Pakistan continues struggling with the Islamic terror groups it created and supported for so long, plus the internal corruption and mayhem that policy has created. There are relatively new threats, like the Pakistani Taliban or TTP, which first appeared in 2007 and has recently become a more frequent threat. This is particularly the case in large cities like Karachi. As the major port for Pakistan, Karachi has long hosted many different religious and political groups, including the TTP.
Unexpected events in neighboring Afghanistan added to Pakistan’s problems. In August 2021 the elected IRA (Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) collapsed and was replaced by the Pakistan backed IEA (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan). It was the Pakistan military that backed the Taliban and the Afghan heroin cartels. Over the previous few years, the Pakistan military had found a way to run the government without a coup and all the resulting criticism and sanctions. The defeat of the IRA was accomplished via corruption, intimidation, disruption of the economy and a bungled U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. The original withdrawal plan was for a thousand or more U.S. and NATO troops to remain to advise and train the IRA security forces and monitor the corruption. The IRA wanted to survive but to do that they had to keep receiving billions a year from foreign donors, mainly the United States. Refusal to cooperate meant termination of aid and nearly all the foreigners would leave.
The Americans got a new government in early 2021 and made fatal changes in the withdrawal plan. Everyone was ordered out but with three additional months to do it. That gave Pakistan and the Taliban an opportunity to increase their pressure on the IRA, which correctly believed the Americans were going to abandon them. The Americans did make an unexpected quick exit because a new government in the United States decided that was the thing to do. The new IEA declared a great victory but found that few people, not even most Afghans, saw this as a win. Foreign aid ceased. Nearly $10 billion of IRA cash held in foreign banks, in an effort to reduce corruption, was frozen and no one would recognize the IEA as the successor to the IRA.
Countries in the region expect the IEA to collapse in a few years, which will leave the country a narco-state without any central government. Drug production in Afghanistan depends on the Pakistan military for support. The drugs are winning as they usually do wherever they get established. There are not too many “narco-states” because they all follow the same script. Eventually locals get fed up with the local violence and the growing number of addicts. That leads to more violence and the drug gangs are crushed although usually not completely eliminated. “Eventually” can take a long time and such is the case with Afghanistan. Compare that to how it worked in Colombia from 2000 on, and Burma after World War II and Iran in the 1950s. The only thing that nearly everyone in Afghanistan can agree on is that opium and heroin are bad. Nearly ten percent of the population is addicted to drugs, mostly opiates, and a slightly smaller group make a better living or get rich from the drug trade. Most Afghans consider drug gangs the biggest threat and these are largely run and staffed, like the IEA, by Pushtun tribesmen from four southern provinces. The Pakistan-backed Afghan Taliban want to create a heroin-producing Islamic terrorist and gangster sanctuary in Afghanistan. If you want to know how that works, look at Chechnya in the late 1990s and Somalia or Yemen in the early 21st century. No one has come up with any cheap, fast, or easy solution for that.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan's core problem is that there is no Afghanistan, merely a collection of tribes more concerned with tribal issues than anything else. The IEA runs Kabul, the largest city in Afghanistan, but not much outside Kabul. Neighboring countries, especially Pakistan, are not cooperating. For example, Pakistan now demands truck drivers from Afghanistan carry government identification documents if they want to enter Pakistan. This slows down trucks seeking to cross into Afghanistan, which depends on Pakistan for most of its imports and the primary market for exports. Afghanistan is landlocked and two primary border crossings, each on a heavy-duty multi-lane road from Pakistan, carry most of the goods. Because of misrule by the IEA, the Afghan economy is weaker. New rules consist of a list of things you can’t do because they clash with the strict interpretation of Islamic law and traditions by the government. This has halted a lot of economic activity, especially trade. The negative impact of this eventually forced the IEA to drop a lot of the rules that hurt the economy and made many Afghans very angry at the government. This endangered the lives of IEA officials because most Afghans still have access to weapons, just in case. The current economic problems are a case that justifies an armed response. Foreigners, especially Pakistanis are often the targets.
Pakistan also has a problem unique to the region; armed forces that have since the 1950s dominated the political process and become very wealthy, corrupt, and politically powerful as a result. Islamic terrorist violence inside Pakistan has sharply declined since 2014 when public outrage forced the military to shut down the last sanctuary for Islamic terrorists in North Waziristan. Some Islamic terror groups in North Waziristan were not under the military’s control and some were trying to turn Pakistan into an Islamic dictatorship. That would have threatened the Pakistani military and could not be tolerated. Islamic terrorist violence did not completely disappear in Pakistan after 2014 and the military blamed that on outsiders like India, Afghanistan, and the United States. In mid-2021, after nearly two decades of American support for the Afghan government, withdrawal resulted in the overthrow of the elected government and a halt to two decades of economic growth.
