• Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM)
• OIC on Kashmir
• Pakistan not to recognise Israel
• Peace and Reconciliation
• Geneva Pledging Conference on Afghanistan
II Developments in Pakistan
Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM)
The eleven party opposition alliance- PDM- continued to hold well attended rallies in various parts of Pakistan in spite of the hurdles created by the Imran Khan government, inter alia, in the name of checking the COVID-19 infection. Rallies were held in Gujranwala, Karachi, Quetta, Peshawar and Multan in October-November. PDM also adopted a twelve point ‘Charter of Pakistan’ demanding, inter alia, supremacy of the constitution, independence of Parliament, distancing of the establishment (army) and intelligence agencies from politics, free and fair elections, an independent judiciary, protection of provincial rights and the 18th amendment (which devolved powers on provinces) and elimination of extremism and terrorism. The general refrain at the PDM rallies was that Imran Khan, described as “selected Prime Minister” in a reference to the role played by the army in ensuring his victory in the 2018 election, should resign, paving the way for fresh, free and fair elections. While other speakers made oblique references to the negative role played by the army in Pakistan’s political life, Nawaz Sharif continued to be upfront in his speeches. He called out the army chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa and the Director General of ISI, Lt. General Faiz Hameed by name for their role in ousting him from office on the basis of dubious accountability and rigging the 2018 election in favour of Imran Khan. He said that the army leadership would have to answer for foisting an incompetent leader like Imran Khan on the country. He praised the rank and file of the army, adding that a few selfish generals had brought a bad name to it because of their unconstitutional actions. India was dragged into the resulting war of words, with Imran Khan and his aides describing Nawaz Sharif as a traitor who acted on behalf of India and some opposition leaders calling Imran Khan the “seller of Kashmir”. A senior PML(N) leader recalled in the National Assembly that a jittery duo of the army chief and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had asked the opposition leaders to go along with the decision to release the Indian Air Force officer, Abhinandan Varthaman in 2019 as otherwise India was likely to attack Pakistan. The claim was refuted by the government and the army. Responding to the distinction made by Nawaz Sharif between the army leadership and rank and file, the army spokesman said that the armed forces being an organised entity, their leadership and rank and file could not be separated.
There were signs of unease among some leaders of PDM at the approach adopted by Nawaz Sharif. This was particularly visible in PPP, which risks losing the Sindh government in an open confrontation with the army. PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto said that he was shocked when he heard Nawaz mention the names of the army chief and DG(ISI), adding that military leadership was not on the agenda decided during a conference of PDM. There were other confusing signals from the formation. Nawaz’s daughter Maryam hinted her party’s willingness to talk to the security establishment provided Imran Khan was removed from office. This smacked of the well-worn practice in Pakistan of political parties doing deals with the army against their opponents.
In a bizarre incident, Nawaz Sharif’s son in law, Captain Safdar was arrested briefly after the Karachi rally for violating the sanctity of Jinnah’s mausoleum. The incident left the senior echelons of the Sindh police up in arms as their IG, reporting to the provincial PPP government, had to be abducted by the ISI to make him give the orders for Safdar’s arrest! The army chief ordered an enquiry to stem unrest in the Sindh police leadership and it was announced later on that the ISI and Pakistan Rangers officers, who had acted “rather over-zealously”, had been removed for further departmental action. Nawaz rejected the enquiry report.
PDM proposes to hold a rally in Lahore and then mount a march on Islamabad. The option of resigning en masse from the federal and provincial assemblies is also reported to be under consideration. With Imran Khan enjoying the support of the army, there is no imminent danger to his position. However, there is widespread discontent with the poor governance record of his government and the economic hardships caused by the austerity measures resulting from the IMF bailout conditionalities. If push comes to shove, the army leadership may decide to sacrifice Imran Khan and bring another pliable politician to do their bidding. However, notwithstanding the significance in a polity such as Pakistan of the PDM demand for the army to stay away from politics, there is no possibility of the ongoing agitation denting in any meaningful manner the position of the army or its current leadership.
