Former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan is seen as the winner in upcoming (sometime in late 2023) national elections. Khan wants to make the military subordinate to the elected government and keep it that way. The Pakistan military considers this unacceptable. Civilian control is something neighboring India established at the beginning in 1947 when India and Pakistan were the two largest new democracies emerging from the end of British colonial rule over South Asia. Neither of these new nations was an outstanding success, but the Indians made fewer mistakes and had more success than Pakistan. Both new nations were cursed with an ancient tradition of corruption. One reason the British lasted so long and were so successful at running their huge Indian colonial empire was the British were less corrupt and more efficient when running the region. An example of this is the peaceful departure of the British and their efforts to help the new nations organize governments that would last. This effort was more successful with India and the other, smaller new states created in 1947.
Pakistan turned out to be a slow-motion trainwreck which took decades to devastate Pakistan economically, politically and militarily. The Pakistani military had little respect for democracy and often took control of the government because the generals believed the politicians were undisciplined and corrupt and the military was needed to restore order. Most Pakistanis wanted democracy and military rule never lasted long before democracy and all the government corruption returned. That cycle has been the rule since the 1950s. One thing the military would never tolerate were civilians literally attacking military facilities and personnel. That is happening a lot now and the military has found growing civilian opposition to being bullied by the military. The generals see Imran Khan as the unofficial leader of this movement and there is some truth to that. The military tried to portray Khan as another corrupt politician and prosecute. The problem is, Khan is not corrupt and that has been obvious for a long time. He does a lot of charitable work and is immensely popular for this. The generals picked the wrong politician to go after. The generals fear they have no choice, because Khan is coming after them, at least the most corrupt and anti-democracy officers. The army angers politicians and civilians in general by trying to try hostile (to the military) civilians in military courts. Imran Khan is at the top of the list of annoying civilians the military courts want to try and convict of the worst crime of all; opposing the military.
The military had to resort to drastic measures in an effort to shut down the Khan inspired protests. This led to the Army trying to arrest most of the leaders of Khan’s PTI Party while also ordering or forcing the mass media, especially TV networks, to stop covering Khan and the anti-protests. This was risky because this is the sort of political and media manipulation by the military that has caused the protests. In the past the military has successfully, for a while, intimidated some media and journalists to go silent. This was never completely successful because shutting down all media outlets proved to be more than the military could handle. Intimidating or murdering individual journalists also backfired and did not halt the criticism. Organized, usually by political parties, anti-military demonstrations were also impossible to eliminate completely. The military was also unable to exercise control over the judiciary, especially the high courts. The military is running out of options and is no longer strong enough to take over the government. The generals believed they controlled enough senior politicians to limit the impact of major demonstrations. That is no longer the case and another army effort to take over and run the government could trigger a civil war. This has long been feared by the military and its critics and would be disastrous for Pakistan and the military. The generals would become outlaws and the military torn apart. Then there are the potential problems with Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Neighbors like Iran and India don’t want a chaotic Pakistan because that sends refugees, and some of the violence, across the border.
Another major problem is Pakistan’s large number of state-owned companies, whose revenue accounts for ten percent of GDP. These firms include the national railroads, the national airline, other transportation, electric power generation operations, oil and gas production, finance and investment firms, real estate development, travel and marketing firms and dozens of smaller trade or manufacturing firms. Except for the oil and gas operations, all the others make little or no profit. Most, like the power generation firms, lose enormous sums annually. The primary problem is poor management by personnel who got their jobs for political reasons, not management ability. The losses these firms generate are one reason Pakistan has a hard time getting foreign loans to avoid financial collapse. Reforming these unprofitable operations requires more management and political capabilities than Pakistan can assemble. Senior army officers participate in this corruption, owning shares of many companies
Privatizing many of these firms is difficult because there are no buyers due to well-founded fears that government corruption would result in them being sold to politically-connected buyers at bargain prices, or being forcibly re-sold to the politically connected even if they had just been bought by a less-connected purchaser. Some of these money-losing operations cannot just be shut down because they provide critical services. Foreign lenders and investors, including the IMF (international monetary fund), China and Saudi Arabia, have lost patience with Pakistan and are unwilling to take further financial risks there. One financial risk is the $77 billion debt to China and Saudi Arabia. This money is supposed to be repaid between 2023 and 2026. Pakistan doesn’t have the money to make the payments and is trying to negotiate an extension. Until this issue is resolved there will be no more loans or investments from China or Saudi Arabia. A side-effect of all this financial turmoil is high (47 percent) inflation which is felt by all Pakistanis.
Another failed investment was the Taliban and various Islamic terrorist groups. The Taliban was supported so it could take control of Afghanistan and show its gratitude by shutting down Islamic terrorists and separatist groups in Afghanistan that attacked Pakistan. That has not happened. The Taliban were also supposed to provide stability for Pakistani investments and trade. China was willing to make major investments in Afghanistan if conditions were stable. That has not happened and Pakistan gets most of the blame.
