Asia in Review Archive

Pakistan

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18 September 2018

Pakistan: military stifles press freedom

(ot) Pakistan’s press freedom continues to be stifled by the country’s powerful military reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Its report found that the military had quietly established “lines of control” to pressure the media, encouraging self-censorship through direct and indirect acts of intimidation. Journalists overly critical were attacked, threatened, or arrested by security personnel. Even though the number of violent instances against reporters has decreased, impunity remains a serious issue. [Reuters, Pakistan Today]

18 September 2018

Pakistan: PM Khan praises ISI for first line of defense

(ot) New Prime Minister Imran Khan has visited the headquarters of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), where he received a briefing on various strategic intelligence and national security matters. He praised the ISI for its contributions for national security, especially in the ongoing counter-terrorism effort and reaffirmed that the government and Pakistani people “firmly stand behind their armed forced and intelligence agencies.” The Chief of Army Staff reassured the PM that “the army will function like any other government institution”, dismissing the claim that the army usually interferes with civilian affairs. Critics of the PM accuse him to be the security establishment’s man in office. [Pakistan Today, The Economic Times]

18 September 2018

Pakistan´s Supreme Court, the US and the terror issue

(am) After the US have forcefully reiterated that bilateral relations will depend on Pakistan´s stance on terrorism, halting even a $300-million assistance package for its former core ally in the region [AIR], the Pakistan Supreme Court has permitted a foundation linked to the mastermind of the 26/11 Mumbai attack and his terror organisation Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD) to carry on assistance and charity actions in Pakistan, thereby overruling a government petition against him. [ANI]

18 September 2018

Mixed stances on China’s one belt one road project by Pakistani leadership

(ot) Only a day after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi concluded a visit to Pakistan discussing also the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, Pakistan’s commerce minister Abdul Razak Dawood surprisingly suggested in an interview suspending projects the Pakistan leg of China’s Belt and Road Initiative for a year. He claimed that the CPEC contracts had been unfairly negotiated by the previous Pakistani government and were too favorable to the Chinese side. Despite ongoing problems on the ground, such a criticism has been unheard from the official side and immediately muted with the government reaffirmed the mutual benefits of the China-funded mega projects. [Reuters 1] [The Express Tribune]

Pakistan is currently hit by a domestic debt crisis and struggling to make payments on the projects possibly needing an (IMF-)bailout soon. [Washington Post]

Against this background, Pakistan’s army chief General Bajwa has begun a three-day visit to China after Minister Dawood stirred the unease with China. [Reuters 2]

18 September 2018

Turkey to back Pakistan over Kashmir issue at UN

(am) Pakistan claims that Turkey will back its proposal to discover a non-violent resolution to the Kashmir dispute at the UN and also maintains support for Pakistan’s participation in the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The Foreign Ministers of both nations recently met and agreed to boost their trade, economic, investment and defense relations. [India.com]

11 September 2018

Pakistan’s new President sworn in

(am) Arif ur Rehman Alvi took oath as the country’s 13th President from Pakistan’s Chief Justice. One of the founding members of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s political party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the dentist had defeated the nominees of Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-N in a three-way presidential race. [Hindustan Times]

11 September 2018

Pakistan’s new government faces reality of an aggressively rigid Islamic orthodoxy

(ot) Pakistan’s newly elected Prime Minister Imran Khan saw himself forced to remove a recently chosen advisor from a government panel due to his faith considered to be a heresy of Islam. After he had appointed the Ahmadi advisor, Islamist and right-wing parties engaged in heavy protests. [Voice of America]

Pakistan is home to roughly half a million Ahmadis, a religious minority who considers themselves to be Muslim, but is not recognized by Pakistani law and has long been persecuted and subject to violence and even targeted killings. Last year, protesters took the street of Islamabad over a minor change in a parliamentary oath, accusing the government of committing “blasphemy” by softening the language of the declaration against Ahmadi beliefs. PM Khan during the election campaign in July frequently raised the issue against his rival Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), saying they had committed “blasphemy” by changing the oath. [Al Jazeera]

11 September 2018

Pakistan sentences nearly 30 people in secret trials to death within a month

(hg) Pakistan’s army chief has confirmed death sentences for 13 militants, bringing the total executions ordered by secret military courts over the past month to at least 28. The executed were involved in attacks on the armed forces, destruction of schools, and the killing of 202 persons including 151 civilians, 51 members of the security forces and injuring 249 others according to an army statement.

The law on military courts, established in the wake of a December 2014 Taliban massacre, allows the army to try civilians on terror charges in secret. Following that attack the government lifted the moratorium on the death penalty of which it has made use widely since then. Excluding China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan – in that order –carried out 84% of all executions in 2017. [News 24]

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11 September 2018

Will US-Pakistan ties be reset?

(ot) US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo commented on his visit in Pakistan that he hopes for a “the opportunity to reset” the strained relationship between the two countries under the new leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan. Maintaining the pressure, US National Security Advisor John Bolton reiterated however, that success in Pakistan’s War on Terror is of “extraordinary importance” for Washington. [The Economic Times]

Pompeo said that the nearly 300 million USD in security-related funding that the US suspended could be reestablished if Pakistan would make sufficient progress towards the fight against terrorist groups. The US-Pakistan relations deteriorated as the Trump administration accused Pakistan of giving safe haven to terror groups in neighboring Afghanistan, a charge Pakistan consistently denies. Just days ahead of Pompeo’s visit, the US announced that it would not redistribute the aid to Pakistan. [CNN]

However, Pakistani officials and military officers remain skeptical and claim to have been made a scapegoat for the US military’s failure in Afghanistan. Pakistan has also been leaning more towards China in recent years, especially for large infrastructure projects. [The New York Times]

11 September 2018

Shifting alliances in South Asia

(hg) An article of the Economic Times reflects on views expressed by China’s state-run Global Times on the new Asian security order. Core observation is that the US strategic focus in South Asia is shifting from Pakistan towards India. This inclination is hardly new and unfolds actually not undisturbedly at all. At current it is, however, indeed somehow indicated by the recently signing of the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) between India and the US at the inaugural Indo-US 2+2 dialogue and the suspension of anti-terrorism aid to Pakistan. [The Economic Times]

Natural complement of this tendency is the corresponding rapprochement between China and Pakistan which also comes with some costs, even if Pakistan is far away from becoming a Chinese colony as some Indian observers paint it. [DailyO]

This is the background of the visit of Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister and that of Saudi Minister for Information to call Prime Minister Imran Khan after the visit of Mike Pompeo.

The Chinese FM, heading a high-level delegation including three vice ministers, underscored the significance of the Sino-Pakistani relationship as well as of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor while newly elected PM Khan reiterated that friendship with China was a cornerstone of Pakistan’s foreign policy. [Dawn]

Crucial could be another shift in Pakistan’s foreign policy and security policy that takes shape increasingly, the country’s reversing attitude towards its old arch enemy Russia in the ‘Great Game’. The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a leading British security think tank, points out that for the first time in 200 years Pakistan’s Army has abandoned the old British Raj policy of confronting Russia for control over Central Asia and is envisioning Russia as a new strategic partner instead. [Geo News]

A determined defense diplomacy is pivoting to Russia with multiple military deals, intelligence cooperation and joint training exercises that could well contribute to a redefinition of the region’s security order. Highly important and multifaceted is still the ‘Afghanistan factor’, yet under reversed signs. US Afghanistan policy is perceived unsuccessful, dangerous for Pakistan and disregarding its efforts while the Russian and Iranian presence is more positively perceived.

Moreover, Russia joins the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and in the development of Gwadar Port now, being thus involved in what Pakistan’s hopes will be an economic game-changer. [Geo News]

In this context, it might be added that Pakistan is expanding its uranium-enrichment and plutonium production facilities, triggering fears that it may become the 5th largest nuclear -weapon state and have 220 to 250 warheads within the next seven years. [Khajeej Times]

4 September 2018

Pakistan’s presidential candidates announced

(ot) The final list of presidential candidates was published by the Election Commission for the election taking place on 4 September. The final list includes the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)’s Arif Alvi, while the opposition parties remain divided over a joint candidate. For that, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)’s Aitzaz Ahsan and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-L)’s Fazlur Rehman are in the run for the election. The president will be elected by an electoral college comprising members of the Senate, National Assembly, and four provincial assemblies. [Pakistan Today]

4 September 2018

Pakistan: Petition challenging Khan as PM filed in Lahore Court

(ot) A petition was filed in the Lahore High Court, challenging the election of Prime Minister Imran Khan, citing 69 abstentions from the National Assembly (NA) members. The Pakistani constitution requires that every member of the NA cast their vote to the person nominated for the election of PM. [Pakistan Today]

4 September 2018

Japanese minister meets Pakistan’s new Prime Minister

(hg) Japanese State Minister for Foreign Affairs Kazuyuki Nakane called on Prime Minister Imran Khan expressing Japan’s desire for enhancing bilateral cooperation and stronger ties also conveying Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s commitment to work closely with his Pakistani counterpart. The visit is significant as a soft indicator of losing ties among countries forming the quadrilateral alliance that involves Japan and India, Pakistan’s arch enemy. [The Business]

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4 September 2018

Pakistan: US, then China to visit new government

(ot) U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Joseph Dunford are going on a one-day visit to Pakistan on 5 September. They will meet newly elected Prime Minister Imran Khan to discuss relations between the two countries. PM Khan is known for his criticisms towards the US military policy in Afghanistan. However, after winning the election, he said he would improve bilateral relations with the US following a series of aid cuts and the suspension of US military training. [Geo TV]

After that, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will visit Islamabad on 7 September. The visit was reportedly considered by Pakistan to be a ‘great cover’ from tensions with the US. Pakistani officials also reportedly expressed complete trust for China and Russia, which are Pakistan’s current priorities. [Pakistan Today]

28 August 2018

Pakistan: PTI-led government starts bureaucracy reshuffling; appointments of House and Opposition Leaders

(ot) Pakistan’s federal cabinet under the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government approved the transfers of key posts in governmental agencies in an effort to tighten its hold on bureaucracy. The PTI also announced the names of the 23 members who will sit in the cabinet of Punjab, and is likely to replace several other officials in the province. [Pakistan Today 1, Pakistan Today 2]

Meanwhile, PTI senator Shibi Faraz was appointed the leader of the House, while Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Raja Zafarul Haq was named the leader of the opposition. Haq replaced Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Senator Sherry Rehman, after the PPP’s candidate was rejected by other opposition parties. The so-called grand opposition alliance appears to face difficulties in agreeing on major decisions, including presidential candidates. The first opposition meeting also took place this week. [Pakistan Today 3]

28 August 2018

India-Pakistan first joint military exercise ever

(nm) Under the umbrella of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation the multi-nation counter-terror military training “Peace Mission 2018” has started in Russia with the participation of Indian and Pakistani forces along with forces from China, Russia and other countries that are part of the (SCO). It is the first time ever that Indian and Pakistani soldiers take part in a multilateral exercise. [Times of India]

28 August 2018

Pakistan ready for talks with India

(ot/nm) Pakistan’s foreign minister said its government wants to improve ties with India, including the ongoing conflicts in Kashmir, through talks. The countries’ relations have deteriorated in recent years, and no bilateral talks have taken place since January 2016. The new administration said it is willing to take steps to approach India to solve the bilateral issues. He also added that the government and the opposition are in consensus regarding the Kashmir issue. [The Economic Times]

Meanwhile, India plans to push for an international ban on Massod Azhar during the upcoming 2+2 dialogue with the USA. Azhar, based in Pakistan, is accused of plotting the terrorist attack on the Pathankot airbase and being the leader of the terrorist group Jaish-e-Muhammed (JeM). The move is also seen as a test for Pakistan’s government under Imran Khan, who affirmed Pakistan’s willingness to improve the Pakistan-India relations. Last year China had blocked the attempt to declare Azhar a global terrorist. This year the US has assured India that it would work towards support of the ban from China. [India.com]

21 August 2018

Pakistan: Imran Khan sworn in as PM, new cabinet installed to lead the country

(ot) Imran Khan has been sworn in as prime minister after his Paskistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party won the most seats in the 25 July national elections and allied with independents to form a coalition. Khan campaigned against Pakistan’s corrupt, dynastic politicians. Economically, he promised to redistribute wealth, make more people pay taxes, and improve the living standard of the people. In his first address to the nation, Khan vowed to transform Pakistan into an Islamic welfare state through comprehensive reforms. [Pakistan Today 1]

His cabinet comprises 21 ministries, with 16 ministers and 5 advisors. The rest of the ministries are retained by Khan himself, including interior, privatization, population welfare, energy, and maritime security. [Pakistan Today 2]

However, forced to rely on smaller parties, and with the opposition controlling the Senate, Khan’s administration would struggle to push through actions without major compromises. An increasingly assertive judiciary could also be a challenge holding the government back. [Reuters]

Critics accused Khan and his team of inexperience, including in foreign policy, which analysts said could affect Khan’s political future. If his foreign policy differs from that of influential generals, Khan could fail to complete a full five-year term, similar to other civilian leaders. Many are also concerned that Khan will not put forward aggressive action against Islamist militants because of his increasingly conservative stance on religion and human rights. [The Guardian, Pakistan Today 3]

21 August 2018

New Pakistani foreign policy to focus on economic diplomacy and international engagement

(ot) Newly appointed Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi ensured that the country’s foreign policy will be made “here at the Foreign Office”. It will be reviewed with the focus on improving the standard of life of the people through economic diplomacy and international engagement. He said that he would send a message of peace towards India and Afghanistan. He also emphasized the importance of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor that will be moved forward. [The News]

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo is likely to be the first foreign dignitary to meet newly-elected Prime Minister Imran Khan in the first week of September. The meeting is reportedly going to focus on efforts to revive close ties between the two countries and Pakistan’s support for a U.S.-led move to start the Afghan peace process. [Pakistan Today 1]

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently sent a message to Khan, conveying his wishes to improve the nations’ ties and foster economic cooperation, to which Khan responded with keen interest. A statement from the Russian foreign ministry also confirmed a bid to deepened contacts in the defense sector, including further possibilities for the sale of more military equipment. The improvement of relations has been an ongoing process based on mutual benefits that is also essential for regional stability. [Pakistan Today 2]

14 August 2018

Pakistan: PML-N vows to object latest election rigging

(ot) Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President Shehbaz Sharif said that his party rejected the results of the latest elections and vowed that he will continue to be vocal against the alleged election rigging both inside and outside the parliament. He added that the PML-N will request for a parliamentary commission to conduct an investigation into the elections. [Pakistan Today]

14 August 2018

Pakistan’s second democratic transition begins as new National Assembly members took oath

(ot) The inaugural session of Pakistan’s 15th National Assembly (NA) took place on Monday, with 324 newly elected members of the NA taking the oath, marking the historic second democratic transition of power in the country. Among those sworn in was Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Imran Khan, who is set to become the country’s next prime minister.

PTI has the highest number of NA members, with 125 general seats, followed by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) who won 64 general seats. Pakistan Peoples Party came in distant third with 42 general seats. As all the general seats were filled, those reserved for women and minorities were also allocated to the political parties.

Next on the process is the selection of NA Speaker and Deputy Speaker, due to take place on 15 August. The selection of the prime minister will depend on the submission of nomination papers which is also expected to occur later on in the week, followed by an oat-taking ceremony at the President House. Imran Khan will be contesting against PML-N president Shabaz Sharif, who was nominated by the joint opposition last week. However, the PPP is yet to announce its support for the PML-N’s nominee. [Geo TV, Pakistan Today 1]

Meanwhile, PTI leader and one of its founding members Arif Alvi is being considered the country’s next president, replacing Mannoon Hussain. Alvi was re-elected to the National Assembly (NA) in the 2018 general elections. The president is elected by the Parliament for a five-year term. The roles and authority of the president are limited to being the ceremonial head of state. [Pakistan Today 2]

14 August 2018

Pakistan, US hope to strengthen ties, despite heightened tensions

(ot) In the occasion of Pakistan’s 72nd Independence Day on 14 August, the US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said in a statement that the US government hopes to further strengthen ties with Pakistan and work with its people and government to advance the shared goals of security, stability, and prosperity in South Asia. Prime Minister-in-waiting Imran Khan said earlier last week that the two countries should strengthen their relations based on trust. The comments came amid heightened bilateral tensions over Pakistan’s alleged support for terror groups. [First Post]

 

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7 August 2018

Pakistan: National Assembly inaugural meeting to take place next week

(ot/am) The inaugural session of the new National Assembly is expected to convene next week on 13 or 14 August. The session will see the election of important positions, including the prime minister, and the transfer of power to the new government. In the meantime, The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) will have to complete all the legal formalities. Independents will be given time to decide whether they want to join any political party. The ECP will also issue the list of candidates for the reserved seats for women and minorities. [Pakistan Today]

The first female candidate for Pakistan’s presidential elections, Fatima Jinnah,contested in 1965 in competition with Ayub Khan who she lost to. At present, 53 years later, Pakistan may be set to make history and pick the first female president of the country. Social media was rife with speculation that Justice (ret.) Nasira Iqbal, a Pakistani jurist and law professor who served as a justice of the Lahore High Court (LHC) for eight years until 2002, was being considered for the office of the President of Pakistan [The Tribune].

7 August 2018

Pakistan: Campaign formed to protest election results

 (ot) Political parties have agreed to form “Pakistan Alliance for Fair and Free Elections” that will launch a campaign against the alleged rigging of the 25 July elections. The alliance consists of major political parties, including Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Muttahida Majilis Amal (MMA), and Awami National Party (ANP). They plan to launch a program of action for protests, both inside and outside the parliament. [Pakistan Today]

7 August 2018

Pakistan: Report shows increase in excluded ballots

(ot) A report by the Free and Fair Elections Network (FAFEN), an independent election watchdog, found that total of 1.67 million votes in the 2018 general elections were excluded. A ballot is excluded if it fails to clearly show which candidate has been chosen or if more than one candidate has been marked.

According to the Election Commission of Pakistan, only about 51 percent out of 100 million registered voters exercised their right. The number of excluded ballot represented a 11.7 per cent increase from the 2013 polls and was observed in all provinces and Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT). [Financial Express, Geo TV]

31 July 2018

Pakistan: Imran Khan’s PTI largest party with 116 seats in Pak elections

(am/jm) Former cricketer Imran Khan’s political party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has arose as the sole leading party with 116 seats in the Pakistan general elections. The Election Commission of Pakistan publicised the final results over 56 hours after polling for the 11th General Elections finished. They also reported technical failures in an electronic reporting system which pushed the ousted Prime Minister Sharif and other parties to contest the elections alleging that the counting was manipulated [Reuters 1]. Moreover, a European Union monitoring team criticized a lack of equality in the campaign. [Reuters 2] Khan’s party still lacks a simple majority of 137 seats to form the government. [Reuters 3]

After Imran Khan’s decisive victory in the general elections, his ex-wife Reham Khan has said the Army will now operate the country’s foreign office. “I am not astonished, it was an expectable outcome…It’s a fixed election,” she added. Earlier, she had said that Imran Khan will hand over the country’s administration to religious fanatics. [India.com]

Mahesh Kumar Malani of the Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) has turn out to be the first Hindu candidate to earn a general National Assembly seat in Pakistan. Previously this year, PPP’s Krishna Kumari was the first Hindu woman to be nominated to Pakistan’s Senate. Non-Muslims in Pakistan got the right to vote and compete on general seats of the Parliament in 2002. [Hindustan Times 1]

Meanwhile, Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek party assisted by Mumbai terror attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed’s Jamaat-ud-Dawah, was unsuccessful to secure even a single seat in Pakistan’s general elections. Saeed’s Milli Muslim League (MML) party nominees were listed under Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek, after MML was stripped from competing in elections. [Hindustan Times 2]

The election day in Pakistan also saw a blast targeting a police van killed which killed more than 20 people in the north-western city of Quetta [Reuters 4].

24 July 2018

Pakistan nominates its first female chief justice

 (am) Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar nominated Justice Syeda Tahira Safdar as the Chief Justice of Balochistan High Court (BHC), making her the first female chief justice of any court in Pakistan. She is part of a special court which is running the trial of the high sedition case against former military dictator Pervez Musharraf.

