India (officially) and a growing number of Pakistanis (unofficially) see China as a major threat. Currently China continues to move more troops to the Indian border to confront Indian forces and slowly advance into Indian territory. China has not been idle in areas where there is little military action. Along the Indian border Chinese troops and engineers continue building roads, structures and fortifications. Lately the border conflicts with China have remained quiet, mainly because China has more urgent problems to deal with. One of those problems does impact India. China backs the military government in Myanmar (Burma). India has a 1,4oo kilometer border with Burma in the northeast and long had problems with tribal separatist rebels there, on both sides of the border. India finally worked out peace deals with all their rebels before the pro-India elected government in Burma was ousted in February 2021. The Burmese army war with northern tribes resumed because the army is seen as the main reason for all the corruption and illegal Chinese economic activity in the north. Fourteen months later there is a lot more fighting in northern Burma and a lot of refugees fleeing to India. The Indian government has ordered border police to turn away or forcibly return such refugees to Burma. Local state governors refuse to enforce those orders, if only because so many of the refugees have kin in India. Many of the refugees belong to the same tribe that straddles the border. A lot of non-tribal Burmese entered as well and India sought to stop those refugees to avoid more trouble with China. The state governors protected these refugees as well. In some cases, separatist tribal gunmen in India used force to block Indian government efforts to curb the flow of refugees. The federal government has not escalated this dispute, in part because the local resistance is an adequate excuse for allowing the Burma refugees in despite protests from China. The Myanmar military government is sustained by China, which provides all the fuel, bombs, shells and other munitions needed to keep the fight going. The army infantry are reluctant to fight when they encounter armed resistance, which continues in the tribal areas. The urban rebels are slowly arming but still depend on a lot of demonstrations by unarmed protestors. So far the army and police have killed nearly 2,000 people and imprisoned over 14,000. Aside from China, most nations in the region want the military government to free the elected and appointed officials of the overthrown government. Without Chinese support the Burmese generals could not have sustained their coup and might not even have attempted it without assurances of Chinese support. India and other nations bordering China see the Burma coup as a threat.
Pakistan is having similar problems with its western neighbor Afghanistan. Pakistan is depending on continuing Chinese support to deal with the new IEA (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) government, which is having the same problems the 2001 version had, but worse. For two decades after the 2001 Taliban were out of power, Afghanistan prospered in many ways. The economy, lifespans, infrastructure and education levels reached new highs. The IEA has reinstated many of the pre-2001 rules that turned most Afghans against the Taliban. Most potential aid donors and the UN are withholding aid until the IEA lifts restrictions on women. So far, the IEA refuses, even though neighbors Iran and Pakistan recognize those restrictions as unpopular and bad for the economy. In Pakistan the government is not willing to engage in illegal trade with the IEA. The Pakistan military is another story and initially openly took credit for putting the Taliban back in charge of Afghanistan. Now that the IEA has failed so spectacularly the Pakistani generals are more discreet. The military still works with the Afghan drug cartels to produce and export what is most of the world’s heroin supply from Afghanistan. Cooperation in this area keeps the drug cartels and their Pakistani partners in business while millions of Afghans face starvation because of Western economic sanctions against Afghanistan.
The new IEA government has not worked out as Pakistan expected, with growing violence inside Afghanistan becoming a major problem for Pakistan and Iran. Iran is angry at the new Afghan government because of increased attacks on Afghan Shia. Iran threatens to support an armed Afghan Shia resistance manned by the thousands of Afghan Shia who served as mercenaries in Syria. Some still do, because the Shia Afghan mercs were the best fighters and demanded higher pay than Arab mercenaries. These armed Shia fighters sometimes cooperated with their 1990s Northern Alliance allies, which has reassembled as the NRF and is planning new operations. That alone may be more than the new IEA government can handle. Some of the NRF leaders are sons of successful Northern Alliance commanders. Iran threatens to provide more support to the NRF than they gave the Northern Alliance.
IEA security forces are confronting Pakistani special operations forces entering eastern and southern provinces to capture or kill TTP (Pakistani Taliban) leaders. The Pakistani troops are supported by artillery and air strikes that often kill Afghan civilians. The IEA/TTP peace talks are expected to fail, along with similar negotiations between TTP and Pakistan.