Meanwhile Pakistan also has to deal with a growing non-violent Pushtun Rights movement that wants to get the Pakistan military out of the tribal territories on both sides of the Afghan border. The military has responded with arrests, kidnappings, and murder. At the same time the Pakistani generals continued sheltering and supporting Islamic terror groups that only attacked foreign nations, especially India. This contributed to growing hostility towards the military within Pakistan and escalating international criticism. In 2018 the U.S. became more public about the fact that Pakistan was dishonest and unreliable. The Americans pointed out that they had foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the previous 15 years, and Pakistan gave back nothing but lies and deceit. This backlash began in 2011 when a U.S. raid into Pakistan killed Osama bin Laden with evidence implying that the Pakistani military had given him sanctuary there.
This also angered many Pakistanis because it showed that the generals had lied about their involvement with sheltering bin Laden. That raid also made it clear that the military was unable to detect or stop the invading Americans or stop local Islamic radicals from later carrying out revenge attacks that left hundreds of civilians dead. Then came another series of confrontations between the Pakistani military and the civilian government which, by 2018, the military had clearly won by gaining control of key judges and a newly elected president. That was because old scams still worked. The generals created more confrontations with India and declared that Islamic terrorism was no longer, since 2013, the major threat to Pakistan. The main threat was once again India. This merely increased Indian, American and Afghan anger at Pakistani support of Islamic terrorism and the inability of the Pakistani politicians to control their generals.
Meanwhile India also disrespected the Pakistani military by continuing to consider China the main security threat to South Asia. India has to deal with some internal unrest, which does far less damage than what Pakistan has to deal with. Islamic terrorist violence, mainly in Indian Kashmir, is less of a problem than tribal rebels in the northeast and Maoist communist ones in eastern India. Both these threats are being slowly diminished while Pakistan continues to make unofficial war on its neighbors. Another problem is that the Pakistani economy is becoming more dependent on Chinese investment as well as Chinese diplomatic support and arms exports. The Pakistani pro-Islamic terrorist attitudes have left it with few allies besides China, Iran, and North Korea.
Pakistan needs economic help, but mostly from Pakistanis as the ills that torment Pakistan can only be resolved from within. That is happening despite opposition from the military because the defense budget is unusually high and too much of it goes to support the lavish lifestyles and foreign bank accounts of senior officers. That has caused a financial crisis that other nations, especially Arab oil states, the United States and international lenders like the IMF and World Bank have kept from becoming a catastrophe. But now the financial problems are so great that all the usual sources of emergency cash are insisting that defense spending be curbed or there will be no more financial aid. The house of cards Pakistani generals built and maintained since the 1970s was collapsing, not because of religious or military issues but because the nation the generals had plundered for so long was bankrupt and no one was willing to bail them out this time.
Political chaos in Pakistan declined because of the February 8th national elections. The votes are still being counted but it is certain there will be some changes in parliament. Many voters were angry at the poor performance of the existing parliament even though former prime minister Imran Khan was the target of an army effort to disrupt Kahn’s effort to limit army influence over the political process. In August 2023 Khan was sentenced to three years in prison for financial misconduct and barred from participating in politics for five years. Khan expects his followers to gain enough power in parliament to pardon him. Khan was taken to a prison near the capital to serve his sentence. Khan’s numerous followers are appealing his sentence to the high court. Khan is planning a political comeback in the fall elections. His major obstacle is the military. While he was prime minister, Khan sought to limit the economic and political power of the military and the military pushed back and refused to cooperate. Going after the generals was regarded as a needed move by voters because the generals had become rich and free from civilian control through corruption and did not want that to change. Slowly the army gained control over or cooperation from enough political parties that they got Khan removed from power as the prime minister in April 2022. Khan lost his job as prime minister via a no-confidence vote by a parliamentary majority. He was the first PM to be removed this way.
Most PMs are removed by the president of Pakistan, which is another, less messy, form of no-confidence vote. Since the founding of Pakistan in 1947, no PM has completed their five-year term. The main reason for Khan’s political allies to turn against him was economic; high unemployment and inflation, plus increasing Islamic terrorist violence and some diplomatic disasters. There was another reason, and that was Khan’s efforts to bring the Pakistani military under civilian control. There was much popular support for curbing military power, but the military refused to be curbed and managed to get Khan jailed on corruption charges. This will keep Khan from participating in the January elections and regaining his political power, though perhaps only for a while.
India has a more stable government and, when you take population size into account, less terrorist deaths than Pakistan. India never had a problem with the military interfering in politics because from the beginning the military was subordinate to the elected government and that never changed.
In eastern India, the CPI/Communist Party of India is accused of trying to revive its violent radical faction, the recently depleted Maoist communist rebels even though its leaders do not approve of Maoist violence and have cooperated with Indian efforts to keep the Maoists from rebuilding their strength and ability to launch attacks. During 2022 and 2023 there were fewer deaths attributed to Maoist activity. There are still Maoist factions in eastern India, but the Maoists are found in fewer areas. For the last decade, terrorist related deaths have been declining every year. In 2022 there were 414 terrorism related deaths and so far in 2023 there have been less than 400.
India’s communist Maoist rebels were once considered one of the most dangerous terrorist groups worldwide. Total deaths caused by the Maoists was lower in 2023 than 2022 when they were 98. Such deaths were 147 in 2021. Terrorism related deaths in India also include Islamic terrorists in northwest Indian Kashmir and tribal rebels in the northeast. The Maoists operate in eastern India, and the areas where they are active have shrunk considerably over the last decade because of energetic government efforts to eliminate them.
