In northwest India (Kashmir), India believes the situation is calming down. For example, violent behavior (civilians throwing rocks at police and violent demonstrations in general) have declined. There were 17 rock-throwing incidents in March compared to 16 in February, 20 in January and 66 in August 2018. There were 18 Kashmiris joining Islamic terror groups during the first three months of 2019 compared to 32 in the same period of 2018 and 23 in 2017.
Since 2017 Indian Kashmir has suffered a growth in Islamic terrorist activity and more attention from Indian security forces. One recently noticed trend is the more frequent presence of Chinese weapons and munitions (ammo, grenades and such). Pakistani backed Islamic terrorists in Kashmir have long used Pakistani made weapons and ammo but the increasing use of Chinese gear is something new. The reason is believed to be a Pakistani attempt to hide their involvement by sending the Pakistani trained Islamic terrorists into Indian Kashmir armed with Chinese weapons. These are similar to Pakistani ones and widely available from legal and illegal weapons dealers
Indian commanders report that there has been major progress against local Islamic terrorists since the February 14 attack in Kashmir that killed 44 soldiers and police. The terror groups responsible for that attack, JeM (Jaish e Mohammad), has since become the primary target of counter-terror operations. To put that into perspective, so far this year 70 Islamic terrorists have been killed in Kashmir and most (41) were killed after the February 14 attack and 25 of those belonged to JeM. Although JeM has been around since 2000 it only became a major Islamic terrorist threat in the last few years. Because of the February attack, India has launched a major intel and search effort to identify and capture or kill as many key JeM personnel as possible. This soon led to finding JeM cells outside of Kashmir as well. Yet most of the damage to JeM since February has occurred in Kashmir. The JeM leadership has lost key people and apparently no one is willing to take the top job (or at least announce it) because of all the army pressure. Meanwhile, the militant young Moslems of Kashmir have quieted down, which is trend that began a year ago. Older Moslems in Kashmir are more inclined to blame the increased violence on Pakistan, not on “Indian oppression.” That’s who Pakistani terrorist recruiting concentrates on the young, who have no long experience with Pakistani efforts in Kashmir and the use of Islamic terrorism to fight India. Meanwhile, the violence on the Pakistan border (the LoC or Line of Control) has increased with over 500 ceasefire violations since February. About 20 percent of those incidents involved Pakistani troops firing across the LoC with mortars or artillery (105mm or 122mm) as well as machine-guns and rifles. The Indian troops fire back, which enables Pakistan to accuse the Indians of firing first. But enough of these incidents have been witnessed by neutral (often foreign) observers to confirm that Pakistan is nearly always the aggressor. All this is nothing new. For decades the Pakistani military has been using similar violence against Indian Kashmir to justify their large military budget and claims that India is a military threat.
The increased violence in Kashmir has provided more examples of how inadequate many weapons and other items the security forces are equipped with in Kashmir. In the aftermath of several embarrassing incidents where Indian forces were found to be hampered by the lack of modern equipment or poorly trained to use it, the government has provided more freedom for the military to buy new gear, upgrade current equipment and spend more on training. This is called “emergency purchase” authority and bypassed the usual (and quite complex) purchasing procedures. Politics and bureaucracy has long hampered procurement and how efficiently the defense budget was spent and it is easier to grant “emergency powers” than try to change the laws or bad habits that have caused all the problems.
Pakistan has long denied that ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) is operating in Pakistan but that is not quite true. Since 2015 ISIL has carried out eight attacks in Pakistan, all of them inflicting major casualties, most of them civilians. The most recent attack was in April. Despite Pakistani denials, they do have an ISIL presence. This was pretty obvious earlier in 2019. In January police raided an Islamic terrorist hideout in eastern Pakistan (Punjab province) and killed two ISIL members who were known to have participated in the 2011 kidnapping an American in Lahore in 2011. The American hostage was killed in 2015 when a hideout he was being held in along the Afghan border was hit by an American UAV missile strike. The two ISIL men were responsible for other high profile kidnappings as well. Police have not revealed what evidence they may have recovered during this raid or whether it provided any indication of how extensive the ISIL network was in Pakistan. But it does exist but is not very active, for which Pakistan should be grateful.
