India-Pakistan: Impossible Allies

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December 3, 2020: The Chinese Minister of Defense visited Pakistan and met with senior officials. China said it supported Pakistani claims against India and efforts to force India out of Kashmir. Pakistani leaders then said they supported Chinese claims along the Indian border and in the South China Sea as well as Chinese suppression of their Turkic minority in northwest China. That minority is Moslem, something the Pakistanis do not want to discuss.

What the Chinese visitor did not say was that China was a military ally of Pakistan. China has made it clear several times that Pakistan is a valued export customer for Chinese weapons and not a military ally. In fact, Pakistan is the largest customer, accounting for about half of Chinese weapons exports. Pakistan is also the recipient of over a hundred billion dollars in Chinese economic investments as part of the Chinese BRI (Belt and Road Initiative). This project is spending trillions of dollars to build Chinese owned transportation infrastructure in the Middle East, Africa, Central Asia and Europe. But not India. When China asks Pakistan to do something the Pakistanis comply.

While China will invest in Pakistan, there are no loans, cash gifts or binding alliances of any type. For that Pakistan has to rely on wealthy Arab oil states. Large loans also come from international financial institutions like the World Bank. That credit line has been exhausted and the Arabs are unhappy with Pakistani criticism of Moslem states making peace with Israel. Pakistan feels no need to make peace with Israel because that would anger neighboring Iran. The “Persians” are an ancient foe of the Indian subcontinent. Times change and while India was always on good terms with 20th Century Iran, Pakistan has to work at it. A lot of Pakistani Islamic conservatives hate Shia Iran. After all, “Pakistan” literally means “land of the pure” and that means conservative Sunni Moslem, like most Arabs in the Arabian Peninsula. Pakistan is in a difficult situation here and hopes that everyone appreciates how hard Pakistan is trying to anger the fewest potential enemies. That is not working well, especially when it comes to Afghanistan and India.

Afghan Anger

Most Afghans hate Pakistan for its murderous meddling in Afghan affairs for nearly half a century. Now Western troops are preparing to leave Afghanistan and Pakistan, or at least the Pakistani military, sees that as an opportunity. Worst case (for Afghans in general) is all foreign troops leaving and foreign aid is withdrawn because of the corruption. In that situation Afghanistan returns to its traditional, for over a few thousand years, condition. That means the country/region we call Afghanistan gets picked apart by more powerful neighboring states. Traditionally this has meant Persians and Indians. Now it is Iranians and Pakistan, which is the Indian Moslems who demanded their own Moslem state when India was created in 1947. Pakistan is broke and economically dependent on China. The Chinese don’t want their numerous investments in Pakistan attacked by Islamic terrorists, tribal separatists or anyone else. Pakistan justifies (to China) the expense of meddling in Afghanistan because it is necessary to control the Pushtun minority in Pakistan. There are twice as many Pushtun in Pakistan as in Afghanistan but Pakistan has a much larger non-Tribal (Punjabi and Sindi) population so the Pushtuns are only 15 percent of all Pakistanis. The Baluchi tribes account for another four percent. That makes about 19 percent of Pakistanis tribal and not particularly happy with the Chinese presence or the brutal treatment of tribal people in Pakistan. Extending that brutal control to Afghanistan won’t improve anything in Pakistan.

Neither Pakistan nor Iran see any profit in annexing adjacent portions of Afghanistan. Pakistan, or at least the Pakistani military, is content to “tax” Afghan drug operations that need access to Pakistan. The Iranians, like most civilians in the region, see the opium and heroin coming out if Afghanistan as something evil that much be fought. That means the Afghan/Iran border has long been a combat zone between Iranian security forces and armed Afghan drug smugglers. That won’t change as long as heroin production is tolerated in Afghanistan.

Americans want to be done with the military and economic costs of having troops in Afghanistan. The problem with that attitude is that Americans can leave Afghanistan but Afghanistan won’t leave America. The heroin production will continue and major Islamic terrorist groups will have a sanctuary from which to prepare attacks on the Wests, especially the United States.

A more likely result of the withdrawal of foreign troops and most aid would be another civil war. Historically this does not go well for the Pushtun minority and the Taliban are a Pushtun movement. During the late 1990s civil war, after the Pakistan armed and recruited the Taliban to defeat the armed factions and take control, there was one insurmountable problem. The one part of Afghanistan the Taliban could never conquer was the Tajik northeast. The Tajiks are undefeated, while the Pustins were beaten in late 2001. If there is another civil war the Tajiks will again be the main opponent for the Pushtun Taliban. The Tajiks have allies that includes the other minorities, especially Turkmen, Uzbeks and Mongols (Hazara). This anti-Taliban opposition is still known as the NA (Northern Alliance).

