Pakistani former prime minister Imran Khan has become a major threat to the power and influence of the military and its ISI security agency. Unlike earlier critics, Kahn has proved far more dangerous and difficult to get rid of. The army routinely murders troublesome media and political critics. More senior officials are pressured and threatened but rarely killed to halt or diminish criticism of the military. That did not prevent a recent failed assignation attempt against Khan. The military denied responsibility and suggested that Khan planned the shooting.
What makes things like this happen is that Khan was different and had an unlikely background for a major reformer. He was a championship athlete (cricket) and leader who, as captain of the Pakistani team in the international competitions, led the Pakistani team to its only world championship in 1982. Khan is from a well-off Pushtun family that left the tribal territories, modernized and prospered. Khan first spent much of his post-cricket time involved with charitable causes. He went into politics in the 1990s, founding the populist PTI party which within a decade became a major political force in Pakistan. In 2018 PTI gathered so much support that Khan became prime minister. The Pakistani military backed Khan, believing they could control him. That did not work and the military became a formidable opponent when they realized that Khan had become another powerful politician who opposed the wealth and power of the military. The military still had political allies and used these to get Kahn removed as prime minister.
Soon Khan was vigorously fighting back against his removal from office in April 2022 by a no-confidence vote in parliament. Khan proved to be a disruptive but revealing politician. While annoying the political and military establishment groups, he retained widespread support from dissatisfied Pakistanis. Khan was the first Pakistani PM to be removed this way. Most PMs are removed by the president of Pakistan, which is another, less messy, form of no-confidence vote. Since the founding of Pakistan in 1947, no PM has completed their five-year term. The main reason for some of Khan’s political allies to turn against him was economic. High unemployment (nearly 10 percent) and inflation (14 percent and rising) and a collapse of the local currency to a record 193 rupees per dollar are the result of endemic corruption and excessive military spending. Increasing Islamic terrorist violence and record national debt led to Pakistan gaining a record low credit rating. That means no country or international donors like the World Bank would loan Pakistan money on terms that were acceptable to Khan or the Pakistani military, which was largely responsible for the financial crisis the government was trying to deal with.
Khan is especially critical of the military control over the government and its independence from civilian control. 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. Khan recognized this and saw improved relations with democratic India and less dependence on despotic Russia and China as worthy goals. In this respect Khan is trying to repair one the major political errors of Pakistan’s 20th century.
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. This has made Hindus especially disliked by Islamic conservatives and radicals, who believe that everyone should accept Islam.
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 (much less corrupt) administration and security (less crime and local wars). 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. Worse, the 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.
In Pakistan the military was frustrated by their inability to defeat the Indians in combat. In the 1980s the military decided to back Islamic terrorist groups in Pakistan. These groups were protected by the military as long as they attacked foreign enemies in India and Afghanistan. That worked for a while but by 2003 terrorism related deaths in Pakistan began to escalate to the point where local Islamic terrorists were out of the military’s control. By 2006 there were over a thousand Islamic terrorist related deaths a year and by 2009 it was over 11,000. That forced the army to literally go to war with the Islamic terrorists, who used portions of the northwestern tribal territories as a sanctuary for carrying out attacks all over Pakistan as well as in other nations in the region. All of these countries accused Pakistan of being the source. This encouraged the Pakistani military to keep going after Islamic terrorists they had created or allowed to proliferate. This was a major setback for the military in Pakistan and cost the military a lot of political support.
By 2021 Islamic terrorist violence had declined to the point where Pakistan was no longer one of the top five sources of deaths caused by terrorism. Despite that, India was still a much safer place. Bangladesh never really had major Islamic terrorist problems. India suffered 621 deaths from Islamic, separatist and communist violence in 2019 and unexpectedly saw a reduction in 2020. In other words, about .3 deaths per million population. Pakistan managed to reduce terrorism related deaths by 90 percent since 2015 and in 2019 the annual total was less than India for the first time. That did not last. Even with that 2019 decline, the Pakistan deaths per million population was 1.6, more than three times what India suffered in 2019. Pakistan still has more religious and separatist violence than India and was not making much progress in eliminating these corrosive attitudes. Worse, Pakistan was still plagued by a military establishment that refuses to abide by civilian control. Such civilian control has always been the case in more affluent and less violent India. The Pakistani military has been trying to depict India as a threat to Pakistani independence and prosperity. India is neither. Worse India considers Pakistan more of a nuisance than a threat and never considered Pakistan a glittering potential conquest. This enraged the Pakistani generals who have tried and failed, for decades, to make their illusions come true. This is changing for Pakistan with more internal opposition to the Pakistani military, including from senior military personnel.
