While the coronavirus (covid19) has paralyzed Pakistan, much larger India is finding the virus confined to a few areas and more controllable. India has banned travel between areas with virus cases and those without. Kashmir is one exception because it has been a war zone for decades. There are still instances of Pakistani troops firing machine-guns and mortars across the border but these are not as frequent and are causing fewer military and civilian casualties.
Across the border, in Pakistan, the Islamic terrorist camps that have been sending more men across the border have different priorities now and for the next months as they stay put to curb the spread of the coronavirus. India has had about 11 cases in Kashmir so far and has blocked movement throughout the state to hinder further spread. So far India has had only ten virus deaths. The national health system is not that efficient and covid19 deaths may be mistaken for the common flu or something similar. Pakistan, with one-sixth the population of India, has suffered twice the number of virus infections but only ten deaths. Pakistan was more vulnerable to infection because of many people coming in from Iran, China and Arabia. Most of those with the virus in Pakistan had recently traveled to Iran, usually on a religious pilgrimage.
India quickly shut down travel from China and other nations with a lot of virus activity. This means China, where it all started and Iran where the clergy initially insisted Allah would protect Iranians from the disease. China is pressuring India to ban media from calling the coronavirus the “China” or “Wuhan” virus. India refused because of press freedom in India. Few people in China or India doubt that the virus came from China. In all countries suffering from the virus, the military has been mobilized to help deal with it. As a result the usually military activities, including aggressive ones towards neighbors, have been deferred until the virus threat subsides. That may take a few months or more. No one is certain yet how long the virus threat will last. It is something of a viral ceasefire.
Pakistan And Afghanistan
Despite covid19 disruptions, Pakistan is still deeply involved with what happens inside neighboring Afghanistan. In part because the current efforts by the Afghan Taliban to negotiate a peace deal with the U.S. are apparently inching closer to success. Attitudes inside Afghanistan are different. Most Afghans see the Taliban offer to negotiate as a scam because the Afghan Taliban are doing whatever Pakistan wants. The Pakistani Taliban, who have no Pakistani support are basically at war with the Pakistan government and much smaller than their Afghan counterparts. The Afghan Taliban has always enjoyed a sanctuary in Pakistan, across the border from Helmand province where Afghans produce most of the world's heroin supply. Pakistan, or at least the Pakistani military, support the Afghan drug gangs as well by allowing, for a large fee, raw materials for turning opium plan sap into heroin to go from Pakistan to drug gang processing plants in Afghanistan, and for most of the heroin to be smuggled through Pakistan to the port of Karachi where the illegal drug can be smuggled to markets worldwide. The Afghan drug gangs pay the Afghan Taliban to protect their drug operations from foreign or Afghan interference.
This is how most Afghans see the situation, which includes millions of Afghan addicts made possible by the availability of so much opium and heroin. While most of this stuff is exported, some of it is sold locally, at a much lower price than in foreign markets. There are equally large numbers of addicts in Pakistan and Iran and the people in all those countries agree that the drug problem exists because of unofficial Pakistani support. That Pakistani effort is justified by the obsession with “controlling “Afghanistan even if it means supporting an Islamic form of government that would not be tolerated in Pakistan and the heroin production that is condemned by the people and governments of Afghanistan and all its neighbors.
Despite this, the Americans are determined to go through the motions of obtaining a peace deal with the Afghan Taliban, who also have internal problems. The Afghan Taliban, at least those in Afghanistan, consist of many factions, usually based on geography and or tribal affiliation. These factions never agreed completely with each other and those differences have grown since the 1990s.
Like everything else in Afghanistan, the Taliban began because of important tribal links. The original Taliban were Pushtuns from tribes in Helmand and Kandahar provinces. The original Taliban combat force was recruited in the mid-1990s from among Pushtun Afghan refugees from war-torn Afghanistan who were still in Pakistan. Even though the Russians were gone by 1988, and the pro-Russian government that was left behind survived until 1991 because the Soviet Union that created it had dissolved and the economic and military aid that kept that Afghan government going, in only a small part of Afghanistan. The aid stopped in 1991 when the Soviet Union dissolved and by 1992 the Najibullah government the Russians had left behind also disappeared. A vicious tribal and warlord civil war followed.
The Pakistan backed Taliban entered Afghanistan in 1994. The Taliban were largely Afghans who had been studying in Pakistan-based, Saudi-financed religious schools. They portrayed themselves as pure and not partisan like the other factions in the civil war. The Taliban took control of Kabul and most of southern (Pushtun majority) Afghanistan. By the late 1990s, the victorious Taliban were still fighting the non-Pushtun northerners in an effort to control the entire country.