She will serve as the chief justice of the BHC till October 5 next year. Interstingly, she was the first female civil judge in Balochistan and also the first female high court judge in Pakistan. [The Express Tribune]

24 July 2018

Pakistan army seeks enquiry as judge claims intel agency interfering in judiciary

(am) The Pakistan Army has requested the Supreme Court to scrutinise a high court judge’s claim that the country’s leading intelligence agencies were meddling with the functions of top judiciary in order to hurt the election opportunities of former ousted PM Nawaz Sharif. [The Print]

A report in [The Express Tribune] penned that in the speech, Justice Siddiqui had alleged that “members of intelligence agencies had approached the Islamabad High Court chief justice seeking assurances that deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Captain Safdar (Ret.) would remain behind the bars until the Election Day”.

24 July 2018

Radical Islamists push religion to centre of Pakistan election

(am) Religious parties in Pakistan have fielded more than 1,500 candidates for national and provincial assemblies. Most of the candidates are noteworthy for their suspected acquaintances with militants and their rhetorical outbreaks on mainstream political parties.

A new party, Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan, is rallying with the slogan “death to blasphemers” and has solely fielded 566 candidates.

Critics have said the genuine objective of new ultra-religious political parties is to capture the conservative base of Nawaz Sharif’s party PML-N and provide legitimacy to Islamist militants. [Reuters 1]

Jibran Nasir, a human rights lawyer and a rare secular candidate in the upcoming elections, was harassed by an angry mob humming slogans linked with the new ultra-Islamist Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan party.

Since launching his secular election campaign, a number of clerics in Pakistan have labelled Nasir as a blasphemer, a terrifying allegation which can lead to the death penalty, and also branded him as an Ahmadi, a Muslim minority sect which the radical Islamists recognise as nonconformists. [Reuters 2]

The citizens of Rabwah in Pakistan’s Punjab province, who are mainly Ahmadi Muslims, will refrain from voting in the upcoming elections due to the state’s bigoted laws that demean their minority group.

Election laws of Pakistan have placed Ahmadis on a distinct voter registration list and classifies them in the non-Muslim grouping. Prominent Ahmadi leaders have said that these laws encroach upon their right to self-identify as Muslim. [The Wire]

24 July 2018

Pakistan ‘dirtiest election’ tainted by political controversy and violence

(ot) As the country heads to the polls and campaigning enters the final stretch, political tensions are running high, blighted by a string of deadly terrorist attacks and election meddling controversy. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said there were “ample grounds to doubt” the legitimacy of the elections. The election has also been called the dirtiest in Pakistan’s history. [Al Jazeera, CNN 1, Financial Times]

The jailing of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter for corruption charges last week has fueled accusations against the country’s powerful military of “judicial witch-hunt” to prevent the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) from winning a second term. Further hostility between PML-N supporters and the military has continued to deepen. The party said hundreds of its activists have been detained in its political stronghold of Lahore.

Fears over security followed a series of attacks claimed by militant groups, including a suicide bombing that has killed 150 people in one of Pakistan’s deadliest terrorist incidents and the worst since 2014. The violent incidents have raised speculations over the credibility of the military’s claim to have defeated terrorist groups. The HRCP in this regard expressed its concern over the military’s plan to deploy 371,000 troops to endure a “free and fair” election because of “the extraordinary powers accorded to security forces.”

Press freedom has also been increasingly stifled in the run-up to the election. Journalists and media professionals have faced instances of intimidation, harassment, and reprisal. TV Channels, newspapers, as well as social media have also been blocked or forced to impose self-censorship. [BBC News 1]

Polls indicate a close race between the PML-N and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) expected to finished in third place. If neither wins a clear majority, the support of the PPP and other parties could be crucial in forming a government coalition. Nevertheless, PTI leader Imran Khan is thought to be the military’s preferred candidate, prompting allegations of widespread interference by the army. Both Sharif and the PPP allege members of the military’s intelligence agency of pressuring lawmakers to support Khan to power. [CNN 2]

In addition, questions still remain over Pakistan-U.S. shaky relations as a result of the ongoing war with the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan, where Pakistan is alleged to provide protection to militant groups. The U.S. has cut off its security aid paid to Pakistan for conducting operations against militant groups. Political analysts believe the elections will leave Pakistan even more vulnerable, both economically and politically. Given Khan’s perceived ties with the military and accusations that he is soft on Islamist extremism, the U.S. and India may be more relieved if the PML-N wins. However, if the PTI wins, PML-N supporters could take the streets, especially if Sharif remains behind bars. No matter how the result turns out, the military will seek to maintain its grip to power in the country. [BBC News 2]

17 July 2018

Pakistan’s prime minister candidates

(ot) On 25 July, Pakistani people are heading to the polls to vote for a new prime minister in the country’s second democratic transition. Three political parties dominate the upcoming elections. Their leaders are the potential candidates for the next prime minister of Pakistan. Shehbaz Sharif from the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, who is the younger brother of ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, will be challenged by leader of the opposition Imran Khan from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and the scion of the Bhutto dynasty Bilawal Bhutto Zardari from the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). [Al Jazeera]

17 July 2018

China to provide Pakistan with submarines

(dql) In a move expected to anger India, China is reportedly building eight submarines for Pakistan, to be handed over soon. The move comes after the launching of two remote sensing satellites, developed by Pakistan, from Chinese soil last week using a Chinese Long March 2C rocket. [The News International]

17 July 2018

Pakistan opens terror cases against Nawaz Sharif’s party leaders

 (am) Pakistani authorities have opened a criminal case against leaders of detained ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s political party under an anti-terrorism law, 10 days before the general election. A report mentions section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act, which has comprehensive provisions defining terrorism to include creating public fear, and lists 10 alleged violations of ordinary criminal law including unlawful assembly. The report also includes the names of PML-N party leader Shehbaz Sharif, Nawaz Sharif’s brother, and a number of other leading figures. [NDTV]

17 July 2018

Pakistan gripped by tensions and violence ahead of general elections

(ot) Three political parties dominate the upcoming elections. Their leaders are the potential candidates for the next prime minister of Pakistan. Shehbaz Sharif from the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, who is the younger brother of ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, will be challenged by the leader of the opposition, Imran Khan from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and the scion of the Bhutto dynasty Bilawal Bhutto Zardari from the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). [Al Jazeera 1] As Pakistan is heading to the polls on 25 July, the country is gripped by political tensions and violence.

Ousted Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of the PML-N party and his daughter Maryam were arrested as they returned from London to face prison sentences for corruption. Sharif was sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison last week over the purchase of luxury London property, in a case stemming from the 2016 Panama Papers revelations. Maryam was sentenced to 7 years behind bars. They have filed an appeal against the verdict in the Islamabad High Court and asked to be released on bail. [Geo TV 1, Channel News Asia 1, Geo TV 2]

Rallies were staged in the cities of Lahore and Punjab, led by PML-N leaders, including Sharif’s brother Shehbaz Sharif, and joined by tens of thousands of PML-N supporters. As a result, Pakistani authorities have opened a criminal investigation into the PML-N leaders who staged the march, which violated a ban on public gatherings. They were also accused of attacking police officials, damaging government properties, and disrupting peace and order. [Al Jazeera 2, Channel News Asia 2, The Express Tribune]

In addition, three deadly attacks targeting political rallies and candidates occurred last week, resulting in over 150 casualties. One incident was a suicide attack in Peshawar which killed one politician. Another powerful explosion took place at a political rally in Balochistan, leaving 149 people dead and 189 people wounded. It was the third deadliest attack in Pakistan’s history. The last election-related violent incident was an explosion at another campaigning event in the northwest town of Bannu, killing at least 4 people. According to the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies, at least 158 people have been killed and over 670 wounded in about 120 attacks in the six weeks leading up to the election. United Nations Secretary General António Guterres and foreign countries, including the U.S., Japan, Germany, China, and Saudi Arabia, have issued a statement condemning the attacks and extending condolences to the families of the victims. [Al Jazeera 3, Al Jazeera 4, Pakistan Today 1, Pakistan Today 2] The country’s National Counter Terrorism Authority has warned that there continue to be serious security threats to politicians. [The New Indian Express]

10 July 2018

Pakistan launches two satellites using Chinese rocket

(am) Pakistan has launched two locally developed satellites into space, using a Chinese launch vehicle. The satellites were launched aboard a Chinese Long March (LM-2C) rocket. One of the satellites launched is a remote sensing satellite (PRSS1), and the second satellite is a PAK-TES-1A, developed by SUPARCO to improve satellite manufacture competences in the country. With this launch, Pakistan has joined the list of countries to have its own remote sensing satellite in space. [The Express Tribune]

10 July 2018

Pakistan raises serious concern over continued killings by Indian forces in Kashmir

(ot/am) Pakistani Foreign Office spokesperson has expressed serious concern over relentless extrajudicial killings, unlawful arrests, and torture of civilians by the Indian forces in occupied Kashmir. He said 33 people have already been killed in June alone. He also reiterated the demand for the immediate establishment of a Commission of Inquiry to assess the human rights violations in the region as recommended by the United Nations. [Pakistan Today]

At the same time, Indian media outlets report of protests in Kashmir due to Pakistan’s alleged support and financing of terror activities in the region. It is reported that the locals went to the streets dissenting against decades of forceful occupation, mismanagement, discrimination and oppression by the Pakistan establishment. [NDTV]

10 July 2018

Pakistan: Terror-linked party to contest elections despite ban

(ot) The Milli Muslim League (MML), a banned militant group-turned-political party, said it will send candidates to contest the upcoming general elections under the umbrella of Islamist political party Allah-O-Akbar Tehreek (AAT). The MML was twice rejected by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to be recognized as political party on the ground that it has ties with a U.S. and United Nations-designated terror group. The U.S. State Department also imposed sanctions on the MML earlier and labeled its leadership as terrorists. The MML accused the ECP of denying their fundamental rights.

The MML’s alliance with the AAT is seen by some experts as alarming and could reinforce allegations that Pakistan is unable or unwilling to curb militant groups’ activities. [Pakistan Today]

10 July 2018

Pakistan: former PM Sharif found guilty of corruption, sentenced to 10 years in prison

(ot) Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in prison in absentia on corruption charges. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) court handed down the verdict after a series of delays. His daughter, Maryam Shariff, who was expected to play an important role in national and party politics, was also sentenced to 7 years in prison.

The case stemmed from the Panama Papers leak that disclosed undeclared property owned by the Sharif family in London. As part of the ruling, the court ordered they be confiscated for the federal government. The verdict came almost a year after he was removed from office by Pakistan’s Supreme Court and less than five months after he was barred from holding office for life by the court. [The Express Tribune]

Sharif and his family have consistently denied any wrongdoing. His supporters have accused the country’s powerful military of meddling in the elections, calling the case against the Sharifs politically motivated. The latest verdict came ahead of the general elections on 25 July, which will further impact the poll prospects of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) party who is facing stiff competition from Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party. Several other figures from the PML-N have also been barred by courts from contesting the elections. The Sharifs, who have been in London since last month taking care of the ailing wife, said they will be returning to Pakistan following the verdict. [The New York Times, First Post, Geo TV, Pakistan Today]

3 July 2018

Pakistan’s Christians welcome appointment of cardinal

 (am) Pakistan’s Christians have welcomed the appointment of Archbishop Joseph Coutts to the cardinal. The 73-year old archbishop was among the 14 new cardinal appointed by Pope Francis. He is the second cardinal from the Muslim-majority Pakistan, after Cardinal Joseph Cordero. Coutts is entitled to vote in a conclave to choose the new Pope. [ABC News]

The Lahore-based archbishop has formerly worked as a bishop in Faisalabad and Hyderabad and is currently involved with his community as Head Bishop at Saint Patrick’s Church in Karachi with focus on inter-faith harmony. [Gulf News]

3 July 2018

US improves Pakistan’s ranking on human trafficking

 (am) The US State department has improved the ranking of Pakistan in its human trafficking list, after keeping the country on its watchlist consecutively for four years due to its negligible regulations against human trafficking and migrant smuggling.

The Pakistan Parliament had earlier this year approved two laws concerning human trafficking and migrant smuggling. Additionally, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has taken crucial measures to eradicate this menace, which has resulted in the alteration of the country’s ranking.

Pakistan was on tier-2 watch list until recently and further abjection into tier-3 could have brought up US sanctions. Although the annual review of the State Department has moved Pakistan from the watchlist, it is still on tier-2. [The News International]

3 July 2018

Pakistan: press freedom under threat ahead of general elections

(ot) Pakistani human rights groups, politicians, and media have said that the country’s powerful military is cracking down on the media ahead of the election on 25 July, in an attempt to influence the election results.

Pakistani military confiscated copies of a major newspaper after it published an interview with ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in which he questioned the military’s counterterrorism efforts. The military supports the party of Sharif’s toughest competitor, Imran Khan, and wants to ensure that Sharif’s party loses its majority in parliament. Distributors of the newspaper were harassed, and cable TV networks also dropped the company’s TV news station. The military reportedly contacted many TV channels about content deemed troubling and exercised influence over hiring and firing at the stations. In addition, broadcasters have reduced live programming to edit out dissenting opinion.

Even though the country’s democracy was restored in 2008 after staging several coups, critics say that the Pakistani military has been trying to gain influence over civilian spheres behind the scenes, including gaining leverage over government policy, the political opposition, and the judiciary. For the media, more subtle forms of censorship and self-censorship are prevalent. [The Wall Street Journal, First Post]

3 July 2018

Pakistan back on the Global Terrorism Financing Monitoring List

(ot/am) The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), am intergovernmental anti-money laundering agency, put Pakistan back on its terrorism financing “grey” watch list after having been removed from the list for three years. The decision followed advocacy by the U.S. and European countries to push Pakistan to combat terrorism and stop providing financial support for militant groups. Being placed on the list may hinder Pakistan’s access to global markets as it faces financial difficulties ahead of national elections next month. It could also be a precursor to the country’s addition onto FATF’s “black list”, which would lead to more serious sanctions. [Bloomberg]

Pakistan continues to be under pressure from the U.S. government to stop acting as a safe haven for terrorists, a charge Pakistan denies. The country also insists its influence over the Taliban has been exaggerated. [Pakistan Today]

At the same time, Pakistan has revoked an order of prohibition on radical Islamic leader Mohammad Ahmed Ludhianv who is a radical Sunni Islamist and the leader of Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), an extremist sectarian outfit which has carried out several deadly attacks against Shiites, Ahmaddiyas and Sufis- all Muslim minority communities, over the past two decades. Some experts in Pakistan consider this a blunder decision which will sabotage Pakistan’s attempts to rejuvenate counter-terrorism regulations and its message to the world that they are waging war against militant groups. [Voice of America]

3 July 2018

Pakistan: former PM and minister disqualified for elections/ decision on PM overturned   

(ot/am) Pakistani former prime minister and a minister from his cabinet had been barred from contesting in the general election next month. A Pakistani high court then has revoked a tribunal judgement of disqualifying ex-PM Abbasi from contesting elections in a dramatic turn of events just before the general elections.

Two members of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party have been disqualified from politics this week. An Election Commission tribunal barred Ex-Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who took over from ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, from contesting in his home constituency of Murree. The tribunal ruled that Abbasi was “guilty of concealment of facts” on election papers, the same clause the Supreme Court used to justify the ousting of Prime Minister Sharif last year. As a result, he would have been disqualified from politics for life under Pakistan’s constitution. However, the ruling was overturned and he will be able to contest the general election [The Economic Times]  In addition, the Supreme Court found former privatization minister Daniya Aziz guilty of contempt, disqualifying him from parliament for 5 years.

The PML-N party has fiercely objected the decisions, calling it “a new history of poll rigging”, and accused the country’s military of attempting to deny the party a second term. Though members of the main opposition party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), have also been barred from politics under the same constitutional clause, the numbers of various verdicts against the PML-N are preponderant. [The Guardian, Geo TV]

26 June 2018

Pakistan to launch first indigenous satellite next month

(am) In a major development, Pakistan is expected to launch its first indigenous satellite next month, putting it among the list of countries enjoying advanced space technology. Until now, Pakistan was dependent on the US and French satellites for civil and military communications. [The Nation]

26 June 2018

India, Pakistan: UN calls for intervention in Kashmir

(ot) The United Nations (UN) released its first ever comprehensive report on Kashmir. It calls for a Commission of Inquiry to conduct an independent international investigation on human rights violations in Kashmir. This indicates possible future international humanitarian and political intervention. Experts say that the recent development takes the Kashmir conflict to the top of the international agenda as well as reaffirm the right to Kashmiris to decide their future. [Pakistan Today]

Pakistani Foreign Spokesperson said the country welcomed the recommendation, saying that country is ready to facilitate the Commission’s visit, given that India is also ready to allow the Commission to access Jammu and Kashmir. On its’ part, India was unfavorable of the report and lodged a strong protest against the UN. [First Post]

26 June 2018

Pakistan Taliban announces new leader after U.S drone attack

(am) Pakistan Taliban has announced Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud as its new leader, a cleric renowned for initiating barbarous extortion rackets, attacking polio vaccination campaigns and encouraging hostility against health workers across the country. This development came after the group confirmed the death of their former leader Mullah Fazlullah in a U.S led drone strike. [The New York Times]

26 June 2018

Pakistan among 10 worse countries for rule of law, Nepal takes regional lead

(ot) Pakistan has been ranked 105th place out of 113 countries in the Rule of Law Index 2017-18 issued by World Justice Project (WJP). The index gave the country poor scores on governance, corruption, fundamental rights, security, regulatory enforcement, civil justice, and criminal justice. In addition, it was placed at 5th out of 6 countries in the South Asia region (among Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka), while Nepal took the lead. The report also asserted that all of the countries in the South Asia region improved in the global ranks with the exception of Afghanistan, which stayed in 111th place. [Pakistan Today, The Himalayan Times]

26 June 2018

Pakistani election: Over 12 percent of electoral candidates face charges

(ot/am) Pakistan is witnessing its second consecutive democratic transition of power as it heads to the polls on 25 July, with over 21,482 candidates contesting for 1070 seats in the National and Provincial Assemblies. In light of this, an investigation has revealed that around 2,720 electoral candidates, amounting to over 12 per cent, face a wide range of criminal charges, including corruption, rape, holding dual nationality, money laundering, extortion, human smuggling, and murder [Geo TV]. However, it is important to point out that some of the cases may be politically motivated [Pakistan Today] and their truthfulness has to be taken with a grain of salt.

In Punjab province, Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed’s son and son-in-law will be contesting. JuD is the political wing of the terror outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which initiated the 2008 Mumbai attack which took 166 lives, and was banned by Pakistan in 2015, years after it was acknowledged by the UN as a LeT front. [Times Now News] [The Quint]

17 June 2018

Pakistan-India relations: Islamabad rejects New Delhi’s protest over Azad Jammu Kashmir constitutional amendments

(ot) The Pakistani government rejected India’s opposition to the amendment to the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) Interim Constitution (13th Amendment) Act 2018 and the country’s claim over Indian Occupied Kashmir (IoK).

The Amendment, approved earlier this month, transferred most of the powers earlier exercised by the AJK Council to the AJK Legislative Assembly and the government. India lodged strong protest over the abolishment of Kashmir council’s administrative and financial powers, reducing it to an advisory body. In response, Pakistan said that India’s claim over Kashmir as an integral part of the country has no legal basis. It cited the disputed status of Kashmir and the right to self-determination of the Kashmiri people enshrined in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions accepted by both countries and the international community. [Pakistan Today, The New Indian Express]

In a latest development  of strained Pakistan-India ties, India on Sunday resumed military operations against rebels in disputed Kashmir after ending a 30-days unilaterally declared truce during Ramadan. Despite the truce, the region witnessed a months-long escalation of violence. [Channel News Asia]

17 June 2018

Pakistan: Military to prosecute ex-army officers for engineering the 1990 elections

(dql) Pakistan’s Ministry of Defense sent a letter to the Supreme Court expressing its willingness to hold a trial to prosecute retired top-ranking military officers allegedly involved in the manipulation of the 1990 general elections in favor of military-backed candidates. Among them are the former army chief and the former chief of the intelligence agency. The Ministry’s move comes after Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar ordered all institutions of the country to cooperate with the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in the Asghar Khan case which dates back to 1996 and in which Pakistan’s intelligence agency had been accused of funding electoral campaigns, bribing politicians and journalists, and forming a short-lived political party to defeat the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. [The Express Tribune] For brief background information on the Asghar Khan case and the entanglement of the military in politics in Pakistan therein see [Global Village Space].

