on the Maldives did not agree with that, and justice was swift. However, ten Islamic radicals responsible for planning the bombings fled the country the day before the attack and are being sought in Pakistan.
To emphasize the Indian fears over the last month at least eleven China Navy ships entered the Indian Ocean in the vicinity of the Maldives. This included a large amphibious ships carrying marines. China is expanding its marine force from three to seven brigades and building additional amphibious ships to carry and land the marines a long distance from China. The Chinese marines are not, in a Western sense, a "marine corps" but the Chinese “marines” have come to be considered elite troops and for that reason Chinese army brigades consider it an honor to be converted to marine units. This first occurred in 1980, with a second conversion in 1998 and the third in 2017. This expansion for the marines as well as the number of amphibious ships indicates that China is preparing to expand and defend overseas territory. This is already underway in the South China Sea and India fears there are islands in the Indian Ocean that may be next.
On the Tibet border China is building up its military forces (especially air defense and warplanes) on their side of the border. India is doing the same on their side and both sides appear getting for another confrontation over Indian territorial claims on the Doklam plateau. A 2017 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. China has most of the advantages here, with more roads and bases on their side of the border, 24/7 satellite surveillance of the area, better communications and electronics in general plus a track record of China winning and India losing.
The Other Threats
Maoist rebels in eastern India continue to lose ground, personnel and purpose. There are a growing number of senior leaders who are either tired of decades of violence and no progress or because of disagreements over strategy. Maoist leaders have tried to keep this internal crises secret but that proved impossible. There were similar problems all the way down, through middle management to most Maoist fighters who had been at it for a few years. All noted the stalemate and growing hostility from the rural people Maoists claim to serve. In 2017, for the first time since 2008, there were fewer (about 800) than a thousand violent incidents caused by the communist rebels. This is another aftereffect of the growing loss of support. For example until 2008 India’s Maoist rebels were “protected” because most ruling government coalitions included Indian communists. But after 2008 that was no longer the case, largely because communism had been declining as a political force within India and had reached the point where this particular bit of parliamentary maneuvering no longer worked. A powerful Indian Communist Party was critical for the Maoists, because for decades this very legitimate and very popular political party, and some leftist allies, had forced the government to use restraint in dealing with Maoist violence. This enabled the Maoists to spread, and become an even bigger threat. After 2008 the government went to war with the Maoist rebels and has been winning. The growing realization by Maoist leaders that there is no practical way to reverse this trend is seen, by the Maoist leadership, as more likely to destroy the Maoist movements than the relentless government paramilitary offensive. Maoist leaders also realize that many of their armed followers are turning to banditry and are seen by rural people as gangsters rather than revolutionaries.
While the communist rebels seem to be fading away the same cannot be said for the violence in the northwest (Kashmir) where the Pakistani Army defies its elected political leaders and a growing percentage of the population by continuing to support the violence in Indian Kashmir. A Kashmir peace deal could have been worked out decades ago had not the Pakistani military not decided to use Kashmir as a way to justify their existence and growing wealth. This scam held up in Pakistan far longer than it did with the Indians but now the Pakistani generals are under growing pressure from Pakistanis in general to back off in Kashmir. The problem is that a lot more Indians are willing to risk war, even nuclear war, to halt the Pakistani military and Islamic terror operations in Kashmir (and less successful Islamic terror efforts throughout India.) A growing number of Pakistani allies are warning the Pakistani military that the violent theatrics and posturing in Kashmir are costing Pakistan a lot of credibility and sympathy. So far the Pakistani generals are not making any changes to their Kashmir strategy. Civilians on both sides of the border report that the violence, especially damage to civilian structures, is worse than the 1990s, when this border violence last peaked.
For Pakistan and India a major predictor of political and economic success is the amount of corruption the country suffers from. Pakistan ranks 117th out of 180 countries (compared to 116th out of 176 last year) while India ranks 81 (79 last year) and the U.S. ranks 16 when it comes to lack of corruption. By way of comparison in the Americas one the most corrupt nations is Venezuela (169th out of 180 countries).
Progress, or lack thereof, can be seen in the annual Transparency International Corruption Perception Index where countries are measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The most corrupt nations (usually Syria/14, South Sudan/12 and Somalia/9) have a rating of under 15 while of the least corrupt (New Zealand and Denmark) are over 85.
