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Pakistan on the brink of civil dictatorship

Imran Khan is accused of persecuting political opponents and the media under the guise of an anti-corruption crackdown.
As Imran Khan’s government in Pakistan approaches the end of its first year, the country is rapidly drifting towards civil dictatorship. The arrest of opposition politicians, a crackdown on the media, and the imposition of a draconian economic policy has been the hallmark of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government. This has frustrated hopes of achieving a measure of political stability, which had been expected after July elections last year.
During the highly charged 2018 election campaign, Imran Khan’s main promise was to eradicate graft in the country. He pledged to arrest corrupt politicians and billions of dollars allegedly parked by Pakistanis in overseas banks. After coming to power, Khan’s government has arrested opposition politicians, but without any due process.
In Imran Khan’s Pakistan, the list of incarcerated politicians is long. Three-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif is in prison on corruption charges. In June, former president Asif Ali Zardari was arrested on corruption charges. (Khan had openly said in his election campaign that he would ensure the arrest of Zardari and Sharif.) A few days later, Hamza Shahbaz, the opposition leader in Punjab, Pakistan’s largest province, was also arrested on corruption charges. Furthermore, Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir, two members of parliament from tribal areas, are in police custody for an alleged attack on an army check point. Neither were allowed to attend the budget session, despite the fact that law requires all members of parliament to attend parliament sessions even if they are being held in prison.
The latest victim of this arrest drive was Rana Sanaullah, a provincial president from the largest opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League, or PML-N. Authorities arrested Sanaullah after a huge collection of drugs was reportedly found in his private vehicle. More arrests are expected.
The problem is the pattern – no substantive evidence has been produced against any of the arrested leaders. Zardari and Shahbaz were arrested merely on the basis of suspicion, while Sharif serves a sentence in prison handed down by a judge reportedly put under intense pressure by the government. Whereas in the case of Sanaullah, who can definitively say how the authorities in Pakistan came to find drugs in a vehicle of a person who is subsequently arrested for possession?
The arrest of political leaders is widely seen more as a witch-hunt and less a genuine anti-corruption drive. The pattern has seriously affected the credibility of Khan’s government. Yet he is showing no hesitation. Instead, Khan last month set up a high-powered inquiry to investigate the rise in Pakistan’s debt across the past decade – to go after the “thieves who left the country badly in debt” as Khan himself put it, “so that no one dare leave the country in tatters ever again”. Yet this latest move is also seen as an attempt by Khan to further persecute his political opponents.At a time when there is no effective opposition left to challenge decision-making, the media seems to be the next target, with the authorities preventing the media from criticising the government. An interview of former president Zardari was stopped from going to air on Pakistan’s leading television channel, Geo News. Journalists critical of the government are facing sedition charges and other intimidation tactics. The social media team of Khan’s party PTI even promoted the hashtag #ArrestAntiPakjournalists on Twitter in an effort to intimidate reporters.
All this is a bad omen for government accountability. The PTI was able to passed a budget in June imposing record new taxes on people in a country already suffering due to economic turmoil. (Thousands of businesses joined in nationwide strikes at the weekend in protest.) The value of the Pakistani rupee has fallen significant in the past year, while inflation has skyrocketed. Still, the government has cut development funds and subsidies, while increasing taxes and sharply raising the of cost of domestic gas. What opposition there has been against these budget measures has been led by civil society and human rights activists in Karachi – with the bulk of the opposition and media largely silenced.
Ultimately, the cost will be felt by Pakistanis themselves, particularly lower- and middle-class sections. The frustration from this economic turmoil will be especially seen among the youth, with about 60% of Pakistan’s population under the age of 30. There are already fears this will push younger Pakistanis towards extremism.
Ultimately, this turn toward civilian authoritarianism coupled with economic turmoil will keep Pakistani politically destabilised. This will make it difficult for the continued development of mega-projects, such as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, part of Beijing’s Belt and Road ambitions, which has already been met with local resistance (The threat within: Pakistan’s ties to China). Khan’s actions therefore appear self-defeating, threatening not only to earn his government the wrath of people at home but also isolation abroad.

Will the EU's carrot-and-stick policy for Pakistan work?

