India-Pakistan: Changing The Agenda

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October 22, 2021: Pakistan continues to deny that it had anything to do with the August Taliban victory in Afghanistan and the formation of the IEA (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan). The Pakistani military created the Taliban in the 1990s and have never stopped supporting their creation even though it was an open secret that the Pakistani support continued. Foreign reporters had a constant supply of pictures and videos of the Taliban Shura (high-command) members and their families operating openly in Quetta, a southwestern Pakistan provincial capital not far from the Afghan border. Many Afghans live there and it’s not difficult to figure out which of these people are Afghan refugees or sanctuary Afghans. Unofficially, Pakistan let it be known since 2002 that if Taliban regained control of Afghanistan, they would do as they were told by their Pakistani patrons. That is not happening and Pakistani military commanders are unsure how to handle this and are openly feuding with each other and the Pakistani government about how to fix the very real mess they have unofficially created.

Other nations have been disappointed as well. Afghanistan was initially seen as a new opportunity for China, but a risky one. Two months later the Chinese are demanding answers from Pakistan, which has become an obedient client of China, the source of vital military and economic support that will disappear if terrorist violence against Chinese in Pakistan increases.

Russia still maintains an embassy in Kabul, the Afghan capital but reduced the number of Russians in the embassy to the bare minimum. Pakistan, China, and Russia are still maintaining their embassies there. All the Afghan ambassadors, including the one in the UN, remain loyal to the deposed IRA (Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) government. Pakistan is counting on China and Russia to use their influence to change minds, but so far there is not much good news from Russia or China about the new Taliban IEA.

Russia has a long and painful history with Afghanistan. A particularly painful period took place in the 1970s and 80s when they tried using troops to support a communist government in Afghanistan. This triggered a massive backlash from most Afghans. China sees economic potential in Afghanistan but has had a hard time doing business in Pakistan, where most of the hostile Islamic terrorists and rebel groups are kept under control. Afghanistan has no history of doing that but China sees potential for enormous economic benefit if they can do what not one else has done. It is becoming obvious that such an economic miracle won’t be happening with the current IEA government and Pakistan appears unable to make a difference. China is willing to wait and keep its distance while Pakistan tries to curb IEA activities that anger the Chinese. If that effort fails China will declare the Taliban hostile and concentrate on keeping their influence out of China and nations with heavy Chinese investments, like Pakistan. Meanwhile a local faction of the original Taliban is dedicated to turning Pakistan into the IEP (Islamic Emirate of Pakistan), something no government in the region wants, except for the TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan) a Pakistani Taliban group that is about a third the size of the Afghan Taliban and opposed to the drug cartels that finance the Afghan Taliban. TTP is perpetually poor and gets by anyway it can. TTP also contains a lot of al Qaeda groups that joined because that appears to be the best way to overthrow the Pakistan government.

Heroin Warriors

The Afghan Taliban, despite their dependence on Pakistani support, are, like the TTP, composed of Pushtun tribesmen who have a long history of avoiding war with each other. Moreover, many Afghan Taliban believe Pakistan should have a religious dictatorship like Afghanistan now does. Pakistanis and Afghan understand how and why this absurd situation exists but many foreign nations do not. One issue that divides IEA and TTP factions is support for and dependence on the wealthy Afghan heroin cartels. The IEA tolerates the cartels because Pakistan forced the heroin trade out of Pakistan and into Afghanistan during the Russian occupation. Pakistan provided bases for the exiled Afghans who regularly went into Afghanistan to attack Russian forces. The refugee camps were in areas of the northwest that were largely Pushtun and often exiles were not living near kin.

The establishment of the IEA has made more visible the complicity of Pakistan in the drug trade and Taliban violence in Afghanistan before the IEA appeared. Currently many key Taliban leaders are recognized by the UN as sponsors of international terrorism and many of these men are now senior officials in the IEA. Pakistan is also widely recognized as a terrorism supporter. Those operating the Pakistani, Russian and Chinese embassies in Afghanistan appear to appreciate this problem and are seeking ways to make it less visible to the rest of the world. China, Russia and Pakistan are haunted by what happened in the 1980s and 90s. Russia got burned in the 1980s when they tried to support a communist government in Afghanistan that triggered a massive backlash from most Afghans. Now they fear Pakistan will suffer the same fate.