The current Indian score is 40 (same as it was in 2016) compared to 32 (32) for Pakistan, 28 (26) for Bangladesh, 33 (36) for the Maldives, 38 (36) for Sri Lanka, 30 (29) for Iran, 15 (15) for Afghanistan, 30 (28) for Burma, 29 (29) for Russia, 41 (40) for China, 17 (14) for Libya, 71 (66) for the UAE (United Arab Emirates), 62 (64) for Israel, 75 (74) for the United States, 27 (28) for Nigeria, 43 (45) for South Africa, 73 (72) for Japan, 37 (37) for Indonesia, 54 (53) for South Korea, 18 (17) for Iraq, 40 (41) for Turkey, 49 (46) for Saudi Arabia and 28 (28) for Lebanon,. A lower corruption score is common with nations in economic trouble and problems dealing with Islamic terrorism and crime in general. Algeria’s corruption score has not changed much since 2012, when it was 34.
March 1, 2018: The Pakistani military was pleased to see that a recent ranking of national military power put Pakistan in 13th place. More important is that Pakistani ally China was ranked third and India fourth. But Indian ally America was in first place and Israel 11th. The alliance with China has its problems because growing Chinese economic investment has become unpopular with more and more Pakistanis. A growing portion of the Pakistani security forces are dedicated to the safety of these Chinese investments and the thousands of Chinese who are in Pakistan to supervise these investments. Pakistanis also note that the heavy security in the newly expanded (by China) port of Gwadar, near the Iranian border, is not attracting many non-Chinese foreign firms willing to operate in Gwadar because of the heavy security presence and very real threats to foreigners. Compared t0 Karachi, 533 kilometers to the east in Sindh province, there is a more ominous atmosphere in Gwadar, and a sense that the Chinese are in charge. The Chinese don’t mind but other foreign firms do. Karachi is the largest city in Pakistan and much better equipped to handle foreign trade and security for everyone.
Meanwhile terrorism related deaths continue to decline. In the first two months of 2017 there were 320 terror related deaths in Pakistan while in the first two months of 2018 there were only 89. But the threat is still there and in Gwadar (and Baluchistan in general) foreigners in general and Chinese in particular are targets for all manner of separatist and Islamic terror groups. Meanwhile Pakistan is the reason terror related deaths were a bit larger in India (97) during the first two months of 2018. But over a third of those deaths were in Kashmir where Pakistan continues to run a secret war against India using Pakistan based Islamic terrorists and a growing number of border incidents involving Pakistani troops firing across the border and then blaming India for firing first. Fewer foreign nations believe this Pakistani scam anymore and Pakistan is getting a lot more international criticism over it. Yet because Pakistan has the support of China and Russia there is little the UN can do. Yet because India has six times more people than Pakistan the number of terrorist deaths per million people is still five times higher in Pakistan. At the same time the main cause of terrorist deaths in India remains leftist and tribal rebels in eastern and northeastern India.
February 27, 2018: The United States has added the Bangladesh branch of ISIL to its list of international terrorist groups.
February 25, 2018: In northwest Bangladesh (Rajshahi) police raided another suspected Islamic terrorist location and arrested three JMB (Jamaat ul Mujahideen Bangladesh) members and seized two pistols, ammunition, five bombs and bomb components. The police received a tip about the location, which is what also led to a similar raid last week. Most of the current Islamic terrorist violence in Bangladesh can be traced back 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.
February 24, 2018: The FATF (Financial Action Task Force) did not put Pakistan back on the “gray list” of countries who are not doing enough to block terrorist groups from using the international banking system to finance their violence. Pakistan had been on the gray list from 2012 to 2015 and that was bad for businesses that import or export. Pakistan is on the FATF list but not designated as dangerous. Being on the gray portion of the list makes it more expensive to do business and is very bad for the reputation of Pakistan and Pakistanis. China played a major role in keeping Pakistan off the gray list this time but the odds are against Pakistan staying off the list because it has long been an open secret that Pakistani support for its own pet Islamic terrorists included making it easier for Islamic terrorists in general to do business in Pakistan. The United States has been gathering evidence to justify the FATF to put Pakistan back on the gray list (along with Ethiopia, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Serbia, Sri Lanka, Trinidad and Tobago, Vanuatu and Tunisia). FATF meets every three months to consider new evidence to get nations on, or off, the list. Next review is in June and the Americans are gathering more evidence. The U.S. now considers Pakistan a problem in the war against terrorism not a reliable partner. India and Afghanistan share that view.
