January 23, 2020:
Pakistan has turned itself into a political, military and diplomatic mess. This all began over 70 years ago when the newly created Pakistan began feuding with its larger neighbor India, and with itself. What it came down to was that the Pakistani military had excessive power and influence that led to a cycle of military governments alternating with elected ones. After about fifty years of this, most Pakistanis agreed that this sort of thing was bad for the country. After 2000 the military noted more and more popular resistance to another military coup. These military takeovers now had less popular support than ever. That was not going to change because the majority of Pakistanis came to realize that the military has been greedy and corrupt and was not inclined to change.
The military has also become more violent in response to public criticism. It’s now dangerous to openly criticize the generals and that has just increased the quantity and quality of the criticism. So great has this blowback been that the generals fear that another coup could result in a civil war. Since the last coup in 1999 (lasting until 2008), the military has lost a lot of power and influence inside Pakistan. The Internet, and more media outlets in Pakistan, has made it impossible for a government to control the news. Now, evil acts by the military frequently get publicized, which has greatly reduced popular support for military coups and the military in general. More and more journalism is coming from unidentified amateurs. The Taliban and the military both have death squads hunting down journalists who are seen as "unhelpful" but this has not stopped the criticism. This is often nothing mow than reporting the latest military mischief.
Complicating all this is a growing Pakistani anti-corruption movement and the belief that military governments are the cause, not the solution for corruption. Since Pakistan was created in 1947, half the time the country has been ruled by generals who took over "for the good of the country" to restore order and deal with corruption and other problems. It never worked out that way. That approach no longer flies and the generals are looking for another way to safeguard their wealth (gained largely via corruption) and privileges (also mostly illegal) from growing public wrath.
Military leaders have responded with a new tactic which is based on manipulating the voting process and parliament via bribes and threats to obtain a government that was elected but where key officials (like the prime minister) unofficially do whatever the military tells him to do. While it seems to work, it is obvious to Pakistanis, and the world in general, what is going on. Decades of bad behavior by the military are now on display and undermine traditional Pakistani customs like blaming internal problems on foreign interference. India is the most frequent named villain, followed by the United States followed by whoever is the current favorite “enemy of Islam.” As a result, the traditional tactics of using covert (terror attacks) or overt (border violence that is then blamed on the other country, usually India) force are no longer acceptable because too many foreigners understand and acknowledge what is really going on.
India also has problems with corruption and incompetent government. The difference is that Indians have long openly acknowledged that these problems exist and are obviously difficult to solve. Change comes very slowly, even for issues that are obviously urgent. The primary external threat is China and never was Pakistan. China not only has claims on Indian territory but is, unlike Pakistan, militarily and economically more powerful than India. China spends three times more on defense and has an even greater advantage in GDP. China is less corrupt, better educated and its military is better equipped and organized. India realizes all this but its numerous internal problems mean that reacting moves very slowly. Indian nuclear weapons are sufficiently effective to deter China until China comes up with a solution to that threat. When it comes to China, time is not on India’s side.
Maoist Threat Dead But Not Gone
In 2019 Indian security officials declared that the Maoist (leftist rebels in eastern India) problem would be largely gone by the early 2020s. That is still true as far as the violence goes. But the high levels of corruption and poverty that persist in many parts of rural India provide continued support for Maoist calls for revolution and destruction of the current political and economic system. The Maoists have fewer fighters but a growing number of believers that something must be done.
As an armed threat, the Maoists are in decline and the current numbers bear this out. Deaths from Moist violence each year have been declining for a decade. More Maoists are surrendering, deserting or arrested every year and new recruits are harder to come by. Another trend is that Maoist violence continues to be concentrated in fewer districts. India is divided into 29 states and seven territories. These 36 large areas also contain 731 districts. In 2018 there was Maoist violence in 60 districts, which were in eight eastern states. Moreover, 89 percent of this violence was found in just 30 districts. The number of violent districts continued to decline in 2019. Contrast this with 2013 when there was Maoist violence in 70 districts, which were in ten eastern states with most of the violence in about half the affected districts.