The IEA, like its late 1990s predecessor, desperately needs cash and access to the outside world. Afghanistan is landlocked and traditionally used two main border crossing (the Khyber Pass and a similar major crossing near Quetta.) The IEA keeps maintains access to Pakistan and their two Indian Ocean ports because everyone gets paid to collaborate with the heroin cartels. Afghanistan grows poppy plants, the raw material for heroin. This plant has long been present throughout Eurasia. To turn those plants into heroin, specific chemicals and hardware are required that must be imported. Once the heroin is produced it must be smuggled (because it is illegal in nearly all nations) to the outside world for sale. The resulting income gets back to the cartels mainly via corrupt Pakistani banks and the Pakistani military expects a piece of that as well.

One thing everyone in the region can agree on is the corrosive effect of heroin and its unrefined predecessor opium has on society. Over ten million families in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran have one or more members addicted to these drugs and that is bad news that travels far and fast.

The Taliban/IEA have depended on heroin money for over two decades and refuse to even acknowledge the dependence. The heroin production can be disrupted and forced to find another home base. That has happened twice since the 1970s when China forced the “Golden Triangle” on its southern border to leave the area for a more hospitable base somewhere else, where opium and heroin was a minor industry. Southwest Pakistan was an acceptable destination initially but that soon became unpopular with the government and military. With the Russian invasion of Afghanistan there was an opportunity to push the drug trade across the border into Afghanistan, where heroin was made and sold to Russian soldiers and exported to neighboring countries (including Russia, when it was the Soviet Union) and Iran. Since then, much has changed, except for the heroin problem, which survives by funding the Taliban/IEA. The Pakistani military generals and government officials also profited from this drug money as well and now Pakistani denials have little credibility left.

The drug money is a major reason why neither IEA or Pakistan can do anything about their two countries being used as sanctuaries for Islamic terrorists and the associated criminal gangs.

In Norwest India (Kashmir) there has been an unusual increase in the number of Islamic terror attacks on non-Moslems. This is apparently linked to a power struggle between Pakistan-based Islamic terrorist groups operating in Kashmir. A new group, the TRF, is advocating and carrying out attacks on all non-Moslems and justifying it because of a new Indian law. This allows any Indian from any part of the country who has lived in Kashmir and for at least fifteen years to change their permanent residence to Kashmir and vote. The Pakistanis fear this is an Indian scheme to replace the many non-Moslems who have been driven out of Kashmir since the 1970s when Pakistani terrorists began attacking non-Moslems in Kashmir and telling them to leave or die.

Despite that increase in terrorism related killings, the Pakistan deaths per million population because of terrorism was 1.6, more than three times what India suffered in 2019. Pakistan still has more religious and separatist violence than India and is not making much progress in eliminating these corrosive attitudes. The violence declined a bit in 2020 because of covid19 but the terrorists are trying to make a comeback this year.

Real Estate Warriors

China is making larger claims on Indian territory than Pakistan, who insists that 42,000 square kilometer Indian Kashmir is theirs and leaves it at that. China claims nearly 140,000 square kilometers of Indian territory, all of it on the Tibet border and 38,000 square kilometers of it already occupied by China. Current Chinese efforts to take possession of this territory have been largely non-violent but threatening and expensive for India to confront on a largely mountainous border, often several thousand meters (nearly 10,000 feet) high. China appears to have reduced their aggressive crossing into India) border activity in the last few months, apparently to concentrate on the growing threat of a financial collapse brought on by too many bad loans and the construction of too many homes and commercial properties that no one wants to buy or rent.

October 21, 2021: In northwest Pakistan (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province) police raided a hideout near the Afghan border and were fired on by three Afghan members of Islamic State Khorasan (ISK), the local ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) affiliate that has been very active in Afghanistan since the Taliban gained control in mid-August and formed the IEA government. The IEA told Pakistan it would go after ISK while telling he United States they would not cooperate with the Americans or Russians in suppressing ISK activity in Afghanistan. Now ISK is once more operating in Pakistan.

