June 8, 2022No Comments

Political Stability: Pakistan’s Distant Dream?

Author: Mariam Qureshi

The recent political developments in Pakistan uncover several underlying issues within the government and public spheres. The widespread misuse and abuse of power for political gains and the subsequent corruption within government institutions have led to issues of abuse, misuse, and poor accountability. The issues have had severe impacts on the justice system and the economy. The growing rift between major political parties is occurring at the expense of the already struggling democratic setup.

Though Imran Khan assumed office in 2018 with people's mandate, he faced fierce opposition from opposing political parties. On April 9th, 2022, an eleven-party alliance, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM)brought forth a successful no-confidence motion and Khan was voted out of office. This was the first no-confidence vote to be successfully passed in the political history of Pakistan. The vote of no-confidence was preceded by a constitutional crisis and succeeded by a political one. 

Political leaders of the leading political parties in alliance against Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf. Image Source: https://www.thecorrespondent.pk/editorials/pdm-the-last-stand/

What was the Constitutional Crisis?

Originally scheduled for a vote on April 3rd, 2022, the no-confidence motion was abruptly dismissed by the National Assembly’s Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri. While citing Article 5 of the Constitution of Pakistan, which requires all citizens to be loyal to the state and obedient to the constitution, Suri argued the motion is nullified as the opposition acted against the interests of the state by bringing forth a vote of no-confidence at the insistence of foreign powers. This reference was to a diplomatic cable received by Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States which Khan's government claimed contained instructions for PDM to remove Khan through a vote of no-confidence. Following this, President Arif Alvi dissolved the National Assembly. 

As per the country’s constitution, a no-confidence motion cannot be rejected, nor an assembly dissolved until the motion has been put to vote. Therefore, many legal experts argued that Suri’s decision to dismiss the motion and Alvi’s dissolution of the assembly was unconstitutional. However, many also dissented to say that the Speaker does hold the power to dismiss any motion not in line with Article 5. Though the problem appeared to be the lack of evidence to support the reasoning of foreign involvement. The discord raised a constitutional crisis leaving the opposition little ground but to move to the Supreme Court against the Deputy Speaker’s ruling.

On April 7th,  2022, the Supreme Court of Pakistan issued a short judgement in which it set aside the April 3rd developments, deeming both unconstitutional. While this move was hailed by many, who saw this as an impartial decision that strengthened the Constitution, qualms were also raised over Supreme Court’s interference in parliamentary proceedings, citing its order to the Parliament to reconvene on April 9th to put the motion to vote, as part of the original judgement. When the National Assembly session delayed voting on April 9ththe Supreme Court and Islamabad High Court were opened late at night to ensure implementation of their decision to hold voting on the no-confidence motion. The move was peculiar and beyond regular proceedings, which raised allegations the Supreme Court acted out of its purview and misused its powers. In the country’s 75-year history, the Supreme Court has intervened and averted many constitutional crises but has also been held responsible for leaving enough ambiguities in its interpretation of the Constitution to serve the political agenda of the executive branch at the expense of strengthening the democracy.

Who is in government now?

The April 9th, 2022 National Assembly session extended past midnight, successfully voted Imran Khan out of office, and voted in Shahbaz Sharif as the 23rd Prime Minister of Pakistan. Shahbaz Sharif is the leader of the political party, Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML N) and the younger brother of ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is currently residing in London as an absconder. Shahbaz Sharif took the oath on April 11th, 2022, the same day he would otherwise have been indicted in a long-standing money laundering case of about Rs 14 billion laundered from 2008 to 2018, for which he is currently on bail.

