Four days ago Pakistan finally abolished the colonial era administration of the FATA Pushtun tribal areas along the Afghan border. FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) are now merged into the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Until 2010 Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was known as NWFP (North-West Frontier Province) and largely consisted of tribal peoples who preferred to be treated as another province of Pakistan and not a tribal area. Despite that when the 2010 name change took effect the Pushtun majority in NWFP violently protested and demanded that the renamed NWFP be called just “Pakhtunkhwa” which means “Land of the Pushtuns.” The NWFP minority tribes who wanted their own small provinces.
“Khyber” refers to the Khyber Pass near the Afghan border. For thousands of years, this has been the most convenient route for travelers, and invaders, coming from Central Asia to India. The government compromised with the awkward name Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. FATA increases the population of Khyber (the short term for the province) about 14 percent and nearly all of those new people are Pushtuns. Before the merger, Khyber was 74 percent Pushtun and after the merger that goes up to 78 percent. This is likely to encourage support for establishing “Pushtunstan” (a new nation combining the Pushtun populations of Pakistan and Afghanistan). That will never happen because Afghanistan and Pakistan oppose it and the Pushtuns have never been united enough to pull it off and that has not changed. The merger of FATA into Khyber is the latest of many recent changes for FATA and the Pakistani Pushtuns.
For example in 2009 Pakistan changed the rules in the seven federally administered tribal areas (FATA), allowing political parties for the first time. FATA is about 27,000 square kilometers in size, and containing 5.6 million people (mostly Pushtun) and is where the Pakistani Taliban have been strongest. Because of the Pushtun influence, Khyber was always a close second. FATA has always had a separate set of laws, which depend more on tribal leaders than elected officials (thus the ban on political parties, which would be a direct challenge to tribal elders.) But even many tribal elders have sought the authority to establish political parties, thus the change. This did not solve the problems in FATA.
By 2013 a decade of post-2001 anti-terrorist operations in the tribal territories (as demanded by the enraged Americans after September 11, 2001) led to the Pakistani government finally make an effort to fundamentally change the way things were run in the tribal areas. The century old agreement (between the British colonial officials and the Pushtun tribal chiefs) gave the tribes a lot of autonomy, in exchange for peace. This was continued when the new Pakistani government replaced British control in 1947.
Over a decade of Taliban unrest pushed the government to face the problem (of tribal governance) head on and begin to tear up the 1901 agreement. Not all the tribal people, and their leaders were unhappy with this. The Taliban terrorism had exposed the weakness of tribal government. Many believed that change couldn't be any worse than what was already happening in the Pushtun areas of the northwest. The government found itself caught in a tribal civil war (between reformers and traditionalists) and the military’s own desire to protect the terrorists who work (more or less) for the generals.
The continued existence of North Waziristan as a terrorist sanctuary forced more Pushtun tribes to protest this arrangement because most of the Taliban terror attacks were in FATA and Khyber province. It’s more difficult for the Taliban to carry out terror attacks outside the tribal territories (more police, fewer sympathetic civilians) but all those attacks in the tribal territories killed a lot of innocent Pushtun, including women and children. According to Pushtun traditions, this is considered very bad manners. So even many Pushtun were hostile to the army support for Islamic terrorists in North Waziristan.
In 2014 Pakistan began a military campaign in North Waziristan that killed or chased away most of the Islamic terrorists there and forced most of the civilians out for over a year. This campaign was supposed to be over by 2016 but it continues, with much of the fighting moved to Khyber province. The elimination of North Waziristan as an Islamic terrorist sanctuary denied groups like al Qaeda any hope of finding a refuge in Pakistan. As those North Waziristan refugees returned they found that much had changed. As has happened elsewhere in the tribal territories, when the Islamic terrorists are chased out, things changed, usually for the better. This is a pattern that goes way back. Pakistan's problems along the Afghan border are mostly about the difficulty of integrating its Pushtun and Baluchi tribes into the nation of Pakistan. In southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan) there are the Baluchi, and in the northwest, there are the Pushtun. Both groups are very territorial and hostile to outsiders. But people from Punjab (48 percent of the population) and Sindh (29 percent) are better educated and possess technical skills lacking in the Pushtun tribal territories (16 percent, FATA and Khyber) and Baluchistan (seven percent), and must be brought in to do work requiring education and experience. While Sindh province has economic development levels similar to India, the tribal territories are more similar to the less developed nations in Africa. What the tribes lack in economic development they make up for in terms of aggressiveness and hostility towards the more numerous and wealthier lowlanders.
