December 29, 2017: Pakistan fears the United States and India will carry out more unauthorized attacks inside Pakistan against Islamic terrorist targets. Pakistan is particularly concerned with protecting the Haqqani Network, an Afghan led group that has prospered under Pakistani protection and is now believed to control the leadership of the Afghan Taliban, Pakistan has long denied any connection with Haqqani, much less control of the group, but there is much evidence that ISI (Pakistani Intelligence) works closely with Haqqani. Growing American (and international) pressure has forced Pakistan to say it is acting against Haqqani. There is little evidence of that. Meanwhile Pakistan insists that most Islamic terrorism inside Pakistan is the work of India with the help of the Americans and Israelis. Pakistan now describes this as an American secret strategy of creating perpetual instability in South Asia. Pakistan is the only South Asian nation that agrees with this analysis. Actually the foreign policy of the Pakistani military is to stage such attacks itself, in Afghanistan and India. This is now the Pakistani military justifies and perpetuates its dominant position in Pakistani politics and the economy. It is how the Pakistani military manages (successfully so far) to run the government without actually being the government. Power without responsibility plus generous retirement benefits, immunity from prosecution for most crimes and all those nifty uniforms and parades. No wonder a military career is so popular among the best families.
Yet there are sometimes unpleasant things that must be done, no matter how senior your rank. For example the head of the Pakistani military (army general Qamar Bajwa) recently spoke before parliament to brief the legislators on the state of Pakistani military security and the military efforts against Islamic terrorism and other enemies of Pakistan. The Pakistani military, especially its senior general, rarely reports to parliament. The last time this happened was after the 2011 American raid that killed Osama bin Laden in his Pakistani hideout and left with the bin Laden corpse and massive amounts of documents, many of them detailing how the Pakistani military had lied to the world about secret support for al Qaeda and many other Islamic terror groups.
After 2011 the military made a few changes involved things like going to war with Islamic terror groups that carried out unauthorized (by the military) attacks inside Pakistan. This included shutting down sanctuaries these groups (particularly the Pakistani Taliban) had long used. The army literally invaded the main sanctuary (North Waziristan) in mid-2014 and is still fighting there and nearby areas. This greatly reduced Islamic terror related deaths inside Pakistan. There was still such violence inside Pakistan but most of it was done without permission from the military. What Islamic terrorism the military still used inside Pakistan had a specific purpose. Case in point is the growing use of blasphemy charges by Islamic religious parties against those who threaten military power. Most of these parties are either allies of the military or literally on the army payroll. This program includes the new Islamic political parties formed by Islamic terror groups that have long worked for the military to carry out attacks inside India. The Pakistani military wants to protect these Islamic terror groups and turning them into political parties is the latest ploy. The covert violence against foreign (Afghan and Indian targets) is against Pakistani and international law and the Pakistani military continues to claim that it is not involved.
To obtain the cooperation of Pakistani politicians the military uses a slightly different form of Islamic terrorism. This was in full view during late 2017 when the army refused government orders to help restore free access to the capital. General Bajwa was appearing before parliament, in part, to explain what was going on with that. It was a masterful performance. First he admitted that the military is, according to Pakistani law, subordinate to the elected government. General Bajwa then pointed out that as a good Moslem he was obliged take religious considerations into account. That was how he justified the recent refusal to provide troops to assist in removing thousands of civilians who were blocking the main roads into the capital.
This blockade was part of an effort to force a senior government official to resign for his involvement in a new law (not passed) that made a minor (to the rest of the world and most Pakistanis) change to the oath new officials take. For Islamic political parties deciding what is blasphemy and acting on it is why such parties exist. The Islamic political parties represent less than ten percent of the voters and want to impose Islamic (Sharia) law on all Pakistanis. Most Pakistanis, and especially the military, don’t agree with that but cannot express those views openly. The military has turned this threat to their advantage by controlling enough of these Islamic political parties to terrorize those who oppose the military. That includes most of the people in parliament. General Bajwa even took some questions, which men in his position rarely do. He said he wanted to make peace with India but when asked about army support for Islamic terror groups like Lashkar i Taiba to turn themselves into political parties he said it was legal and the army would not interfere. He also added that while the army did not support Islamic terror attacks on India men like Hafiz Saeed, the leader of Lashkar i Taiba, do and the army has no control over that. General Bajwa was indirectly telling parliament to not interfere. And it wasn’t just about reusing to help clear the roads.
