Pakistan’s biggest problem isn’t India, Islamic terrorism, or military rule. The big problem is the economy. Economic growth is down, along with the national credit ratings. Unemployment, inflation and budget deficits are up, along with the cost (in rupees, the local currency) to buy dollars (to pay for most imports). Recent loans obtained were mainly to service the $106 billion national debt. Defaulting on that debt would make borrowing even more difficult and expensive.
Reasons for this mess are many but the main ones are corruption (the rich pay the least in taxes), Islamic terrorism (a problem since the late 1940s) and military leadership that often interferes in government, mainly to enrich the military leadership. The official Pakistani reaction to all this is blaming foreigners (India and the West in general) for everything and denounce (or worse) anyone pointing out the real problems. It has reached the point were openly complaining in Pakistan can get you killed by military supplied enforcers. There is widespread popular unrest over basic problems like food hunger, increased crime and lawless activity by the military. Pakistan isn’t working out as expected and while most Pakistanis know that, the politicians and military leaders prefer to not recognize the cause of the problems, much less try and fix them.
One of the neighbors most concerned about Pakistani stability and prosperity is China. Over a hundred billion dollars in Chinese economic air and investment is coming into Pakistan, which makes Pakistani stability and prosperity a Chinese goal. Since China is a prosperous police state it prefers to work with Pakistan on these matters privately, saving the media for propaganda and other forms of distraction, disinformation and deflection.
The Peacemaker Ploy
The Pakistani “sponsored” peace talks between the Americans and the Afghan Taliban have collapsed. The Americans concluded the Afghan Taliban could not be trusted. Pakistan had earlier been classified as similarly inclined. There was much evidence of Taliban and Pakistani misbehavior.
The increased Taliban use of violence, especially against civilians, was due to the increased influence of the Haqqani Network. In fact, the Afghan Taliban are now run by the leaders of the Haqqani Network despite a non-Haqqani figurehead leader. Haqqani is another 1990s era Afghan fighting faction that is more gangster than Islamic terrorist, has long been a subsidiary of the Pakistani military and its main conduit for getting Islamic terrorists and their weapons (including large vehicle bombs) into Afghanistan. Haqqani and the pro-Pakistan Afghan Taliban still have sanctuaries in Pakistan, something that the Pakistani military denies but is not hidden in Pakistan and something of an open secret.
The new (since late 2018) Haqqani Network leader is Siraj Haqqani. He not only brought a more aggressive attitude, he also provided the ISI (Pakistani military intelligence) with better control over the Afghan Taliban. Siraj Haqqani not only dominates the Taliban leadership but also maintains his lucrative crime boss subservience to ISI. Because the Haqqani Network founder Jalaluddin Haqqani (who died in late 2018) helped Taliban founder Mullah Omar and other Taliban leaders escape Afghanistan in 2001, there has always been a sense of mutual dependence. For that reason, Haqqani leaders were able to help deal with the mid-2015 power struggle within the Taliban and thwart the recruiting efforts of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). Given that Haqqani works for ISI (the Pakistani CIA), Pakistan had to approve of, if not help bring about, this new Taliban leadership arrangement. There are still divisions within the Taliban but the Haqqani leaders have been able to limit the damage while also making themselves wealthier.
Haqqani leaders have more immediate problems. The canceled peace negotiations with the Americans were supported by most Afghan Taliban factions because those factions still did not agree on how to handle Afghans who oppose them and the Afghan government, which has a lot more popular support than the Taliban. Getting rid of the foreign troops would simplify matters and would serve to unite the increasingly factional Taliban. The peace talks also served to determine how united the Afghan Taliban were and whether the Afghan Taliban could agree on anything beyond making a lot of money providing muscle for the drug gangs and using that power to sustain the idea that the Taliban can eventually regain a dominant position in Afghanistan.
The Taliban understood, from their experience after 2014, when most foreign troops left, that NATO (mainly American) air power was the key element that prevented the Taliban from defeating the Afghan security forces. It’s not just the airstrikes, it’s also the American ability to airdrop supplies to areas that the Taliban have under siege. The Taliban take heavy losses maintaining those sieges and American supply drops enable Afghan forces to survive and win most of those battles. Since 2014 there has been more hostility, and often fighting, between Taliban factions.