17 June 2018

Pakistan: Election commission disqualifies terror-linked party

(ot) Pakistan’s Election Commission dismissed the request of Milli Muslim League (MML) to register as a political party. The MML and its leaders have earlier this year been added to the United States list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO). They were claimed to be tied to another U.S. designated terrorist group which allegedly masterminded the 2008 Mumbai attack. The latest decision was the second time the Commission rejected MML’s request to form a political party after it was ordered by the Islamabad High Court to revisit the matter. As a result, the MML cannot participate in the country’s general elections scheduled for 25 July this year. [Voice of America, Geo TV]

10 June 2018

Pakistan asked by World Bank to accept India’s proposal for neutral expert in dam dispute

(am) The World Wank has asked Pakistan to step down from its traditional stand on Kishanganga and Ratle dam dispute and to negotiate with India’s proposal of appointing a neutral expert. Pakistan was asked to withdraw its plea for setting up a court of arbitration.

Pakistan has incessantly opposed the construction of dams in Indian’s Jammu and Kashmir state claiming it as a misdemeanour of a World Bank-mediated six-decade-old treaty on the sharing of waters from the Indus and its tributaries. India, on the other hand, reckons that the dams are not violating the 1960 Indus Water Treaty. [Dawn] [The Express Tribune]

10 June 2018

Pakistan: Former PMs to face corruption probe

(am) Pakistan’s anti-corruption agency National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has authorized an investigation against two former prime ministers Nawaz Shareef and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi over the supposed abuse of power during their recently ended five-year term. As petroleum minister when Sharif was prime minister, Abbasi was the brainiac behind Pakistan’s push to embrace liquid natural gas (LNG). During the meeting of NAB, Chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal ordered an investigation over a 15-year contract of LNG given to a company against the prevailing rules, causing a loss of billions of rupees to the national exchequer. [Anadolu] [Reuters]

10 June 2018

Pakistani Journalist critical of military abducted, then freed

(am) The brief abduction this week of Gul Bukhari, a prominent Pakistani-British journalist and social activist known for her fiery criticism against Pakistan’s military, has once again raised concerns of a revived suppression on dissent in South Asia’s most politically turbulent country.

Bukhari’s abduction was done by unknown men came just after a day when military spokesman notified at a press conference that the Army is keeping an eye on citizens who criticize the state and the army. [Al Jazeera] [Radio Free Europe]

3 June 2018

Turkey, Pakistan conclude largest ever defense contact

(ot) Turkey and Pakistan have agreed on the sale of 30 Turkish-made T129 ATAK multirole combat helicopters, the first of such exports and the largest ever Turkish-Pakistani defense contract. The T129 helicopters are produced by the Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) under license from the Italian-British AgustaWestland. The recent contract is estimated to be worth about 1.5 billion USD, which almost equals to Turkey’s annual defense exports.

In addition, the TAI also agreed to upgrade 41 F-16 fighter jets for the Pakistani Air Force, including avionics and structural modernization of the aircraft. It is also in talks with Pakistan for the sale of its Hurkus basic trainer aircraft.

The TAI has been delivering T129 to the Turkish Army and the Gendarmerie force. The Turkish Army uses them to support anti-terror operations against Kurdish rebels fighting for autonomy in southeast Turkey, northern Iraq, and northwest Syria. Turkey and Pakistan have long been in smooth political relations. [Defense News]

3 June 2018

Indian/Pakistan commanders: fully implement 2003 ceasefire pact

(ot/am) In an attempt to curb cross-border hostilities the Director Generals of Military Operations (DGMOs) of India and Pakistan respectively agreed to “fully implement” the ceasefire pact of 2003 in “letter and spirit” forthwith to stop cross border firings in Jammu & Kashmir.

The two military commanders reviewed the prevailing situation along the Line of Control and International Border in J&K during a conversation over a hotline that was initiated by the Pakistani DGMO.

Following the conversation between Indian DGMO Lt Gen Anil Chauhan and Pakistan’s Maj Gen Sahir Shamshad Mirza, the two armies issued identical statements saying both sides agreed to fully implement the 15-year-old ceasefire understanding. [Bloomberg]

The latest development came after rising tensions and some of the worst violence in years between the two nuclear-armed neighbors along the established borders since September 2016. A surge in ceasefire violations have been observed in the first five months of 2018, breaking all annual records since 2003. Over 150 civilians and troops from both nations have been killed as a result. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced. [Al Jazeera] [The Times of India]

The agreement also followed another rare ceasefire announced by the Indian Army in Kashmir for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, ending mid-June. However, observers are not optimistic that the agreement will be strictly followed, given the absence of larger peace talks. Many analysts believe that the latest agreement was pursued by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to strengthen its alliance with the local government in Jammu and Kashmir, which has become increasingly uneasy as the situation deteriorated. [The New York Times]

3 June 2018

Pakistan President finalizes dissolution of special tribal areas

(am) The final step in the merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province was completed as President Mamnoon Hussain signed the 25th Constitutional Amendment Bill into law. [Dawn]

Dawn

 

3 June 2018

Pakistan: Former Chief Justice becomes Interim Prime Minister until polls

(am/ot) Pakistan’s former chief justice Nasir-ul-Mulk was appointed as caretaker prime minister till general elections are held on July 25 as the since then ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government completed its five-year term on 31 May.

The announcement was made at a press conference held by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Opposition Leader Khursheed Shah and attended by the President of the National Assembly.

The caretaker government will hold the general elections keep the country running between the dissolution of parliament and the new government being sworn in. [Gulf News] [Geo TV 1] [Geo TV 2]

Pakistan witnessed its first democratic transition of power in 2013, with the PML-N party coming to rule the country. If go ahead as planned, the upcoming elections would be the second time in the country’s history that a civilian government will complete its five-year term and hand over power to another civilian government. The competition is largely expected to be between the PML-N and its main rival, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party whereas judiciary and military are additional crucial actors. [Al Jazeera 1] [Al Jazeera 2] [Gulf News]

3 June 2018

Pakistan Army investigates former intel chief over joint book with his Indian counterpart

(am) The Pakistani Army set up a ‘court of inquiry’ to investigate former director general of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt Gen (ret.) Asad Durrani’s collaboration with A.S. Dulat, former chief of Indian spy agency RAW (Research and Analysis Wing), in what is being seen as a lightning-rod book project that has stirred heated controversy, and asked the government to impose travel ban on him (Gen Durrani).

General Durrani had earlier been “called to” the General Headquarters for questioning over the book titled “The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI, and the Illusion of Peace”, launched last week in India. It contains conversations between generals Durrani and Dulat that were mediated by an Indian journalist. [Dawn]

27 May 2018

Pakistan in need of Chinese loans?

(ot) Pakistan seems to seek Chinese state loans worth $1-2 billion USD to avert a balance of payments crisis after having taken already billion – dollar loans from China and having just received a $1 billion loan by a group of Chinese commercial banks in April. Meanwhile, China’s BRI investment China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) runs up to $57 billion USD. [The Economic Times]

27 May 2018

Pakistan: SCO anti-terrorism summit held in Islamabad, while President Xi calls for regional security operations

(ot) Pakistan hosted the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) meeting after having become a member of SCO last year. Participants included legal experts from China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, India, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Pakistan. [Geo TV]

Meanwhile, the 13th meeting of Security Council Secretaries of the SCO member states was held in Beijing, addressed by President Xi Jinping stressing the importance of last year´s entry of both India and Pakistan as new SCO members.

In the context of a steady confluence of Asia, the recent SCO meetings reflect the potential of still nascent attempts to foster regional diplomatic arenas in a multipolar global governance order. [The Economic Times]

27 May 2018

Pakistan: Parliament passes landmark bill for tribal areas reforms

(ot) By constitutional amendment the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with their special status have been merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province.

The FATA consist of seven tribal districts that have continued to be under direct rule from the capital since Pakistan gained independence from the British in 1947. The unrest region is a sanctuary of the Pakistan Taliban and al-Qaeda.

The amendment is supposed to improve the political, administrative, and human rights status of the former FATA. By merging it into the northwestern KP province, government services such as healthcare, education, and policing will be made available to the tribal areas with its five million citizens. The amendment also abolishes the draconian colonial-era Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) that left citizens of the tribal areas with no recourse to courts. [Al Jazeera, Pakistan Today, The Express Tribune]

27 May 2018

Pakistan: Ex-PM Sharif accuses army intelligence of being behind his dismissal

(ot) Three time elected and unseated former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif alleged a former intelligence chief had asked him to resign during opposition protests against his government in 2014 as he refused to drop a treason case against former army chief Pervez Musharraf. Having been removed from office last year due to non – declared assets following the Panama Papers revelations, Sharif also claimed to have recently been dismissed by the Supreme Court for his foreign policy. Here he clashed with the military over geopolitical key issues such as relations with India, Afghanistan, and the United States. [Al Jazeera, Channel News Asia]

20 May 2018

Pakistan and China reaffirm military friendship

(ot) In a top-level meeting Chinese Central Military Commission Vice Chairman General Zhang Youxia and Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, de facto head of the Pakistan army, discussed matters of regional security and bilateral defense cooperation.

Reaffirming friendship, trust and confidence between the countries they concluded the meeting by signing a MoU on bilateral defense cooperation. General Zhang especially appreciated Pakistan’s counter-terrorism achievements sending a signal to major critics such as the US and India and also stressed the importance of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. [Daily Times, Geo TV]

20 May 2018

India: Ceasefire announced in Kashmir for holy month of Ramadan

(am) Indian military operations against rebels in Kashmir will be suspended during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan for the first time in nearly two decades, a move which comes after months of intense fighting in the disputed Himalayan region. [Al Jazeera]

However, Indian security forces, of which there are an estimated 500,000 in Kashmir, reserve the right to retaliate if attacked. [Al Jazeera]

Later the day of the announcement, an encounter between militants and security forces broke out after an army patrol party was attacked however. [The Indian Express] Earlier in the day, security forces launched a search operation in a forest area following a brief exchange of firing with militants, a police official said. [Hindustan Times]

20 May 2018

Pakistan: Latest rally calls for Pashtun rights

(ot) Thousands of protesters mobilized by Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) took to the street in Pakistan´s largest city Karachi, calling for an end to alleged human rights violations of ethnic Pashtuns by the military including extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in the struggle against the Tehreek-e-Taliban terrorist group.

Prior to this latest round of protest, a number of PTM leaders were detained and later charged with sedition. After the group’s leader was barred from boarding his flight to Karachi, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) expressed “grave concerns” over the authorities’ action.

At the rally, the PTM also reiterated its demand to form a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate the crimes allegedly committed by the state. [Al Jazeera]

20 May 2018

Pakistan: General elections face delay amid growing tensions

(ot) As the country’s general elections scheduled for July are approaching, political tensions between those who support either the elected civilian government or the military continue to increase, making many Pakistanis fear that elections may be delayed or even abrogated by a putsch.

In any case, Pakistan’s ever fragile democracy will be tested again after the country witnessed its very first smooth transition of power from one civilian government to another in 2013. Additionally, the elections will also have a significant geopolitical impact with regard to Asia´s changing security landscape. Pakistan, having been put under pressure by the US for its failure to tackle terrorist networks, has increasingly turned toward China for financial and diplomatic support. [Deutsche Welle]

20 May 2018

Pakistan: Court dismisses treason petition against ex-PM

(ot) With a direct reference to the 2008 Mumbai attack, he had acknowledged in an interview that militant organizations being active in Pakistan were allowed to cross the Indian border enabling them to kill people “in Mumbai”.

This triggered two political parties to bring treason charges against ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif before a court which, however, dismissed the request. [The Economic Times, Geo TV]

Sharif’s remarks triggered a major controversy, sparking criticism from many sides. The country’s National Security Committee condemned the comments as “fallacious” while Indian media deemed the statement as an admission of Pakistan´s involvement in the attacks. [Gulf News, Pakistan Observer]

13 May 2018

Pakistan: Hazara killings amounts to ethnic cleansing, says Supreme Court

(ot) On Friday, Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Justice Mian Saqib Nisar said that targeted killings of members of the Hazara Muslim community in Quetta was equivalent to ethnic cleansing. The statement was made during a hearing of the suo moto notice, which is where a court accepts a case on its own initiative, on the continued atrocities against the Hazara community, taken since 2 May. The hearing was headed by the CJP and comprised Justice Ijazul Ahsan. [The Express Tribune]

Representatives from relevant law enforcement agencies participated in the hearing. Counsel for the Hazara community Iftikhar Ali presented his arguments before the court, saying that people from the community have been deprived of their lives and property and subjected to targeted killings for the past 20 years. The CJP advised the authorities to review the 2013 security plan and ensure the implementation. Another hearing will take place after Eid. [Geo TV]

13 May 2018

Pakistan: Anti-graft body orders probe against ousted PM Sharif for money laundering

(ot) On Wednesday, the National Accountability Bureau, Pakistan’s anti-corruption watchdog, said in a statement that it had ordered an inquiry into allegations of money laundering against ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif. The Bureau cited an article published in a media report back in February this year. The article, quoting a World Bank’s Remittances and Migration report in 2016, accused Sharif and others of laundering 4.9 billion USD from Pakistan to India. [The Express Tribune 1]

However, hours after the announcement, the World Bank issued a press release denying its involvement in such accusation. The organization stated that the report only estimated migration and remittances numbers across the world and did not mention any money laundering or name any individuals. The statement serves as a serious blow to the credibility of the Bureau, whom the former prime minister has accused of ‘witch-hunting’. He is currently facing three corruption cases in the accountability court. [The Express Tribune 2]

Pakistan is due to hold general elections in two months. In response to the Bureau’s action, Pakistani prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi accused the body to be “pre-poll rigging”. Defense Minister Khurram Dastgir also slammed the actions of the Bureau and demanded a probe against the investigations processes. [NDTV]

13 May 2018

Pakistan: Parliament passes historic transgender rights law 

(ot) On Tuesday, the Pakistani parliament voted to pass the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act. The landmark legislation guarantees basic rights for transgender people as well as outlaws discrimination against them by employers and business owners. Under the new law, transgender people in Pakistan are ensured the right to self-identify their gender on all official documents. The law also protects transgender people against harassment in public places and at home and provides for the establishment of government-run centers for those at risk.

In Pakistan, transgender people routinely face attacks, harassment, and discrimination. Despite concerns over the implementation of the law, the development was seen by activists as a big step towards transgender rights protection in the country. [The Independent, Al Jazeera, The Express Tribune]

13 May 2018

Consequences of the US nuclear deal withdrawal for the Asian geopolitical order

(hg) Two – arguably related – major events, the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran and the relatively massive Israeli military attack on Iranian positions in Syria will have some impact on the processes defining the current global geopolitical order and especially the Asian one. The two events can be seen against the background of the English – Russian tensions about the poisoning of UK spy Skripal and the ensuing diplomatic retaliation by major Western countries as well as the recent airstrikes launched by the US, UK and France against Syria. Both major events are embedded in a process of worsening relations between the West and Russia and a possibly emerging Turkish – Iranian – Russian – Chinese axis while Saudi – Arabia is going to show even growing assertiveness against Iran.

Especially, the unilateral US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, officially named Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), brings some new dynamics to the currently significant processes relevant for the present state of global order. What is about to happens now, is that the other signatories try to save the deal with notable activities.

While the chief inspector of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), unexpectedly resigned [Times of Israel] after the IAEA has highlighted Iran´s cooperation with the nuclear watchdog over recent years, the Iranian foreign minister is embarking on a diplomatic tour, first to Beijing and Moscow, and then to Brussels to meet his counterparts from Britain, France and Germany. At the same time, Russian President Putin has spoken with the government heads of Germany and Turkey, Merkel and Erdogan, to keep the nuclear deal alive [Times of Israel], whereas German Chancellor Merkel said in a phone call with Iranian President Rohani that her country would adhere to the 2015 nuclear deal. Additionally, Russian and German foreign ministers talked in Moscow about how to constructively proceed. After all, this is the joint position of all other signatories, namely Russia, Germany, China, Britain, France and Iran [Radio Free Europe] with the three European powers having issued a joint statement criticizing the American pullout [Government Europa].

In Europe, both France and Germany have seen a sharp rise in exports to Iran since sanctions were lifted in 2016. Especially France has sharply condemned the re-imposition of sanctions as “unacceptable”. Its Economy Minister even said Europe had to defend its “economic sovereignty” and called on the European Commission to look into possible retaliatory measures. [BBC News] Even America´s staunchest allies in Asia, Japan and Australia, still support the deal [US News]. The Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono underlined Tokyo´s support for the nuclear deal in a phone call with his Iranian counterpart urging all other parties to remain committed to the multilateral agreement. [Tehran Times]

Now, Berlin, Beijing and Moscow are the given brokers to create a platform for talks on the future of the Iran nuclear deal, a constellation that cannot please the American interest. It might, moreover, be argued that the Trump move, which reflects the new security environment in Washington with Mike Pompeo and John Bolton in key positions, will backfire in case it has no clearly defined short-time purpose. Otherwise, the unilateral withdrawal from the deal is likely to benefit especially China, possibly even bring Moscow closer to Europe again, endanger the developing US ties with India and generally lower the US´ weight in Asia´s shifting security order.

First, Beijing is prone to evolve as the first inter pares to foster an international reaffirmation of the deal after it had played a crucial role in bringing Iran to forge the deal in the first instance.

Additionally, China will gain in terms of energy access and make more trade and infrastructure inroads to Iran. China will anyway be able to continue business with Iran without being much harmed by sanctions. It is, in fact, highly experienced to circumvent sanctions and will probably just create companies that will operate only in or with Iran to avoid them. [Sputnik News 1] For China, with its potentially all-controlling central authority and low level of market transparency, such workarounds are much easier to realize than for European companies.

Iran sells already more to China than to any other country and celebrated a 25 percent increase in exports there last year already while the value of Chinese exports to Iran also increased by more than 21 percent last year, according to Islamic Republic of Iran Customs Administration’s statistics. Now, China – Iran trade and infrastructure ties are very likely to even grow more. Generally, China will gain strategic space with regard to the Middle East to be used to advance its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Just now, Beijing has officially opened a new train route to Iran likely to go through Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. [Sputnik News 2]

Moreover, the US might effectively force European companies out of the Iranian market – to the benefit of China. The US sanctions which will especially aim at Iranian crude oil will limit its global trade opportunities to the special advantage of China as the world’s largest importer of crude oil that might even get it cheaper now. The gain to take over a lead role in directly exploiting Iranian oil and gas fields might be even worth for China to directly invest without circumventions. [The Japan Times] just reports that China’s state-owned energy major CNPC is ready to take over French giant Total’s stake in the giant Iranian South Pars gas project if the French company leaves due to the US sanctions. The Iranian South Pars field has the world’s biggest natural gas reserves ever found in one place and the possibility of Total’s pullout is reportedly quite high now. [The Japan Times]

Lastly, and particularly important, China will reinforce the petro-yuan as more than just a spoiler attack on the dominance of the dollar-denominated Brent and West Texas Intermediate benchmarks. According to the latter, oil is priced and traded in U.S. dollars which is of crucial importance for the US economy. The increase in the use of the renminbi in global financial trade following a Chinese lead role in the Iranian oil market would be much more relevant than the immediate benefit of energy supply and pricing imports in yuan to the end that it would spare China the cost of exchanging dollars. After all, the development reinforces the Chinese move in March this year to launch a futures exchange in Shanghai that aims to become a yuan-denominated global benchmark, which itself is part of a larger strategy to establish the renminbi as the leading global currency. [Reuters]

The relevance of these developments is highlighted by China´s sheer market power having overtook the US as the world’s largest oil importer last year already and hoping to beat that achievement in 2018. At the same time, the yuan-denominated crude exchange in Shanghai will offer another path for Iran to get past US sanctions, which are typically enforced when banks attempt to clear dollar-denominated trades in New York. [Business Times]

Second, besides empowering China, the US withdrawal strengthens Iranian resilience and weakens the US own strategic ties as partly indicated already above. Regarding Iran the change is obvious. Summer last year, Washington could hope to empower the Iranian opposition while it created a new Iran Mission Center at the CIA to “turn up the heat on Iran”. [The Wall Street Journal] Now, the Trump administration has managed it to further unite Iranian politics. More important is the effect on Europe. Even if key countries like Germany and France will eventually not be motivated to rebalance their strategic focus after a series of unilateral moves by President Trump, European leaders will have to work closely with Beijing and Moscow in the newly created situation while Iran, Russia and China will be pushed closer to each other once more.

