China has become the ultimate fiscal lifeline for Pakistan. Decades of deficits, growing corruption, excessive defense spending and military domination have left Pakistan broke and few willing to give or lend enough cash to keep Pakistan solvent. A recent example of how this works was seen when despite economic recession and a public debt crisis (no one will lend to Pakistan anymore), the Pakistani defense budget was increased twelve percent for 2020, with annual spending now $7.85 billion. Spending on dealing with covid19 has averaged about $100 million a month and by the end of the year military spending will be at least five times what was spent on covid19. The India defense budget is also up (13.6 percent more) in 2020 to $66 billion.
The only economic relief available to Pakistan is China and CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic corridor). CPEC is a vast Chinese investment and construction effort that depends on vigorous support of the Pakistani military to succeed. China needs the Pakistani military to keep Islamic terrorists and tribal separatists from attacking the Chinese construction projects. Pakistan also helps China by keeping Indian forces occupied in Kashmir and the northwest Indian portion of the Pakistani border.
Northwest India (Ladakh State) is the current a hot spot because India has been building roads to the border and threatening to take back the portion of Kashmir Pakistan illegally, according to the agreement that established the India-Pakistan border after the British left in 1947, seized from India. Pakistan signed that agreement but had second thoughts as it was being implemented. Pakistan urged Pakistani Pushtun tribes in the area to “liberate” Kashmir from the Hindus and managed to grab about half of the disputed area. This dispute has remained unresolved ever since and led to several wars with India. Pakistan always lost but India never sent troops into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The current Indian leader is openly questioning the wisdom of that policy.
India controlling all of Kashmir is a major economic threat to China, which has invested over $10 billion to build a highway and rail line from China to the Pakistani coast and it goes through Pakistani occupied Kashmir. This link is part of the Chinese OBOR/BRI (belt and road project) which aims to revive the ancient Silk Road that for thousands of years was the main economic link between East Asia and the rest of Eurasia. The Pakistani portion is called CPEC and is costing China at least $62 billion (so far). The Indian threats to the Kashmir road-rail link are minor compared to the problems China is having with Islamic terrorist and tribal violence against CPEC projects as well as the high levels of corruption in Pakistan which are also damaging CPEC projects. This is driving up costs while lowering quality and slowing progress. But China also claims ownership of much Indian territory so helping Pakistani keep what they have grabbed is considered something of a professional courtesy. At the same time the Pakistani military have gained an ally they cannot abandon or say no to.
In June China revived the border war over Pangong Lake, which is largely in Tibet and patrolled by a small Chinese naval force. This is the longest lake in Asia and part of the 134-kilometer long lake extends 45 kilometers into the Indian Ladakh region. China is using its usual “sneak, grab and stay” tactics to slowly move the border into territory long occupied by India. The portion of the lake shore in dispute has no native population. The only people who visit the area are soldiers from India or China.
Given this newly declared foreign threat China has, since 2019, sent new Type928D Patrol Boats to guard the lake. This fast (70 kilometers an hour) boat is armed with an RWS (Remote Weapons System) using a 12.7mm machine-gun plus two or more smaller (7.62mm) machine-guns that can be outed elsewhere on the boat and operated by one of the ten sailors on board. There is also seating below deck for up to twenty troops. India has smaller boats patrolling it portion of the 4,200-meter high lake, except for the few months when the entire lake is frozen over.
In the last decade China has been building roads into remote and formerly inaccessible (via vehicle) portions of the lake coastline. China has built some of these roads into areas claimed by India but not regularly patrolled because special mountain troops must be employed to get into these areas without coming in by boat or on foot over the ice.
India admits that the Chinese aggression along its northern border is active again and the Chinese are now actually taking control of Indian territory and apparently plan to continue doing so. Despite Indian nuclear weapons China believes it can get away with gradually gaining control over more than 100,000 square kilometers of Indian territory it claims. This will be done by grabbing a few square kilometers at a time without triggering a nuclear exchange. Fortune favors the bold, even in slow motion.