According to IMF, the Pakistan economy is expected to grow by just 1% in the current fiscal year as against the government projection of 2.1%. Other IMF predictions for the ongoing fiscal year are: average inflation of 8.8%, current account deficit at 2.5% and rise in employment by up to 5.1%. IMF sees the growth rate, 0.38% in 2019-20, to recover to 5%, but not before 2025. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic hardships, the IMF had put in abeyance implementation of its bailout conditionalities earlier this year. This had also put a halt to further release of funds by the IMF out of the bailout facility (only $1.5 billion has been released out of the total of $6 billion so far). Adviser to PM on Finance, Hafeez Shaikh said in November that the programme was likely to be revived soon and the two main issues – raising of tax revenue and reforms of the power sector- would be discussed with the IMF. Since the late 1950s, Pakistan has entered into multiple bailout arrangements with the IMF, most of which were abandoned midway because of non-fulfilment of programme conditions by Pakistan. Pakistan’s external sector situation remains precarious and it cannot afford to abandon the ongoing programme. However, fulfilment of the IMF conditionalities would cause further hardship to the public, adding to Imran Khan’s political challenges.
In its meeting held in October, the Asia-Pacific Group on money laundering – a regional affiliate of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) - decided to retain Pakistan on its “Enhanced Follow Up” list because of less than satisfactory performance on implementation of the FATF recommendations. In a subsequent meeting, FATF decided to keep Pakistan on its grey list, while stating that it had largely addressed 21 of the 27 action items and needed to comply with the rest by February 2021. FATF flagged, in particular, the need for law enforcement agencies to investigate the widest range of terror financing activity, effective, proportionate and decisive sanctions as a result of terror financing prosecution and effective implementation of targeted financial sanctions against all 1267 and 1373 designated terrorists. It has been clear for some time now that Pakistan would not be shifted to the blacklist. At the same time, there is no sign so far of Pakistan garnering the support of twelve FATF members to come out of the grey list. It may also suit the Americans to keep Pakistan on the grey list to continue to enlist its support in the context of peace moves in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s strategy on the other hand seems to be to take action against Hafiz Saeed and other LeT terrorists who have become too high profile, while keeping its terror machinery ticking. There was a succession of convictions and sentencing to imprisonment of LeT terrorists, including Hafiz Saeed, with an eye on the FATF process. However, keeping the past experience in mind, such action cannot be said to be irreversible.
In an interview to an Indian journalist, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Adviser on National Security, Moeed Yusuf claimed that India had sent messages to Pakistan over the past year expressing a desire to talk, but did not specify the manner in which the claimed messages were sent. He set five pre-conditions for dialogue with India: release of all political prisoners in Kashmir, end to the “blockade and restrictions” there, abrogation of the domicile law that allows non-Kashmiris to settle in Kashmir, an end to “human rights abuses” in Kashmir and to “state terrorism in Pakistan.” India strongly denied having sent any message to Pakistan for dialogue. With India standing firm on its policy of “terror and talks cannot go together” and Pakistan setting pre-conditions for dialogue, there is little chance of resumption of talks between the two countries. Ceasefire violations by Pakistan on the Line of Control continued resulting in suitable response by India and civilian as well as armed forces casualties on both sides.
In mid-November, Pakistan released a dossier allegedly containing “irrefutable evidence” on India’s sponsorship of terrorism in the country. There was much sound and fury against India at the press conference, addressed jointly by Foreign Minister Qureshi and the army spokesman, where the dossier was released. It was stated that it would be shared with the world community. Subsequent reports suggested that Pakistan had shared it with the P-5 countries and the UN Secretary General. A national narrative was sought to be built that Pakistan had hitherto restrained itself from being too vocal on India’s terror activities, thereby allowing India to discredit Pakistan on the issue, but would now be upfront in taking the matter to the international community. Such allegations by Pakistan against India are not new and have been made from time to time to achieve a moral equivalence with India under the shadow of its own campaign of terror. However, no credible evidence has ever been presented to substantiate these allegations. Since Pakistan enjoys low credibility in general and more so on the issue of terror in the international community, its dossier is not likely to get much traction internationally. It seems to be aimed largely at the home audience, which has been critical of the Imran Khan government not having been able to give a meaningful response to the Indian move to withdraw the special status of J&K.
