Pakistan has witnessed another historical event; a new elected government that was apparently engineered by the military so the generals could rule without appearing to. Pakistanis have grown increasingly hostile to and less confident in their own military. The most visible reason for this hostility is the number of times where the military simply replaced an elected government and put themselves in charge until it was obvious that was not working and democracy was restored. That has happened three times since Pakistan was created in 1947; 1958 to 1971, 1977 to 1988 and finally from 1999 to 2008. These periods of military rule have, in hindsight, been disastrous for Pakistan and the military makes that worse by lying about many things they did during their years in power. The latest military innovation is indirect control and establishing more control over the population in general.
According to the election results, the new government will be headed by Imran Khan and his PTI party. Khan is considered beholden to the military and willing to do business with Islamic parties and politicians. Yet Khan has never been a fan of the military and wary of their growing power and aggressiveness. Yet Khan has evolved since 2014. Back then a military social media crackdown was meant to discredit PTI, a popular political party founded by sports hero Imran Khan in 1996. PTI always sought to make Pakistan stronger by being anti-corruption, anti-Islamic terrorism and all for the military being subordinate to the elected government. PTI attracted a lot of young voters and that includes many of the growing Pakistani Internet-savvy generation. As a result, PTI uses the Internet to effectively expose government and military misbehavior (especially corruption and military support of Islamic terrorism). The 2014 PTI was also seeking civilian control of the military. Back in 2014 one thing, the politicians in power and generals agreed on was that PTI meant to put them both out of business and must be dealt with. The military learned some useful lessons in 2014, chief among that failure to shut down PTI on the Internet only made PTI more popular with the voters. So over the last four years, the military sought ways to ensure that PTI would not form of reform a coalition that would threaten the military. That is not a sure thing but PTI is up against a heavily armed and ruthless opponent that has made it clear that the military will fight, anyway it has to, in order to preserve its independence and income.
The military does not want to “own” Imran Khan and the PTI, the generals just want to make it clear who has the most power and is most willing to use it. The military demonstrated they did the way they manipulated or intimidated the media, judiciary and other parties to ensure that Imran Khan and the PTI would win. Step one was to discredit and dismiss the previous prime minister (Nawaz Sharif) by having the senior courts single out Nawaz Sharif and remove him from office because of corruption. A temporary and cooperative (to the military) prime minister was installed and elections scheduled. What was unique about the removal of Nawaz Sharif was that few senior political and military leaders were immune to the same corruption charges. But the military managed to make themselves immune while demonstrating that they could have others prosecuted. Next the military increased its intimidation of the media, including Internet-based sources. The military has been doing this for a long time but, especially since 2014 but never to the current extent. In addition, the military has made it possible for Islamic terror groups it backs (for attacks against Afghanistan and India) to become political parties and thus easier to protect from foreign demands that these Islamic terrorists be prosecuted for crimes there is abundant evidence of.
Imran Khan has always been anti-corruption and willing to work with Islamic political parties. But the military is one of the most corrupt institutions in the country and is trying to legalize (in Pakistan) Islamic terror groups that most foreign states, including the UN, recognize as international terrorists. Will Imran Khan take on the military? Or will he try to work with them and make the best of a bad situation? To do that he risks becoming another Pakistani politician controlled by the military.
Managing The Taliban Twins
Among the many achievements of the Pakistani government over the years is one of the most visible is the Taliban movement. Actually, there are two Taliban movements, both of them staffed largely by Pushtun tribesmen (long dominant in southern Afghanistan and northwest Pakistan). Both Taliban movements were founded in Pakistan, one by the military and the other because of the military. The original Taliban was created by the Pakistani military in the mid-1990s (by recruiting Afghan Pushtun refugees) and sending them back home to win, or come close to winning, the civil war that had been underway since the Russians left in 1989. This Afghan Taliban still work for the Pakistani military but by 2007 that inspired the formation of a Pakistani Taliban, recruited from Pakistani Pushtuns, to overthrow the Pakistani government and, as the Afghan Taliban tried to do, establish a religious dictatorship. The Pakistani military declared war on the Pakistani Taliban in 2014 and quickly crushed, but did not destroy them. The Afghan Taliban are another matter. Because the Afghan Taliban still have the support of the Pakistani military they are still a threat to the Afghan government and that is mainly because the Afghan Taliban have a sanctuary in southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan), right across the border from Helmand province, where most of the heroin (in the world) is produced. The Pakistan military facilitates getting whatever the Afghan Taliban need from Pakistan and, for a fee, getting the Afghan heroin into Pakistan and out to the world via the port of Karachi.
Although a growing number of Afghan Taliban leaders want peace and an end to being manipulated by the Pakistanis the senior leader and the Pakistani generals are not inclined to consider peace talks because of all that money from the drug gangs as well as the ability to “control” (or at least disrupt) Afghanistan. Direct peace talks between Afghan Taliban leaders and the United States, which is now a possibility, are very risky for the Taliban and their Pakistani patrons because the existence of their sanctuaries in Pakistan, while denied by the Pakistani military, is an open secret in Pakistan where it is also obvious that the Pakistan military and its intelligence agency (the ISI, which literally created the Taliban in the 1990s) handles these sanctuaries.
