The Pakistani military has found a new ally in the Pakistani Supreme Court, which has often been caught in the middle as elected politicians and military leaders struggled for control of the government. The military has persuaded the Supreme Court to work with the military to make needed improvements in how Pakistan is run. The Supreme Court wants to crack down on corruption and ineffective government. The military is also corrupt, but not nearly as corrupt as elected politicians and much of the wealth the military has access to is legal, as in generous pay and fringe benefits for the military leadership. The military has also gained control over much of the economy and the military leaders are rewarded (legally) for looking after those operations. In this way, the military makes itself less of a target for the reform minded Supreme Court judges and help by backing up Supreme Court decisions (like recently ousting a prime minister for corruption, as well as some of his ministers). Left unsaid is occasions in the past where the military threatened the Supreme Court with armed resistance to unpopular (with the generals) decisions.
While Islamic terrorist violence is fading away in Pakistan the same cannot be said for the Pakistan sponsored violence in northwest India (Kashmir) where the Pakistani Army defies its elected political leaders and a growing percentage of the population by continuing to support the violence in Indian Kashmir as well as regularly breaking the ceasefire on the Indian border, especially in Kashmir and having troops fire across the border and then blame the Indians for starting it because Indians fire back. This deadly charade is one reason Pakistan is under growing international pressure to behave. The official Pakistani response it that the rest of the world is somehow being deceived by some kind of conspiracy.
A Kashmir peace deal could have been worked out decades ago had not the Pakistani military not decided to use Kashmir as a way to justify their existence and growing wealth. The Pakistani generals are pleased with their progress in Kashmir where violence is up for the third year in a row. So far in 2018 Islamic terrorism related deaths in Kashmir are up about 25 percent from 2017. This scam held up in Pakistan far longer than it did with the Indians but now the Pakistani generals are under growing pressure from Pakistanis, in general, to back off in Kashmir. That is not happening and the Pakistani military has responded by seizing more political and government power in Pakistan. This is making Pakistan more unstable. The problem here is that a lot more Indians are willing to risk war, even nuclear war, to halt the Pakistani military and Islamic terror operations in Kashmir (and less successful Islamic terror efforts throughout India.) A growing number of Pakistani allies are warning the Pakistani military that the violent theatrics and posturing in Kashmir are costing Pakistan a lot of credibility and sympathy. So far the Pakistani generals are not making any changes to their Kashmir strategy. Civilians on both sides of the border report that the violence, especially damage to civilian structures, is worse than the 1990s when this border violence last peaked.
Peace For Me, None For Thee
Pakistan continues to reduce Islamic terrorist violence inside Pakistan. Terror related casualties are headed for the fourth year of sharply reduced violence. The Islamic terror groups hostile to the Pakistani government (mainly the Pakistani Taliban) are now a nuisance, not a threat, inside Pakistan. Most of the remaining terror related deaths are from groups that have been killing for generations. This is mostly about Sunni Islamic terrorists killing Shia and non-Moslems. There is growing Baluchi violence in the southwest but it is no worse now than it has been at times in the past. Meanwhile, the Pakistani military has succeeded in exporting Islamic terrorism to Afghanistan and India (and less successfully to Bangladesh). This is a remarkable (and despicable) achievement but one that the Pakistani military cannot openly take credit for.
There is one Islamic terrorism related achievement the Pakistani military can talk openly about. In 2014, when the army finally decided to shut down sanctuaries for Islamic terror groups not under military control, there were 5,496 Islamic terror related deaths. In 2015 that dropped to 3,682, then to 1,803 in 2016, 1260 in 2017 and so far in 2018 it looks like these deaths will fall to under 700. India, with six times as many people, has had terror related deaths under a thousand a year since 2012 and most of those have nothing to do with Islamic terrorism. Despite the growing popularity (among Moslems) of Islamic radicalism in the last three decades, Moslem majority Bangladesh has been largely free of it. Compared to Pakistan (with a ten percent larger population) Bangladesh still had only six percent as many terrorist deaths as Pakistan during 2017. So far it looks like Bangladeshi terror related deaths will decline even more in 2018, to about three percent of the Pakistani total.