Pakistani violence on the Indian border (Kashmir) reached record numbers in 2020. There were over 350 incidents a month along the 740-kilometer Kashmir border, which is only 22 percent of the 3,300-kilometer India-Pakistan border. Despite that increase in border violence India saw another decline in terrorist related deaths 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 leftist (Maoist) rebels in eastern India only accounted for 41 percent of the deaths with the five percent caused by tribal separatists in the northeast.
Pakistan had 506 terrorism related deaths in 2020, which was a 38 percent increase from the 365 recorded in 2019. That broke a trend in which Pakistani terrorism related deaths, which peaked in 2009, fell every year over the next decade. And then came 2020 when the numbers were up again. Pakistan suffered few deaths in its portion of Kashmir and most of the deaths were in the northwestern tribal territories but a larger number were throughout Pakistan.
The Pakistani military had lost a lot of stature and respect by the time Khan became a major political figure. Khan openly accused the military of being the primary political and economic problem in Pakistan. By this point, the military lost so much political clout that just killing (or arranging to have him killed) was no longer an option. This keeps Khan going, especially since a recent assassination attempt failed., despite the military getting him removed as prime minister. To the military, Khan regaining his role as prime minister would be a catastrophe and that kind of disaster is something most Pakistanis agree with.
Afghanistan, South Asia And It Could Be Worse
The IEA (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) government (since mid-2021) is still trying, and still failing, to get official recognition that it is the legitimate government of Afghanistan. Most nations consider the IEA a Pakistan-backed Islamic terror group that took control of the government with the additional help of Afghan drug cartels Few nations are willing to provide foreign aid and the most common criticisms are about IEA providing sanctuary for Islamic terrorists, drug cartels and all manner of outlaws. The ISIL branch in Afghanistan is ISK (Islamic State Khorasan), which was formed in Afghanistan during 2015, with the help of ISIL leadership in Syria, to handle ISIL activity throughout the region (Central Asia, Iran, Pakistan and India). ISK found they were most effective if they confined their operations to Afghanistan and Pakistan, which they have been doing since 2019. Other Islamic terrorist groups are attacked along with the usual government and religious targets. If you want to be a hardcore Islamic terrorist, you join ISIL. To obtain official sanctuary in Afghanistan you must agree to make no attacks in Afghanistan and, if IEA asks, not attack a neighboring country.
There are two other active Islamic terror groups in Afghanistan, the TTP (Pakistani Taliban) and ISK (Islamic State Khorasan), which is also the local ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) affiliate. The more immediate problem is the TTP. Many TTP factions operate independently, often contrary to orders from TTP leadership. In contrast the Afghan Taliban was always more disciplined because they were dependent on the Pakistani military for a sanctuary and other essential aid. This included cash payments from the Afghan heroin cartels that also depend on the Pakistani military for essential supplies and services. The Afghan Taliban help protect cartel operations inside Afghanistan. Now that the Afghan Taliban once more (after 20 years in exile) controls the Afghan government they find they have a lot in common with the TTP. Both Taliban’s see the Pakistani military as the enemy and that is causing major problems for the Pakistani military and Pakistan as a whole. So far TTP still has sanctuary in Afghanistan and is regularly sought out and attacked by Pakistani UAVs.
India, described by Pakistani generals as the mortal enemy of Pakistan, is far more peaceful, prosperous and uneventful compared to Pakistan. Then again, Pakistan can always compare itself to Taliban-run Afghanistan and take comfort in the fact that Afghanistan is far worse off than Pakistan. This is the case courtesy of the Pakistani military, which has been meddling more in Afghan affairs since the 1990s. That has not gone well for Pakistan or Afghanistan.
November 7, 2022: The Pakistani Supreme Court acted on the refusal of the police to issue the required FIR (First Incident Report) about a victim complaint about a criminal act. The court ordered the Punjab (where the crime was committed) Provincial government to issue the FIR immediately. In South Asia the FIR is a common part of the judicial process and gets the official investigation into the crime going. In this case the criminal complaint came from former PM Imran Khan four days ago. In his complaint Khan accused the current prime minister, the minister of the interior and army general Faisal Naseer of conspiring to kill him. General Naseer heads the counter intelligence department of the ISI (Inter-services Intelligence) which is mainly military intelligence but also performs like the CIA or KGB. Faisal Naseer is in charge of domestic terrorism in which critics of the army or anyone considered troublesome are threated or killed. The military using the ISI in this way is a major reason for growing opposition to the military. The Supreme Court is one of the few government institutions the army has not been able to intimidate into subservience. The same used to be said about senior elected officials, like Imran Khan. If the police do not promptly issue the FIR with Imran Khan’s accusations about who was behind the attempt on his life, the Supreme Court has the authority to do so itself. While the ISI controls some of the lower courts, in a high-profile case like this the courts are inclined to go by the book. This is bad news for the military and ISI even if they were not involved with the attempt on Khan’s life.