Though hailed for his administrative contributions to Lahore when he served as the Chief Minister of Punjab (CM) from 2008 to 2018, there were allegations of corruption, money laundering and misuse of power, including the Ashiyana Housing Scheme scam and the Hudabiya Paper Mills Case. His much-hailed Metro Bus Project – a public transport initiative – later revealed corruption and irregularities of Rs 5 billion, though a full inquiry is yet to be conducted. He has also been accused of misusing authority in the Ramazan Sugar Mills Case where he ordered the construction of a drain to benefit sugar mills owned by his sons, causing a Rs 213 million loss to the national exchequer. Perhaps the most harrowing legacy of Sharif’s tenure as CM remains the 2014 Model Town incident. Under orders from the then CM Shahbaz Sharif and Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, the Punjab Police charged at the crowd of peaceful and unarmed civilian protestors with batons and tear gas shelling before opening fire, which killed 14 men and women and injured over 100. The judicial commission which acquitted officials involved and rejected complaints against political figures was criticized to have been politically manipulated. 

Imran Khan addressing one of the political rallies after being voted out of office. Image Source: www.twitter.com/ImranKhanPTI

Imran Khan’s Power Show

PTI’s immediate step following the success of the no-confidence motion was to offer mass resignations. Though submitted, recently the new Speaker of the National Assembly has called a total of 131 lawmakers to verify their resignations before they could be accepted to remove the possibility of coercion. The move was heavily criticized as it meant that PTI essentially relinquished the opportunity to form an effective and powerful opposition in the National Assembly, ultimately harming the political proceedings and democracy in general.

Khan insists on his claim of foreign involvement in his removal stating the western powers did not appreciate his foreign policy shift towards the Muslim states, Russia, and China. He argues that the current government is foreign-backed and does not have the mandate of the people and therefore, not fit to govern. He proposes the only way forward is with early elections

Khan played to his strength of public support to gain legitimacy for his early election calls, by holding jalsas (political rallies) in cities across Pakistan, where scores of people responded to his call. His massive public support has been indisputable, even by his fiercest opponents. These massive rallies eventually culminated in a ‘march’ to Islamabad on May 26th, 2022, where scores of people poured into the country’s capital from all over Pakistan to register support for Imran Khan and his demands. Multiple illegal raids and attempts of arrests were carried out at the homes of PTI lawmakers the night before the march. On May 26th, 2022 Punjab, Sindh and Islamabad Police blocked all routes leading to the capital and used tear gas (some allegedly expired), batons on civilian protestors and arrested several of them from different cities. This was a blatant disregard of not only the constitutional right of civilians to stage peaceful protests but also in violation of the Supreme Court’s ruling to allow PTI to stage their protest in Islamabad. Fearing a fate like the Model Town Incident, given Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah’s threats to the PTI, Chairman Imran Khan called off the plan to stage a sit-in while remaining firm on his demand for early elections. 

What’s Next for Khan and Pakistan?

From 2018 until the no-confidence vote in 2022, Imran Khan, as Prime Minister, launched many public-oriented initiatives including the Sehat Card Scheme: the first-ever health insurance scheme in Pakistan. He also launched the National Poverty Graduation Initiative to uplift the poorest with skills and ease their social mobility in society, the Kamyab Jawan Programme oriented to aid youth in attaining education and employment, the Ehsaas Programme a poverty alleviation and social safety programme and, the Billion Trees Tsunami as an effort against global warming and climate change. His handling of the Covid-19 Pandemic was also praised. Though Khan attempted to increase the tax net, bring in foreign remittances and lower circular debt, the absence of a concrete economic policy, later also admitted by their finance minister, was a glaring mistake on the part of PTI’s first term in government. In recent months, along with the political turmoil, the rise in fuel and electricity prices, drying up of foreign exchange reserves and depreciation of the rupee against the USD has exacerbated the economic situation in Pakistan. For any political party eyeing power, the biggest challenge now is to bring forth and deliver on effective policies for the management of the economic crisis to secure the public mandate for the next elections.

Despite Pakistan’s current political climate, it has come a long way from dictatorial rule and abrogation of the constitution to now relying on the Supreme Court for interpretation of the constitution. Similarly, Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf provides hope that grassroots political parties can emerge as a force in an otherwise dynastical democratic setup currently operational in Pakistan. For the political system in Pakistan to develop and strengthen, it is pertinent political parties adhere to the legal and constitutional course available, instead of sabotaging the system for personal gains. Unless the accountability bureaus and other institutes can function impartially without political interference, Pakistan may continue to struggle with similar economic and political woes in the future. 