There are other reasons for canceling the peace talks and the main one was that the most powerful participant in the Afghan violence, Pakistan, was not directly involved in the talks. Yet Pakistan had to sign off on any final deal for the agreement to have any chance of success. Most Afghans hate Pakistan, mainly because of the decades of Pakistani troublemaking in Afghanistan. The Afghans at the Qatar negotiations were mainly Pushtuns (40 percent of Afghans) representing a minority of Pushtuns who support the drug trade and their Taliban “security associates” (hired guns). The drug gangs and Afghan Taliban are seen as the work of Pakistan and in the late 1990s that majority of anti-Taliban Afghans got organized as the Northern Alliance and prevented the Taliban from ever controlling all of Afghanistan.
This explains why the Afghan peace talks had no representatives from the Northern Alliance. This non-Pushtuin coalition represents the Afghans who will fight the drug gangs and Taliban and have done so, successfully, in the past.
The Taliban had been unable to conquer all of Afghanistan (especially the north) because of the Northern Alliance. The northern willingness to unite and defend the interests of the non-Pushtun majority in Afghanistan still exists. The Northern Alliance is no longer a military coalition or even much of a political one. It is more the continued potential for the Northern Alliance to once again become an armed force opposing Pushtun tyranny (especially Pakistan supported Pushtuns). Al Qaeda once more has sanctuaries in Taliban controlled territory in southern Afghanistan and apparently has an understanding with Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban.
Then there is ISIL, a radical al Qaeda group that is at war with everyone. Al Qaeda is again in Afghanistan and allied with the Taliban or at least some of the Taliban. Pakistan considers both al Qaeda and ISIL hostile but that is just another aspect of this bizarre situation because the Haqqani Network has long supplied al Qaeda (in Afghanistan) with weapons and explosives.
When the Americans intervened in October 2001, their cash and air support enabled the Northern Alliance to defeat the Taliban in less than two months. This was humiliating for Pakistan and the Taliban. Both made plans to avoid a repeat defeat. Northern Alliance and American military and political leaders realize that as soon as there is another Islamic terror attack in the West, traced back to an Afghan based group, it will be October 2001 all over again. Why should that be such a certainty? Because Islamic terror groups do not agree with one another and never maintain alliances. There has been ample evidence of that during the last two decades, not to mention the last thousand years of Moslem history. Thinking it will be different this time, because enough negotiators are willing to believe anything to get the deal done, will not work.
September 30, 2019: Despite, or probably because of Pakistani threats the Indian military leadership made it clear that there would be more of India sending warplanes and troops across the LoC
(Line of Control) to disrupt Pakistani efforts to organize more infiltration attempts to get Islamic terrorists and weapons into Kashmir. Pakistan threatens back that their borders are out of bounds, despite the fact that Pakistani troops have been firing across the LoC for decades and trying to pass it off as self-defense. That all the firepower is for is to assist getting Islamic terrorists into India. Pakistan denies that too but the evidence keeps piling up that Pakistan is at fault and India is no longer tolerating this deadly game.
The LoC serves as a temporary border between the two countries in Kashmir. Taking Kashmir from India has been a political imperative for Pakistan since Pakistan was created in 1948. India has done a pretty good job in dealing with all this Pakistani aggression.
So far this year India has kept overall deaths below 2018 levels, despite the February attack that killed 40 policemen. By late September deaths in Kashmir were well below 2018 levels despite energetic Pakistani efforts to generate more violence. Worse, for Pakistan, civilian deaths in Indian Kashmir are lower than in 2018. In response to that Pakistan has increased the violence along the LoC
. That created more mayhem on the border but did not increase violence inside Kashmir.
September 25, 2019: Gulalai Ismail, a Pakistani woman who has long reported in the West details of the Pakistani military violence against civilians, is seeking asylum in the West. Ismail has long sought to bring international attention to this violence, especially against women, who openly criticize the military dominated Pakistani government. Although Ismail has many powerful supporters in Pakistan, they cannot help her much because the military has been increasingly brutal towards and easily offended by all critics.
