India-Pakistan: The Unraveling
By Strategy Page, November 17, 2021
Nov 17, 2021 - 4:55:51 PM
Pakistan is at the center of several current regional crises. This includes several decades of trying to carry out Islamic terrorist attacks in neighboring India while also continuing to sponsor Taliban and heroin cartel violence in Afghanistan. Pakistan has also aligned itself with China against India and supports Chinese territorial claims on India. This has caused some major problems for Pakistan, which has long denied any support for Islamic terrorism, or the Taliban and heroin cartel violence in Afghanistan. Inside Pakistan most voters blame the military for all this bad behavior and for seeking permanent control of the elected government via intimidation and rigged elections.
Despite all this being public knowledge and the cause of growing anger by the UN and former supporters, Pakistan continues to deny that it had anything to do with the Taliban victory in Afghanistan and the formation of the IEA (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan). The Pakistani military created the Taliban in the 1990s and have never stopped supporting their creation even though it was an open secret that Pakistan support continued. Foreign reporters had a constant supply of pictures and videos of the Taliban Shura (high-command) members and their families operating openly in Quetta, a southwestern Pakistan provincial capital not far from the Afghan border. Many Afghans live there and it’s not difficult to figure out which of these people are Afghan refugees rather than the more prosperous sanctuary Afghans. Unofficially, Pakistan let it be known since 2002 that if Taliban regained control of Afghanistan, they would do as they were told by their Pakistani patrons. That is not happening and Pakistani military commanders are unsure how to handle this, and are openly feuding with each other and the Pakistani government about how to fix the very real mess they have unofficially created in Afghanistan and domestically.
Pakistani generals told China that the IEA government in Afghanistan was controlled by Afghans who were veteran Pakistani agents. This included a senior member of the Haqqani Group who has been running the Taliban for several years and is now a senior member of the IEA government. Despite all that Afghanistan is still a violent, unpredictable place. The IEA, and Pakistan were dismayed to find the government Afghan treasury empty (or nearly so) when they took over. The corruption Pakistan, the Taliban and heroin cartels used to weaken the former IRA (Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) had done its job too well and the corrupted officials either moved their illicit fortunes to foreign banks or invested in property and other assets in Afghanistan, where there were few buyers able or willing to purchase them from the IEA. This was discovered when the IEA sought to auction off some of these assets to pay overdue bills for electricity imported from northern neighbors. There is no money to pay skilled government personnel that the IEA wants (and often needs) to keep their new government going. Over $10 billion in foreign aid was kept in foreign banks by the donor nations and disbursed as needed but often delayed because of the continued corruption in the IRA government. For nearly two decades foreign donors have supplied most of the cash needed to keep the government going. The heroin cartels never represented more than ten percent of the GDP and were already “taxed” via the bribes paid to IRA officials to leave alone heroin production and smuggling to foreign markets via Pakistan. The Pakistani military got paid as well. The leaders of the 1990s Taliban understood this, some Taliban leaders of the current generation do as well, and that is one reason why the IEA leadership has so many factions that disagree with Pakistani control and how that is keeping foreign donors away.
Pakistan became dependent on China for weapons, economic investment, and protection from foreign (including UN) economic sanctions. This support will disappear if Pakistan cannot deliver an Afghanistan stable enough for Chinese firms to operate. China always demanded a similar performance from Pakistan when it came to terrorist violence against Chinese in Pakistan. That violence still occurs and appears to be increasing because there are more attacks in Pakistan by Islamic terrorists or Afghan resistance groups based in Afghanistan. China sees the IEA situation more clearly than the Pakistani generals and agree with potential foreign donor nations that the IEA is a bad place to send aid money. Several recent conferences by neighboring nations to discuss the IEA situation seem to agree that the IEA will be less successful than the 1990s version, which was expelled from Afghanistan shortly after September 11, 2001 when the Americans backed the opposition in northern Afghanistan and got Pakistan to back off, for a while. The Pakistani military saw the recent takeover of Afghanistan by the IEA and heroin cartels as a great victory. Everyone else, including the political opposition in Pakistan and all potential donor nations disagree.