Especially interesting is the effect on India which has great interests in Iran. The question is, in how far India will side with the US. Harsh V. Pant gives an interesting analysis of the situation from an Indian policy perspective highlighting India´s stakes regarding the presumably even intensifying Iran – China relations. [The Hindu] India´s immediate stake in Iran is mainly its investment in the Iranian Chabahar port that had often been projected as India’s response to China´s investment in the Pakistani Gwadar port. Recently however, Iran invited both China and Pakistan to join in, which highly frustrated Indian policy makers. Counterintuitively to consult a siding with the US, Pant analyses the possible Indian policies in the current scenario on the basis of the already existing deep economic and defense ties between Teheran and Beijing. His analysis starts with an understanding for the Iranian pro-China perspective especially in the presently given situation: “Given the overt hostility of the Trump administration towards Iran, it is imperative for Tehran to maintain cordial relationship with a rising power like China”. From here, the author, a Professor of International Relations at King’s College London, advises New Delhi “to navigate its interests in the region accordingly” with a realistic view to accept some form of Chinese participation in the Chabahar project while India and China are anyway exploring joint economic projects in Afghanistan. [The Hindu] Such a continuation with Indian – Iranian ties that would even include a limited Chinese – Indian rapprochement could put US – Indian relations under serious stress however. Whichever path Delhi will actually take in the given situation, the ‘Iranian factor’ is likely to have a significant impact on the overall Asian order regarding the Indian relations with both China and the US.

Third, the US, by withdrawing from the nuclear deal, are weakening their clout as a global norm setter once more. For the US, to leave from a multilateral agreement – effectively a disarmament treaty – that has been endorsed by UN Security Council Resolution (No 2231), will further weaken the US´ strategically important position as a central driver of an international law – based order, an opportunity that will be seized by China to the largest extent possible.

Moreover, by increasing its arsenal of sharp sanctions, the US might find themselves caught between either alienating some key partners or undermining the credibility of their normative approach in general. The Iran sanctions that will add to the sanctions against Russia recently enabled by the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” (CAATSA) [US Dep. of Treasury] cause important allies to seek exemptions from sanctions, a step already initiated by both the French and German government regarding Iran. A similar request has been submitted by India regarding the CAATSA relevant purchase of the Russian S-400. In times of a shifting geopolitical order, to deny the respective waivers will worsen bilateral relations, to grant them undermine the authority of the respective regimes in the first place.

13 May 2018

Chinese Missiles are transforming the balance of power in the skies

(hg) After the U.S. and its allies effectively owned the skies for a long time, that is no longer the case with rapid technological progress not only in Russia´s but also China’s aerospace industry. The latter has developed impressive air-to-air missile systems, the PL-15, that could seriously challenge Western air forces. The new air-to-air missiles cost one or two million dollars and can destroy a $150 million aircraft. In March, the U.S. Air Force awarded a half-billion-dollar contract to supply close allies with Raytheon Inc.’s latest long range air-to-air missile, capable of hitting enemy planes from 160 kilometers away. The Meteor, a new European equivalent, may be even more efficient. But China’s latest missile development has a greater range than either. Another Chinese air-to-air weapon in development, provisionally known as PL-XX, aims at slow-moving airborne warning and control systems, thus the flying neural centers of U.S. air warfare, from as far away as 300 miles. At closer range, China’s new PL-10 missile is comparable to the best “fire-and-forget” equivalents, meaning any dogfight would likely end with a so-called mutual kill which means a significant deterrent.

While the U.S. air force remains the world´s strongest by far, the Chinese advances come at a critical time adding to advancements in other crucial defense fields such as robotics and artificial intelligence. Moreover, the world´s best air force might now encounter real resistance. Notably, Chinese pilots, planes and weapons don’t have to be better than their U.S. counterparts – what they are not yet – to radically change battlefield calculations. Yet, China’s new aircraft, combined with the latest air-to-air, cruise, anti-ship and Russian origin S-400 air-defense systems create a high – risk challenge for US operations in contested areas in Asia.

Moreover, China, Russia and Pakistan cooperate on increasingly sophisticated terms which is intensifying their alliances. Russia supplies Beijing and Beijing supplies Pakistan with China and Pakistan having co-produced the JF-17 fighter since 2007, while Russia provided high quality engines. In March, it had been reported that the JF-17 will be upgraded with active array radar and, maybe, also China’s PL-10 missiles. This would put India’s aging Russian MiGs at serious risk in case of a confrontation. In any case, China is rapidly advancing its military capabilities in concert with other regionally relevant powers contributing to significant patterns of Asia´s emerging security order. [Bloomberg]

13 May 2018

India: Regional parties call for ceasefire in Kashmir

(ot) On Wednesday, Indian Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti held a meeting of regional parties to discuss the situation in Kashmir in Srinagar. As a result of the meeting, all parties in Jammu and Kashmir, including the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have agreed to approach the central government to demand a unilateral ceasefire for the forthcoming holy Muslim month of Ramadan and the period of Hindu pilgrimage Amarnath Yatra.

The meeting took place in the wake of growing tension in the past 40 days, resulting in 69 casualties, including 28 civilians and a tourist. [The Hindu, The Indian Express]

6 May 2018

Pakistan: Freedom of expression under threat

(ot) On Tuesday, Pakistani media freedom watchdog Freedom Network published its report “Press Freedom Barometer 2018”, ahead of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May. The report documented 157 cases of attacks and violations against journalists and media groups from 1 May 2017 to 1 April 2018. These included instances of killings, abductions, physical attacks, arrests, threats, and other forms of harassment. Thirty-five per cent of the violent instances was conducted by state actors. Other perpetrators included militant groups, political parties, religious groups, and criminals. Islamabad is the most dangerous place for journalists, with 35 per cent of the violations having occurred in the country’s capital city. The continued oppression against freedom of speech has also resulted in growing self-censorship of the media. [Voice of America, The Wire, Freedom Network]

Despite a growing optimism about the country’s future security and economic situations, the Pakistani security establishment sees institutions of media, development, and human rights as primary national security concern. It has been taken more seriously by the military than threat from India, Afghanistan, or the U.S. In addition, the security establishment is also suspicious that information warfare that could attribute to the country and its agencies as sponsors of terror in the region. [The Interpreter]

6 May 2018

Pakistan: Targeted killings of Hazara Shia Muslim spark protest

(ot) At least six people belonging to the Hazara community, a Shia Muslim minority, have been killed in a series of targeted attacks against the community in the city of Quetta this week. Three people were also wounded. The latest string of incidents started on Saturday morning, with two Hazara men having been shot dead while sitting inside their electronic shop. [Geo TV, The Express Tribune]

Quetta is home to roughly 600,000 Hazara Shiaz, most of whom live in two enclaves on either side of the city. The community has repeatedly been under attack for more than a decade, with many shootings and bomb attacks claimed by sectarian groups such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. According to the government’s National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR), at least 509 people from the Hazara community have been killed in Quetta since 2013. The weekend incidents were the fourth of such attack in April.

The weekend killings sparked anger among community members and led to a widespread demonstration against the authorities, ending on Wednesday. The protesters demanded the government to put immediate end to the targeted killings of the marginalized community and to hold the perpetrators accountable for the crimes. They dispersed after community leaders met with the country’s army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa. [Al Jazeera]

6 May 2018

The future of Russian security ties – between Pakistan and India

(hg) In times of an intensifying security cooperation between the US and India as well as loosening ties between the US and Pakistan, Moscow and Islamabad have pledged to improve defense ties. Pakistan seems, however, to be less restrained to engage with the new partnership than Russia that still appears trying to balance its South Asia relations rather than to abandon its traditional strategic partner India.

Pakistan’s national security adviser, Nasser Khan Janjua, has led for the first time a ministerial-level delegation comprising the heads of the various defense, national security and space ministries to Russia now. The visit comes short after India has pulled out from the Indo-Russian fifth-generation fighter aircraft program. This notwithstanding, with India having repeatedly requested Russia not to sell arms to Pakistan, Moscow might at the moment still be inclined to restrict the amount and type of arms offered to Pakistan as there are still important ties to India whose weapons are largely of Russian origin. At the same time, both Pakistan and Russia find themselves increasingly distant from the West, which provides an incentive to forcefully develop non-Western options. For the time being, Russia appears to be playing a balancing game justified by both the need to continue arms sales at least to some degree and the by far more uncertain hope that India might finally switch in its foreign policy orientation to a rapprochement with Russia. [Defense News] 

6 May 2018

India: Military spending increases, joining the world’s top five defense spenders

(ot) India has become one of the world’s five biggest military spenders, joining the U.S. and China, according to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute released on Wednesday. In 2017, India’s defense spending rose by 5.5 percent to 63.9 billion USD, surpassing France. The Indian government’s increased spending was motivated at least partially by geopolitical tensions with China and Pakistan. It was also the result of the country’s reliance on imported weapons and sprawling personnel costs.

The report showed that the world’s biggest military spenders has remained consistent in recent years, dominated by the U.S. and China, which spent 610 billion USD and 228 billion USD respectively. However, the balance of military spending is “clearly shifting” towards Asia, Oceania, and the Middle East, driven by spending increases in China, India, and Saudi Arabia. [Bloomberg] [South China Morning Post]

29 April 2018

Pakistan: Conviction on child pornography

(jk) In early 2016, the upper house of Pakistan’s federal legislature, the Senate, passed a bill amending Pakistan’s Penal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure. The amendments criminalised child sexual abuse, child pornography, and domestic human trafficking. The legislation included exposing children to obscene and sexually explicit material as well as prohibiting the production of child pornography, punishing such acts with from two to seven years of imprisonment and a fine.

Now, for the first time, a man has been sentenced under the law. He was found to be part of a global child pornography ring spread across Sweden, Italy, United States and United Kingdom and possessed more than 650,000 pictures and videos related to child pornography. The sentence included a fine of approximately USD 10.000 and seven years imprisonment [Gulf News].

29 April 2018

Pakistan: Amendments to anti-terrorism law approved

(ot) On Wednesday, the National Assembly voted to approve amendments to the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), allowing the government to act against people or organizations in accordance with the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions. Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal said the amendments would reaffirm that Pakistan is serious about taking action against terrorism. [Pakistan Today] 

29 April 2018

Pakistan: Thousands rally for the rights of Pashtun

(ot) On Sunday, over 8,000 people took the streets in Lahore to protest for basic rights of ethnic Pashtun citizens. The rally was led by Manzoor Pashteen, the leader of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), calling for an end to enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and other human rights abuses committed by Pakistan’s military in its war against the Taliban. The movement has expanded across the country in recent weeks, despite a government ban. The PTM also accused the military for restricting media coverage of the movement. [Al Jazeera]

Many activists and protesters were arrested by the police, according to a statement issued by the Institute of Peace and Secular Studies (IPSS). Meanwhile, in Karachi, nine people from the Progressive Youth Alliance reportedly went missing after demonstrating in support of the ethnic rights movement on Sunday. The IPSS called for the release of those exercising their rights to peaceful assembly. [Pakistan Today] [Reuters]

29 April 2018

Pakistani Foreign Minister disqualified from Parliament

(jk) After ousted PM Sharif was banned for life from holding public office recently, Pakistan’s Islamabad High Court now disqualified staunch Sharif ally and foreign minister Asif from parliament. Charges against him regard the concealment of foreign assets and an employment contract in the United Arab Emirates in violation of Pakistan’s election laws.

Asif is a high-profile politician of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party (PML-N) and was tipped as a potential successor. Asif will appeal against the verdict that critics say is based on bias and a targeted effort by the country’s judiciary against the PML-N. Should the verdict be upheld, he will not be able to run in the upcoming elections later this year. [Voice of America] [The New York Times]

29 April 2018

Pakistan and India to hold joint military drills

(jk) Authorities in Pakistan have confirmed that they will hold joint military drills together with India and other regional countries, including China, for the first time under the roof of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Russia coming August. Both South Asian nations joined the SCO as their full members in June last year. The military drills will reportedly focus on preventing terror attacks and dismantling terror networks.

While the two countries have participated together in United Nations peacekeeping missions in the past, this will be the first time the two militaries will participate in joint counter-terrorism drills. [Geo TV].

Geo TV

 

22 April 2018

Pakistan: TV channel back to air after Sharif’s political career has ended

(ls/ot) On Tuesday, Pakistan’s largest and most popular TV station, Geo TV, was allowed back on the air at some major cable operators following negotiations with the military who demanded changes to the station’s political coverage. The channel was taken off air at the end of March and reportedly pressured by the military to cease favorable coverage of ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and to stop any criticism of the Supreme Court and negative portrayal of the military. Geo News has been one of the few broadcast stations extensively covering former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s defiant rallies around the country criticizing the military. [Reuters] As reported in AiR, Pakistan’s Supreme Court last week effectively ended Sharif’s political career, voting unanimously to ban him for life from holding any public office. [Reuters]

Reuters

 

 

22 April 2018

Pakistan: Human rights under pressure from encounter killings and human trafficking

(ls/ot) The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) slammed the nation’s deteriorating human rights record in a report released on Monday, highlighting extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances across the country. “A study shows more Pakistanis died in incidents described as ‘encounters’ than in gun violence or in suicide attacks,” the HRCP said, pointing to research showing that, in 2017, 495 people died in what law enforcement called shoot-outs. The issue of encounter killings has made headlines for months in Pakistan following the death in January of a young social media star and ethnic Pashtun. [South China Morning Post]

On another human rights-related issue, Pakistan’s National Assembly passed a law designed to tackle human trafficking to European and other countries. Under the law, passed on April 12, the traffickers and those who help them will face a jail term of up to 14 years and a fine of up to two million rupees ($17,000). Earlier, it had been reported that the United States could cut civilian aid worth tens of millions of dollars this year to Pakistan if the country failed to do enough to combat human trafficking. [Arab News]

22 April 2018

Pakistan: Pakistan cuts dependence on US weapons, turns to China

(ot) Pakistan has shifted its reliance from the United States to China for high-tech weapons, according to a report by the Financial Times. The move reflects a change in policy which will have repercussions on the geo-political situation in the region. The shift started as the US Congress blocked the sale of eight F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan during the last few months of the Obama administration. The country turned to China to co-develop and jointly manufacture the JF-17 fighter jet, compatible with the US-made F-16, with complete transfer of technology. Since 2010, US weapons exports to Pakistan have plummeted from 1 billion USD to 21 million USD last year. During the same period, exports from China have also fallen, but more slowly, from 233 million USD – 747 million USD to 514 million USD, making it the biggest weapons exporter to Pakistan. The Trump administration also suspended 2 billion USD in military aid. [The Express Tribune]

Pakistan has been procuring weapons from China since the US placed an arm embargo on the country during the 1965 war with India. In 1990s, China also helped Pakistan in developing nuclear weapons and provided missiles, capable of carrying nuclear warheads. China-Pakistan relations have also strengthened following the launch of multi-billion USD project China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). [Daily Pakistan]

15 April 2018

Pakistan Supreme Court: Those not ‘honest’ and ‘truthful’ banned from Parliament for life

(hg) In a verdict that sealed the fate of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif´s electoral ambitions, the Supreme Court (SC) ruled that lawmakers disqualified under Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution will be unable to contest elections for the rest of their life.

The judges unanimously ruled that the Constitution states that those not ‘honest’ and ‘truthful’ as per law are banned from Parliament for life.

The opinion of one of the judges, Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed, covers over 60 pages.

The judgment hits disqualified high-level lawmakers as Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader Jahangir Tareen and, in particular, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Tareen had been disqualified for failing to declare an offshore company and a foreign property in his election nomination papers, while then Prime Minister Nawaz was disqualified by the Supreme Court for concealing the receivable income from his son’s company in UAE. [Geo TV]

15 April 2018

India accuses Pakistani diplomat in Colombo of plotting terror attacks against US, Israeli and Indian targets

 (hg) Referring to crucial inputs provided by US intelligence, India’s National Investigating Agency (NIA) has accused a Pakistani diplomat, who was posted in Sri Lanka as a visa counsellor in the Pakistani High Commission in Colombo, of plotting to attack the US and Israeli consulates as well as installations of the Indian Army and Navy in southern India. The NIA is preparing a request to Interpol, seeking red corner notice against the diplomat, who was repatriated to Islamabad soon after his cover was blown. Notably, this is the first time that India has put a Pakistani diplomat’s name on the wanted list or sought a red corner notice against one. [Colombo Page]

8 April 2018

Pakistan: Political party added to US terror list

(ot) On Tuesday, the USA placed the Milli Musline League (MML), a small Pakistani political party, on its list of foreign terrorist groups. The U.S. State Department called the MML an alias for militant organization Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which is also on the United States terrorist list and blamed by the United States and India for being behind a deadly attack on Mumbai in 2008.

In response, MML president Saifullah Khalid called the U.S. decision a human rights violation and an intervention in Pakistan’s internal affairs. He has vowed to continue his political parties and participate in the upcoming elections. [Reuters]

Reuters

 

8 April 2018

Nepalese PM Oli in Delhi amid soured relations

(hg) Nepal’s Prime Minister KP Oli, together with a high-level delegation, went to India for a three-day state visit on his first visit abroad after assuming office for a second time after fighting an ultra-nationalist election campaign much focusing on Indian interference in Nepali politics. During Oli’s first term, India-Nepal ties had reached their lowest point when Delhi pressured for the interests of Indian-origin Madhesis in the context of crafting the current Nepali constitution, allegedly supporting a blockade to put pressure on Kathmandu which, however, created widespread suffering in Nepal and caused bitter anti-Indian sentiments. Nepal has joined China´s Belt and Road Initiative in the meanwhile and is expected to formalize a number of projects under the scheme in the coming months. [Daily O] [The Kathmandu Post 1] [The Hindu] See for an exclusive interview with PM Oli on his India trip, bilateral relations and Nepali foreign policy [The Hindu].

For the legacy of the blockade of the Indian-Nepali border see [Nepali Times].

