In Pakistan, the capital has been occupied by over 20,000 men organized by the Islamic conservative Jamiat Ulema e Islam party for a major protest effort. The protestors demand the resignation of the prime minister and new elections. Another issue is the government austerity measures and the belief that the prime minister was elected only because of military support. The austerity measures include new taxes the IMF International Monetary Fund) insisted on before it would loan the government more money needed to prevent an economic catastrophe in Pakistan.
The Islamic parties are staunchly anti-corruption and note that the government efforts to comply with IMF demands and collect more taxes did not include eliminating the widespread tax-evasion among the wealthiest families, many of them associated with the military. The Islamic parties also want to restrict activities and economic opportunities for women and non-Moslems. This limits the appeal of the Islamic parties because many Moslems see them one short step away from Islamic terrorists. Among the groups displaying their banners at these protests was the Afghan Taliban, which enjoys sanctuary in southwest Pakistan. The government and protest leaders agreed that displaying Taliban banners was not acceptable and some of those responsible were arrested. This does show the extent of enthusiasm many of the demonstrators have for Islamic extremism.
These Islamic party protestors had met with government officials beforehand to agree on ground rules for this massive invasion of the capital. The protestors are not supposed to disrupt government or economic operations and in return, there would be no police violence. The protestors would also be allocated areas to camp for several days the demonstrations would take place. By the weekend this all began to collapse. The protestors demanded that the prime minister resign by the 4th and refused to behave according to the earlier agreement. The army said they continued to back the prime minister, whom they openly helped elect despite official denials.
While the Pakistani “sponsored” peace talks between the Americans and the Afghan Taliban collapsed in early September, the possibility of some negotiated departure deal is still there. Now China has offered to host negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government, with the help of Pakistan. In September the Americans concluded that the Afghan Taliban could not be trusted. Pakistan had earlier been classified as similarly inclined. There was much evidence of Taliban and Pakistani misbehavior.
The increased Taliban use of violence, especially against civilians, was due to the increased influence of the Haqqani Network. In fact, the Afghan Taliban are now run by the leaders of the Haqqani Network despite a non-Haqqani figurehead leader. Haqqani is another 1990s era Afghan fighting faction that is more gangster than Islamic terrorist, and has long been a subsidiary of the Pakistani military and the main conduit for getting Islamic terrorists and their weapons (including large vehicle bombs) into Afghanistan. Haqqani and the pro-Pakistan Afghan Taliban still have sanctuaries in Pakistan, something that the Pakistani military denies, but it not hidden in Pakistan and something of an open secret.
The new (since late 2018) Haqqani Network leader is Siraj Haqqani. He not only brought a more aggressive attitude, but he also provided the ISI (Pakistani military intelligence) with better control over the Afghan Taliban. Siraj Haqqani not only dominates the Taliban leadership while also maintaining his lucrative crime boss subservience to ISI. Because the Haqqani Network founder Jalaluddin Haqqani (who died in late 2018) helped Taliban founder Mullah Omar and other Taliban leaders escape Afghanistan in 2001, there has always been a sense of mutual dependence. For that reason, Haqqani leaders were able to help deal with the mid-2015 power struggle within the Taliban and thwart the recruiting efforts of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). Given that Haqqani works for ISI (the Pakistani CIA), Pakistan had to approve, if not help bring about, this new Taliban leadership arrangement. There are still divisions within the Taliban but the Haqqani leaders have been able to limit the damage while also making themselves wealthier.
Fading Indian Communist Rebels
Indian security officials believe that the Maoist (leftist rebels in eastern India) problem will be largely gone by the early 2020s. The current numbers bear this out. Deaths from Moist violence each year have been declining for nearly 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. In 2013 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. Maoist rebels in eastern India continue to lose ground, personnel and purpose. There are a growing number of senior leaders who are tired of decades of violence and no progress, or of disagreements over strategy. Maoist leaders have tried to keep this internal crisis 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.