The war in Ukraine has confirmed the inferiority of Russian weapons compared to Western models. For years Pakistan received most of its weapons from China or Russia while India was the largest export customer for Russian weapons, though it has been trying to reduce the use of Russians weapons for over twenty years. What happened to the Russians confirmed what Indian military personnel already knew. The Chinese gear is superior to what the Russians produce but still inferior to Western systems. Pakistan is China’s largest export customer for weapons and Pakistani military leaders now want to repair relations with the Americans, who withdrew all military aid after decades of being lied to by the Pakistani military about their support for Islamic terrorism. That support backfired with the new Afghan government, installed with much help from the Pakistani government, threatening war with Pakistan over border disputes and growing anger inside Afghanistan against Pakistan because of the even greater economic collapse in Afghanistan.
The Forever War In Southwest Pakistan
Baluchistan province in southwest Pakistan has long been called Baluchistan, or "Land Of the Baluchi", after a tribe ethnically related to the Pushtun in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as the Iranians. Baluchistan also includes a small portion of southeast Iran, which the Baluchis consider part of Baluchistan. Baluchi separatists in Pakistan have been fighting the government for more autonomy, or even a separate state, since Pakistan was created in 1948. After the 1990s some Baluchi tribes tried to work with the Taliban and al Qaeda but that failed because the Taliban were created by the Pakistani military and al Qaeda depended on Pakistani government sanctuary and protection to survive. The Baluchi separatist problem is nothing new as Iran has been fighting such separatists for centuries. Baluchis comprise about two percent of the Iranian population. In Pakistan Baluchis are 3.5 percent of the population and are sympathetic to the fight of their fellow Baluchi in Iran, where Baluchi are a religious (Sunni) and ethnic minority in a Shia majority nation. In both countries government efforts to suppress the Baluchi separatists is criticized for growing use of illegal methods like kidnapping, murder and tolerating Islamic terrorist violence against Baluchis (usually by pro-government groups hiding out in the area).
The violence in Baluchistan escalated when Pakistan and China agreed in 2013 to build the CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) project. This cooperation began a decade earlier when China agreed to expand port of Gwadar in Baluchistan. Many Pakistanis, not just the Baluchis, saw such cooperation with China, especially the CPEC, as a threat to Pakistani independence. This was made clear in 2021 when the Pakistani Navy and Coast Guard refused to give up 47 hectares (116 hectares) at the site of the expanded Gwadar port project. The commanders of the Navy and Coast Guard are making a public protest against the policy of being so economically and militarily dependent on China. This opposition has been growing within the military leadership, who see this dependence on China as a surrender of independence which also puts Pakistan at risk of becoming collateral damage if China decides to fight Indian and its Western and East Asian allies for control of the Indian Ocean. The Pakistani naval officers have done the math and believe China has little chance of prevailing against that kind of coalition. Worse is the fact that Pakistan is becoming so economically and diplomatically dependent on their northern neighbor. This public protest, which the Chinese demanded be resolved quickly, began in late 2020 and surfaced in 2021 because the Chinese were visibly upset at such insubordination. The growing opposition within Pakistan, and the Pakistani military towards the increasing brutality of the military against elected officials, critical media and anyone who opposes the military getting its way, also exists in the military. Not just among junior members but among some senior commanders.
The military decided over a decade ago that Pakistan should be willing to pay a high price to get CPEC done because it meant Pakistan had an ally against Iran and even Western powers that might have some violent disagreement with Pakistan. China addressed that by pointing out that China does not have allies, just powerful trading partners (the West in general) and client states (like Pakistan). That has always been the Chinese outlook and it hasn’t changed.
While China is picking up most of the $60 billion cost of CPEC, it means that China owns many of those new economic assets, especially the new port of Gwadar. In early 2017 China and Pakistan signed an agreement granting China a 40-year lease on new Chinese-built facilities at Gwadar. The lease granted China most (over 80 percent) of the revenue brought in by port and free trade zone operations. China usually imports its own workers from China to do most of the work on projects like this. By 2022 China had several hundred thousand Chinese in Pakistan, some of them with their families. The easiest way to provide protection is to have most of them live in a heavily guarded and restricted access area. Gwadar is a key part of CPEC and it has the misfortune of being in a province (Baluchistan) that does not want to be part of Pakistan. China and the Pakistanis try to ignore this by not reporting on non-Islamic terror attacks on CPEC construction projects. The government has long been accused of suppressing news of tribal separatists in Baluchistan attacking government targets and especially those related to CPEC. The separatists claim they regularly carry out attacks on CPEC construction projects, but most of their attacks are still directed at Pakistani security forces and government facilities.