October 8, 2021: Senior American officials visited Pakistan to discuss the Pakistani willingness to change their policies towards supporting foreign Islamic terrorists and the Afghan Taliban. Satisfactory responses were required if Pakistan wanted relief from the growing economic sanctions they were under for terrorist support and associated bad behavior. The reply was the same; “we’re not responsible.”

October 6, 2021: In Pakistan the army commander replaced general Hamid (or Hameed), the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) commander with general Arjun and assigned Hamid to command the Peshawar Corps. This was considered a demotion and Hamid allies in the government have delayed implementation of the Hamid reassignment. The ISI is more than just military intelligence. In the last few decades it has come to rival the CIA in some areas, at least in South Asia. This growth has been propelled by drug money, payments from the Afghan heroin cartels to keep the drug production and smuggling going. ISI got addicted to the money, not so much the drugs.

Prime minister Kahn must, by law, concur with the army commander’s choice of a new ISI commander. This is one of the many laws enacted over the years to try and curb the power of the military. By withholding approval, Kahn is daring the military to use its considerable influence to change that rule. Kahn is the first elected leader in Pakistan that was selected and elected with the cooperation (substantial intimidation and threats) of the military and ISI. Kahn denies that he is controlled by the military despite doing whatever the army wanted since he was elected in 2018. At the time Kahn was accused of receiving considerable legal and illegal support from the military and ISI. The cause of this feud is tied with the recent change of government in Afghanistan, which Pakistan is accused of orchestrating.

The Afghan victory exposed disagreements in the Pakistani military high command, where many believe that ISI is forgetting who they work for and trying to leverage the “ISI victory in Afghanistan” into something that gives the military intelligence agency more power that it deserves or can handle. Initially the current head of the ISI appeared unconcerned. On September 10th the ISI commander (general Hamid) was summoned to military headquarters, where guards removed the ISI flag from his car before allowing it to enter. Hameed was then escorted to the AG (Adjutant General, the chief legal official in the military) and told he was being charged with insubordination for his recent unauthorized visits to Kabul. Hameed was allowed to leave and he promptly petitioned the commander of the military for a pardon and after a meeting with him it was granted. Four weeks later Hameed is removed from his job and there is nothing but speculation about what is going on.

October 4, 2021: There has been another, smaller, leak of foreign bank data called the Pandora Papers. Like similar post-Internet leaks this trove of evidence shows details of who is involved in hiding cash from the taxman, or prosecutors looking for prosperous but murderous criminals of all sorts. In the past the guilty have included Pakistani generals that amassed fortunes from drugs and smuggling. The Pandora Papers show a lot of the usual suspects (families) are still receiving and hiding illegal cash.

This is a major problem for the Pakistani military because the last major leak, the 2016 Panama Papers, showed how extensive the corruption was among Pakistani politicians and military leaders.

The Pakistani generals pulled off an impressive feat when they claimed in court that the politicians were largely responsible because the military was, by law, controlled by the elected government, In 2017 Pakistani Supreme Court agreed and declared that elected Pakistani government officials (rather than military) were to be punished more severely in light of the Panama Papers revelations that linked most senior officials and many senior officers or their families to secret offshore bank accounts. Many Pakistani elected officials, including prime minister Nawaz Sharif, were under pressure to resign and it was tacitly agreed that the Supreme Court would clarify the situation. By mid-year the court declared that Nawaz Sharif had to go. This decision was seen by most people in South Asia as a victory for the Pakistani military. The Pakistani politicians saw it that way and accused the judges of siding with the generals. The Pakistani generals are probably more corrupt than the politicians but they are also more disciplined, ruthless, and heavily armed. When details of the massive corruption first went public the military promptly dismissed many officers who were identified in the Panama Papers. Most of the officers dismissed had worked on border security and apparently cooperated with the drug gangs and took additional bribes to help get the opium and heroin into Pakistan. Bribes were also used to get industrial chemicals into Afghanistan so the opium could be refined into heroin. Many politicians, including the prime minister, were also found to have Panama Paper links but the politicians insisted they were innocent. This was all rather quick because the Panama Papers (over 11 million leaked documents showing details of secret, and often illegal, offshore bank accounts) became available in early 2016 and in the more corrupt nations, like Pakistan, had quite an impact.

