India-Pakistan: The Choices We Make


June 25, 2021: Prime Minister Imran Khan recently (the 20 th ) appeared on an American TV news show and confirmed that Pakistan would not allow an American military base in Pakistan once all U.S. forces are gone from Afghanistan this year. Kahn said he feared retaliatory attacks if he did so. Pakistan has been suffering those retaliatory attacks for over a decade, mainly from Pakistani Islamic terrorists inspired by the Taliban, al Qaeda and ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant).

Kahn also refused to condemn Chinese treatment of millions of Chinese Moslems. This is happening in a part of China, Xinjiang province , that borders Pakistan and Pakistani leaders have always refused to criticize China for something that Moslems are usually quick to protest, often violently. Chinese persecution, often fatal, of its Xinjiang Moslems has been going on for over a decade and criticism or protests from the Moslem world have been nearly non-existent. Since 2017 several million Xinjiang Moslems, most of them Uighur Turks, have spent time in re-education camps. There are only nine million Uighurs in the province and China has sent nearly all the adult (16 or older) males and many females to the camps for as long as needed to achieve “attitude adjustment.” Uighurs are a shrinking minority in the province and Han Chinese now comprise over half the population. The re-education camps contain very few Han Chinese.

Pakistan has long been very attentive to Chinese concerns about radicalized Uighurs establishing themselves in Pakistan near the 522-kilometer border Xinjiang has with Pakistan. In late 2015 Pakistan announced that all Uighur Islamic terrorists in Pakistan had been killed or driven from the country. In particular the primary Uighur Islamic terrorist organization, the East Turkestan Independence Movement (ETIM) was no longer operating in Pakistan. China is not so sure. Since 2007 China has been pressing Pakistan to do something about Chinese Islamic terrorists (Turkic Uighurs from Xinjiang province) based in Pakistan and Pakistan finally began making some serious moves on that problem in early 2014. There followed the June 2014 offensive in North Waziristan concentrating on the “bad Taliban” and their allies (like the Uighurs). Pakistan is still reluctant to admit it is the cause of so many regional Islamic terrorism problems but the neighbors were not being very understanding. China, who supplies a lot of Pakistan’s weapons and foreign investment, finally told its troublesome neighbor to fix the situation or see China go from being a helpful to a hostile neighbor. The other neighbors have had a similar reaction, but given China’s place as Pakistan’s most important ally, Pakistan could no longer ignore the problem. This policy has worked with other Moslem-majority nations who fear economic reprisals from China for any criticism of how China persecutes its Moslems.

The June 20 interview spent little time on Chinese counterterrorism and concentrated on how Kahn had come under the control of the Pakistani military. While Kahn is the elected leader of Pakistan, he is also the first elected leader completely controlled by the military. Kahn denies this and has repeatedly done so since taking office in mid-2018. Despite the denials Kahn has done what the military wants and any acts of defiance are inconsequential.

Kahn spoke of civil war in Afghanistan if the Taliban attempted to take power and blamed that on the Americans. Kahn ignores the role of the Pakistani military who created the Taliban in 1995 as a means to halt the civil war in Afghanistan. That failed and the Americans intervened shortly after September 11, 2001 with a few hundred CIA field operatives and U.S. Army Special Forces troops, a few million dollars in cash plus American bombers overhead dropping smart bombs. The Americans were providing support for the Afghans still fighting the Taliban. That’s all it took to reduce Taliban control from 80 percent of Afghanistan in October to zero by the end of the year. There were prisoners and lots of documents captured that detailed Pakistani involvement with the Taliban and Pakistani efforts to control events in Afghanistan.

