Asia in Review Archive (2019-2020)


4 August 2020

Kashmir: First anniversary of status change sparks fears of violence

(ls) On the first anniversary of the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution on 5 August 2019, a curfew has been imposed throughout all districts for fears of separatist violence. A separate coronavirus lockdown was extended as well. Since the change of status, anger has been growing across the Muslim-majority population in Kashmir against India’s Hindu-nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, particularly over the granting of rights to tens of thousands of people from outside of the region to buy land. [Hindustan Times] [Channel News Asia]

According to local police, Indian troops have killed 118 militants between January and July this year, as many as in the whole last year. On the other hand, militants killed a politician from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in early July and a local Congress leader in June. Critical observers therefore consider that the status change has created more problems than it has solved. [The Wire 1]

On 5 August 2019, the Indian government unilaterally abrogated the state’s special status, breaking it into two federal territories, one comprising the Hindu-dominated Jammu region and the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley, known as Jammu & Kashmir, and the second being the Buddhist enclave of Ladakh. 

Pakistan administers a section of Kashmir but claims it in full. China, which has been entangled in several border standoffs with India in recent weeks, claims Ladakh. Observers expect increasing Chinese support for Pakistan in the Kashmir question. [South China Morning Post]

The full text of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill 2019 can be found here: [The Wire 2]

4 August 2020

Pakistan: American accused of blasphemy killed in court

(lf/ls) A U.S. national accused of blasphemy was shot dead in a courtroom in Peshawar, Pakistan. A member of the public walked into the courtroom and opened fire in front of the judge. The U.S. man allegedly had called himself a prophet and was arrested two years ago. He was charged under sections 153-A (promoting enmity between different groups), 295-A (acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class) and 298 (uttering words to wound religious feelings) of Pakistan’s penal code. While blasphemy can be punished with death, so far, the state has not executed anyone for the crime. However, accusations often lead to deadly attacks. [CNN] [Dawn]

The victim was born into the Ahmadi sect. According to human rights groups, minority groups are disproportionately affected by the blasphemy law. Furthermore, over a dozen people accused of blasphemy have been killed by violent mobs. [BBC]

4 August 2020

Pakistan: Deadly clashes over protests at Afghan border

(lf) Protests in Pakistan’s Balochistan province ended in deadly clashes between protesters and security forces. Thousands of people had gathered in protests of a renewed closing of the Afghan-Pakistani border due to security concerns. The clashes started when protestors stormed government offices in close proximity to the border. 

The protests were happening at the Chaman border crossing, one of the most important border crossings between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Free movement of labour across the border for trade engagement are under normal circumstances allowed. However, due to the concerns of the spread of the coronavirus, the border has been closed to most people for weeks. Balochistan is a province suffering from poverty. Many residents depend on daily wages and the traditionally porous border with Afghanistan. [Al Jazeera]

28 July 2020

Pakistan-India tension over case against Indian naval officer

(lf/lm) Last week, Asia in Review reported that Indian diplomats on July 16 had left an arranged meeting with former Indian naval officer Kulbhushan Jadhav, who currently sits on death row in Pakistan, claiming that they had not been provided “unimpeded, unhindered and unconditional” consular access to Mr. Jadhav [see AiR No. 29, July /2020, 3]. In order to fulfill the 2019 ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that ordered Islamabad to conduct an “effective review and reconsideration” of Mr. Jadhav’s conviction by “means of its own choosing”, Pakistan on Friday then offered third consular access to India. A day later, then, Islamabad unilaterally petitioned the Islamabad High Court, seeking appointment of a “legal representative” for Mr. Jadhav. [Times of India 1] [The Times of India]

Responding to Islamabad’s move, New Delhi on Thursday (July 23) accused Pakistan of being “non-serious in its approach”, adding that India was exploring available options in the matter. While New Delhi said it had appointed a Pakistani lawyer for Mr. Jadhav and approached the Islamabad High Court on July 18 to file a review petition challenging the death sentence, it still couldn’t file a petition “in the absence of power of attorney and supporting documents related to the case”. Pakistan last month had first announced that Mr. Jadhav had refused to lodge an appeal against his death sentence. In an immediate response, New Delhi had stated that Mr. Jadhav had been “obviously coerced” to forego his right to seek a “review and reconsideration” of his death sentence [see AiR No. 28, July/2020, 2] [Tribune], [Times of India]

The Pakistan government on Monday (July 27) tabled in Parliament the “International Court of Justice Review and Reconsideration Ordinance 2020”. Under the ordinance, which was enacted on May 20, a petition for the review of a military’s court decision can be made to the Islamabad High Court through an application within 60 days of its promulgation. Last week, a similar effort had been foiled by two major opposition parties – Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) – which had staged a walkout from the assembly to protest against the government for “facilitating” the conviction of Mr. Jadhav. Speaking in the National Assembly on Friday, Pakistani Law Minister Farogh Naseem had then asked the opposition parties to “avoid politics” on the issue, saying that India would take the matter to the UN Security Council if the ICJ’s decision was not implemented. [Economic Times 2] [The Hindu]

28 July 2020

Pakistan, India relations further deteriorate over Kashmir

(lf/lm) With the first anniversary of India`s decision to revoke Article 370 of its Constitution, and to bifurcate Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories with a legislature looming [AiR No. 32, August/2019, 1], tension between the India and Pakistan continue to rise. The Indian army on Monday reportedly killed at least one Pakistani soldier and injured another eight in retaliatory fire along the Line of Control (LoC) that separates Pakistani and Indian-controlled Kashmir, after Pakistan allegedly resorted to unprovoked ceasefire violation in several areas of Jammu and Kashmir. [The Hindu]

Last week, Pakistan`s military had blamed India for an escalation in firing and shelling along the de facto border, accusing New Delhi of trying to distract from the unrest in the Indian administrated area of Kashmir. According to the commander of Pakistani troops in Kashmir, India has hitherto violated the ceasefire on almost 1,800 occasions in 2020, comparing to 3,500 incidents in 2019, when violations hit a more than decade-high peak. Fending off the allegations, New Delhi in response said that Pakistan’s military has violated the ceasefire on more than 2,500 occasions this year. [Reuters]

On Sunday, the Pakistani army said it had shot down another “spying quadcopter” after it had “intruded 200 meters inside Pakistan’s territory” along the LoC. This was the 10th quadcopter shot down by Pakistan’s army this year, according to the Inter-Services Public Relations, the armed forces’ media wing. [Anadolu Agency]

On Monday, Pakistan`s Senate unanimously passed a resolution lauding the “relentless” struggle of and conferring the country`s highest civilian award to Syed Ali Geelani, a veteran Kashmiri separatist, who has been under house arrest since August last year. Geelani also stepped down from the leadership of All Parties Hurriyat Conference last month, a conglomerate of several separatist parties in Jammu and Kashmir. The resolution, jointly moved by both the government and opposition benches, commended the ailing leader’s “unwavering commitment, dedication, perseverance and leadership,” and acknowledged his role in “exposing Indian atrocities, suppressive measures and human rights violations in Indian occupied Kashmir.” [Anadolu Agency] [Times of India]

The same day, India said it had lodged a strong protest with Pakistan over reports of attempts being made to convert a historic gurdwara – a place of assembly and worship for Sikhs – into a mosque. Pakistan was also called on to look after the safety, security and well-being of its minorities, including the protection of their religious rights and cultural heritage. Located in the eastern city of Lahore, Gurdwara Shahidi Asthan is a historical shrine built at the spot where prominent Sikh martyr Bhai Taru Singh sustained fatal injuries in 1745. [Hindustan Times] [The Indian Express]

28 July 2020

Pakistan: Abduction and release of government critical journalist

(lf/lm) Pakistani journalist Matiullah Jan, who has been a vocal critic of the military`s involvement in government affairs, was released from a brief abduction on Tuesday night in Islamabad, hours after the government had confirmed the abduction. The incident occurred one day before Mr. Jan was supposed to appear in court over a contempt case in which he had criticized the top Pakistani court over a verdict concerning a top judge. The case led to a wide spread outcry on social media, with some of the posts accusing the Pakistani secret service of the abduction. [Reuters] [DW]

Jan is not the first journalist to disappear and appear in a similar fashion. Many suspect the Pakistani secret service to be behind the crackdown on independent journalism in Pakistan. [BBC]

21 July 2020

Pakistan: Supreme Court at the center of controversies, again

(ls) In a judgment over a bail application of a Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) lawmaker and his brother against their arrest by the country’s National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the Supreme Court criticized governmental authorities, saying that laws were being used as a tool to pressure political opponents into submission and fracture political parties. In particular, the judges ruled that the object of bail should neither be punitive nor preventative. In forceful language, the judgment continued: “Lust of power, desire to capture, and rule, and pursuit of self-aggrandization, have resulted in violation of the prescribed jurisdictional limits and ceding of political space in governance.” [Pakistan Today] [Samaa]

At the same time, however, a three-member bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed issued a contempt of court notice to a journalist over an alleged tweet that criticized the judges and the judiciary. Pakistan’s judiciary has a controversial history marked by incidents of validating martial laws to ousting elected prime ministers while still insisting to remain above any criticism. [The News] [Asia Times]

In addition, an individual Supreme Court judge is under pressure over allegations of undeclared assets. On Monday, Justice Qazi Faez Isa petitioned his colleagues for a review of their order back in June to require further evidence on offshore properties. The court had quashed a presidential reference against Isa but ordered the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to furnish a report about the issue. Justice Isa’s wife also petitioned against this order. [Dawn 1] [Dawn 2]

21 July 2020

Pakistan and Afghanistan blame each other over alleged rocket attacks

(lf) Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister has condemned an alleged rocket firing by the Pakistani army across the contested border. A report stated that the rockets were fired into Afghanistan’s north-eastern Kunar province killing four civilians and injuring several more. Pakistan’s police on the other hand, accused Afghan forces to have targeted a house, which has long been a safe place for local rebels and Taliban fighters.