In Pakistan, the military is very much above the law and can usually do whatever it wants. That is not a secret because about half the time since Pakistan was created in 1947 the military has openly run the government (after a coup) until popular opposition (and frustration at the task of governing) forced the generals to allow elections again. The Pakistani interference in Afghan affairs is more unpopular than the presence of foreign troops (who at least bring economic benefits, have no interest in staying around forever and oppose, as do most Afghans, the drug gangs). The Taliban insist their main goal is to get foreign troops out of Afghanistan but say nothing about suppressing the widely unpopular drug trade. Moreover, terrorism related deaths are overwhelmingly caused by the Islamic terrorists, mainly (Taliban and Haqqani Network. These men die protecting the drug production that has turned millions of Afghans into addicts and crippled efforts to build the economy and educate the children. Few Taliban really believe they are doing anything good for Afghanistan or the average Afghan.
To maintain control of the Afghan Taliban the ISI calls on another of their “protected” Islamic terror groups; the Haqqani Network. This group was once a faction in the 1990s Afghan civil war but always had a good relationship with the ISI. Over the last two decades Haqqani has turned into a criminal gang that also manages terror operations in Afghanistan for ISI, Because of that Haqqani, at the behest of ISI, also became part of the current Afghan Taliban senior leadership. Most Afghans know all about this and are not happy with how the Pakistani military gets away with it.
A growing number of Pakistanis are also appalled at this situation and that anger is most apparent in Baluchistan where about half of the terrorist violence still occurs in Pakistan. That’s because Baluchistan has its own separatist movement which accounts for a lot of anti-government violence there. Add to that the presence of so many Pakistani Shia and the Sunni Islamic terrorists groups that prey on them as well as Sunni Islamic terrorists from Iran who find sanctuary in Baluchistan (despite repeated protests and threats from Iran). Finally, there is the presence of thousands of Chinese working on several major Chinese construction projects. Pakistan has established a special security force to protect these Chinese from the many Pakistanis who are hostile to the growing Chinese presence. There is also occasional violence among the Afghan Taliban living in the area, especially Quetta (the provincial capital).
China is quietly pressuring Pakistan to do more about security for the thousands of Chinese working on the growing number of development projects in Pakistan. Since 2014 at least 44 Chinese have died from Islamic terrorist or outlaw violence in Pakistan. China has already persuaded Pakistan to allow China to install surveillance camera networks in urban areas where many Chinese work. In addition more Chinese private security companies are being allowed to operate in Pakistan. These two developments are not popular with most Pakistanis, who see the security cameras and armed Chinese as an invasion.
Then there is the debt trap. The Chinese development projects often involve Pakistan taking on a lot of debt and becoming more dependent on China for things like weapons exports and technology in general. This is fine with the Pakistani military because China appears comfortable with the Pakistani generals grabbing more political power. This makes it easy for China, a communist police state, to make deals. Democracies can be so demanding and unpredictable.
On the plus side China and Pakistan are heavily publicizing the revival of this new Silk Road and the obvious economic benefits. In Pakistan the city of Peshawar, on the eastern end of the Khyber Pass, was a major gateway of the ancient Silk Road between China and the Middle East. But that version of the road went through the pass and into Afghanistan. The new Silk Road is much more ambitious and includes more land and sea routes to Europe, Africa and the Middle East. One of them proceeds to the Middle East via a new port (Gwadar) in Pakistan. China calls all this Obor (One Belt One Road), The Pakistani portion is officially called the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and is a complex piece of work. It began in 2013 China when agreed to spend $18 billion to build a road from Gwadar (on the coast near Iran) and into northwest China. This will require drilling long tunnels through the Himalayan Mountains near the border in Pakistani controlled Kashmir. The road and a natural gas pipeline are part of the current $46 billion CPEC project. This will make it much easier and cheaper to move people, data (via fiber optic cables) and goods between China and Pakistan. China also gets a 40 year lease on much of the port facilities at Gwadar, which India fears will serve as a base for Chinese warships. This is how China would like all of Obor to be but the rest of the world does not always cooperate.
India By The Numbers
Indian military planners are growing more concerned about Chinese aggression. China uses its economic power to increase its presence, and influence, in nations bordering India, especially Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Burma and Nepal. This is made possible by the much larger (4.2 times) Chinese GDP ($12.3 trillion compared to $2.9 trillion for India.) China has a lot more cash to invest and trading opportunities to offer. That may account for the relatively lower Chinese spending on defense. China spends $229 billion a year compared to $64 billion for India. More humiliating is that while Chinese spending is 3.6 times what India spends but that China only spends 1.9 percent of GDP on defense while India spends 2.5 percent.