For thousands of years, these mountain tribes raided and plundered their lowland neighbors. But the last time that happened was nearly a century ago when Pushtuns from Afghanistan joined tribal brethren on the other (British India) side of the border and headed for the lowlands. The tribesmen didn't make it far and spent three months trying. Folks along the border still talk about that one. When Pakistan was created in 1947, the tribes were still not pacified and were a sixth of the population. Ever since then a growing number of Pushtun and Baluchi moved into the lowlands (especially the cities, like Karachi) while many lowlanders moved into the tribal areas, bringing needed skills and a veneer of government and modern civilization. But the tribal leaders and their ancient form of government persisted, as did the custom of most adult males being armed, and ready to fight (or turn into a bandit). This, as much as the corrupt and self-serving Pakistani military has defined and defiled the history of Pakistan. But one major aftereffect of the North Waziristan campaign was that the government assured everyone that henceforth the security forces would have a lot more presence in this area and tribal power would be forever limited. Many Pushtun don’t like this, but a majority did or didn’t care.
As bad as the Taliban and Pushtun political pressure is the threat of all Pushtuns in the region uniting is worse. This is complicated by the fact that Pakistan considers Afghanistan a client state and many Pakistanis support that attitude because of the Pushtun threat. That threat is getting worse inside Pakistan. The Afghans are considered a collection of fractious tribes pretending to be a nation. With no access to the sea, most Afghan road connections to ports are with Pakistan. The Afghans resent this, especially since for thousands of years invasions of northern India (which, historically, lowland Pakistan was a part of) came out of Afghanistan where many Pushtun tribesmen would join the invaders. Pakistan and India are well aware of this, and still, consider the Pushtuns a bunch of bloodthirsty savages from the mountains. Afghanistan has only been around for a few centuries and Pakistan was carved out of British India in 1947. Before that, it was a collection of feudal states and tribal territories. When you get right down to it, Pakistan's big problem is that it contains two-thirds of the Pushtun people (who are 15 percent of Pakistan's population) while Afghanistan contains the other third (who are 40 percent of Afghanistan's population.) "Pushtunstan" is a nation of 30-40 million Pushtuns caught between Pakistan (still over 170 million people without the Pushtuns) and northern Afghanistan (with about 20 million non-Pushtuns) Without Pushtuns, Afghanistan would become yet another Central Asian country with a small population (neighboring Tajikistan has 7.7 million and Uzbekistan has 30 million). But Pushtunstan is never going to happen because the Pushtuns have long been divided by tribal politics and cultural differences. When the Pushtun aren't fighting outsiders, they fight each other. The violent and fractious Pushtuns are a core problem in the region and have been for centuries. There is no easy solution to this and now more Pushtuns are openly calling for the establishment of a Pushtunstan and are making common cause with the Baluchis to the south (in Baluchistan) who have long fought to establish an independent Baluchistan. Both tribal separatist groups want to be rid of the Pakistani military and the Islamic terrorist organizations the military supports.
Meanwhile, Pakistani Pushtuns are uniting to oppose the mistreatment of Pushtuns in general. For example, since mid-May leaders of the PTM (Pashtun Tahafuz Movement or Pashtun Protection Movement) have gone public with complaints that the security forces (controlled by the military) are kidnapping PTM leaders. So far the kidnappings have not escalated to murder but the PTM leaders taken were interrogated, threatened, beaten and released. PTM fears their leaders will start to disappear and at that point, things could get violent. The Pakistani military is aware of that as well and is reluctant to play rough with Pushtuns who have a reputation for pushing back even harder. PTM is a growing Pushtun nationalist movement in Pakistan that seeks peaceful resolution of issues.