When Nepal promulgated its constitution in 2015 to mark lasting peace after years of civil war, India exerted pressure on Nepali leaders, who are mostly from the northern hills, to accommodate the demands of the plains, especially regarding the said Indian-origin Madhesis and to reverse the decision for a secular constitution. To comply with the Indian pressure from PM Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and declare Nepal as a Hindu state or to refrain from declaring it as secular was regarded by the leftist Nepali counterparts as an automatic invitation to the monarchy to return as the king is considered in Hindu political theology a reincarnation of a god. When dissenting minority groups started to block cargo trucks from India, Delhi used its border forces and customs to further block goods traffic in a time when Nepal still suffered tremendously from the consequences of a disastrous earthquake that had ravaged the poor country only month before. When PM Oli approached China for critical fuel supplies, Beijing promptly reacted, neutralizing the effects of the blockade which began then to be slowly lifted after five months in February 2016 as Nepal agreed to a few minor changes in the constitution. The very next month PM Oli visited China to engage in a dense partnership whose heart piece was a transit agreement allowing Nepal access to Chinese sea ports. But the anti-Indian resentment goes way beyond the episode as well reflected by Nepali editor quoted by the SCMP: “India wants to micromanage Nepal. They have to control all government appointments, they have to know everything. Their ambassadors behave like viceroys. Aren’t we a sovereign nation?” [South China Morning Post]

Significantly, even the Nepali, traditionally pro-Indian opposition, expects PM Oli to be treated respectfully during his visit. [The Hindu]

Now, China accounts for nearly 60 per cent of foreign direct investment (FDI) with India being a distant second with US$36.63 million, followed by the US and Japan. [South China Morning Post]

According to recent news a Chinese company will finance a Nepal’s private sector-led Hydropower Project and comprehensively coordinate all design, procurement, construction and finance after another Chinese company has signed an agreement with Nepal’s People’s Energy Limited to develop another Hydropower Project. [Steel Guru]

Another Chinese financed energy project, a – currently only planned – dam project, the $2.5-billion Budhi Gandaki plant in central-western Nepal, has become a major issue in the Delhi – Kathmandu – Beijing relations with PM Modi expected to refuse to buy the energy produced if it would be realized. The project had been initiated by former Nepal Prime Minister and Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, or ‘Prachanda’, but soon cancelled by his successor in office from the pro-Indian Nepali Congress, Sher Bahadur Deuba. [The Kathmandu Post 2]

The current Indian – Nepali talks are held after Pakistan has surprisingly advanced to reach out to both the Maldives and Nepal after Pakistan´s Prime Minister Abbasi has just headed to Kathmandu for a two – day visit only three weeks after Oli has taking over as Prime Minister. Abbasi was the first high profile foreign visit to Nepal´s new leader reportedly discussing also the Chinese Belt and Roads Initiative which Pakistan prominently joins. [Asian Tribune]

8 April 2018

Maldives shifting away from India – now towards Pakistan

(hg) The Maldives, traditionally part of the Indian backyard, are shifting away from what India would like to see as its sphere of great power influence, coming closer not only to China but now also to India´s arch enemy Pakistan. For a long time, India was the island state´s big brother, sometimes helpful, sometimes dominating. Thirty-year ruling autocrat Gayoom, now one of the leaders of the joint opposition, has received crucial military support as a pro-Indian leader for instance  when he was threatened by an attempted coup d’état led by Maldivian separatists and assisted by PLOTE, a Tamil secessionist group from Sri Lanka. When the Gayoom dictatorship came to an end with the 2008 elections, first democratically elected President Nasheed, representing the other wing of the Maldivian opposition, continued good relationships with India until he had to resign in 2012, while Chinese investment started already to flow in. Current President Yameen, a half-brother of Gayoom, turned then decisively to China since 2014. Since then, Yameen has helped China to continuously beef up its presence economically but also by allowing the Chinese navy to dock in the archipelago. The Indian – Chinese rivalry has strongly influenced the present domestic power struggle with former President Nasheed having called for a military intervention by India to protect his country to be sold out to China. [International Policy Digest] China has warned, however, that it would resist any Indian military intervention which has been ruled out by Delhi, while the Indian relationships to the Yameen government even worsen. At a time when bilateral relations “are clearly in a free fall”, the Maldivian government has asked Delhi now to take back one of two naval helicopters it had gifted to the Indian Ocean archipelago saying that Male wanted a Dornier maritime surveillance aircraft instead of the “Dhruv” Advanced Light Helicopter it has received. Male is said to be also considering asking India to remove the other Indian chopper too which operates in an atoll where China is said to be considering building a port. [The Times of India] Moreover, has declined an invitation by India to send a ministerial-level delegation to the Defence Expo, a biennial exhibition of weapons and military hardware, to be held in Chennai next week, after having declined India’s invitation to participate in the eight-day major naval exercise “Milan” from March 6-13 too. [Global Village Space] Now, the surprising visit of the Pakistani army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa is another step in the Maldives´ shift away from India. The most worrisome outcome for India are reported discussion about joint patrol by Maldivian and Pakistani naval forces in the vast exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the island state, which is regarded as a ‘redline’ for India. So far, India has been the only country with whom the Maldives have conducted such joint patrols of its EEZ. Not too long ago, India and the Maldives have still been defense partners – even when China became already economically increasingly important already – leading to the conclusion of a significant MoU on defense cooperation in 2016. The latter formalized a process of setting up a coastal surveillance radar system for “real-time surveillance of the EEZ of Maldives”. Back then, India has supported the surveillance of the EEZ of the Maldives, Mauritius and the Seychelles unrivaled. [The Wire] A Pakistani – Maldivian joint patrol of the Maldivian EEZ would mark a major setback, seen as an intervention in the Indian backyard and a dangerous encircling of the sub-continent. Another potential issue of Pakistani – Maldivian cooperation will be counter-terrorism with a team from the Maldives´ National Counter Terrorism Centre said to soon travel to Pakistan to further cooperation. In fact, Maldivian nationals received scholarships for religious study in Pakistan which seems to have contributed not only to their radicalization in general but also to the high number of Maldivians joining the Islamic State. [First Post]

1 April 2018

Pakistan: media freedom under pressure

(hg) Two articles highlight the dire situation of media freedom and Pakistan countering an assessment of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) from April 2017 according to which “the Pakistani media are regarded as among the freest in Asia but are targeted by extremist groups, Islamist organizations, and state intelligence agencies, all of which are on RSF’s list of Predators of Press Freedom”. In fact, the strategic use of violence and the widespread culture of self-censorship seem to ensure that important events simply remain in a complete silence of non-reporting that is only disturbed by social media activity. [The Diplomat] [Vox]

1 April 2018

Indian Grand Strategy

(hg) Interesting especially in the context of the above described Sino-Indian economic convergence are some recent assessments of the state and potentials of Indian grand strategy.

A Stratfor piece recapitulates the conditions, potentials and direction of India’s grand strategy from a more general perspective [Stratfor], while Ravi Kant reflects on the possibility of an Indian Marshall Plan to thwart China’s expanding sphere of influence [Asia Times]. To strengthen democracy and trade in the region such an Indian Marshall Plan “must include aggressive foreign and economic policies to promote regional integration through the trade and digital connectivity” with India supposed to take “a leadership role in Asia to prove that it is an emergent power with the ambition of a superpower”. [Asia Times]

An arguably more realistic assessment is skeptical even about and Indian great power status as a country would “lack serious extra regional power projection capabilities, does not decisively dominate its own region, and is not a system shaping power in either economic or military balance terms” [Modern Diplomacy].

Arguably, India finds itself in a strategic environment shaped by an unravelling Chinese encirclement and succeeding threats to its backyard – dominance while it positions itself in the ranks of those countries decisively aiming to equally encircle and contain the Chinese sphere of influence.

Despite recent efforts in achieving increasing self-reliance in developing critical missile technologies [India Today] [Financial Express 1] [Financial Express 2], India remains largely outgunned by China [The Economist].

Noteworthy, besides a recent Chinese sale of an advanced missile-tracking system to Pakistan that may enhance latter’s ability to develop multiple, independently targetable re-entry vehicle technology for its medium- to long-range missile systems [Jane’s 360], some observers see Russian-Indian relations fading with a Russian, China, Pakistan collusion. [Daily O]

Other observers highlighted that India is already so deeply entrenched in an anti-China alliance that it was not even make a major difference for this positioning if the Indian side would come to see the US as a less reliable partner under Trump then wished for initially. According to this view, the momentum of the American-Australian-Japanese-Indian Quadrilateral Security Dialogue would sustain even in its trilateral form in the case that the American-Indian partnership would face same backlashes. [Business Insider]

The American-Indian security partnership should in fact be seen as entrenched and settled as it is. The US offered India its most advanced defense equipment, training and intelligence cooperation, effectively choose it before Pakistan lauding India’s stance on ‘terrorism’, invest in India’s defense industries, engage in nuclear reactor sales, support India for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, and give India a prominent role in Afghanistan. Moreover, the U.S. has also designated India as a ‘major defense partner’ a unique category created specifically for India to expedite defense technology transfer while the Pentagon has also created ‘India Rapid Reaction Cell’ streamline projects for co-development and co-production of hi-tech military equipment in India, being the only country to have such a specific cell inside the Pentagon. [Modern Diplomacy]

Being that were marriage of convenience, this partnership´s benefit for India is sufficiently tangible under the given circumstances to be acknowledged in its own sustaining weight for the country´s grand strategy.

Despite everything happening on the economic front, the US are indeed treating their new major security ally with great care visible again in context of the US’ expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats for the alleged Russian Salisbury attack, when the US assured that they were not intending at sending any message to a country like India having an equally strong relationship with both Moscow and Washington. [The Economic Times]

25 March 2018

Pakistan: The Supreme Court’s verdict against Nawaz Sharif revisited – and an examination of current Pakistani politics

(ls) In the Daily Times, Sheraz Zaka defends the recent verdict by Pakistan’s Supreme Court that disqualified former prime minister Nawaz Sharif from heading a political party. The apex court barred him on the basis that any person who suffered from lack of qualification to be an MP is prohibited from holding the position of party head and from exercising any other power in such capacity under any law, rule, regulation, statute, instrument or document of any political party. Zaka examines the constitutional reasoning and holds that it is a landmark decision that upholds the rule of law and principles of morality. [Daily Times 1]

On the occasion of this week’s Pakistan Day (23 March), M Zafar Khan Safdar examines the current state of Pakistan politics. In particular, he points to Pakistan’s mixed experiences with constitutionalism, going back to the country’s first constitution of 1956. He holds that the deviations from constitutionalism and the four military interventions have done enormous harm to Pakistan’s soul, pointing out that the effects are seen in the weakening of the federal structure and the rise of ethnic, sectarian and parochial forces. [Daily Times 2]

25 March 2018

Pakistan: First woman to lead the opposition in the Senate – as sexual harassment in academia continues

(ls) Pakistan People’s Party’s (PPP) Sherry Rehman was appointed as leader of the opposition in the Senate on Thursday, making her the first woman to be given the position in the Upper House. In the 1990s, the late Benazir Bhutto had served as leader of the opposition in the National Assembly during the two PML-N governments. [Daily Times]

However, women in Pakistani politics and academia are still often the subject of sexual harassment. With regard to the situation at Pakistan’s universities, a group of authors researched multiple cases of sexual harassment and abuse. They hold that such incidents have long been considered routine experiences, tolerated by those in authority, and describe how most women continue to put up with harassment and misconduct, believing that the consequences of taking action are more damaging than staying silent. [Dawn]

25 March 2018

Indian-Pakistan relations: Attacks in Kashmir, tensions in diplomatic relations

(ls) In disputed Kashmir, violent attacks took place in recent days. On Wednesday, five Indian soldiers and five suspected militants were killed in a gun battle near the de facto border between India and Pakistan in the disputed region of Kashmir. India accuses Pakistan of training and arming militants and helping them infiltrate across the Line of Control that divides Kashmir. Pakistan denies those allegations. [The Straits Times 1]

On Sunday, five members of a single family were killed when a mortar bomb allegedly fired by Pakistani soldiers landed on their home in Indian-administered Kashmir. There have been intense skirmishes this year along the so-called Line of Control. Last month, more than 1,000 villagers were evacuated to safer places in the northern Uri sector amid a heavy exchange of fire. [The Straits Times 2]

Moreover, diplomatic tensions have reached new heights in recent weeks as both countries mutually accused each other of mistreating diplomatic personnel. India on Thursday issued its fourth protest this week to Pakistani authorities over incidents of harassment and intimidation of its diplomats stationed in Islamabad. Conversely, last week, Pakistan had called back its high commissioner Sohail Mahmood to Islamabad for consultations following alleged instances of harassment of its diplomats in New Delhi. [Livemint] However, he returned to New Delhi on Thursday after Indian authorities partially addressed Pakistan’s concerns. Tense relations between the two countries have also affected the issuance of visas and the traffic of pilgrims between them. [Dawn]

25 March 2018

India and China: Competition over influence in South Asia

(ls) India and China remain tight competitors over influence in South Asian countries. While India is making inroads by providing development aid, China, in turn has adopted a more capitalist approach and has made significant investments in the region. The Times of India compares Indian and Chinese development aid and investments in numbers and geographical distribution, concluding that China has started to wield considerable military power and economic leverage to reorder the region. [The Times of India]

Meanwhile, China has sold Pakistan a powerful tracking system in an unprecedented deal that could speed up the Pakistani military’s development of multi-warhead missiles. China is the first country to export such sensitive equipment to Pakistan. It has been a long-held notion that Beijing is supporting Islamabad’s missile development program, but solid evidence can seldom be found in the public domain, making the official confirmation of the deal on the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) website a rarity. [South China Morning Post 1]

However, the Indian ambassador to China, in a more reconciling tone, said that there were silver linings in Sino-Indian after a “challenging” 2017. Though the dispute over territorial limits in the Doklam region and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) remain the top sources of friction between India and Beijing, the Indian ambassador said, “if the ‘boundary question’ as India calls it could be resolved, I don’t see other difficulties between India and China.” [South China Morning Post 2]

18 March 2018

Pakistan: Election of new Senate chairman weakens government party

(hg) The unexpected election of a Senate´s new chairman weakens the governing party with national elections ahead and might indicate the leverage of military influence on anti-governmental forces within the respective constitutional bodies. The Senate´s new chairman, the first elected from the country’s restive Balochistan province, has been supported by an alliance of opposition parties, including the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), but not expected to win, as the ruling party holds a majority of seats in the Senate. Obviously, a number of senators from the ruling party has voted against their party, allegedly due to the influence of the military. [The Diplomat]

18 March 2018

Pakistan: liberalizing/rationalizing family law – Verbal divorce and bans on remarriage no legal weight

(hg) The Supreme Court remarked during a hearing that marriages could not be considered dissolved without completion of legal procedures, qualifying that a verbal divorce would exert no legal effect.

Meanwhile, the Sindh state Assembly plans to amend Sindh Hindu Marriage Act by giving rights to Hindu widows to re-marry on their own will after six months of sorrow. [Daily Times]

18 March 2018

Is India losing ground in Iran?

(hg) After India, Iran and Afghanistan have signed a trilateral agreement to jointly develop the Iranian Chabahar port in 2016 the first phase of the project having been launched for some months ago, Iran has now surprisingly invited China and Pakistan to also participate in the project. [The Times of India 1]

The move comes just after India and Iran have signed nine pacts, including the lease of Chabahar port, near the mouth of the Gulf of Oman. The project was meant to give India access to Afghanistan where India is strongly engaged but also link it better to energy-rich Central Asia as Pakistan does not allow overland access. [Nikkei Asian Review]

Although being completely at odds with the Indian strategic calculus that is driven by the Indian – Pakistani and Indian – Chinese rivalry, India has commented the move moderately, saying it would be the prerogative of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to choose its partners for the development of infrastructure facilities. [The Times of India 1]

Indian – Iranian relations are basically positive, reflecting both sides´ specific strategic opportunities but have also encountered certain backlashes and not developed in greater depth, with especially the Iranian-Indian energy ties having been relegated to second place after a stalemate over an Iranian natural gas field that India had hoped to develop without much success it began moving away from the project last year and decreasing its oil imports from Iran. [Al Monitor]

The recent Iranian openness for investments of India´s main adversaries in the project of significant symbolic and strategic value for India means thus something.

On the one hand, India’s positive relations with Iran might be one of the potential stumbling blocks for the currently deepening U.S. – Indian relations.

Moreover, very practical, India had to pay dearly for unilateral U.S. sanctions Iranian oil exports from 2012 to 2014, which also contributed to a more diversified Indian energy policy. [Al Monitor]

It might be speculated, that recent U.S. pressure on the Iranian leadership increased the pressure to look for natural allies regarding the ongoing conflicts with Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the US.

Notably, at the same time, influential US Pacific Command Commander Admiral Harry Harris reiterates once more that India is the “biggest strategic opportunity” for the US with both democracies being natural partners on a range of political, economic, and security issues. For Indian – Israeli defense ties see below. [The Times of India 2]

On the other side, China is cementing its position as Iran’s top trade partner with the bilateral non-oil trade having grown around 18% compared with last year as to February [Financial Tribune] and is advancing also as the major infrastructure project partner. China has just recently announced its interest in building a railway link between Armenia and Iran, which would provide for the shortest transportation route from the Black Sea to the Persian Gulf and establish a major commodities transit corridor between Europe and the Persian Gulf. [Arka] Last week it also signed a US$700 million deal with Tehran to build a train line connecting the Iranian port of Bushehr, Iran’s second biggest port after Bandar Abbas, to the rest of the country’s railway network, linking especially the Gulf port and the southern city of Shiraz to complete the “North-South Railway Corridor” in line with Iran’s goal of becoming a transport hub for goods between the Gulf, the Indian subcontinent, Russia and Central Asia. [The Straits Times] Moreover, Iran Air has now signed an agreement with an unnamed Chinese company over the funding of its badly needed plane purchase campaign from Airbus and Boeing. [Press TV] Against this background, Iranian First Vice-President Es’hagh Jahangiri has just ordered the Iranian foreign ministry to draft the plan for expanding bilateral trade and economy ties between Iran and China. [Mehr News]

If China, Iran and Turkey are really forming a new axis as former White House chief strategist and ousted executive chairman at the alt-right Breitbart News Steve Bannon claimed some weeks ago or not [Ahval News], China does offer an increasingly important partnership to Iran which, under the current conditions, might appear more promising to Tehran than those with India, if tough decisions are about to make.

18 March 2018

Nepal’s orientation away from India

(hg) With the newly elected President Bhandari from the left alliance, the country is in firm leftist hands. Soon it will elect also a vice-president and last Sunday, Nepal’s recently elected Prime Minister K P Oli has gained a remarkable vote of confidence with a two-thirds majority in Parliament (208 votes out of 268). [Asia Times]

Against this background, the old hegemon India is rapidly losing ground in Nepal, which is increasingly opening up to China. Unclear is only how much space India will lose, China will gain and what the impact is these developments on the regional order will have.

A breaking point for the special relations between India and Nepal was the 2015-16 blockade of the Indian-Nepali border after Nepal had promulgated a new constitution to the Indian displeasure. The new Socialist government of Prime Minister Oli in Kathmandu would only gain from serving the ensuing bitterness and the recent visit of Pakistan’s Prime Minister – the first foreign head of government to visit Nepal after Oli assumed office – only adds to Nepal’s increasing openness to China. Indian attempts to better relations to Nepal were too insignificant and came too late as Biswas Baral points out in The Diplomat. [The Diplomat] [Asia Times]

Oli’s willingness to cooperate with both China and Pakistan poses a serious strategic challenge to Delhi while another friend, Iran, seems to also opening to India’s adversaries.

11 March 2018

Pakistan: Muslim League wins Senate elections, as trial against Nawaz continues

(ls) Pakistan’s governing party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), gained control of the Senate, parliament’s upper house, in a secret ballot on Saturday. The result may revive the political fortunes of the removed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has clashed with the judiciary since the Supreme Court ended his premiership in July by disqualifying him from office over undeclared assets. Winning control of the Senate could enable the PML-N to change the Constitution to make Sharif eligible to hold office again when the party contests a national election due later this year. [Al Jazeera]

Meanwhile, the corruption case against Nawaz Sharif is to be continued in the Accountability Court. Last September, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) filed three corruption references against Nawaz and his family and one against then-finance minister Ishaq Dar. The Supreme Court had disqualified Nawaz and given a six-month deadline to the accountability court to complete the trial against the Sharif family. That deadline is ending on March 13 but is likely to be extended. [Geo TV]

In the afore-mentioned Senate election, Krishna Kumari has become the first woman from the Pakistani Hindu community to enter the Senate. The 39-year-old Hindu Dalit woman is member of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). According to her latest interview, she said that child marriage and forced conversion are the urgent issues, which need to be addressed. [Daily Times]

11 March 2018

India outpaces Pakistan in trade with Afghanistan

(ls) According to trade statistics, Pakistan has lost almost half of its trade with Afghanistan since India actively began engaging with the Afghan market about two years ago. Pakistan’s trade with Afghanistan has decreased to $1.2 billion from $2.7 billion over the last two years. The development comes at a time when the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global money-laundering watchdog, has decided to put Pakistan on its terrorist financing watchlist, a move that could severely impact foreign capital flow into the country. [The Economic Times]

11 March 2018

Nepal: Closer ties with Pakistan, instead of India?

(ls) In a symbolic gesture, Nepal’s newly elected Prime Minister K.P. Oli received his first foreign visitor, the Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi – instead of his counterpart from long-time traditional partner India. After winning the election on a leftist ultra nationalist platform, having promised to diversify Nepal’s relations beyond India and deepen ties with others, particularly China, the move may be interpreted as a demonstration of Nepal’s increased independence in international relations. [Hindustan Times]

Meanwhile, as many believe that Nepal has finally entered an era of stability, Raunab Singh Khatri, in the Diplomat, points to a necessary transition in leadership which is soon to take place. Looking at Nepal’s recent, political development, while the election has signaled a transition from post-conflict society toward a period of stabilization, he argues that it is also an era of transition toward a new generation of political leaders from the “old watchdogs.” [The Diplomat]

4 March 2018

Pakistan’s ruling party chooses brother of ousted president as new leader

(hg) As expected, Pakistan’s ruling party – the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) – has chosen Shahbaz Sharif as its president to replace his brother and veteran leader Nawaz Sharif after his latest disqualification for office by the Supreme Court.