At this point, even a lot of Pushtuns could see that the Taliban were just another Pakistani effort to control Afghanistan or at least parts of it. There were reasons for that. Pakistan has twice as many Pushtuns as Afghanistan, although with a much larger population the Pakistani Pushtun are a small minority in Pakistan versus a major (40 percent) minority in Afghanistan. That is one reason why Pakistan is so keen on having a large degree of control over Afghanistan, that makes it more difficult for the Pushtun in both countries to unite. For thousands of years that has never happened but the potential was always there and late in the 20th century the idea of a separate “Pushtunstan” was gaining more supporters among Pushtun in both countries.
The interference in Afghanistan has been going on since Pakistan was created in 1948, is illegal according to international law and opposed by every other nation in the region. Yet this interference has ancient origins. For over a thousand years, before the ancient silk road from China to India and the Middle East was replaced by more effective European cargo ships in the 16th century, the empires in what is now Iran and “greater India” (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) controlled portions of the silk road that went through Afghanistan. In effect, there is ancient Iranian influence in western Afghanistan while the influence in the east is Indian.
The factionalism that has developed in the Afghan Taliban since 2001 is largely the result of more and more Taliban rejecting Pakistani influence. That is something Pakistan has violently sought to suppress, while Iran supports because the anti-Pakistan Taliban groups endanger the Pakistan-backed Afghan drug trade. A final complication is that in Pakistan it is the largely autonomous (from government control) military and the ISI intelligence branch that need the Afghan Taliban to justify their power and autonomy in Pakistan. This has caused a major rift in Pakistan where most Pakistanis back the elected government that, as the constitution stipulates, controls the military and not the other way around.
The American attitude is that it will trust the Afghan Taliban and their Pakistani patrons only so far as the terms of any deal are observed. The Pakistani generals think they can play all this to their advantage. That would change if there were a change of government in Iran. The religious dictatorship there is losing control because of decades of misrule, corruption and bad behavior towards its own people. A new Iran government would probably be less anti-American and more willing to work with the Americans and Indians to reduce or eliminate Pakistani influence in Afghanistan along with the Afghan drug production. That would be very bad news for the Pakistani generals.
The U.S. believes that the Islamic terrorist threat to Pakistan would encourage Pakistan to prevent the Afghan Taliban from again, as they did in the late 1990s, providing sanctuary for international Islamic terrorists. The Pakistani government has always supported some of those inside Pakistan, but only as long as these groups only attacked targets that Pakistan military approved of. These usually included India and Afghan government forces and their foreign allies.
March 19, 2020: In India the defense procurement bureaucracy finally, after years of pressure from the army, signed the contract for purchasing 16,000 7.62mm machine-guns from Israel.
March 18, 2020: In northwest Pakistan (North Waziristan), troops clashed with seven Islamic terrorists who had established a hideout near the Afghan border (Khost province). All seven of Islamic terrorists were killed and found to be Pakistanis. Four soldiers were also killed. Much equipment and documents were seized. The seven men were planning attacks in Pakistan.
March 15, 2020: In Pakistan, along the Afghan border about half the 2,500 kilometer long border fence has been completed and work continues. Many Afghans dispute where Pakistan draws the border and the need for a border fence itself. Gunfire from the Afghanistan side of the border regularly kills or wounds soldiers and workers building the fence. Construction has been underway since 2017 and the attacks from the Afghan side have become 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 (1893) 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.
March 14, 2020: In eastern India (Chhattisgarh State) the bodies of 17 local police were found in a jungle area where a large scale search for Maoist rebels had been going on for several days. The policemen had been killed the day before after being ambushed by over a hundred Maoist gunmen. The ambush firepower was so massive that many of the police were captured before reinforcements could be called in much less arrive. Most of the dead policemen were those executed after they surrendered. The police were searching for a training camp for new recruits. Heavy losses like this happen when the police get sloppy and underestimate the rebels. The local police received a tip about Maoists assembling in the jungle and went with policemen who knew the area well but were not armed and trained to deal with a large group of Maoists. That is the job of the paramilitary police battalions who have been at work in the area for over a decade.
March 12, 2020: In Pakistan police arrested Shakilur Rahman, the head of the largest media group in the country and the founder of Geo, the largest TV network in the country. Rahman is accused of participating in an illegal 1986 land deal. That accusation is suspicious because the military have been trying to shut down Geo and most of the other media outlets Rahman. These days anyone accused of corruption in Pakistan usually has active criminal activities or very recent ones. Going back 34 years sounds like desperation and fabrication. The military has failed to get Rahman to cooperate by defending military corruption and current efforts to control the elected government without another coup. Rahman kept publishing details of what the military was really up to.
