Asia in Review Archive (2019)

Pakistan

Date of AiR edition

News summary

14 January 2020

India: Court rules on internet shut-down in Kashmir 

(lf) Last Friday, the Indian constitutional court has ruled the over 150 days long internet shut down illegal in Kashmir. The court’s ruling states an internet shut down can only be temporary and has ordered the Indian government to review the shutdown immediately. [Reuters 1]

India has also opened Kashmir´s doors for foreign diplomats for the first time since August. 15 countries have followed the invitation of a two days organised trip to the region, which lost its autonomy last August and has since then been under lockdown. The Indian government had been highly criticised previously by several foreign governments for blocking diplomats from the US, UK and Germany from entering the region. While the US has been part of the visit of the delegation to Kashmir, several countries including from the EU have declined an invitation and called the visit orchestrated, as it didn’t allow for free movement of the diplomats. [Reuters 2]

 

14 January 2020

Pakistan-China naval exercise in Karachi 

(jk) The sixth instalment of the Pakistan-China joint Naval exercise “Sea Guardians 2020” commenced in Karachi past week. The two navies are working to increase inter-operability and deepen their security cooperation. [The News Pakistan]

Reportedly, India has expressed some concerns over the exercise as they occur in the Arabian Sea region which hosts many important Indian ports as well as Pakistan’s deep water Gwadar port which is being developed on Chinese finance. In what is seen as a direct reaction to the drills, India has deployed its aircraft carrier to the region. [VoA] [The Economic Times

14 January 2020

Pakistan: Death Sentence for Pervez Musharraf overturned

(jk/tk) In December 2019, the former leader of Pakistan General Pervez Musharraf was sentenced to death after being convicted of high treason and subverting the Constitution. The verdict was based on him taking undue influence over much of the judiciary and imposing a state of emergency in an attempt to block a political opposition movement. As reported then, the case marked the first time that a military chief had been handed a death sentence for high treason and it was strongly criticized by the military. The historic verdict, it was said, challenged the military’s predominance and demonstrates the growing assertiveness of the judiciary. [Asia in review, No. 52, December/2019, 4]

In a turn of events, on Monday, the Lahore High Court found that the special court that issued the sentence was unconstitutional. The judges said, that the case against Mr. Musharraf was politically motivated and that the crimes he was accused of committing were “a joint offense” that “cannot be undertaken by a single person.” The death sentence has been annulled.  [New York Times

7 January 2020

Xinhua begins Urdu service in Pakistan

(jk) Xinhua, the leading state-run press agency of the People’s Republic of China, has launched an Urdu service in Pakistan and signed memoranda of understanding with a dozen local media publishers. It will now provide news services to local news agencies in both English and Urdu. [Nikkei Asian Review]

In Pakistan, a Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information said last week that Xinhua has been portraying a positive image of Pakistan globally and that local news outlets should do similar things with regards to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor [Newsweek Pakistan] which has been criticized time and again, in particular in Baluchistan. 

Xinhua plays a crucial role in the Chinese Communist Party’s strategy to influence narratives in media reporting. 

7 January 2020

Pakistan establishes new healthcare program for transgenders

(fs) The Pakistani government now issues a new special health ID card to enhance health care access and supply free medical treatment to disadvantaged sectors of Pakistani society. A recurring problem of the country’s health system is that transgender people often were declined medical treatment simply due to the fact that doctors were not able to decide whether to treat them in the male or female ward. As a reaction to this matter, Dr. Zafar Mirza, a special aide to Prime Minister Imran Khan for health services, announced the government’s plans to establish separate wards for transgender people in hospitals. 

Although the government has improved the rights of transgender people consistently throughout the last years [Asia in Review May/2018, 3|, they are still largely confined to the margins of society, often taunted and violently attacked in public. In a 2017 held census, 10,000 transgender people registered, whereas rights group Charity Trans Action Pakistan gave an estimation of at least 500,000.  [Al Jazeera] [Gulf News]

7 January 2020

Pakistan: Protests against killing of Iranian Commander

(fs) In the light of the killing of Iranian Commander Qassem Soleimani in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq, thousands of Pakistani Shi’ite Muslims expressed their resentment through rallying in Karachi. Protestors carried images of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as of Soleimani, chanting slogans of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel”. Attempts of reaching the U.S. consulate were prevented by governmental security forces blocking the road with containers, resulting in minor brawls. 