The Americans were mainly interested in preventing Afghanistan from once more becoming a sanctuary for Islamic terrorists seeking to carry out attacks in the West. The September 11, 2001 attacks were planned and organized in Afghanistan and the evidence left behind by the fleeing Taliban made Pakistani involvement in sustaining the Taliban clear. That involvement continued because the fleeing Taliban found sanctuary in Pakistan. Despite persistent Pakistani denials, Pakistan also provided sanctuary for the September 11, 2001 attack planner, al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The Americans eventually found bin Laden’s hideout and it was, as suspected, in Pakistan. In fact, it was in a “military town” containing several major military schools and headquarters. Without telling Pakistan the U.S. carried out a 2011 raid that killed bin Laden, who refused to be taken alive, and left with his body and a trove of al Qaeda documents. DNA tests proved the corpse was bin Laden, as did all the documents found in his compound. The Pakistani military denied knowing bin Laden was there but most Pakistanis suddenly had a much less favorable attitude towards their military. For a decade elected officials have attempted to regain control over the increasingly unpopular military and failed. The military is now controlling an elected government and had laws passed making public criticism of the military a crime. If the courts won’t prosecute and convict, the military can arrange for the accused to disappear. Many Pakistanis still have a favorable attitude towards Islamic terrorism, especially it is carried out elsewhere. For example, prime minister Kahn has openly referred to Osama bin Laden as a martyr, an attitude shared by many Pakistanis, if only to avoid assassination by angry local Islamic conservatives. This is largely self-inflicted, because Pakistan did not have major problems with Islamic terrorists until one of the military governments, in the late 1970s, decided to use Islamic terrorism to attack India and control Afghanistan. That backfired, especially in Afghanistan.

Antagonizing Afghanistan

The Pakistan military has always had its own foreign policy and was able to force the Pakistani government to cooperate. Pakistani military leaders support a change to how it deals with the Afghan Taliban. Put simply, Pakistani generals no longer support the Taliban establishing a government that would control the entire country. Pakistani generals acknowledged there is widespread anti-Pakistan and anti-Taliban sentiment in Afghanistan. That means Afghans have increased their opposition to Pakistan and any Pakistani involvement with Afghanistan.

Pakistani generals have come to recognize that their Taliban effort cannot take control of the Afghan government, but believe it has a realistic chance of becoming part of the Afghan government. That may be too optimistic because the Taliban obtains most of its income from the drug gangs, which are hated by most Afghans and Pakistanis and all the local governments, except Pakistan, which is overruled by its own military which was in business with the Afghan drug gangs even before they created the Taliban. The Pakistani military pretends to care about the local addiction and corruption brought on by Afghan drugs, but actually cooperates with the drug gangs in return for large cash payments which have made many Pakistani officers very wealthy. This is obvious to most Pakistanis who note that many active and retired Pakistani officers have a standard-of-living that is not possible according to their official (and quite generous) pay scales.

While Pakistan won’t allow the United States to establish a military base in Pakistan, Pakistan will allow American military aircraft (combat and transports) to continue passing through Pakistani air space to and from landlocked Afghanistan. This was not unexpected because the Pakistani military has come to regard their creation (the Taliban) as more of a problem than a useful asset.

Border Disputes

India appears to have calmed down border disputes in the northwest. In Kashmir the February ceasefire agreement with Pakistan continues to hold, mainly because the Pakistani military has other problems, like being classified and sanctioned as a supporter of international terrorism. The Pakistani military is also at war with Pakistani media, politicians and voters in general. The other border dispute with China in nearby Ladakh State has been less amenable to negotiations. China has violated several ceasefire deals, usually blaming India for misunderstanding the ceasefire terms. There are far fewer casualties on the Chinese border because the Chinese prefer to continue using their gradualist approach, which is easier to carry out along a high-altitude border with few civilians present.

June 23, 2021: In northwest Pakistan (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) a three-week old peaceful protest against the government turned violent with at least one protester killed and dozens wounded. Ten policemen were injured, two seriously. Leaders of the powerful pro-government Jani Khel clan of the Wazir tribe had earlier threatened to march on the national capital to protest the army’s failure to eliminate Islamic terrorist groups in the area and find the killers of one of their tribal leaders. In early June, the Jani Khel leaders organized a large sit-in at the local (Bannu) district capital. Most of the tribal northwest consists of provinces that have Wazir in their name. That includes Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as well as neighboring North and South Waziristan. Most of the leaders and members of the Pakistani Taliban are from the Wazir or Mesud tribes. The Wazir tribe has about a million members in Pakistan while the Mehsud has about half as many. Both tribes have some clans across the border in Afghanistan. When the army invaded North Waziristan in 2014 to shut down what had become an Islamic terrorist sanctuary, the pro-government or neutral Wazir and Mesud clan leaders throughout the northwest were assured that the impact on them would be minimal. Over half a million Pushtun civilians were moved from the combat zone in North Waziristan and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to minimize civilian casualties and support from civilians sympathetic to some of the Pakistani Taliban. While this did reduce civilian casualties and forced most of the local terrorists to flee into eastern Afghanistan. From there they continued to launch attacks into Pakistan. The army operation in North Waziristan was supposed to be over in a year or two. The heaviest fighting was over by 2017 and most of the civilians were allowed to return from the refugee camps by 2018 and many of those civilians, and the clans they belong to, are angrier than ever at the army. The continued military presence includes the frequent use of army UAVs obtained from China and local manufacturers has also angered Pushtun civilians.