This incident occurs as new peace negotiations between the Pakistani government and the Taliban are expected to be held later this month. They had been stalled due to the prisoner exchange which is part of the US-Taliban peace deal concluded earlier this year. [AiR No. 9, March/2020, 1]

It is not uncommon for Afghanistan and Pakistan to accuse the other of starting fire in the border region. The two countries are divided by the contested Durand line stretching over 2,400 km, often separating villages in two. In 2017, Pakistan started to fence the line. [Al Jazeera]

21 July 2020

Pakistan: Tensions in Balochistan as partnership with China and Iran grows

(ls/lf) Last week, eight soldiers were killed in an attack in Pakistan’s Balochistan province which belongs to the cultural-geographic region of Balochistan inhabited by the Baloch people and comprising parts of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran. No group has claimed the attack in the Pakistani province yet. The long-ongoing conflict has been growing tense over recent months which might partly be due to China’s increasing activities in the region, which is rich in resources, including copper, gas and gold.

Benefits from most of the investments may not make their way towards the Baloch population, however and may also have stirred up additional resentments against the federal government in Islamabad. Separatist groups have increasingly targeted Chinese construction sites. Last month’s attack on the stock exchange in Karachi by Baloch militants has shed additional light on a long insurgence struggle that involve a number of external players. [Al Jazeera] [Reuters]

At the same time, China and Iran are currently negotiating a major military and trade agreement that is likely to take place within the framework of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Iran’s closer partnership with China means that Pakistan may involve Iran in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, which is part of the BRI, and thus have a better chance to protect its security interests in Balochistan. It appears possible that Pakistan, China and Iran may form a joint military force for intelligence-sharing and to carry out targeted operations against militants that use the Pakistan-Iran border to destabilize the region. [The Diplomat]

21 July 2020

India–Pakistan relations further strained by spying case

(lf) Indian diplomats left a meeting arranged by Pakistan with the former Indian naval officer Kulbhusan Jadhav who currently sits on death row in Pakistan for espionage. They claimed that they were not provided unhindered consular access. [Reuters]

Jadhav stated last week not to file a review of his case [see AiR No. 28, July/2020,2]. He had been arrested in 2016. India took the case to the International Court of Justice, which stalled the execution and asked Pakistan to review the death penalty while at the same time allowing India full consular access. Relations between India and Pakistan had already been tense since both countries expelled diplomatic staff over corruption allegations earlier this year. [see AiR No. 26/2020, 5]

14 July 2020

Bangladesh: Pakistan, Bangladesh hold talks in possible thaw

(yo) Bangladeshi and Pakistani diplomats met to discuss bilateral relations amid frigid relationships. After briefing one another on the coronavirus pandemic and the measures taken, they agreed to further conversation on “bilateral economic and commercial cooperation.” [Anadolu Agency]


14 July 2020

Pakistan: High Court rules on construction of Hindu temple

(lf/lm) The Islamabad High Court on Tuesday ruled that legal objections against the allotment of land for the construction of a new Hindu temple and cremation site were invalid. The construction of the temple is, however, not assured, as the Ministry in charge of the project forwarded the case to the country`s Council of Islamic Ideology to request advice on the issuance of government funds for the construction of the temple. The Council is expected to rule on the government`s request in September. [APP] [Al Jazeera]

Soon after the land had been allocated to the city`s Hindu community in 2017, the City District Administration of Islamabad had put the construction on hold, responding to massive public disapproval and political uproar against the project. Pakistan, a majority Muslim country, has a small minority Hindu group of 3.5 million people which make up 1.6 % percent of the whole population. Most of them live the province Sindh. Pakistan has been struggling to protect its religious minority groups, and religious minorities have been targeted under Pakistan’s blasphemy law.

Amnesty International has called on Pakistan to protect the right of religious minorities regarding religious freedom, and called the decision a major set-back, after the opening of the Sikh temple in Kartarpur Sahib to pilgrims in 2019. [Amnesty International]

14 July 2020

Former India navy officer allegedly refuses to appeal spying death sentence in Pakistan

(lm) Former Indian naval officer Kulbhushan Jadhav, who currently is on death row in Pakistan, has refused to lodge an appeal against his conviction, and instead chose to “follow-up” on his pending “mercy” petition. [The Straits Times]

In May 2017, India had approached the International Court of Justice (ICJ) with a request for immediate stay on the death sentence a Pakistani military court had handed down against Mr Jadhav on charges of “espionage and terrorism” in April 2017. Last year in July, then, the ICJ ruled that Islamabad had breached its obligations under the Vienna Convention for Consular Relations by denying consular access to Mr Jadhav. While it did not upheld India’s petition to annul the sentence, the ICJ found that Pakistan was under an obligation to conduct an “effective review and reconsideration” of Jadhav’s conviction by “means of its own choosing”. [ICJ] [The Wire 1]

In keeping with the ICJ`s decision, Islamabad reportedly offered Mr Jadhav on May 17 2020 to file an appeal in the Islamabad High Court, and enacted an Ordinance three days thereafter. The official also stated that Pakistan had “repeatedly written to the Indian High Commission to file a petition in the Islamabad High Court and to initiate the process of review and reconsideration of the sentence and conviction of Commander Jadhav before the deadline”, and had further “offered a second consular access to India”. In August 2019, Pakistan had allowed an Indian diplomat to meet with the incarcerated Mr Jadhav for the first time in three years. The meeting, however, was recorded and held in the presence of Pakistani officials. [The Hindu]

India`s response, in a statement issued on Wednesday night, did not comment on the second consular access offer, but outrightly dismissed Pakistan’s Ordinance saying that Mr Jadhav had “clearly been coerced” into not appealing against his 2017 conviction. Describing the Ordinance as violating the ICJ judgement, New Delhi further said Islamabad would continue to “to deny India free and unimpeded access” to Mr Jadhav. [The Wire 2] [read the full statement here: Hindustan Times]

7 July 2020

Pakistan: Foreign and health ministers test positive as coronavirus cases on the rise

(ls) Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and the country’s Health Minister Zafar Mirza have both been tested positive for the coronavirus. Since the government eased lockdown measures in mid-May, the number of infections has sharply risen in the country. [Bloomberg]












7 July 2020

Pakistan: Judge in Sharif Nawaz case dismissed from High Court

(lf) The High Court in Lahore, Pakistan, has dismissed one of its judges. The dismissal raises questions about a court case against the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The now dismissed judge had been part of the accountability court. His career, however, had been threatened ever since a video of him admitting to a lack of evidence against the former PM in the Al Aziza Mill reference case appeared in 2019. In 2018, Sharif received a prison sentence for corruption. The video, which was published by the brother and daughter of Sharif, shows the former judge admitting to being coerced into giving a prison sentence even though crucial evidence was missing. The incident casts an unfavorable light on the accountability court and may reopen the case against Sharif. [The News] [Tribune]












7 July 2020

Pakistan and China extend economic relations

(lf) While India and China clash over their border disputes in the Himalayas, Pakistan and China have signed another deal over a hydropower project in Pakistan-administrated Kashmir, which will be a key part in the Sino-Pakistan economic corridor, forming part of the Belt and Road Initiative. The hydropower plant is the second major infrastructure project financed by China in the area this year. 