By 2016 there was already a growing anti-corruption movement in Pakistan but the corruption was so extensive that it was apparent that only a small minority of senior government and military officials were not corrupt. Many of the politicians identified in the Panama Papers come from wealthy families and can make a case (true or not) for the offshore accounts not containing any money stolen from the government. But for government employees (like army officers) subsisting on a government salary, details of large fortunes hidden away in foreign banks are more difficult to explain away. The military deals with this more effectively by sacrificing some of the greedier and less discreet officers and insisting their “internal investigation is continuing” until senior politicians start getting investigated and punished.

India and Western nations were also alarmed that some of the Pakistani officers dismissed because of the Panama Papers revelation may have been associated with the nuclear weapons program. That apparently was not the case, if only because those working with the nukes are more carefully selected and constantly monitored. Some ISI and army officers believe that such corruption was patriotic because some of the drug money they received went to fund the “black budget”, as in money used to support Islamic terrorism operations that the military wanted no paper trail connecting them to.

This is a problem now because one reason Imran Khan got elected leader of Pakistan in 2018 was because he did not come from old money but made his modest fortune as a cricket champion who got too old to play in the 1990s and entered politics. Kahn always stressed his humble origins, and modest lifestyle paid for with money made as a champion sportsman. Kahn sought votes from Islamic parties and got military support in 2017-18, something he denies but might be confirmed in the Pandora Papers. So far, several wealthy Khan supporters and members of his government have been identified.

Khan has other problems as well as he is still being publicly mocked as a tool of the military by Ahsan Iqbal, the new leader of PML-L, the former ruling party. The party lost a quarter of its seats in parliament because the party leader and prime minister was associated with corruption. Ahsan Iqbal is clean and the military knows it. They tried to kill him in 2018 but their ISI sponsored Islamic terrorist failed and got arrested. The army tried fake corruption charges and that was thrown out of court. Reporting Iqbal’s activities in Pakistani media is restricted as much as possible. The army has intimidated most of the large media outlets but does not control them. Iqbal also makes the point that the world knows what is going on in Pakistan and that is the reason for the growing list of sanctions and failing economy.

October 3, 2021: The Afghanistan Taliban IEA government declared that Kabul international airport is again ready to handle international flights. There has already been some traffic from Qatar, Pakistan, and the UAE (United Arab Emirates). The IEA has made it a lot more expensive to fly in and out of the country. Airport used fees, as well as the cost of obtaining a visa or an airline ticket have gone up enormously. The IEA needs the money and this is one the few ways to get it,

October 2, 2021: In eastern Afghanistan some TTP (Pakistan Taliban) crossed the Pakistani border into North Waziristan and ambushed a Pakistani patrol, killing four soldiers and one policeman. The TTP gunmen then fled back into Afghanistan. These attacks despite Pakistani and IEA efforts to work out a peace deal with the TTP.

Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan repeated his belief that foreign nations, including the United States, would eventually have to recognize the Taliban IEA government and resume diplomatic and economic relations with Afghanistan. That’s a minority opinion in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Kahn is taking a lot of heat from Pakistanis who have seen their incomes fall or disappear because of the collapse of the Afghan economy. Khan has been a longtime fan of the Taliban, earning him the nickname; Taliban Khan.

October 1, 2021: In northwest Pakistan (North Waziristan) TTP gunmen ambushed a military convoy and killed five soldiers. There have been a lot more attacks like this in the last few weeks, apparently to demonstrate that the TTP was still active despite the new IEA government in Afghanistan, where most TTP bases are. Pakistan asked the IEA to go after the TTP but not much has been done by the IEA, which is busy with growing anti-government.

September 28, 2021: In southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan) Sunni Islamic terrorists, firing across the border from Iran killed a border guard.

In northwest Pakistan (South Waziristan) troops found and fought with a group of TTP gunmen, killing ten of them, including four known leaders.

 

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