Pakistani Generals Expand Their Target List
In addition to increased attacks on uncooperative journalists, the Pakistani military and ISI (military intelligence) are also making life more difficult for American diplomats in Pakistan. In addition to legal and media based harassment, Pakistani hackers have been found going after the online activities of Western, especially American, diplomats. Both these efforts are generating more pushback than expected.
While the military now has a dominant position in the Pakistani economic, media and political life it is also encountering growing resistance from within the military and the population as a whole. The core problem is that the enormous power and wealth of the military is based on a lie. Actually, there are several lies but the one that has gotten the generals into the most trouble at home and abroad is their insistence that they do not support Islamic terrorist groups who are willing to follow orders from Pakistani general. These are the groups, like Haqqani Network, the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar e Toiba. The first two carry out terror attacks in Afghanistan, as a way to keep the Afghan government weak and Pakistani influence strong. The Afghans do not like this at all. The third group is one of the main military sponsored Islamic terror groups that attack India and other nations in the region the Pakistani generals feel they are unofficially at war with. The victims are angry about these losses. The victims' list is long and includes Afghan and Pakistani Pushtuns, Pakistanis and Afghans in general and thousands of Indians who have died from this violence and the millions who still live in fear from actual or potential Pakistani sponsored Islamic terrorism.
Pakistan has always been reluctant to discuss the army decision in the 1970s to sponsor Islamic terror groups to attack India and control Afghanistan were the source of most of this continuing mayhem. The Pakistan military 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.
The Pakistani military uses the lies about India sponsoring Islamic terrorism inside Pakistan to justify an aggressive, and technically illegal policy towards India which includes ordering troops to constantly fire across the border (usually into Indian Kashmir) and insist that the Indians fired first. This has justified the military acquiring control over so much of the economic and political life. The army has the guns and the determination to protect their power and privileges. More importantly, the military has control of a large chunk of the economy and the loyalty of much of the population. This is due to military control of many media outlets and journalists, and decades of propaganda that has turned India into a threat that it is not and the Pakistani military into a national asset, which it is not. More Pakistanis are turning against the military, including senior officials who spent decades as part of the military operation they are now exposing and condemning. A majority of Pakistanis were always hostile to all the corruption and violence (especially inside Pakistan) the military generated to achieve their current power.
The current effort to suppress news is all about a recently published book by former (three times) prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Even closer to home the military is trying suppress news of a recent book by Asad Durrani, a former (1990-92) head of ISI (military intelligence) that was written with a former head of RAW, the Indian equivalent of ISI. These two intel experts compare perspectives and it does not look good for the Pakistani military. Durrani was recently barred from leaving the country for any reason. Durrani and Sharif are but the latest (and among the most senior) Pakistani insiders to go public with details of how the Pakistani military operates. While the Pakistani military is gradually losing its power due to relentless and growing opposition inside Pakistan, the military still controls nuclear weapons. Worse there are a growing number of generals who are true believers in Islamic radicalism (some have even joined Islamic terror groups after retiring). These true believers are a minority in the military leadership but that fact that they exist and the fact that Pakistan was able to build nuclear weapons via corrupt practices (and then secretly offer some of the tech for sale) makes a lot of people inside and outside Pakistan nervous.
This makes many senior generals uncomfortable as well. The current head of the Pakistani military, Qamar Javed Bajwa, has expressed an interest in moving away from this unofficial support for Islamic terrorism. Bajwa seems to recognize that he cannot run Pakistan (via another military government) and that the growing tensions with India are indeed dangerous. The Indians have nukes and a track record of defeating Pakistan every time the two nations get into a war. China has openly proclaimed that it is not a “military ally” of Pakistan so Bajwa realizes he actually is in a weak position that is liable to get worse and end very badly for Pakistan, Bajwa and the Pakistani military. China also openly urges Pakistan to make peace with India. As open to peace talks as Bajwa says he is he can’t even admit that he has imposed on himself a lot of difficult restrictions. He cannot admit that Pakistan is sponsoring Islamic terrorism anywhere. In private discussions with Chinese and American officials Bajwa is called out on the reality of the military still supporting Islamic terrorism. Bajwa can deny the accusations from the Americans but the Chinese cannot be lied to. The Chinese support Pakistani lies publicly but privately urge the Pakistanis to face reality before they trigger a nuclear war that would destroy a lot of valuable Chinese investments. To help this peace effort along the Chinese openly deny they are any kind of military ally of Pakistan.