At the same time, defying the authority of the court, PML-N also elected Nawaz as “leader for life”. After Shahbaz’s elevation as party president the possibility looms that he will replace Sharif loyalist Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as prime minister in case that the party sweeps back to power at general elections due in summer. Shahbaz brother Nawaz Sharif had served as prime minister twice and has each time been removed from office, in 1993 by a presidential order, and in 1999, by a military coup that saw him jailed and later exiled before he returned when General Pervez Musharraf stepped down. [New York Post]

4 March 2018

Afghan president interested in improving bilateral relations with Pakistan

(hg) Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani said that Kabul is ready for talks with both the Taliban and Pakistan in an attempt to forget the difficult past between the countries. [Pakistan Today][Geo TV]

4 March 2018

A shadow over Sino-Pakistani relations?

(hg) China´s strategically highly important investment in Pakistan’s Gwadar port which this is about to start transshipment on March 7 is threatened to be hampered by security threats. To secure Beijing’s funding of S$65.8 billion in infrastructure projects, Pakistan has even raised a special 15,000-strong security force.

Balochistan where Gwadar is located is one of the less secure parts of the country with more than 2600 people have been killed by terrorists since 2003, mostly off limits to outsiders and now crowded by Chinese whose security deteriorated recently. After Beijing’s Embassy issued a warning of imminent terror attacks on Chinese targets December 2017, a Chinese manager at Cosco Shipping Lines has been gunned down just recently in an upmarket area of Karachi.

Moreover, Gwador points at one of the important weak points of the Chinese OROB plan. On the one side, heavy Chinese investment is expected to have turnout for the local population in terms of jobs, access and finally general material benefits. If this is not manifesting as other nodal points of Beijing’s mega expansion project local population gets disappointed. If it lives also anyway in a difficult relation with its own government and on the tight security conditions, the investment climate can easily deteriorate with all well-known consequences. On the other side, although the heavy Chinese investments might be levered on the basis of the long-term calculation, there has to be some return as well, economic and symbolic. If the local population feels to get nothing, if Chinese citizens are threatened and returns on investments fail to materialize, both governmental partners are inclined to face difficult relationships. Currently, the situation is still not being close to that level. Yet, the possibility looms and is further increasing the costs of investment on both sides. [The Straits Times]

A related, likewise sensitive issue for Pakistan is Islamabad´s international perception of not doing enough against domestic terrorism and the Chinese role in this discourse.

As reported earlier in AiR, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global money-laundering watchdog, will place Pakistan on its terrorist financing watchlist — the so-called grey list — after China withdrew its initial support for Pakistan to not be listed.

This unexpected change on the Chinese side might be explained by what Beijing might perceive as Islamabad’s inaction against terror groups operating also against Chinese targets, especially in Baluchistan. [The Diplomat]

This move contributes to the currently slightly improving vibes in Sino-Indian relations whereas a sustaining impact on the latter might be doubted.

Noteworthy in this context, the U.S. military has expressed to see “very positive indicators” from Pakistan showing it is becoming more responsive to U.S. concerns about militant safehavens expecting Islamabad to go on to make a “strategic shift”. [US News]

4 March 2018

Pakistan launches naval exercise as it aims to counter India, protect economy

(hg) Pakistan’s Navy kicked off a major exercise which is part of a greater effort to modernize and expand the country´s naval power to counter growing Indian naval assertiveness and aims at validating the Navy’s war-fighting concepts under evolving multifaceted threats and with regard  of an enhancing cooperation with the Air Force at extended ranges into the Arabian Sea. [Defense News]

4 March 2018

Nepal: In between Indo–Sino competition

(hg) A recent South China Morning Post article highlights once more the intensifying Nepali–Chinese relations to the disadvantage of India. [South China Morning Post]

Interesting news are reported from Pakistan whose Prime Minister seems to plan a two-day official visit in Nepal to congratulate Nepal´s new Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, news which have – surprisingly – explicitly not been confirmed by Nepal´s Foreign Ministry. [Pakistan Observer]

25 February 2018

Pakistan: Pakistan Supreme Court bans ex-PM Sharif as party head

(dql) The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Wednesday issued a ruling prohibiting former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from heading the country’s ruling party. The court’s decision follows the ruling last in which Sharif was “deemed unfit to hold public office” over corruption allegations and forced to step down. While supporters of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party called the judgment politically biased, analysts voiced concerns over the impact of the court’s decision of the stability of country’s political system. [Al Jazeera]

25 February 2018

Pakistan: Police nab prime accused in Musharraf suicide attack case

(dql) Lahore police on Friday announced the arrest of Salman Dar, a prime accused in a case pertaining to a suicide attack on former military dictator Pervez Musharraf in Rawalpindi. Salman Dar was part of the most wanted list on the Red Book and wanted for nine years. [Geo TV]

25 February 2018

Pakistan: Arrogance of power vs rule of law II

(jk) Following on from previous sections in AiR [AiR 1/2/12 and 2/2/18], power-competition among the branches of power in Pakistan continues with the chief justice stating that whilst parliament is supreme, the constitution stands above it and has to be recognised in the legislative progress [Dawn 1]. The remarks are a rebuttal to the PM’s comments in parliament this week, in which he severely criticised the judiciary for interference into the legislative process and making it difficult for the current administration to govern. He also complaint about justices’ alleged derogatory comments and questions about political representatives [Dawn 2], likely to be another response to the recent case of a senator who was banned from office for contempt of court as reported in [AiR 1/2/18].

25 February 2018

Pakistan – Russia ties deepen amid feared IS surge in Afghanistan

(jk) Against the background of ongoing tensions in US-Pakistan relations, about which AiR has reported previously, the foreign ministers of Russia and Pakistan have announced more economic cooperation on energy matters, as well as military cooperation, including the set-up of a new joint military commission and continuation of joint military drills [TASS]. Russia has pledged to further its counterterrorism support for Pakistan amid worries about neighbouring Afghanistan where they see a surge of IS fighters, allegedly, according to Pakistan’s foreign minister, already outnumbering the commonly quoted number of Taliban in the country [Dawn].

Whilst Pakistan-Russia ties are deepening – a 33 percent year-on-year increase in trade according to a Russian diplomat for example, or the opening of a new consulate in Peshawar [The News International], European powers such as Britain, France and Germany have supported a US-led initiative to add Pakistan to a “grey list” of countries suspected of financing terrorism. Pakistan has been given three months to reprieve allegations. [Reuters]

18 February 2018

Pakistan: The arrogance of power versus the rule of law

Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) despite his disqualification in the Panama Papers case. Regarding the possibility of another judicial intervention he remarked: “In fact, I feel the Lordships are still well within their rights to declare the continued position as party chief as null and void because, according to a pretty reasonable interpretation of the rule of law, the said legislation can be deemed contemptuous of court,” while reportedly eating some fresh grapes. “I think we should take such things very seriously,” he is quoted to have said and continued. “I mean, sure, it can be done technically, but what about the optics of the situation? What message are we sending to the outside world?” [Pakistan Today]

18 February 2018

Pakistan: Amendments to anti-terror law

(hg) Inability to avert international sanctions, Pakistan has amended its anti-terror law to include a number of militant outfits and related charity organizations in line with the upcoming Financial Action Task Force (FATF) meeting in Paris to comply FATF requirements and the UNSC sanctions list. The FATF maintains grey and black lists for identifying countries with weak measures to combat money laundering and terror financing. While FATF has no powers as a watchdog body to impose sanctions, its listing can affect international transactions from the country concerned as those would then become subject to greater scrutiny. [Money Control]

18 February 2018

Pakistan: Amendments increase freedom of transgender

(hg) With the constant of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights passed a string of proposed amendments to ‘The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2017 which particularly allow transgender people to be recognized in their gender choice without requiring consent from a medical board. [Pink News]

18 February 2018

Pakistan: Increasing protection against false blasphemy charges?

(hg) Pakistan has experienced a serious of awful lynch killings based on alleged blasphemy of the victims. Recent cases include a student being lynched by fellow students, five logos having been kidnapped and tortured to be released a week later, a question Having burned life with their legs broken prior so that they couldn’t escape the lynch mob.

Responding to these atrocities the controversial IHC judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui to order an amendment in the law that would discourage the misuse of the blasphemy law, a daring step already in the country in which any discussion on the blasphemy law itself what amounts to at least political suicide. [Pakistan Today]

Now, the Interior Ministry submitted the draft amendment to the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (Peca) 2016 to the Islamabad High Court (IHC) which seek to equate punishments for a false accusation of blasphemy to the punishment for actually committing blasphemy. Is blasphemy threatened with the death penalty as maximum punishment, the maximum punishment for false accusations of blasphemy is six months imprisonment at current. [Dawn]

It remains yet to be seen, how the lawmakers will respond.

18 February 2018

Pakistan: Further escalation in relation to India

(jl) On 10 February 2018, heavily armed militants stormed an army base in Jammu in Indian-administered Kashmir at the border to Pakistan. Seven people were killed including six soldiers. According to Indian intelligence, this attack was controlled by Pakistani handlers [The Straits Times].

In this light, the latest comment of Pakistani General Qamar Javed Bajwa appears odd stating “Pakistan has eliminated all terrorist sanctuaries from its soil, however, residual signatures of terrorists who take advantage of presence of 2.7 million Afghan refugees and absence of effective border security coordination, are also being traced and targeted through ongoing operation Radd ul Fasaad” [ISPR].

In reaction to the attack, India threatens Pakistan, it had to “pay for this misadventure”. At the same time, the U.S. and its allies push for putting Pakistan on a terrorist-financing watchlist [Dawn].

However, it is argued that it is India standing behind this motion, since it focuses on Hafiz Saeed, an Islamist located in Pakistan and being accused by India to have planed the 2008 Mumbai attack [The Japan Times].

The current development bears the risk of further escalation between India and Pakistan [The Economic Times]. With this regards, former J&K Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah reminds of the situation of the Kashmiris being fed up with the violence and wit being mistreated as anti-national and pro-Pakistani: “We can’t stop talking; we have to find a way forward. We might be able to find a solution” he said [India Today].

18 February 2018

Pakistan assists Saudi Arabia militarily

(hg) Pakistan will send troops to Saudi Arabia in what to say to a training and consultancy mission which has to be seen in the broader context. After Pakistan has finally not joined the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen, Pakistan’s retired army chief, General Raheel Sharif, commands the new Saudi-led Islamic military alliance to fight terrorism. Back then, when Saudi Arabia started its operation against Yemen, it had asked Pakistan to provide ships, aircraft and troops for the campaign to stem the influence of Shi’ite Iran in the region but Pakistan’s parliament voted to remain neutral, sharing, after all, a border with Iran and having a sizeable Shi’ite minority it’s. [Arabian Business]

18 February 2018

In remembrance of a human rights icon: Asma Jilani Jahangir

(hg) Internationally revered social activist, democracy advocate and human right defender Asma Jilani Jahangir from Pakistan has died at the age of 66 due to a cardiac arrest.

Praised as “a ray of hope for the people who could not afford to fight a legal battle for their own rights” [Aadil Rehman/Kashmir Reader], she tirelessly provided the downtrodden with free legal aid, supported political prisoners, fought for democracy. Asma Jahangir was instrumental to set up the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in 1986 which presently has voice and reach. Having served the HRCP as Secretary-General and Chairperson, Asma Jahangir was also first woman to serve as the President of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan, the United Nations Special rapporteur on Freedom of Religion, investigating violence against Muslims in India and the UN’s Special rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran.

She will be remembered as a fearless lady who never compromised with her principles or discharged her duties, struggling with utmost honesty and faithfulness for the betterment of the people. [Kashmir Reader]

11 February 2018

Pakistan: Death penalty in murder case of student accused of blasphemy

(jk) Blasphemy in Pakistan is a highly sensitive issue and whilst the penal code allows for the death penalty in these cases, no one in Pakistan has ever been killed under blasphemy laws. The mere allegation of blasphemy however, has more than once let to lynch mobs taking matters into their own hands and hunting down the accused. Needless to say, the possibility to abuse the high sensitivities for personal gains and getting the better of personal rivals is high.

A recent case, where a student was accused of blasphemy appeared to be just one of these cases. [The Guardian] After the accusation had been made (and to this date no evidence has been found supporting it), a lynch mob came after the 23-year-old university student and attacked him with fatal consequences. The attack, which was filmed and later circulated online, sparked outrage across the country resulting in demonstrations and calls for justice for its particularly revolting violence. A Pakistani court has sentenced one member of the mob to death and a further five to life in prison. [Radio Free Europe]

11 February 2018

Pakistan: Less than one percent of the 210 million population pay direct taxes

(jk) After last week’s AiR piece on the challenges of fiscal governance in India [AiR], it is also worthwhile to look at Pakistan where less than one percent of the entire population pay direct taxes. In the past, attempts to change the system have been met by protests, demonstrations and strikes by businesses and policies to broaden the tax base have shown little success. Now, it has been announced that the country’s identity registration database will be used to create a taxpayer profile for every (registered) citizen in order to increase the tax-to-GDP ratio, which is currently only at a very low 12%. [Business Standard]

11 February 2018

Pakistan: Thousands of young Pashtuns from the FATA areas protest in Islamabad against mistreatment

(jl) People from Pakistan’s northwest “Federally Administered Tribal Areas” have experienced the killing or displacement of thousands of civilians since 9/11 when especially Al-Qaeda hid in this region. In addition, they suffered from ethnic stereotyping, mistreatment and other coercive measures by the military through the last decades. However, it was the recent killing of an Pashtun social media star in Karachi on January 3 by police forces claiming they had targeted Taliban insurgents [The New York Times 1] that led to an unprecedented but peaceful sit-in protest of thousands of young Pashtuns lask week in Islamabad demanding an improvement of the situation [The Diplomat] [The New York Times 2].

11 February 2018

Pakistan: US-Aid cut not final

(jk) After souring relations between the US and Pakistan and the cutting of almost all US financial aid to the country by President Trump in January, the relations may improve again soon. Trump’s reasoning for withholding the money was based on his belief that Pakistan is not doing enough in the fight against terrorism, and are in fact harbouring terrorists. Now, Pakistan’s interior minister has called for direct talks between the governments to end the increasing mistrust between the two countries and also reiterated his country’s importance in the fight against terrorism. [The Washington Times]

A senior US State Department official in the meantime has stated that the US has shared their South Asia strategy with Pakistan and if progress is made and Pakistan addresses some of the US concerns, the financial aid could be un-freezed. [Defense News]

At this stage, it is more likely that a modus operandi will be found rather than extending the aid cut to non-military aid, which would be a further step in the other direction the US could take.

4 February 2018

Pakistan’s Army in a strong position with the 2018 elections ahead

(hg) The New York Times offers an interesting background read on the considerable clout and influence of the Paki-stan Army and the firm position of its leader, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, who has assumed the position as Chief of Army Staff, the most senior military and powerful position in the country, in November 2016. [The New York Times]

With the next elections in only five months, the current government might nevertheless have difficulties to survive its term until then given the looming results of corruption investigations in its leadership group, the challenges by smaller parties with strong local backing and the military influence. [The Diplomat]

4 February 2018

Pakistan: Supreme Court strikes back, bans Senator five years from office for contempt of court

(hg) The Supreme Court has banned a Senator affiliated to the (still) governing ‘Pakistan Muslim League, Nawaz’, Ne-hal Hashmi, for five years from holding public office in context with a one-month prison sentence on charges of con-tempt of Court. Hashmi, a trained lawyer himself, was sentenced despite his unconditional apology which is un-precedented. While Hashmi was immediately taken into police custody at the Supreme Court to be shifted to jail, the Election Commission delisted him from the Upper House according to Art. 63 (1) (g) of the Constitution. [The Express Tribune]

The case goes back to the Panama Paper investigations of then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Hashmi’s party leader, which eventually led to Sharif’s ouster. In a videotaped speech in May 2017, Hashmi threatened the members of the Joint Investigation Team appointed by the Supreme Court.

In his speech Hashmi said: “We will make this land narrow for you and your children. You are now in service but will retire one day. We will not leave you then.” He added: “You are making the life of the prime minister difficult. The Pakistani nation will make it difficult for you to live”, without naming anyone specifically. Then he continued: “We are the workers of Nawaz Sharif […] We will make an example of those who hold us accountable,” and: “We will not spare those who have held us accountable and who are making us accountable”. [Pakistan Today]

According to the judgment: “He attacked the judiciary, the judges and those who were tasked by this court to inves-tigate some allegations of criminal conduct on the part of the respondent’s political leader, his family and others,” says the order of the court. [The News International]

Shortly after the sentence, Minister of State for Interior, Talal Chaudhry was also summoned by the Supreme Court for criticizing the judiciary, allegedly having said that it failed to deliver ‘justice’ in the mentioned ‘Panama-Gate’ case. [The Express Tribune]

Pakistan’s prominent former Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry remarked on Hashmi’s sentence that the Supreme Court had even demonstrated immense patience in his case. [Geo TV]

Article 63 (1) (g) of the Pakistan Constitution on which grounds Hashmi has been disqualified as a Senator reads:
A person shall be disqualified from being elected or chosen as, and from being, a member of the Parliament if
(g) he has been convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction for propagating any opinion, or acting in any manner, prejudicial to the ideology of Pakistan, or the sovereignty, integrity or security of Pakistan, or the integrity or inde-pendence of the judiciary of Pakistan, or which defames or brings into ridicule the judiciary or the Armed Forces of Pakistan, unless a period of five years has elapsed since his release; or

h) he has been, on conviction for any offence involving moral turpitude, sentenced to imprisonment for a term of not less than two years, unless a period of five years has elapsed since his release; or… [Pakistan Constitution]

4 February 2018

Pakistan – US relations

(lh) After President Trump announced the stop of any financial aid to Pakistan, as he considered it as a “safe heaven” for Afghan terrorists, some legislative alterations in the US National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA) will ensure the withholding of $350 million aid to Pakistan in 2018 until Islamabad uses significant measures against the Taliban and the Haqqani network. [Dawn]

Against this background, Pakistan’s defense minister Khurram Dastgir Khan announced the country’s plan to increasingly purchase arms from China, Russia and further Eastern European countries, stressing the already conceivable turn to China for military aid. [Newsweek]

Still there are nevertheless still efforts on both sides to ensure that these developments do not mean a complete renunciation of Pakistan-US relations. [Bloomberg]

Interesting in this context is a detailed account on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and their capabilities. [The National Interest] 

26 January 2018

Pakistan: Authorities closed Radio Free Europe’s Islamabad bureau

(jl) Pakistan’s authorities shut down US- funded Radio Free Europe’s Islamabad bureau after ISI, the country’s power-ful intelligence agency, accused it of broadcasting programs being “against the interest of Pakistan” and “in line with [a] hostile intelligence agency’s agenda”. [South China Morning Post]

26 January 2018

Pakistan: Registration of two-thirds of Baluchistan’s NGOs cancelled

(jl) In Baluchistan, Pakistan´s largest province, the registration of 801 out of 1204 Non-Governmental Organizations have been cancelled due to the failure to re-register as having been requested in accordance with the National Ac-tion Plan for the sake of fighting terrorism. [The Times of Islamabad]

26 January 2018

Pakistan: Three interlocked discourses on death penalty, child protection, and human rights

(hg) The Senate Standing Committee on Interior and Narcotics Control has unanimously passed a resolution to bring those to death that are abusing and killing children. A moratorium on the death penalty, which can be imposed for 27 crimes, had been introduced in 2008 but was lifted in 2015 following an attack on an Army Public School. Since then, Pakistan became one of the states with the highest number of executions [The Diplomat], frequently criticized not only for the number of cases but also their general judicial handling (See the report of the Justice Project Pakistan in collaboration with the Yale Law School from September 2016 here).

Last year, the debate on the death penalty became increasingly politicized after a former Indian navy officer and al-leged agent of India´s intelligence service, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), has been sentenced to death for terrorism and espionage in April 2017. India, in May 2017, claimed before the International Court of Justice that Paki-stan would deny India its right of consular access based on the Vienna Convention. [Geo TV]

In June 2017, The European Parliament passed a bold resolution against the execution of convicted persons in Paki-stan including the condemnation of various flaws in the handling of particular cases. [EU parliament 2017]
Responding to it, Pakistan´s Attorney-General, indicating undue influence in form of an Indian psyop, maintained that the EU should respect the laws of Pakistan on the death penalty. The EU parliament´s resolution put actually some effective pressure on the country as it refers explicitly to the ‘Generalised Scheme of Preferences’ (GSP) granted to Pakistan. [European Commission] The GSP allows vulnerable developing countries to pay fewer or no duties on ex-ports to the EU and has, in fact, increased the country´s exports to the EU significantly. In its resolution the EU Parliament reiterates that the GSP status is conditional to the effective implementation of international human rights conventions. [The Express Tribune]

Against this background, yet at the same time responding to a widespread popular sentiment in wake of a number of cases in which little girls have been kidnapped, raped and murdered, the Senate committee´s recent move became possible due to a significant policy change within the progressive, center-left Pakistan People´s Party (PPP). The PPP, the largest opposition party to the governing nationalistic center-right Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz or PML-N), was now breaking from its former anti-death penalty stance to strongly support the hanging of those convicted of child sexual abuse and murder [Dawn].