The Tajik and Pushtun are often called “eastern Iranians” because they are, like the Iranians, also Indo-European, as are most people in northern India, Pakistan and Europe. The Tajiks differ from the Pushtun in being less warlike, less religiously fanatic and more amenable to education and progress in general. Perhaps even more important is that the Tajiks have largely abandoned the use of tribes as a political organization. The Pushtun are still very much into tribal power and religious fanaticism. The main reason the Northern Alliance did not defeat the Taliban in the 1990s was because the Taliban had a foreign backer (Pakistan) and the NA did not. That changed in late 2001 when the U.S. agreed to back the NA in its effort to liberate Afghanistan from Taliban control. In 2020 Russia is more willing to provide the NA with support than they were in the 1990s. Back then the Soviet Union had just dissolved (in 1991) and the much-reduced Russia was broke. Now Russia is less broke and interested in buying more influence in Afghanistan through the NA. With or without foreign support, the NA is still openly hostile to Taliban rule. A likely outcome of a civil war is a partition of Afghanistan, with Taliban getting Kabul and the Pushtun south while the NA controls the north. The northern provinces are already demonstrating to the Taliban that the north is not to be trifled with. All Taliban efforts to establish a stable presence in the north have failed, and those efforts incur heavy Taliban losses. The main reason the Taliban persist in the north is because the drug gangs need the northern heroin export route. The NA does not want the Taliban or the heroin in the north.

One major complication with the current Afghan peace negotiations is that a major faction, Pakistan, cannot officially be acknowledged. Pakistan officially maintains that this is not true. Technically that is correct because it’s not the government of Pakistan but the Pakistani military and its ISI intelligence service that supports and maintains Pakistani interference in Afghan affairs. It is important to note that when Britain dissolved its Indian (including what is now Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma and Sri Lanka) colonial government, the new nations that emerged were quite different. One major difference was how these new nations handled their armed forces. India ensured that the military remained subservient to the elected government. That did not happen in Pakistan or Burma where the military frequently took control of the government. While Pakistan is technically run by an elected government, that government cannot do anything the military disagrees with. With regard to Afghanistan the Pakistani military has a foreign policy towards Afghanistan that supersedes anything the politicians come up with or agree to.

The Pakistani military have always seen Afghanistan has an unstable region that posed a potential threat to Pakistan. Historically this was true. Massive invasions and tribal raids have been coming out of Afghanistan and into India (and Iran) for thousands of years. While India was always a potential (and unlikely) invader, the threat from Afghanistan was real and constant. Most Pakistanis recognized this threat and there was never a lot of popular opposition towards the Pakistani military’s actions towards Afghanistan. That continues to the present. For the Afghan Taliban it means they are very dependent on the good will of the Pakistani military to survive.

The ISI found that it did not have enough control over the Taliban to prevent the September 11, 2001 attacks and subsequent unwanted American intervention in Afghan and Pakistani affairs. The Americans and the Afghan Northern Alliance chased the Taliban out of Afghanistan by the end of 2001. The ISI made the best of the situation and provided the Afghan Taliban with a sanctuary in southwest Pakistan, just across the border from Helmand and Kandahar provinces, which was where most of the world’s heroin was produced and where most of the original Taliban (recruited in Pakistan refugee camps) came from. The drug gangs, which had provided the Taliban with most of their income during the late 1990s, continued to pay the Taliban after 2001 as both the drug gangs and Taliban survived because of support from the Pakistani military. That support included allowing essential chemicals (for converting opium into heroin) into Afghanistan and allowing most of the heroin to be exported via Pakistani ports (naval and air) to world markets. The exiled Taliban provided the muscle while Taliban leaders maintained their 1990s relationships with the drug gang leaders and the Pushtun tribes.

Elected Pakistani politicians openly admit that their military has a veto over anything an elected government seeks to do. As long as that situation persists Pakistan is run by the military.

Lingering Leftists

In Eastern India the Maoist rebels continue showing signs of decline. Surrenders and defections continue to increase as do tips from civilians about Maoist activity or specific Maoists with a reward offered for their death or capture. Rewards are also offered for hiding places where weapons or equipment are stored.