Maoist leaders see the same trend but are scrambling to find ways to halt their decline. There are a growing number of senior leaders who are either tired of decades of violence and no progress, or because of disagreements over strategy. Maoist leaders have tried to keep these internal crises secret but that proved impossible. There were similar problems all the way down, through middle management to most Maoist fighters who had been at it for a few years. All noted the stalemate and growing hostility from the rural people Maoists claim to serve. In 2017, for the first time since 2008, there were fewer (about 800) than a thousand violent incidents caused by the communist rebels. This is another aftereffect of the growing loss of support. For example, until 2008 India’s Maoist rebels were “protected” because most ruling government coalitions included Indian communists. But after 2008 that was no longer the case, largely because communism had been declining as a political force within India and had reached the point where this particular bit of parliamentary maneuvering no longer worked. A powerful Indian Communist Party was critical for the Maoists, because for decades this very legitimate and very popular political party, and some leftist allies, had forced the government to use restraint in dealing with Maoist violence. This enabled the Maoists to spread, and become an even bigger threat. After 2008 the government went to war with the Maoist rebels and has been winning. The growing realization by Maoist leaders that there is no practical way to reverse this trend is seen, by the Maoist leadership, as more likely to destroy the Maoist movements than the relentless government paramilitary offensive. Maoist leaders also realize that many of their armed followers are turning to banditry and are seen by rural people as gangsters rather than revolutionaries.
January 19, 2020: In Pakistan (Punjab), police arrested three Islamic terrorists who were carrying bomb components intended to be used at a major cricket championship game with Bangladesh on the 24th. The police have been particularly alert to this kind of threat and that apparently scared away several other planned attacks that were called off.
January 18, 2020: The mid-2018 deal in which Pakistan agreed to buy 30 ATAK (T129) helicopter gunships from Turkey has been in danger for months. Pakistan has given Turkey one year to clear it up or the sale will be canceled. That deal is being held up because of disagreements between the U.S. and Turkey. In short, the U.S. has refused to approve the export license for the CTS800 engines that power the ATAK gunships. While substitute engines can be obtained from France, Poland or a few other countries, modifying the ATAK to handle a similar, but not identical, engine would delay getting the ATAK gunships operational. The helicopters, minus the engines, have already been delivered to Pakistan.
The T129 is a license built version of the Italian A-129. The Pakistan deal is partly driven by the 2018 Turkish purchase of 52 Pakistani MFI-395 Super Mushshak training aircraft. This was the largest export order to date for Pakistani built aircraft. Pakistan will pay about $1.5 billion for the T129s in a deal that will include training, spare parts and technical support.
January 16, 2020: The Pakistan prime minister admitted in a media interview that a war between Saudi Arabia (a generous financial patron of Pakistan) and Iran (a more radical neighbor with nuclear weapons) would be disastrous for Pakistan. So far Pakistan has prevented these relationships with the Saudis and Iranians to cause any problems for Pakistan. If it came to a showdown Pakistan would side with the Saudis, who are, like Pakistan, mostly Sunni and the Saudis have long been generous patrons of Pakistan.
January 12, 2020: In northeast India (Assam), about fifty Indian tribal rebels of the NDFB-S (Bodoland) group entered India from Burma and surrendered. These rebels had refused to take part in an earlier peace agreement between Assam tribal rebels and the Indian government and were apparently persuaded to return to India because of the years of cooperation between India and Burma to eliminate rebels and outlaws from both sides of the border. In 2016 Indian and Burmese troops began joint patrols along parts of their mutual border. This was one result of a mid-2015 agreement to cooperate with India to prevent Indian rebel groups from establishing bases inside Burma. In mid-2015 the Burmese army sent several thousand additional troops to the 1,643 kilometer long Indian border. Burma admits it is responsible for detecting and expelling these illegal visitors but most of the border area is thinly populated forests and mountains and it is very difficult to get troops into the area and very expensive to support them as they seek out and deal with any intruders. India believed it was a matter of priorities. The cooperation with India went beyond sharing intelligence and coordinating security operations on both sides of the border. To help with this India also sent a few more battalions to areas the rebels seem to prefer to cross at and increased patrols on the Indian side of the border. This makes it more difficult for the rebels to move to their Burma sanctuaries but does not stop them. This intense interest in border security began with a June 4th 2015 ambush inside India where Indian rebels operating from Burmese bases inflicted heavy casualties on Indian troops. This led to an Indian cross-border commando raid a few days later that destroyed the rebel camp Burma insisted did not exist. This was clear evidence that despite Burmese promises in 2014 to shut down such camps the rebels were still there. In mid-2015 India believed there were at least 25 such camps in northern Burma, with precise locations given for 17 camps. Some are as close as six kilometers from the border while others are up to 40 kilometers away. The rebels got the message and most packed up and moved back to Assam on the Indian side of the border.