The current head of the Pakistani military, Qamar Javed Bajwa, has expressed an interest in making some kind of peace deal with his neighbors (especially India). Bajwa seems to recognize that he cannot run Pakistan (via another military government) and that the growing tensions with India are indeed dangerous. The Indians have nukes and a track record of defeating Pakistan every time the two nations get into a war. China has openly proclaimed that it is not a “military ally” of Pakistan so Bajwa realizes he actually is in a weak position that is liable to get worse and end very badly for Pakistan, Bajwa and the Pakistani military. China also openly urges Pakistan to make peace with India. As open to peace talks as Bajwa says he is he can’t even admit that he has imposed on himself a lot of difficult restrictions. He cannot admit that Pakistan is sponsoring Islamic terrorism in Afghanistan and India. Then there is the Pakistani history of making peace deals and regularly violating them. No wonder Bajwa sounds worried and unsure what he can do about the mess he and his predecessors have created. In private discussions with Chinese and American officials, Bajwa is called out on his actual policies. Bajwa can deny the accusations from the Americans but the Chinese cannot be lied to. The Chinese support Pakistani lies publicly but privately urge the Pakistanis to face reality before they trigger a nuclear war that would destroy a lot of valuable Chinese investments. To help this peace effort along the Chinese openly deny they are any kind of military ally of Pakistan.
The Pakistan supported violence in Kashmir has become the major public safety issue for India because the other two major sources of disorder (communist Maoist rebels in the east and tribal rebels in the northeast) are very much on the defensive and causing much less disorder.
The Economic Scorecard Then And Now
India expects its GDP to grow by 7.4 percent this year, making it the fastest growing large economy in the world and surpassing long-time champion China. That is a promising trend but its only part of an Indian effort to match the much larger and more developed Chinese economy. Right now India has much less developed infrastructure, an inferior education system, much more corruption and a much less efficient government. All this is nothing new. It was noted in 2017 when India, Pakistan and Bangladesh celebrated the 70th anniversary of British India (and centuries of British rule) being replaced with independent India and Pakistan (which, after 25 years, split into Bangladesh and what is now Pakistan). Today these three nations have a population equal to China but have fared differently when it comes to economic growth. After 70 years India has seen its GDP per capita increase 5.5 times, Pakistan 3.9 times and Bangladesh 2.4 times, Neighbor China saw an increase of 17.9 times. Back in 1947, the GDP per capita in India was 38 percent higher than China while in what is now Pakistan it was 50 percent higher and in Bangladesh 21 percent higher. In 1947 China has just ended four decades of rebellion, civil war, invasion and one more civil war that put the communists in power. During that time British India was much more peaceful and undergoing the industrial revolution and the attendant changes. The Chinese economy didn’t grow much more quickly than that of India until the 1980s when the Chinese government decided to give economic (but not political) freedom a chance. India always had political freedom but the economy was crippled by corruption and state control. In the 1990s India introduced more economic freedom but still, like Pakistan and Bangladesh, suffered more from corruption than neighboring China. There were also cultural differences between the four nations but it is interesting to see how the four did after 70 years of independence.
Pakistan is also experiencing high GDP growth now, which is expected to hit 6.2 percent over the next year. This growth is the result of less terrorist violence since 2014 and more Chinese investments. But the Pakistani economy is in much worse shape than India’s. Pakistan also has a higher illiteracy rate (about 50 percent) and more civil disorder in cities and rural areas. Pakistan has always been more violent, suffering about six times more terrorist violence than India. In Pakistan, military spending takes 23 percent of the government budget and is taking more next year. Paying interest on, or repaying, debt takes 30 percent leaving less than half the government budget for everything else. Economic development gets about 15 percent of spending but it isn’t nearly enough, especially since a lot of it is diverted or stolen by corrupt officials.
Meanwhile, a former part of Pakistan (East Pakistan now Bangladesh) is outperforming Pakistan and India when it comes to economic growth. The primary reason for this is Bangladesh never adopted Islamic terrorism as a national policy. Quite the opposite, Bangladesh was more like India in forcing the Moslem clergy to refrain from trying to impose Islamic lifestyle rules or form radical groups to impose lifestyle rules that cripple the economy and prevent much progress at all. Bangladesh always encouraged the education of women and widespread employment of women throughout the economy. In a way Bangladesh didn’t have a choice. West Pakistan (what is currently Pakistan) had far more economic resources than East Pakistan and Bangladesh had to concentrate on developing the capabilities of its people or be stuck with perpetual poverty.
Bangladesh Versus The Burmese Generals
The biggest problem Bangladesh faces is not Islamic terrorism sponsored by Pakistan (that has been kept under control) but problems created by an independent military in neighboring Burma. The military ran Burma from the 1960s until 2011, when it finally allowed elections to get out from growing international hostility (and sanctions). But like in Pakistan the Burmese military is still an independent (of government control) organization and it played a large role in over 700,000 Burmese Moslems (Rohingya, Bengalis who had been in Burma before the British colonial government left the region in 1948) fleeing to Bangladesh. Burma, or at least the Burmese military and its Buddhist nationalist allies, do not want to take the Rohingya back. But that would leave Burma with a huge refugee population that, even with foreign aid paying for the camps, would be nothing but trouble for Burma.