June 22, 2021: In eastern Pakistan (Lahore) a bomb hidden in a truck went off near a police checkpoint, killing four civilians and wounding twenty civilians and police. It was unclear if the bomb was detonated remotely or by someone in the stationary truck. Islamic terrorists are believed responsible because there has always been a lot of Islamic terrorists in Lahore because with 11 million residents it is the second largest city in Pakistan and also the capital of Punjab province.

June 21, 2021: In southern Pakistan (Karachi) four Baluchi separatists attacked the Pakistan Stock Exchange compound. The four attackers apparently expected to get into the compound and then take hostages. The attack failed, with all four attackers killed before they could get past the entrance. Five security personnel and one civilian were also killed.

June 19, 2021: In northwest Pakistan (North Waziristan) an army patrol encountered a group of Pakistan Taliban, apparently coming from bases in Afghanistan, and a firefight and night time pursuit ensued. Two Taliban were killed along with one soldier. These were also wounded on both sides.

June 18, 2021: At the UN India joined China, Russia and 33 other nations in abstaining when asked to back a non-binding resolution calling on the Burmese military to abandon its February 1st coup. China had lobbied hard to prevent a positive response to this resolution, by letting everyone know that anyone to backed this resolution could expect less cooperation in settling any current disputes with China. India was also admitting that the current Burmese military government was probably going to survive and India would have to deal with that for a long time, like it did with the previous Burmese military government which lasted from 1962 to 2010. Myanmar (Burma) is a neighbor of China and India and formerly part of the British colonial holdings in South Asia. The Burmese generals are seeking to maintain its close ties with China and Russia while it struggles to establish control of the country because this time, unlike 1962, the population is fighting back. China assured the Burmese generals that as long as Chinese economic interests in Burma were safeguarded China would continue to pay the military billions dollars a year. Some of that money was already being paid to the military because the military owns a lot of the companies that have lucrative contracts with China. Other Chinese investments are supposed to pay the Burmese government. The military wants it all. China will continue to use its veto powers in the UN to block UN actions against the Burmese military. Even before the coup Burmese generals maintained their connections with China and that was the main reason China has sold $1.4 billion worth of military equipment to Burma since 2010. Russia sold $800 million worth. Together China and Russia accounted for over 90 percent Burmese spending on imports of military gear. In 2011 the Burmese generals were forced to end nearly half a century of military government and allow elections. Russia has indicated that its support, at least as an arms supplier, would continue if a civil war developed and the generals could still pay for Russian arms, in advance if necessary.

The 2021 coup triggered an economic crisis and popular opposition that is moving towards civil war. Anti-government demonstrations continue despite troops and police being ordered to open fire. Some of the demonstrators are shooting back. So far nearly a thousand demonstrators have been killed by the security forces and ten times that number wounded or arrested. The Burmese military is comfortable with a cozy relationship with China and Russia but most Burmese are not. This has led to Chinese businesses being attacked and some have been set on fire. The alliance of separatist northern tribes, which reached a peace agreement with the elected government in 2016, has refused to recognize or cooperate with the military government. Many of those tribal militias have taken advantage of the situation, which has many army units in the north sent south to deal with the protests. Burmese military leaders were surprised at the extent and duration of mass protests since February. By popular agreement the economy has been shut down by the protestors and the generals have to worry about the morale and loyalty of their troops because of the months of popular protests and being ordered to open fire on fellow Burmese. The many foreign companies that manufacture in Burma have been evacuating their employees and that means getting those closed facilities operational again will take time.

The Chinese operations in Burma now face international sanctions but China believes it can handle that and advises the Burmese military government to emulate Chinese defiance. The end of the military government in 2010 and the return in 2021 is all about China. After the return of democracy in 2011, China no longer had as much freedom in the north. Most Western nations are imposing sanctions but not as energetically as before 2010. While the new coup is a tragedy for Burma, China sees it as a worthy challenge while India prefers to concentrate on its own battles against Chinese aggression.

For India persistent civilian control of the military is a clear advantage compared to other parts of British India, like Pakistan and Burma, that could not control their armed forces. Pakistan, for example, has been ruled by temporary military governments about half the time since the 1950s. Military rule in Pakistan and Burma led to less economic growth and more unrest among the population.