The Pakistani military continues to reduce Islamic terror violence in Pakistan while increasing it in Afghanistan and India. In 2014, when the Pakistani army finally decided to shut down sanctuaries for Islamic terror groups not under military control, there were 5,496 Islamic terror related deaths in Pakistan and the Pakistani public was enraged at the military. In 2015 that Islamic terror related deaths in Pakistan dropped to 3,682, then to 1,803 in 2016, 1260 in 2017 and so far in 2018 it looks like these deaths will fall to under 600.
India, with six times as many people, has had terror related deaths under a thousand a year since 2012 and most of those have nothing to do with Islamic terrorism. That trend continues, despite increased Pakistani efforts in Kashmir. India will have more terrorism related deaths but still under a thousand. In 2017, for the first time in many years, India had more terrorist fatalities from Islamic terrorism than from leftist rebels in eastern India and tribal separatists in the northeast. This Pakistani aggression in Kashmir is pushing the two nations towards war, despite the possibility of both sides using nukes. This has brought more pressure on the Pakistani military to behave.
Despite the growing popularity (among Moslems) of Islamic radicalism in the last three decades, Moslem majority Bangladesh has been largely free of it. Compared to Pakistan (with a ten percent larger population) Bangladesh still had only six percent as many terrorist deaths as Pakistan during 2017. So far it looks like Bangladeshi terror related deaths will decline even more in 2018, to less than three percent of the Pakistani total.
Not So Quiet On the Northwest Front
In response to the continued Pakistani border violations India has agreed to expand its bunker construction program along the Pakistani border, especially the Kashmir portion. A year ago India began building a hundred bullet and shell-proof bunkers in villages that have experienced the most from increased Pakistani firing across the border. Each bunker can accommodate 20 or more people. These bunkers were an experiment and if they did significantly reduce civilian casualties.
They did but it was clear that smaller bunkers were needed for individuals or small groups of people working in areas frequently hit by Pakistani fire. These are usually farmlands or pasture area where herds are often tended by one shepherd. The latest plan is to build at least 14,000 bunkers. About ten percent of the bunkers will be the larger ones the rest will be smaller ones that hold a few people. So far in 2018 Pakistani forces have violated the ceasefire on the border over 200 times a month.
May 24, 2018: Pakistan has agreed to buy 30 ATAK (T129) helicopter gunships from Turkey. The T129 is a license built version of the Italian A-129. The Pakistan purchase is partly driven by Turkish purchase, exactly a year ago, of 52 Pakistani MFI-395 Super Mushshak training aircraft. This was the largest export order to date for Pakistani built aircraft.
May 23, 2018: The U.S. accused Pakistan of deliberately harassing American diplomats as a form of retaliation for cuts in American financial aid.
May 21, 2018: In Pakistan the military escalated its use of coercion against “uncooperative” Pakistani media. In this case it was blocking the distribution of the Dawn newspaper which first printed an interview with a former prime minister who admitted that the 2008 Islamic terror attacks on India in Mumbai were the work of a Pakistan based Islamic terrorist group that has long, and still does, receive support and sanctuary by the Pakistani military. Dawn has continued to report on that interview, the book and the reaction of readers inside Pakistan and worldwide. Details of the 2008 Mumbai attack are well documented and widely accepted worldwide and were included book Dawn gave a lot of attention to. But to discuss this in inside Pakistan can get you into trouble. Sometimes fatal trouble.
Dawn is the oldest and most read English language newspaper in Pakistan. The military had suspended distribution of Dawn in areas that the military controls (because of military bases, military operations or because the military controls much of the local economy.) This sort of thing backfires because the military cannot control the Internet and as the news gets through anyway people are eagerly seek it out and embrace it. Among those embracing this news are many Pushtuns in the northwest who are openly blaming the military for all the Islamic terrorism and chaos in the Afghan border areas where most Pushtun live.
