India appears to have achieved some degree of calm in its northwestern border disputes. 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 Indian 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. Both India and China have been increasing the number of troops and airfields near the contested area. Behind the front lines China continues to stay way ahead of Indian by building more roads and military bases to the high-altitude, and very hostile to everyone, combat zone.
Motivations To Be More Like China
Indian military leaders understand their problem facing better equipped Chinese troops but Indian political leaders were always less interested in such details. That has always been a problem with Indian politicians but change does come, if rather slowly. Indian political leaders have finally taken action to dismantle the dysfunctional aspects of the government that have crippled efforts to upgrade the Indian military for decades. Put simply, the problem has long been a tolerance of incompetence and corruption when it comes to military procurement and enabling Indian commercial firms to compete on equal terms with other countries that have been producing effective weapons. This includes a lot of much smaller nations, like Israel, where the current form of government was established at the same time as India’s. There are also a lot of smaller nations that have been around for a long time, like Sweden, Switzerland and Norway that have become major developers and producers of superior weapons.
The Indian government is eliminating many laws that hinder Indian commercial firms that already build competitive commercial products, but have been hampered by government rules and rival government organizations concerning military products. The two most troublesome organizations; the state-owned OFB (Ordnance Factories Board) and the DRDO (Defense Research and Development Organization), are being reformed. For the OFB that means elimination. For the larger and more powerful (and damaging) DRDO the same fate awaits, either in the form of a massive reorganization and reduction in budget and authority, or outright elimination and creation of a new entity to resume the few useful functions an entity similar to the DRDO can participate in without becoming more problem than solution.
Motivations To Like China Less
Pakistan has growing problems with expanding Chinese economic activity in Pakistan, especially in the west (Baluchistan and the Pushtun tribal territories) where a disproportionate amount of the work takes place, and with imported Chinese workers the Chinese insist on using for most of the jobs. The Chinese do not want any problems with Pakistanis who violently oppose Chinese operations in tribal turf. Pakistan does a lot to protect Chinese, but it is not enough. Chinese are still attacked and often killed.
In some cases, Chinese demands have been well served. This was the case when it came to Chinese radicalized Uighurs establishing themselves in Pakistan near the 522-kilometer border China’s Xinjiang province 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 ETIM (East Turkestan Independence Movement) 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 Pakistani 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 are not being very understanding. China, which 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 when it hurts Chinese. This policy has worked with other Moslem-majority nations who fear economic reprisals from China for any criticism of how China persecutes its Moslems. For non-Moslem nations China has other ways to compel compliance with Chinese demands.
What If The Tribes Unite?
The Pakistani military is hated and loathed by a growing majority of Pakistanis as well as neighboring countries like Iran, Afghanistan, India and other Moslem majority nations (Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) bordering northern Afghanistan. This is all about the Pakistani dependence on the Afghan heroin trade to maintain some control over the Afghan Taliban.
For a long time the UN tolerated the military’s misbehavior in Pakistan, India Afghanistan, but that tolerance faded over the last decade as evidence piled up in very visible ways. Another problem for the military is that decades of manipulating Pushtun tribes on both sides of the border to do their dirty work has caused Pushtuns on both sides of the border to unite in opposition to their common enemy; the Pakistani military. The military fears that another civil war in Afghanistan will see Pushtuns on both sides of the border seeking to violently establish an independent “Pushtunstan”. This appears to be more of a possibility to Pakistan and the Pakistan military than it is to Pushtuns, who still depend on tribal governments more than national ones where they live (Afghanistan or Pakistan). There has never been a true national government in Afghanistan or Pakistan because of their various Pushtun and other tribal cultures and most previous Afghan governments recognized and relied on this. The Pakistani Pushtun tribes were given official recognition by the British colonial government and allowed to use tribal law and customs. When Pakistan was created in 1948, the new Pakistani government continued the special legal status of the Pushtun tribal territory. Change comes slowly, but it does creep into tribal societies. The idea that less corruption and more democracy was clearly the path to a better life has grown. In practice the process is messy and takes longer than many pro-democracy advocates will tolerate and even try to understand. It explains the inefficient chaos of the world’s largest democracy (India) and the slow progress towards efficient democracy worldwide. Critics of tribalism often miss the point; tribalism survives because it provides superior local government than feudal or imperial alternatives.
Then there are tribe-based terrorist movements. The current "Taliban" are not an Afghan organization, but a Pushtun movement that is active on both sides of the border and supported by less than ten percent of the 40 million Pushtun in the region. The Afghan Taliban are seen as part of the drug gangs that have brought the curse of drug addiction to over ten million Afghan, Pakistani and Iranian families. By 2007 this led to the creation of the Pakistani Taliban that was opposed to the drug trade and the Pakistani military efforts to control Afghanistan via links to the Afghan drug gangs and the Afghan Taliban. These attitudes spread to Afghan Taliban factions who, in the last few years, have remained “Taliban” but also openly opposed to Pakistani control or interference in Afghanistan.