When Britain finally dissolved its colonial government in South Asia after World War II, it was left up to local leaders to decide what new nations would emerge from all this. Those colonies became the independent nations of India, Pakistan, Burma, Sri Lanka and several smaller states, like Nepal, on the Tibetan border. “British India” included modern day India and Pakistan. India is 85 percent Hindu and ten percent Moslem while what became Pakistan was the opposite. Before 1947 many residents of British India wanted one Indian state with over 400 million people and a large (over 20 percent) Moslem minority. There was a lot of opposition from Hindu and Moslem politicians, who convinced Britain that a separate Moslem state (Pakistan) with 17 percent of the British India population and two-thirds of the Moslems would be preferable. Many Hindus agreed because British India was only about 70 percent Hindu, versus over 90 percent before Moslem armies began attacking and invading over a thousand years ago. There was never a unified Moslem India because no single Moslem invasion was able to occupy, much less control, all of India. Particularly frustrating for Moslem invaders was the Hindu resistance to conversion. Too many Hindus would rather die, or die fighting, than convert. This actually made it difficult for any Moslem invader to establish an Indian empire because many Moslem invaders found it was easier to rule Indians if they just backed off on the forced conversions. This put the Moslem rulers of different parts of India at odds with each other and that lack of unity eventually made it possible for Hindus to start replacing Moslem rulers in the century before the Europeans invaders (mainly British and French) showed up. Britain proved even more adept at the divide and rule through religious tolerance games. Britain also provided more efficient administration and security. That led to a flourishing economy and fewer incentives to resist the foreign invaders, By the early 19th century Britain controlled most of India and, by the late 19th century, all of it. British rule of a united India lasted less than a century because the British were smart enough to see that the local independence movements eventually made imperial rule too expensive in economic and political terms, and that led to a somewhat orderly British departure in 1947.

This did not solve the religious problems in South Asia. In 1947 Moslem Pakistan consisted of two geographically and culturally separated parts; west Pakistan in the northwest and east Pakistan the northeast. After two decades East Pakistan Moslem began agitating for reforms that West Pakistan Moslems would not tolerate. That problem was that East Pakistan, with about 60 percent of Pakistan’s population, was more tolerant of non-Moslems, especially Hindus, than the more Islamic conservative West Pakistan. West Pakistan Moslems dominated the leadership of the Pakistan military and government and that led to the use of force against East Pakistan to suppress “traitorous behavior.” That led to massacres of East Pakistan civilians and in 1971 India intervened on the side of the East Pakistanis and the Pakistan military occupation ended. East Pakistan became Bangladesh. It was still a Moslem majority nation but never had to worry about a military coup or Islamic terrorists. These two elements became very common in Pakistan, which now had the name (which translates as “Land of the Pure '') all to themselves. While sometimes at odds with India, Bangladesh was never at war with India and continued to tolerate non-Moslems, something that still annoys Pakistanis. Bangladesh has much less Islamic terrorist violence and a lot more prosperity than Pakistan.

June 17, 2021: In southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan province) unidentified gunmen attacked soldiers manning a checkpoint outside a local airport. One soldier was killed and the attackers fled, apparently unharmed. Baluchi separatists often attack economic targets and security forces are trying to find the group that attacked the airport.

June 16, 2021: In eastern India (Andhra Pradesh) police, acting on a tip, raided a Maoist leadership meeting attended by about thirty leftist rebels and their bodyguards. There was a brief gun battle in which six of the Maoists were killed, including three local leaders. Others were wounded but they got away. The police called in over 300 reinforcements in an effort to capture or kill some of those who escaped. Police captured these Maoist couriers in the area, who were carrying over $13,000 between them. This money was one reason for the leadership meeting because Maoist numbers have been declining in Andhra Pradesh and the money, provided by the national leadership, was to fund a recruitment campaign. The Maoist have been having personnel problems throughout eastern India, where they have been active for decades. Time and technology have caught up with the leftist rebels as surrenders and defections continue to increase as do tips from civilians about Maoist activity or specific Maoists with a reward offered for their death or capture. Rewards are also offered for hiding places where weapons or equipment are stored.