The Pakistani prime minister recently (the 22nd) visited Iran and during a press conference admitted that Iranian Baluchi separatists did maintain camps in Pakistan. This was never a secret but Pakistani policy was always to deny it officially. Iran was making an issue of this official denial since those Pakistani based separatists were killing a lot more people in Iran recently. So the Pakistani prime minister told the truth. This caused a huge outcry from Pakistani politicians who accused the prime minister of committing a diplomatic blunder that could hurt Pakistani security. Two days later, back in Pakistan, the prime minister declared that Pakistan would no longer, "be party" to any internal conflict in Afghanistan anymore.” This statement was interesting because Pakistan had always maintained that it had nothing to do with the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network operations in Afghanistan. It was increasingly obvious that this was not true and Pakistan has been under increasing pressure (from the United States, Afghanistan, India and the UN) to halt such support and the lies that accompany the violence.
It has been an open secret since 2002 that Pakistan provided a very visible sanctuary for the Afghan Taliban in southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan), just across the border from Helmand Province, where Afghan drug gangs produce most of the world’s heroin. Afghan security forces regularly catch trucks entering from Pakistan carrying explosives for the Taliban and chemicals needed for the drug gangs to transform opium into heroin. It is also no secret that most of that heroin is smuggled out of Afghanistan via Pakistan and its port of Karachi. This support for heroin and opium production in Afghanistan has created millions of addicts in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. Pakistan blames Afghanistan while the rest of the neighbors blame Pakistan.
The new Pakistani prime minister has also taken a different view of CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor), observing that the terms of the deal are not all that favorable for Pakistan. The previous prime minister is being prosecuted for corruption and some of that apparently involved the terms of the CPEC deal. CPEC is more than an economic investment, it also guarantees that Pakistan has an ally against Iran and even Western powers that might have some violent disagreement with Pakistan. China has played down the “ally” angle. While China is picking up most of the $55 billion cost, details of the agreement are not very favorable for Pakistan. That was always an issue during negotiations and was one reason why it wasn’t until early 2017 that China and Pakistan finally signed the agreement that granted 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. All this means China will “own” this new port into the 2050s and will have imported a new minority (Chinese) into Pakistan that will, as usually happens in these situations, become a major element in the local economy.
The easiest way to provide protection for these Chinese 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.
Pakistan has told China that it wants to review the CPEC deal and how the terms were arrived at. The Chinese are not pleased, but this sort of thing has happened in many other countries that were initially enthusiastic about CPEC until they studied the fine print of the agreement.
April 21, 2019: Iran and Pakistan have agreed to form a joint border force to improve security along their common border and ensure that any misunderstandings are quickly worked out.
April 19, 2019: In northwest Pakistan (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), security forces arrested two Pakistani Taliban members who were involved in the kidnapping and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002. One of the suspects was soon positively identified as Azim Jan, a commander in the Pakistani Taliban and currently running a terrorist training camp on the Afghan border. In 2002 Azim Jan was already recognized as a capable organizer of kidnappings, especially when the victim was a foreigner. Azim Jan is the last major participant in the Pearl kidnapping and murder that was being sought.
April 18, 2019: In southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan), fifteen Baluchi separatists wearing military uniforms ambushed a Pakistani army bus and killed 14 soldiers. Pakistan asked for Iranian help in catching the culprits because Baluchi terrorists from both countries regularly flee across the border to avoid pursuit after an attack like this.
April 17, 2019: India has suspended cross border trade in Kashmir after uncovering evidence that Pakistan was using this cross border enterprise, meant to improve the economy in Indian Kashmir, to get cash into Kashmir for Pakistan-backed Islamic terror groups like JeM.
April 16, 2019: In northwest Pakistan (Peshawar), security forces killed five Pakistani Taliban gunmen they had cornered in a building. After a 16 hour overnight siege, the five Islamic terrorists were killed. One policeman was killed and two wounded during the operation. Army commandos were brought in for the final assault.
April 15, 2019: Russian media revealed that Pakistan is negotiating to make some major (about $9 billion worth) defense purchases from Russia. Currently, China is the largest supplier of military equipment to Pakistan but the Russians are offering better prices for competitive gear including some items where China is not the best source (like military helicopters). Russia has been increasingly willing to make such deals with Pakistan, despite still being a major supplier of weapons to India. That market is slipping away as India increasingly turns to Western suppliers. Pakistan cannot afford the Western stuff and is often facing trouble making purchases because of accusations that Pakistan supports Islamic terrorists. Russia is less concerned about such matters and is willing to be very flexible in order to make a sale.