In his speech, Shia leader Allama Shehanshah Hussain Naqvi praised Soleimani’s engagement in the defeat of Israel, the U.S. and ISIS in the Middle east and called his killing an “act of terrorism” and “an attack on the state’s sovereignty to be condemned”. [Reuters]

A smaller demonstration in the country’s capital Islamabad remained peaceful. It was led by a large number of leaders of the Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen (MWM). During the demonstration, an MWM leader rated the U.S. as the “worst and most hated enemy of Islam” and demanded that the Muslim world frees itself from the American influence. Another leader urged Pakistan’s government to clarify its brotherly bond to Iran and to take a stand in the current situation. [Tribune]

31 December 2019

Pakistan calls U.S. religious freedom designation “arbitrary”

(fs) After the U.S. Department of State declared last week that it designated Pakistan among other countries as a “country of particular concern for having engaged in or tolerated ‘systematic, ongoing, [and] egregious violations of religious freedom’” [U.S. Department of State Statement], Pakistan’s Foreign Offices rejected the designation and classifies it as the result of a biased and unilateral evaluation. Reasons for the U.S. government’s designation are the steadily reoccurring cases of crimes targeting ethnic or religious minorities and the disproportionate use of its strict blasphemy laws, which either results in death sentences or lax persecution of blasphemy related lynching. [Al Jazeera]

31 December 2019

Pakistan: UN heavily criticizes death verdict for academic

(fs/jk) Responding to the death sentence of university lecturer Junaid Hafeez for blasphemy after a six-year process [Asia in Review No. 52, December/2019, 4], UN human rights experts evaluated the verdict as a “travesty of justice”. The judge’s decision against the 33-year-old was made despite dubious evidence and therefore carrying it out would amount to an arbitrary killing, says a UN statement. [UN News]

An opinion piece comes to the unforgiving conclusion: “It is a disgrace that the country cannot at least amend the black law to curb its misuse. But then, the sad reality is that four decades after military dictator Gen Ziaul Haq’s Islamisation programme, Pakistan’s society is so radicalised now that not even a reasoned talk about rewriting, let alone repealing, the blasphemy law is possible.” [Observer Research Foundation]

24 December 2019

Death sentence for Pakistani lecturer in blasphemy case 

(jk) A university lecturer in Pakistan has been sentenced to death after being convicted for posting blasphemous remarks on social media in 2013. He was also accused of hosting a British novelist for a guest lecture and sharing blasphemous remarks then. The case of the lecturer was ongoing for over six years and back in 2014, his former lawyer was shot and killed for taking the case. His current lawyer, as well as international rights groups, openly doubt that he, as in many other blasphemy cases, received what would be considered a “fair trial”. [The Guardian

24 December 2019

Pakistan: Musharraf handed death sentence for high treason

(jk) Former Pakistani President General Musharraf, who seized power in a military coup in 1999 and suspended the constitution and imposed martial law in 2007, one year before he was ousted, has been sentenced to death in absentia by a special court in Pakistan after being convicted of high treason. [Dawn 1]

Musharraf left Pakistan in 2016 for medical treatment and has lived in exile in Dubai since. Back in October, some media reports surfaced claiming that he was planning to make a comeback in national politics by reviving his All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) party despite the trial against him. [Asia in Review, No. 41, October/2019, 2]

The case marks the first time in Pakistan’s history that a military chief has been handed a death sentence for high treason. The military denounced the special court’s ruling, saying they were in “pain and anguish” over the decision. [Asia Times]

To some observers, the verdict is nothing short of historic as it challenges the “military’s predominance and demonstrates the growing assertiveness of the judiciary”. [Dawn 2] A detailed assessment of the verdict, its background and implications can be found here [Brookings].

Amidst the tension regarding the ruling, Justice Gulzar Ahmed took oath as Pakistan’s 27th Chief Justice on Saturday. [AA]

24 December 2019

U.S. to Resume Military Training Program for Pakistan

(jk) The United States government has decided to resume Pakistan’s participation in a U.S. military training and educational program (International Military Education and Training Program (IMET)) after it had been suspended by President Trump as part of the U.S. security aid programs for Pakistan he halted in January 2018.

The largest share of the suspensions, worth around two billion USD, will remain in place however and IMET will be an “exception”, if the resumption is approved by the US Congress. [The New York Times]

17 December 2019

U.N. Security Council to meet on Kashmir

(ls) The United Nations Security Council meets this Tuesday at China’s request to discuss the situation in the disputed Indian territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The meeting comes after India removed the decades-old autonomy the area enjoyed under the Indian constitution in August, which produced both local protests and international diplomatic rebukes. [Reuters]

10 December 2019

Pakistan: Allegations against justice system bowing to Chinese economic pressures 

(jk) After work has begun earlier this year on a large human trafficking case in Pakistan, investigators recently compiled a list of over 600 Christian women and girls who were allegedly trafficked to China to be sold as brides or work as prostitutes. 

Despite evidence warranting further investigations and prosecutions on both the Pakistani and Chinese side, officials now seem to be shutting down the investigation, allegedly in order not to jeopardise trade relations with China. [The Washington Post]

According to one report, investigators are being transferring to different areas to prevent them from pursuing the case. Back in October, 31 Chinese nationals accused of human trafficking were acquitted by at a trial after which it was said that several women brought by police to testify “were bribed or threatened to remain silent.” [National Review]

10 December 2019

Pakistani police charge hundreds of student protesters with treason

(jk) According to Pakistani police, hundreds of students and activists have been charged with sedition for making derogatory remarks against the military at a protest against a ban on political activity at universities.