It gets worse for Pakistan because there are a growing number of anti-Pakistan Pushtuns on both sides of the border who have become united against Pakistani domination. There is a smaller, and much more violent, Pushtun opposition group known as ISK (Islamic State Khorasan), which is also the local ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) affiliate and has been very active in Afghanistan since the Taliban gained control in mid-August. The IEA told Pakistan it would go after ISK while also refusing to cooperate with the American or Russian efforts to suppress ISK activity in Afghanistan, along with other international terror groups and the heroin cartels. This is what enabled ISK to increase its operations in Pakistan. ISK is growing rapidly because many Taliban factions oppose the Pakistani dominated IEA and continued discrimination against Pushtuns in general. Opposition to Pakistan is one thing that most Pushtuns can agree on. While ISIL doctrine calls for attacks to concentrate on heretics (mainly Shia Moslems) and infidels (non-Moslems), the growing number of Afghan and Pakistani Pushtuns joining ISK led to more attacks in general with a larger proportion against the IEA and Pakistani military and its ISI intelligence branch. This Pushtun war against Pakistan has been around for over a decade and is a lot more visible now.
It owes a lot to the Pakistani reaction to the founding of the non-violent PTM (Pashtun Tahafuz Movement or Pashtun Protection Movement) in 2014. By 2018 the Pakistani military declared the peaceful PTM a threat and used increasingly violent methods to make PTM disappear. What the military feared most was that PTM is more than just a Pushtun nationalist movement in Pakistan and is an increasingly popular idea in Afghanistan as well. Most Pushtuns live in southern Afghanistan and northwest Pakistan. Pushtuns are a small minority in Pakistan while in Afghanistan half as many Pushtuns are the largest minority in the country and a force to be reckoned with. Pushtuns in Pakistan have long been a despised and mistreated minority. The PTM is mostly about addressing the persecution and discrimination Pushtuns face in Pakistan. To the Pakistani military that is a form of treason, at least when it comes from Pushtuns. One reason for that is most Afghan Pushtun agree that Pakistan is no friend of Pushtuns on either side of the border and is the main reason why the heroin business operates in Pushtun-majority Helmand (southern Afghanistan) province rather than across the border in Pakistan Baluchistan, where the heroin production used to be.
Since August the number of ISK attacks has increased about ten-fold and most of the additional attacks are against IEA and Pakistani targets. Not all anti-Pakistan Pushtuns have joined ISK and are instead fighting IEA as Taliban factions that opposed the growing control of Pakistan over the Afghan Taliban and now the IEA. Several senior members of the IEA government are known Pakistani agents. Pakistan insisted on these men, 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 head of the Taliban, so a respected Taliban cleric became the official head of the Taliban with Sirajuddin Haqqani as his deputy and the actual head of the Taliban. 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 would 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. 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. For that reason, official IEA photos of the senior leadership blur Interior Minister Haqqani’s facial features.
Haqqani promises of rewards to suicide bomber families as well as lesser rewards for all Taliban gunmen have not happened and because of that the resistance got more recruits. ISK, unlike most ISIL affiliates, avoids using suicide bombers and instead favors remotely detonated roadside bombs or explosives hidden in buildings. Assassination is another popular tactic. Suicide bombers are still available for attacks on Shia or other non-Sunni Moslem groups. As a result of growing Afghan and Pakistani Pushtun anger against Pakistan, this resistance is larger than it was in the 1990s. Local observers (inside and outside Afghanistan) believe the IEA will probably collapse within a few years unless they can obtain massive foreign aid from someone. No one who understands how the Taliban operates is willing to help with IEA finances.