April 14, 2019: American sanctions enforcement officials are pressuring India to crack down on Indian shipping companies who break the law (several laws actually) by having their tankers move Iranian oil to Syria. This is done by shutting off AIS (legally required tracking system) as it approaches Syria, unloading the oil and then leave. The Americans have identified many of the Indian owned tankers doing this sort of thing, including one that ran aground on the Syrian coast and was stuck there for months before tugs could be brought in to pull it off the beach.
April 13, 2019: The Indian Army used its new “emergency purchase” authority to order 240 Israeli Spike MR ATGMs (anti-tank guided missiles) and twelve launchers. The army has long sought these missiles but the usual procurement process failed. Back in late 2017 political pressure caused India to cancel a half billion dollar deal worked out in 2016 for an Israel firm to set up a factory and team with an Indian firm to produce Spike ATGMs. The army has been warning for over a decade that without a new ATGM India would be at a serious disadvantage. But the procurement bureaucracy and DRDO (the Indian Defense Research and Development Organization) said it could develop and build a comparable ATGM in four years. That would be a miracle. No one in the military believed the DRDO but this was not about what DRDO could do but about the incompetence and corruption that has characterized DRDO for decades. DRDO may not be of much use for the military but for Indian politicians, it is a vital part of getting elected and staying in power. DRDO provides jobs and cash for that. Meanwhile, Israel remains a major military supplier for India. Since 2000 Israel provided India help dealing with Islamic terrorists that Pakistan began using aggressively against India in the 1990s. India noted that Israel was a major supplier of military equipment worldwide and was especially good when it came to border security and dealing with Islamic terrorism. The alliance between Israel and India has grown stronger since 2001 and now India is quite open about it. There are more and more signs of shifts in long-established alliances involving Israel.
April 12, 2019: In southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan), a suicide bomber attacked a fruit market and killed 20 people. Three Islamic terror groups claimed responsibility, including ISIL, the Pakistani Taliban and LeJ (Lashkar e Jhangvi). But only ISIL released photos and the name of the bomber onto the Internet. ISIL, like the other two claimants, said the attack was done to kill Shia Moslems.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban announced the start of their Spring Offensive. Several major attacks followed. While Pakistan encourages the peace talks between the U.S. and the Taliban, Pakistan has not condemned the Afghan Taliban Spring Offensive or any of the major attacks the Afghan Taliban have carried out.
April 9, 2019: In eastern India (Chhattisgarh State), a Maoist roadside bomb killed a local politician and his four police escorts. It is election season and the Maoists are trying to disrupt the elections and intimidate candidates. In addition to Chhattisgarh, the nearby states of Bihar and Chhattisgarh are also targets of Maoist disruption. There are nearly 200,000 security personnel assigned to threatened districts in these three states. There are over 10,000 polling places in the three states but only a small percentage are threatened by the Maoists. These anti-voting campaigns have been less effective over the last decade as Maoist capabilities declined. There are fewer deaths and voters who can’t make it to their polling places. At this rate, in a few years, the Maoist threat to democracy will be diminished to non-lethal and non-disruptive levels.
April 6, 2019: The U.S. has confirmed that all Pakistani F-16s are accounted for and that puts an end to Indian claims that they shot down a Pakistani F-16 in late February. Pakistan always denied it had lost an F-16 but it wasn’t until American officials could carry out a count of all those aircraft that Pakistan could claim irrefutable proof. Pakistan insisted it had used a Chinese designed JF-17 to shoot down an Indian MiG-21. Indian radars and electronic intercepts had indicated what appeared to be F-16s rather than JF-17s in the area. The two aircraft are similar in many respects. Currently, the American manufacturer of the F-16 is trying to sell India over a hundred of the latest model F-16, which has been renamed the F-21. In a related matter, it appears that the Indian air raid on a Pakistani terrorists training camp also failed because the Israeli smart bombs were used incorrectly.