Currently, The PPP holds only one seat less (26) than Nawaz (27) in the 104-seats Senate with its more than a dozen political groups and parties. The Senate represents Pakistan´s federal units, cannot be dissolved and enjoys consider-able power, including a de facto veto concerning any law not being a money bill.

The Senate´s stance on the death penalty reflects at least two strands in the current political discourse. On the one hand, the development arguably reflects a turn of tides concerning the impact of the EU´s human rights related po-litical economy and, with it, the stakes of European influence and soft power in general. On the other hand, it reacts to an increasing public and political demand to protect the rights of children more effectively by means of criminal law. In this context, the same Senate´s Standing Committee has proposed to amend the criminal law last year to pre-vent the abduction of children to use them as beggars. According to the amendment, those who maimed children under the age of fourteen years in order to use them for begging shall be made punishable with life – time imprisonment. [National Assembly Pakistan]

26 January 2018

Pakistan-Chinese representatives vowing to jointly support peace in Afghanistan

(jl) At a meeting between Pakistani National Security Adviser Nasser Janjua and the Chinese Ambassador in Islamabad both country´s representatives have announced to support constructive efforts for peace and stability in Afghanistan. [The Nation]

26 January 2018

How good is the current deterioration of US-Pakistani tensions for China?

(hg) Ankit Panda, a senior editor at The Diplomat, provides an interesting perspective on the Chinese interest in the constantly deteriorating US-Pakistani relations claiming that it “would be a mistake to presume that China is glad to see a” full breaking apart.

First, while both the US and China provide important assistance to Pakistan they do so in different ways. A China-Pakistan Economic Corridor that gains steam would still not generate that sort of aid the US is providing. Second, sufficiently close US – Pakistan relationships pose a similar burden on US – Indian ties as comparative Indian – Russian or Indian – Iranian ties could do. For China it seems preferable that the US sustains principled relationship with both Pakistan and India investing resources without gaining India as a partner of an operationable anti-China entente. [South China Morning Post]

These observations are important as a reminder of the complexity and ambiguity of great power competition. There will always be the possibility of draw backs, paradoxical developments and tensions in bi- and multilateral rapprochements, especially where one country is absorbed by another´s sphere of influence or uncertainty exist weather two aligned distinct spheres of influence emerge instead. Yet, India and China have driven the regional power game to a point where a real US – Indian entente seems possible whereas Pakistan´s value and the burden of an ‘engagement of attrition’ will also be assessed from the US point of view.

26 January 2018

US-Pakistan: The doctor who helped to find bin Laden

(hg) The Japan Times features an interesting reflection on the doctor who helped the US to track Usama Bin Laden only to end up in a Paksitani jail.

In 2011 it was Shakil Afridi, a Pakistani medical doctor, who used a fake hepatitis vaccination program to get DNA samples from bin Laden’s family as a means of pinpointing his location. By this, he aided the U.S. Navy Seals who killed America’s enemy of the state in a move that Pakistanis perceived as a violation of their sovereignty. Accused under tribal law alleging he aided and facilitated militants Afridi is jailed since 2011. Despite President Trump had pledged to free Afridi in April 2016, telling he would get him out of prison in “two minutes. … Because we give a lot of aid to Pakistan”, Afridi has not even seen his lawyer since 2012. His story is not only one about denied due process but also the worsening US – Pakistani relations and the misperceptions accompanying them. [The Japan Times]

19 January 2018

Soaring tension between India – China/Pakistan

The cross-border rhetoric between India and Pakistan on the one side, and India and China on the other has rapidly deteriorated in the last couple of days. After Indian General Bipin Rawat has fiercely dismissed assertions that Pakistan’s tactical nuclear weapons had effectively countered India’s ability to impose a conventional invasion, the Pakistani army responded likewise. India: “We will call their bluff. If given the task, we will not say we cannot cross the border because they have nuclear weapons”. – Pakistan: “Should they wish to test our resolve, they may try and see it for themselves.” [Voice of America]

A Chinese Communist Party newspaper has meanwhile called for “harsh punishment from the Chinese army” if India would continue to make provocations along the border. [Times of India]

Such is the background music for the ongoing arms race in South Asia. Updating its border security, India has now not only launched a spy satellite designed to produce intelligence on border activities (see below) but also decided to raise 15 new battalions for its border guarding forces at the Pakistan, Chinese and Nepalese borders. [Economic Times 1]

Meanwhile, the sad normalcy of violent eruptions in the Pakistan-Indian cross-border area manifested once more in gunfights between Indian security forces and pro-Pakistan militants at two spots in Jammu and Kashmir [Economic Times 2] soon to be followed by cross-border shelling of both Indian and Pakistani forces. [McClatchdyk]

12 January 2018

Pakistan: Protests against police inaction

After a heinous crime committed against a child in the first week of 2017, protesters continue to gather in Punjab Province’s Kasur. They protest against perceived police inaction in the case after further disturbing details had been released following the child’s autopsy. Authorities have reacted harshly, with some –now arrested – officials firing live shots into the crowd, killing at least two protesters that clashed with the police [Dawn].

12 January 2018

Pakistan: A difficult year ahead

After the 2017 supreme court ruling ousting former PM Sharif based on the Panama Papers revelations, the struggle between Pakistan’s elite and the judiciary are far from over. Sharif is bad-mouthing the court, alleging ulterior motives and weak legal grounds in his ousting and is preparing another claim to power in the upcoming elections this year. In the meantime, India-Pakistan relations continue to be difficult, as are relations to the US as written about in last week’s AiR. 2018 is unlikely to be a smooth ride for Pakistan [East Asia Forum].

12 January 2018

Pakistan-US relations: Up and downs since the 1950s

As reported in the last issue of AiR, Pakistan is facing strong criticism and a cut of financial aid after US President Trump has accused Islamabad of harbouring terrorists and not doing enough to combat Islamic terrorist. While the measure seems drastic, the ups and downs of US-Pakistan relations are in fact part of a long-established pattern of the relationship since US military aid to Pakistan first started in the 1950s. Pakistan is and has been crucial for the wars in Afghanistan, but terrorism, nuclear ambitions and its fraught relation with India have always been a problem [The Hill].

5 January 2018

Pakistan: Safe-haven for or outstanding contributions against terrorists?

After US President Trump lashed out against Pakistan, essentially accusing the regime of supporting terrorists and announcing to withhold US military aid [The Straits Times], Chinese officials were quick to point out that Pakistan has achieved a lot in the fight against terrorism and contributes significantly to the global cause of counter terrorism [The Times of India]. Pakistan’s opposition leader and ambitious candidate for the next premiership has hence referred to the US President as “ignorant and ungrateful” [South China Morning Post].

5 January 2018

Pakistan: Chinese Yuan allowed for trade and investment

In a move to facilitate the trade and investment with and from China, the State Bank of Pakistan has announced that the Chinese Yuan is now an approved foreign currency denomination [The Straits Times]. In addition to the positive effects the change is expected to have on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), it is also regarded as another sign of growing Chinses influence as Pakistan looks to reduce its dependency on the US Dollar [Dawn].

29 December 2017

Pakistan: Further weakening of democracy

With political Islam rising, Prime Minister Abbasi’s unwillingness to repeal the country’s blasphemy laws, further impairs Pakistan’s already fragile democracy, argues A. Z. Mohamed is this comment [Gatestone Institute].

29 December 2017

Pakistan-China relations: CPEC long-term plan says goodbye to US dollar

Under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) initiative the Chinese currency RMB will be used for transactions, Pakistan announced this week. China and Pakistan agreed to stop using the US dollar for CPEC bilateral trade, loans, and repayments as well as profit repatriation. However, Pakistan insists its rupee will be used in Gwadar and other areas where CPEC projects are underway. China had demanded that its RMB be the currency used in Gwadar, but Pakistan rejected the demand [The News Pakistan].

22 December 2017

Pakistan’s ability to protect religious minorities questioned

Pakistan’s ability to provide security of religious minorities, especially Christians, has once again been called into question as a result of a terror attack on a church packed with worshipers on Sunday in the troubled southwestern part of the country. At least nine people were killed, and at least 35 others injured. The Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attack in Quetta, the capital of the restive Baluchistan Province, in the country’s southwest. Christians make up at least 2% of the country’s population of about 198 million [The New York Times]. While there have been several terrorist attacks on churches in recent years, including one in the northwestern city of Peshawar in September 2013 that killed 85, ISIS has most targeted Shiite Muslims in Baluchistan Province [The Washington Post]. The author of the third piece, the former Director of India’s Intelligence Bureau, assesses the broader terror threat on the subcontinent from India’s perspective: He links faith-based extremism in the Pakistan-Afghanistan belt, Pakistan army-ISI support to Islamic militants of all hues, and the China-Pakistan military alliance as the three key factors India must confront to safeguard its national security [The Guardian].

22 December 2017

Pakistan-China relations: Beijing lavishes aid on Pakistan town

In a move that has fueled suspicion in New Delhi and Washington, China is lavishing vast amounts of aid on a small Pakistani fishing town that is strategically located on the Arabian Sea. Beijing has pledged half a billion USD in grants for an airport, hospital, college, and water infrastructure for the town of Gwadar.  In return, China’s rulers hope to obtain access to – and potential military control of – some of the world’s busiest oil and gas shipping lanes [Japan Times].

15 December 2017

China-Pakistan relations: Insecurity along China’s ‘belts & roads’

While some countries are having second thoughts about their initial enthusiasm to support China’s “One Belt One Road”, China also appears to be rethinking some of its major initiatives with partner countries. This reassessment has impacted its multi-billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Beijing has taken several road, mass-transit and industrial zone projects off the table, either temporarily or permanently. Why? Political chaos, corruption, and deteriorating law and order all play a role, as well as brutal tactics by some in Pakistan to sabotage CPEC [Asia Times]. Beijing’s official news organizations increasingly highlight the security threats posed along China’s OBOR, per the editorial in the second articled, which asserts assaults against Chinese overseas organizations and personnel have seen an upward trend and specifically cites Pakistan for the murder of two Chinese there recently. Islamabad has promised a 15,000-man army division to protect projects along the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, says this report, but the editors want China to do more to provide Chinese security along its “Belts & Roads” [Global Times]. In the final article, official Chinese media report that that Pakistani terrorists plan to launch a series of attacks on Chinese agencies and personnel in Pakistan in the near future.  Last Friday, China’s embassy in Pakistan alerted Chinese agencies based there and Chinese citizens in the country to “boost security awareness, strengthen internal precautions, minimize outdoor activities and avoid going to crowded places” [China Daily].

15 December 2017

Counter-Terrorism in Asia: India, Russia, China resolve to step up cooperation

India, China, and Russia agreed this week to increase counter terrorism cooperation as well as more effectively fight the illegal drug trade, during an annual trilateral meeting of foreign ministers. While all three countries called on states to take measures to prevent terrorist activity in their territory, India also express concerns over increasing acts of terrorism by Pakistan-based terror groups, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). This year’s agreements assume significance as China has been blocking the international efforts sanction a Pakistani terrorist leader who was the mastermind of a major terror attack in India [Outlook India]. Meanwhile, Michael Kugelman informs in his research report about signs of Pakistani government progress in countering the extremism and terrorist activity in North Waziristan which has been described as “the most dangerous place on earth”. There has been a sharp decrease in terror-related civilian deaths in recent years. But there is also reason to question the degree and endurance of the success, and obtained a clearer understanding of disconnects in U.S. and Pakistani perceptions of the terror threat in the region [War on the Rocks].

8 December 2017

India-China relations: Square off for sub-region navel supremacy

Sino-Indian naval competition for the Indian Ocean continues to intensify. China is considering deployment of warships to the Pakistani port of Gwadar, a move that would be of “grave concern” for India [Nation].  Beijing intends to develop Gwadar as a key hub in its global “Belt & Road” initiative, and claims it is a commercial aspect of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Based on the PRC’s incremental expansion of its military presence in Africa and elsewhere, sustained PRC military use of Gwadar is clearly probable, but such plans have not been formally announced. Meanwhile, Beijing continues to expand its commercial engagement and infrastructure development with Pakistan, to include high-level discussions of a free trade agreement.  In related developments, the second article reports India’s confirmation this week of its “mega-project” to build six nuclear submarines [Business Standard].  India also signaled its readiness to play a bigger in the proposed quadrilateral coalition with the US, Australia, and Japan. The third article reports a major Indian naval exercise at the time a Chinese nuclear submarine will transit into the Indian Ocean early next year [Times of India].  Finally, the fourth article examines China’s maritime strategy for the Indian Ocean, and the response of India and other countries to its advances into the sub-region [CIMSEC].

8 December 2017

Plans for alliances with radical Islamic forces for the next government coalition

Former dictator General Pervez Mushar-raf’s announcement to be ready to form a coali-tion with the – officially banned – Islamist militant groups Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and its political arm Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) in the next general election in September 2018 demonstrates that radical Islamism has become politcially accept-ed in Pakistan [Asia Times].

8 December 2017

One Belt, One Road initiative: Nepal, Pakistan wary of PRC investment – and Control

In the past two weeks, Nepal and Pakistan have rejected three infrastructure projects with China worth nearly $20 billion. They join a growing list of countries re-thinking Chinese infrastructure investment as Beijing aggressively pursues its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative [Quartz]. This article and the second article detail the common problems cited for countries refusing Chinese involvement in key projects: simply put, they don’t like Chinese pressure and they now realize that the infrastructure that is built will likely end up being controlled by China [Voice of America]. Nepal reflects the common pattern for China to sign controversial projects when a pro-China government is in place, only to have a new government cancel the contract once the opposition party takes control. A Dec. 7 vote could reverse the cancellation decision, if the Nepali Communist Party takes the reins of power again.

8 December 2017

Pakistan-US relations: Mattis’ Pakistan talks: Breakthrough, progress or continued Stalemate?

Despite publicly stating he does not plan to “prod” Pakistan, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis clearly expects Islamabad to keep its promises to combat terrorism.  Mattis met Monday with Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa. The US alleges that Pakistan supports terrorists, particularly terror groups that attack NATO coalition forces in neighboring Afghanistan.  Islamabad rejects the accusation, alleging Washington is scapegoating Pakistan for its own failures in Afghanistan.  Mattis says he is trying to find “more common ground”—but patience in NATO countries is wearing thin and punitive measures against Pakistan remain an option [The News].  The second article highlights Mattis’ “softer approach” and questions whether it will be effective in mending badly frayed ties with Pakistan’s leadership [VOA].  The third article reports that despite Mattis’ efforts, the Pakistan and U.S. and NATO positions are stalemated, and it explores punitive actions Washington might take if Islamabad continues to resist its entreaties [Aljazeera]. The latest reflection of this stalemate is the order of Pakistan’s Air Force Chief to shoot down drones flying in country’s airspace, American drones included [Daily Mail].

1 December 2017

Political turmoil over Islamists’ protests

Pakistan’s law minister resigned Monday after the embattled government bowed to demands from a small Islamist group, striking a deal with the help of the military to end a weeks-long anti-blasphemy protest. The once-obscure Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah Pakistan (TLY) group paralyzed the capital since November 6 with just 2,000 demonstrators, enraging millions of commuters and the judiciary who blasted the government for hesitating to act against them. The capitulation is an unsettling sign of the influence even marginal religious groups wield in conservative Muslim Pakistan, and an embarrassment for the government before elections due in 2018. Islamabad’s High Court has demanded the government give a full accounting of the army’s role in the deal: TLY’s leader praised the Army’s collaboration with the protest group, and military leaders failed to respond to the government’s order to restore law at the protest site after police and para-military forces to do so. This incident is the latest in a series of heavy blows to the ruling party: in July, Nawaz Sharif was deposed as prime minister over graft allegations [Agence France-Presse]. Rabia Mehmood details the background of TLY, with both condemnation of Pakistan’s capitulation to it and allegations of Western backing of TLY in the mistaken belief it could be a conservative Muslim group counterforce to more extreme and sectarian militant groups. The author ties the capitulation into a larger “year of human rights abuses” in Pakistan that includes forced disappearances of activists, academics and journalists; killing of religious minorities; and violence against journalists and human rights defenders [Al Jazeera].

1 December 2017

Biggest business conglomerate: The Military

The Pakistani armed forces run over 50 commercial entities worth over $20 billion. Their enterprises span the economic horizon, from petrol pumps to huge industrial plants, banks, bakeries, schools and universities, hosiery factories, milk dairies, stud farms, cement plants, and vast tracks of prime real estate. In fact, says the author of this piece (a retired Pakistani lieutenant general), Pakistan’s military is the biggest conglomerate of all business in Pakistan. The “Culture of Entitlement” in the military has sparked nepotism and corruption among both the military and civil bureaucracies. Currently, says the author, it appears that the Pakistan military will never relinquish the primacy and unfettered powers it enjoys in its nation [Defense One].

24 November 2017

Pakistan-Saudi Arabia relations: How deep ties with Pakistan’s military helped Saudi purge

Pakistan has traditionally maintained that its bilateral relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is its “most important diplomatic relationship.” The high-level purge in Saudi Arabia last week appear to have hinged to a significant degree on the close relationship that the Kingdom shares with the Pakistani military. The two countries have long maintained a strong military relationship. Pakistani military personnel frequently serve in Saudi Arabia for training purposes, and its last army chief, General Raheel Sharif, now heads a 41-nation Islamic army coalition based out of Riyadh. While officials maintain that Pakistan is neutral between Tehran and Riyadh, in reality Islamabad is treading a fine line. “Even if the Pakistani troops aren’t physically involved in an attack on Iran – or in Yemen, Qatar or Lebanon – the fact that we are bolstering Saudi defense domestically naturally makes us an integral part of their camp,” a retired Pakistani Army officer said [Asia Times].

10 November 2017

Sharif’s review petitions dismissed by Supreme Court

Pakistan’s top court has declared that former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif tried to fool the people, parliament, and the court in the Panama Papers case as it dismissed of the review petitions filed by Sharif, his children, and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar. The petitions were dismissed September 15, but the actual written order with reasons was issued Tuesday.

10 November 2017

Constitutional politics in motion

Pakistan’s constitutional politics are in motion displaying a pattern of continuity and change both not in a very favorable direction.
After the impeachment of Prime Minister Sharif, the polity is all but calm while potentially shifting to a new balance of power in which influential political families, political newcomers, the judiciary and the armed forced will play the decisive roles in their ever-changing politics of cooperation and conflict. After the Sharif impeachment, his party is still in power but only ruling aside the military, very visible recently, when U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited the country holding talks with representatives of both parallel spheres of influence.
It has been a decade now since the military has retreated from formal politics to exert influence parallel to the formal power arrangements and the situation has not much changed insofar as military, judiciary, and politicians still seem to work on engineering a frame for political power albeit with much less optimism than in 2007. Since then no political actor gained much credibility. Provincial politics with advancing Islamic extremist groups, an expanding religious militancy and shifting parameter in terms of foreign policy form the background of the current power rearrangements, highlighted in two recent articles [Pakistan Today] [Daily Times].
The influence of the military is subject of an interesting article by Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi. It takes a comparative view to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps regarding both what he views as a comparable power position and the outlooks for an institutional formalization of the Pakistani military’s role in politics as a possible example [Pakistan Today].

10 November 2017

Islamic State

The recent battle against ISIS in Marawi has been long and difficult for the Philippines. However, it has not only been won, but also facilitated previously stalled military cooperation with other parties in and outside of the Philippines. Throughout the fighting, the Philippine Army has cooperated with former enemies such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, but also re-kindled cooperation with neighbouring states equally concerned about Islamic Extremism [The New York Times]. Notwithstanding the positive developments of late, ISIS in Southeast Asia is far from beaten and according to the Philippine National Police, has a new leader in the Philippines who is followed by the remaining fighters of the Maute Group [Rappler/Asia Times]. Meanwhile, ISIS claimed credit for the murder of a Pakistani diplomatic corps member in eastern Afghanistan Tuesday. The Khorasan chapter of Rana Nayyar Iqbal, part of the ultra-violent Middle Eastern terrorist group, claimed responsibility for the killing of Aimaq.  Iqbal, who worked in the visa section of the Pakistan Consulate General in Jalalabad [The Express Tribune].