Bunkering Down In Kashmir
In northwest India, the government has, since 2017, built 1,200 bunkers/bomb shelters for civilians living in Kashmir near areas where Pakistani troops frequently fire across the border. There are another thousand bunkers under construction. The bunkers are popular with the local civilians and have saved some civilians from injury. More frequently the bunkers have made civilians in these border areas less anxious about the Pakistani machine-gun, rocket, mortar and artillery fire. The bunker program was first proposed in 2016 in response to the growing Pakistani border violations. India later agreed to expand its bunker construction program along the Pakistani border to areas outside Kashmir. In 2017 India began
building a hundred bullet and shell-proof bunkers in villages that have experienced the most from increased Pakistani firing across the border. Each bunker can accommodate 20 or more people. These bunkers were an experiment to determine if they did significantly reduce civilian casualties. The bunkers did apparently reduce casualties but more importantly, the bunkers definitely improved the morale of the civilians threatened by the Pakistani attacks.
It also became obvious that smaller bunkers were needed for individuals or small groups of people working in areas frequently hit by Pakistani fire. These are usually farmlands or pasture areas where herds are often tended by one shepherd. The latest plan is to build at least 14,000 bunkers. About ten percent of the bunkers will be the larger ones, with the rest being smaller ones that hold a few people.
November 4, 2019: In Pakistan, the leader of the anti-government protest in the capital met with government officials and told them that since the prime minister refused to resign the protestors would remain in the capital. How long the protestors would stay is uncertain. The government has agreed to meet as often as the protest leaders with and discuss the situation.
In northwest Pakistan (North Waziristan), two separate roadside bomb attacks left four soldiers dead and another wounded. A faction of the Pakistani Taliban took credit for the two attacks. The Pakistani military had declared victory over Islamic terrorism in North Waziristan at the end of 2018. That turned out to be optimistic. While access to North Waziristan is still restricted, and the incidence of violence there is much lower than in the past, it is still a dangerous place to be. The military has now allowed journalists in, accompanied by military escorts. This is not just for the safety of the journalists but to make sure they get the story right. That has not worked out as the military had hoped. The civilians encountered have a long list of complaints which, despite the presence of armed (and often scowling) military escorts, tell the journalists what the Pakistani military does not want to hear. While this news can be kept out of the Pakistani print media that is not the case with electronic media. Among the embarrassing North Waziristan news to appear are details of all the locals who are still stuck in refugee camps, the seemingly random and arbitrary arrests by the military and, worst of all, the mistreatment civilians suffer regularly from the troops and police. These stories often include pictures and videos.
In 2014 Pakistan began a military campaign in North Waziristan that killed or chased away most of the Islamic terrorists there and forced most of the civilians out for over a year. This campaign was supposed to be over by 2016 but it continues, with much of the fighting moved to Khyber province. The elimination of North Waziristan as an Islamic terrorist sanctuary denied groups like al Qaeda any hope of finding a refuge in Pakistan. As those North Waziristan refugees returned they found that much had changed. As has happened elsewhere in the tribal territories, when the Islamic terrorists are chased out, things changed, usually for the better. This is a pattern that goes way back. Pakistan's problems along the Afghan border are mostly about the difficulty integrating its Pushtun and Baluchi tribes into the nation of Pakistan. In southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan), there are the Baluchi, and in the northwest, there are the Pushtun. Both groups are very territorial and hostile to outsiders. But people from Punjab (48 percent of the population) and Sindh (29 percent) are better educated and possess technical skills lacking in the Pushtun tribal territories (16 percent, FATA and Khyber) and Baluchistan (seven percent), and must be brought in to do work requiring education and experience. While Sindh province has economic development levels similar to India, the tribal territories are more similar to the less developed nations in Africa. What the tribes lack in economic development they make up for in terms of aggressiveness and hostility towards the more numerous and wealthier lowlanders.
For thousands of years, these mountain tribes raided and plundered their lowland neighbors. But the last time that happened was a century ago when Pushtuns from Afghanistan joined tribal brethren on the other (British India) side of the border and headed for the lowlands. The tribesmen didn't make it far and spent three months trying. Folks along the border still talk about that one. When Pakistan was created in 1947, the tribes were still not pacified and were a sixth of the population. Ever since then a growing number of Pushtun and Baluchi moved into the lowlands, especially the cities, like Karachi. At the same time, many lowlanders moved into the tribal areas, bringing needed skills and a veneer of government and modern civilization. But the tribal leaders and their ancient form of government persisted, as did the custom of most adult males being armed, and ready to fight or turn into a bandit. This, as much as the corrupt and self-serving Pakistani military has defined and defiled the history of Pakistan. But one major aftereffect of the North Waziristan campaign was that the government assured everyone that henceforth the security forces would have a lot more presence in this area and tribal power would be forever limited. Many Pushtun did not like this, but a majority did or didn’t care.