India has said that no major infrastructure projects should be undertaken in the disputed area and that the new deal undermines that. This aspect might lead to further escalation in an already tense situation. [Nikkei Asian Review]











30 June 2020

US report says Pakistan continues to serve as a “save haven” for regionally focused terrorists

(lm) The US State Department on Wednesday released its latest Country Report on Terrorism, saying that Pakistan is yet to take “decisive action” that would undermine the operational capability of India and Afghanistan focused terrorist groups. In its report, the State Department acknowledged the “modest steps” Pakistan had taken last year to tackle terror financing and restrain India-focused terrorist groups from conducting large-scale attacks, however, it also emphasised that the country continues to “serve as a safe haven” for other regional terrorist groups. Specifically, the report took note of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) leader Hafiz Saeed’s arrest last year but pointed out that Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) founder Masood Azhar, who was designated a global terrorist by the United Nations last year, and Sajid Mir were still at large. [The Statesman]

The reaction came on Thursday, with Pakistan in a statement rejecting the United States’ annual report, saying the paper ignored the country’s “crucial role” in degrading Al Qaeda in the region, further “calling it ‘self-contradictory’ and ‘selective’ in its characterisation of Pakistan’s efforts to counter terrorism and terror financing. [The Express Tribune]

Following the publication, Indian officials on Sunday said that New Delhi had repeatedly asked Pakistan to extradite Mir, who was indicted for serving as chief planner and controller of the 2008 Mumbai three-day attacks on hotels, a train station and a Jewish centre which left 166 people dead. [The Straits Times]

The report’s publication came on the heels of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) plenary on Wednesday deciding to hand Pakistan another extension on the “Grey List” until October 2020, given its failure to completely implement the FATF’s 27-point action plan. [The Hindu] [The Times of India]










30 June 2020

India asks Pakistan to cut embassy staff by half over spying charges

(lm) India last Tuesday summoned Pakistan’s Charge d’Affaires and asked him to halve the strength of Pakistan’s High Commission in Delhi within seven days, saying it would do the same in for the Indian mission in Islamabad. New Delhi justified the decision by accusing Indian diplomats of spying and dealing with terrorists, and further expressing concerns over the alleged torture of two Indian staffers working at India’s embassy to Pakistan who were arrested following an alleged hit-and-run in Islamabad last week. According to the Indian Foreign Ministry, the two men returned to India last Monday after they had been detained by Pakistani authorities, where they “provided graphic details of the barbaric treatment that they experienced”. [Al Jazeera] [The Tribune] [SCMP] [AiR No. 24, June/2020, 3]

The Pakistani Foreign Ministry in a statement on Tuesday brushed aside the mistreatment allegations saying its staff in New Delhi had maintained compliance with diplomatic conventions and international law. On Thursday, then, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in an interview accused India of trying to divert attention at home after Indian troops got a “battering” at the hands of Chinese forces in a clash on their disputed Himalayan border. [The Straits Times] [Reuters] [SCMP]









30 June 2020

Pakistan: Tensions in Balochistan province turn violent

(cf/lm) Four heavily armed gunmen attacked the Pakistan Stock Exchange in the city of Karachi on Monday in a bid to take hostages, killing two guards and a policeman and wounding seven others before being shot dead. According to a senior counter-terrorism official, the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) had posted a photograph and claimed the attack on Twitter. The men in the photo were later identified as member’s BLA’s so-called Majeed Brigade, named after BLA commander Abdul Majeed Baloch. Tensions in Balochistan had been heightened, when protests had erupted last week over so-called death squads, which are allegedly backed by the Pakistani military. [AiR No. 25, June/2020, 4] [Reuters]

The BLA is only one of several secessionist militant groups fighting for Balochistan’s independence from Pakistan. If the claims turn out to be true, this would be the BLA’s second time in Karachi, after the group staged a previous attack on the Chinese consulate in 2018. Other Majeed Brigade/BLA attacks have targeted Pakistani government or Chinese targets in Balochistan province before. Last year the Majeed Brigade attacked a five-star hotel in the port city of Gwadar in Balochistan. The hotel is the centrepiece of a multi-billion-dollar Chinese project and normally hosts the Chinese delegations. [The Indian Express] [bbc]








30 June 2020

Pakistan: High-profile corruption cases

(dql) An arrest warrant has been issued on Monday against former president Asif Ali Zardari for failing to appear before court in a 2008 luxury vehicles case in which he is accused of purchasing luxury vehicles from the Toshakhana (state treasure house) at only 15% of the price of the cars. [New Indian Express]

In an earlier move last week a corruption case has been filed against deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif over allegations of being involved in the unlawful allotment of land in Punjab mor than 30 years ago. [Times of India]







23 June 2020

Pakistan: Professor arrested for blasphemy

(ls) A professor of literature at Khairpur’s Shah Abdul Latif University in Pakistan has been arrested for charges of blasphemy under the Pakistan Penal Code. The professor is an outspoken critic of the government and the country’s most powerful clerics. The university is located in Sindh province which is home to Pakistan’s largest Hindu population and also a significant number of Shiite Muslims. The professor had blamed the government for the rise of violent extremism undermining Sindh’s sectarian harmony. [DW]









23 June 2020

Pakistan: Tensions in Balochistan

(lf) On Sunday, a large number of primarily women and children came together in protest in Pakistan’s province Balochistan. They protested to show solidarity with the victims of so-called death squads, which are allegedly backed by the Pakistani military. [Balochwarna]

The protest came after the leader of the Balochistan National Party, Akhtar Mengal, spoke in front of the Parliament last week and called for Balochistan to be called occupied Balochistan, saying that death squads continued to harm people in the province. The party left the governing coalition. 

Balochistan is one of Pakistan’s biggest provinces and rich in resources. However, large parts of its population are very poor. Grievances with the federal government trace back over seven decades. Balochistan has seen several insurgencies and military suppression. In the last fifteen years, thousands Balochs have gone missing. The government restricts journalists from reporting from the Balochistan. Several journalists have gone missing or turned up dead over the years after reporting on the issue. [The Diplomat]








23 June 2020

Pakistan in turmoil – How long will the military support PM Khan?

(ls) Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan is under increasing pressure for the government’s management of several crises. As for Covid-19, the government has decided to lift several measures designed to curb the people’s movement and contain the spread of the virus despite surging infection rates. Protesting doctors have been beaten and arrested by the police. Moreover, a locust plague is about to hit Pakistan in the coming weeks, and Khan has been accused of a lack of preparation. In addition, economic growth, which was about 5 percent in 2018, has now reached negative numbers, with unemployment sharply increasing. 

Observers consider more widespread civil unrest likely. In this situation, it remains to be seen whether the military, a traditionally powerful actor in Pakistani politics, will withdraw its support from Khan. [South China Morning Post]









23 June 2020

Kashmir: Suspected militants killed by Indian forces

(ls) More than a dozen suspected militants have been killed by Indian government forces in Indian-administered Kashmir over the course of the last week. So far, more than 20 have been killed in June. [The Hindu] [Anadolu Agency]









16 June 2020

India II: Two Indian embassy staffers released in Islamabad after being detained over alleged hit-and-run incident

(lm) Two Indian staffers working at India’s embassy to Pakistan have been released on Monday evening after they were detained by Pakistani authorities in relation to an alleged hit-and-run vehicle-pedestrian accident earlier that day. [CNN]

Alarm was raised Monday morning when Indian media outlets reported that two Indian diplomatic officers had gone missing in Islamabad, further suggesting that the case was related to the recent expulsion by New Delhi of two Pakistani diplomatic officials accused of spying. [Times of India] [AiR No. 23, June/2020, 2]

According to a police report the duo – later identified as a driver and a security officer – was speeding, crashed into a pedestrian, and then caught trying to flee the scene of the incident. India later summoned Pakistan’s envoy in Delhi and issued a demarche to him over the reported arrest, and the two men were released later on Monday. [The Tribune] [BBC]









16 June 2020

Pakistan: COVID-19 cases could rise to 1.2 Million by end of July

(lm) Pakistani officials on Sunday warned that nationwide confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections could double by the end of June and peak at more than a million infections just a month later. Urging the nation to strictly comply with safety guidelines, Planning Minister Asad Umar, who is leading the country’s response to the pandemic, reported on Monday that many markets and shops had been sealed because of non-compliance with safety protocols. [The Jakarta Post] [Reuters 1]

Earlier last week, in a letter sent to health authorities of Pakistan’s two most populous provinces, Punjab and Sindh, the WHO recommended an intermittent lockdown as a balance between mitigating the risk of the health system collapsing and keeping the economy going. [Reuters 2]

As cases in the South Asian country have begun to take off since most restrictions were lifted last month, Pakistani authorities should reimpose a strict, intermittent lockdown targeting localities with high coronavirus spread, as well as strengthen quarantine, testing and contact tracing, WHO Pakistan chief Palitha Mahipala added. [Al Jazeera]

In March, Pakistan’s government, led by Prime Minister Imran Khan, had moved quickly to lock down and impose travel restrictions of varying strictness in different provinces. Most measures, however, were eased in late May, ahead of the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr. Citing economic hardships threatening the country’s poverty-stricken families, Khan had justified rolling back the lockdown, and has long resisted re-imposing any lockdown restrictions. [Daily Mail]

Just days ago, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan had offered to help neighbouring India to disburse cash to the public during the coronavirus lockdown, but India later dismissed the offer. Taking on Twitter on Thursday, Khan had cited a report by the Mumbai-based Center for Monitoring Indian Economy that reported 34 per cent of households across India would struggle to make ends meet without additional assistance due to a drop in financial resources because of COVID-19 lockdown measures. [Reuters 3]










9 June 2020

New espionage charges between India and Pakistan

(lf) Two men have been arrested for espionage in the Indian province of Rajastan. They are accused of sharing classified information about the Indian army with Pakistan. [Economic Times]. This comes after last week’s expulsion of two officials working for the Pakistan high commission in New Delhi on the base of espionage. [Asia in Review No. 22, June/ 2020]











9 June 2020

India-Pakistan: Protests in Kashmir

(lf/ls) In India, protests continue in the Indian-administered part of Kashmir after Indian forces killed at least nine rebels, including three commanders. Several hundred people clashed with Indian security forces as they tried to march to the area of fighting. 