While China is a potential threat Pakistan is an active one and Pakistani troops and Pakistan sponsored Islamic terrorists continue to be violently active in northwest India (Kashmir). Despite a ceasefire agreement, which is frequently violated by Pakistan and less frequently renewed, Indian security forces have killed 581 Pakistan sponsored Islamic terrorists in Kashmir since 2015. That effort cost India 69 soldiers and police. There were 213 Islamic terrorists killed in 2017 and 2018 is, so far, as violent as 2017. The number of ceasefire violations have been even greater because most of them do not cause casualties. There were 860 violations in 2017 (up from 253 in 2016) and so far in 2018 there have been over 500 and there may well be a thousand for all of 2018 if the border violence continues at the same rate for the rest of the year. The Pakistani military creates this border violence and then blames it all on India. Many Pakistanis still believe that India is the aggressor although there are a growing number taking a closer look (easy to do via the Internet) and realizing that the Pakistani military is at fault. That appears more consistent with reality inside Pakistan.
July 28, 2018: In Bangladesh police tracked down and arrested two Islamic terrorists, one from JMB and the other belonging to Ansar Al Islam (the local al Qaeda branch). Four days earlier two JMB members were arrested in India, where they were planning a major attack. 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 (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) and is now considered a local ISIL affiliate. JMB has had a lot of trouble carrying out attacks in Bangladesh and has urged members to seek out opportunities in India.
July 27, 2018: In northeast India, across the border in Burma, Burmese troops are putting pressure on Indian rebels belonging to NSCN-K (National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang). This Indian tribal separatist group is now considering moving their operations out of Burma. This comes after Burmese troops restricted the movement of the rebels inside Burma and threatened to arrest and deport rebel leaders who had long operated freely in Burma. This came after India complained that the NSCN-K rebels had become more active and defiant, mainly by using their bases in Burma. As a result of that on June 26th another battle between Indian commandoes and Indian tribal rebels took place three kilometers inside Burma. This came after the rebels had ambushed an Indian patrol on June 18th, wounding three soldiers before fleeing back into Burma. India has an informal agreement with Burma that when Indian rebels based in Burma inflict casualties on Indian forces and the Burmese cannot get to the rebel camp, Indian commandos will take care of it.
July 25, 2018: In Pakistan, the national elections were won by Imran Khan and his PTI party.
July 18, 2018: Pakistan and Iran agreed to increase cooperation in counter-terrorism operations.
July 14, 2018: After two months of negotiations on the details, 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. Pakistan will pay about $1.5 billion for the T129s in a deal that will include training, spare parts and technical support.
July 13, 2018: In southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan) an ISIL suicide bomber attacked a political rally near the Afghan border and killed 149 people. Among the dead was the local candidate (Siraj Raisani) the rally was for. Raisani a pro-Baluchistan party that was also Pakistani nationalist (and against Baluchi separatism).
July 12, 2018: China won another victory in its border disputes with India as Indian revealed that it was not going ahead with its 2013 plan to raise a new force of 90,000 troops equipped and trained to deal with growing Chinese military activity along the mostly mountainous border with India. China saw this new Indian force as a threat to its efforts to maintain military superiority along the border. India said it backed away from forming the new mountain force because the Indian military budget could not afford the expensive equipment and weapons all these specialist soldiers would require. That pretty much sums up the situation between India and China. The Indians have a much smaller defense budget than China (because of a much smaller GDP). To make matters worse the Indian military procurement is much more corrupt and inefficient than its Chinese counterpart.
July 9, 2018: In China, a Chinese rocket put two Pakistani satellites (PRSS-1 and PakTES-1A) into orbit. The photo satellites are primarily for commercial operations as their multi-spectral cameras only have a one meter (39 inch) resolution.
July 5, 2018: Pakistan has ordered four Ada class corvettes from Turkey. Two will be built in Turkey and the other two in Pakistan. Designed in Turkey, two of these ships are in service with the Turkish navy and two more will enter service this year and next. These are 2,400 ton ships intended for coastal operations. The Ada’s can stay at sea about ten days, although with at-sea resupply that can be more than doubled. Max speed is 56 kilometers an hour and cruising speed is half that. The crew is 93 although there are accommodations for 106. Armament consists of one 76mm gun, two remotely controlled 12.7mm machine-guns, eight Harpoon anti-ship missiles and a 21 cell RAM (rolling airframe missile) system for anti-missile/aircraft defense. There is also a hanger and platform for a medium (ten ton) helicopter or UAVs. The Ada class ships cost about $250 million each. The first Pakistani Ada will be completed in early 2023.
July 3, 2018: In northwest Pakistan, across the border in Afghanistan (Kunar province) an American UAV missile attack left several Pakistani Taliban dead, including Ustad Fateh, their chief field commander and expert bomb builder. Several of Fateh’s subordinate field commanders were at the meeting and some of these also died. Details of this attack are still being sought. This comes less than a month since a similar attack in Kunar killed Pakistani Taliban supreme leader Mullah Maulana Fazlullah. Pakistan expressed appreciation that Fazlullah had been tracked down and killed but did not indicate they would reciprocate and crack down on the sanctuary they maintain (since 2002) in southwest Pakistan (Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan and near the border of the Afghan Helmand province where most of the world supply of heroin is produced.)