The United States continues to cut military ties with Pakistan because of Pakistani refusal to shut down its support of Islamic terror groups that, in effect, do the bidding of the Pakistani military. The latest cuts include training for Pakistani officers in American military schools (alongside American and other foreign officers). Russia immediately stepped in and offered to replace the American training with equivalent Russian training. This is a major loss for Pakistan as their officers gained more useful instruction and more useful contacts (with American and other foreign officers) at the American senior schools.
Pakistan already has a number of defense relationships with Russia. For example, in 2015 India and Pakistan joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and became full members in 2017. India and Pakistan recently sent troops to Russia to take part in SCO joint training exercises. This is the first time Indian and Pakistani troops have jointly participated in counter-terrorism training. These SCO joint training exercises take place every two years. SCO is a regional security forum founded in Shanghai in 2001 by Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Russia, and China. The main purpose of the SCO was originally fighting Islamic terrorism. Russia, however, hoped to build the SCO into a counterbalance against NATO. That has not happened as no one has joined since India and Pakistan did. SCO members conduct joint military exercises, mostly for show. They also share intel on terrorists, which is often useful. Iran, India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mongolia, and Turkey were all favorably disposed towards joining the SCO. These nations were allowed to send observers to meetings.
China has put more emphasis on economic cooperation because greater Chinese economic power means that China is replacing Russia as the principal investor and trading partner throughout the region. Russia does not like to dwell on this, because it means China is expanding its economic and political power. This is particularly true in Pakistan. On paper, China is now the dominant military power in Eurasia, a fact that Russia likes to downplay. Many Russians fear that the aggression China is demonstrating towards India and everyone bordering the South China Sea will eventually be turned towards Russia. As the old saying goes; “hold your friends close, and your enemies closer.”
China and India have used this mutual SCO experience to improve military relationships and discuss mutual problems (aside from all the Chinese claims on Indian territory). India is willing to talk, if only because Indian military capabilities are falling further behind those of China. That is no secret in China and India has only itself to blame because China has done a better job of creating an efficient manufacturing capability and reducing corruption in the procurement process. Indian military procurement is still crippled by corruption and very ineffective state-owned weapons development and manufacturing organizations. The only thing stopping China from just taking disputed border areas is the Indian nuclear weapons capability. The Indian nukes are also less effective than their Chinese counterparts but not to the extent that there is not a high risk of China suffering heavy losses in a nuclear exchange. So China will continue grabbing bits of Indian territory, bits too small to risk a nuclear war over. China is patient and India gets weaker so China makes the most of the situation.
Speaking of friends and enemies, Pakistan has some bizarre relationships in that department. Consider the Taliban movement, which is a major reason for the Americans cutting aid. 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 works 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 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.
Meanwhile, the remnants of the Pakistani Taliban hideout in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistani border. A favorite hideout for all sorts of Islamic terrorists, smugglers and outlaws is Nangarhar province where the Afghan military and American forces are constantly seeking out all manner of Islamic terrorists (Haqqani Network, al Qaeda, ISIL and both flavors of Taliban). For example, on August 25th an American airstrike killed the head of the Afghan branch of ISIL. This sort of thing is one reason ISIL has not been able to spread into Pakistan. This is something the Pakistani military would rather not dwell on because Pakistan prefers to insist that Afghanistan and the Americans are not doing enough to suppress Islamic terrorists who are hostile to Pakistan (especially the Pakistani Taliban).
Although a growing number of Afghan Taliban leaders want peace and an end to being manipulated by the Pakistanis the senior Afghan Taliban 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, are an open secret in Pakistan where it is also obvious that the Pakistan military and its intelligence agency (the ISI) handles these sanctuaries. Those sanctuaries make it possible for the Afghan Taliban to plan and organize attacks on internal enemies (factions that oppose Pakistani control). Peace talks between the Americans and factions of the Afghan Taliban are just one of the problems the Afghan Taliban faces. There has been growing internal unrest, mainly between factions that believe they are serving Pakistan at the expense of Afghans. On an individual basis, more Afghan Taliban veterans are quitting to join ISIL because they see the Afghan Taliban becoming more of a drug gang security force than anything else. Other Taliban veterans just quit. The Afghan Taliban is gradually losing its true believers (in the original goal of establishing a religious dictatorship in Afghanistan) and turning into mercenaries.
Whatever the Afghan Taliban evolves into the Pakistani military will have a major role to play. The Pakistani military does what it wants in Afghanistan, just like it does in Pakistan, where 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 Afghan 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 terror attacks. 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 have 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.