Meanwhile a local faction of the original Taliban is dedicated to turning Pakistan into the IEP (Islamic Emirate of Pakistan), something no government in the region wants, except for the TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan) a Pakistani Taliban group that is about a third the size of the Afghan Taliban and opposed to the drug cartels that finance the Afghan Taliban. TTP is perpetually poor and gets by anyway it can. TTP also contains a lot of al Qaeda groups that joined because that appears to be the best way to overthrow the Pakistan government. The TTP has a month-long ceasefire with Pakistan to work out a long-term peace. This is unlikely because Islamic terrorists consider such ceasefires to be opportunities to rebuild their forces and plan more attacks on their foe who, even if they are Moslem, are considered an enemy of what the Islamic terrorists consider Islam.
The Afghan Taliban, despite their dependence on Pakistani support, are, like the TTP, composed of Pushtun tribesmen who have a long history of avoiding war with each other. Moreover, many Afghan Taliban believe Pakistan should have a religious dictatorship like Afghanistan now does. Pakistanis and Afghans understand how and why this absurd situation exists but many foreign nations do not. One issue that divides IEA and TTP factions is support for and dependence on the wealthy Afghan heroin cartels. The IEA tolerates the cartels because Pakistan forced the heroin trade out of Pakistan and into Afghanistan during the 1980s Russian occupation. Pakistan provided bases for the exiled Afghans who regularly returned to Afghanistan to attack Russian forces. The refugee camps were in areas of the northwest that were largely Pushtun and often exiles were now living near kin. Many Pushtun tribes were divided by the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which was established by 19th century British colonial officials in British India. Back then the Kingdom of Afghanistan tolerated this border because it did not hinder peaceful movement across the border. The Afghan monarchy was pledged to act against any Pushtun raiders who did venture into British India. That border remained after the British left a newly independent India and Pakistan in 1948. The old border agreements eventually fell apart and now Pakistan has built a fence along the Afghan border. The Pushtun tribes divided by that border are angry and have been attacking the fence construction crews and their armed security teams during the years it took to complete the fence.
November 15, 2021: Russia insists it will begin delivering five batteries of S-400 SAM systems India agreed to buy for $5.4 billion in 2018. Actual delivery has been stalled by American economic sanctions on Russia for the 2014 attack on Ukraine and continued threats against East European neighbors. India believes they have enough support in the current U.S. government to get a waiver for this deal, despite that such a waiver might cause future problems with U.S. sales of warplanes or air defense systems that contain features designed to defeat systems like the S-400, which is also used by China.
November 14, 2021: In Pakistan parliament saw an unprecedented number of factions agreeing to back election reform and any other laws needed to block military efforts to rig elections and get away with their growing violence against any public opposition or criticism.
November 13, 2021: In northwest Pakistan (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province) a roadside bomb killed two policemen driving by. ISK claimed credit for this attack.
In southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan) there were two incidents. One was a raid against a known terrorist hideout that resulted in a gun battle. Two soldiers died and an unspecified number of terrorists. Nearby another soldier was killed while disabling a roadside bomb. Elsewhere in Baluchistan another roadside bomb went off, wounding a policeman and six civilians.
TTP denied any involvement with today’s violence, which took place three days after the Pakistani-TTP ceasefire began. ISK and Baluchi separatists are not part of that ceasefire.
November 12, 2021: A delegation of IEA officials visited Pakistan to discuss matters of mutual interest. It’s largely a one-sided discussion because Pakistan makes demands and the IEA has an opportunity to privately make their case for not doing what Pakistan wants or to explain delays in carrying out orders. There are some public statements, like the IEA does not need as large a military as the previous IRA. What is not commented on is what will be done with the growing internal opposition and divisions within the IEA.
Another item not discussed openly is how Pakistan was able to buy the best American weapons captured by the IEA. The official story is these weapons will be retained by the IEA or sold off to local merchants. No mention of foreigners receiving any of this. Many of the $85 billion in weapons and military equipment the U.S. provided to the IRA forces was gone before the IEA took over. Another subject not discussed openly in Pakistan is any reference to the Haqqani Network.