Another Afghan problem with Pakistan is that Pakistanis tend to take their Islam more seriously than Afghans do. This is part of a larger problem because since the founding of Pakistan in 1947 there has been frequent and continuing sectarian, religious and ethnic violence. Religion continues to be a major cause of violence. Attacks are carried out between different sects of Islam, primarily Shia and Sunni but there are other sects that attract violent attention. There is even violence between identical religious/ethnic groups because those who lived in Pakistan before 1947 don’t get along with those who fled Indian anti-Moslem violence in 1947 and settled in Pakistan. Most Moslem Indians stayed in India in 1947 and India currently has more Moslems than Pakistan. There is religious violence on both sides of the border but it is worst in Pakistan, whose name translates to “Land of the Pure.”
Afghans, in contrast, tend to be more tolerant. The exception is radical Afghan Moslems like the original Taliban. Their radical attitudes were the result of the Taliban being created by the Pakistani military in the mid-1990s. This left a lethal legacy as clashes in northwest Pakistan between Pakistani troops and Islamic terrorists continues. To a lesser degree, violence occurs in the southeast (Baluchistan) with Baluchi separatists. Afghans and Pakistani elected officials blame the Pakistani military for causing the separatist and religious violence and the resulting economic problems. While Pakistanis complain of their “Afghan problem” the Afghans are more justified complaining about a much more active and damaging “Pakistani problem.”
Inside Pakistan the major problem has long been the excessive political power of the Pakistani military. Even though Pakistan military spending, at $11 billion a year, is the lowest in the region, the Pakistani military is a major political power, with veto power over any decisions the elected government makes. This contributed to current economic problems that have Pakistan facing bankruptcy. While the Pakistani military budget is only four percent of GDP, that is the highest percentage of GDP for military spending in the region. Active duty and retired military officers have a lot of control over the national economy and exercise a form of corruption that aims to take care of the military first and anything else second. This arrangement has been under attacks since the Pakistani debt crises began in 2019. The generals can and are, literally, blaming it all on “foreign bankers” and largely infidel (non-Moslem) ones at that.
The IMF (International Monetary Fund) is reluctant to loan Pakistan any more money because of its excessive defense spending, poor performance of state-owned firms and lack of progress in getting wealthy Pakistanis to pay taxes. There are also accusations of financing Islamic terrorism. The IMF warned that if charges that Pakistan is allowing Islamic terrorists to raise and move cash out of the country are verified, Pakistan would have more problems obtaining foreign loans. The terrorism funding charges are evaluated by the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) which threatened to put Pakistan on the gray list and will escalate to the black list if Pakistan does not make effective efforts to block Pakistan based terrorist groups from using the international banking system to finance their violence. Pakistan reduced the illegal financing activity coming out of Pakistan and by 2019 FATF took Pakistan off the gray list. Being on the gray list leads to being put on the black list and that would mean Pakistan would have some financial problems because of resulting international banking restrictions. Without IMF assistance Pakistan would slide into financial collapse. That would hurt all Pakistanis, including the military. This is also dangerous for the neighbors and distant enemies of Pakistan because the military controls Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.
June 5, 2023: In northwest Pakistan (South Waziristan) soldiers clashed with Islamic terrorists several times, leaving three soldiers and two Islamic terrorists dead.
June 4, 2023: Popular politician Imran Khan accuses the army of planning to prosecute, try and convict him in a military court as a way to prevent him and his PRI party from winning the next elections. A year ago, such a situation would have seemed impossible. But now the army is facing a very real threat to its independence and political power. Most Pakistanis side with Khan, but the army has the guns.
June 2, 2023: In northwest India (Kashmir) troops killed another Pakistani Islamic terrorist that had recently got across the border from Pakistan. The Pakistan miliary continues to operate these Islamic terrorists bases and training camps. Getting the terrorists into India has become increasingly difficult because moder technology has made it more difficult to enter India undetected by electronic sensors and Indian villagers with cellphones who often call the police or army with reports of sighting another armed Pakistani who had crossed the border. Pakistan used to be able to send ground of armed men across the border but that is no longer possible and even the individual border crossers are not surviving long. Recently sightings, and killing of armed infiltrators have occurred almost daily.
June 1, 2023: In the west (the Iran border) gunmen coming from the Iranian side of the border attacked a Pakistani border post and killed two Pakistani soldiers. That attackers fled before more soldiers could arrive. The attackers were believed to be Baluchi separatists, who often find sanctuary in Iran among Baluchi tribes that live in that part of Iran.
May 30, 2023: India revealed the March 2022 accidental firing of a three-ton BrahMos missile into the adjacent Pakistani province of Punjab cost the Indian government $3 million. In addition, three military officers were fired. Pakistani air defense systems detected the high-speed intruder last year and did not realize it was a missile until the missile landed and exploded near a residential area, where it did some damage but caused no casualties. Pakistan demanded an explanation, as well as cash compensation. The ultimately received both, after much negotiation. Meanwhile Pakistani, and probably Chinese, technical experts will scrutinize the missile debris for useful information. India demanded an explanation from the military about how such an accident could happen. The errant Brahmos missile was one of those that were stored and launched from one of three canisters on a large truck. Pakistan declared the missile launch was deliberate and demanded apologies, cash compensation while seeking too use this opportunity to examine the missile debris. A year later, three more Brahmos missiles were accidentally launched but again landed in an unpopulated area and caused no casualties.