According to the authorities, the protesters had chanted against “state institutions” and in response all 250 or 300 attendees would be charged. [NY Post]

3 December 2019

Pakistan Supreme Court confronts army chief and prime minister

(ls) The Supreme Court of Pakistan has granted a six-month extension to the term of the country’s army head, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, after initially blocking a three-year extension of his tenure over several irregularities. The decision could weaken the authority of the government, led by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. The government has enjoyed good relations with the armed forces. During Bajwa’s tenure, the military has been accused by opposition politicians of helping Khan win the election last year. [Al Jazeera]

The Court directed the government to complete the necessary legislation regarding the extension rules in the constitution if it wants to extend Bajwa’s term beyond six months. In its judgment, the Court observed that the government kept changing its stance, sometimes referring to a reappointment and other times mentioning an extension. [Gulf News]

The Court’s ruling is seen as a challenge to the army chief’s position, which is rare in a country that has been ruled by the army for more than half of its seven decades. In the last two decades, only General Raheel Shareef retired on time, while General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and President General Musharraf stayed on beyond their prescribed tenures. The current situation reminds of a face-off in 2007 between Musharraf and the judiciary under then Pakistan Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who had been removed by the military ruler. Eventually, this contributed to the downfall of the Musharraf regime. [Indian Express]

19 November 2019

Pakistan: Opposition sit-in protests discontinued

(ls) After two weeks of continued anti-government sit-in protests in Islamabad, the opposition Assembly of Islamic Clerics (Jamiat Ulema Islam-Fazl; JUI-F) and its party chief and protest leader Fazl-ur-Rehman declared to temporarily discontinue the protest, announcing, however, new road blockings. The protesters are mainly from the JUI-F party, and a large number of teachers and students from the party’s extensive network of religious schools across the country. The main opposition parties, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), have backed the protests, while their participation in the actual demonstration has been limited. [Al Jazeera]

The protests come during a time of economic strain for Pakistan. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government, like many of its predecessors, was forced to turn to the International Monetary Fund for a $6 billion bailout in July. The opposition says Khan’s government is illegitimate and is being supported by the military. [Reuters]

 

12 November 2019

Pakistan looking to increase arms exports

(jk) Pakistani government officials have stated that the country aims to significantly increase its weapons exports. Sale of defence equipment abroad (e.g. to Myanmar, Turkey or Nigeria) has gone up significantly in Pakistan over the past few years and experts say this is largely due to the progress its defence industry has been making since working together closer with China. Pakistan produces weapons at a much lower cost than many Western weapons producers, however the quality of their products is not uncontested. It looks to sell mostly to countries with more budget restraints. [Nikkei Asian Review]

 

12 November 2019

Pakistan and China agree to move CPEC to natural resource sectors

(jk) China and Pakistan reportedly agreed that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will shift from infrastructure projects to resource exploitation, including copper, gold, or oil and gas. The move will anger forces in particular in Balochistan, where a sentiment persists that the state exploits the province and especially its resources without leaving it its fair share. [Business Standard]

 

5 November 2019

Pakistan: Mass protests demand Prime Minister Khan to step down

(ls) Thousands of protesters gathered at an anti-government rally in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad over several consecutive days last week, starting a sit-in to force the government to step down. Conservative opposition leaders called Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government illegitimate and incompetent and criticized the military’s close ties with Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. The military denied meddling in politics and declared its continued support for Khan’s government. During the past year, the government has arrested and prosecuted several high-ranking opposition politicians, including former Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. [Al Jazeera] [Reuters]

The Tribune describes why the history of anti-government marches, some of which invited military intervention, is as old as Pakistan itself. Since 1953, almost all political and religious parties have used them as a tactic to pressure or topple governments in the past. In 2014, PTI supporters with then opposition leader Khan besieged the parliament for 126 days seeking the resignation of Nawaz Sharif over alleged electoral fraud. [Tribune]

 

5 November 2019

India effectuates Jammu and Kashmir’s end of autonomy, sparking diplomatic protest

(ls) Last Wednesday, the Indian government formally revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s constitutional autonomy and split it into two federal territories, Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. The state’s constitution, its penal code and state flag were nullified. The region is now subject to the same central laws as all other Indian territories. Jammu and Kashmir will have its own state legislature, while Ladakh will be controlled from the capital. In August, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi had tabled the relevant legislation in the Indian parliament to approve the end of article 370 of the constitution, which for over 70 years has guaranteed special privileges to the predominately Muslim region. [The Guardian]

Pakistan’s government rejected the move and said that the latest political maps issued by India, which showed the entire Kashmir region as part of India, were “incorrect and legally untenable” under international law. [Telegraph India] China, which considers parts of Ladakh as part of its territory, also condemned India’s decision. A spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry said that “this is awful and void, and this is not effective in any way and will not change the fact that the area is under China’s actual control.” [Reuters]

 

29 October 2019

Pakistan: Opposition starts “long march” on Islamabad, demanding PM’s resignation

(jk) Opposition forces in Pakistan have started a “long march” from Karachi to Islamabad this past weekend. They plan to get to Islamabad by October 31 where their protests against the government and PM Khan will culminate. [Al Jazeera]

 

22 October 2019

Maritime terrorism in Asia: An assessment 

(ls) A paper published by the Observer Research Foundation evaluates the possibility of an increase in maritime terrorist violence in Asia. Based on an analysis of recent incidents, it argues that the vulnerability of high seas shipping to criminal acts of violence and the weak and inconsistent nature of maritime governance raises the possibility of a terrorist strike in the Asian littorals. [ORF]