Pakistan criticised the signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) between India and the US and stated that such agreements together with provision of advanced military hardware and technologies to India pose a threat to strategic stability in South Asia.
Election to the legislative assembly of “Gilgit Baltistan” was held in November. In the run up to the election, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced that “provisional” provincial status would be given to “Gilgit Baltistan”. The word “provisional” is a fig leaf to justify Pakistan’s move, which flies in the face of its oft repeated stance that the status of the territories of the erstwhile state of J&K is to be determined in accordance with the UN Security Council resolutions. The Government of India firmly rejected “the attempt by Pakistan to bring material changes to a part of Indian territory, under its illegal and forcible occupation.” As expected, PTI emerged as the single largest party in the assembly and has formed government with the support of some independents. The opposition parties and the newly formed PDM, cried foul at the election result. PDM described it as vindication of its stance on rigging of the 2018 election.
OIC on Kashmir
The 47th conference of Foreign Ministers of the OIC countries, held in Niger at the end of November, made certain references critical of the Indian policies in Kashmir, including the move to withdraw the special status of J&K. The references, hailed as a victory by the Pak government, came after a period of confusion within Pakistan on whether J&K was on the agenda of the conference or not. In a summary rejection of the references in question, India reiterated that the OIC “has no locus standi in matters internal to India”. Such references in the OIC declarations issued from time to time and their summary rejection by India has been a matter of routine in the past. However, the critical references at Niamey (Niger) came after Pakistan’s unsuccessful efforts to convene an emergency meeting of the OIC Foreign Ministers on Kashmir after India’s move of August 5, 2019 and gave an opportunity to the Imran Khan government to claim some credit with its home audiences.
In spite of the stated shift of focus of the CPEC investment to industrial estates and energy projects, infrastructure projects still continue to be sanctioned. In its meeting at the end of October, the CPEC Joint Working Group on Transport Infrastructure approved three major road projects: Peshawar to DI Khan (320 km), Swat Expressway (182 km) and Dir Expressway (30 km). China has posted its first non- Foreign Office envoy to Pakistan, who has served long years in dealing with trade and economic issues. The move is reportedly aimed at giving a push to the CPEC projects.
The Chinese Defence Minister, Gen Wei Fenghe, paid a three day visit to Pakistan and met the civilian and military leadership. In his meeting with Gen Wei Fenghe, Prime Minister Imran Khan called for deepening bilateral “strategic communication and coordination” to deal with the emerging challenges and threats. The two countries also signed a Memorandum of Understanding to further deepen defence cooperation.
A special forces contingent of Russia arrived in Pakistan in early November to participate in a two weeks long joint counter-terrorism exercise DRUZHBA 5. The DRUZHBA series of joint exercises between the two countries was initiated in 2016.
Pakistan not to recognise Israel
The Pakistan Foreign Office rejected media reports that Pakistan was under pressure from the US to recognise Israel and reiterated that unless a just settlement of the Palestinian issue, to the satisfaction of the Palestinian people, was reached, Pakistan could not recognise Israel. The army spokesman extended support to the position stated by the Foreign Office. The sway of Islamic extremism in Pakistan severely restricts the room for manoeuvre available to the government to change its Israel policy.