The situation in Kashmir has been very tense in recent months, as daily fights along the Line of Control between Pakistan and Indian controlled Kashmir have been reported.  India has accused Pakistan to arm and train Anti-Indian rebels, which has been denied by Pakistan. In turn, Pakistan condemned the killing of the nine Kashmiri rebels, referring to it as an act of “state terrorism”. [Aljazeera] [Dawn]

The territory has been contested since both countries gained independence from India in 1947. Since 1989, the conflict has caused the deaths of more than 70,000 people of which the majority have been civilians. Tensions have been especially high since protest arose in Kashmir after Prime Minister Modi renounced the autonomy of the region.











9 June 2020

Pakistan and IMF agree on increase of salaries of government employees

(dql) Pakistan and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have reached an agreement to increase the salaries of government employees in the upcoming 2020-21 fiscal year budget. The IMF also consented to increase the pension of retired employees and to waive raising electricity bills and gas tariff till October. The budget is to be unveiled in this week. [Eurasian Times]

The agreement came after Pakistan had rejected demands of the IMF that Pakistan freezes government employees’ salaries in the budget 2020-2021 to adhere to the fiscal consolidation path which the IMF believes to be necessary in the face of a high and unsustainable public debt that is expected to reach 90% of the total value of the national economy. [Ary News]











9 June 2020

Pakistan: Supreme Court reminds government to take proper action against Covid-19

(ls) The Supreme Court of Pakistan has confronted the government in its management of the corona virus outbreak and demanded the passing of appropriate national legislation instead of ruling by executive orders which negatively affect the rights of the people. One justice asked why the legislatures cannot function when other institutions are functioning. Two Supreme Court judges have tested positive for the corona virus. [Dawn]










2 June 2020

Pakistan: ‘Blasphemy’ death row couple’s appeal

(dql) The case of a Pakistani Christian married couple, which was convicted and sentenced to death in 2014 for blasphemy and now waits for an appeal trial against their death sentence in this week, sheds light on the problem of blasphemy allegations in Pakistan which are frequently used to target religious minorities in the country.

Their lawyer, while believing that the evidence used to convict the couple was deeply flawed, warned that judges can be “fearful” of acquitting suspects as they themselves might be targeted by extremists. And even though blasphemy convictions are often eventually reversed on appeal, the acquitted still live in fear of hard-line religious groups chasing them. [BBC]









2 June 2020

Pakistan: Prime Minister rejects a second coronavirus lockdown

(dql) Defying rapidly increasing coronavirus cases in Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced that he will not impose a second lockdown citing the suffering of the poor during the previous two-months lockdown which ended in late May and saying: “We have to save our people from coronavirus and hunger simultaneously.”

The country has hitherto a total of 72,460 of confirmed Covid-19 cases and 1,543 deaths. Over the past week almost 300 deaths and more than 11,000 new cases were recorded. [AA]








2 June 2020

India-Pakistan relations II: Kashmir tensions

(lf) Pakistan has reached out to the UN Security Council; it urges the UN to facilitate a peaceful resolve of the conflict in the Kashmir region between India and Pakistan. Pakistan especially calls to the UN to stop extrajudicial killing in the Indian occupied territories of Kashmir. [The Nation]

India has been repeatedly criticized for not upholding rights in the contested regions. The Indian controlled part of Kashmir and Jammu has been largely under lockdown since August, when a decision by Prime Minister Narendra Modhi to revoke Kashmir’s autonomy was met with protest. [Human Rights Watch]

The relations between India and Pakistan, as well as with China, which also claims part of the region have been extremely strained in recent month over the situation. [for more information on India – China and the Kashmir situation bbc] [For more information on the tensions between India and Pakistan over Kashmir Global Conflict Tracker].







2 June 2020

India-Pakistan relations I: Pakistan embassy officials expelled over espionage charges

(lf/lm) India’s foreign ministry on Sunday leveled espionage charges against Pakistan declaring two officials that worked at Pakistan’s high commission in New Delhi “persona non grata”. In a statement, the ministry said the pair had engaged in “activities incompatible with their status as members of a diplomatic mission” and was asked to leave the country “within 24 hours”.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry condemned the expulsion rejecting the charges of espionage against the staffers of its mission and further claiming that the two had been detained and tortured by Indian authorities.

The move is likely to further strain the already tense ties between the neighboring countries, who have a long-running dispute over the Muslim-majority territory of Kashmir. [Deutsche Welle] [The Guardian] [Reuters]







2 June 2020

Bangladesh: Pakistan firm plans to import Covid-19 treatment drug from Bangladesh

(yo) Bangladesh will export a generic version of the antiviral medication Remdesivir, that has shown to expedite the recovery process of Covid-19 patients to Pakistan. The drug was developed by Beximco Pharmaceuticals and was granted emergency use by US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat patients with severe coronavirus symptoms. Remdesivir was originally developed by US company Gilead Sciences, which has exclusive rights to produce the antiviral. Global trade rules, however, allow least developed countries (LDCs) indicated by the UN to ignore the patent and make the drugs so that they would be more accessible in their countries. Bangladesh is exempted from the patent while Pakistan isn’t. Beximco Pharmaceuticals expressed it will not commercially profit from the import until pandemic is over and make donations. Currently, there is no certainty Remdesivir will reduce number of Covid-19 induced deaths, but cutting the recovery time by about 4 days will help hospitals and governments deal with the pandemic more efficiently. [Dawn] [Arab News]








26 May 2020

Pakistan looks to China for more investments and credits

(ls) Like most countries in the world, Pakistan has seen a sharp drop of commercial activities since the beginning of the global coronavirus crisis. Prime Minister Imran Khan is now looking for further investment and credits from China to stimulate the economy. He has prioritized the revival of the construction sector and launched a renewed push for infrastructure projects in the hope they would revitalize associated domestic industries and incentivize new investment in the job-generating manufacturing sector. Several project proposals are currently being finalized as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which is part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). These include railway, motorway, hydropower and airport projects. Chinese President Xi Jinping was scheduled to visit Pakistan in July, but this visit has been postponed. [South China Morning Post]

The development can be seen against the backdrop of a report on energy project costs commissioned by PM Khan’s government which unveiled significant corruption problems and inflated costs in major projects, many of which belonging to the BRI. [Asia in Review, No. 20, May/2020, 3]







26 May 2020

India–Pakistan II: Cooperation to fight the locust plague?

(ls) Despite longstanding animosity and recent tensions, India and Pakistan may cooperate on fighting the current locust plague threatening the agricultural sectors of both countries. India has proposed a trilateral response in partnership with Iran. Pakistan has not yet officially responded to the plan. There is already an ongoing wider regional cooperation in place under the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Commission for Controlling the Desert Locust in Southwest Asia (SWAC), which was established in 1964 with Afghanistan, India, Iran and Pakistan as its members. [Voice of America]

In India, small swarms of desert locusts, in the past weeks, have already arrived from Pakistan, moving east into Rajasthan, and reaching Jodhpur. Locust streams could travel over a land corridor passing over Yemen, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and India. Another stream could pass over the Indian Ocean, reaching India and Bangladesh. [The Hindu]

Farmers across Pakistan are already suffering the worst plague of locusts in recent history, which has caused billions of dollars in damage and led to fears of long-term food shortages. The government declared a national emergency earlier this year. The impact could be economically devastating as agriculture accounts for 20% of Pakistan’s GDP and 65% of the population live and work in agricultural areas. [The Guardian]







26 May 2020

India–Pakistan I: Tension in Kashmir

(lf/ls) The head of the Pakistani army has warned India that any change to the disputed status of what Pakistan considers Indian-controlled Pakistan will be met with full military force. The army chief cautioned India no to endanger the fragile stability in the South Asia region [Andalou Agency]. The statement came after new anti-India riots in Kashmir [Asia in Review No. 20, May/2020, 3]. 

The status of Kashmir, which is separated into the Indian, Pakistani and Chinese Kashmir has been contested for decades. Since August 2019, Kashmir had been under lockdown after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the removal of the status as special administrative region, which was met with protests [Time, October 2019]. Kashmir experienced one of the longest lockdowns observed, and after initial opening [Time, May 2020], movement had been strongly limited due to the coronavirus. 