10 November 2017

Terrorism and international relations

Last week, China blocked a bid at the United Nations by the US, France, and Britain to list the chief of Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) militant group, Maulana Masood Azharas, a global terrorist.  Azhar is accused of several significant terrorist attacks in India.  China’s move is doing “material harm” to the already stressed India-China relationship and affirms Delhi’s belief in Sino-Pakistani collusion, top American experts say. China’s timing is significant, coming on the heels of Washington’s stronger rhetoric against Pakistan’s support for terrorism and China’s blocking of India’s application to become a member of the 15- nation UN Security Council [Deccan Herald/Press Trust of India].

3 November 2017

High profile corruption trials

While Pakistan’s ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif returned home from London on November 2nd to face trial before an anti-graft court in the corruption cases spiraling from the Panama Papers scandal, an arrest warrant for Finance Minister Ishaq Dar has been issued on Monday after he failed to appear before a scheduled hearing. Dar and Sharif were indicted this month on charges of corruption this month. [The Economic Times], [Bloomberg].

3 November 2017

India’s new Afghan trade route via Iran, bypasses Pakistan

Opening a new trade route to Afghanistan that bypasses Pakistan, India has dispatched its first consignment of wheat to the war torn country via the Iranian port of Chabahar. The strategic sea route is a significant step in bolstering trade with Kabul that has been hampered because rival Pakistan does not allow India to transport goods to Afghanistan through its territory [Voice of America].

28 October 2017

Still in crisis mode

After Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s judicial ouster and attempts of his fol-lowers from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) to turn the tables by claiming a con-spiracy led by the Army due to Sharif’s China friendly policies, Sharif, his daughter, Maryam and her husband, Safdar, have now been indicted over massive unexplained wealth amassed outside Pakistan by a criminal court. Following the indictment, a PML-N fellow and Cabinet minister suggested to replace Sharif as the party’s leader by his younger brother hinting to the likelihood of coming inner-party rifts after the PML-N dom-inated parliament had just passed a controversial new law that allowed disqualified politicians to continue leading political outfits [Gulf News]. Another sign of the growing pressure on the still governing Sharif camp might be seen in a recent speech of indicted son-in-law of the former Prime Minister, Captain Muhammad Safdar, who at-tacked the Ahmadis, a repressed Muslim sect, unusually aggressively in parliament effectively declaring them enemies of the state by saying: “These people are a threat to this country and its ideology and Constitution. Due to them, we have lost wars.” [The Hindu]

28 October 2017

Chinese foreign policy towards South Asia, Eurasia and East Asia

Being nuclear powers which account for almost half of the world population, the relations between China, India, and Pakistan build up one of the most tensest and explosive strategic configurations [China Policy Institute: Analysis 1]. Within this triangle, the strengthening of the Sino-Pakistani relations has put India under pressure to find strategies to counter China’s growing influence in South Asia [China Policy Institute: Analysis 2].  A latest example is New Delhi’s launching of a satellite program offering communication and meteorological data to its neighboring countries, such as Sri Lanka for which China had installed a satellite in 2012 and with which it has established strong economic and defense cooperation since 2015 [China Brief: The Jamestown Foundation].

The Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) with its members Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia is a core element in China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative as it not only secures China’s connection to Europe and provides economic opportunities due to the wealth of national resources in the EEU-region, but also stabilizes the relation to Russia as the first and foremost condition for the success of OBOR [East Asia Forum].

South Korea and China have signaled efforts to overcome their differences on the deployment of US anti-missile systems on South Korean soil to pave way to re-vitalize diplomatic relations. At the margins of the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting (ADMM) Plus in the Philippines, the defense ministers of both countries met and had talks for the first time since 2 years [Channel News Asia].

28 October 2017

India´s Dangerous Taiwan Gambit

Following the redefinition of its previous “Look East” policy to an “Act East” policy after the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) takes shape as a major geopolitical move that is accompanied by the impressive Chinese advancement in the Indian Ocean region India continues its daring rapprochement with Taiwan. Under Modi who has always been ‘Taiwan friendly’, the bilateral economic relations are thriving with some Indian voices recommending to send an Indian defense attaché to Taipei. The development is in line with a policy to use China’s ‘core issues’ like Taiwan, the Dalai Lama, and the South China Sea as a strategic card that gains weight in context of the emerging quadrilateral and triangular coalitions with the United States, Australia, and Japan [The Diplomat].

28 October 2017

Pakistan: Relations with US not getting better

US Secretary of State Tillerson met government and heads of security agencies in Pakistan to pressure Islamabad to take action on the support Taliban and other “terrorist organizations” receive in the country after one of the bloodiest weeks in Afghanistan with more than 200 people killed in multiple attacks on security installations and mosques across the country [Geo TV News 1] and recent US drone strikes on Pakistan territory viewed as a violation of the country’s sovereignty from the Pakistan side [The Washington Post]. Meanwhile Pakistan Interior Minister claims that 99 per cent of terrorist sanctuaries have been destroyed in the country [Geo TV News 2].

28 October 2017

Pakistan: The Gwadar port project and Chinese security concerns

Amidst reports on growing security threats for Chinese diplomats in Pakistan caused by infiltrators of the East Turkmenistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) following the killing of two Chinese teachers in June and some worries for Chinese workers [The Times of India], the Chinese financed and executed enhancement of Pakistan’s strategically located Arabian Sea port of Gwadar into one of the world’s largest transit and transshipment cargo facilities represents a highly significant geopolitical move to open an alternative trade route to the streets of Malakka. The report compares the project to the Sri Lankan-Chinese Hambantota port project [Financial Times].

20 October 2017

Navy SEALs were ready if Pakistan failed to free family held as hostages

An American woman, her Canadian husband and their three children, who were born in captivity, have been freed, nearly five years after being taken hostage by the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani Network in Afghanistan. With assistance from US intelligence, Pakistani military located the vehicle and rescued the family last week in a dramatic confrontation with its captors. The United States’ Navy SEAL Team was ready to mount a raid deep into Pakistani territory to free an American citizen and her family if the Pakistan government did not act against the Haqqani network – the terror outfit that had kidnapped the family five years ago [The New York Times].

13 October 2017

De-facto-military rule?

Recent remarks by the director general of Inter-Services Public Relations indicate that the Pakistani civilian leadership has only limited control over the country’s domestic and foreign policies, and that the army is, in fact, the actual ruler reflecting a political history with 36 of the 70 years of independence under direct military government and virtually none of the 17 prime ministers having completed a full term. Besides the general message that it is the military making the final calls in terms of both domestic and foreign policy some of the major-general´s remarks also carried an assertive claim of the military to act as a praetorian guard of an orthodox political Islam [The Wire]. A side note is the premature retirement of the former director general of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar, known for his professionalism after 35 years of military service while a regular change of command saw Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi sworn in as the new Chief of the Navy [Geo TV] [The News International].

13 October 2017

Pakistan no longer dependent on US and now one of the main destinations for China’s arms exports

Pakistan PM has said the days of Islamabad’s dependence on the US to meet its military requirements have ended [India Times]. US equipment makes up a large part of Pakistan’s military but it also buys arms from Europe, Russia and increasingly China, for which Pakistan has become a major arms export destination [Pakistan Today]. China would also welcome improved ties between India and Pakistan as this would aid its ambitions of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to the detriment of the strategic upper hand of the US in the region [Newsweek Pakistan].

 

6 October 2017

Ousted PM Nawaz Sharif returns as party leader

Nawaz Sharif has made a defiant comeback as head of Pakistan’s ruling party, more than two months after being disqualified as prime minister on charges of corruption. Mr Sharif was elected unopposed after his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz forced through a controversial new law allowing politicians disqualified from holding public office to continue as leaders of political parties. The development marks a dramatic turnaround for the three-time prime minister, after Pakistan’s supreme court ruled in July that he had not declared his full wealth when he stood in the 2013 general election and so was unfit for office (Financial Times).

6 October 2017

The growing ‘tug-of-war’ between Pakistan’s spy agencies

The conflict between the civilian Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the military’s Inter-Services In-telligence (ISI) has risen to new heights, with the former accused of overstepping constitutional bounds. Pakistan has long been beset by tensions between its civil and military authorities. But also its spy agencies compete with each other. This article summarizes past manifestations of the ongoing rivalry (Asia Times).

6 October 2017

Pakistan-Russia relations: Diversifying the partnership

Against the background of the chill in Pakistan-US relations, Islamabad needs to seize the opportunity to diversify its relation to Russia beyond strategic and defense interest and step into economic cooperation for which there is demand on the Russian side, Ume Ferwa argues.

6 October 2017

Terrorism

Across the globe new counter-terrorism legislation comes along with new terrorist threats. France’s lower house of parliament overwhelmingly approved a new counter-terrorism bill, making permanent several controversial measures in place under a nearly two-year-old state of emergency. It will allow the authorities to confine suspected militant sympathisers to their neighbourhoods, close places of worship accused of condoning terror and carry out more on-the-spot identity checks – all without the prior approval of a judge (AFP). In Bangladesh, the mass influx of refugees from Myanmar raises geopolitical risks for Asia as a whole, including terrorism and social unrest (Nikkei). And with the sudden emergence of an organization calling itself Jamaat ul Ansar al-Sharia Pakistan, it appears al-Qaeda may be on the rise again in Pakistan. Authorities there also believe that the group is comprised of highly trained and battle-hardened Pakistani returnees from the conflict in Syria, where many fought for this Islamic State (IS). Pakistan is an important stronghold for al-Qaeda: the group survived the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan by seeking refuge in tribal areas of Pakistan. With IS weakened, having lost more than 60 percent of its territories in Iraq and Syria, the al-Qaeda move to re-establish itself in Pakistan appears calculated and timely (Jamestown Foundation). In a related development Pakistan’s Interior Minister ordered close monitoring of activities of extremist elements on social media to stop the extremists from utilizing the platforms to spread propaganda. He also directed devising and implementing strategies that would lead to a national counter narrative against extremism and to fight “fake news” (The Express Tribune).

6 October 2017

Asia’s Maritime Order

The Philippines will begin important upgrades to its primary outpost in the disputed Spratly group in the South China Sea. The Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Modernization Program will finance the paving of an airstrip on the largest Philippine holding in the Spratly group, where China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan also have claims (The Diplomat). Regarding the exploration of oil and gas resources within disputed areas, China reemphasized its commitment to a lifting of a moratorium and a joint commercial development of the petroleum blocks (Manila Bulletin). At the same time, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte voiced rare praise for the United States, calling it an important security ally, and dismissing historic grievances and his slew of past tirades against Washington as “water under the bridge” (South China Morning Post). Australia, in the meanwhile, needs to shift the focus of military presence from the Middle East to Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific, if it wants to succeed in coping with emerging security challenges in Asia-Pacific and protect its direct strategic interests (The Australian).

29 September 2017

Ousted PM Sharif’s return to politics deepens Pakistan’s constitutional crisis

Former Pakistan Muslim League-leader and for-mer PM Nawaz Sharif, who resigned from his political party’s leadership after the Supreme Court found him guilty in a corruption case, is expected to return to his previous role in the party due to a successful amendment of the Political Parties Order Sharif can become chief again. Given his highly tensioned relations to both the top judges as well as the military a rise to power again will be all but smooth.

29 September 2017

Pakistan-Russia-China military cooperation

A two-week long joint counterterrorism exercise between the special forces of Pakistan and Russia began as another sign of the growing military cooperation between the two countries in recent years with Russia having delivered 4 Mi-35 gunship helicopters to Pakistan in August and Islamabad having shown interest in purchasing the S-400 Russian missile defense system. Meanwhile the air forces of China and Pakistan have held joint training exercises in northwest China for the sixth time after their launch in 2011 (first link), and the joint Sino-Russian Baltic Sea Drill has been conducted as part of the countries’ “constantly expanding” maritime cooperation exercises. Russia and China have conducted these exercises regularly since 2012, with important practical and symbolic benefits countering Western efforts at isolation with Beijing displaying its new global military potential and increasing its relatively nascent operational skills at sea.

29 September 2017

India and Pakistan adjusting their international relations in Asia changing security order

As India expands its ties not only with the US and Israel but also the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), New Delhi is also seeking to strengthen its ties with Tehran made possible by the Iran nuclear deal signed in 2015. As a factor in Afghanistan, a gateway to the Central Asian markets and a neighbor to Pakistan, Iran offers opportunities India aims to exploit. A three-nation agreement between India, Iran and Afghanistan seeks to establish a land transit and trade corridor across the countries while India faces a major challenge to strike a balance between increasingly good relations with Washington and closer ties with Tehran. Iran on the other side fosters good relations with China while it also threatens to advance against Sunni terrorist basis in Pakistan from which attacks on Iranian territory are launched (Fair Observer). With Pakistan having difficult relations with its neighbours, tough tones from the White House and even the recent BRICS summit – on behalf of China –, it is looking closely at Iran’s foreign policy as a model to counter isolation, for example its closer cooperation with Russia which it may want to emulate (Geo).

29 September 2017

Is terrorism linking Asia?

Recent developments highlight once more how the Near-, the Middle- and Far East are increasingly forming a belt of highly interactive unrest. While Iran has recently declared to root out ISIS in Syria and Iraq soon in concert with Russia, Assad-Syria, and Iraq, Iranian agents still seem to recruit Pakistani Shiites to fight in Syria for the pro-Assad Zainebiyoun Brigade allegedly formed and trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Their engagement has now been responded several bombs attacks by Daesh-linked militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al-Alami in Pakistan (first link). At the same time, Pakistani Sunni militancy – having been instrumentalized by the state’s security apparatus for years – has become a breeding ground for an increasing (unwanted) ISIS presence in Pakistan. The article provides some reflections on ISIS´ presumed leader Shafiq-ur-Rahman Mengal as a prototypical example of violent radicalization of elite members and the complex links between state actors and extremists (second link). Lastly, a newly surfaced ISIS recruitment video is seen as a “game changer” in the ongoing ISIS efforts to further militarize political Islam in Southeast Asia (third link).

29 September 2017

Special report: The breakup of Pakistan 1969-1971

This special report dives into the bloody history of Pakistan in the late 1960s and early 70s and describes the background against which the Bangladesh Liberation War took place and resulted in the independence of People’s Republic of Bangladesh in 1971. It examines both domestic as well as international attitudes and provides a detailed and astute historical perspective.

29 September 2017

Pakistan, polio and the CIA

The CIA is supposedly using vaccination programmes and surveys to gather intelligence on terrorists in areas of Pakistan ahead of drone strikes. The suspicion has led militants in some areas to refuse vaccinators access, which brought back a disease in some areas of Pakistan and further afield that was once nearly eradicated. With less drone strikes being carried out, the number of polio infections dropped again.

22 September 2017

More votes for religious parties in by-elections

By-elections for a vacant seat of Lahore in the National Assembly have seen a surge in the vote-share of hard-line religious parties who came third and fourth respectively. The seat became vacant after PM Sharif was disqualified by a court after revelations linked to the Panama papers. The election was won however, by his wife with the seat remaining with Pakistan’s ruling party.

22 September 2017

India-China relations: After the Doklam stand-off and the BRICS-Summit – tensions are far from over

While the recent BRICS-Summit turned out as a major factor in resolving the Doklam stand-off, India and China will continue to find themselves at odds over numerous issues (Quartz). As an example: China will likely finish a huge hydro-power project in the disputed area of Kashmir way ahead of schedule. The project is part of the Pakistan economic corridor. China presses ahead: “The Belt and Road initiative cannot be delayed or sidetracked by the territorial disputes.” Another example of likely further tension is a strategically important China-Nepal highway (Hindustan Times) built by China. Demographics may turn the tables in the long run in India’s favour however (The Strait Times II). Last, but not least India’s Army Chief of Staff has spoken twice publicly on India’s ability to wage a two-front war against China and Pakistan. Gautam Sen, a retired Indian defence accounts officer, considers possible strategic reasons of such a statement as well as the substance of its claim. The author argues that short-term posturing may be detrimental to India’s long-term interests (Mainstream Weekly).

7 September 2017

National population census after two decades on Supreme Court order

A contentious national census has been complet-ed after the Supreme Court ordered the govern-ment to do so. Pakistan today has around 208 million people. Significant is the first separate count of transgender (around 10.000) and a par-ticular population growth rate in the provinces known as sites for militancy and terrorism.

7 September 2017

The Belt and Road to China-based globalization

China’s One Belt, One Road Initiative must not be understood only in economic terms but as nothing less than the launching of a China-based globalization with significant ramifications in the field of geo-strategy and geopolitics, especially for India in the wake of a intensifying China-Pakistan relationship, Colin Mackerras writes.

 

7 September 2017

Trump’s posturing on Pakistan is a gift to China

Calling out Pakistan as a safe-haven for terrorists and putting pressure on the government could aid Pakistan-China relations. China has long standing relations with the South Asian nation and their ties grow closer – especially since the beginning of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in 2015.

 

31 August 2017

South Asia and US

The alienation between Pakistan and the USA under Donald Trump’s administration has opened doors for the currently very good relations between India and the USA. In the light of expectations towards increased engagement India’s in Afghanistan, it remains, however, to be seen at what price US-Indian relations are to be bought on India’s side.

31 August 2017

Pakistan suspends talks and visits with US over Trump´s remarks

A wave of anti-American anger has swept Pakistan this past week, triggered both by President Trump’s threat to punish the country for harboring insurgents and by his invitation to India, Pakistan’s longtime rival, to become more involved in Afghanistan’s future. In protest Pakistan has reportedly now blocked all talks with the United States and visits to the country.

31 August 2017

China – Pakistan military commanders hold meeting in Tajikistan

General Li Zuocheng, chief of the Joint Staff Department under the Central Military Commission (CMC), met with Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa in Dushanbe and pledged to further improve bilateral ties, the Chinese Defence Ministry reports.

24 August 2017

Between the legacy of founding father Jin-nah and Islam oriented authoritarianism Zia-ul-Haq

Two articles on the legacy of Pakistan’s founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah and fading influ-ence. Does the first show how Jinnah’s ideals of a secular rule of law state had been abandoned in wake of Zia-ul-Haq’s Islam oriented military rule, the second demonstrates the lasting influence of Jinnah’s “Two Nation Theory” for the discourse on the country’s national identity seven decades of its foundation.

11 August 2017

Pakistan: Nawaz seeking to destroy judiciary, democratic system after disqualification: Im-ran

Ousted Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s plan to travel to Lahore in calcavade is perceived by political opponents as an attempt to brings politics to the streets and destroy the judiciary and democracy in Pakistan.

CBN

4 August 2017

Pakistan lawmakers pick Abbasi to replace ousted PM Sharif

Along-time ally of Pakistan’s ousted Primie Min-ister Nawaz Sharif has been elected to replace the ousted premier. Shahid Abbasi, takes Pakistan’s helm, vowing he is there to “work and get some important things done” and be a mere placeholder. But Shahbaz Sharif, Nawaz Sharif’s brother, waits in the wings for his chance to rule.

BBC

16 July 2017

The toxic path we still tread

The coup on July 5, 1977 by Gen Ziaul Haq left damaging scars and shapes Pakistan’s state and society until today. Forces four decades old still holds the country back and could create another big wave of violence.
(Dawn)

16 July 2017

Pakistan, Indonesia Consultative Forum re-views economic, security matters

During Pakistan and Indonesia’s Bilateral Con-sultative Forum, aimed at reviewing and discuss-ing the countries’ political, economic, and securi-ty relations, the countries vowed to continue bi-lateral collaboration through the Joint Working Group on Counter-Terrorism and Policy Planning Dialogue.
(Business Recorder)

7 July 2017

Pakistan’s geopolitical maneuverings

Pakistan’s challenges in south and southwestern Asia are complex, as is the role it sees itself play-ing amongst its neighbors, friend and foe. Below, blogger Shajeel Zaidi argues for Pakistan to flex its military muscle to assert “hegemony” in the region, and in the second link the Washington Post’s Pamela Constable explains what she perceives as Pakistan’s “pivot” to China.
(The Express Tribune Blog, The Washington Post)