Because of the security threat to Gwadar, China demanded that Pakistan build 30 kilometers of three-meter-high security fencing near the two main entrances to Gwadar. In addition, the Chinese installed 500 security cameras within the perimeter of the port. Pakistanis fear the entire port area will eventually be fenced off to protect what is described by locals as a Chinese naval base guarded by Chinese and Pakistani troops. Since early 2019 Pakistan has been responding to Chinese complaints about lack of security, and agreed to add more troops to the security forces already assigned to guard over 300 Chinese projects in Pakistan and the 15,000 foreigners (mainly Chinese) who were then working on them. The existing force has over 15,000 personnel with 9,000 being soldiers and the rest local para-military forces. This will be in addition to the special naval force that protects navy facilities in Gwadar and the waters off Pakistan.
In mid-2017 Pakistan also agreed to build a walled and restricted residential area near the port of Gwadar to house up to half a million Chinese that will eventually be working in Pakistan. Chinese construction work on Gwadar port facilities is visible to anyone on the ground or flying by, and it was noticed that some features of the new port and airport facilities are clearly intended for military use. India has long claimed that China (despite denials) was planning to use Gwadar as a base for Chinese warships and naval aircraft. Pakistan never had a problem with the Chinese military using Gwadar as it helped keep local troublemakers out. Pakistan has assured China that there would be no terrorist violence against Chinese working on upgrading the port of Gwadar and land links north to China. The military now has to assure their Chinese overlords that dissent with the Pakistani military will be suppressed as well. That is not working and the violence against the military and Chinese in Baluchistan continues to escalate.
June 20, 2022: In central India (Madhya Pradesh state) police encountered three senior Maoist leaders that were armed and refused to surrender. The three were killed in a brief gunbattle. The three all had cash bounties for their capture or surrender that totaled $3.2 million. The bounty is for informants or for the wanted Maoists, who justify the bounty by providing information about their organization. The bounties are regularly adjusted according to the rank and usefulness of a Maoist or Islamic terrorist leader or official. The cost of the bounties is less than the cost in cash and lives to eventually find and capture or kill the subject. The bounties are one reason the Maoists and Islamic terrorists have a policy of trying to hunt down and kill men who surrendered and provided information that damaged the organization. These bounties are an ancient practice and are sued by the Americans to capture or kill senior Islamic terrorist personnel.
June 19, 2022: In southeast Pakistan (Karachi, the capital of Sindh province) police acted on a tip and arrested Muhammad Ilyas, a ten-year TTP veteran and at the top of the Pakistan most-wanted list. Ilyas had been hiding out in Saudi Arabia and apparently returned to organize more high-profile murders in Pakistan.
In northwest India (Kashmir) seven Islamic terrorists were killed by police and soldiers in four different encounters. So far in 2022, 114 Islamic terrorists have been killed in Kashmir, most of them trained in Pakistani camps just across the border in Pakistani Kashmir. About 30 percent of the dead are Pakistanis and most of the rest recruited in Kashmir.
June 17, 2022: The FATF (Financial Action Task Force) reviewed Pakistan’s progress on meeting its counter-terrorism goals and certified that Pakistan had achieved all of the 27 goals required to get it off the gray list. Three months earlier only one of the goals remained unmet. Despite meeting all 27 goals. If Pakistan was found still in compliance after the next review in October, Pakistan would be officially off the gray list and no longer in danger of being placed on the international blacklist for nations that support terrorism. The FATF Pakistani officials insist the only reason they were still on the gray list is because of Western conspiracy to punish Pakistan and that soon will be free of FATF scrutiny. For seven years Pakistan has done everything it could, except to halt support of Islamic terrorism, to avoid the blacklist and the financial sanctions that go with it. For decades Pakistan has been lying about its support for Islamic terrorism and those lies caught up with them. In February 2020 the FATF told Pakistan that it was making enough progress in reducing support for Islamic terrorism to stay off the black list. This slow improvement approach had kept Pakistan off the black list since 2019. Pakistan was not safe as long as the FATF monitoring continued. Pakistan was regularly given more time to carry out necessary reforms. The Pakistani military, the main supporter of Islamic terrorism, boasted that its efforts to halt financial support for Islamic terrorism was a key element in getting Pakistan off the gray list.