Two years ago Geo, the largest TV network in the country, was allowed back on the air after being shut down by the military several weeks for criticizing the military and the Supreme Court. Apparently Geo management agreed to cooperate with military censorship as the cost of getting back on the air. This is not the first time the military and ISI (military intelligence) have clashed with Geo over press freedom. Back in November 2014 Rahman, as the head of Geo was sentenced to 26 years in prison. He had been convicted of blasphemy for allowing the broadcast of a video the court considered anti-Islamic. Most Pakistanis saw this as another example of the army and ISI using their control of some courts to use the blasphemy laws as a form of censorship against those who criticize the army or ISI. Pakistan still has severe blasphemy laws that are mostly used by Moslems against innocent Christians or other non-Moslems. Efforts to repeal these laws, or at least limit their misuse, are violently resisted by Islamic political parties. The Pakistani blasphemy laws are usually only used by Moslems against non-Moslems and when they are used against Moslems it is usually for revenge or political reasons. The laws are unpopular with the majority of Pakistanis. But the minority who do support the laws, are willing to use lethal force to keep the laws on the books. These blasphemy laws were enacted in the 1970s at the behest of the military. The opposition to repealing these laws is violent and fearless. In 2011 the Punjab province governor Salman Taseer was shot dead by one of his own bodyguards because Taseer had openly opposed the blasphemy laws. While no one had ever been executed because of these laws, many are accused and jailed each year, and often condemned to death (and later reprieved). But over 30 of those accused have been murdered by Islamic fanatics, who are a large, and violent, minority of the population.
Eventually, Geo agreed to be more sensitive to military complaints about “unwarranted criticism”. But the military got worse, especially when it formed a partnership with the Supreme Court and Geo felt it essential to report what was going on with this. That, Geo learned, was not allowed.
March 10, 2020:
In northeast Pakistan, across the Afghan border in Nangarhar Province, an Afghan army raid near the main crossing from Pakistan found and seized a recently arrived (from Pakistan) truck that was carrying ten tons of explosives. The two men on the truck said they were paid to deliver half the load to someone in Nangarhar and the rest to someone in Kabul. Meanwhile, Pakistan has closed most of its Afghan border crossings to prevent the spread of the
covid19 virus. The crossings are expected to remain closed for at least another week.
March 6, 2020: In northwest Syria, the last concentration of Islamic terrorists is making a last stand in Idlib province. The Syrian Army, with Russian support, has been slowly clearing the province of Islamic terrorists, despite resistance by the Islamic terrorists and Turkish forces. Suddenly there are a lot more dead terrorists and efforts are made to identify them or see if families or countries want the bodies back. So far about fifty of the dead Islamic terrorists have been identified as Pakistani. But Pakistan refuses to comment or take any action to deal with the situation.
March 2, 2020: In Pakistan, an air force F-16 crashed near the capital while participating in a rehearsal for a major military parade in the capital on the 23rd. Apparently the fighter experienced an equipment failure while the pilots was performing an acrobatic maneuver. Pakistan has a reputation for poor maintenance of military and commercial aircraft. Higher accident rates are the proof and there is no solution in sight.
February 29, 2020: In Qatar, the U.S. and Taliban signed a peace deal which, if the Taliban can abide by the ceasefire and other conditions, will lead to the withdrawal of American forces within 14 months. Many believed this agreement was doomed to fail and it promptly did. Within days Taliban forces were violating the ceasefire with multiple attacks. The agreement had a lot of flaws. For example, it called for the Afghan government to release 5,000 imprisoned Taliban within three days. That was a problem because the Afghan government was not involved in the negotiations because the Taliban refused to allow it. The Afghans pointed out that the logistics of identifying the 5.000 prisoners and releasing them would take longer than three days. That amounts to about half the Taliban held in government prisons. Another issue that has been ignored is that many of those Taliban prisoners are jailed because they have killed civilians or security force personnel who surrendered. The kin of these victims want revenge. In Afghanistan that is the way. The number of Afghans who want revenge against Taliban violence is very long and the Taliban want that to just disappear. These blood debts go back to the late 1990s when the Taliban ran most of Afghanistan and were still fighting the Northern Alliance. While the Northern Alliance got some help from Russia and the Americans it was faced with a Taliban that had the enthusiastic backing of Pakistan and many wealthy Sunni Arabs, especially in the Persian Gulf oil countries. Those backers still exist although the number of Arab donors has diminished. Pakistan created the Taliban in the mid-1990s and wants the Taliban to run Afghanistan because that gives Pakistan enormous influence over that goes on in Afghanistan.
February 28, 2020: The leaders of Burma and India concluded two days of meetings by signing ten new cooperation agreements. One of these had each country pledge to not allow any group on its territory to do harm to the other country. This is mainly about various terrorists, rebel or criminal groups operating bases in one country in order to cross the border and commit illegal acts. The other nine agreements had to do with trade and regularly exchanging certain kinds of information.