The Maoists are still active but are feeling the pressure from over a decade of attacks by local police and paramilitary police battalions. The Maoists have seen reduced membership and a reduction in territory where they exercise any effective control. The downside is that the paramilitary forces are often operating in unfamiliar territory and more vulnerable to ambush or roadside (or trail side) bombs. Such attacks are less frequent as are the casualties the security forces suffer.

Civilians in Maoist infested areas are less afraid of providing police with information about Maoist movements. It has also become easier to recruit Maoist members to become active informants. These spies are paid monthly and the sudden affluence of their families often alerts Maoist leaders to the presence of police informants. While details about informants are kept secret, the losses suffered because police had inside information is often obvious. The Maoist decline has demoralized leftist leaders, who have not been able to come up with any way to halt or reverse the losses. Maoists are a radical faction of the once mighty Indian communist party. Many Indian communists were slow to understand why all those East European communist governments, including Russia, collapsed between 1989 and 1991. Despite that many Indians still support communism, but not the violent, ineffective and increasingly unpopular Maoists.

Another indicator of the Maoist decline is that Maoist violence is no longer the major source of terrorist or rebel deaths. Over all these deaths declined in 2020, with 588 dead, compared to 621 in 2019 and 940 in 2018. In 2020 54 percent of the dead were in Kashmir, which is higher than usual. Most years non-Islamic terrorist violence accounts for most of the violence but in 2020 Maoist rebels in eastern India only accounted for 41 percent of the deaths with the five percent caused by tribal separatists in the northeast.

June 14, 2021: In southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan province) a bomb went off at a remote coal mine, killing four of the soldiers guarding it. No one took credit but Baluchi separatists often attack economic targets.

June 4, 2021: India has sent its leased Russian SSN (nuclear attack submarine) back ten months before the ten-year lease is up and declined to extend that lease until a new Russian sub could arrive in 2025. In early 2019 India signed a $3 billion 10-year lease with Russia to obtain the use of another Akula class nuclear sub. The new sub will not arrive until 2025 and will replace the unpopular INS Chakra, an earlier Akula class sub that earned the reputation of being something of a cursed boat. India received this Akula II SSN, originally the K-152 Nerpa, in 2010 on a ten-year lease. The Nerpa was renamed Chakra and was built specifically for the Indian lease deal. Nerpa finally completed its sea trials and was accepted into Russian service in late 2009. India was supposed to take it in 2008 but there have been many delays. The Indian crew for the Nerpa had been ready since 2008. Most of the delays stemmed from an accident in late 2008 when, while undergoing sea trials, there was an accidental activation of the fire extinguisher system on the Nerpa. This killed 20 sailors and civilians and injured more than 20. There were 208 people aboard the sub at the time, most of them navy and shipyard personnel there to closely monitor all aspects of the sub as it made its first dives and other maneuvers. The source of the fatal accident was poor design and construction of the safety systems on the sub. This accident led to sailors and shipyard technicians being fearful of going to sea on the boat. The sea trials were delayed, even after repairs were made. The post-accident modifications on the Nerpa cost $65 million. Traditionally, when a new ship loses lots of people during sea trials it is regarded as "cursed" and unlucky. Sailors can be a bit superstitious, especially when there are dead bodies involved. So far India has not had any problems with this, until the sonar dome incident. When Nerpa finally entered Indian service, the name was changed to Chakra II, because it was the same name used by the Charlie class Russian SSN India leased from 1988-91. The Chakra lease arrangement had India paying $178,000 a day, for ten years, for use of the sub. The 7,000-ton Akula II requires a crew of 73 highly trained sailors.

It was Indian money that enabled Russia to complete construction on at least two Akulas. These boats were less than half finished at the end of the Cold War. This was another aftereffect of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Several major shipbuilding projects were basically put on hold (which still cost a lot of money), in the hopes that something would turn up. In this case it was Indians with lots of cash and seeking to lease a sub.

June 2, 2021: Bangladesh revealed that increased economic activity in 2020 raised per capita income nine percent, to $2,227 per person. That is 45 percent more than Pakistan and 14 percent higher than India. This is remarkable when you consider that Moslem-majority Bangladesh has only existed since 1971, when it went through a devastating civil war and became an independent nation. East Pakistan became Bangladesh. It was still a Moslem majority nation but never had to worry about a military coup, Islamic terrorism or the crippling economic impact of the military.

May 31, 2021: In southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan province) two separate attacks left four soldiers and four attackers dead with even more soldiers wounded. Both attacks were believed to be the work of Baluchi separatists.




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