May 29, 2023: In northeast India (Manipur state) tribal rebels have been active again and security forces have fought back. In the last five days at least 33 rebels have been killed. The rebels often use bases across the border in Myanmar (Burma) but India and Burma have an agreement that allows Indian troops to cross the border if they are in close pursuit of Manipur rebels.
May 26, 2023: In Pakistan police arrested 33 Imran Khan supporters and turned them over to the military for trail in military courts. Such trails have long been controversial in Pakistan and opposed by most political parties.
May 9, 2023: In Pakistan, police sent to arrest former prime minister Imran Khan were told he was not home and many Kahn supporters showed up to protest the police effort to arrest Khan. The army, backed by the military-dominated Defense Ministry, accused Khan of leading a rebellion. Eventually Kahn was found and arrested. This led to violent protests which led to eight protesters killed and nearly 300 wounded. A month later at least 10,000 supporters of Khan and his PTI party were arrested. Khan was arrested but on May 12 was freed on bail.
May 7, 2023: The three nations (China, Russia and Pakistan) that have the most economic activity with Afghanistan are urging the IEA to help Afghanistan as well as the IEA by allowing women to work. Another needed activity is cracking down on the drug cartels and Islamic terror groups that currently operate freely. So far the IEA has ignored these suggestions. In response, the world largely ignored the IEA and Afghanistan.
May 6, 2023: The IEA (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) agreed to allow the Chinese BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) project to extend from Pakistan into Afghanistan. The Pakistan portion of BRI is called CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) project. 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. Extending CPEC into Afghanistan will involve several billion dollars’ worth of spending in infrastructure and thousands of jobs for Afghans. Chinese engineers and supervisors will manage the work and the IEA will be responsible for keeping the Chinese safe. There are already some Chinese working in Afghanistan and they have to be careful when they travel because kidnapping foreigners for ransom is popular with many Afghan outlaws.
May 4, 2023: In southeast Afghanistan (Khost province) TTP (Pakistani Taliban) gunmen crossed into Pakistan (North Waziristan) and encountered Pakistani soldiers. A gunbattle left three TTP men dead as well as six Pakistani troops. In nearby Kurram unidentified gunmen attacked a school and killed seven teachers, most of them local Shia. There has long been armed violence between Shia and Sunni Pakistanis in this area. Currently, most of the violence in North Waziristan is caused by TTP gunmen who are based in Afghanistan. Lately the TTP has expanded its operations to the southeast, where Afghanistan borders the Pakistani province of Baluchistan. TTP violence in Baluchistan has visibly increased.
April 30, 2023: Iran and Pakistan share borders with each other and Afghanistan. Iran and Pakistan have prosperous and peaceful relationships, but have problems with the new government in Afghanistan. Pakistan was the first nation to officially recognize the new (2021) IEA (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) IEA government in Afghanistan. There are still disagreements between the two countries and the resumption of diplomatic relations makes it easier to discuss possible solutions to disputes. Currently the only countries willing to trade with Afghanistan are Iran, China, Russia and Pakistan. Since IEA took over in 2021, Afghanistan has been a much more difficult country to do business in. Iran recognized the IEA and exchanged ambassadors in March 2023. Inside Afghanistan the economic and security situations are chaotic. It is in the interests of Iran and Pakistan to try and remedy this.
April 27, 2023: In the Gulf of Oman, an Iranian helicopter carrying commandos was used to seize another tanker and move it to Iranian coastal waters. This is the sixth tanker Iran has detained since 2019. The latest one turned out to belong to a Chinese leasing company, managed by a Turkish firm and manned by an Indian crew. Since China, Turkey and India are among the few nations friendly towards Iran, these connections may get the tanker released sooner. The tanker was carrying a load of Kuwaiti oil to the United States (Houston). Iran always attributes these seizures to some regulation the tanker violated. Iran does not mention the economic sanctions that make it illegal for Iran to sell its oil. The United States supplies most of the enforcement efforts and this involves intercepting at sea tankers smuggling Iranian oil and seizing the oil. The American proof usually consists of aerial or satellite photos of the offending tanker at an Iranian port to take on a load of Iranian oil. The origins of oil can be determined by an analysis of the oil. There are minute differences in the composition of oil that make source identification possible. Iran still manages to smuggle a lot of oil to willing (because of lower prices) buyers. The seizures and lower prices cost Iran nearly half its pre-sanctions oil income. Currently Iran earns about $3 billion a month from oil export sales. That’s not enough to support the government budget or the economy. This does reduce the amount spent on their nuclear weapons program. To help with that Iran provides weapons to Russia for its Ukraine War. Russia is under heavier sanctions than Iran and pays for these weapons via barter. Russia is supplying Iran with modern warplanes (three dozen Su-35s) along with support equipment and technical assistance. Russia has sent Iran some other high-tech weapons in payment for the weapons and other military equipment.