 

22 October 2019

Money-laundering and terrorism financing: Pakistan remains under investigation as Sri Lanka is white-listed

(ls) Pakistan remains on the grey list of countries that have not yet fully complied with recommendations made by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) vis-à-vis anti-money laundering and combating financing of terrorism (AML/CFT). The FATF is an intergovernmental organization that develop policies to combat money laundering and terrorism financing. It monitors through “peer reviews” of member countries. Placement on the grey list is a warning for a country that it may be put on a “blacklist” in case of its failure to take effective measures. Currently, only Iran and North Korea are in this lowest category. [Dawn] [Economic Times 1]

Sri Lanka, however, has been removed from the grey list. According to the FATF, the country made significant progress in addressing the strategic AML/CFT deficiencies identified earlier. It will therefore be relieved from the FATF’s close monitoring procedures. [Economic Times]

 

22 October 2019

Pakistan: First blasphemy conviction under new cybercrime law

(ls) The first person has been found guilty in Pakistan for online blasphemy under the country’s Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016. A special court sentenced the man to five-year imprisonment for posting blasphemous content on social media. Last year, the Pakistani Supreme Court had acquitted Asia Bibi, the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, in a high-profile case that polarized the society. [Free Press Journal]

 

22 October 2019

Kashmir: Increased violence, continued blocking of mobile services

(ls) In a recent spate of violence in Kashmir, Indian security forces killed three separatists, while suspected militants shot dead two people on Wednesday. In a separate incident in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district, suspected militants killed a migrant worker from central India. [Reuters 1]

Over the weekend, India claimed that Pakistan shot across the border in northern Kashmir’s Tangdhar region, killing two Indian soldiers and one civilian. On the other side, the Pakistani Armed Forces said that one of its soldiers and three civilians had died by shots from Indian forces. As a consequence, Islamabad summoned the Indian envoy and offered to have diplomats from the U.N. Security Council’s five permanent members visit the border. [Reuters 2]

Meanwhile, after more than two months, Indian authorities briefly lifted its blocking of mobile telecommunication services in the Kashmir valley, allowing the region’s roughly seven million people again to use their cellphones for calls. Internet services remained blocked. [Washington Post] However, only a few hours later, the services were stopped again as a “precautionary measure”. [The Hindu]

Earlier last week, over a dozen women, including former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah’s sister and daughter were arrested for holding a sit-in in Srinagar against the ending of the state’s special status. The women academicians and activists, most of them aged between 60 and 80 years, were released on Thursday after furnishing personal bonds. Farooq Abdullah has been placed under house arrest and charged under the Public Safety Act. [NDTV]

15 October 2019

Pakistan– India- China: Imran Kahn’s China Visit and Modi-Xi meeting

(jk) For the third time in a year, Pakistan’s PM Imran Khan visited Beijing last week. While Pakistan has been one of the largest recipients of Chinese BRI investment, its financial input has dropped sharply (77%!) over the past fiscal year. [BloombergDespite the economic slowdown, China has been supportive of Pakistan, not least with regards to the ongoing situation Kashmir vis-a-vis India. The visit came just days before Chinese President Xi was scheduled to meet Indian PM Modi.

PM Khan was accompanied by army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who met with Senior Chinese Generals. China has long been supportive of Pakistan’s army and plays an active role in most of Pakistan’s defence deals. A recent one included support to build and sell (not least by handing out a loan to the purchasing party) JF-17 fighter jets to Myanmar. [Nikkei Asian Review]

The India Summit, a two-day informal summit in India that followed, saw a lot of public “understanding” of each other’s policies and sensitivities, as well as commitments to boost economic ties. The leaders addressed the trade deficit India has with China (some $53bn) and also India’s ongoing concerns over a lack of market access to the Chinese market and the Regional Comprehensive Partnership Agreement (RCEP). The issue of Kashmir was not discussed. [Al Jazeera] Ahead of Xi’s arrival, police detained the chief of the Tibetan Youth Congress and 11 Tibetan students who were allegedly planning to protest during the visit.

On more general level, an interesting recent background paper describes how Pakistan and China are driving Indian defence policy and how the Indian defence sector must reform to stay relevant. [KAS]

8 October 2019

Pakistan: Former PM Musharraf to be back in politics?