It was army influence and pressure that, by November, got Islamic terrorist leader Hafiz Saeed freed from house arrest. This was a very unpopular decision inside Pakistan and around the world. Saeed is a known and quite notorious Islamic terrorist but since he works for the Pakistani military he is protected. Up to a point. In 2012 the U.S. announced a $10 million bounty for the arrest or conviction of Hafiz Saeed, who is accused of organizing the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks as well as 2001 attack on the Indian parliament. India and the United States have presented compelling evidence to implicate Saeed, but the Pakistani government refuses to prosecute. Inside Pakistan, many politicians and media outlets admit that Saeed is a major Islamic terrorist leader and the man behind the Mumbai attack and numerous other atrocities. Saeed has dared the U.S. to come and get him, which the current American government might actually do. Saeed has long headed the Islamic terror group Lashkar i Taiba, which in turn was organized and long supported by the Pakistani military, mainly to organize and carry out terrorist attacks in India. Note that the reward offer is only good if Saeed is delivered alive. That is a useful condition and justifies the plan to turn its favorite Islamic terror groups (mainly the ones that attack India and do so because of Kashmir) into political parties to give these groups and their leaders even more protection from domestic or foreign interference. The major fear the Pakistani generals have is that the Americans will, as they did with bin Laden, apply “dead or alive” conditions to the reward. So far the Pakistani military has been able to protect Saeed although he has not been an international criminal for as long as bin Laden was before he was taken down.
One of the ironies of this situation is that what was used to protect bin Laden and, even more so, guys like Saeed are blasphemy laws. Like many Moslem majority nations Pakistan has laws that actually encourage religious violence and the military has regarded that as a useful tool. The most damaging instance of this are the blasphemy laws enacted in the 1970s. These allow for prosecution of anyone accused of speaking or acting against Islam. While no one had ever been officially executed because of these laws, many are accused and jailed each year, and often condemned to death (and later reprieved). But a growing number of those accused have been murdered by Islamic fanatics, who are a large, and violent, minority of the population. Accusations of blasphemy are mostly used by Moslems against innocent non-Moslems (usually Christians) but also against each other. For example the Pakistani Taliban is a Sunni group that encourage attacks on “blasphemers”. This usually means Shia but there are other non-Sunni Moslem groups that will do, as well as Christians and Jews. Hindus are considered pagans and require no encouragement for a devout Moslem to go after. The Taliban also considers any Sunni who does not support them a heretic and deserving of punishment.
Efforts to repeal these laws, or at least limit their misuse, are violently resisted by Islamic political parties and the military. It was the military that created these laws back when it decided to turn Islamic terrorism into a secret weapon for use against its enemies. The military still uses false blasphemy charges as an excuse to silence (often by death) media and political opponents. This sort of thing has gotten worse as the Pakistani military is put under more pressure to cease supporting Islamic terrorism.
For example, in late 2012 Islamic political parties in Pakistan forced the government to block over 20,000 websites, including YouTube, for displaying material considered critical of Islam. In addition the pro-Islamic parties organized dozens of demonstrations to protest, often violently, an American film accused of being anti-Islam. These demonstrations were part of an effort by the Islamic parties to establish themselves as censors for all Pakistanis. The 2012 crackdown began earlier in the year when the government blocked national access to Twitter for most of the day, apparently because of blasphemous (to some Moslems) activity on Twitter. Every day, if not every hour, there is something on Twitter that Islamic conservatives would consider blasphemous. What the Pakistani government particularly disliked about Twitter was that it was a speedy conduit of reports on bad behavior by the Pakistani officials. Shutting Twitter down for a sustained period would be enormously unpopular inside Pakistan and that’s why the threat evaporated. Yet the Islamic politicians kept at it and in July 2017 a senior Facebook executive met with the Pakistani Interior Ministry to discuss Pakistan demands that Facebook monitor and censor Facebook posts that Pakistani law considers blasphemous against Islam, especially if the message was posted by one of the 33 million Pakistani Facebook users. A Pakistani Facebook user had recently been sentenced to death for such a post and that prompted Facebook to meet with Pakistani officials and help sustain the illusion that the Internet could be censored. That served the goals of the Pakistani military, who were after individual critics not everyone who uses Facebook and Twitter. After all the Pakistani officers make enough to be comfortably middle class and the younger members of these families are big fans of the Internet. But individuals who criticize the Pakistani military via the Internet do not have a lot of fans among military families.