Meanwhile, health experts warn that communications blackouts imposed by India’s government as part of an effort to limit political turmoil and armed conflict in Kashmir are making the fight against the coronavirus more difficult. During recent blackouts, doctors and other health professionals were unable to consult with colleagues about coronavirus cases. Kashmir is among the Indian regions the worst hit by Covid-19, with confirmed cases increasing sharply. [Reuters]






26 May 2020

Pakistan: Political party critical of BRI banned for alleged terrorist links 

(ls) Pakistan’s interior ministry earlier this month banned Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz-Arisar (JSQM-A), a political party based in the southern province of Sindh, along with two militant groups in the same province for alleged terrorist links. The party was well-known for criticizing China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Since the launch of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a BRI project, the list of outlawed groups has been expanded to include ethnic and sectarian groups from the southwestern province of Balochistan and the northern region of Gilgit Baltistan that could pose threats to Chinese investment in the country. [Nikkei Asian Review]






19 May 2020

India: Riots in Kashmir after Indian Army shoots Kashmiri man 

(jk) Indian soldiers shot and killed a Kashmiri man at a checkpoint last week after he allegedly refused to stop his car. His death caused anti-India protests with “hundreds” shouting slogans urging India to retreat from the region before Indian forces entered the village and quelled the protests. [South China Morning Post]






19 May 2020

Pakistan’s “high costs” in energy projects, including many BRI projects

(jk) Earlier in April, a report on energy project costs commissioned by PM Khan’s government has unveiled significant corruption problems and “inflated” costs in major energy projects. The report issued by a appointed committee which observed projects over an 8 months period revealed malpractices in the signing and execution of contracts, including overstating set-up costs and many more violations of SOPs in bad faith and at the expense of the government. [Profit]

In a piece at [The Diplomat], a former Pakistani Ambassador to the United States focusses on those projects in the report that are part of the Belt and Road’s China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) framework. These make up “at least one third of the projects highlighted in the report” and the author suspects that malpractice and “incomprehensibly” high profiteering by Chinese companies are generated “with the complicity of leaders in the Pakistan government and the loot shared by all parties.” Although it could be argued that Pakistan’s extraordinary financial problems are mainly rooted in “[m]assive military expenditure, deep rooted corruption, and lack of accountability” (as he does) and where the money comes from is of secondary importance, he also concludes that these woes are now seemingly joined by “a new liability” – Chinese investments. 







19 May 2020

Pakistan: More Soldiers killed in attacks in Balochistan

(jk) At least seven soldiers have been killed in attacks in the Pakistani province of Balochistan this week. Six soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb when they were returning to their base from patrolling duty and one was shot in a firefight. Six more soldiers have died in a similar attack earlier this months. The earlier attack was claimed by the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA). [Al Jazeera]






19 May 2020

Pakistan’s Supreme Court rules coronavirus not a pandemic and orders lifting of restrictions 

(jk) Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled against the government-directed closings of businesses and decided that stores and shopping malls can open immediately in an effort to revive economic activity. The chief justice was quoted saying that “[p]eople will die of hunger even if they survive COVID-19 if the business activities are not resumed in the country,” after a five-member bench of the Supreme Court heard the “suo moto case” regarding the government’s coronavirus pandemic measures. [Geo] [The Straits Times]

A “suo motu”, or “on its own motion” case can be ordered by the Supreme Court without waiting for a particular case to come before it. Suo moto cases have been controversial and widely used in Pakistan, especially over the past ten years. [see e.g. DawnPakistan Today]





12 May 2020

India’s territorial and border disputes with Nepal, China and in Kashmir flaring up

(ls) Several incidents have put India’s disputes with neighboring countries and in Kashmir in the spotlight. Last week, Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated an 80 km link road through the Lipu Lekh pass, which is a territory disputed between India and Nepal but currently under control of Indian border security forces. Nepal protested against the move and announced to increase the number of security outposts and deploy more armed personnel to the border with India.

Nepal’s interests have suffered several setbacks in recent years. Back in 2015, India and China agreed to include the Lipu Lekh Pass as a bilateral trade route, without consulting with Nepal. And in 2019, India released a new political map including the disputed territories, which led to Nepal’s protest. [Kathmandu Post] [Economic Times] [The Hindu]

At the border between India and China, two small-scale violent incidents in Ladakh and Sikkim occurred between troops of the two countries. Soldiers brawled and threw stones at each other. The acts have led both India and China to send additional troop reinforcements to the area, while at the same time officials played the incidents down. The last major violent clash between the Indian and Chinese troops took place along the Pangong Lake situated between Ladakh (India) and Ngari (China) in September 2019. In 2017, there was a brawl between Chinese and Indian soldiers near Ladakh and the standoff in Bhutan’s Doklam in the same year. [South China Morning Post] [Times of India]

Turning to another hotspot, Kashmir, where Indian troops have intensified operations amid India’s nationwide lockdown. Indian troops killed four militants in gun battles, including Riyaz Naikoo, the commander of the biggest separatist group, Hizbul Mujahideen. News of the operation triggered clashes across the region in which dozens were injured. Authorities disabled mobile internet across the Kashmir region. [Reuters]





12 May 2020

Pakistani and Iranian army chiefs consult on border security

(ls) Pakistan’s and Iran’s army chiefs have discussed closer cooperation and possibilities for an exchange of expert delegations to maintain border security and prevent terrorist activities along the common borders. In particular, Pakistan seeks cooperation from Iran in dealing with Baloch militants allegedly operating from Iran’s soil. The development comes against the backdrop of an attack on a Pakistani border patrol last week, in which six troops were killed. [Dawn]




12 May 2020

Pakistan-India: Tensions over occupied parts of Jammu and Kashmir 

(hg) The Chief Executive Officer of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir – its ‘Prime Minister’ – urged Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan to militarily attack India since the Indian Meteorological Department’s regional weather center has included Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in its weather reports. In Pakistan Occupied Kashmir – that part of the disputed Jammu and Kashmir which was invaded by Pakistan in 1947 and is effectively controlled by it since then – this was seen as the latest Indian assertion that the territories are an inseparable and integral part of India. [Times Now] [Mumbai Mirror

As a retribution, Radio Pakistan has included parts of what it calls “Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir” in its own daily weather bulletin. The initial Indian move, however, followed a decision of Pakistan’s Supreme Court to allow Islamabad to hold elections in the disputed territories occupied by Pakistan last month which prompted India to lodge a “strong protest”. [Livemint



5 May 2020

Kashmir: More fighting and deaths in the India-Pakistan border region 

(jk) Once again this past weekend saw gun battles and fatalities among Indian security forces and militants in Indian-administrated Kashmir. India regularly accuses Pakistan of training and sending militants across the border to launch attacks and support a Kashmiri separatist movements. India’s army chief reiterated that Pakistan is still following an agenda of pushing terrorists into Kashmir and that India will respond appropriately and with “precision” to any acts of cross-border misadventure after this weekend’s fights. [India Today] In a recent article in a research journal of the Pakistan Army, a Pakistani General firmly lies the fault of the tensions at India’s feet and describes Kashmir as a “nuclear flashpoint”. [WION]

More than 30 militants and several Indian security forces have died alone since the start of the lockdown from late March in “near-daily cross-border firing between India and Pakistan”. [The Straits Times] April has been the deadliest month in Kashmir since August last year when article 370 was abrogated. [The Print]

In J&K itself, many of the “security measures” initially imposed after scrapping Article 370 from the constitution, such as restrictions on internet services and detention of senior mainstream political leaders continue unabated. Last week, the J&K administration extended the restriction on high-speed internet “to curb uploading, downloading and circulation of provocative videos, guard against rumour-mongering/fake news, prevent the use of encrypted messaging and VOIP services for infiltration and coordinating terror activities.” [Observer Research Foundation]


28 April 2020

Pakistan: Practicing religion during Ramadan and Covid-19

(ls) As the Pakistani government and religious leaders agreed on 18 April to keep mosques open during Ramadan, it now appears that it is difficult to enforce social distancing rules, according to which worshippers have to keep at least 1.8m apart and those aged over 50 have to pray at home. The Pakistan Medical Association has been critical of the government’s decision. The case illustrates the delicate balance between the right to exercise one’s religion and significant public health interests. Pakistan has extended its lockdown until 9 May but is allowing the resumption of industrial and commercial activities. [Straits Times]


21 April 2020

Pakistan: US$1.4 billion loan from IMF for Covid response approved 

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has approved a loan of US$1.4 billion for Pakistan to meet balance of payments needs after the outbreak of Covid-19. The IMF said this “Rapid Financial Instrument” is additional to the US$6 billion Extended Fund Facility to help Pakistan’s immediate efforts to COVID-19. [Arynews]

Further to Pakistan’s relief G-20 countries have decided to include Pakistan in a debt relief plan, repackaging due payments from May to December 2020 as new loans.


21 April 2020

Pakistan eventually joints SAARC Covid Fund

(jk) When India initiated the creation of a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Covid-19 Emergency Relief Fund, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka – all SAARC member states but Pakistan – have pledged financial support to the fund. India, for instance began with a US$ 10 million pledge. [Asia in Review No. 11, March/2020, 3] [Asia in Review No. 12, March/2020, 4]

Pakistan, initially reluctant and counterproductive, has now changed their approach by proposing an online conference of South Asia’s health ministers and pledging US$3 million to the SAARC fund. [Arynews]

14 April 2020

Kashmir: Artillery fire between Indian and Pakistani forces

(ls) Indian and Pakistani forces exchanged heavy artillery fire in Kashmir along the Line of Control that divides the Indian and Pakistani controlled parts. At least four civilians were killed, including a two-year-old boy, and several more injured. Both sides accused each other with violating the 2003 ceasefire. The weekend before, five Indian special operation forces and five rebels were killed in fights along the frontier. [ABC News] [Al Jazeera

Pakistan’s foreign ministry had summoned an Indian official to lodge a protest over the incident, also blaming India of hundreds of ceasefire violations this year alone. India accuses Pakistan of training and sending militants across the border to launch attacks and support a Kashmiri separatist movement against Indian rule. [Reuters]


7 April 2020

Pakistan: Pharma industry begins shut down due to shortage of raw materials while India lifts export restrictions 

(jk) The pharmaceutical industry in Pakistan has begun shutting down some of its production  due to a shortage of raw material, a majority of which is imported from China and India. In addition, fears over the coronavirus have led to hoarding of medicine stocks. [The Express Tribune]

Meanwhile, India has lifted restrictions on the export of some pharmaceutical ingredients and medicines, according to a  government statement, allegedly due to pressure from the US after a phone call between Modi and Trump on the weekend. [Straits Times] [CNBC TV 18]

7 April 2020

Pakistan: prioritizing China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects

(jk) Prime Minister Imran Khan ordered a relief package last week that specifically focuses on the construction industry and directed resumption of all China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) related infrastructure projects.