The Unwanted Bengalis
It’s not just Burma that has a problem with unwanted migrants from Bangladesh. Most of these Burmese Moslems are technically stateless because during the colonial period the British needed more workers in Burma and simply offered the jobs to Moslem Bengalis who stayed in Buddhist Burma after the British left in 1948 and now find themselves declared stateless and forced back into Bangladesh. Thus there are at least a million Moslems in Burma who originally (often over a century ago) came from Bangladesh but don’t want to return there. They prefer to live in Burma, where most of the population is Buddhist.
India has a similar problem in its northeast tribal territories, especially Assam, where four million Bengali migrants (most of them or their ancestors entered illegally) are being denied citizen status. The tribal locals have long resented the illegal migrants, more so than the legal migrants. India sees this citizenship crackdown as a way of reducing support for local tribal separatist rebels. It wasn’t the British who brought the Bengalis into Assam before 1948 but Indian politicians (mainly from the ruling BJP party) who encouraged the illegal migration after 1948 so these new residents of Assam would show their gratitude by registering to vote and do so regularly for BJP candidates. This is an old problem and India passed a law in 1950 making it clear that these Bengali migrants were illegal and not to be considered citizens. Now another law has been passed to enforce the original 1950 “who is a citizen” act. Bangladesh considers this an unfriendly (to Bangladesh) act. What this really demonstrates is that Bangladesh has long been very poor and very overpopulated. Illegal migrants have long been a problem and one that is not going away.
Islamic terrorism And Other Fatal Distractions
The Pakistani military continues to suppress Islamic terrorist 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 a thousand and possibly even below 800. These are low casualty levels not seen in Pakistan since 2003.
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. For 2018 India will have more terrorism related deaths but still under a thousand. In 2017, for the first time in many years, India had more fatalities from Islamic terrorism than from leftist rebels in eastern India. But if you added deaths from tribal separatists in the northeast the Islamic terrorism only accounted for 45 percent of deaths. That trend has reverted to the traditional one in 2018, with Islamic terror related deaths lower. This is mainly because Islamic terror related deaths will not increase much for 2018 while deaths related to the leftist rebels (Maoists) in eastern India are up (mainly among the Maoists and their civilian victims).
The big difference between the Kashmir casualties compared to everything else (communist rebels in eastern India and the tribal separatists in the northeast) is that only the Kashmir Islamic terrorists have outside help. Pakistan has been supporting violence in Kashmir for over 60 years and added Islamic terrorism support in the 1980s. That failed but it did ruin the Kashmir economy and Pakistan continued to get enough Islamic terrorists (recruited and trained in Pakistan) across the LOC (Line of Control) into Indian Kashmir to keep the area “dangerous” for tourists or investment. Then Pakistan realized that a new generation of Kashmiri Moslems had access to the Internet and Pakistan created a local fan (of Pakistan ruling Kashmir rather than India) that eventually achieved celebrity status. When this young guy got himself killed he was elevated to martyr status and suddenly making the street violence a regular thing and Islamic terrorism fashionable once more, economic recovery became even less likely and casualties increased. For the first time in many years, local recruits for Islamic terror groups were higher than those able to get across the LOC from Pakistan. In the last decade, Indian border security has greatly improved but the LOC is largely in rugged terrain that is thinly populated. So it is not certain death to make the crossing. But with a larger number of active Islamic terrorists on the Indian side of the LOC those getting across from Pakistan have a longer life expectancy. This means more Islamic terrorist violence in Kashmir. While the Islamic terrorists try to confine their attacks to the security forces there are still civilian bystanders getting killed and with more Islamic terrorists active there is more opportunity to murder locals who support the government and don’t want to be part of Pakistan.
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 but so far the Pakistani generals are resisting the popular pressure inside Pakistan for less violence on the Indian border. The Pakistani generals see Kashmir as a victory for Pakistan, but one that Pakistan cannot take proper credit for because supporting Islamic terrorism and sending those Islamic terrorists into India (and Afghanistan) is a violation of international law. While the Pakistani military denies culpability the evidence has piled up to the extent that most of the world is convinced that the Pakistani military is, indeed, violating international norms and supporting Islamic terrorism.
When it comes to Islamic terrorism it is not all bad news. Consider Bangladesh. 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 and lower than they have been since 2012. That means under 30 deaths a year and 2018 is headed for another record low.
August 25, 2018: Russia is trying to work out a way to get paid for military equipment sold to India. Because of new American sanctions India has not been able to pay Russia since April. Like most international trade, most goods are paid for in dollars. India and Russia are certain they will work something out. In the meantime, these sanctions have made it more difficult for Russia to sell India new weapons systems. From 2007 to 2015 Russia was the largest customer for Russian weapons exports. Now India is just paying Russia for previous sales (spare parts, upgrades and the line). India has made no new weapons purchases from Russia since 2012 and is unlikely to change that in the near future. There was some interest in buying the Russian S-400 air defense system, but this would have been a five billion dollar purchase and with the banking sanctions and bad experiences with the reliability and effectiveness of Russian tech, India has been looking elsewhere (mainly Israel and the West.)