China and India have already fought a war, back in 1962. In a month of fighting (starting on 20 October) India lost 7,000 troops (57 percent prisoners, the rest dead or missing) compared to 722 Chinese dead. China declared a ceasefire that India accepted. China actually advanced in two areas, a thousand kilometers apart and ended up taking 43,000 square kilometers of Indian territory.
The source of the 1962 war and current border tension goes back a century and heated up when China resumed control over Tibet in the 1950s. From the end of the Chinese empire in 1912 up until 1949 Tibet had been independent. But when the communists took over China in 1949, they sought to reassert control over their "lost province" of Tibet. This began slowly, but once all of Tibet was under Chinese control in 1959, China had a border with India and there was immediately a disagreement about exactly where the border should be. That’s because, in 1914, the newly independent government of Tibet worked out a border (the McMahon line) with the British (who controlled India). China considers this border agreement illegal and wants 90,000 square kilometers back. India refused, especially since this would mean losing much of the state of Arunachal Pradesh in northeastern India and some bits elsewhere there and all along the new northern border.
India, as a democracy with a free press, has a public discussion of Chinese tactics and possible Indian responses. China also tries to take advantage of the Indian media freedom by buying favorable coverage in the Indian press. This is done via bribes, offers of investments or loans as well as economic concessions within China. Military strategy in China, since ancient times, has placed emphasis on having a powerful military but using it mainly as a threat and giving enemies an incentive to accept bribes and allow China to get what they want. Yet India has rarely been seen as an enemy of China. There is nothing valuable on their mutual border which for thousands of years has been along high mountains and thinly populated lowland jungles. Neither India nor China had any incentive to raise large armies to threaten each other.
Because of this background, the border disputes of the last 60 years are seen by Indians as inexplicable and by Chinese as overdue restitution for centuries of humiliations inflicted by Western invaders. India, ever since it emerged from centuries of British colonial rule in 1947, insisted that India and China shared a background of oppression by the West. China sees India as trying to perpetuate Western crimes against China. To most Chinese Indians look and sound like Westerners therefore India must be an enemy of China. India has come to accept that the Chinese are obsessed with making India pay for real or imagined wrongs inflicted by Western imperialists and see nothing wrong with using ancient Chinese imperialist methods to get their way. Suddenly British imperialism is not the worst thing that could ever happen to India or Pakistan. China is seeking to provide something much worse, much closer and much sooner than anyone expected.
A Casualty of Closeness
Despite, or perhaps because of being a close ally of China Pakistan has one of the top covvid19 death rates in the world. The virus was first detected in late February
Both India and Pakistan imposed several months of covid19 related quarantines in many areas, to slow the spread of the virus. There was growing popular resistance to that policy. The quarantine shut down many businesses and in both countries there are now unemployment rates between 20 and 30 percent. For many workers in both nations being out of work means going hungry and too long without work means starvation. Less quarantine is bad for the senior politicians, who tend to be much older and the group that most frequently die from covid19. Most Indians and Pakistanis have little access to medical care. Politicians and the wealthy do and have more to fear from the virus. The popular resistance to quarantine is growing and in some areas the government is relenting and allowing the economy to revive. It simply a matter that for most people unemployment is a greater risk the covid19. As a result the quarantines are ending.
So far India has, adjusting for population, 523 covid19 cases per million people and fifteen deaths per million. For Pakistan its 1,061 cases per million and 22 dead. Elsewhere in the region Bangladesh has 1,005 covid19 cases per million and 13 deaths per million. In Burma it’s six cases per million people and 0.1 deaths. Afghanistan is 857 cases and 24 dead.
China, where the virus began, stopped releasing covid19 cases and deaths data as part of a government program to try and blame the U.S. for the virus. Few (Chinese or foreigners) believe that and it is taken for granted by neighbors of China that the “Wuhan Virus”, as it was first known, indeed came from China. By now it has also become known that covid19 is not much more dangerous than one of the deadlier annual influenza epidemics. The flu is taken for granted and it is unclear if covid19, which is genetically almost identical to the 2013 SARS virus, another Chinese corona (trans-species) virus, will be an annual event or disappear like SARS and similar diseases. Covid19 is unique in that it attacks the lungs and is often mistaken for pneumonia. As such it is particularly dangerous to the elderly or anyone with weakened immune system or other illnesses. Most healthy adults and children do not notice covid19 at all even if exposed to it.
