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Military is tightening its grip in Pakistan

G Parthasarathy

In Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government, army presence has extended beyond internal affairs to diplomacy and even the economy.

Many Pakistanis believed that cricketing icon-turned-politician Imran Khan would lead his country to new heights, much as he had led Pakistan to an unexpected win in the 1992 Cricket World Cup. Alas, to their disappointment, all that Imran Khan has succeeded in doing is leading his country to economic stagnation and greater political uncertainty.
Whatever pretensions and illusions Pakistan had of being a successful parliamentary democracy are now receding. Within two years of becoming Prime Minister, Imran’s bungling has led to a virtual military takeover of not just the country’s politics, but also its economy, and what little remained of its judiciary independence.
Well-known Sweden-based Pakistani academic Ishtiaq Ahmed described Pakistan as a “Garrison State,” in a book he authored about his country of birth nearly a decade ago. Ahmed declared that since 1958, “the Pakistan army continued to grow in power and influence and progressively became the most powerful institution. Moreover, it became an institution with de facto veto powers at its disposal, to overrule other actors within society, including elected governments. Simultaneously, it began to acquire foreign patrons and donors willing to arm it as part of the Cold War competition (the US), regional balance of power concerns (China) and ideological contestants for leadership over the Muslim world (Saudi Arabia, to contain Iranian influence)”.
Ahmed avers that over time, “Pakistan succumbed to extremism and terrorism within and was accused of being involved in similar activities within the South Asian region and beyond. Such developments have been ruinous to Pakistan’s economic and democratic development”.

Military politics

Nothing frightens Pakistani politicians more than prospects of a military coup, as this almost inevitably leads political leaders to arrest and eventual exile. Nawaz Sharif has faced this treatment twice, as have Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari. Even politicians who built their own political base nationally have been vulnerable to threats from the army, forcing them to leave the country — Imran Khan never had a national political following.
Former ISI Chief Lieutenant General Hamid Gul was one of the Founding Fathers of his Tehriq-e-Insaf party, which has long been regarded as the “B Team” of the army. The army is known to have backed large-scale demonstrations by the Tehriq-e-Insaf. The army has also played a key role in shaping political alliances to destabilise governments that become assertive. It is no secret that Imran Khan’s assumption of office as Prime Minister was engineered by the army.
The army in Pakistan plays a domineering role in the conduct of foreign and security policies, particularly on relations with India, the US, China, Russia and important Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran. Nawaz Sharif faced huge pressure from his army chief Raheel Sharif to not attend the inaugural ceremony of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister.
The ISI, functioning under the army chief, has an exclusive role in covert operations and — allegedly — backing terrorist groups in India and Afghanistan. But this role was substantially enhanced when Qamar Javed Bajwa was hand-picked by Sharif to assume office as army chief. Bajwa himself faced pressures from his colleagues, evidently encouraged by his predecessor, who quietly had him labelled as an apostate “Qadiani” when he was being considered for the top job.

Expanding reach

Not satisfied with their background role, General Bajwa and his ISI chief Faiz Hameed accompanied Imran Khan when he met US President Donald Trump in Washington. This was the first time that the army bosses were present in a White House meeting. Even before this meeting, Bajwa put his personal stamp on relations with China and Iran.
But, it is really in Kartarpur that Bajwa publicly put his stamp on his role in shaping relations with India, ostentatiously fraternising with Punjab minister, the loquacious Navjot Singh Sidhu, together with well-known Pakistani advocates of “Khalistan,” who were present. The ISI desire to create a Hindu-Sikh divide, using the services of Sikh communities in the UK and Canada, is evident.
Going beyond his role in internal politics and foreign policy, Bajwa has used an ever-obliging Imran Khan to enter the realm of economic policymaking, by getting himself appointed to the newly established ‘National Development Council’, Pakistan’s apex economic policymaking body. He thereby clearly signalled the army’s dissatisfaction with economic policymaking, to civilians. Pakistani businessmen and financial ministries have another extra-constitutional body, the country’s army, to which they are now answerable.
All this is happening with the economy still in the doldrums. While the economy has been bailed out in 2019 by augmented financial aid from China, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, economic growth is down to 3.3 per cent — a fall of 40 per cent from the growth rate the previous year. This has been accompanied by similar rise in the fiscal deficit, with inflation soaring by the highest amount in the past five years. All this is happening amidst severe belt-tightening on welfare measures, necessitated by IMF demands.