August 24, 2018: In Pakistan, the newly elected prime minister Imran Khan stated his goals; reduce corruption, reduce debt (and constant borrowing to cover budget deficits) and make peace with India by negotiating a deal on Kashmir. What was most telling was what was not mentioned; the dominant political power of the Pakistani military, the military’s use of Islamic terrorists to get Kashmir from India by force and to keep Afghanistan in a constant state of disorder because the Pakistani military prefers it that way. All these unmentioned issues have a lot to do with the high levels of corruption and Indian determination to hang onto Kashmir and deal with the Pakistani use of Islamic terrorists. That has caused Pakistan to become more isolated as more nations agree that for decades the Pakistani military has been supporting and using Islamic terror groups to attack its neighbors. Imran Khan may try to ignore this issue but the rest of the world will not. Imran Khan is believed to be prime minister because the Pakistani generals allowed it to happen and will remove him if the prime minister threatens military wealth, immunity and power. Imran Khan won the elections but did not, as the Pakistani constitution mandates, become the head of a government that actually rules Pakistan.
August 23, 2018: In northwest Pakistan, across the Afghan border in Ghazni province the Afghan Taliban have been waging a major campaign over the last two weeks to gain control of the province. This effort has failed and the Taliban have suffered about a thousand casualties. This is exceptionally high for the Taliban and led to some embarrassing consequences for Pakistan. Among the more than 300 Taliban dead Afghan security forces were able to examine many foreigners (Pakistani, Central Asian and Chechen) were identified. Since the 1990s the Pakistani ISI (military intel) has sent reinforcements recruited in Pakistan to the Afghan Taliban. Officially the Pakistani denies this happens but occasionally evidence becomes so visible that it is difficult to ignore or deny with any assurance of being believed. In addition to the foreign dead left behind the Afghan Taliban took some of their dead with them (as they always try to do to prevent identification) and those from Pakistan were smuggled across the border so their families in Pakistan could bury them. This practice is essential if the Afghan Taliban want to continue recruiting from Pushtun tribes across the border in Pakistan and maintain good relations with those tribes. A growing number of people in those tribes now have smartphones and access to social media sites where they post family news, like recent funerals and who the deceased was. A lot of deaths recently were young men who, gossip indicated, were working in Afghanistan. The pay was good but it was dangerous. But at least the family got the body back and a substantial cash payment.
In addition, a lot of the Taliban casualties showed up in Pakistani hospitals and received treatment. That became news because it was rare for there to be so many casualties like this at once when, officially, there was nothing going on in Pakistan. Those casualties were the result of unexpectedly prompt and effective resistance by Afghan security forces, armed locals and American air support in Ghazni province. This disrupted and defeated the large-scale effort against the city and several rural areas nearby. Ghazni is near the Pakistani border and contains some major heroin smuggling routes into Pakistan. These routes are kept open by the Taliban. Ghazni has long been fought over, because of the heroin smuggling routes. Normally the drug gangs find it cheaper and more reliable to use bribes but because of the growing number of addicts inside Afghanistan the bribes sometimes don’t work and the national government often sends down commandos and NDS (Afghan intel) agents to carry out specific tasks which tend to be bribe-proof. Massive intimidation attacks like this often fail, mainly because of the popular anger towards the drug gangs that keep supplying the local addicts. The fact that the Afghan Taliban has always been supported by Pakistan is another incentive to fight back.
Opposing Pakistani meddling in Afghan affairs is a popular issue among most Afghans. One reason Western troops are tolerated in Afghanistan, which has, for thousands of years been hostile to foreigners, is because the Westerners and Afghans are both eager to shut down the drug trade and keep the Pakistanis out. Pakistan sees battles like Ghazni as a success because over 400 Afghans (including security personnel and civilians) were killed and there was a degree of intimidation achieved. Operations like this cost Pakistan little as the Afghan drug gangs supply the cash required. They have no choice because the ISI can deny easy access to Pakistan for needed supplies (chemicals for converting opium into heroin) and secure smuggling routes through Pakistan to the port city of Karachi. It was later discovered that most of the 500 (or more) foreign fighters ISI supplied for the Ghazni battle cane from three known Pakistan based Islamic terror groups known to work for ISI. The most prominent of those with a contingent in Ghazni was the Haqqani Network, whose leader currently runs the Afghan Taliban.
The Afghan prime minister is demanding that his newly elected Pakistani counterpart do something about what happened in Ghazni province. So the official Pakistani response is; “it wasn’t us.” Imran Kahn will eventually meet with his Afghan counterpart but first, he has to meet with leaders of nations that are more important to Pakistan, like Saudi Arabia and China. To Pakistanis, Afghanistan is more than of a potential problem than anything else. But to Afghanistan, and most of the world community, the biggest problem in Afghanistan is not the Taliban or the drug gangs, but Pakistan.