Back in October 2019 Pakistan had achieved only four of the 27 tasks the FATF set to get Pakistan out of trouble. Pakistan should have gone onto the blacklist for that but pressure from China got Pakistan another “last chance”. Since 2019 Pakistan has raised the number of goals achieved to 14. Since 2016 it appeared that Pakistan was not making enough effort to block Pakistan-based terrorist groups from using the international banking system to finance their violence. Pakistan kept making just enough progress to keep themselves off the black list. 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 foreign loans or sell bonds. After 2015 Pakistan was still on the FATF gray 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. The situation is worse now because decades of corruption and government mismanagement have left Pakistan unable to raise enough money to meet the government budget. This threatens the Pakistani military, which has always taken a disproportionate portion of the budget and does not want to reduce its spending. Being on the FATF blacklist would be a financial and economic crisis for Pakistan. Since China is the major foreign investor in Pakistan, and Pakistan is the largest customer for Chinese weapons, China has much at stake here. There is only so much China can do to keep Pakistan off the black list.
Pakistani economists estimate the being on the gray list since 2018 has cost the economy $38 billion. The FATF is an anti-money-laundering organization established in 1989 by the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan. Currently there are 37 members, including the Gulf Cooperation Council and the European Commission. In 2001 FATF added financial support for terrorism to their continued efforts against money laundering. The FATF itself does not impose any punishments and is more like a credit rating agency. There are only three ratings; no evidence of supporting money-laundering, the gray list (some evidence of money laundering or financial support for terrorist activity) and the black list (much evidence and no efforts to deal with it). Currently only two nations are on the black list’ North Korea and Iran and both considered outlaw states and no place to send financial aid. As of 2021 23 nations were on the gray list, including Pakistan and Turkey.
June 16, 2022: In eastern India (Chhattisgarh state) 260 schools were reopened after being closed for 15 years because of leftist rebel (Maoist) violence. For over a decade India has been waging a major paramilitary operation against the leftist rebels and that has broken the power of the Maoists. Over 400 schools were closed by the leftist violence and threats and all are being reopened.
June 14, 2022: In Pakistan, the military was criticized for a six percent increase in the defense budget. In its defense the military claimed that Pakistani defense spending had decreased from 2.8 percent of GDP last year to 2.2 percent in 2022. This was not true because the military calculation depended on heavy depreciation of the rupee and higher inflation. The depreciation and inflation are largely because of the large portion of the government budget that goes to the military and the fact that the military owns a growing number of companies. In addition, there are firms owned by military families. The military uses its influence, and sometimes threats, to see that these companies get favorable treatment from the government, especially when it comes to government contracts and permits required for exporting and importing goods. Another problem is that the details of the Pakistani military budget are available only to military officials. According to the Pakistani constitution the elected government has the authority to audit the military budget. That’s how it works with India, where the elected government controls the military. This is no longer the case with Pakistan where the military gradually freed itself from parliamentary control and has often suspected parliament and ruled the country directly. The military never sought to turn the country into a military dictatorship but the generals have gradually gained more indirect control of elected officials and this is the cause of much corruption and poverty for most Pakistanis.
June 13, 2022: Indian economic delegation arrived in Jerusalem to resume negotiations with Israel for a free trade agreement between Israel and India. There is already growing trade between the two countries. In 2021 trade between India and Israel totaled $6.3 billion and keeps growing. Israel has become a major supplier of modern weapons to India and has a lot more non-military tech to offer. A lot of trade deals regarding tech involve a lot of negotiations because of the Indian bureaucracy. A free trade agreement would eliminate a lot of those hassles, especially those that involve tech transfer to India or establishing manufacturing operations in India for Israeli products.
June 12, 2022: In northwest Pakistan (North Waziristan) an army patrol near the Afghan border came under fire from a group that appeared to come from Afghanistan. One soldier was killed while the hostile gunmen fled towards Afghanistan. Incidents like this are often caused by TTP Islamic terrorists based in Afghanistan. That is less likely now because the government and TTP agreed to a ceasefire. That leaves the growing number of al Qaeda and ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) affiliated groups that have found sanctuary in Afghanistan and frequently carry out attacks in Pakistan and are doing it more often as relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan continue to deteriorate.
June 2, 2022: In southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan) BLF (Baluchi Liberation Front) Baluchi separatists used a roadside bomb to destroy a military truck, killing eight soldiers and wounding many more. In response to the two Baluchi attacks in three days the army brought in helicopter gunships to seek out and attack the Baluchi separatists responsible.