February 21, 2018: Russia has come to the defense of its ally (and arms customer) Pakistan as Russia and Pakistan are accused of supporting Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan. Russia denies the allegations and charges the United States with using unmarked helicopters to supply ISIL and other Islamic terror groups in Afghanistan. There is no evidence of this but Russia has learned in the past that conspiracy theories like this are a popular distraction and had worked often during the Cold War.
February 20, 2018: Pakistan and Russia are forming a joint commission to cooperate on fighting ISIL and blaming the United States for creating and sustaining ISIL. On a more practical level the two countries will conduct joint exercises with their special operations and counter-terror forces as well as sharing intel on ISIL.
February 18, 2018: In northwest India (Kashmir) Indian troops intercepted a Pakistan Army BAT (Border Action Team) leading some Islamic terrorists across the border into India. The body of one Islamic terrorist was left behind as the BAT troops hustled the Islamic terrorists back into Pakistan. A Pakistani flag and a large quantity of weapons and equipment were left behind with the one dead body. The Pakistani Army has been using BAT teams more frequently.
In northwest Pakistan (Bajaur) during a raid on an Islamic terrorist hideout two of the men there were wearing bomb vests and set them off. The third Islamic terrorist opened fire on the troops who returned fire and killed him.
In northwest Bangladesh (Rajshahi) police raided another suspected Islamic terrorist location and arrested three JMB members and seized 500 gr (17 ounces) of explosives and other bomb components. Also seized were printed materials promoting Islamic terrorism.
February 17, 2018: India and Iran signed a deal that gave India control over part of the newly expanded Chabahar port complex. This deal is for 18 months and renewable in the future. Chabahar gives India road and rail access to Afghanistan and Central Asia.
February 16, 2018:
Pakistan has agreed to send a thousand troops to Saudi Arabia to “train and advise” Saudi forces. This sort of cooperation is nothing new.
In late 2017 Saudi Arabia hosted 68 Pakistani special operations troops for a two week joint training exercise with their Saudi counterparts. Pakistan is maintaining its support for the Saudi led (and financed) IMCTC (Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition) while also maintaining good relations with its neighbor Iran. IMCTC was formed mainly to oppose Iran, which was not invited to join the IMCTC while a retired Pakistani general was invited to lead the IMCTC (and accepted the job). The thousand Pakistani troops make it clear to Iran whose side Pakistan is on. Note that there are already over 700 Pakistani military personnel in Saudi Arabia, but as security for the holy places in Mecca, not for any military purpose. Saudi Arabia has always paid Pakistan more to be helpful and then there are the many Pakistanis working in Saudi Arabia and currently sending over $5 billion a year home. On the downside the collapse of oil prices has forced the Arab oil states to reduce the number of foreign workers. Thus while 522,000 Pakistanis had jobs in Saudi Arabia during 2015 that fell to 143,000 in 2017.
February 14, 2018: Afghanistan blames Pakistan for recent violence related to Afghan cargo traffic shifting from Pakistan to Iran and India. The Afghan Taliban and ISIL claimed responsibility for four major terror attacks in Kabul at the end of January. The government believes some or all of these attacks were aimed at crippling the economy because flight crews (for cargo flights to and from India) were sought out in the hotel attack and the Taliban are concentrating on making highway traffic more dangerous. Pakistan is believed behind this mainly because most of the truck traffic that used to go through Pakistan to the port of Karachi is now using the new route via Iran to the port of Chabahar (built by India and Iran mainly for traffic to Afghanistan and Central Asia). At least $5 billion worth of trade to and from Afghanistan will use Chabahar each year. Pakistan is the big loser here, especially since they had recently increased taxes on Afghan goods moving through Karachi. In addition since mid-January Pakistan has closed the main border crossings to Afghan traffic entering Pakistan. Yet Pakistani goods are allowed into Afghanistan and now the Afghans are considering blocking that and depending on trade links via Iran and Central Asia.
This is an undeclared trade war by Pakistan. The main reason is growing Afghan trade with India and switching from Karachi to Chabahar for Afghan imports and exports. The United States, India, Afghanistan and the UN are increasing pressure on Pakistan over Pakistani support for terrorism. The U.S. is withholding over a billion dollars’ worth of aid because of continued Pakistani support of Islamic terrorism and drug gang operations inside Afghanistan.