September 23, 2019: Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan is back in the United States, for the annual UN meeting of world leaders. Kahn gave several speeches and interviews in which he repeated that Pakistan, unlike many Arab states, would never recognize the existence of Israel and that the United States was responsible for any Islamic terrorism in Pakistan. This, according to Kahn, started back in the 1970s when it was the United States that persuaded Pakistan to allow Afghan rebels to embrace Islamic terrorism as a means of driving the infidel Russians out of Afghanistan. Kahn insisted Islamic terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan are all the product of American and Indian schemes to weaken Afghanistan and Pakistan. At one point he insisted there is no such thing as Islamic terrorism and that what the West calls “Islamic terrorism” is actually Moslems trying to defend themselves from infidel (non-Moslem) aggression. This twisted logic is right out of the propaganda playbook of the Pakistani military has used for decades. Kahn called the Indians Nazis and the Americans confused.
This is Kahn’s second visit to the United States since July. During the July visit, Kahn admitted that for the last fifteen years his country had lied about the presence of over 30,000 armed men in Pakistan and Kashmir working for 40 Islamic terror groups. That deception was one of the reasons the U.S. recently cut off all aid to Pakistan. The prime minister also pointed out that Pakistan was now shutting down the Islamic charities, religious schools and other groups that supported Islamic terrorists.
The July visit was because Pakistan is broke, increasingly unable to borrow money and dominated by its military, whose Islamic terrorist support and corruption are a large part of the problem. Kahn needs cash but he was only willing, or able, to admit part of what is actually going on back home. Kahn did not admit that Pakistan created the Pakistani Taliban. That group took control of most of Afghanistan in the late 1990s and granted al Qaeda sanctuary. Kahn insists that Pakistan had nothing to do with the September 11, 2001 attacks when, in fact, the Pakistani military support for the Taliban was very much a factor. Kahn also did not admit that his military is still making the key decisions and that recent Pakistani elections were heavily influenced by the military. That malign influence was apparently what prompted Kahn to threaten nuclear war with India to settle their differences over Kashmir. By making this threat Kahn is trying to get the UN to be more sympathetic to
In July Kahn would not discuss the fact that he himself is considered under the control of the military. The American president responded to this with public praise, but no resumption of aid.
Many in Pakistan considered the Kahn visit a success but anyone who pays attention to how the American president negotiates realizes that this president is generous with praise but disturbingly consistent and decisive when it comes to core issues. In this case, the core issue is that Pakistan is controlled by its military which, in turn, wants the Afghan Taliban to have more power in Afghanistan and for that to happen foreign troops, especially the Americans, have to be gone. Kahn came to America desperate and left with no assurances of financial relief. Now he returns with a different message and it is unclear what it is supposed to accomplish.
Best guess is that Pakistan has given up on getting anything out of the current Republican president and that they might have an easier time if they can make nice to the Democrats, who are seeking to oust the Republican government in 2020. You can see this strategy in action as Pakistan has sent many U.S. educated Pakistanis, especially those with PhDs and successful careers in Pakistan, to give talks at universities or any part of the U.S. that opposes the current American government. Pakistan is really desperate because no American president in the past had been so determined to halt Pakistani sponsored Islamic terrorism in Afghanistan and India. This has also caused violence in Iran and Central Asian states. Even the UN has agreed that Pakistan is at fault here. The Pakistani military cannot afford to accept responsibility and now they have control Kahn, the elected leader of Pakistan who, apparently, will say whatever he is ordered to say.
September 20, 2019: In northwest Pakistan, two soldiers (one an officer) were killed while inspecting work on the new border fence. Islamic terrorists used a bomb hidden near the fence and apparently triggered remotely. Despite constant inspections of the fence these incidents sill occur. It isn’t always bombs. Gunfire from the Afghanistan side of the border kill or wound soldiers and workers building the new 2,500 kilometer long border fence. Many Afghans dispute where Pakistan draws the border and the need for a border fence itself. Construction has been underway since 2017 but the attacks from the Afghan side have been particularly intense (about ten a week) at times. So far Pakistan has had over a hundred soldiers and workers killed or wounded. Most of the Afghan-Pakistani border is still called the “Durand Line.” This was an impromptu, pre-independence invention of British colonial authorities and was always considered temporary (or at least negotiable) by locals. The need for renegotiation was mainly about how the line often went right through Pushtun tribal territories. However, the Afghans are more inclined to demand adjustments to the Durand Line and fight to obtain what they want. Thus recent Pakistani efforts to build more fences and other structures on their side of the border was an attempt to make the Durand line permanent and no longer negotiable.