November 6, 2022: In Pakistan former prime minister Imran Khan was released from the hospital, where he was treated for the leg wounds, he suffered three days earlier. Khan also announced that his march on the capital would resume on the 8th and that he had asked the courts to act on the reluctance of the police to do anything about the attack on him.
November 5, 2022: Pakistan announced it is going to resume its offensive against the TTP. A ceasefire and negotiations are still in place but the TTP is not actively participating in the peace talks while the TTP forces are regularly violating the ceasefire with attacks in Pakistan. The new offensive is meant to destroy all TTP personnel in Pakistan and continue attacking TTP personnel (with UAV missile strikes) across the border in Afghanistan.
November 4, 2022: China and Saudi Arabia agreed to a $13 billion loan for a debt restructuring plan that will enable to the government to maintain essential services in the face of devastating floods and the continuing corruption and mismanagement of the government. China and Saudi Arabia are among largest holders of Pakistani debt and have the most to lose if the Pakistani economy collapses. Both China and Saudi Arabia have their own financial problems but not to the extent that Pakistan does.
November 3, 2022: In southern Pakistan (Wazirabad, 100 kilometers north of Lahore) ex PM Imran Khan was making speech to his supporters when a man with an automatic weapon opened fire. The shooter was captured after he killed one PTI supporter and sounded fourteen others, including speaker Khan. The shooter was reloading when nearby PTI supporters grabbed and disarmed him. The former PM was wounded in the leg, including a bad fracture that will keep him off his feet for at least two months. His march on the capital had two days to go and Khan requested that the final rally be held in the capital with many other speakers and a possible video appearance by Khan from the hospital. Having survived an assassination attempt, Khan gained even more support for early elections and putting him back in power.
The shooter said he believed Khan was creating disorder and must be eliminated. The police are going over the shooters cellphone and investigating where he got is automatic weapon from. Although Khan has the support of most Pakistanis, he had many opponents in the military and other security forces as well as among wealthy Pakistanis who are particularly corrupt. Some corrupt businessmen believe Khan will continue his campaign against corruption and tax evasion by the wealthy if he gets back in power. Khan’s enemies are found in many factions, not one monolithic organization. Khan supporters in the police are monitoring the investigation for any attempt to suppress evidence or proof who else was involved. The assassination attempt led to many unplanned protests throughout the country. Army leaders suggest that declaring martial law might be needed to deal with the growing pro-Khan/anti-military protests.
November 2, 2022: In northwest India (Kashmir) five Islamic terrorists were killed by security forces over the last three days. One of the dead was a known Pakistani Islamic terrorist leader sent across the border to organize attacks, including the use of suicide bombers.
November 1, 2022: In Iran, protestors defied government threats to use more lethal forces if the nationwide protests did not stop. The protests continued and many in the security services did not open fire. Many Pakistanis, Israelis, Indians and Arabs throughout the region were hoping that two months of protests in Iran would topple the current religious dictatorship but that has not happened. At the same time, despite increasing violence against the protestors and the use of lethal force, the protests continue. Over 300 protestors have been killed so far and the use of more lethal force against protestors has not stopped the demonstrators, who are appealing to the police to side with them against the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps), the heavily armed and fanatic force created to protect the religious dictatorship that has ruled Iran since the 1980s. Anti-government demonstrations have become more frequent in the last twenty years and that means most Iranians are not only demanding an end to the dictatorship, but are increasingly willing to die trying. That’s what overthrew the monarchy in 1979. That revolution was hijacked by the Iranian political parties. In effect, the 1979 revolution isn’t over yet. Many Pakistanis see the current anti-military demonstrations in Pakistan as similar as they are trying to remove the military leadership and replace it with generals who will accept civilian control.
October 31, 2022: In southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan) a clash between soldiers and local Baluchi separatists left two soldiers and four Baluchi gunmen dead.
October 30, 2022: In northwest Pakistan (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) a meeting of tribal elders and politicians from Malakand division refused to form a local militia to work with the army in fighting Islamic terrorists operating in Malakand, which borders Afghanistan, has suffered from increasing violence and extortion by Islamic terrorist groups based in Afghanistan. The local leaders believed the army and security forces could so more and that is their job. The locals do not want to take up arms to deal with security. The locals blame the government for the increase in violence on the government peace talks with the TTP and the ceasefire that went along with it. The TTP are ignoring the “no fighting” aspect of the ceasefire and plundering many parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that border Afghanistan.