November 11, 2021: While India has moved more troops to face Chinese forces on the disputed borders in the northwest (Ladakh) and northeast (Arunachal Pradesh), India is still falling behind China in building infrastructure to quickly move additional supplies to the new ground and air units near the borders.
November 8, 2021: The TTP and Pakistan announced a one month cease fire, which begins on November 9th. The TTP and Pakistan are to spend that time discussing what it will cost Pakistan to get some form of surrender from the TTP. The TTP is a coalition of dozens of smaller groups, so getting all TTP to give up is not realistic, but Pakistan hopes to weaken domestic Islamic terrorist threats. The IEA threatens to attack the TTP is a deal is not reached and TTP does not believe that bit of press release bait either. The TTP and Afghan Taliban have too many common interests and tribal connections.
November 2, 2021: Russia is uneasy about the Taliban IEA government succeeding. Russia still maintains an embassy in Kabul, but reduced the number of Russians in the embassy to the bare minimum. Russia is also reluctant to support the IEA in its effort to gain control of the Afghanistan seat in the UN. Pakistan, China, and Russia are still maintaining their embassies there. All the Afghan ambassadors, including the one in the UN, remain loyal to the deposed IRA (Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) government the Americans helped create. Pakistan is counting on China and Russia to use their influence to change minds, but so far that is not happening. Pakistan is widely recognized as a terrorism supporter. China, Russia, and Pakistan are haunted by what happened in the 1980s and 90s. Russia got burned in the 1980s when they tried to support a communist government in Afghanistan. That triggered a massive backlash from most Afghans. Now they fear Pakistan will suffer the same fate and a growing number of Pakistanis agree.
October 30, 2021: In Pakistan details of a military court trying and convicting a civilian of treason are causing image problems for the military. The defendant was the son of a retired Pakistani general who wrote a letter to the head of the Pakistani military, general Bajwa asking Bajwa to resign because of all the harm the military had done to Pakistan. Most Pakistanis do not define this as treason and the generals face a growing threat from political parties the military believed could never unite for anything.
October 28, 2021: In Iran diplomats and economists from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Russia, China, and Pakistan met with their Iranian host to discuss the risks of total collapse in Afghanistan and a surge of refugees fleeing the new IEA government. Iran is the neighbor with the most to fear from this because Iran has a 921-kilometer border with Afghanistan and feels an obligation to help protect the 20 percent of Afghans who are Shia and long the victims of Taliban violence. Iran also wants to keep Sunni Islamic terror groups like ISIL out of Iran as well as protect Afghan Shia from Sunni terrorist attacks. Even if the IEA stabilizes the situation, there will still be the problem of Islamic terrorist groups able to operate more freely in Afghanistan and able to launch attacks on the neighbors, as some of these terrorists are already doing inside Afghanistan. While many of the neighboring countries revel in the departure of the Americans, they do miss what the Americans were doing to maintain stability and bring prosperity to Afghanistan. The Iran conference released a statement supporting the Afghan people and calling on the IEA to form a more inclusive government that would make it easier for foreign aid donors to return to Afghanistan. Most of the neighbors are wary or hostile towards the IEA and bracing for the worst. The meeting in Iran did not include the IEA, which is perhaps just as well because some of those in attendance agreed that the IEA government could collapse in a few years, if not sooner, and the neighbors had to discuss dealing with that disaster, or opportunity, depending on how the neighbors react.
October 27, 2021: In northwest Pakistan (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province) four soldiers were killed and four wounded by resistance fighters who had crossed the border to from Afghanistan to attack Pakistani targets. A lot of the locals in Pushtun-majority Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province support resistance to the IEA and anyone who attacks the Pakistani military for whatever reason.
Source: Ocnus.net 2020