In 2023 there were fewer than 400 deaths in India from all forms of terrorism, compared to 434 in 2022, 585 in 2021, 621 in 2019 and 940 in 2018. In 2020 54 percent of the dead were in Kashmir, which was higher than usual. In most years non-Islamic terrorist violence accounts for most of the violence, but in 2020 leftist Maoist rebels in eastern India only accounted for 41 percent of the deaths with another five percent caused by tribal separatists in the northeast. The decline in Maoist activity began in 2009 when India assigned 75,000 additional police to deal with the Maoists. Initially this did not increase Maoist losses but did result in more dead policemen. The Maoists did lose many of their rural camps and, in general, were forced to devote more time to security and less to attacking the government or extorting money from businesses. As always, the government failed to effectively address the social and economic problems in the countryside, where feudalism and corruption are rampant. These problems provide the Maoists with recruits, and support from many of the locals.
Eventually the government did address the local social and economic problems, and this is what deprived the Maoists of areas where they could operate. The police efforts continued and now the Maoists are only active in a small portion of eastern India, where they are more concerned with surviving than expanding or attacking the police. Civilians in Maoist-infested areas are less afraid of providing police with information about Maoist movements or joining pro-government militias to resist Maoist operations. It also became easier to recruit Maoist members to become 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 is 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.
Pakistani efforts during 2023 to privatize state-owned enterprises were an expensive failure and one of the reasons the economy is in such bad shape. A prime example was the expensive failure of Pakistan Steel Mills. This cost the government $18 billion. This is but one of many cases where state-owned firms were unable to compete, and the losses have grown to the point that they were a major reason for the current economic crisis. India has far fewer state-owned enterprises and the means a more profitable and robust economy. India also lacks problems with military interference in the economy, which is common in Pakistan. There the army generals saw or created opportunities to control many enterprises. That was profitable for the generals but disastrous for the economy. Now the army and the economy find that Pakistan has a poorly performing economy and foreign lenders.
Earlier in 2023 China granted Pakistan some debt relief by deferring repayment of $2.1 billion in loans from China for two years. This included suspending interest payments. Pakistan is the largest export customer for Chinese weapons and the destination for billions in Chinese construction investments. Foreign lenders and investors, especially the IMF (International Monetary Fund), China and Saudi Arabia, have lost patience with Pakistan and are unwilling to take further financial risks there. One financial risk is the $77 billion debt to China and Saudi Arabia. This money is supposed to be repaid between 2023 and 2026. Pakistan doesn’t have the money to make the payments and is trying to negotiate an extension. Until this issue is resolved there will be no more loans or investments from China or Saudi Arabia. A side-effect of all this financial turmoil is high 47 percent inflation which is felt by all Pakistanis.
The primary cause of all this financial distress is the Pakistan military, which is currently controlling the government in Pakistan. The excessive military influence on Pakistani politics has been an issue since Pakistan was created after World War II. China and India did not have that problem, for different reasons. The Indian politicians insisted from the beginning that the military remain subservient to the elected government. The Chinese communists took control of the Chinese government after World War II and continually reminded the military leaders that their main job was to keep the CCP, or Chinese Communist Party in power.
In Pakistan the parliament could not control the generals, who periodically took control of the government for a few years and then let the politicians return to power. During those periods when the generals were in charge, they often made poor economic decisions. One was to purchase more weapons from China than Pakistan could afford or pay for. Now Pakistan has more debt than it can handle, and related economic mistakes have put Pakistan in a debt crisis that requires an expensive and politically difficult solution. The major lenders will have to take losses and Pakistan will have to change and reduce what it spends, especially on the military. Unless the Pakistani economy is put right there is increasing risk of popular violence and a civil war.
In late 2023 Pakistan forced 150,000 illegal Afghan migrants back into Afghanistan. The migrants fled Afghanistan to escape the harsh rule of the new IEA government. The migrants were not welcome in Pakistan because they are an economic burden and a source of criminal and terrorist activity. The Afghans tend to live in refugee camps or Afghan neighborhoods in major cities like Karachi. The Afghans provide bases for various criminal organizations, especially in cities like Karachi.
In early November 2023, nine members of TTP attacked the Mianwali air base in Punjab Province. The attackers were repulsed and all of them died.
Since the middle of 2023 most of the terrorist and counter-terrorist violence has taken place in southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan)and the northwest (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa). Over 400 people died in 2023 and the violence continues.
In the Indian northwest (Kashmir) Pakistani terrorists continue to cross the border and kill policemen, soldiers, and civilians. India and Pakistan have been at odds over who controls Kashmir for more than 70 years. India has reduced the Pakistani attacks in Kashmir by upgrading border security so that most Pakistani infiltrators are spotted and killed or forced to retreat back into Pakistan. Northeastern India has long been the scene of tribal violence, but more intense policing coupled with increased negotiations over local grievances has reduced violent deaths by more than 60 percent.
The agreement between China and India to reduce the number of troops both are maintaining in the disputed border area of Ladakh did not last. India recently moved more troops near the disputed area and China protested.