(ls) According to a media report, former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf (76) said that he is planning to make a comeback in national politics by reviving his party, the All Pakistan Muslim League (APML). However, Musharraf is facing a treason case in Pakistan for suspending the constitution in 2007, which makes it unlikely for him to return to Pakistan anytime soon. Musharraf left for Dubai in 2016 to seek medical treatment and has not returned since. [Economic Times]

8 October 2019

India: Impacts of Kashmir and Jammu’s change of status and the internet lockdown

(ls) After India changed the status of Indian-controlled Kashmir and divided it into two centrally governed union territories, Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh, also the future of Ladakh remains unsure. When the change in governmental status was announced for Ladakh, there were celebrations by its Buddhist population, whereas Muslims largely want to remain tied to the Kashmir valley. Many Buddhists now fear land grabs, loss of trade and damage to the fragile ecosystem of the region’s high-altitude deserts. On the Muslim side, posters and banners demanding Kashmir’s independence from India could be seen at several mosques and religious sites. So far, the tensions between the groups have been confined to cultural and political differences, without violence. The question is whether this is going to change. [Japan Times]

For two months now, the Indian Internet and mobile blockade has cost Kashmir’s IT industry significant losses. Several companies have already laid off workers, many are preparing to move their business away from Kashmir. Apart from 6,000 mobiles used by police and government officials, most of Kashmir’s 880,000 mobile connections and Internet services remain suspended. [Straits Times]

1 October 2019

Turkey begins construction of naval warship for Pakistan

(jk) Pakistan has signed a contract over four navy vessels to be bought from Turkey earlier in 2018. The Pakistan navy has witnessed Turkish President Erdogan last week attending a ceremony marking the beginning of the construction of the first of the new naval warships for Pakistan. [Geo]

 

1 October 2019

Pakistan stops postal exchange with India

(td) People in Punjab on the Indian side have stopped receiving regular mail such as magazines, publications, and even letters which they used to get regularly from Pakistan via post. Due to the ongoing tension between India and Pakistan following the scrapping of special status for Jammu & Kashmir, Islamabad has now stopped the postal mail exchange between the two countries.

The deputy director general of the department of post of the Government of India confirmed that the written orders to stop mail via post were issued by the customs department of Pakistan last month. Since August 27, there has been no exchange of post between the two neighbours.  (Indian Express)

 

1 October 2019

Jammu-Kashmir: Block Development Council elections on October 24

(td) In a first major test to the prevailing security situation in Jammu-Kashmir, the state’s Chief Electoral Officer announced that elections for the chairpersons of Block Development Councils will be held on October 24.

The Block Development Council forms the second tier of the Panchayat Raj system. All the 23,629 panches and 3,652 sarpanches of the Panchayats will vote to elect the chairperson of the Block Development Council. There is a total of 316 blocks.

In 2018, Panchayat elections were held in nine phases — from November 17 to December 11 — in J&K. Kashmir’s mainstream political parties, including the PDP and NC, had boycotted the elections. The top leadership of PDP and NC are currently under detention.

Home Minister Amit Shah said: “The decision on Article 370 will strengthen the unity and integrity of India,” adding the situation in Jammu and Kashmir will be completely normal soon.

The Valley has been under a security clampdown since August 5 when the Centre modified the provisions of Article 370 to revoke the special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir by the Indian Constitution. J&K was also bifurcated and reduced to a Union Territory. (Indian Express)

1 October 2019

Jammu-Kashmir: Block Development Council elections on October 24

(td) In a first major test to the prevailing security situation in Jammu-Kashmir, the state’s Chief Electoral Officer announced that elections for the chairpersons of Block Development Councils will be held on October 24.

The Block Development Council forms the second tier of the Panchayat Raj system. All the 23,629 panches and 3,652 sarpanches of the Panchayats will vote to elect the chairperson of the Block Development Council. There is a total of 316 blocks.

In 2018, Panchayat elections were held in nine phases — from November 17 to December 11 — in J&K. Kashmir’s mainstream political parties, including the PDP and NC, had boycotted the elections. The top leadership of PDP and NC are currently under detention.

Home Minister Amit Shah said: “The decision on Article 370 will strengthen the unity and integrity of India,” adding the situation in Jammu and Kashmir will be completely normal soon.

The Valley has been under a security clampdown since August 5 when the Centre modified the provisions of Article 370 to revoke the special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir by the Indian Constitution. J&K was also bifurcated and reduced to a Union Territory. (Indian Express)

24 September 2019

Pakistan refuses Indian airspace request; independence movement in Pakistan-controlled Jammu and Kashmir grows

(ls) In a continued tit-for-tat over the situation in Kashmir, Pakistan refused a request from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to cross its airspace on a flight to Germany last week. Earlier this month, Pakistan also denied use of its airspace to India’s President Ram Nath Kovind. [Reuters]

Meanwhile, news of violence and use of force in Indian Kashmir is spreading. Evidence of torture is mounting. New Delhi says the lockdown, with mobile service and the Internet still cut in most areas, is to prevent “terrorists” backed by Islamabad from stirring up trouble. India’s national security adviser has denied that the military has committed any atrocities. [Straits Times]

At the same time, Pakistani security responses to a growing independence movement can be seen in Pakistan-controlled Jammu and Kashmir. Pro-independence demonstrations that once attracted dozens of protesters are now attracting thousands. This may be due to fears that the possibility to reunify has been slowly slipping away ever since India increased its control of the divided territory and Pakistan did little to stop it other than to offer negotiations that India refused. [New York Times]

24 September 2019

Pakistan: Mob violence against Hindu over alleged blasphemy

(ls) In Pakistan’s southern province of Sindh, a crowd ransacked a school and a Hindu temple after a Hindu principal was accused of blasphemy. The violence erupted after a student accused the Hindu principal of blasphemy in comments about the Muslim Prophet Mohammed. It is the latest case to raise concern about the fate of religious minorities in the predominantly Muslim country. Insulting the Prophet Mohammed carries a mandatory death penalty in Pakistan. [South China Morning Post]