The Maoists are still active but are feeling the pressure from over a decade of attacks by paramilitary police battalions. The Maoists have seen reduced membership and a reduction in territory where they exercise any effective control. The downside is that the paramilitary forces are often operating in unfamiliar territory and more vulnerable to ambush or roadside (or trail side) bombs. Such attacks are less frequent as are the casualties the security forces suffer.

Civilians in Maoist infested areas are less afraid of providing police with information about Maoist movements. It has also become easier to recruit Maoist members to became active informants. These spies are paid monthly and the sudden affluence of their families often alerts Maoist leaders to the presence of police informants. While details about informants are kept secret, the losses suffered because police had inside information are often obvious. The Maoist decline has demoralized leftist leaders, who have not been able to come up with any way to halt or reverse the losses. Maoists are a radical faction of the once mighty Indian communist party. Many Indian communists were slow to understand why all those East European communist governments, including Russia, collapsed between 1989 and 1991. Despite that many Indians still support communism, but not the violent, ineffective and increasingly unpopular Maoists.

November 28, 2020: Pakistan and India are both suffering covid19 related economic recessions. So far there been some GDP contraction in both countries. In Pakistan GDP shrinkage is continuing into 2021 and there is more popular anger because the standard of living in Pakistan has been shrinking compared to India. The Pakistani government is unable to collect enough taxes to meet its budget and Pakistan received its last financial bailout in early 2020 just before covid19 arrived. There are no more financial bailouts for Pakistan because Pakistan has failed to comply with the terms of too many past bailouts. This reflects poorly on how the Pakistani economy has been managed, especially compared to India. One way to measure the divergence is now per-capita GPD in the two nations has steadily widened since the 1990s. Back in 2005 the per-capita GPD was about the same but since then it has widened and the gap has grown enormously since 2010, when India had 11 percent more per capita, to 2019 when the average per-capita GDP in India was 63 percent more than in Pakistan. That gap is now so great that more Pakistanis notice and Pakistani government explanations for such heretical developments ring false.

India has a much larger, more robust and faster growing economy than Pakistan. Indian GDP shrank by at least 10 percent in 2020, the worse performance in the region. Despite that it is expected that India will quickly (2021 or 2022) return to pre-covid19 GDP growth rates of 8 percent a year. Meanwhile China still managed to achieve nearly two percent GDP growth in 2020 and should return to its pre-2020 6-7 percent a year growth in 2021.

November 23, 2020: France refused to upgrade 150 French supplied Pakistani Mirage jet fighters or three French made Agosta submarines. This came as a surprise to Pakistan, who believed France would be eager to approve this expensive (several hundred million dollar) project. France turned down the busines because Pakistan was supporting Islamic terrorism inside France. A recent spate of such attacks in France resulted in French leaders calling for all to support secularism and condemned those who express their disagreement with murder and, in effect, call for Islamist separatism. This in turn led to a revealing reaction from leaders of Moslem majority nations, who accused France of Islamophobia and dangerous hostility to Moslems and Moslem customs. Some Moslem leaders declared that Moslems had the right to kill millions of French for not respecting Islam. French leaders admitted that it was only a minority of French Moslems who were willing to kill to “defend Islam” but it was a minority that would not be tolerated. Those few French Islamic radicals were trying to terrorize France into tolerating their murderous intolerance. French leaders responded to the foreign criticism by pointing out that secularism was the law in France and had been for centuries. That was not going to be changed for anyone. There were anti-France demonstrations in Moslem majority nations. While Pakistan accused France of not understanding Islam, Pakistan demonstrated it did not understand the importance of religious tolerance and freedom anywhere.

The French refusal to do upgrade Pakistani military equipment did get the attention of Pakistani leaders, who had already expelled the French ambassador and recalled their own. Fortunately for Pakistan, one of the major Pakistani religious leaders, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, died (0f natural causes) a week ago and this might diminish public enthusiasm for reprisals against France. Rizvi was also the head of a political party run by Islamic terrorists. Pakistan insists Rizvi and many of his associates are just Islamic conservative politicians but many foreign countries have declared them international terrorists. Pakistan created these Islamic terrorist groups decades ago and protects them as long as they supply terrorists willing to operate in Afghanistan and India. This is a military project that most elected officials oppose. The French went along with the lies to foster trade with Pakistan. Now the lies have turned on those who thought they could ignore what was really going on. The irony of all this is that most Pakistani politicians agree with their French counterparts but are unable to control the Pakistani military or even call out their own generals for causing this mess in the first place.