He stated that the coronavirus crisis will not impede CPEC and expressed “profound regards to China for medical relief assistance to help Pakistan fight against COVID-19.” [CPEC Info]


7 April 2020

Pakistan: IMF postpones approval of next part of bailout programme

(jk) The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has postponed approval of a part of the US$6-billion bailout programme. The delay regards a release of a third loan tranche of US$450 million on April 10, agreed to by Pakistan and the IMF in February, subject to the fulfilling of all conditions by the Pakistan government. [The Express Tribune]



7 April 2020

Pakistan: Court overturns death sentence of accused murderer of US journalist 

(jk) The man facing execution for the 2002 kidnapping and murder of a Wall Street Journal reporter in Pakistan, and three co-accused, were acquitted last week in a ruling by the high court of Sindh province. The man has been on death row for allegedly masterminding the kidnap and murder, however his involvement in at least the murder of the journalist has long been disputed and was the subject of ongoing legal disputes. The court found there is not enough evidence for the murder, and the sentence for the kidnapping has already been served. [The Guardian]

The ruling can still be overturned by Pakistan’s supreme court, where the government has made an appeal against the decision. [South China Morning Post]


7 April 2020

India – Pakistan: Five army commandos and 5 alleged intruders killed in LoC battle

(jk) Five Indian special forces soldiers and five alleged terrorists were killed during an encounter near the Line of Control after the army intercepted a group of heavily armed men who tried to infiltrate Indian territory of Jammu and Kashmir. [Hindustan Times] Pakistani media reports on the death of five insurgents in addition to a second gun battle 24 hours earlier in which another four people died. [Geo News]


7 April 2020

India: New domicile rules for Jammu and Kashmir

(jk) The Indian government has released new domicile rules of the new Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir which open up the eligibility criteria for becoming permanent residents there. The new rules mark a change in the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, which previously restricted the availability of local government jobs, scholarships and properties for Indian’s from other parts of the country. [The Print]


31 March 2020

Why Pakistan did not close mosques despite the coronavirus threat

(ls) Unlike other Muslim countries like Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, Pakistan has not banned congregational prayers that pose a clear threat to public health. An interesting article investigates the backgrounds of this decision, which also displays the politics around Islamic authority in Pakistan. [TRT World]

17 March 2020

Does the Corona crisis revive SAARC?

(ls) Last weekend, leaders and representatives of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) members held a video conference to discuss ways to combat the Coronavirus pandemic. Whereas seven countries were represented by their presidents or prime ministers, for Pakistan the Prime Minister’s special advisor on health took part in the session. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed an emergency fund to fight the pandemic, with an initial offer of $10 million from India. Displaying the difficulties of the SAARC format, Pakistan’s representative raised a different topic when he sought the removal of all remaining restrictions in Kashmir. [The Wire]

Conversely, other news outlets such as [Defenseworld] report that Indonesia is still negotiating a deal to buy Su-35 fighter jets from Russia and has not abandoned it under pressure from the United States. 

17 March 2020

Pakistan: Impacts of the deepening US-Indian relations

(dql) AiR reported in [AiR No. 8, February/2020, 4] about the agreement on the expansion of US-Indian security cooperation and the purchase of more than US$ 3 billion of American military equipment during President Trump’s recent visit to India.

Sher Bano at [Modern Diplomacy] informs about the impact of deepening US-Indian security relations on Pakistan and argues that Pakistan, facing an increasing asymmetry in conventional weapons against its neighbor, needs an improvement of its overall conventional capabilities in order to counter the conventional imbalance, along with superior strategy and training as well as stronger ties with China while remaining strategically relevant to the US

17 March 2020

Pakistan’s border fence to Afghanistan to be completed this year

(ls) In 2016, Pakistan began to build a 2,600 km border fence to Afghanistan, which is set to be completed this year. The border in difficult terrain has long been crossed by smugglers, militants, traders and families alike. Pashtun tribes had effectively ignored the border for generations. Moreover, Afghanistan disputes the border line drawn by British colonial officials in 1893, known as the Durand Line. Earlier this year, statistics have shown that the number of terrorist attacks in Pakistan has sharply declined over the last years. However, according to observers, corruption and bribery are likely to help people find ways to continue crossing the border. [Straits Times]


17 March 2020

Pakistan: Parliament passes law against child abuse

(ls) Pakistan’s parliament has passed a new law against child abuse, which introduces a penalty of life imprisonment for child abuse. The law also requires police to register a case within two hours of a child’s parents reporting them missing. In addition, it includes measures to speed up the process, including the establishment of a dedicated helpline and a new agency to issue alerts for a missing child. The law was enacted about two years after the rape and murder of a seven-year-old girl that shocked the country. [The Guardian]

17 March 2020

Pakistan/Bangladesh: Arrests and disappearances of journalists

(ls) Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau (NAB) arrested the editor-in-chief of a major media group that includes some of Pakistan’s biggest newspapers and the Geo television network. He is accused of obtaining illegal concessions in a purchase of land plots back in 1986. Spokespersons said that the media group has been threatened over the last one and a half years over critical reports. In recent years, mainstream media houses have criticized pressure from authorities that has resulted in widespread self-censorship. [Al Jazeera]

In Bangladesh, a journalist went missing last week. Human Rights Watch has called for his immediate location. The journalist was among those accused in a criminal case against a prominent news editor, Matiur Rahman Chowdhury, and 30 others under the Digital Security Act. [Human Rights Watch]

17 March 2020

India releases prominent Kashmir politician as fights continue

(ls) Indian authorities have released Kashmir’s most prominent politician, Farooq Abdullah. The former chief minister is one of dozens of leaders detained or put under house arrest since the federal government withdrew the region’s autonomy in August last year. [Reuters]

Meanwhile, four militants were killed in a gunfight with Indian forces in Kashmir during a counter-militancy operation. Interestingly, the number of such operations has increased after a communication blockade has been lifted from the region. According to observers, the state’s security tracking system was also hit by the blockade. [AA]

10 March 2020

China’s belt and road project in Pakistan risks becoming corridor to nowhere

(jk) Around 7 years after the initiation of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), less than a third of projects that were announced have been completed. Problems in Pakistan, including the ongoing struggles in Balochistan, or serious government corruption, are however only one among many headaches for China with regards to its Belt and Road project. The BRI, in many places, is not as successful as leaders in Beijing might have hoped. The slowing down of the PRC’s own economy will not help the situation, least of all in Pakistan – a country that has received 13 – largely US funded- IMF bail-outs since the late 1980s. [Bloomberg]

10 March 2020

Pakistan listed 11th largest importer of major arms

(jk) According to report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Pakistan was ranked the eleventh largest arms importer in the world and named China (73%), Russia (6.6%) and Italy (6.1%) as the main suppliers of arms to the country. [The News]

10 March 2020

India: New Developments in Jammu and Kashmir  

(tk/jk) Seven months after the Indian government enforced a total communications blackout, authorities in India on Wednesday temporarily restored full internet access in Kashmir for two weeks, until March 17. In January, authorities already partly restored low speed internet access to 301 government approved websites, excluding social media. [Asia in Review No. 4, January/2020

During this time, Kashmiris have been using virtual private networks (VPNs) to access blacklisted sites and started posting updates on social media. [Asia in Review No. 8, February/2020] Now, social media is accessible to Kashmiris, but internet access over mobile devices will remain restricted to low speeds. While many welcomed the government’s move, some are concerned that now it would be easier for the government to trace the IP addresses of the users which creates fear to express political thoughts about the situation on social media. [Al Jazeera

On Sunday, former lawmakers from three major pro-India parties formed a new political party “Apni Party”, which is the first major political development since last August, when India revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and jailed nearly the entire pro-India and pro-freedom leadership. The party aims for the restoration of statehood and seeks guarantees from the Indian government that land and government jobs will stay with region’s residents only. 

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), however, stated that the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status was final and advised pro-India parties to confine their politics to a demand for statehood. Several pro-India politicians have been released from detention only after signing agreements that they would not speak against the removal of autonomy. [AA]

3 March 2020

Pakistan: Internet companies threaten to leave the country over strict rules

(ls) Major internet companies, including Facebook, Google and Twitter, have threatened to leave Pakistan over the strict censorship rules due to be implemented by the government. Among other controversial content, the rules would give local authorities the power to demand social media platforms remove any content they deem questionable within 24 hours. The Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) stated, “as no other country has announced such a sweeping set of rules, Pakistan risks becoming a global outlier.” [ZDNet]

3 March 2020

Pakistani and Indian reactions to the U.S.-Afghan Taliban peace agreement

(ls/ew) As the United States and the Afghan Taliban have concluded a peace agreement last week, government representatives and observers in Pakistan and India have raised their concerns. The agreement signed on Saturday in the Qatari capital, Doha, creates a framework for the U.S. and NATO to withdraw all foreign troops from Afghanistan over 14 months, pending the meeting of certain criteria. United States secretary of state Mike Pompeo cautiously commented on the peace agreement as the first step towards a meaningful and peaceful withdrawal of U.S. troops and the end of an era of conflict [Politico].