October 31, 2019: In the Pakistani capital over 20,000 men recruited by the Islamic conservative Jamiat Ulema e Islam entered the city.
October 27, 2019: In northwest Pakistan, gunfire from inside Afghanistan was aimed at workers building the new border fence. Pakistani forces responded with rocket and mortar fire against areas where the attack came from. This went on for several days, leaving at least three civilians dead and even more wounded. Despite constant attacks by Afghans, fence work continues. Sometimes the Afghans plant bombs. Gunfire from the Afghanistan side of the border regularly kills or wounds soldiers and workers building the new 2,500 kilometer long border fence. Many Afghans dispute where Pakistan draws the border and the need for a border fence itself. Construction has been underway since 2017 but the attacks from the Afghan side have become particularly intense (about ten a week) at times. So far Pakistan has had over a hundred soldiers and workers killed or wounded. Most of the Afghan-Pakistani border is still called the “Durand Line.” This was an impromptu, pre-independence invention of British colonial authorities and was always considered temporary, or at least negotiable, by locals. The need for renegotiation was mainly about how the line often went right through Pushtun tribal territories. However, the Afghans are more inclined to demand adjustments to the Durand Line and fight to obtain what they want. Thus recent Pakistani efforts to build more fences and other structures on their side of the border was an attempt to make the Durand line permanent and no longer negotiable.
In its defense, Pakistan designed the new fence so that it will create the most problems for smugglers and anyone seeking to cross the border illegally. Pakistan has, with the help of Afghanistan and even American intelligence identified 235 crossing points along the border. Those that are frequently used by Islamic terrorists and drug smugglers are easy to identify as are the 18 crossing points that can be used by most vehicles. The majority of these crossing points are what they are because they enable someone on foot, or using pack animals, to get through areas that are made more difficult to use by the addition of a multi-layer fence line and sensors (real or imagined.)
October 20, 2019: In northwest India, the army used 155mm howitzers to fire on four Pakistani Islamic terrorist camps across the LoC (Line of Control). The artillery fire was accurate as witnesses reported and tat least six soldiers and 18 Islamic terrorists were killed and many more wounded. This use of artillery was in response to recent unprovoked Pakistani firing across the border at Indian border guards. The initial heavy Pakistani fire was believed to be a diversion so that Pakistan based Islamic terrorists could more easily sneak across the border into Indian Kashmir.
October 18, 2019: The FATF (Financial Action Task Force) told Pakistan that it does not appear to be making enough effort to block Pakistan based terrorist groups from using the international banking system to finance their violence. However, Pakistan had made some progress, at least enough to keep them off the FATF blacklist. Pakistan was put back on the grey list in June 2019. Pakistan had been warned in early 2018 that unless they reduced the illegal financing activity coming out of Pakistan the FATF would put Pakistan back on the “gray list” and this time it would be more likely to make it to the blacklist and that would mean Pakistan would have some financial problems because of international banking restriction. FATF pointed out that in 2018 there were 8,707 STRs (Suspicious Transaction Reports) generated by Pakistan versus 5,548 in 2017. For 2019 Pakistan appears to be generating even more STRs. Pakistan had been on the gray list from 2012 to 2015 and that was bad for businesses that import or export or need to get loans or sell bonds. After 2015 Pakistan was still on the FATF list but not designated as dangerous. Being on the gray portion of the list makes it more expensive to do business and is very bad for the reputation of Pakistan and Pakistanis. China played a major role in keeping Pakistan off the gray list in early 2018 but the odds were against Pakistan staying off the list because it has long been an open secret that Pakistani support for its own pet Islamic terrorists included making it easier for Islamic terrorists, in general, to do business in Pakistan. The United States has been gathering evidence to justify the FATF to put Pakistan back on the gray list (along with Ethiopia, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Serbia, Sri Lanka, Trinidad and Tobago, Vanuatu and Tunisia). FATF meets every three months to consider new evidence to get nations on, or off, the list. The next review is in February 2020 and the Americans continue gathering evidence. The U.S. now considers Pakistan a problem in the war against terrorism and not a reliable partner. India and Afghanistan share that view as do a growing number of UN members.