Pakistan also plays a key role in the Afghan illegal mining operations. Despite over a decade of government efforts to introduce large scale commercial mining operations into Afghanistan, local politics and lack of law and order in the countryside have called all of these efforts to fail. Yet mining activity in Afghanistan has grown since 2001 and now produces nearly half a billion dollars of sales a year. But nearly all of it is illegal and similar to the outlaw mining so common in much of Africa and parts of Southeast Asia. Criminals and legitimate businesses in Pakistan make the illegal mining profitable for all concerned, except the Afghan government.
February 13, 2018: In Arabia Oman agreed to let the Indian Navy use the port of Duqm. This port also has ship repair facilities including a dry-dock. With Duqm as a base the Indian Navy can better protect the newly refurbished Chabahar port in nearby Iran. China is establishing a naval base near Chabahar across the border in southwest Pakistan. India has had military cooperation agreements since 2005.
February 12, 2018: In northwest India (Kashmir) a Pakistan based Islamic terrorist group (Lashkar-e-Toiba) attempted a pre-dawn attack on a military camp but sentries spotted and fired on the two men who fled to a nearby abandoned building where after a 30 hour siege the two Islamic terrorists were killed. A policeman died as well. During all this two men injured when their motorbike hit an ice patch and skidded off the road were identified in the hospital as known Lashkar-e-Toiba. The international community, including the UN, has recognized Lashkar e Toiba as a terrorist organization as far back as 2001 and that is one reason for efforts to declare Pakistan a "terrorist state." That would be interesting, as Pakistan has nuclear weapons and is in danger of falling apart.
February 10, 2018: In northwest India (Kashmir) four Islamic terrorists belonging to JEM, a Pakistan sponsored Islamic terror group, crossed the border and attacked an army base at Sunjwan and killed six soldiers and a civilian and wounded others.
February 8, 2018: In northwest Pakistan (Peshawar) a Taliban suicide bomber attacked an army sporting event and killed 11 soldiers and wounded 13 others. This was the second Pakistan Taliban attack this month.
Elsewhere in the area (North Waziristan) an American UAV used a missile to kill Khalid Mehsud, a senior leader of the Pakistani Taliban. Four days later the Pakistani Taliban confirmed death of Khalid Mehsud.
February 7, 2018: In northwest Pakistan (North Waziristan) two soldiers were killed and four wounded when someone fired an RPG at their vehicle and then fled. No one took credit for the attack in an area that the army has spent over three years clearing Islamic terrorists out of.
February 4, 2018:
In northwest Pakistan troops fired nearly two hundred rockets and artillery shells at villages across the border into Kunar province Afghanistan. This was apparently a revenge attack because of a recent suicide bomber attack in Pakistan that killed eleven soldiers. The Pakistani government propaganda insists that these Islamic terrorists are based in eastern Afghanistan. That is sometimes true but often it turns out these attacks in Pakistan were planned and prepared in Pakistan. Pakistan has been firing into Kunar since 2010 in an effort to hit real or suspected Pakistani Taliban bases in Afghanistan.
February 2, 2018: Pakistan reported that its security forces had killed 17,614 terrorists (nearly all of the Islamic variety) since September 11, 2001 while losing over 6,000 soldiers and police along with over 75,000 civilians. Most of those civilians belonged to Pushtun tribes in the northwest. The Pushtuns are angry about these losses. Pakistan is less eager to report on how the army decision in the 1970s to sponsor Islamic terror groups to attack India and control Afghanistan were the source of most of this mayhem. The Pakistan blames all the Islamic terrorism losses in Pakistan on India, Israel, the United States, Afghanistan and anyone else who will resonate with Pakistani public delusions. What Pakistan plays down is the damage done by something else it supports in Afghanistan; the drug trade. The opium and heroin coming out of Afghanistan (now the major source of it) results in 18 times more Pakistanis dying each year from drug addiction than from terrorism. When there are deaths from terror attacks there are headlines. The larger number of drug related deaths get little attention, nor does the notorious Pakistani support for the drug trade. Pakistan is the source of chemicals and other supplies needed to convert opium into heroin. Pakistan is the main export route for heroin (via Karachi) and many politicians and security officials have grown rich by taking bribes to let the heroin and opium move around the country. This is the main reason why over six million Pakistanis are addicts, a statistic that, like the many drug related deaths, is kept in the shadows.