The EU wants to promote trade, regional peace and democracy by tightening its strategic engagement with Pakistan. But does Brussels need to reset its priorities as Islamabad drifts toward authoritarianism?
As Iran buckles under sanctions and Afghanistan sinks deeper into violence, Pakistan is a relatively stable partner for the EU in a volatile region. In June, Pakistan and the EU signed the EU-Pakistan Strategic Engagement Plan, which creates a forum for regular military-to-military talks on security issues, while promoting democracy, the rule of law and human rights.
The EU describes the plan as "a forward-looking and ambitious political framework," involving cooperation on "new and untapped areas such as energy and climate change, education, culture, science and technology."Pakistan sees the agreement as a sign that the EU recognizes Islamabad's efforts in promoting the values of democracy, freedom of expression and human rights.
Pakistan's foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, lauded the agreement after it was signed. "It shows engagement, it shows acceptability, it shows that the West wants to promote its ties with Pakistan," Quershi told DW.
Although it's true that both sides are keen to deepen their ties, serious differences remain. These include deficiencies in Pakistan's attempts to curb terror financing and money laundering, along with its commitment to democratic institutions.
But as the geopolitical situation in the region grows more unstable, the EU is seeking to balance its governance values with strategic imperatives, which include stopping terrorism, and a stronger role in mediating negotiations in Afghanistan.
"Pakistan is seen as an important geopolitical player," said Shada Islam, director of Europe and geopolitics at Friends of Europe, a Brussels think tank.
"So while there are concerns about human rights, women's status, press freedom and minority rights in Pakistan, the EU believes it is important to maintain good contacts with Islamabad. The new engagement plan is an illustration of that approach."
The EU's carrots and sticks
The EU's Pakistan strategy generally follows parallel tracks of reward and punishment. Good behavior from Islamabad is rewarded with tariff preferences like zero duties on two-thirds of all goods under the so-called the Generalized System of Preferences, or GSP+.
Since 2014, the GSP+ has given a major boost to Pakistani textile exports. The deal has also brought in foreign revenue in the face of China-driven trade imbalances. Trade with the EU has doubled and the bloc is now Pakistan's biggest export market.
But these economic benefits come with an obligation to uphold the EU's democratic values. Pakistan pledged to ratify and effectively implement 27 core international conventions on human and labor rights, environmental protection and good governance. Although Pakistan says it has progressed on implementing national and provincial legislation, the EU has criticized progress as being painfully slow.The EU's ambassador to Pakistan, Jean Francois Cautain, has regularly warned that "Pakistan was failing to take full advantage of the GSP+ scheme."
And considering the wide gaps between Pakistan's promises and actual implementation of the international conventions, it is currently unclear whether the country will continue to get duty-free access to Europe beyond 2020.
Pakistan financing terror?
If the GSP+ arrangement and the cooperation agreement are a step forward for Pakistan's international image, accusations of terror financing are a step back.Last year, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global terror financing and money laundering watchdog, put Pakistan on its watch list, meaning that the country has "structural deficiencies" in stopping money laundering and terror financing. The EU reacted with concern, but stopped short of cutting off Pakistan's preferential trade status. The move was supported by the US, France, Britain and Germany. Pakistan barely escaped being blacklisted, thanks to the support of China, Turkey and Malaysia.
Read more: UN places Pakistan-based JeM militant leader Masood Azhar on blacklist
Pakistan fears that an FATF blacklisting would deal a blow to its already faltering economy, making it harder for global investors and multinationals to do business in the country.
It could also have implications for its $6 billion (€5.32 billion) IMF bailout plan. To alleviate pressure from the FATF ruling, Pakistan will have to demonstrate progress in disrupting transactions that finance terrorism and money laundering before the next FATF meeting being held in October in the US city of Orlando, Florida. Pakistan is optimistic that it will meet its obligations and is counting on EU support.
"Our government is sincere in fulfilling the political obligations. The Europeans feel Pakistan has taken sufficient steps in the right direction and downgrading Pakistan would not be helpful. So I am grateful to the European support for Pakistan in Orlando," said the Pakistani foreign minister.
Trouble at home?
Despite this optimism, Western diplomats in Islamabad appear increasingly concerned at the government's capacity to keep its commitments. And the government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan has been criticized for failing to live up to its promises of a "new Pakistan."More than a year into his government, Khan has yet to convince ordinary Pakistanis that his government has a viable economic plan to take millions out of poverty. Rising food prices, interest rates and currency devaluation are having a cumulative negative effect on the economy. The government blames the corruption of previous governments for the country's ills. Consequently, several leading opposition figures have been arrested, including former President Asif Ali Zardari. Khan calls it accountability, but his opponents say it's a political witch hunt. Private media are accusing the government of muzzling the press. Leading human rights activists and journalists say they have never experienced such pervasive silencing of dissent under a civilian government as is becoming a norm under Khan.
As the EU tries to nudge Pakistan toward a path of regional peace and democracy with the strategic engagement plan, Brussels needs to admit the limitations of cooperation. Khan's government is seen as weak and ineffective, as well as widely dependent on the country's powerful army.
In many ways, experts say, whether Pakistan follows a path of peace and democracy, or drifts toward authoritarianism, is largely up to the nation's most powerful institution, its military.