Diplomatic ties

Pakistan is finding that despite embarking on a diplomatic overkill, it has failed to get the international community to back it in any significant measure on its territorial ambitions on Jammu and Kashmir, despite some sustained Chinese backing in the UN Security Council and other forums. Imran Khan seems to have gone on an ill-advised and counterproductive diplomatic overkill on Jammu and Kashmir, even amongst fellow Islamic countries.
Ignoring the vicious rivalries between major Islamic powers with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt on one side and Turkey, Iran, Qatar and Malaysia — led by the ageing Mahathir — on the other, Imran chose to join the hare-brained scheme by Mahathir to set up a new Islamic grouping to address problems of the Islamic world.
The Saudis, quite evidently with American backing, read out the riot act to Imran who, at the last minute, backed out of the Summit meeting earning the wrath of other participants. Despite Pakistan’s much touted “Islamic Bomb”, Imran learnt that it is money that matters in the real world.
India has played its cards well by its moves to promote energy security and cooperation with its western oil rich neighbours across the Indian Ocean. But, India’s own standing will depend substantially on its ability to maintain communal harmony and accelerate economic growth.

India and Pakistan Are Edging Closer to War in 2020


Two crises dominated South Asia in 2019, and each one stands to get worse.

The two nuclear-armed nations will enter 2020 just one big trigger event away from war. The trigger could be another mass-casualty attack on Indian security forces in Kashmir traced back to a Pakistan-based group, or—acting on the threats issued repeatedly by New Delhi in 2019—an Indian preemptive operation to seize territory in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

Turmoil is never far away in South Asia, between disputed borders, acute resource shortages, and threats ranging from extremist violence to earthquakes. But in 2019, two crises stood out: an intensifying war in Afghanistan and deep tensions between India and Pakistan. And as serious as both were in 2019, expect them to get even worse in the coming year.
Afghanistan has already seen several grim milestones in the last 12 months that attested to the ferocity of the Taliban insurgency. Casualty figures for Afghan security forces and civilians set new records. It was also the deadliest year for U.S. forces since 2014.
Ironically, violence soared even as there was unprecedented momentum toward launching a peace process. U.S. President Donald Trump, eager to exit Afghanistan, stepped up efforts to secure a deal with the Taliban that would give him the political cover for a troop withdrawal. U.S. negotiators and senior Taliban representatives held multiple rounds of talks, and by September the two sides were finalizing a deal that centered on a withdrawal of U.S. troops coupled with a commitment by the Taliban to renounce ties to international terror groups.

However, in September, Trump abruptly called off talks, giving a recent Taliban attack on a U.S. soldier as the reason. The likelier explanation, as I wrote for Foreign Policy back then, was the administration’s recognition that the emerging accord with the Taliban—which didn’t call for any type of cease-fire—was a lousy deal for Washington and Kabul.

The suspension of talks didn’t last long. Trump announced plans to scale up offensives against the Taliban, but this was more of a bargaining tactic than a battlefield redirection. Washington wanted to increase military pressure on the Taliban so that the insurgents would make more concessions at the negotiating table—such as the cease-fire they had refused to agree to earlier. Indeed, several days after Trump made a surprise Thanksgiving visit to Afghanistan, talks resumed—and this time with U.S. negotiators aiming to get a Taliban commitment to reduce violence against U.S. troops.During the last few days of December, media reports revealed that the Taliban had agreed to a temporary ceasefire to clear the way for a deal with the United States. The Taliban, however, rejected these reports.