The 700,000 Burmese Rohingya Moslem refugees in Bangladesh are stuck there and for what appears to be a long time. The Burmese government insists that only validated Burmese residents will be allowed back and the verification process is stalled. Burma is approving less than ten percent of the names Bangladesh presents as authentic Burmese Rohingya. The repatriation back to Burma of was supposed to begin in January 2018 but continued army violence against Rohingya still in Burma made that impossible. Added to that were the administrative problems and so much more. Those Rohingya going back must do so voluntarily but there have been many reports of Rohingya refugee camp leaders putting Rohingya on the “will return” list even if the refugee does not want to return. This abuse of the lists may have to do with corruption or Rohingya politics. There has been some violence in the camps over this issue and others.
Back in Burma UN officials report that adequate preparations have not been made to handle a large scale return of Rohingya. A further complication is that those Rohingya willing to return want to return to their homes. If their home was destroyed (as many were during the military violence) the returnees want an opportunity to rebuild and for the government to supply money and supplies to make that possible. That would be difficult because in many of the areas Rohingya fled from local officials have treated the former Rohingya property as “abandoned” and available or resale and reuse. Rohingya refugees are aware of this and will not return until the government clears up the property ownership issues. That happening is considered an impossible dream by all concerned. As a result many Rohingya refugees are seeking new homelands. Bangladesh is not considered a good candidate because the country is already crowded and poor and long the source of illegal migrants to other nations. At the moment Moslem refugees are a hard sell, even in Moslem countries. No one is willing to take a lot of Rohingya and Bangladesh does not like being stuck with these large refugee camps near the Burmese border. Because the Rohingya are Moslem most Moslem nations have been quick to condemn Burma and urge international efforts to force Burma to take back the Rohingya. That has not worked either, just like international pressure on Pakistan has not eliminated Pakistani support for Islamic terrorism.
Pakistani Pushtun Protest
The PTM (Pashtun Tahafuz Movement or Pashtun Protection Movement) is a growing Pushtun nationalist movement in Pakistan. That is where most Pushtuns live but the Pushtuns are a small minority in Pakistan while in Afghanistan half as many Pushtuns are the largest minority in the country and a force to be reckoned with. Pushtuns on both sides of the border also agree that India is more of a friend than the Moslem majority of Pakistan who like to treat India as an enemy (which Indians insist they are not) and Afghanistan as a subordinate nation (which the Afghans do not like at all). India can now trade freely with Afghanistan via a new sea/rail link in Iran and most Afghans prefer this to dependency on Pakistan for access to the rest of the world. Attitudes and alliances are changing and Pakistan and the Taliban they created are the big losers.
April 29, 2018: The leaders of India and China finished two days of meetings in China. This was an informal summit meeting requested by China, which wants to peacefully settle, or at least suspend, some or all of the current disputes it has with India. China would also like to get Indian cooperation for the OBOR (One Belt, One Road) project. Already China is building one land branch through Pakistan and would like to build another branch through India as well as obtain Indian cooperation for a maritime OBOR link via the Indian Ocean. Neither country got all they wanted but the two days of talks did quiet things down between the two most populous nations on the planet and set in motion some efforts to increase economic, diplomatic and military cooperation.
One of the long shot opportunities China sees with India is another customer for Chinese military equipment. Since 2000 India has bought less from Russia, long the main supplier, and depended more on Western nations (mainly the U.S. and Israel). China has become a major threat to customers Russia long believed they had a lock on. China can offer a wider range of inexpensive weapons similar to what Russia has long offered but deliver stuff of higher quality, higher quantity and customized to customer requirements. Moreover, China turns around these orders more quickly. There are still some Chinese weapons suppliers who have acquired some of the bad Russian habits but these are usually bottom feeders supplying the lowest cost stuff to the most desperate customers. China encourages its arms manufacturers to take the high road, except when it comes to practical measures like paying bribes to get the sale and get it delivered. If India and China did not have some many border disputes India would be buying Chinese weapons in place of the increasingly shoddy ones Russia is offering.
April 28, 2018: Pakistan has increased its military spending by an unprecedented 20 percent a year (to $9.6 billion). This was a very unpopular move but seen as essential by the military which is apparently accepting the fact American military aid is gone for good. The military applied a lot of pressure, including threats, to get enough votes in parliament for this large increase. This cause a lot more resentment against the military.