Many nations bordering Pakistan as well as most in the West, agree that the impunity of the Pakistani military and their use of Islamic terrorists is a disgrace. There has been progress because now there is international recognition that the Pakistani military and their pet terrorists are a problem. Doing something about it is the next step but few nations want to take on the Pakistani military and their nuclear weapons.

November 22, 2020: A month ago a new Chinese ambassador, Nong Rong, arrived in Pakistan and caused some confusion because the new ambassador was not a professional diplomat but a trade expert with experience in dealing with ethnic and religious minorities. The new ambassador got right to work by seeking to get the CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic corridor) project back on schedule. While Pakistan has kept the Islamic terrorists away from CPEC, they have not been able to prevent Baluchi tribal separatists from attacking the Chinese. CPEC is a vast Chinese investment and construction effort that depends on vigorous support of the Pakistani military to succeed. China needs the Pakistani military to keep Islamic terrorists and tribal separatists from disrupting the Chinese construction projects. Pakistan also helps China by keeping Indian forces occupied in Kashmir and the northwest Indian portion of the Pakistani border. In addition to the new ambassador China is also coordinating with Pakistan some of their military and intelligence operations along the Indian border. Until now Pakistan has been disappointed at the lack of military and intel support China was willing to supply. China has also made it clear, via public announcements, that it is not a military ally of Pakistan. That is still the case but now China is getting more actively involved in Pakistani internal security and operations against India.

November 15, 2020: Chinese academics claim that Chinese troops recently drove Indian troops off two hill tops on the Indian border (Indian Ladakh along the shore of Pangong Lake) using a microwave weapon. No details of the weapon were given but it was confirmed that Chinese troops were under strict orders to not use firearms. India denied that a microwave weapon was used. Such microwave weapons are not unknown. The U.S. Army developed the microwave ADS (Active Defense system) in the 1990s and it was scheduled for use in Iraq many times after 2003 but never made it. This was mostly because of bad image ("death ray"), and fear of the bad press they would get if the ADS were used, whether people died or not. There were also persistent reliability problems. The ADS is a non-lethal weapon that looks like a radar dish. The ADS "radar dish" projects a "burn ray" that is about 110cm (four feet) in diameter. It is effective in fog, smoke and rain. When pointed at people and turned on, it creates a burning sensation on the skin of its victims, causing them to want to leave the area, or at least greatly distracts them. The microwave weapon has a range of about 500 meters. ADS is carried on a hummer or any light truck. The proposed ROE (Rules of Engagement) for ADS was that anyone who keeps coming after getting hit with painful microwaves is assumed to have evil intent, and will be killed. The microwave is believed to be particularly useful for terrorists who hide in crowds of women and children, using the human shields to get close enough to make an attack. This has been encountered in Somalia and Iraq. Later a new, smaller, version of ADS, called Silent Guardian, with a range of about 250 meters, was developed for use in defending vital targets (like nuclear power plants) against terrorists. The manufacturer also pitched Silent Guardian to the navy (for ship protection), the State Department (for embassy protection) and organizations like the border patrol, or anyone looking for a non-lethal way to quickly disperse crowds. Deployment of ADS has been delayed for years because of concerns about how non-lethal it really is. ADS has been fired, in tests, over 3,000 times. Many of these firings were against human volunteers, and the device performed as predicted, without any permanent damage. But generations of exposure to lurid science fiction descriptions of "death rays" has made the defense bureaucrats anxious over the negative public relations potential if something like ADS was actually used. From a publicity perspective, using more lethal "non-lethal-weapons" is preferable to deploying something safer, but that could be described, however incorrectly, as a "death ray." China knew about ADS and had the tech to develop their own.

November 9, 2020: In Pakistan the Supreme Court apparently defied the military once more by granting bail to Shakilur Rahman, the head of the largest media group in the country and the founder of Geo, the largest TV network in Pakistan. Back in March police arrested Rahman and accused him of participating in an illegal 1986 land deal. That accusation was suspicious because the military have been trying to shut down Geo and most of the other media outlets that are, like Rahman, believers in press freedom. 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. Putting Rahman in jail for 200 days apparently didn’t work either. All this is yet another chapter in a long struggle between Geo and the military.