January 11, 2020: While in the Arabian Sea, the only Indian aircraft carrier conducted some successful arrested landings using the Indian developed LCA (Light Combat Aircraft or "Tejas"). A special version of the LCA was used, one with reinforced landing gear to handle the stresses of a carrier landing. The navy is not buying the LCA because even though it can land and take off from carriers the engine is not powerful enough to allow the LCA to carry a useful load. The current LCA also has a very short range and is generally considered useless as a military aircraft. India’s locally designed and built LCA jet fighter has still not received its FOC (Final Operational Clearance), six years after receiving its IOC (Initial Operational Certificate). That is one of many reasons the Indian Air Force is openly pleading with the government not to force them to accept and operate the LCA. The air force has already agreed to accept (and pay for out of their budget) 40 LCAs but is defiantly resisting government suggestions that another hundred LCAs be purchased. Air force commanders point out that the LCA development has been a long list of failures. Moreover, the current LCA design is very expensive to maintain and performs poorly in the air. The Navy is even more reluctant to even consider the LCA. The LCA 2 is supposed to have a more powerful engine that would meet navy requirements. The navy will be hard to convince.
Navy leaders have more pressing problems than the LCA. It is believed that the Chinese now maintain eight or nine navy ships in the Indian Ocean at any time. The Indian Navy is frantically shifting ships and warplanes to bases where they can better monitor and, if need be, deal with these Chinese naval forces.
January 10, 2020: In southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan), the Pakistani Taliban killed the Quetta (provincial capital) police chief and 13 civilians who attending prayer services in a mosque.
Burma and Bangladesh worked out a joint border security agreement for their mutual border. This is similar to the 2015 agreement between Burma and India. On the Bangladesh border the main problem drug or people smugglers. The agreement specifies how suspects arrested on either side of the border will be treated and which ones will be returned to the other side for prosecution. Without this agreement the problem of who to send where was complicated by the many Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh working for the smugglers and getting caught by security forces on either side of the border. Bangladesh considers these Rohingya refugees Burmese citizens and Burma disagrees.
January 8, 2020: Afghanistan is sending 55 Pakistani wives (and 76 children) of recently surrendered ISIL members back to Pakistan. Afghan and American efforts finally crushed the primary Afghan branch of ISIL. The Taliban also fought this ISIL group, usually because of disputes over drug smuggling opportunities. There is still ISIL activity in Afghanistan, just a lot less of it. Pakistan does not like to be reminded that so many Pakistanis are involved with Islamic terrorism but they regularly allow the bodies of dead Islamic terrorists and live, or dead, family members to return.
January 7, 2020: In southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan), the Pakistani Taliban killed two soldiers with a roadside bomb. Twelve soldiers and civilians were wounded.
January 5, 2020: The January 2nd death of Iranian IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps) general Qassem Soleimani in Iraq caused fear (in Pakistan) and hope (in Afghanistan and India). Soleimani was killed by American Hellfire missiles along with several local Islamic terrorist leaders he was developing. The Americans considered Soleimani the Iranian most responsible for years of attacks on the Americans and the deaths of hundreds of American troops and thousands of Iraqis, Syrians, Lebanese and so on. Afghans and Indians are now speculating at the possibility of the U.S. going after some prominent Pakistani sponsors of Islamic terrorism. After all, those Pakistani efforts have been responsible for thousands of Indian and Afghan deaths as well as nearly as many American fatalities. The problem is Soleimani had been at it for several decades and was recognized for that in Iran as a celebrity. Pakistan has dozens of ISI (military intelligence) and army leaders who, since the 1980s, have supported local Islamic terrorist groups willing to take aid and orders from Pakistan to attack certain individuals or groups. Instead of one Soleimani Pakistan has dozens of lesser talents doing similar dirty work for about as long as Soleimani was in the IRGC. Another difference is that Pakistan tries to have normal diplomatic and military relations with the United States. Much that is a deception but on many occasions, Pakistan has been useful in the fight against Islamic terrorism.
January 4, 2020: The U.S. confirmed the month old decision to resume military training for the Pakistani military. This was suspended, along with all equipment transfers, in early 2018 because Pakistan would not take action to curb Islamic terror groups in Pakistan from carrying out attacks in Afghanistan and India. The resumption of training is believed to be a reward for Pakistan not backing Iran in its current confrontation with the United States. This dispute is more intense now because of the recent American killing of senior IRGC General Soleimani.