24 September 2019

India: Senior pro-India politician Farooq Abdullah arrested in Jammu and Kashmir

(ls/td) In India, the former chief minister of the Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir Farooq Abdullah was arrested under the Public Safety Act (PSA) that allows authorities to imprison someone for up to two years without charge or trial. Abdullah is a senior pro-India Kashmiri politician. He has been under house arrest since 5 August when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government stripped Kashmir of its special status and imposed a security lockdown. [Time]

In April, Abdullah had warned that India was “on a precipice” as far as the Kashmir crisis was concerned. His detention and the crackdown against Congress party members in Indian-administered Kashmir indicate a further shrinking of New Delhi’s allies in the region. The Abdaullah family is close to India’s Nehru-Gandhi family, which leads the main opposition Congress party. [Al Jazeera]

In a separate development, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited former Finance Minister Chidambaram in jail. Chidambaram was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on 21 August in what some observers as a continued crackdown on opposition politicians. [India Today]

17 September 2019

India and Pakistan join SCO anti-terror drills in Russia

(jk) India and Pakistan will both be part of a military drill along with China and five other countries (Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) in Russia this month under the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Iran will be present as an observer. Both India and Pakistan entered the grouping as observers in 2005 and became full members in 2017. This is the second time the two participate in the SCO military drills together. [Financial Express]

17 September 2019

Pakistan: mob attack on Hindu temple, school and homes

(jk) Mob violence broke out in Pakistan after a group of people came together and vandalised a school, temple and a home based on blasphemy accusations against a school principle. The principle, accused by a student, allegedly insulted Islam  [Geo] [Times of India].

Authorities since arrested some members of the mob. The accused is in custody facing blasphemy charges which carry the death penalty. [BBC]

17 September 2019

Bangladesh: Kashmir is India’s internal matter

(jk) The Foreign Minister of Bangladesh has told his colleague from Pakistan that India’s decision to upend Articles 370 and 35a of the Indian Constitution is India’s internal matter, therefore not lending his support to Pakistan, from which the country gained independence in 1971. [Economic Times]

17 September 2019

Situation in Kashmir remains tense

(jk) With schools remaining closed and public transport affected, life in Kashmir continues to be disturbed by the abrogation of Article 370 and 35a. While landlines across the valley were allegedly functional, voice calls on mobile devices were working only in some districts of north Kashmir. Markets and other business establishments remained closed, while public transport was off the roads across the valley. Internet services remained suspended across all platforms. While restrictions on the movement or assembly of people have been lifted for some areas of the valley, security forces continued to be deployed to maintain law and order.  (India Today)

Over the last six weeks, there were an average of nearly 20 protests per day against Indian rule despite the security lockdown. [Straits Times 1] It was further reported that authorities over the last few weeks arrested more than 3,800 people of which about 2,600 have been released again. [Straits Times 2]

Pakistan’s PM Khan, in recent interview with [Al Jazeera] was not doing much to lower tension either: he “absolutely” believes a nuclear war with India could be a possibility. He called out what he believes is an illegal annexation by India and an impending genocide. “If say Pakistan, God forbid, we are fighting a conventional war, we are losing, and if a country is stuck between the choice: either you surrender or you fight until death for your freedom, I know Pakistanis will fight to death for their freedom. So, when a nuclear armed country fights to the end, to the death, it has consequences.”

India’s foreign minister has repeated Indian talking points in an interview of his own: India’s approach to Kashmir has been measured, it is done to help develop the region, in line with past agreements made and mediation between India and Pakistan will only happen bilaterally, with no third parties involved. [CNBC]

10 September 2019

Kashmir: Tensions remain high as tit-for-tat between India and Pakistan continues

(ls) Amid a growing crackdown across Kashmir, Indian authorities have imposed curfews in several parts of the territory which is contested by Pakistan. Authorities tightened restrictions after police clashed with Shiite mourners during a banned religious procession. The security situation has deteriorated since India withdrew Kashmir’s special autonomous status by revoking Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, deployed troops in the Kashmir valley, restricted movements and cut off communication. [DW]

In the continued tit-for-tat between the two South Asian nuclear states, Pakistan refused a request by India’s President Ram Nath Kovind to fly through its airspace due to New Delhi’s recent “behavior”. Such permissions are usually granted. In August, Islamabad had already downgraded its diplomatic ties with India, expelling the Indian envoy, suspending trade and calling back its ambassador. [Al Jazeera]

Earlier this week, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said, “We are prepared to give the enemy the fullest possible response. Failing, the world community will be responsible for the catastrophic aftermath.” [Reuters]

10 September 2019

Mobile blackouts as a security tool: More case studies from Bangladesh and Pakistan

(ls) Across Asia and other parts of the world, a new security trend is gaining increasing traction: the blocking of mobile internet services. India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia (Papua) and Sudan are among the recent examples. Whereas state authorities cite possible threats to national security and public order as justification, it can reasonably be argued that such interventions may constitute deep restrictions of private life as well as business activities. Taking into account the importance of communication in the era of digitalization, widespread mobile blocking cuts people off from essential services and often disables access by independent observers to information on the ground. Last week, two more case studies from South Asia can be added to the trend.