In 2014 this led to the founding of the PTM (Pashtun Tahafuz Movement or Pashtun Protection Movement). By 2018 the Pakistani military declared the peaceful PTM a threat and used increasingly violent methods to make PTM disappear. What the military fears is that the PTM is more than just a Pushtun nationalist movement in Pakistan and is an increasingly popular idea in Afghanistan as well. Most Pushtuns live in southern Afghanistan and northwest Pakistan. 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. Pusthtuns in Pakistan have long been a despised and mistreated minority. The PTM is mostly about addressing the persecution and discrimination Pushtuns face in Pakistan. To the Pakistani military that is a form of treason, at least when it comes from Pushtuns. One reason for that is most Afghan Pushtun agree that Pakistan is no friend of Pushtun on either side of the border and is the main reason why the heroin business operates in Pushtun-majority Helmand (southern Afghanistan) province rather than across the border in Pakistani Baluchistan, where the heroin production used to be.
The Baluchis are the second largest tribal minority in Pakistan and long violently opposed to bad behavior by the Pakistani military. The Baluchi and Pushtuns usually leave each other alone and agree that the non-tribal Pakistanis are a major threat.
What keeps a lot of Afghan Taliban loyal to Pakistan is the sanctuary Pakistan has provided since 2004. Evidence of that sanctuary keeps showing up despite the Pakistani denials. The latest embarrassment has been the appearance of cellphone videos of the Pakistani funerals of Afghan Taliban killed in Afghanistan as well of Afghan Taliban from Afghanistan and Pakistan receiving medical care in Pakistani hospitals. Pakistani Pushtuns with no connection to the Afghan Taliban admit knowing other Pushtuns in their area who have gone to fight in Afghanistan. The pay is good and most of them return alive.
Pushtuns on both sides of the border also agree that India is more of a friend, or at least more helpful than the Moslem majority of Pakistan, who like to treat India as an enemy. Indians always insisted they are not an enemy. Afghans, especially Pushtuns, participated in many of the invasions of south Asia during the last 4,000 years and were always impressed at the Hindu loyalty to their Hinduism, especially the experiences of Hindu emperor Ashoka, whose empire included parts of eastern Afghanistan and was one of the few conquerors who eventually embraced peace over constant war. These things matter because they explain the violent animosity the Pakistani military has towards India and the Afghan willingness to see India as a more reliable ally against Pakistan than anyone else.
India has been a big help in breaking the monopoly Pakistan long exercised over Afghan foreign trade. 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.
Indian Communism Dies From Frustration
In eastern India the half century old Indian communist Maoist (radical communist) rebel movement continues to fade. Over the last year over a hundred of the Maoist leaders have died (from combat or disease), been captured or, increasingly just surrendering, often because they have lost faith in their cause or the possibility of ever succeeding.
The Maoists have been having personnel problems throughout eastern India for over a decade. Time and technology have caught up with these leftist rebels as 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 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.
July 16, 2021: In the Pakistan capital (Islamabad) the 26-year-old daughter of the Afghan ambassador was kidnapped, held for five hours, during which she was injured while resisting the kidnapping and during interrogation before she was taken to another location and released. The kidnappers did not identify themselves and Pakistan blames India for carrying out the attack to hurt relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. On the 18th Afghanistan recalled its ambassador and demanded answers from Pakistan.
July 15, 2021: In northwest Pakistan (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) a bus carrying Chinese and Pakistani personnel was wrecked by a bomb. This left nine Chinese and four Pakistanis dead. Two of the Pakistani dead were police assigned to protect the bus passengers. The bus was on its way to the construction site of a Chinese-funded hydroelectric power facility.
July 13, 2021: In Pakistan the parliament approved a fifteen percent pay increase for military personnel. This comes after a recent ten percent increase that was approved and has not gone into effect yet. It was noted that the paramilitary (recruited from locals) border patrol force, used mostly along the Afghan border, only for the ten percent increase. Several weeks later the army announced it was temporarily replacing the paramilitary border guards with regular army troops. The official reason for this was the increased Afghan Taliban violence along the Afghan border that the army believed the paramilitary force could not handle. Along the Afghan border locals see it differently because Pakistan has announced that it will not allow millions of Afghan refugees into Pakistan as it did during the 1980s. The government did not believe the paramilitary force would enforce that ban, while the regular army forces would. One way the military maintains the loyalty of its regular personnel is that the job pays well. Despite that, many of the troops are not happy with the way the military has taken over the government and recently made criticism of the military in the media, including the Internet, illegal. The paramilitary forces, who always received fewer economic benefits, are composed mainly of Baluchi and Pushtun tribesmen, two tribal groups that have been outspoken in their dislike of the Pakistani military.