August 20, 2018: Pakistan has agreed to build a walled and restricted residential area near the port of Gwadar to house half a million Chinese working in Pakistan. The Chinese construction work on the new Pakistani Gwadar port facilities are visible to anyone on the ground or flying by and in 2017 it was 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. In early 2017 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. China usually imports its own workers from China to do most of the work on projects like this. By 2022 China expects to have about half a million Chinese in Pakistan, some of them with their families. The easiest way to provide protection is to have most of them live in a heavily guarded and restricted access area.
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 they regularly carry out attacks on CPEC construction projects, but most of their attacks are still directed at Pakistani security forces and government facilities.
August 16, 2018: Israel announced that the Israeli Navy has ordered the LRSAM version of the Barak air defense system for Israeli Saar 6 corvettes. LRSAM is a modified naval version of Barak 8 that was jointly developed by India and Israel. Although this project has been in the works since 2006 it encountered problems, mainly on the Indian side, that held up completing the work, and getting the missile into production. The Indian Navy took delivery of the first customized (for India) Barak 8 SAM (surface-to-air missile) systems a year ago. The Israeli manufacturer (IAI) always mentions the Indian joint development, which makes the Indians feel good and encourages more such deals. Despite the problems encountered working with Indian defense officials and contractors, the Israelis have gained valuable experience in how to make projects work in spite of the Indian problems. Both Israel and India recognize this and the Indians are willing to do more business with the Israelis.
August 15, 2018: Five weeks after their launch on a Chinese rocket China has turned control of two Pakistani satellites to a Pakistani ground control center in Pakistan. One Chinese rocket put two Pakistani satellites (PRSS-1 and PakTES-1A) into orbit on July 9th. These photo satellites are primarily for commercial operations as their multi-spectral cameras only have a one meter (39 inch) resolution. Chinese ground control made sure the Pakistani satellites were inserted into the right orbit and that the equipment in the Chinese made PRSS-1satellite was operating properly. This is important because PRSS-1 is built to last for at least seven years. PakTES-1A is a smaller experimental satellite built with the help of a South African firm.
August 14, 2018: The renewed American sanctions on Iran will hurt Afghans working in Iran but will not interfere with the new trade route from Afghanistan, via Iran to the port of Chabahar. The Americans make exceptions for these sanctions and in this case, Pakistan is seen as a larger threat to Afghanistan than Iran. 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 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 higher traffic 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 trade with India and switching from Karachi to Chabahar for Afghan imports and exports.
Pakistan is willing to discuss improved relations with Iran but in the meantime, Pakistan already has considerable financial and military ties with Saudi Arabia. While many Pakistanis would prefer improving relations with Iran and India and backing away from Saudi Arabia (seen as a close ally of the United States) the reality is that Iran is broke, run by an unstable religious dictatorship facing growing internal unrest and at war with the Sunni Arab world. While Iran and Pakistan share a short land border the Iranians have a long history of hostility towards whoever was running what is now Pakistan. Iran is in a bad position and Pakistan is willing to consider offers from Iran. Meanwhile, Iran and India have developed mutually profitable relations that neither nations want to upset.
August 12, 2018: Over the last two days India’s first locally designed and built nuclear-powered submarine, the 5,000 ton SSBN (ballistic missile carrying sub) INS Arihant, conducted the first test launches for three K-15 SLBMs (Sea Launched Ballistic Missiles.) These are short range (700 kilometer) single-stage missiles. Arihant can carry 12 of them, or four of the larger (two-stage) K-4 SLBMs that have a range of 3,500 kilometers and were test fired successfully from Arihant in 2016. With the successful firing of the K-15s the Arihant will finally complete its sea trials and should enter service before the end of 2018. Meanwhile, in 2015 India announced ambitious plans to build six nuclear attack submarines (SSNs) but admits development and building will probably take at least fifteen years. In 2009 India launched Arihant, after eleven years of planning and construction. By 2015 Arihant was undergoing sea trials and was supposed to enter service before the end of 2015. That was delayed and a major accident in 2017 put Arihant back in the shipyard for repairs. The apparent success of Arihant led to the SSN program, which received some development money but is otherwise stalled. One locally made nuclear sub doesn't change the balance of naval power much for India, which is already dominant in the region but it does show that India can build nuclear subs and six SSNs will make a difference. A shortage of cash and competent procurement personnel has put those plans on hold.
August 10, 2018: Pakistan reports it is nearly halfway done recruiting and training 60,000 new border guards to work on the Afghan border. All 60,000 of these new border guards should be on duty by 2020.
August 1, 2018: Indian military planners are growing more concerned about Chinese aggression, especially a two front war in which Chinese ally Pakistan would actively join in fighting India if there were another conflict between China and India. 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.