Pakistan facilitated the direct talks between the United States and Afghan Taliban since they began in 2018. However, the country has also long been accused by the U.S. and the Afghan government of providing safe havens to leaders of the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that the U.S. must be wary of “spoilers” who could derail the process, without elaborating. Commentators said he might have referred to the continued presence of other groups such as ISIS and Al Qaida that are not interested in peace. [Al Jazeera]

India has so far been a development and civilian reconstruction partner of Afghanistan, based on the provision of security by the United States. According to analysts, a withdrawal of U.S. forces and connected substantial security uncertainties could put India in a similar precarious position it was in when the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1988/89. In prospect, however, India and China are now expected to compete for the Afghan government’s friendship so as to improve their domestic economies and to strengthen their geopolitical hold in the region (in this regard, see also the Background Reading below). [Deccan Herald]

25 February 2020

Indian authorities have filed a case against social media users in Kashmir

(tk) Indian authorities have filed a first information report against unnamed social media users in Kashmir under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and Section 66-A(b) of the Indian Information Technology (IT) Act, which can lead to detention for months without bail.

After a complete internet blackout for six months since the government had revoked Kashmir’s special status, authorities restored low speed 2G internet on January 24 for 301 websites approved by the administration, which excluded social media [Asia in Review No. 4, January/2020]. Thus, Kashmiris have been using virtual private networks (VPNs) to access blacklisted sites and started posting updates on social media.

The police case aims to take actions against those who misused social media sites for propagating “secessionist ideology and promoting unlawful activities”. According to an official, “anyone found using social media and posting any anti-national material can be called for questioning.” This action created panic amongst Kashmiris, seeing it as a step to ‘criminalize everyone’. A university student said, “I did not use the social media to post any political update, but I am really panicked and have now deleted the VPN and deactivated my social media accounts. It means the can now arrest anyone.”

The IT Act, on which the first information files are based on, was struck down by India’s top court in March 2015 as it violated free speech. Thus, an independent researcher calls the move “unconstitutional” and says that “this is a clear violation of digital rights of people. Today it is being implemented in Kashmir and tomorrow it can become a general practice in India.” [Al Jazeera]

25 February 2020

Pakistan remains on Financial Action Task Force (FATF) grey list

(jk) The FATF, an intergovernmental organization combating money laundering and terrorist financing, met last week to assess Pakistan’s efforts in combating terror financing on its soil. The organization decided to keep the country on its grey list, but refrained from blacklisting Pakistan as some efforts to fight and eradicated terrorism from its soil were recognized. 

Pakistan is on the grey list since June 2018, and is assessed in regular periods over whether or not it is improving or should be fully blacklisted. Pakistan was evaluated on 27 actions points,  of which only a few were sufficiently addressed. The next meeting set for June.[Live Mint] [Washington Post]

18 February 2020

India under mounting diplomatic pressure over Kashmir situation

(ls/tk) India is facing increased scrutiny over its handling of the situation Jammu and Kashmir, but maintains that it is a domestic affair. The Modi government rejected a mediation offer from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, saying the focus instead should be on making Pakistan vacate the territories that it has “illegally and forcibly occupied”. According to the External Affairs Ministry, “India hoped that the UN secretary general would stress on the imperative for Pakistan to put an end to cross-border terrorism against India, which threatens the most fundamental human rights – the right to life of the people of India, including in Jammu and Kashmir.” [NDTV]

Guterres expressed “deep concern” at the heightened tensions, demanding India to respect “human rights and fundamental freedoms” when dealing with discontent in the territory. He also called for the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions on Kashmir, which date back to 1948, calling for a plebiscite to be held among Kashmiri residents on whether they would join India or Pakistan. [Al Jazeera]

India also sent a diplomatic note to Turkey over President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s remarks on the Kashmir crisis. Erdoğan said the Indian government’s “unilateral steps” in the region over the years have accelerated the suffering of the Kashmiri people, aggravating the current situation and revoking their freedom and rights. [Daily Sabah]

Meanwhile, Debbie Abrahams, a Labour MP from the United Kingdom was denied entry to India. Abrahams has been an outspoken critic of the Indian government for stripping Kashmir of its semi-autonomy last August, demoting it from a state to a federal territory, saying the action betrayed the trust of the people of Kashmir. [The Guardian]

18 February 2020

Pakistan: Suicide bombing at religious rally in Quetta

(fs) At least seven people were killed in a suicide attack near a religious rally in city Quetta in the West Pakistani province of Baluchistan and another at least 21 were injured in the incident on Monday. Two police officers were among the dead. The assassin detonated his explosive vest outside the city’s press club when members of the Sunni group Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) held a rally. So far, nobody claimed responsibility for the attack. In the past, the Pakistani Taliban and the terrorist militia Islamic State (IS) have claimed attacks on mosques, religious rallies or clerics in the province. [Al Jazeera]

18 February 2020

Pakistan & India: Governments adopt strict social media regulations, provoking criticism

(fs/ls) The Pakistani Government passed a regulation concerning social media platforms. Although the cabinet had already approved the “Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020” [Copy of the Regulation] on January 28, this has only now become publicly known through a leak. Only recently, public allegations came up that the government around Prime Minister Imran Khan and the military were already censoring the media and trying to silence the opposition. [RadioFreeEuropeRadioLiberty]

As per the new regulation, social media companies will now be obliged to disclose any information or data demanded by any designated investigation agency, whenever asked. Failing to abide by this will attract fine of up to Rs 500 million (3.2 million USD). It also enables the government to ask social media platforms to remove content deemed “unlawful” within 24 hours, in emergency cases six hours. Furthermore, social media companies are required to establish offices with a physical address in Islamabad during the next three months. [Al Jazeera]

The minister of Information Technology Shoaib Ahmad Siddiqi, said that the law is necessary to preserve “the integrity, decency and respect of individuals and the sanctity of institutions” and would help to “identify and weed out unwanted and slanderous online content.” The opposition Pakistan People Party believes that this is about restricting freedom of expression. [The New York Times]

The Committee to Protect Journalists is also asking the government to change course, fearing the restricting of reporting since journalists could no longer protect sources and contacts. [Committee to Protect Journalists]

Digital rights activists worry that the new rules will give authorities unlimited power to restrict social media. Digital Rights Foundation speaker Nighat Dad gave a statement saying “the worrying part for is that the definition around extremism, religion or culture is so wide and ambiguous and that means they have these unfettered power to call any online content illegal or extremist or anti-state”. [Reuters]

The Indian government introduced new rules for social media companies and messaging apps, too. They are expected to be published later this month. The new guidelines go further than most other countries’ by requiring blanket cooperation with government inquiries, as no warrant or judicial order will be required. [Bloomberg]

Meanwhile, the Modi administration is currently seeking bids from companies to help set up a National Automated Facial Recognition System. It would match photos captured from CCTV with existing databases, with policing a key potential use for such technology. Critics equate the project with the far larger-scale surveillance system in China. [DW]

11 February 2020

Pakistan: Plea for Kashmir discussion at IOC denied 

(fs) Saudi Arabia again turned down Pakistan’s immediate request to convene a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC) Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) on the current situation in Kashmir. Prime Minister Imran Khan criticized the division between the Islamic countries and stressed the urgency to clear up the issue. He has been lobbying for an OIC foreign ministers’ meeting since India revoked the special status of Kashmir in August last year [The Hindu]

11 February 2020

Pakistan: Resolution calls for public hanging for child molesters 

(fs) On Friday, Pakistani parliament passed a non-binding resolution calling for the public hanging of convicted child killers and rapists, evoking heavy criticism from human rights organizations. 

Although more than half of the lawmakers voted in favor of the resolution, which was supported by the ruling Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf party, Pakistan’s human rights minister emphasized the government’s disapproval of the parliament’s decision. Amnesty International issued a statement saying “public hangings are acts of unconscionable cruelty and have no place in a rights-respecting society”. The NGO Justice Project Pakistan stated in addition that there is no existence of “empirical evidence to show that public hangings are a deterrent to crime or in protecting the psycho-social well-being of children”.