April 5, 2019: In Pakistan, the military has ordered retired officers to seek permission before appearing on television as military analysts or commentators. ISPR (Inter-Services Public Relations), which handles propaganda and media relations for the military and now controls what retired officers can say. Soon the military announced the names of seven retired officers who were not allowed to appear in Pakistani or foreign media as “defense analysts” or anything else. At the same time, the military approved 26 retired officers to appear, mainly because these officers tended to follow the official line about that the military and ISI (military intelligence) are doing and why. Those who are banned from media appearances are often banned from leaving the country as well.
April 4, 2019: Pakistan has reopened one of the 11 air route Indian air routes use to reach Afghanistan, Iran and points west.
Airlines serving Afghanistan have been demanding that the government do something about the continued Pakistani ban on anyone using their air space. Pakistan is apparently planning to gradually reopen these routes. These flight bans have been in place for over a month and have cost Afghanistan, airlines and passengers over $10 million so far. Because of the air battles in Kashmir between Pakistan and India in late February Pakistani airspace has been closed and it is costing Afghanistan a lot of money and costing people flying to or from Afghanistan a lot more cash and time as well. Afghanistan gets a $500 fee for every commercial aircraft that passes through Afghan air space and in a normal month there were over 400 such flights a day. But because of the Pakistani flight restrictions, the Afghan international air overflights are down to 20-30 a day. In the last month alone that has cost Afghanistan over seven million dollars. Flying from Afghanistan to India became more difficult. For the first time Iran allowed Afghan transports to reach India via Iranian air space (to the Indian Ocean and then east to India.) This took a lot longer (and was more expensive in terms of fuel and other operating expenses). Via Pakistan, the flights take 90 minutes. Via Iran, the same flights take 300 minutes. Thus passengers had to pay $300 to fly to India versus the usual rate of $160. The air space closures have no end date because Pakistan called the air space closure indefinite, at least until the Pakistani government changes that.
April 1, 2019: Facebook announced that it had removed thousands of accounts and Facebook pages that were operated by Indian and Pakistani Information Warfare operations. These sites for propaganda and promoting fake and misleading news. Over a hundred pages were traced to ISPR, a branch of the Pakistani military. ISPR later denied the accusations even though the Pakistani military often boasts of the success of ISPR operations without providing details. Facebook also shut down many accounts and pages traced to propaganda efforts by two major Indian political parties. This year Facebook has been finding and eliminating thousands of fake accounts and pages set up for Information War purposes and using deception to hide who was actually running these accounts. That has long been banned by Facebook but not, until recently, as energetically investigated and acted on. Other accounts were traced to Indian public relations firms. The Facebook purge is international and has found similar offending accounts pretending to represent users in most nations.
March 30, 2019: Chinese customs officials discovered a shipment of 30,000 world maps being exported by a Chinese printer to a foreign customer. The maps were seized and destroyed when it was discovered that the maps showed the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh as part of India. China demands that all maps used or produced in China show Arunachal Pradesh as “Southern Tibet” and part of China. Same with Taiwan, which is also considered another prodigal province.
March 28, 2019: India revealed that its photo satellites and media monitoring (Internet “chatter” analysis) efforts revealed that Pakistan had ordered four Islamic terrorist training camps closed because they were likely targets for further Indian airstrikes. There are at least ten other camps, some of them further away from the Indian border, where specialist training takes place. This includes sniping, bomb building and use of commercial UAVs for terror operations. India also reports that Pakistani ceasefire violations have increased since the February suicide car bombing in Indian Kashmir that killed 44. There have been 634 Pakistani ceasefire violations so far in 2019 compared to 1,629 for all of 2018.
March 27, 2019: India became the fourth nation to carry out an ASAT (anti-satellite) mission. India used a 19 ton, three-stage missile for this. The final stage of the missile homed in on and collided with the target, an inactive Indian satellite in a 280 kilometer high orbit. Owners of satellites criticized the Indian test because it put debris into orbit. India pointed out that the debris was minimal and most would eventually enter the atmosphere and burn up. India admitted that there were a lot of large (enough to damage another satellite) fragments created by the test but they would all drift lower and burn up within a few months. So there was some danger but not long enough to be significant. While true it is also the case that the number of large fragments still in orbit keeps growing and that increases the odds that more collisions will occur.