November 2, 2020: In the Afghan capital (Kabul) a major terrorist attack occurred on the Kabul University campus. About 30 people, most of them civilians, students and faculty, were killed. The government blamed the Taliban but the Taliban said it wasn’t them and was probably al Qaeda, ISIL or Pakistan. The February ceasefire agreement that enabled the peace talks to continue specified that the Taliban would halt attacks in cities and against American troops. It was assumed that Pakistan would halt its attacks via the Haqqani Network but that was not the case and Haqqani is still carrying out attacks in cities that are disruptive to the peace negotiations. Pakistan denies that it controls Haqqani and Haqqani rarely takes credit for attacks. Al Qaeda has an interest in the Taliban negotiations succeeding, so al Qaeda is unlikely. That leaves ISIL, which is currently much weakened and inclined to quickly and loudly take credit for such attacks. In this case ISIL did claim responsibility.

Another possible culprit is one of the many rebellious factions in the Taliban. This is something the Taliban insists does not exist. The factions are real and the result of resentment over being pawns of Pakistan. Over the last decade this has caused a growing number of Taliban factions to rebel. These defections broke out into open warfare in 2015, led by the example of Mullah Rasool.

The Rasool faction broke away from the Pakistan based Taliban leadership because of a dispute over who should run the Taliban. The current Taliban leader, Mullah Hebatullah Akhundzada, is unpopular with many Taliban faction leaders, in part because Akhundzada is seen as a figurehead and his chief deputy, the head of the Haqqani Network, is actually in charge.

During the late 1990s Mullah Rasool was the Taliban strongman in the southwest as governor of Nimroz. That ended in late 2001 when the U.S. backed Northern Alliance ousted the Taliban. The Rasool clan had made a fortune controlling the drug smuggling down there. Rasool had lots of contacts in Iran and saw himself as a potential supreme leader of the Afghan Taliban, if only because Rasool was always a close ally of Taliban founder and leaders Mullah Omar. This Taliban civil war is the result of disagreements over who should take over as Taliban leader after it was revealed in 2015 that founder Mullah Omar had died of kidney failure in 2013 (in a Pakistani hospital) at age 53. The information was known to only a few key Omar associates who were accused of doing this as part of a plot to install an Omar successor (Mullah Mansour) who was second-rate but backed by the Pakistan military. Since Pakistan created it in the mid-1990s, they saw the Taliban as an inexpensive way to keep Afghanistan dependent on Pakistan and cooperative whenever Pakistan wanted something,

From late 2015 to mid-2016 Rasool fought other Taliban factions for control. Heavy fighting began in late November 2015 when Mullah Mansour ordered attacks against the forces loyal to Mullah Rasool. This marked a major defeat for the Taliban as they lost a major asset; unity. Most of the fighting took place in Herat, Zabul and Farah provinces. There were apparently several thousand casualties and the heavy fighting did not cease until July 2016. Meanwhile Pakistan backed their man Mansour, who was then killed in May 2016 by an American air strike. Pakistan used its considerable control over the Afghan Taliban to get the head of the Pakistan backed Haqqani Network appointed as one of the three senior Taliban leaders. Rasool apparently backed down in the face of all this and was thought to have left the country. That was not the case as the Rasool faction remains active in western Afghanistan along the Iranian border. Rasool cooperates with Iran in return for access to Iran for some supplies. Rasool only control about five percent of Taliban manpower but he is not the only anti-Pakistan faction. There are many more but these other factions go along with the main Taliban leadership while waiting for an opportunity to openly side with Rasool or some other Taliban leader free of Pakistani control. All these dissidents and Rasool account for about a third of Taliban strength. A smaller number of Taliban were so fed up with the drug gang connection and Pakistani dominance that they joined ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). For most Taliban the drug money is too good, or simply essential for survival, to ignore. Even some ISIL factions will extort drug smugglers for needed cash rather than just blocking the movement of exportable heroin.

The bodies of the dead Kabul Universities attackers are proving difficult to identify because they killed themselves with grenades when it became clear they could not escape the campus. The government is intent on identifying the attackers because they have a large biometric database of Afghan and foreign terrorists or suspects and this has made it possible to identify dead Islamic terrorists, even when all that is left is a few body parts. The biometric data base is something the Americans devised and built before turning it over to the Afghan security forces. This database makes it more difficult to carry out an anonymous attack. It’s not enough to recruit sufficient suicidal attackers, you have to recruit ones who cannot be traced back to those who organized the attack. Government investigators have proved quite capable of uncovering what a recently deceased terrorist was up to and associating with.

 

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