South Asia Safer
For the second year in a row Kashmir border violence was were way up. Islamic terrorist related deaths inside Indian Kashmir were up 32 percent in 2017 reaching levels (about 350 dead) not seen since 2010. In 2015 deaths had fallen to 174 but then things changed in Pakistan (which occupies the northern half of Kashmir and wants it all). In December 2015 Indian and Pakistani military leaders met on the Kashmir border to reaffirm efforts to reduce violence on the LOC (Line of Control) in Kashmir. Yet such incidents continued to occur despite the 20o3 ceasefire and subsequent pledges to behave. It was internal politics in Pakistan involving the Pakistan army that revived the border violence in 2016. This was all about the continuing battle between elected politicians and the military over the non-existent threat from India. The Pakistani generals justify their large budget and numerous other privileges by the perceived need to deal with the Indian threat. But there is no Indian threat. The Pakistani military refuses to accept that and the border erupts whenever the Pakistani generals need to justify their privileges and powers.
This is no longer seen as just a local issue. The Pakistani military is under growing domestic (by elected leaders) and international (especially American) pressure to cease all support for Islamic terrorism and that includes the border incidents with India. The Pakistani generals have not shown any sign of changing. The current head of the Pakistani military, appointed at the end of 2016, spent much of his career working directly with forces (military and Islamic terrorist) causing violence on the Indian border and in Kashmir. The growing LOC violence is hailed as a major victory for the Pakistani military against Indian aggression.
Meanwhile Islamic terrorist violence in Pakistan continues to decline, reaching a low of about a hundred dead a month for 2017, versus 150 a month in 2016. India saw a 12 percent decline in in 2017 for terrorism related deaths. The total is now under 800 again (66 a month), as it had been in 2015 before Pakistan got more aggressive in 2016. In Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) Islamic terrorism related deaths fell more than 40 percent in 2017 after an unusual spike in 2016 (to 139 deaths) because of an ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) effort to establish a presence in Bangladesh. That failed, as it did in India and Pakistan.
The Afghan Fence
At the end of 2017 Pakistan reported it had completed 150 kilometers of its new security fence along the Afghan border during the first six months of construction. The fence consists of two three-meter (nine foot) high chain link fences running parallel, two meters apart, with three rolls of barbed wire in that two meter gap. Construction began in South Waziristan (which borders Afghanistan’s Paktika province and Pakistan’s Baluchistan, where the Afghan Taliban still maintain a sanctuary). The fence construction was announced in March 2017 and will eventually extend along the entire 2,600 kilometer border with Afghanistan. This is part of an effort to hinder the Pakistani Taliban, and other illegal groups (terrorists and smugglers) from easily moving back and forth. After the Paktika portion of the fence is completed construction will continue along the border with the Afghan provinces of Nangarhar and Kunar. These provinces are where there has always been a lot of lawless activity and these days it is full of Islamic terrorists hostile to either Pakistan or working for Pakistan (against Afghanistan). The new plan will continue giving priority to areas where there are the most problems but will not stop there and eventually (by about 2025) have a fence along the entire Afghan border.
December 27, 2017: In northwest Pakistan (North Waziristan) a senior Pakistani Taliban leader (Jan Wali) was killed while working across the Afghan border in Kunar province. This was an accidental death because Wali died while supervising the placing of a roadside bomb. Apparently there were other casualties but the death of Wali was big news and word quickly got around. Wali has a base in Kunar, but he most constantly move it and defend himself from Afghan and American special operations troops.
December 26, 2017: In northwest Pakistan (Kurram) Jamil ud Din, a Haqqani Network leader and several of his associates died when their vehicle was hit by two missiles as it drove near the Afghan border (Paktia province). If this was an American UAV attack it would be the first inside Pakistan since October (when two attacks hit Haqqani targets). Pakistan threatens retaliation for such illegal attacks, which the U.S. will not comment on and Pakistan has not yet acted on.
In northwest India (Kashmir) ten Indian commandos crossed the border at night and attacked Pakistan soldiers 300 meters behind the border, killing three of them and wounding another before returning to their side of the border. This was in retaliation for a recent increase of Pakistani ceasefire violations along the border. Pakistan denied that the raid took place. This was similar to what happened in September 2016 when a larger operation involved Indian commandos going after seven locations (all 500-2,000 meters inside Pakistan) where Islamic terrorists were known to assemble before trying to sneak across the border. The commandos found Islamic terrorists at most of these locations and attacked and then quickly retreated back to India before Pakistan could bring in reinforcements. India reported that 38 Islamic terrorists and two Pakistani soldiers killed. Apparently five of the dead were Pakistani soldiers. Pakistan denied the attack took place, although some Pakistanis (military and civilian) in the area did reveal some confirmation. The operation took place in a remote part of the border between midnight and 4 AM. There have been three similar raids in the past but this was the first one India took credit for. The latest such raid makes five and India says there will be more as long as Pakistan keeps firing across the border in violation of the ceasefire.