Meanwhile, 2019 was a dangerously tense year for India and Pakistan—two rivals that are both neighbors and nuclear states. In February, a young Kashmiri man in the town of Pulwama staged a suicide bombing that killed more than three dozen Indian security forces—the deadliest such attack in Kashmir in three decades. Jaish-e-Mohammad—a Pakistan-based terror group with close ties to Pakistan’s security establishment—claimed responsibility. India retaliated by sending jets across Pakistan-administered Kashmir and launching limited strikes, for the first time since a war in 1971. Soon thereafter, Pakistan claimed it had carried out six air strikes in Kashmir to showcase its might, and it also shot down an Indian fighter jet and captured the pilot. The confrontation, which de-escalated when Islamabad announced the pilot’s release several days later, represented the most serious exchange of hostilities in years.

Then, in August, India revoked the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir, the India-administered part of Kashmir, and declared it a new territory of India. New Delhi also imposed a security lockdown in Kashmir that included the detention of hundreds of people and a communication blackout. For Islamabad, which claims Jammu and Kashmir as its own, the move amounted to a serious provocation, if not a hostile act. Pakistan retaliated by expelling India’s envoy from Islamabad and suspending trade with New Delhi. Undaunted, in the weeks that followed, senior Indian officials—including the defense and foreign ministers—turned their attention to Pakistan-administered Kashmir, which New Delhi has long claimed, and suggested they eventually planned to reclaim it. 

Bilateral relations remained fraught over the last few months of the year. Islamabad issued constant broadsides against New Delhi for its continued security lockdown in Kashmir. By year’s end, an internet blackout was still in effect. Then, in December, India’s parliament passed a controversial new citizenship law that affords fast-track paths to Indian citizenship for religious minorities—but not Muslims—fleeing persecution in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. The new law angered Islamabad not just for excluding Muslims, but because of the implication—accurate but not something Islamabad likes to admit—that Pakistan persecutes its Hindu and Christian communities.

These prolonged tensions often overshadowed what was arguably the biggest story in both countries in 2019: economic struggle. India suffered its biggest economic slowdown in six years, and Pakistan confronted a serious debt crisis. The two weren’t unconnected: Given the inability of New Delhi and Islamabad to fix their economies, both governments arguably sought political advantages from the distractions of saber rattling.

Against this tense backdrop, the opening in November of a new border corridor that enables Indian Sikhs to enter Pakistan visa-free to worship at a holy shrine, which in better times could have been a bridge to an improved relationship, amounted to little more than a one-off humanitarian gesture.
Bad as these crises are, they are poised to get worse next year.

The good news for Americans is that a U.S.-Taliban deal likely isn’t far off; both sides are fully invested in a troop withdrawal. For Trump, the importance of troop departures will grow as the U.S. presidential election draws closer, and especially because the Washington Post’s release in December of the “Afghanistan Papers”—documents that feature senior U.S. officials admitting failure in the war—will likely solidify U.S. public opinion in favor of winding down America’s role in the 18-year war.  
However, any U.S.-Taliban deal will do little to reduce violence, other than halting attacks on U.S. troops. In other words, the war will continue. 

A U.S.-Taliban accord would clear the path for an intra-Afghan dialogue between the Afghan government, other political stakeholders, and the Taliban that aims to produce a cease-fire and an eventual political settlement that ends the war.

The path to intra-Afghan dialogue, however, is fraught with obstacles. Afghanistan held a presidential election in September. The preliminary results—released in December—showed President Ashraf Ghani in the lead, but with barely the 50 percent of votes needed to avoid a second round of voting with the second-place finisher, his bitter rival Abdullah Abdullah (who rejected the results). The close margin suggests that when final results are announced, the loser won’t accept them. 
This means Afghanistan is unlikely to have a new government in place for at least another few months, and even longer if the final results are different from the initial ones and require a second vote. Due to winter weather in Afghanistan, a runoff likely wouldn’t occur until the spring. Without a new government in place, it beggars belief that Afghanistan could launch a process to establish an intra-Afghan dialogue, much less negotiate an end to the war. And even if and when an intra-Afghan dialogue is launched, the hardest of sells will be required to convince the Taliban to lay down arms and agree to share power within a political system that it has long rejected and vowed to overthrow by force.