May 18, 2018: China has openly praised Pakistan for how well its security forces, especially the army, have kept thousands of Chinese working in Pakistan on major construction projects safe from Islamic terrorist attack. This public praise is also a warning that any loss of security for those Chinese and their massive buildings projects would result in China reducing its economic activity in Pakistan. China has done this before, in Afghanistan and Burma and thus this is no hollow threat. This is more important now that the United States has been cutting economic and military aid to Pakistan because Pakistan refuses to curb Islamic terrorist groups it controls. These Chinese interests are colliding with the growing international pressure on Pakistan to halt what it is doing to support Islamic terrorist activity in Afghanistan, India and elsewhere. The UN has been trying to address that issue and censure Pakistan but China has been blocking those efforts. This is becoming more difficult for China to do as the evidence against Pakistan (especially from former senior government and military officials in Pakistan) continues to accumulate.
May 17, 2018: In southwest Pakistan (Quetta, capital of Baluchistan) soldiers halted a major attack on one of their bases. The attack consisted of a suicide bomb truck, containing another four Islamic terrorists armed with rifles and wearing explosive vests. Troops guarding the base detected and fired on the bomb truck and killed the Islamic terrorists before they could do much damage. Four soldiers were wounded. Further north in Khyber province a suicide truck bomber attacked a military convoy and wounded ten soldiers. These two attacks were the work of LeJ (Lashkar e Jhangvi), a Sunni Islamic terror group that has long carried out attacks on Pakistani Shia. These two LeJ attacks were retaliation doe security forces killing local LeJ commander Salman Badeni, who was responsible for attacks that have killed over a hundred Shia.
May 16, 2018: American officials confirmed that on April 23rd the top leader of AQIS (Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent) was killed by an American airstrike i n the eastern Afghanistan (Nangarhar Province) near the Pakistan border . Technically Afghanistan is not part of AQIS territory but it has become a more secure base area (for training camps) than Pakistan or anywhere else in South Asia. AQIS was created in 2014 and initially tried to establish its headquarters in Karachi (Pakistan), long a haven for all sorts of criminal activity and forged alliances with the major Islamic terrorist organizations there. Yet AQIS has been responsible for very few terror attack in Pakistan or anywhere else. AQIS was created to manage and support operations in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India and Burma. Islamic terrorism experts believe this was largely a publicity stunt by al Qaeda to counter the growing popularity of the more radical ISIL. Indian Moslems have produced some recruits for Islamic terrorism, but not enough to produce the level of mayhem Islamic terrorists wanted. Lacking a lot of radical clergy and religious schools India has simply not produced a lot of radicalized young men willing to kill and be killed. Similar recruiting problems were encountered elsewhere but other Al Qaeda groups have continued to provide enough cash and other assistance to keep AQIS going and barely visible. Afghan training camps, destroyed at the end of 2017, were a major AQIS asset and that loss was one reason AQIS agreed to work with the Pakistani Taliban.
May 1, 2018: In southwest Pakistan (Quetta, capital of Baluchistan) senior army officers met with leaders of a Hazara Shia, who are preparing for a major protest against the security forces inability to halt the growing number of Islamic terrorist attacks on Hazara Shia. Some 20 percent of Pakistanis are Shia and that comes to ten times as many Shia as Afghanistan has. The Hazara are easier to spot as they are the descendants of Central Asian Mongols and Turks who invaded and occupied Afghanistan centuries ago. 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 a growing number of Hazara have died in Baluchistan because those anti-Shia Sunni groups exist in Pakistan as well.
Iran is also pressuring Pakistan to crack down on these anti-Shia groups. That crackdown was more of an emergency once it became apparent that that Pakistani Sunni Islamic terror group LeJ was not only the main source of these attacks but had recently joined ISIL, a group that has had a difficult time establishing itself in Pakistan (and an even harder time in India and Bangladesh). Pakistan is also getting pressure from China, which has thousands of its citizens in Baluchistan working on major infrastructure projects. China has impressed on the Pakistani military that importance of these Chinese being safe from Islamic terrorist attack. Since groups like LeJ consider Chinese legitimate targets the Pakistani military can tell their Shia, and especially the Hazara, that maximum efforts are being made against LeJ and similar groups. That has worked for the Chinese in Baluchistan but less well for the Hazara.