December 25, 2017: In northwest India (Kashmir) soldiers trapped several Islamic terrorists in a rural home and fought throughout the night. Two of Islamic terrorists escaped but of the dead was identified as the leader of Jaish e Mohammad, an Islamic terror group based across the border in Pakistan.
December 19, 2017: In Pakistan the head of the military (army general Qamar Bajwa) spoke before parliament, a rare event.
December 14, 2017: Bahrain and Pakistan agreed to conduct a joint training program for special operations troops from both countries. In 2015 Bahrain and Pakistan held joint naval training. All this is nothing new as Pakistan has long had good economic and military links with Bahrain. In 2014 Pakistan and Bahrain agreed to increased economic and military cooperation. Oil-rich Bahrain (a small Persian Gulf nation with a Sunni minority ruling a Shia majority) provides Pakistan with loans and investments while Pakistan provides security assistance to help Bahrain deal with years of unrest by its Shia citizens. This formalized earlier efforts. For example in 2011 Bahrain sent recruiters to Pakistan to hire retired military personnel to staff the Bahraini security forces. The recruiters are looking to hire a thousand or more men quickly. There will be no shortage of volunteers, as the money is good, even with the risk of death or injury. Pakistan has been supplying such mercenaries to the Arab Gulf states for centuries.
December 13, 2017: Pakistan has ordered 29 foreign NGOs (Non-governmental organizations) to leave the country within 60 days. That is about half the foreign NGOs in Pakistan. This is what the military and ISI want because the NGOs are believed to employ foreign intelligence agents and their charity work in Pakistan is opposed by ISI-supported Islamic terrorist groups. Foreign NGOs employ 5,000 Pakistanis and spend over $280 million a year on 29 million Pakistanis.
December 11, 2017: In Pakistan China has taken note of the Pakistani military assuming more control over the government and is making sure that more of the contracts for work on CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) projects go to construction firms owned by the military. This shift of contracts is being carried out as part of an anti-corruption effort that has halted work by several Pakistani firms that China believes are using corrupt practices and wasting money. China can do this and the new contractors are expected to be ones that the military controls. CPEC is a complex piece of work that began in 2013 when China agreed to spend $18 billion to build a road from the Pakistani port of Gwadar to northwest Pakistan and China. This will require drilling long tunnels through the Himalayan Mountains on the border (in Pakistani controlled Kashmir.) The road and a natural gas pipeline are part of the $46 billion CPEC project. This will make it much easier and cheaper to move people, data (via fiber optic cables) and goods between China and Pakistan. China also gets a 40 year lease on much of the port facilities at Gwadar, which India fears will serve as a base for Chinese warships.
December 10, 2017: In Saudi Arabia 68 Pakistani special operations troops completed a two week joint training exercise with their Saudi counterparts. Pakistan is maintaining its support for the Saudi led (and financed) IMCTC (Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition) while also maintaining good relations with its neighbor Iran. IMCTC was formed mainly to oppose Iran, which was not invited to join the IMCTC while a retired Pakistani general was invited to lead the IMCTC (and accepted the job).
December 7, 2017: India has agreed to train Afghan female officers at Indian officer training schools. India has already trained over 4,000 male Afghan officers and NCOs. Afghanistan wants about ten percent of the security forces to be women but needs help in providing advanced training. Currently under two percent of the Afghan security forces are female.