Consequently, Afghanistan in 2020 is likely to see a withdrawal of U.S. forces before a peace agreement is in place—a demoralizing outcome for already struggling Afghan forces that would deliver another boost to the Taliban and further increase violence.

Meanwhile, the underlying tensions between India and Pakistan remain sharp. 

Pakistan arrested dozens of Islamist militants this past year, but New Delhi wasn’t convinced Islamabad was taking strong and “irreversible” steps against India-focused terrorists and their networks. And New Delhi’s actions in Kashmir in 2019 represented worst-case scenarios for Islamabad. 

The two nuclear-armed nations will enter 2020 just one big trigger event away from war. The trigger could be another mass-casualty attack on Indian security forces in Kashmir traced back to a Pakistan-based group, or—acting on the threats issued repeatedly by New Delhi in 2019—an Indian preemptive operation to seize territory in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. 

In either scenario, escalation would be swift. Bilateral relations are much worse than they were during last February’s confrontation. Ever since its resounding reelection victory last spring, India’s ruling party has pursued its Hindu nationalist agenda in increasingly aggressive fashion—which gives it no incentive to go easy on Islamabad. Pakistan, not wanting to show weakness, will not give in easily. 
The doomsday clock for the next India-Pakistan war is at a minute to midnight. Diplomatic intervention from Washington and other third parties, and cooler heads on both sides, may keep it from ticking further forward. But it’s hard to see a path to unraveling such tightly knotted tensions—or to solving Afghanistan’s unending conflict.

#Pakistan - 'Is NAB law only there for politicians?' asks Raza Rabbani during Senate session

The first Senate session of the year, convened by the government on a 24-hour notice, took place on Wednesday. A regular session of the Senate was last held from Aug 29 to Sept 3.
Former Senate chairman Raza Rabbani while addressing the house raised questions on the amendments proposed by the government to the country's accountability law.

He said the government through the amendments had exempted businessmen, bureaucrats, judges and the military from being proceeded against under the law. "Who is then left? Only you and I are left," he said, addressing the Senate chairman.
"Is the NAB law only there for politicians?" he asked, suggesting that the parliament should be allowed to "try the parliamentarians".
Otherwise, he said, if the government really wanted to conduct accountability, then "the only path to meaningful accountability is one law, one bureau [and] across-the-board accountability".
Rabbani said there should be "no holy cows" under a fair accountability law which according to him should apply to the judiciary and military as well as the bureaucracy.
He said the government was not following the Constitution and its actions have rendered the parliament ineffective.
Speaking about the issue of extension in the service of Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, which underwent strict scrutiny in the Supreme Court in November, Rabbani said the PTI government due to its "incapability and incapacity" had landed a national institution (army) into an "embarrassing position".
"What kind of a government is this which cannot issue three or four notifications?" he said, urging the government to let the parliament and the Senate play their constitutional roles.
'Senate kept in the dark'
At the outset of the session, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Raja Zafarul Haq regretted that the government had called the Senate session only after the opposition submitted a requisition.He said the upper house had been "kept in the dark" regarding the promulgation of the NAB ordinance. He alleged that the accountability process is being carried out in a "unilateral, oppressive and illegal manner" in the country.Haq said the opposition had submitted the agenda for the Senate session but a "negative mindset" prevented it from being included in the scheduled of proceedings.PPP Senator Sherry Rehman said they had found out through newspapers that a Senate session had been called for today. She said some members were unable to attend because of the prevailing smog.
She said ministers were not present in the house even though the session had been called after such a long gap. In addition, questions and answers were not made part of the agenda "which means that the government was not prepared", she alleged.
Rehman lambasted the government for promulgating 25 presidential ordinances last year, saying: "The parliament cannot be run from Bani Gala or Aiwan-e-Sadr."
She said the government had failed to issue a proper notification regarding the army chief's tenure extension and has now filed a review petition against the Supreme Court judgement on the issue. "What does the government going into review indicate?" she asked. The PPP leader also criticised the government for "doing nothing but giving a speech" regarding the issue of occupied Kashmir. She questioned why the foreign minister was not coming to the parliament to brief the lawmakers on the latest situation in the region.
JUI-F senator criticises ISPR over Musharraf statement
Jamiat Ulema-Islam (Fazl) Senator Abdul Ghafoor Haideri while addressing the upper house expressed concerns over the statement issued by the military's media wing on the verdict announced in the high treason case against former military ruler retired Gen Pervez Musharraf.
He said the debate on the verdict against Musharraf should have taken place in the parliament, and added that the statement given by the director general of the Inter-Services Public Relations regarding the judgement had sparked "an exchange of statements".
The JUI-F lawmaker said the matter of Gen Bajwa's service extension should also have been discussed in the parliament. Because that was not done, the country had to "face embarrassment", he added.