In its defense, Pakistan designed the new fence so that it will create the most problems for smugglers and anyone seeking to cross the border illegally. Pakistan has, with the help of Afghanistan and even American intelligence identified 235 crossing points along the border. Those that are frequently used by Islamic terrorists and drug smugglers are easy to identify as are the 18 crossing points that can be used by most vehicles. The majority of these crossing points are what they are because they enable someone on foot, or using pack animals, to get through areas that are made more difficult to use by the addition of a multi-layer fence line and sensors (real or imagined.)
September 19, 2019: In northwest Pakistan, the army fired at least 180 shells and rockets into eastern Afghanistan (Kunar province). The target was apparently a religious school (Madrasa) the Pakistanis believe is indoctrinating young Afghans and Pakistanis to be Islamic terrorists. Afghan officials reported three students (boys aged 9, 12 and 13) were killed and many more wounded, along with some adults. In February the Afghan government sent the UN a letter complaining about nearly a decade of Pakistani border violence. The Afghan letter detailed incidents since 2012 to early 2019 in which Pakistani troops fired 28,849 rockets, mortar or artillery shells into eastern Afghanistan
. Much of this firepower is directed at Kunar province and has been going on since 2010 in an effort to hit real or suspected Pakistani Taliban bases in Afghanistan. These incidents increased to the point where the Afghans began keeping track of them in 2012. Since then this violence has killed or wounded nearly 300 people that the Afghan government knows about. The shelling occurs against rural areas that are often unpopulated so it is unclear if the Pakistanis have hit many Pakistani Taliban. The Pakistani government propaganda insists that these Taliban Islamic terrorists are based in eastern Afghanistan and regularly cross into Pakistan to carry out attacks. The letter details how the situation is getting worse and that since January 2018 there have been 161 of these incidents that involved at least 6,025 Pakistani projectiles landing in Afghanistan. The letter points out that several elected Pakistani leaders have pledged to halt these border violations but those pledges are ignored by the Pakistani military.
September 14, 2019: In northwest Pakistan (North Waziristan), a group of soldiers patrolling near the Afghan border were fired on by gunmen across the border. Four soldiers were killed and the rest of the patrol returned fire and believe they killed at least two of the attackers, who fled further inside Afghanistan.
September 13, 2019:
In neighboring Afghanistan (Kabul), police raided an ISIL hideout, seizing the family of one ISIL member already under arrest. Two ISIL members at the hideout, one of them a Pakistani, were killed during the attack. Police seized weapons, bomb components and documents regarding planned attacks in the city.
In northwest Pakistan, across the Afghan border in
Taliban warehouse was raided by Afghan police, who found a large quantity of explosives that had just arrived from Pakistan. This was not unusual as these explosives shipments are often seized on both sides of the border, usually at the border because the right person did not get the required bribe. In this case, as with most of them, the shipment got through and delivered. Documents captured at the warehouse indicated that part of this shipment was for
AQIS (Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent), which often operates in Afghan provinces near the Pakistan border
. Technically Afghanistan is not part of AQIS territory but Afghanistan 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 attacks in Pakistan or anywhere else. AQIS was created to manage and support operations in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India and Burma. Now that apparently includes Afghanistan. Islamic terrorism experts believed AQIS 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. That seems to have paid off because AQIS now has people who can make and place bombs. But to be sponsored by the Afghan Taliban it means you take orders from Pakistani intel (ISI) and do not direct any violence at Pakistan.
September 10, 2019: The United States changed its criteria for individuals subject to sanctions for involvement in Islamic terrorist activity. Those sanctioned do not have to be associated with a specific attack. Just being in a leadership position in a terrorist organization is enough. Among the groups mentioned was the Pakistani Taliban.
September 7, 2019:
The U.S. abruptly canceled the year-long Taliban peace talks. This on the eve of a planned secret meeting in the United States between the Taliban leader and the presidents of the U.S. and Afghanistan, to work out final details. The cancellation was triggered by the continued Taliban attacks in Afghanistan, including a recent one that killed another American soldier. That makes 20 Americans killed so far in 2019. This is higher than annual totals for the previous three years and is likely to exceed the 2015 total of 22 dead. The Taliban helped abort the peace talks in other ways. They had been invited to the meeting in America only a few weeks ago and said they would attend but only if the Americans agreed to other conditions. This included a public signing of the final deal in Qatar, with senior officials from foreign nations, especially Russia, China and Pakistan, in attendance.