December 6, 2017: Afghan officials said the new Iranian port of Chabahar in southeastern Iran on the Indian Ocean and its road link to Afghanistan was officially open. This project also includes new railroad and highway connections from Chabahar to Afghanistan and Central Asian railroads. Projects like this help keep the peace because they provide Afghanistan with an alternative to the existing Pakistani road links to Pakistan ports. This usually meant Karachi but now also includes the Chinese Obor (One Belt, One Road) project which has a similar (to Chabahar) link to the Pakistani port of Gwadar (72 kilometers down the coast from Chabahar) that links up with Chinese roads and railroads. Iran saw Obor as an attempt to establish a cartel and then control trade and prices mainly to favor China. The Iranians deal with the Chinese as equals but many other Obor countries are deemed more exploitable by the Chinese and often, but not always, are. Chabahar will free India and Afghanistan from dependence on Pakistan for a trade route and will also open up Central Asian markets for everyone since the new rail and road network goes from the northern border of Afghanistan to an enlarged Chabahar port on the Indian Ocean. Everyone involved, except Pakistan, is enthusiastic about Chabahar and Afghan/Central Asian links. Iran may be at war with the United States but the Americans tolerate Chabahar because it provides benefits for India and Afghanistan while also reducing Chinese economic power in the region. The Chabahar route was originally set to be operational by 2020 but began limited operations (from Chabahar to Afghanistan) in 2017 and that portion is now officially declared operational. There are still problems with visa and cargo transit paperwork for Afghan businesses. Some of this is due to the corruption in both countries but also because Iran wants to limit Afghan drug smuggling activity via the Chabahar route (about a quarter of the Afghan heroin and opium is smuggled out via Iran). At the same time Iran has expressed interest in linking with the new Chinese Obor link from China to the Pakistani coast. China likes this because their expensive Pakistani link to the Indian Ocean is more at risk from Islamic terrorist violence than the one in Iran. As with the ancient Silk Road, Iran and China are willing to do business. At the end of the year China agreed with Iran and backed more direct land-link between Gwadar and Chabahar. While the two ports are only 72 kilometers apart the only land link currently is a 362 kilometer long highway that requires a six hour trip. China is willing to finance the new Gwadar-Chabahar link alone if India does not want to participate.
December 2, 2017: A recent terrorism survey (GTI or Global Terrorism Index) documented Pakistani progress in reducing Islamic terrorist violence inside Pakistan. For the first time in a decade Pakistan has not been one of the top four nations in the GTI ranking of world nations with terrorism problems. In 2016 Pakistan ranked number five out of 163 nations. The top four slots were filled by the usual suspects (Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Syria). In the last decade Pakistan was number two in the GTI for six years and not much better the rest of the time. Things began to change after 2014. The situation was pretty back then. The GTI showed that five nations (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria, in that order) accounted for 80 percent of all terrorism related deaths in 2013 and even more in 2014. Four Islamic terrorist organizations (ISIL, al Qaeda, Boko Haram and the Taliban) accounted for nearly 70 percent of all terrorist deaths. Many of the lesser terror groups are also Islamic. In fact, of the top ten nations by terrorist activity (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Syria, India, Somalia, Yemen, Philippines and Thailand) only India and the Philippines had a significant minority of terrorist deaths that were not carried out by Moslems. In those two countries the minority terrorists were leftist rebels who had not noticed the collapse of radical socialism in 1989. Meanwhile the rapid growth in Islamic terrorism violence caused the total number of terrorist acts to increase 44 percent in 2013 over 2012.
December 1, 2017: The Indian Air Force has again publicly criticized the locally developed LCA (Light Combat Aircraft, or “Tejas”) jet fighter and did so with some very blunt comparisons to foreign fighters after having an opportunity to try out LCA and two similar foreign competitors. For example the LCA has endurance of 59 minutes per sortie versus two hours for the Swedish Gripen Jas-39 or the U.S. F-16. The payload of LCA is three tons versus six tons for Gripen and seven tons for the F-16. Worst of all LCA was found to be less reliable and required twenty hours of maintenance for each flight hour versus six hours for the Gripen and 3.5 hours for the F-16.
The Indian Air Force also noted that only four of 123 production models of the LCA had been delivered so far and it would be years, if ever, for the all these problems to be fixed. The Gripen and F-16 are being offered as cheaper and more effective substitutes for the LCA. The Indian Air Force backs the foreign fighters but the Indian defense procurement bureaucracy insists on the LCA and it has the backing of the Indian political establishment which gains votes and legal fund raising opportunities with this policy. The politicians seem to feel that as long as Indian maintains its nuclear deterrent (ballistic missiles that can hit Pakistani or Chinese cities with nuclear warheads) backing less effective locally made weapons is worth the ill-will from the military.
November 28, 2017: In Pakistan (Islamabad, the capital) there was another attack on Shia Moslems by Sunni Islamic terrorists. Gunmen fired on a Shia mosque outside the capital, killing several Shia and wounding many more. Shia later gathered in large numbers downtown and demanded the government do something about this continued violence against them.