July 6, 2020: In northwest India (Ladakh State) China began withdrawing additional troops it had brought up to the India/Tibet border. It is unclear how much additional territory in the Galwan Valley and along Pangong Lake China now controls. As part of this temporary peace deal each country agreed to pull its forces back about a mile (1,500 meters) from the scene of the hand-t0-hand battles that left over fifty Chinese and Indian troops dead and many more wounded. During the negotiations for the Galwan River Valley ceasefire and withdrawal China revealed that it now claimed territory extending 800 meters into India that China had never claimed before.
In the last few weeks China has, for the first time, claimed ownership of the Indian Galwan River Valley. As is the Chinese custom, a major show of force attempts to push back Indian border forces without triggering a shooting conflict. China then reinforces the area with more troops, agrees to negotiate, withdraws some of its troops to keeps some of them occupying small bits of territory that China has never held before. This is an ancient Chinese strategy that worked in the South China Sea and to a lesser extent on the Indian border. China tried it against the Russians in the early 1970s and almost triggered a nuclear war. China does not want to repeat that sort of thing with India. As a result all you see as slow-go advances.
July 5, 2020: In southwest Pakistan the border crossings with Iran are being reopened. Truck traffic is moving freely but there are still some restrictions on people wanting to cross the border. The borders have been closed since mid-March.
July 2, 2020: India has ordered 21 more MiG-29s and twelve more Su-30 jet fighters from Russia. This will increase the Indian fighter force to 80 MiG-29s and 284 Su-30s. The Su-30s will be built under license in India while the MiG-29s are cheaper used aircraft that will be refurbished in Russia.
June 30, 2020: In southeast Pakistan (Karachi) four Baluchi separatists sought to shoot their way into the stock exchange building. Security guards responded and during an eight-minute gun battle all four attackers were killed, along with six other security personnel and bystanders. The BLA (Baloch Liberation Army) took credit for the attack. In southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan) tribal separatists have been fighting for autonomy, a greater share of natural resources wealth or independence as a Baluchi state. This violence has gotten worse since the 1980s.
Despite the BLA claim. Pakistan blamed India, without any proof and ignoring the many anti-Pakistan Islamic and separatists’ terrorists still active in Karachi and elsewhere in the country. On the Indian border Pakistan has violated the ceasefire over ten times a day during the last three months. This is three times the number of violations per day compared to 2018.
The EU (European Union) banned PIA (Pakistani International Airlines) from EU member nations for six months. This came after PIA officials admitted that there was indeed a problem with many PIA pilots having fake or illegally obtained pilot licenses. The PIA suspended about a third of its pilots and promised the EU that it would, within a few months, provide verifiable (by EU auditors) pilot licenses for pilots that had proved they had legitimate licenses and flying skills. A recent PIA investigation found that 30 percent of active pilots had either counterfeit licenses or had cheated on the written pilots’ examination. The problem extended to most professionals, not just pilots. Many “credentialed” PIA employees had fake university degrees or certificates of competency in some technical area. The EU wants that mess cleaned up as well.
For pilots this situation is not as absurd as it sounds. Modern commercial aircraft are highly automated and the most complex operation is taking off and moving away from the crowded airspace around the airport to the proper heading and altitude for your destination. This is done under the direction of flight controllers. After that the autopilot takes over and most aircraft use an automated landing system as well. What a pilot license certifies is that a pilot had undergone extensive training on how to handle a wide range of emergencies. International aviation accident investigators had warned PIA that its pilots were unusually prone to making stupid mistakes and not being able to handle emergency situations. Cheating on university and licensing exams is a widespread problem in Pakistan (and the region in general) and that eventually led to suspicion about the validity of PIA pilot licenses. The reputation, and profitability of PIA began to decline in the 1970s when the military began taking control of more and more of the economy and tolerating all manner of corruption. PIA management is largely ex-air force and management and staff ranks are notoriously bloated and incompetent. This is not unusual for state owned “flag (representing the nation) carriers.” Nations lacking an economy that can support numerous free market airliners often subsidize a flag carrier and these airlines are notoriously inefficient and often dangerous to fly. PIA lost nearly $30 million a month in 2019, which was up 28 percent from 2018.