Bangladesh’s telecommunications regulatory body has asked operators to shut down cellphone services in camps where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar live. The authority referred to a security threat and illegal phone use, for example for drug trade, as reasons for the measure. Operators have already been asked to suspend data and internet service between 5 pm and 5 am every day in the camps in Cox’s Bazar district. Many Rohingya refugees use mobile services to stay in touch with their families. [Firstpost]

Human Rights Watch has criticized the most recent mobile blocking in Bangladesh as a clampdown. [Human Rights Watch]

In Bangladesh, only Bangladeshis with national identity cards are allowed to possess local SIM cards. The sale of cellphone services is banned in the camps. The Rohingya, most of whom fled over the border to Bangladesh in 2017 following a violent campaign led by the Myanmar military, are largely stateless. [New York Times]

Authorities in Pakistan suspended mobile services in Karachi and Nawabshah as part of security measures during Muharram processions on Sunday. Similar actions have been taken in other provinces too. In the Pakistani province of Punjab, 3,000 security personnel have been deployed in Rawalpindi to ensure the safety of the procession. [India Today]

03 September 2019

Kashmir: Indian Supreme Court gets involved; Khan joins mass demonstrations

(ls) Over the weekend, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan joined a rally of thousands in Islamabad to protest against India’s decision. He promised to raise also the issue of rights violations allegedly perpetrated by India in the disputed region at the United Nations next month. In addition to the protest in Islamabad, major demonstrations were also held in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar. [Al Jazeera]

India’s Supreme Court has taken up legal challenges to the government’s decision to revoke Indian-controlled Kashmir’s special status. The Court ordered the federal government to file replies to several petitions related to the issue. [Straits Times]

03 September 2019

Pakistan: New law guarantees women agricultural workers’ rights

(ls) In Pakistan’s Sindh province, the cabinet approved the Sindh Women Agriculture Workers Act 2019, which recognizes the right of women workers to have a written contract, minimum wage, social security, and welfare benefits including for child health, maternity leave, and access to government subsidies and credit. It also requires gender parity in wages and gives the right for women to unionize. The Act is expected to also pass the provincial assembly. [Human Rights Watch]

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16 July 2019

Children on death row: Why Pakistan must stop hanging juvenile offenders 

(jk) Despite legislation in Pakistan against capital punishment for offenders below the age of 18 and Pakistan being party to the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) prohibiting capital punishment for juvenile offenders, cases of juvenile offenders’ executions are no exception. The Justice Project Pakistan has launched a book titled “The Death Penalty in Pakistan: A Critical Review” to shed more light on the issue last week. Read an excerpt and more on the project here [Dawn].

16 July 2019

Pakistan: Technical difficulties or “brazen censorship”?

(jk) Three news stations that had broadcast a press conference held by an opposition leader and daughter of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif were suddenly unavailable due to “technical issues” last week. [NDTV]

Reporters without borders however, who ranked Pakistan 142nd out of 180 countries in its 2019 World Press Freedom Index, have cried foul play and called the move “brazen censorship” indicative of “disturbing dictatorial tendencies” and conducted by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority [Reporters Without Borders]

Pakistan’s government ordered the media regulator recently not to allow press conferences by politicians who had been convicted or were on trial. Media freedom is perceived to be “at its worst in more than a decade”. [Al Jazeera]

9 July 2019

Pakistan: Anti-corruption campaign with (un)intended side effects

(ls) Prime Minister Imran Khan’s anti-corruption campaign, implemented by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), is facing increasing criticism. Members of the business community complain that civil servants across the country refuse to sign off on projects in fear of bribery charges, leading to a partial economic standstill. Moreover, the focus of the NAB so far on the new government’s political foes has prompted accusations it is a one-sided purge backed by Pakistan’s powerful military, which is seen to favor Khan. [Reuters]

A number of Pakistan’s opposition politicians including former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif are in jail on corruption charges. Sharif’s brother and former Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif was also arrested last year. Last week, a senior leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) was arrested by the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) for “possession of a huge amount of drugs”, allegedly found in his car. Moreover, media censorship is on the rise. [The Hindu]

2 July 2019

Important semantics in Pakistan’s parliament but word bans won’t help

(jk) The deputy speaker of Pakistan’s National Assembly last week banned lawmakers from using the word “selected” when referring to the Prime Minister. Using the terms “Selected Prime Minster” had become a way for government critics and opposition to suggest that Pakistan’s PM was in fact chosen by the country’s army generals rather than by the people in the elections last year. [Gulf News] Banning the word has of course drawn more attention to the matter internationally, and although opposition figures may now refrain from using the word, other suggestive phrases such as “hand-picked” are already filling the void. [NYT]

2 July 2019

Women’s startling disadvantages in Pakistan/Government to create special courts to tackle violence against women