October 28, 2022: In Pakistan (Lahore) former prime minister Imran Khan organized a convoy of his followers to travel 270 kilometers to the capital (Islamabad) and make numerous stops along the way to campaign for early elections. The trip will take seven days and conclude with a large pro-election rally in the capital.
October 15, 2022: Officially, Pakistan supports the Russian war in Ukraine, unofficially Pakistan agrees with China. Russian leader Vladimir Putin met with Chinese and Indian officials a month ago and was told that using nukes was a bad idea and the Ukraine War and the sanctions on Russia were interfering with economic and other relations with China and India. Putin told his two trading partners that he understood their concerns but no other details were made public. Putin risks losing his position as Russian leader if he loses the war in Ukraine. He has held that job for two decades and success in Ukraine was supposed to help him keep that job. Russia and China are Pakistan’s main allies and because of Putin’s mistakes, Pakistan is going to lose a valuable ally. For India, Russia is not nearly as valuable. Since the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, military, economic and political relations have deteriorated as India moved closer to the West. At this point, any support for Russia is mainly nostalgia and force of habit.
October 4, 2022: A Pakistan aid group delivered 18 tons of aid supplies to Afghanistan and the IEA assured the Pakistan group that the aid would go to those who needed it. Pakistan controls several IEA ministries and can audit some aid shipments and report back to the donors. Other non-Pakistani donors have no way to audit distribution.
September 30, 2022: In Africa (eastern Congo) a Pakistani peacekeeper was killed when a local militia attacked his unit’s camp. Pakistan is one of the largest sources of personnel for UN peacekeeping operations. In the last sixty years over 200,000 Pakistani troops have served as peacekeepers with 258 of them killed on duty. Currently about a third of the UN peacekeepers on duty come from nations that were formerly part of the British Empire (mostly from what used to be British India, which includes India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, as well as Nigeria.) To maintain and protect its empire, the British recruited lots of local troops and trained them as they would British soldiers. While most of the officers were British, most of the NCOs were locals. Britain also raised many troops in South Asia and Africa during World War II, and these men served as the leaders and trainers of the military after these nations became independent after World War II, from 1947 to the 1960s. Before the British relinquished its colonies after World War II, it also trained many locals as officers and continued helping with training after independence. Much of this Western training and military traditions took hold especially in South Asia and the African nations that were British colonies.
But there were major differences between South Asia and Africa. One is that the British encountered some formidable local armies when they moved into India in the 18th century and Africa in the 19th. The British had better technology and more advanced military doctrine, more so in Africa than in South Asia. The Indians noted this early on, before Britain had conquered all of South Asia. Some of the local rulers quickly, but not quickly enough, adopted the superior British practices. That was less the case in Africa because South Asia had advanced cultures at the same time as the Middle East and China. South Asians had an easier time absorbing British military practices than Africans.
When the British left, the South Asian and African armies remained very British in the way they trained and operated. That meant well trained and well led troops but without all the gadgets that Western nations lavish on their soldiers. For peacekeeping operations, the disciplined and reliable South Asian and African soldiers are excellent. Those troops from other less affluent nations often lack the discipline and good leadership and account for most of the peacekeeping scandals.
Meanwhile, corruption, casualties and lack of success are discouraging countries from contributing their troops for peacekeeping. The corruption angle is interesting, as it pertains both to the corruption within the UN bureaucracy and the corrupt atmosphere the peacekeepers operate in and often succumb to. While South Asia has problems with corruption their armed forces are seen as more reliable and less corrupt than other government employees.
India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan are also not happy with the lack of volunteers from other major nations. The chief reasons for that are the same ones annoying the current peacekeepers (corruption and restrictive rules of engagement). In addition, the major military powers (with the exception of China and Russia) feel they already contribute quite a lot in the form of money to pay the peacekeepers. And the contributors are also upset at the lack of results.
Currently the UN is spending about $8 billion a year to keep about 100,000 peacekeepers in service. For the last decade annual peacekeeping spending and the number of peacekeepers in action has remained pretty much the same. It's actually a pretty cheap way of keeping some conflicts under control. The causes of the unrest may not be resolved by peacekeepers but at least the problem is contained and doesn't bother the rest of the world too much. This is an increasingly unpopular approach to peacekeeping, except in the UN bureaucracy. Many UN members would rather send peacekeepers to where they are not wanted (by the government, usually a bad one that is often the cause of the trouble in the first place) and prefer to emphasize keeping peacekeeper casualties down and the situation quiet.
The United States and India agree that one solution for all these problems is better training for the peacekeepers from countries who supply troops that are the least prepared for this often-difficult duty.