April 23, 2018: Pakistani and Russian officials met in Russia to discuss how much Russia could replace the United States as a military ally and supplier of military equipment. This is a major shift for Pakistan and Russia, which have long been on bad terms. But that has changed, especially with the Americans cutting off military aid for Pakistan because of continued Pakistani support for Islamic terrorists. Russia, like China, is not bothered by that as long as the Pakistani backed Islamic terrorists leave Chinese and Russians alone. While Russia is a poor (literally) replacement as a military supplier and supporter, Pakistan cannot afford to be choosy. Russia and China are allies (of a sort) whereas the same could not be said for the United States and China. Although the American and China are the two largest economies on the planet, Russia is number 12 and declining. Still, the Russian economy is five times the size of Pakistan’s and able to produce a wide range of military equipment. Since 2014 Russia and Pakistan have formed several military links. Back in late 2014, Russia agreed to sell Pakistan up to twenty Mi-35s helicopters. The Pakistani army has been calling for all the helicopter gunships it can get, as these aircraft have proved a key weapon in the battles against Islamic terrorists in the tribal territories. The Pakistanis were, as always, short of cash. The Russians are not known for offering generous credit terms like they did in the Cold War, but deals can be made if the long term benefit is attractive enough. The Russian offer to sell Pakistan weapons came as a surprise. That’s because India has long been the largest export customer for Russian weapons. But India is becoming disillusioned with Russia as a weapons supplier. Late deliveries, quality problems and inadequate support are all complaints that India finds Russia has no solutions for. So Russia apparently feels free to sell to India’s archenemy Pakistan. After all, Russia has long been the major weapons supplier to the other Indian archenemy; China.
April 22, 2018: Despite a government ban the PTM (Pashtun Protection Movement) held a large demonstration in Lahore and spoke out against the police state tactics the government was using throughout the tribal territories as part of the effort to destroy Islamic terror groups that oppose the Pakistani government (rather than work for Pakistani military). The army has been kidnapping and murdering suspected Islamic terrorists and often killed people who simply didn’t want to cooperate with the government or the military. The government refused to allow the PTM to hold the demonstration because of possible threats to PTM leaders. This is what PTM is protesting, the government policy of threatening unofficially and then restricting Pushtun political activities because the Pushtun politicians or protest leaders were in danger.
April 21, 2018: India revealed that it had, in February, withdrawn from the joint development and manufacturing agreement with Russia regarding their Su-57 stealth fighter. That agreement committed India to eventually contribute over $8 billion to developing and building Su-57s. India said they might still purchase the Su-57 once it is ready for sale and might even rejoin joint development efforts. But for now India is writing off nearly $300 million it has already invested but is no longer obligated to spend over $8 billion to develop and manufacture an aircraft they have lost confidence in.
April 20, 2018: In China state owned media pointed out that China and Pakistan are not military allies. Pakistan may be the largest export customer for Chinese weapons and the recent withdrawal of American military aid makes Pakistan largely dependent on China for advanced tech weapons and equipment. China and Pakistan criticize the United States for insisting that Pakistan cut its support for Islamic terrorists like the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network if they want to receiver military aid. Pakistan insists there is no such support for the Taliban and Haqqani, but most of the world disagrees. At the same time China insists that Pakistan keep Chinese personnel and construction projects in Pakistan free of terrorist attack and Pakistan quite visible and competently complies. For Pakistan that is different. China is a business partner.
April 19, 2018: In Pakistan the largest TV network, Geo, was allowed back on the air after being shut down by the military in late March for criticizing the military and the Supreme Court. Apparently Geo management agreed to censorship by the military as the cost of getting back on the air. This is not the first time the military and ISI (military intelligence) have clashed with Geo over press freedom. Back in November 2014 the head of Geo was sentenced to 26 years in prison. He had been convicted of blasphemy for allowing the broadcast of a video the court considered anti-Islamic. Most Pakistanis see this as another example of the army and ISI using their control of some courts to use the blasphemy laws as a form of censorship against those who criticize the army or ISI. Pakistan still has severe blasphemy laws that are mostly used by Moslems against innocent Christians or other non-Moslems. Efforts to repeal these laws, or at least limit their misuse, are violently resisted by Islamic political parties. The Pakistani blasphemy laws are usually only used by Moslems against non-Moslems and when they are used against Moslems it is usually for revenge or political reasons. The laws are unpopular with the majority of Pakistanis. But the minority who do support the laws, are willing to use lethal force to keep the laws on the books. These blasphemy laws were enacted in the 1970s at the behest of the military. The opposition to repealing these laws is violent and fearless. In 2011 the Punjab province governor Salman Taseer was shot dead by one of his own bodyguards because Taseer had openly opposed the blasphemy laws. While no one had ever been executed because of these laws, many are accused and jailed each year, and often condemned to death (and later reprieved). But over 30 of those accused have been murdered by Islamic fanatics, who are a large, and violent, minority of the population.