(jk) According to the 2018 World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, Pakistan ranks 148 out of 149 countries in equality for women. [WEF] In addition to that report, the 2017-18 Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey [PDHS] analyses more key social indicators to explain why Pakistan’s ranking is so low, and in particular with regards to gender equality, the results are startling: Pakistan’s women are undereducated, often physically and mentally abused and many lack basic access to information or common services. PDHS states that “49.2 per cent of ever-married women aged 15-49 had no education whatsoever” (25.4pc for men), with nearly 61.6pc (33.3pc for men) in rural areas. Half of the women surveyed were illiterate. The data further shows that “only 12.6pc of women reported to have ever used the internet”. [Dawn]

In addition, domestic and other violence against women is a major problem in Pakistan with thousands of cases such as rape, sexual assault, acid attacks, kidnappings or “honour killings” occurring every year. In one positive development, a Supreme Court Judge has said in a televised address that Pakistan will set up special courts to allow victims to speak out without fear of retaliation and in a supportive environment. The Chief Justice said “we are going to have 1,016 gender-based violence courts across Pakistan, at least one such court apiece in every district.” [The Guardian]

11 June  2019

Pakistan: Government targets the judiciary

(ls) Pakistan’s government under Prime Minister Imran Khan has moved a reference against Justice Qazi Faez Isa of the Supreme Court and another Sindh High Court judge to the Supreme Judicial Council, claiming that they have not declared their overseas properties in their tax returns. Judge Isa originally comes from insurgency-ridden Balochistan province. He delivered several verdicts that openly criticized the army. [The Diplomat]

In response, all bar councils of Pakistan sought resignation of federal Law Minister Barrister Farogh Nasim and Attorney General Anwar Mansoor Khan and issued a call for a countrywide strike on June 14, the day when the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) will take up the references. The bar councils also demanded that President Arif Alvi and Prime Minister Khan resign, saying that the references were filed in such a dubious manner that one could doubt the move was a ‘fixed match’. [Dawn]

The case is reminiscent of when Pakistani President General Pervez Musharaff sacked and then arrested the then-chief justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry in 2007, which galvanized into a lawyers’ movement, one of the biggest civil protests in the history of Pakistan, and ultimately led to the downfall of Musharaff. [Wikipedia]

4 June  2019

Pakistan: A Pakistani journalist arrested for reporting on the Pashtun Protest

(jyk) A Pakistani journalist was arrested following his coverage of the Pashtun Protest that was violently subdued by the Pakistani police, which caused three deaths and scores of injuries among the protestors [AiR 4/5/2019]. The reporter, Gohar Wazir, worked at a Pashto-language TV station called Khyber News and interviewed a prominent leader of the Pashtun Protest prior to his arrest under the charge of violating “Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance (MPO)— a law that allows preventive detention of individuals for up to six months” [The Times of India].

28 May 2019

Pakistan and Russia agree to strengthen ties

(jk) Pakistan and Russia have agreed to enhance cooperation at a meeting between the two Foreign Ministers on the side-lines of the SCO Council of Foreign Ministers’ meeting last week. Then, after Pakistan conducted a successful test launch of the Shaheen-II surface-to-surface ballistic missile, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister pointed out that Pakistan had “every right to improve its nuclear capabilities by developing its own missile programme.” [Pakistan Today, Eurasiafuture]

28 May 2019

Mob violence in Pakistan after Hindu doctor is accused of blasphemy, Clashes between Army and Protesters in North Waziristan

(jk) According to reports, a Hindu doctor was accused of blasphemy by burning or tearing pages from a Quran. After the allegations spread, a mob took attacked and burned shops owned by Hindus in the area. Pakistan is not the only country with laws against blasphemy, but in Pakistan the laws are often abused and used to target minorities or are personally motivated. Hindus are the biggest minority community in Pakistan and most of them live in Sindh province, where the incident occurred. [Pakistan Today]
In the meantime, close to the Afghan border in North Waziristan, Pakistani troops clashed with protesters, killing at least three and wounding many more. The protests were initially held in favour of the rights of Pakistani Pashtuns who live in that region. Pashtuns are alleged to have close links to the Taliban in Afghanistan, of which many leaders have been ethnic Pashtuns. [NYT] In the aftermaths of the clashes, Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets all across Pakistan. [Radio Free Europe]

28 May 2019

HIV outbreak in Pakistan

(cl) Pakistan said on Sunday that over 600 people, most of them children, had tested HIV positive in a village in southern province, allegedly infected by a doctor using a contaminated syringe. [Gulf News] Special health advisor has warned that “the increase in the number of patients being tested positive for HIV is a matter of grave concern for the government”. Pakistan was long considered a low prevalence country for HIV, but the disease is expanding at an alarming rate, particularly among intravenous drug users and sex workers. [BBC News] With about 20,000 new HIV infections reported in 2017 alone, Pakistan currently has the second fastest growing HIV rates across Asia, according to the UN. [Channel News Asia] Pakistan’s surging population also suffers the additional burden of having insufficient access to quality healthcare following decades of under-investment by the state, leaving impoverished, rural communities especially vulnerable to unqualified medical practitioners. [Time]