October 15, 2019: India handed over two more Mi-35 helicopter gunships to Afghanistan. India had also delivered two of these in 2016. The Indians are replacing their Russian gunships with American AH-64s. The Americans are equipping many Afghan Air Force fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters to use the smaller (than Hellfire) APKWS laser-guided missile. In addition to being cheaper, aircraft can carry three of these in place of one Hellfire. The APKWS has a smaller warhead meaning it can be safely used against targets close to friendly forces or civilians. The Taliban and drug gangs are making greater use of human shields and APKWS makes that more difficult for them to do that.
October 13, 2019: The Pakistani prime minister visited Iran to propose Pakistan mediate a peace deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Since Pakistan has nukes and has always sought to maintain good relations with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia the Iranians expressed interest. The Saudis were similarly polite. It will take more than politeness for anything to come out of this Pakistani proposal.
October 9, 2019: China agreed to begin work on the next major phase of its BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) in Pakistan. This involves an $8.2 billion upgrade of key Pakistani rail lines that will allow freight and passenger trains to nearly double their safe speed (to as much as 100 kilometers an hour). This allows more and faster traffic on existing lines. Most of the work will be on 1,800 kilometer line from the port of Karachi to the inland city of Peshawar. China will finance the project and supply some of the workforce. A lot of Pakistani laborers and technical personnel will also be put to work which will be completed by 2023. Phase 2 of this project will upgrade some rail lines to handle high-speed passenger trains.
China prefers its neighbors to be submissive and open to Chinese investment. Not all neighbors cooperate. North Korea would like to but it has a very dysfunctional and self-destructive government. Even when Chinese investors are welcomed, the North Korean government and North Koreans, in general, will cheat and steal from the Chinese firms at every opportunity. Vietnam does not want the Chinese at all because centuries of bad experiences have taught Vietnam to not trust China. Many neighbors of Vietnam have the same attitude even without all the bad experiences that Vietnam has suffered.
One of the China neighbors has behaved quite well and is well-taken care as a result. This is Pakistan and China has become active in helping with Pakistani stability and prosperity. Over a hundred billion dollars in Chinese economic aid and investment is coming into Pakistan and makes Pakistani stability and prosperity a Chinese goal. Since China is a prosperous police state is prefers to work with Pakistan on these matters privately, saving the media for propaganda and other forms of distraction, disinformation and deflection.
October 8, 2019: Afghanistan, or the Americans, appear to have freed eleven senior Taliban leaders from prison in order to obtain the release of three Indian engineers who had been held prisoner, along with four other Indians, since May 2018. One of those prisoners was freed in March. The seven Indians were working on expanding and upgrading the electricity distribution system. Getting foreign firms, and technical experts, to work on these projects is more difficult and expensive when there is a high risk of foreign employees being attacked or kidnapped.
October 4, 2019: India repeated its position on the OBOR/BRI (belt and road project) and repeated its objections to the Chinese offer were primarily about sovereignty. Many other nations that are already participating in BRI are having second thoughts. But others are joining. Earlier in 2019, Italy became the first major European nation to become part of the BRI. For Italy, this means $2.8 billion worth of Chinese investments in Italian ports and transportation infrastructure. China already has similar, but smaller BRI deals with Croatia, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Malta, Poland and Portugal.
October 2, 2019: In Pakistan (the capital) American and Taliban peace negotiators arrived and met for the first time since the U.S. canceled the negotiations on September 7th because of continued Taliban violence, especially against civilians. Since the cancellation, the Americans have increased their attacks on the Taliban, especially Taliban leaders. This has done some serious damage to the Taliban, as has the failure of the Taliban to disrupt the September 28th elections. Apparently it was the Taliban who asked to try and revive the negotiations, which is what these discussions in Pakistan are about.