May 31, 2022: In southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan) BLA (Baluchi Liberation Army) Baluchi separatists launched a 30-minute attack in an army base using gunfire and mortars. The army had casualties, but would not give details. The attackers withdrew without suffering any casualties.
May 28, 2022: In Tajikistan, national security officials from India, Russia, China, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, but not Pakistan, met to discuss the terrorism situation in Afghanistan. All agreed that the terrorism threat from Afghanistan was growing despite the new IEA government insisting they have it under control. There was also agreement that diplomatic recognition and financial aid or investment was on hold until the IEA got serious about the terrorism threat. A senior IEA official recently said that all were welcome in Afghanistan, including known Islamic terror groups. The one exception is ISK (Islamic State Khorasan), the local ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) group that regularly kills non-Moslems or non-Sunni Moslems, especially Shia. This causes major problems with Shia-majority Iran, which considers itself the protector of Shia everywhere. The security officials agreed that the Pakistan-backed Taliban dominate the IEA government and seem unable to control what they have created. That includes the sanctuary the TTP enjoys in Afghanistan. TTP wants to impose an IEA-like government in Pakistan. Tajikistan also noted that a similar Tajik group had received sanctuary in Afghanistan just across the Tajik border.
A further complication for Afghanistan and Pakistan is the war in Ukraine, which has disrupted Ukrainian and Russian grain exports, which normally comprise about 30 percent of world grain exports. Russia started this war and refuses to end it. That means grain supplies are lower and prices higher. That means even less potential food aid for Afghanistan and more incentive for the IEA and Pakistani government to mismanage food aid.
May 26, 2022: Over two million Afghans have fled to Iran or Pakistan since the IEA took power in late 2021. These refugees were tolerated in Pakistan because most of the shared border has tribes related to those in Afghanistan. This is not the case in Iran, which ordered the refugees to leave and those who refused were forced back into Afghanistan. So far Iran has sent over 600,000 Afghans back.
May 18, 2022: In Afghanistan IEA Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani arranged peace talks between Pakistan and the TTP. To make this happen Pakistan agreed to release several imprisoned TTP members. And the TTP agreed to a twelve-day ceasefire. A second round of peace negotiations ended on May 29th and was eventually made indefinite. The TTP has grown considerably since the IEA came to power and has established more base camps in Afghanistan, which now contain as estimated 4,000 TTP fighters. This has led to a sharp increase of TTP attacks in Pakistan. The ceasefire saw a halt to those attacks but not to TTP recruiting, training and planning for future attacks. The ceasefire also halted Pakistani artillery fire at targets in Afghanistan believed to shelter TTP members. Some Pakistani special operations forces have also ventured across the border into Afghanistan and this was seen as a Pakistani invasion.
Several senior members of the IEA government, especially two of the Haqqani brothers, are known Pakistani agents. Pakistan insisted on these men being included in the IEA, particularly Sirajuddin Haqqani, who had been the acting head of the Haqqani Network since 2009 and became the de facto head of the Afghan Taliban in 2016. Sirajuddin Haqqani could not be the official supreme leader of the Afghan Taliban, so a respected Taliban cleric became the official leader with Sirajuddin Haqqani as his deputy and the actual boss. This Pakistani tinkering with the Taliban split the Taliban and created a civil war that was going on for five years before the Taliban gained control of the Afghan government again.
Sirajuddin Haqqani is now the IEA Interior Minister and one of his first acts was to promise the families of suicide bombers who had died in the service of the Taliban, that they should be rewarded with cash and property. Most of those suicide bombers were recruited and trained by the Haqqani Network, acting as a terrorism contractor for the Pakistani ISI (military intelligence, a sort of CIA/KGB). Pakistan denies this but Afghans, most Pushtuns and most Western nations recognize Sirajuddin Haqqani as a major Islamic terrorist who works for Pakistan. The U.S. offers a $10 million reward for anyone who can kill or capture Sirajuddin Haqqani. Khalil Haqqani, the uncle of Sirajuddin and Anas Haqqani, is the IEA Minister of Refugees. Both Kahlil and Sirajuddin have been senior Haqqani Network leaders for over a decade, since the Haqqani Network founder Jalaluddin Haqqani became ill and unable to run the Haqqani Network himself. Jalaluddin died in 2018 but had been less active in running the Haqqani Network for years.