July 2, 2021: Global defense spending in 2020 increased 2.6 percent, to $1.96 trillion. This occurred despite the covid19 global recession. This is all about the growing military threat from China, Iran and North Korea. In 2019 spending was up 3.6 percent over the previous year. That was the largest one-year jump in a decade. Since 2010 defense spending has increased more than seven percent. Because of the global recession, 2020 spending as a percentage of global GDP increased, from 2.2 percent to 2.4 percent. This comes after a decade of decline, from 2.6 percent in 2010 to 2.2 percent in 2019.
Two nations, the United States and China, account for more than half of global defense spending. The U.S. is still in the lead, accounting for 39 percent of global defense spending while China accounts for 13 percent. India accounts for 3.7 percent. Some major spenders did spend less in 2020, including Saudi Arabia (-10 percent), Turkey (-5), Iran (-3) and Pakistan (-2.8). These declines were caused by severe economic problems. Saudi Arabia has to devote more money to maintaining living standards since world oil prices fell sharply after 2013 and have not recovered to 2013 levels. Saudi Arabia is still the biggest spender in the region, spending $57.5 billion in 2020 compared to Israel ($21.7 billion), Turkey (17.7), Iran (15.8) and Pakistan (10.4). And then there is India at $73 billion.
June 28, 2021: In response to new covid19 virus variants, Turkey has stopped all airline flights and direct travel from India. This came despite Indian plans to end, on June 30, its 15-month ban on scheduled overseas passenger flights. India did not end the ban but extended it a month, to the end of July. India has experienced an explosive increase in covid19 deaths, largely because India, like many nations with a high poverty rate, are unable to handle epidemics. Despite that India has the largest and fastest growing economy in the region and attempts to impose widespread covid19 related lockdowns could not be sustained long enough to halt the spread of the disease or prevent significant economic damage. There was major opposition to shutdowns in many high-poverty areas. In these areas if you don’t work you don’t eat. The government can handle small numbers of hungry unemployed and avoid starvation deaths. Epidemic disease is another matter. Shutdowns that were imposed during 2020 caused the GDP to shrink nine percent for the year. Economic recovery will come more slowly because of the covid19 surge.
Like many nations in the region, most of India has no modern health system. The prime targets of covid19 are those whose immune systems are already weakened by old age or chronic disease. Healthier adults and children have a death rate similar to what is experienced when the annual influenza outbreak occurs. In less affluent nations the spread of covid19 is not really noticed in areas which already suffer higher death rates because of the absence of healthcare and more numerous deaths from “natural causes”. In all countries the wealthy and senior politicians tend to be older and more vulnerable to covid19 but have access to modern medical care. For these groups the record development of covid19 vaccines is literally a lifesaver. For India, the population is too large (over a billion) and the current world vaccine supply is too small to quickly vaccinate the most vulnerable Indians. The first vaccines were approved (by government drug safety agencies) in late 2020. The United States, the leader in quick development of covid19 vaccines, had paid for the manufacture of millions of vaccine doses before approval. This was expensive and risky as many believed it impossible to develop safe and effective vaccines this fast. The Americans took a chance on new vaccine development technologies and it worked. India was slow to obtain large quantities of the new vaccines and covid19 continued to spread, especially with India. Despite that India has not suffered from the virus as badly as other nearby nations. As of March 2021, India had 110 deaths per million people so far. Four months later it was 300 deaths per million compared to the current world average of 535.
June 27, 2021: In northwest India (Kashmir) an air force base suffered two explosions which turned out to be from explosives carrying UAVs (drones). The base is only 14 kilometers from the Pakistan border. Since 2019 Indian troops in Kashmir have been detecting Pakistan using UAVs to deliver small quantities of weapons and other supplies to Islamic terrorists operating on the Indian side of the border. There were 167 sightings in 2019 and 77 so far this year. The failed use of tunnels under the border apparently led to trying UAVs to carry smaller quantities of supplies to Pakistani terrorist operatives in Kashmir. This urgent supply effort is a response to the heavy casualties the infiltrators suffer because of the improved border security. A month later India announced a major program to issue UAV (mainly quad-copter) jammers to troops in border areas where unidentified UAVS along the border.
June 26, 2021: In southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan) Baluchi tribal separatists set fire to cell phone towers and other facilities and kidnapped six cellphone company workers. Three were soon released while three were held for interrogation on what the military is doing with the cellphone system. This includes installing cell phone service, and towers, in uninhabited areas of Baluchistan for unspecified purposes. There are not enough cellphone users in these areas to make it economically viable to install service. The Baluchi separatists believe the rural cell phone service is another tool directed at their operations.
In northwest Pakistan (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) there was a similar attack on cellphone company workers by non-Baluchi Islamic terrorists who kidnapped sixteen men who were installing cellphone towers in more remote areas near the Afghan border. Ten of the captives were seen released but one was beheaded and five others are being held for ransom. Three weeks later (July 15th) Pakistani troops found where the five captives were being held, raided that location and freed them. Two soldiers were killed during the raid along with a number of their captors.