June 29, 2020: In northwest India (Ladakh State) Chinese troops have occupied about eight kilometers of Indian territory along the north coast of Pangong Lake. Chinese troops have erected large signs on the shoreline indicating the newly occupied area is now Chinese territory. China has moved another 20,000 troops, including light tanks and other armored vehicles to the Ladakh sector. Another 10,000 troops are kept about a thousand kilometers away, in Chinese lowland territory where altitude sickness is less of a problem. China has most of the high ground and that limits the number of combat capable troops it can bring to its side of the border.
June 26, 2020: In Pakistan, the prime minister, Imran Khan declared that Osama bin Laden was a martyr for Islam. This is another example of Kahn doing the bidding of the military. It was military support and media intimidation that got Khan elected and now Kahn is joining the military in defending bin Laden. This very public move by Kahn cost him a lot of support inside and outside Pakistan. Kahn was always seen as beholden to the Pakistani military for getting him elected prime minister (via military supplied vote rigging) and further support via growing military control of Pakistani media via intimidation and when that does not work, murder. Kahn did not seem comfortable calling bin Laden a “martyr” but Kahn knows how to avoid becoming one.
Since 2011 the Pakistani military has had less popular support because of the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden in his Pakistani hideout and left with the bin Laden corpse and massive amounts of documents, many of them detailing how the Pakistani military had lied to the world about secret support for al Qaeda and many other Islamic terror groups. After 2011 the military made a few changes like going to war with Islamic terror groups that carried out unauthorized (by the military) attacks inside Pakistan. There is still Islamic terrorist violence inside Pakistan but most of it is done without permission from the military. What Islamic terrorism the military still used inside Pakistan had a specific purpose. Case in point is the growing use of blasphemy charges by Islamic religious parties against those who threaten military power. Most of these parties are either allies of the military or literally on the army payroll. This program includes the new Islamic political parties formed by Islamic terror groups that have long worked for the military to carry out attacks inside India. The Pakistani military wants to protect these Islamic terror groups and turning them into political parties is the latest ploy. The covert violence against foreign (Afghan and Indian targets) is against Pakistani and international law and the Pakistani military continues to claim that it is not involved.
June 18, 2020: Nigeria has been officially declared polio free. This comes after three years with no new cases of polio. That means all of Africa is now free of polio, along with Europe, the Americas and most of Asia. Only Pakistan and Afghanistan still suffer from polio. In those two nations the same Moslem intolerance and paranoia that delayed Nigeria becoming polio-free are in play. Another complaint was that the organization mainly responsible for the “polio free” movement, Rotary International, is an American fraternal charity whose members are largely responsible for the $5 billion effort to eradicate polio by vaccinating enough children so that the polio virus no longer has a human host and, like smallpox, becomes extinct. This polio free effort began in the 1980s and a decade ago ran into problems in northern Nigeria, where conservative Islamic clergy and Boko Haram spread the rumor that the polio vaccine was actually a plot to poison Moslem children. This has delayed eradication of polio in Nigeria for nearly a decade and still delays it in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
June 15, 2020: In northwest India (Ladakh State) there was another clash between Indian and Chinese troops on the shores of Pangong Lake which is part of the Tibet border with India. A 1996 agreement has troops from both sides entering disputed areas without firearms or explosives. The Chinese have taken to sending in their troops armed with wooden clubs and iron bars. This led to a battle on a ridge overlooking the Galvan River today that left at least twenty dead on both sides. Total casualties (dead, wounded, prisoners) were at least fifty on each side. China failed to return all Indian prisoners right away and Chinese commander would not explain why.
The Indian response was to move more of its new (SpyDer) Israeli and elderly S-125 and OSA-AK Russian made air defense systems into the area. SpyDer and OSA-AK are short range (under 15 kilometers) while the S-125 can hit targets 30 kilometers away. The Chinese response was to drop any pretense about its intentions and claim ownership of the uninhabited (and largely uninhabitable) Galvan Valley adjacent to Pangong Lake. Since the early 1960s, when these border disputes began, China had never claimed Galvan Valley, now they do.