January 3, 2020: India reported that in 2019 there were about twice as many incidents of Pakistani violence along the LoC
(Line of Control) border that separates the Indian and Pakistani portions of Kashmir than in 2018. In other words there were, on average eight of nine incidents per day in 2019. There were more military and civilian casualties on both sides.
Despite, or probably because of Pakistani threats the Indian military leadership made it clear that there would be more of India sending warplanes and troops across the LoC
to disrupt Pakistani efforts to organize more infiltration attempts to get Islamic terrorists and weapons into Kashmir. Pakistan threatens back that their borders are out of bounds, despite the fact that Pakistani troops have been firing across the LoC for decades and trying to pass it off as self-defense. That all the firepower is for is to assist getting Islamic terrorists into India. Pakistan denies that too but the evidence keeps piling up that Pakistan is at fault and India is no longer tolerating this deadly game.
The LoC serves as a temporary border between the two countries in Kashmir. Taking Kashmir from India has been a political imperative for Pakistan since Pakistan was created in 1948. India has done a pretty good job in dealing with all this Pakistani aggression.
December 31, 2019: Indian naval personnel were forbidden to have smartphones with them while on naval bases or aboard warships. Naval personnel were also banned from posting any information about the navy on social media. This is all in reaction to navy officials discovering the Indian sailors were posting pictures and comments on social media about what was going on at naval bases and aboard ships. This sort of thing is a worldwide problem and there is no real solution. Bans like the current Indian one will reduce the leaks somewhat but won’t eliminate them.
December 30, 2019:
In northwest Pakistan (North Waziristan), across the Afghan border in Khost province a
Pakistani death squad (provided by Haqqani Network) shot dead Qari Saifullah Mehsud outside a refugee camp. Mehsud was one of the key leaders (in charge of suicide bombers) of the Pakistani Taliban which until 2014 operated out of
North Waziristan. Driven out by the Pakistani army the Pakistani Taliban moved its base operations across the border. Many family members of the Pakistani Taliban fled to Afghanistan as well and many live in refugee camps. The Pakistani Taliban do not have official sanctuary in Afghanistan, as the Afghan Taliban do in Pakistan. Thus the Pakistani Taliban are under constant threat from Afghan forces and their NATO allies. Since the Pakistani Taliban exiles are much less of a threat to Afghans than the Afghan Taliban, going after the Pakistani Taliban is a low priority. Not so for Pakistan, which has used conventional (regular cross border artillery fire) and unconventional (mainly the
Haqqani Network) efforts (individual killings plus roadside and suicide bombings) against Pakistani Taliban in Afghanistan. Haqqani Network assassins have been particularly effective against the Pakistan Taliban leadership lately. At the same time, Haqqani Network leaders also provide operational leadership for the Afghan Taliban. This official leader of the Afghan Taliban is a respected Afghan religious scholar and the Afghan Taliban leadership council in Pakistan (Baluchistan, just south of Helmand province) is all Afghan. Actually the Haqqani Network is mainly Afghan but since the 1980s has evolved into a successful criminal enterprise that concentrates on making money. Haqqani Network is immune from Pakistani police or military as long as Haqqani Network continues doing ISI (Pakistan intelligence) dirty work in Afghanistan. This has long included murdering troublesome (to Pakistan) Afghan politicians, intelligence officials and anyone important who could not be bribed or intimidated.
December 26, 2019: In Pakistan (Punjab), police arrested five members of AQIS
(Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent),
who were providing media and logistical support for the al Qaeda affiliate. Laptops, cellphones, a printing press, suicide bomb vests and weapons were seized. This group had recently moved Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan, to Gujranwala city which is the fifth largest city and apparently even more dangerous for them than Karachi.
The UN awarded service medals to 850 Indian peacekeepers serving in South Sudan. The UN commended the Indian soldiers commitment to support local South Sudanese communities.
December 16, 2019: The Philippines decided to buy a weapon that could do some serious damage to Chinese forces in the South China Sea. The government wants to buy two batteries of the Indian PJ-10 BrahMos missiles for coastal defense. Each battery has two or three truck-mounted launchers, each with two or three missiles and communications equipment. Each battery also has a mobile radar for detecting targets via normal radar or by detecting and locating ship radar. The actual purchase contract is still being negotiated and because of the high cost of this system, $70-100 million depending on battery configuration, the government has to get approval from the legislature and satisfactory financing arrangements. The government hopes to get all that done within six months. That will not be easy as this will be one of the most expensive weapon system purchases the country has ever made.