February 14, 2022No Comments

Jeremy Garlick on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)

Dr Jeremy Alan Garlick is an Associate Professor of International Studies and International Relations. Currently, he is the Director of the J. Masaryk Centre of International Studies at Prague University of Economics and Business. His research focusses on the Belt and Road Initiative, China's relations with Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), China-Middle East relations, and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). He is the author of books, “Reconfiguring the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor: Geo-Economic Pipe DreamsVersus Geopolitical Realities” published November 2021 and “The Impact of China’s Belt and Road Initiative: From Asia to Europe” published December 2019. He has also authored various book chapter, peer reviewed articles, book reviews and conference papers. He is also member of the editorial board of the Journal of Current Chinese Affairs since 2018.

In this interview he talks about his recent book "Reconfiguring the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor" and explains how CPEC may not be such a game-changing endeavour for the region as originally hoped. He explains how almost all projects are centred within Pakistan instead of being cross-border in nature. He also highlights the security risks among other factors within Pakistan that have repeatedly hindered development of the CPEC Projects.

Interviewing Team: Sandra Watson Parcels and Carlotta Rinaudo.

September 20, 20212 Comments

Afghanistan Fallout: Time to Rethink Pak-US Relations?

By: Mariam Qureshi

Prime Minister Imran Khan during his speech at the National Assembly of Pakistan in June 2021. 
Source: https://www.dawn.com/news/1632376

United States’ longest war in Afghanistan has finally come to a haphazard end. The Taliban remain undefeated and now control Afghanistan. How does the United States intend to utilise its alliance with Pakistan to preserve peace and security in the country without having boots on the ground?

United States’ (US) longest war came at an astronomical cost with 66,000 to 69,000 Afghan troops and 2,500 US troops killed, and over $2 trillion spent since the war began in 2001. In addition, 2.7 million Afghans were forced to migrate and another 4 million were internally displaced. Despite this, the US-backed Afghan military rapidly collapsed, and the Taliban spared no time in taking over and establishing an interim government. Taliban-controlled Afghanistan has increased the fear of terrorism and the return of Al-Qaeda to the region. The shrinking economy and curtailed women and human rights have further worsened the socio-economic situation in Afghanistan.

The Biden Administration was heavily criticised for the haphazard US evacuation before the September 1st deadline, leaving behind its’ allies and US citizens in Afghanistan. Antony Blinken, President Biden’s Secretary of State, rushed to defend the chaotic US pull-out from Afghanistan in the first official testimony to the members of Congress since the exit. In his opening remarks, he stated there was no chance of extending the US stay in Afghanistan because if 20 years and billions of dollars did not suffice, another year or five would not have made much of a difference. At this point, many have turned to Pakistan, expecting it to play a vital role in preserving peace and stability in the region.

However, the Pakistan-US relationship is at a low. Blinken asserted the need for Washington to reassess its relationship with Pakistan. Whilst acknowledging Pakistan’s contribution to the US endeavour in Afghanistan, Blinken also stated that at times Pakistan acted against US interests. “This is one of the things we're going to be looking at in the days, and weeks ahead — the role that Pakistan has played over the last 20 years. But also, the role we would want to see it play in the coming years and what it will take for it to do that,” he said. Blinken also stated that Pakistan must ‘line up’ with the broader international community in denying the legitimacy of the Afghan Taliban, unless they ensure free travel, the protection of women and children’s rights, and guarantee no safe haven for terrorism again. 