The ISI had been after Geo since June 2914 and from the start used trumped up charges that the station was guilty of blasphemy. This resulted in the normally anti-ISI civilian government ordering Geo shut down for 15 days in June for “slandering” the ISI. The station also had to pay a $102,000 fine. The ISI also mobilized Islamic conservative groups to attack Geo and its employees. The military was angry with the Geo TV news channel mainly for accusing the military of being behind an April 19th attack against a prominent Geo TV journalist (Hamid Mir) who frequently criticized the ISI and the army during his Geo show. Mir survived the attack and the army denied it had anything to do with it. Similar attacks have been traced back to the army and ISI in the past. In Pakistan it’s understood that openly criticizing the ISI or army can have unhealthy consequences. The army first tried using jammers to block Geo from being received on military bases and also banned newspapers that were also making these accusations. The military then mobilized its political and media allies to back this attack on Geo, which resulted in the fake blasphemy charges and repetition of these charges in Islamic and pro-military media. On May 26th Geo surrendered and printed and broadcast a groveling apology to the military and ISI over the issue. That was not enough, nor was the order to have the station is shut down for 15 days. The military and ISI want the increasingly aggressive media to remember that there are some subjects that are simply not covered in Pakistan. Geo was undeterred though and went to court to sue ISI for defamation. The military fought back and managed to get the head of Geo convicted of blasphemy. Eventually Geo agreed to be more sensitive to military complaints about “unwarranted criticism”. But the military got worse, especially when it formed a partnership with the Supreme Court and Geo felt it essential to report what was going on with this. That, Geo learned, was not allowed.
April 18, 2018: In northwest Pakistan (Kurram) Pakistani troops agreed to move back from disputed territory on the Afghan (Paktia province) border. South of Kurram, adjacent to Khost province in Afghanistan (adjacent to North Waziristan) there was a similar withdrawal of Pakistani forces. This is a temporary fix for the continued disputes over where the Afghan border actually is.
April 17, 2018: In southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan) several Iranian Baluchi separatists based in Pakistan crossed the Iranian border at night and clashed with Iranian border guards. Three Baluchis were killed as were three Iranians. The surviving Baluchis apparently fled back into Pakistan and Iran urged Pakistan to look into the matter.
April 16, 2018: In northwest Pakistan, on the Afghan border (Khost province) there was another clash between Afghan security forces and Pakistani border guards. It was all about Pakistanis and Afghans disagreeing where the border was. Fighting broke out yesterday. At least seven people died, five of them Pakistani and two Afghan border police. One Pakistani border guard was captured. The Pakistani entered an area that the Afghans insisted was on their side of the border and fighting broke out when the Pakistani border guards would not back away. Today a ceasefire was arranged by tribal leaders and Afghanistan returned the bodies of the Pakistani dead and the one captured Pakistani. The Afghan government ordered the army to send additional troops to the border in case the Pakistanis escalated. These clashes are occurring more frequently.
April 15, 2018: In southwest Pakistan (Quetta, capital of Baluchistan) four gunmen on motorcycles fired on Christians coming out of a church and left two of the Christians dead. ISIL later took credit for this attack. ISIL attacks non-Moslems and Shia Moslems frequently and describes it as God’s work.
April 14, 2018: The Afghan security forces are having more success shutting down Taliban smuggling routes from Pakistan. These routes are used to bring in weapons, including explosives, as well as foreign Islamic terrorists. Both bombs and foreign Islamic terrorists are unwelcome in Afghanistan because that means more dead civilians. So it has become easier for the security forces to find out which remote smuggling routes the Taliban are using and disrupt them (at great cost to the Taliban).
April 13, 2018: Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), an Islamist political party has called for more mass demonstrations, meant to disrupt the economy until the Islamic radicals get what they want.
April 10, 2018: In northwest Pakistan the army fired more shells across the Afghan border into Kunar province. Some of the fire was directed at a village. This left one civilian dead and one house destroyed. Over 300 people fled their homes to avoid the rockets and shells. When it was all over nearly 200 rockets and shells had been fired. Most had landed in uninhabited areas.
April 9, 2018: China and India are trying to negotiate yet another border dispute, one that was kept quiet until today. In this case Indian patrols caught Chinese troops inside the Indian state of Ladakh (northwest India) twice in March. In one case the Chinese were six kilometers from the border. In both cases the Chinese troops retreated when confronted.