February 25, 2020: In India, the American president completed a two-day visit. The U.S. and Indian leaders signed several agreements, one of them was for $3 billion worth of American weapons for India. India long disdained buying American but with the continued decline in quality and service of its many Russian systems, India began buying more military gear from Western suppliers. First Europeans, then Israeli and, since 2007 the Americans. So far India has ordered $17 billion worth from the United States and the Indian wants more. Unlike Russian gear the American (and Western in general) gear works as advertised and any problems that arise are quickly addressed by the manufacturer.
Russia is still the largest supplier of military equipment to India. At the same time, India is the second largest importer of weapons in the world (Saudi Arabia is first) and the largest customer for Russian military exports. Yet Russian imports have been declining for over a decade. In 2020 Russia supplied 72 percent of Indian weapons imports. Now that is 56 percent and continuing to decline. Neighboring Pakistan is the largest customer for Chinese military exports and, with a much smaller (about one-eighth the size) defense budget is 11th on the list of arms importers.
February 22, 2020: In the last year the U.S. surpassed China as India’s largest trading partner. Currently, the value of annual trade between the United States and India is $87 billion. Given the proximity of India and China, it was something of a surprise that the Americans should replace China. Within India, it was no surprise. China is considered India’s most dangerous military threat and the Chinese are not trusted. The U.S. has long sought closer diplomatic, military and military ties with India but until the 1990s that was not possible. After independence in 1947, India adopted socialism, which proved to be a major economic disaster. India also declared itself neutral in the Cold War despite buying most of its weapons from Russia and having a large and active local Communist Party. Then the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, after all the communist governments in East Europe had already done so. At that point, anti-communist sentiment led India to ditch socialism (in theory, anyway) and seek new allies and arms suppliers. The United States and Israel have proved to be the most useful and American firms were eager to do business with India. Millions of Indians who had migrated to the U.S. and become economically successful, and often quite rich, helped encourage Indian firms to check out American suppliers.
Indian emphasis on economic growth since the 1990s has paid off because that growth has been spectacular lately, with GDP nearly doubling in the last decade from $1.7 trillion to the current $2.9 trillion. This made India the fifth largest economy, recently surpassing Britain and France. The rest of the top five are the U.S., China, Germany and Japan.
Chinese GDP growth is slowing although in the last decade it more than doubled from $6.1 trillion to $14 trillion. But for once the annual Indian GDP growth has been faster than in China, where GDP growth rates have been declining over the last five years.
February 21, 2020: The FATF (Financial Action Task Force) told Pakistan that it made enough progress in reducing support for Islamic terrorism since October 2019 to avoid being blacklisted. Back in October Pakistan had achieved only four of the 27 tasks the FATF set to get Pakistan out of trouble. Pakistan should have gone onto the blacklist for that but pressure from China get Pakistan another “last chance”. Since 2019 Pakistan has raised the number of goals achieved to 14. All 27 reform goals must be met by the next FATF review in July 2020. For over a year now it appeared that Pakistan was not making enough effort to block Pakistan-based terrorist groups from using the international banking system to finance their violence. Pakistan keeps making just enough progress to keep them off the FATF blacklist. Pakistan was put back on the grey list in June 2019. Pakistan had been warned in early 2018 that unless they reduced the illegal financing activity coming out of Pakistan the FATF would put Pakistan back on the “gray list” and this time it would be more likely to make it to the blacklist and that would mean Pakistan would have some financial problems because of international banking restriction. FATF pointed out that in 2018 there were 8,707 STRs (Suspicious Transaction Reports) generated by Pakistan versus 5,548 in 2017. For 2019 Pakistan appears to be generating even more STRs. Pakistan had been on the gray list from 2012 to 2015 and that was bad for businesses that import or export or need to get loans or sell bonds. After 2015 Pakistan was still on the FATF list but not designated as dangerous. Being on the gray portion of the list makes it more expensive to do business and is very bad for the reputation of Pakistan and Pakistanis. China played a major role in keeping Pakistan off the gray list in early 2018 but the odds were against Pakistan staying off the list because it has long been an open secret that Pakistani support for its own pet Islamic terrorists included making it easier for Islamic terrorists, in general, to do business in Pakistan. The United States has been gathering evidence to justify the FATF to put Pakistan back on the gray list (along with Ethiopia, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Serbia, Sri Lanka, Trinidad and Tobago, Vanuatu and Tunisia). FATF meets every three months to consider new evidence to get nations on, or off, the list. Next review is in February 2020 and the Americans continue gathering evidence. The U.S. now considers Pakistan a problem in the war against terrorism and not a reliable partner. India and Afghanistan share that view as do a growing number of UN members.