#Polio Cases Surge in #Pakistan and #Afghanistan

By Donald G. McNeil Jr.
False rumors that children are fainting or dying have led parents to turn away vaccinators, threatening the campaign to eradicate the disease.
The global drive to eliminate polio, which has gone on for 31 years and consumed over $16 billion, has been set back again by a surge of new cases in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
As of July 10, there were a total of 42 polio paralysis cases in the two countries. They comprise a single large outbreak, because most cases are in the tribal areas along the border, where local people easily cross back and forth.Pakistan had 32 of the cases, compared to only three by the same date last year, and the situation is expected to get worse because hot summer weather favors the virus. There were only 12 cases in the country in 2018 and eight in 2017.For each paralyzed victim — usually a child below age 5 — there are about 200 others who are infected and shedding the virus in their stool, the World Health Organization estimates.
About 20,000 children are born each day in Pakistan. In cities with open sewers, and where other pathogens may attach to the same intestinal receptors that the vaccine does, it can take many doses to fully immunize a child.Last year’s hotly contested national elections temporarily threw the program off track as local officials were replaced, said Aziz Memon, head of Rotary International’s polio campaign in Pakistan. Cases have typically spiked during elections and moments of political turmoil, according to an article in The Diplomat, a current affairs magazine focused on Asia.Earlier this year, Pakistan announced that it would streamline its national vaccination drive in June in order to make the campaigns faster and less intrusive. Teams would try a friendlier approach and gather less data on the families they visited, the prime minister’s office said.
But false rumors spread on social media saying the vaccine had triggered fainting spells — or even that it had killed dozens of children — and many families locked their doors to vaccinators or hid their children.
The issue has split families; The Times of London recently described a Pakistani man returning from work and divorcing his wife on the spot after finding their children’s fingers marked with the indelible ink used by polio vaccinators. Islamic law allows a man to end a marriage by merely saying “I divorce you” three times; he threw his wife and children out of the house.
As in other countries, like Italy, vaccines have become politicized, with opposition parties spreading anti-vaccine rumors.
Babar bin Atta, the prime minister’s special assistant for polio eradication, said in a letter to the Dawn newspaper that population movements and increasing numbers of refusals were hurting the effort.The country, he said, would try to fix continuing problems with routine immunization, safe water and sanitation, and the high incidence of malnutrition.
Eradicating polio from Pakistan “may take longer than we hoped for," he said.
The virus is threatening to spread to other countries. In May, a sewage sample in a bordering province in Iran tested positive for the strain of virus circulating in Pakistan; Iran had its last case of polio paralysis in 2001.
A further threat to the eradication campaign is that a few countries — mostly in Africa — have been unable to eliminate some mutated strains of the polio viruses used in live vaccines. Those strains have reverted back into forms capable of causing paralysis.
In the last two years, there have been outbreaks of “vaccine-derived polio” in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea and Somalia.
Last week, a sewage sample in western China tested positive for a vaccine-derived polio strain, meaning the virus must be circulating there although no cases of paralysis caused by it have yet been detected.
Xinjiang, the province where it was found, borders on both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Historically, such outbreaks have always been eliminated by the use of injectable killed vaccines, which cannot mutate, and live vaccines that protect against the mutated strains. But the outbreaks in some countries have gone on for many months.

Hafiz Saeed & 3 of his aides granted bail by Pakistan anti-terrorism court

Hafiz Saeed's lawyer insisted that Jamat-ud Dawah was not using any piece of land illegally and urged the court to accept bail pleas.
Mumbai terror attack mastermind and JuD chief Hafiz Saeed and his three aides were granted pre-arrest bail on Monday by an anti-terrorism court in Pakistan in a case pertaining to the banned outfit’s illegal use of land for its seminary.The Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in Lahore granted interim bail to Saeed and his aides – Hafiz Masood, Ameer Hamza, and Malik Zafar – until August 31 against surety bonds of Rs. 50,000 each, Dawn newspaper reported.
During the hearing, Saeed’s counsel insisted that Jamat-ud Dawah (JuD) was not using any piece of land illegally and urged the court to accept bail pleas.
Saeed-led JuD is believed to be the front organisation for the Lashkar-e-Taiba which is responsible for carrying out the 2008 Mumbai attacks. The US declared the LeT as a foreign terrorist organisation in June 2014.The US Department of the Treasury has designated Saeed as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, and the US, since 2012, has offered a USD 10 million reward for information that brings Saeed to justice.Under pressure from the international community, Pakistani authorities have launched investigations into matters of the JuD, LeT and the FIF regarding their holding and use of trusts to raise funds for terrorism financing.
Meanwhile, the Lahore High Court (LHC) issued notices to the federal government, the Punjab government and the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) regarding a petition filed by Saeed and his seven aides, challenging charges of terror financing and money laundering against them.
A two-member bench of the LHC comprising Justice Shehram Sarwar Chaudhry and Justice Mohammad Waheed Khan asked the parties to submit their replies within two weeks.The Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) of Punjab Police on July 3 registered 23 FIRs against 13 leaders of the JuD including Saeed on the charges of “terror financing” in different cities of Punjab province.

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