Pakistan assisted the US in its War on Terror in 2001, under the leadership of President General Pervez Musharraf. Pakistan signed the framework of cooperation in terms of Air Lines of Communication (ALOC) and Ground Lines of Communication (GLOC), which granted the US Military access to Pakistani ground and airspace. This allowed for operations to be conducted swiftly in Afghanistan and the agreement remains in place to date. General Musharraf, the then Pakistani President, also allowed US troops access to airbases and granted permission for military aircraft to deploy from Pakistani soil. Then, in 2019, Pakistan took the initiative to facilitate the Afghan-US peace dialogue to reinstall peace in the region. The increased engagement with the US during the early years of the 2001 War in Afghanistan created a domestic security challenge for Pakistan. The increased terrorist attacks on Pakistani soil compromised Pakistan’s international image and the burden of incoming Afghan refugees fleeing their war-torn country crippled Pakistan’s already weak economy and limited resources. The mismanaged Pak-Afghan border, Durand Line, became the gateway for drug smuggling, human trafficking, refugee migration, and cross-border terrorism after 9/11. Although Pakistan is the largest trading partner of landlocked Afghanistan, its economic ties have dwindled over the years due to political and security tensions in the region. Pakistan also suffered a loss of 70,000 lives with a further $150 billion loss to its economyas a result of this war. Therefore, a stable Afghanistan is also in Pakistan’s best interest.

However, the tension between the US and Pakistan is evident and is hampering the creation of a viable strategy for Afghanistan moving forward. Despite being a critical ally to the US in its war in Afghanistan, President Biden has not reached out to Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan since assuming office in January 2021. Regardless of the repeated assurances from Washington in keeping close contact with Pakistan and working together in devising a strategy for Afghanistan, Pakistan’s National Security Advisor Moeed Yusuf conveyed Pakistan’s displeasure at the delay in the phone call from the White House. 

In an interview in June, Journalist Jonathan Swan asked PM Imran Khan if he would allow CIA presence in Pakistan to conduct cross-border counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan against Al-Qaeda, ISIS and Taliban. PM Khan replied with a stern ‘absolutely not’.  Later, Pakistan Foreign Office officially denied any reports claiming the presence of US bases in Pakistan. In a recent speech at the National Assembly of Pakistan, PM Khan clarified that Pakistan could be ‘partners with the United States in peace but never in conflict’. PM Khan lamented that past decisions to join the US in its war against terrorism which jeopardized the security of Pakistan and came at a heavy price for Pakistani civilians and soldiers. This suggests a policy divergence from the longstanding Pak-US cooperation.  

PM Khan has reiterated his position in several interviews that he believes in a political solution to the Afghanistan problem. In a recent interview with CNN, he emphasized the need for an inclusive government and the assurance of women and human rights in Afghanistan. PM Khan clarified that he wants the international community to find a diplomatic solution to pressure the Taliban government into protecting women and human rights, exercising inclusive governance, and ensuring there's no safe haven for terrorism on Afghan soil, in exchange for international recognition and desperately needed aid. He elaborated that the conclusion of the two-decade-long war has proven that Afghanistan and its’ people cannot be controlled by outside forces and that a puppet government cannot survive in Afghanistan. 

Pakistan, under PM Imran Khan, desires a stable and peaceful Afghanistan and is not interested in negotiating with the US on future military endeavours. Moving forward, this will have implications on the Pak-US relationship, which will, by extension, also reconfigure the security situation in the region. If the Pak-US alliance is in jeopardy and the US looks towards India for a potential alliance, Pakistan might increasingly look to China for support. All key states have a stake in Afghanistan, which seems dangerously close to collapse. Only time will reveal how the alliances are reconfigured in a post-war scenario in the region. 

July 8, 20211 Comment

Barat Ali Batoor on The Hazara People of Afghanistan

The ITSS Verona team focussing on the Middle East interview Barat Ali Batoor where he talks about the Hazara people of Afghanistan and Pakistan and his work as a Photo-Journalist.

Interviewing Team: John Devine and Angelo Calianno

May 10, 20211 Comment

Interview with Noor Dahri

Noor Dahri, the Executive Director of Islamic Theology of Counter Terrorism (ITCT) shares insights from his experience regarding the radicalisation process.

Interviewers: Adelaide Martelli and Francesco Bruno.