#Pakistan - #NAB’s initial inquiry into #PTI’s ‘tree tsunami’ project finds losses of Rs462m

Accountability watchdog recommends six more investigations into ruling party’s flagship project.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s flagship Billion Tree Tsunami Project has reportedly caused a loss of over Rs462 million to the public exchequer, according to an initial inquiry conducted by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
On March 26, 2019, NAB Chairman Justice (r) Javed Iqbal had authorised the inquiry into the Billion Tree Tsunami Project.
According to a media report on Wednesday, the NAB Peshawar office has recommended upgrading the inquiry along with authorisation for separate investigations and six inquiries to unearth the mega scam in KP.
The report claimed that NAB officials had checked only 10 to 20 per cent of only one region out of three regions during which it had detected the loss of Rs462m so far.
In 2014, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government had started the Rs14.32 billion tree plantation project.
According to the report, 24 different complaints were received by the Peshawar bureau regarding ghost payments, nepotism and favouritism in selection of nurseries. Overlapping of plantation of the other project was also pointed out by the complainants. Some of the complaints were regarding payments made for plants different from the actually purchased ones, it added.
Allegations of ghost labour, misappropriation and embezzlement of daily wages, enclosures failure and payments against ghost plantations were also received.
A NAB report further disclosed that a loss of Rs80.044m had been detected in Dera Ismail Khan due to a shortfall in the hectare-wise plantation area.
Embezzlement of plants in farm forestry/free distribution in KP worth Rs359.01m has been found during the inquiry. Furthermore, embezzlement on account of sowing/dibbling of seeds and salaries paid to nighebans (caretakers) of enclosures in Dera Ismail Khan amount to Rs10.62m. Embezzlement of Rs2.5m was found in 411,000 saplings received from other divisions in Bannu. A watchtower was constructed in Dera Ismail Khan without any PC 1 resulting in irregularities of Rs10m.
According to the report, NAB Peshawar has recommended four investigations against the Divisional Forest Officer and other officials regarding misuse of authority, embezzlement, corruption and corrupt practices and execution of BTAP against Divisional Forest Officer of Dera Ismail Khan along with region 1, 2, 3 i.e. Hazara and Swat.
Furthermore, six additional inquiries were also recommended against the officers and officials of the KP forest department and others regarding embezzlement, misappropriation, corruption, and corrupt practices in procurement of seeds, polythene bags, machinery, vehicles and office equipment in forest region 1, 2,3.

- #HappyNewYear2020 - Bilawal Bhutto Zardari greets nation on New Year

 Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari wished the nation ‘Happy New Year’ on the arrival of 2020.
In a message issued here today, the PPP Chairman hoped that the new year will herald an era of progress and prosperity for the people of Pakistan.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari further said that the country’s unanimously-agreed constitution is a force that continues to keep the federation and its units together.
He linked the country’s bright future to strict compliance with the provisions of the Constitution.