III Developments in Afghanistan
Peace and Reconciliation
Intra-Afghan negotiations, envisaged in the US-Taliban deal, that had commenced in Doha on September 12 remained stalled for over two and a half months because of disagreement on certain preliminary issues, such as the Taliban insistence that their agreement with the US should be the basis of the negotiations, the war in Afghanistan be described as jihad and Hanafi jurisprudence should be the religious basis of decision making in the negotiations. Even as the talks remained stalled, the level of violence in Afghanistan picked up significantly. In a report released at the beginning of November, the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said that the Taliban violence had increased by 50% in the past three months. The Afghan government accused the Taliban of having brought the Taliban prisoners, released by the government as a pre-condition to intra-Afghan negotiations, back to the battlefield. On their part, the Taliban blamed the US forces of violating the provisions of the US-Taliban deal. However, in a statement issued later on, after Joe Biden’s victory in the US Presidential election became clear, they assured the incoming administration that they remained committed to the Doha deal. Media reports of a breakthrough in the talks on the preliminary issues emerged in November. However, while the Taliban stated that an agreement had been reached, Afghan official circles continued to maintain that in spite of some progress in the negotiations, a final agreement on the preliminaries was yet to be approved by the leaders of the two sides. Finally, both sides acknowledged in the beginning of December that an agreement on the preliminaries had been reached. A member of the Afghan government’s negotiating team was quoted as saying that discussions would now shift to the agenda of the negotiations. However, thornier issues such as a comprehensive ceasefire and the future political set up in Afghanistan lie ahead. The Taliban continue to regard violence and fighting as a tool to enhance their bargaining power and to keep their rank and file with them. On the political set up, President Ghani would expect the Taliban to join the political mainstream under the Afghan constitution and has rejected any possibility of formation of an interim government to give the Taliban a place in the power structure. Afghanistan, therefore, is still nowhere close to peace.
Geneva Pledging Conference on Afghanistan
The Geneva pledging conference on Afghanistan took place on November 23 and 24. In the run up to the conference, major donors including the US and European Union laid down a set of 10 conditions to the Afghan government and the Taliban for continued financial support to Afghanistan over the next four years. These included an inclusive Afghan-led and Afghan owned peace process, a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire, continued commitment to democracy, the rule of law and human rights. The Government of Afghanistan welcomed these conditions. A representative of the EU said that the Taliban lost the opportunity to attend the conference because they did not reduce violence.
Speaking to the conference, President Ashraf Ghani said that any precipitous reduction in grant support to Afghanistan over the next few years would lead to major setbacks in public services, economic activity and living standards. He added that maintenance of the existing levels of assistance was essential not only for development, but also for peace. He also called upon the Taliban to agree to an immediate ceasefire to move the peace process forward. The UN Secretary General too called for immediate, unconditional ceasefire. In his statement to the conference, the Minister for External Affairs, S. Jaishankar emphasised India’s long term commitment to the development of Afghanistan and announced the launch of Phase-IV of the High Impact Community Development Projects in Afghanistan, which envisages more than 100 projects worth $80 million to be financed and implemented by India. He also pointed out that India’s development portfolio in Afghanistan amounted to over $3 billion.
The donors pledged a projected $ 12 billion in aid to Afghanistan over the next four years, spread almost equally at $ 3 billion per annum, but many made it conditional on protecting human rights and making progress on peace talks. This was a drop from $ 15.2 billion pledged in 2016 for four years.
Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation of Afghanistan visited India in early October. He had earlier paid a visit to Pakistan in late September and is set to visit some other regional countries. In India, he met Prime Minister Modi, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and NSA Ajit Doval. Abdullah Abdullah briefed his Indian interlocutors on the Afghan peace process and the ongoing talks in Doha. Prime Minister Modi reiterated India’s commitment to sustainable peace and prosperity in Afghanistan and welcomed efforts towards a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire in Afghanistan.
Prime Minister Imran Khan paid a visit to Kabul in November, his first since assuming office. In a document titled “Shared Vision”, issued at the end of the visit, the two countries expressed their desire to build a special relationship founded on predictability, transparency and respect for each other’s sovereignty. They also agreed that Afghanistan’s posture of “multi-alignment” with other countries presented no threat, neither county’s territory should be used for “malicious purposes” against the other, regional connectivity should be broadened and deepened and a safe, time bound and dignified return of Afghan refugees from Pakistan would address the humanitarian and socio-economic challenges associated with population displacement. The document also laid down rather ambitious deadlines to promote cooperation against “enemies of peace” and finalise proposals for return of refugees and regional connectivity. Imran Khan assured the Afghans that Pakistan would render all necessary help in reducing violence in Afghanistan.
The aspirational shared vision document is, however, far removed from the reality on the ground. Pakistan continues to harbour and help the forces that create mayhem in Afghanistan. The Afghan government has repeatedly called upon Pakistan to prevent acts of terror in Afghanistan from its soil.
(The views expressed are personal)