Human rights organizations urged the country to reinstate a moratorium on the death penalty, which was lifted after the Army Public School massacre in Peshawar in 2014 that killed 151 people. Since then, capital punishment has been executed several hundred times. [Daily Mail] [France24]

4 February 2020

Pakistan: Number of terrorist attacks drops substantially

(ls) According to data from Pakistani think tanks, terror attacks in the country have decreased by more than 85% over the last decade. The number dropped from nearly 2,000 in 2009 to fewer than 250 in 2019. However, terror financing remains a problem. Last year, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which is affiliated with the OECD, said Pakistan had implemented only one item from a list of 40 measures to curb terror financing and money laundering. Being blacklisted by the FATF could have significant economic consequences for the country. [AP]

The U.S. State Department acknowledged Pakistan’s improving security situation in its latest travel advisory for the country. Despite the advice to “reconsider” travelling to Pakistan, it now notes that “Pakistan’s security environment has improved since 2014 when Pakistani security forces undertook concerted counter terrorist and counter militant operations.” The U.K .followed with easing its travel advice too. [Newsweek Pakistan] [Express Tribune]

4 February 2020

Court acquits 42 Christians in lynching case

(fs) 42 defendants were accused of murder in connection with the lynching of two Muslims mistaken for terrorists, after the twin suicide attacks on Youhanabad churches in 2015. Before Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, a banned military group, claimed responsibility, two Muslim teenagers were captured by the mob and burned alive. After five years of custody, the anti-terror court in Lahore acquitted all suspects. The accused were given the benefit of doubt over the chaotic riot situation. For the duration of the process, the defendants received financial support from the National Justice and Peace Commission of the Pakistani Bishops’ Conference. According to Christian Organization Open Doors, Pakistan ranks as the 5th worst country for Christians regarding persecution. [Anadolu Agency] [Open Doors]

28 January 2020

Pakistan: Successful ballistic missile test launch

(fs) Pakistan announced the successful test launch of a ballistic missile, capable of delivering multiple types of warheads up to 290 km day and night. The test marked the second successful launch after one in August last year, shortly following the escalating tensions between India and Pakistan over revoking Kashmir’s autonomy. [Economic Times]

28 January 2020

Pakistan: Pashtun social movement leader arrested

(fs) In the north-western city of Peshawar, a leader of the Pakistani Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) was arrested on Monday along with nine other members on accounts of alleged sedition and criminal conspiracy. The authorities registered the criminal case based on an anti-military speech he gave earlier in January. A 14-day-detention was later confirmed by a court to investigate the charges.

Over the last two years, PTM rose as a major critic of the powerful Pakistani military, blaming it for alleged enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings under the cover of fighting Islamic terrorism. The organisation has been responsible for nationwide mostly peaceful rallies, demanding justice for victims of enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and alleged torture while in security forces’ custody. A PTM speaker claimed the authorities’ actions are the “punishment for demanding our (PTM’s) rights in a peaceful & democratic manner”. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both condemned the arrest and demanded immediate release. [BBC] [Human Rights Watch] [VOA]

28 January 2020

India: Partly restoration of internet access in Kashmir

(tk) In response to the Indian Constitutional Court’s ruling from January 10, in which it declared the long-term internet shutdown in Kashmir as illegal, low-speed mobile internet was restored on Saturday in Kashmir. Eight million people were suffering from this internet suspension nearly for six months after the Centre decided on August 5 last year to revoke Article 370 provisions that gave the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir special status. [Asia in Review No. 2, January 2020]

The restoration applied to 301 websites approved by the administration including search engines and those associated with banking, education, news, travel, utilities and employment. However, people could not access most of the websites due to the 2G data limitation. Affected people are frustrated and call the restauration “a joke”. They say, “it is just a game to tell people we have restored internet services, but on the ground, it doesn’t work and is of no use”. [The Hindu] [The New York Times]

The partial restauration of internet access was then again interrupted on Saturday evening as a precautionary measure for Republic Day on Sunday. [The Hindu] Officials said, low speed internet service was restored on Sunday evening. [Hindustan Times]

21 January 2020

Pakistan: Repression of media, opposition and NGOs intensified in 2019

(ls/fs) Human Rights Watch said in a report last week that Pakistan’s government intensified repression of the media, political opposition and nongovernmental organizations in 2019. The organization cites several cases of restrictions of freedom of expression and the press, denial of due process and fair trial rights, detention without charge and extrajudicial killings. [Human Rights Watch]

Moreover, the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) issued its Pakistan Media Freedom Report for 2019. According to the report, at least seven journalists were murdered, 15 injured in the line of duty and 60 imprisoned on the legal basis of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) of 1997. The biggest threat for the lives of journalists are non-state actors and outlawed militant groups. 

The report also depicts the involvement of Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), barring specific TV anchors from appearing on talk shows or issuing notices to TV channels to direct their medial output. Specifically mentioned is the misuse of the 2016 Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA). Although being adopted for fighting cyber-crimes and explicitly not to be used against journalists and media, the act is nowadays applied restricting the freedom of expression and media. In the World Press Freedom Index, Pakistan ranks 142 out of 180 countries.  [Daily Times] [Pakistan Observer]

Meanwhile, a Pakistani court has sentenced 86 members of a radical Islamist Tehreek-e-Labbaik party to 55-year prison terms each for taking part in violent rallies in 2018 over the acquittal of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, in a blasphemy case. The convicted persons were charged with damaging public property, beating people up and disrupting normal life by staging sit-ins. A party representative announced an appeal against the verdicts, which are unusually harsh even according to Pakistani standards. [The Diplomat]

21 January 2020

Pakistan: Chief of Army Staff’s term extended

(ls) Pakistan’s lower and upper houses have passed amendments of the Army Act of 1952 along with the Pakistan Air Force Act of 1953 and the Pakistan Navy Ordinance of 1861 earlier this month. These amendments extend the term of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), currently Qamar Javed Bajwa. From now on, every COAS will enjoy a six-year term, more than an elected representative of the country. A piece in the Asia Times gives additional historical background. [Asia Times]

21 January 2020

UNSC views Kashmir issue as “bilateral”

(tk) Another attempt by China to discuss the issue of Kashmir internationally failed at the UNSC on Wednesday. All other 14 members of the UNSC were of the view that this was not a matter that needed discussion at this point. France, Estonia and the UK called this a “bilateral” issue between India and Pakistan, to which Russia agreed. [India Today]

14 January 2020

India: Court rules on internet shut-down in Kashmir 

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

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

14 January 2020

Pakistan-China naval exercise in Karachi 

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

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

14 January 2020

Pakistan: Death Sentence for Pervez Musharraf overturned

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

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

7 January 2020

Xinhua begins Urdu service in Pakistan

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

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

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

7 January 2020

Pakistan establishes new healthcare program for transgenders

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

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

7 January 2020

Pakistan: Protests against killing of Iranian Commander

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

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

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

31 December 2019

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

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

31 December 2019

Pakistan: UN heavily criticizes death verdict for academic

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

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

24 December 2019

Death sentence for Pakistani lecturer in blasphemy case 

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

24 December 2019

Pakistan: Musharraf handed death sentence for high treason

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

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

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

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

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

24 December 2019

U.S. to Resume Military Training Program for Pakistan

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

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

17 December 2019

U.N. Security Council to meet on Kashmir

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

10 December 2019

Pakistan: Allegations against justice system bowing to Chinese economic pressures 

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

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

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

10 December 2019

Pakistani police charge hundreds of student protesters with treason

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

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

3 December 2019

Pakistan Supreme Court confronts army chief and prime minister

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

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

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

19 November 2019

Pakistan: Opposition sit-in protests discontinued

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

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


12 November 2019

Pakistan looking to increase arms exports

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


12 November 2019

Pakistan and China agree to move CPEC to natural resource sectors

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


5 November 2019

Pakistan: Mass protests demand Prime Minister Khan to step down

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

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


5 November 2019

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

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

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


29 October 2019

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

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


22 October 2019

Maritime terrorism in Asia: An assessment 

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


22 October 2019

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

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

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


22 October 2019

Pakistan: First blasphemy conviction under new cybercrime law

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


22 October 2019

Kashmir: Increased violence, continued blocking of mobile services

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

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

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

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

15 October 2019

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

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

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

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

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

8 October 2019

Pakistan: Former PM Musharraf to be back in politics?

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

8 October 2019

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

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

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

1 October 2019

Turkey begins construction of naval warship for Pakistan

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


1 October 2019

Pakistan stops postal exchange with India

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

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


1 October 2019

Jammu-Kashmir: Block Development Council elections on October 24

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

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

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

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

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

1 October 2019

Jammu-Kashmir: Block Development Council elections on October 24

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

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

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

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

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

24 September 2019

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

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

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

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

24 September 2019

Pakistan: Mob violence against Hindu over alleged blasphemy

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

24 September 2019

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

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

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

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

17 September 2019

India and Pakistan join SCO anti-terror drills in Russia

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

17 September 2019

Pakistan: mob attack on Hindu temple, school and homes

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

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

17 September 2019

Bangladesh: Kashmir is India’s internal matter

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

17 September 2019

Situation in Kashmir remains tense

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

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

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

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

10 September 2019

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

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

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

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

10 September 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

03 September 2019

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

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

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

03 September 2019

Pakistan: New law guarantees women agricultural workers’ rights

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

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16 July 2019

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

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

16 July 2019

Pakistan: Technical difficulties or “brazen censorship”?

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

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

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

9 July 2019

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

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

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

2 July 2019

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

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

2 July 2019

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

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

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

11 June  2019

Pakistan: Government targets the judiciary

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

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

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

4 June  2019

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

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

28 May 2019

Pakistan and Russia agree to strengthen ties

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

28 May 2019

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

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

28 May 2019

HIV outbreak in Pakistan

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