H I G H L I G H T S
In its latest report on global economic prospects, the World Bank projected Pakistan’s growth rate for the current financial year and the next two fiscal years at 2.4, 3 and 3.9 percent respectively. As per a report of the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, inflation touched 14.6% in January, the highest level in the last 12 years. Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, PM Imran Khan acknowledged that the Pakistani people were facing hardships due to the government’s economic stabilization programme, but expressed the hope that 2020 would bring growth and jobs for them. He noted that his government had launched a skill development programme to take advantage of Pakistan’s youth bulge and was also trying to develop Pakistan’s untapped mineral wealth. He spoke of trade potential among the regional countries and said that immense opportunities of growth would emerge if the relationship between Pakistan and India became normal.
Financial Action Task Force (FATF)
In an attempt to hide the reality from its people, the Pakistani establishment continued to blame India for its troubles at the FATF. The Pak Foreign Office condemned the remarks of General Bipin Rawat, Chief of Defence Staff at the Raisina Dialogue, in which he had called for blacklisting of Pakistan by FATF and its diplomatic isolation. In continued action to make a case for Pakistan’s exclusion from FATF’s grey list, an Anti-Terrorism Court sentenced a number of members of the Sunni-Barelvi extremist organization, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), including the brother of its chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi, to long imprisonment. It would be recalled that till 2018, the army had used this organization to pressurize the then PML(N) government and enabled it to participate in the 2018 election to undercut the vote of Nawaz Sharif. It was only when it threatened the stability of the PTI government by mounting an agitation against the acquittal of a Christian woman of blasphemy charges that the law enforcement agencies took action against it. In the run up to the Beijing meeting of the Asia Pacific Group (APG) of FATF in January, Foreign Minister Qureshi said that Pakistan hoped that the US would back its efforts to come out of the FATF grey list. In a blatant allusion to the transactional relationship between the two countries, Qureshi referred to the help rendered by Pakistan in the context of the US talks with the Afghan Taliban. During her visit to Islamabad subsequently, the senior US diplomat Alice Wells noted the “significant progress” made by Islamabad on the FATF recommendations in a “short time”. A Pakistani delegation presented a report of the action taken on the FATF recommendations at the APG meeting in Beijing. Pak media reports claimed that the attitude of the US and EU countries had been supportive of Pakistan at this meeting. However, the same reports, while expressing the confidence that Pakistan would not be blacklisted, also acknowledged that it may not come out of the grey list at the FATF meeting in Paris in February and may stay on it for some more time. In a statement after the APG meeting, the Chinese Foreign Ministry called upon the international community to recognize and encourage Islamabad’s political will and active efforts to implement the FATF programme.
Extension of Tenure of the Army Chief
It would be recalled that the Pak government had filed a petition in the Supreme Court, calling for a review and setting aside of its judgment that had permitted only six months’ extension for General Bajwa and made any further extension subject to passage of a suitable law by the Parliament. At the beginning of January, the Pak cabinet approved a draft bill for this purpose for presentation to the Parliament. In a sign of a deal between the army and the principal opposition parties- PML(N) and PPP- these two parties agreed to back the bill, with PML(N) promising “unconditional” support and PPP making its support subject to the bill not being rushed through the Parliament by being considered first by the relevant Parliamentary committees. Facing opposition within its ranks, PML(N) used the committee route as a face saver to justify its support. Only Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (F) opposed the bill. The legislation made an easy passage through the Parliamentary committees and the two houses of Parliament, thereby paving the way for extension of three years to the army chief. Significantly, in a press meet, senior PML(N) leader, Khurram Dastgir hinted that there may have been pressure on the party leadership in the matter. Hinting at similar pressure on the PPP leadership, party leader, Faratullah Babar said that the PPP Central Executive Committee had recommended four amendments to the above legislation, but these were withdrawn under the instructions of the party leadership.
Musharraf Treason Case
Ruling on a petition filed by the former military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, a three-member bench of the Lahore High Court declared the formation of the special court that awarded death sentence to Musharraf as unconstitutional and further stated that the treason case against Musharraf had not been prepared in accordance with the law. With an eye on the possibility of the Lahore High Court verdict being challenged (media reports suggest that some lawyers moved the Lahore High Court for a review and annulment of its above ruling), Musharraf filed an appeal against the special court judgment in the Supreme Court. According to Pak media reports, the registry of the apex court returned the appeal with the observation that as per the settled principle of law, the convict should first surrender before filing the appeal. With Musharraf staying abroad and the army backing him, there was little likelihood of the death sentence awarded by the special court being carried out.
Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM)
The Pashtun human rights movement, PTM, was again in the news when it organized a large rally in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa city of Bannu in mid-January. At this rally, the PTM leadership announced the formation of a jirga to unite all Pashtun leaders for a joint fight for Pashtun rights. As in the past, PM Imran Khan blamed external elements for creating unrest in the tribal areas of Pakistan. Later in the month, the PTM chief Manzoor Pashteen was arrested by police in Peshawar and remanded to 14-days judicial custody for allegedly stating at a rally in DI Khan that the 1973 Pak constitution violated basic human rights and making derogatory remarks against the state.
Pakistani leaders and the Foreign Office continued to make strident statements against India, often making highly provocative and false allegations. The Foreign Office stated at the beginning of January that Pakistan had written to the UN Secretary General and the UNSC President, apprising them of the threats to Pakistan due to intensified ceasefire violations and deployment of troops by India along the LoC. Responding to the statement of the Indian army chief that the army would take action to recover the Indian territory of J&K illegally occupied by Pakistan, if so mandated by the Parliament, a meeting of the corps commanders of the Pak army pledged to “defend our motherland at whatever cost.” Pakistan also blamed India for “mischievous portrayal” “of isolated, fabricated incidents involving Pakistani citizens as minorities’ rights issues.”
A UN Security Council meeting, convened to discuss the situation in Mali, discussed the situation in Kashmir behind closed doors under the agenda item “any other business points” at the Chinese request. This was the second time such a meeting took place since withdrawal of special status of J&K in August last year. No outcome of the meeting was announced. However, the Pakistani media quoted the Chinese Ambassador as saying at the end of the meeting that the Council heard a briefing from the UN Secretariat on the situation. He was further quoted as saying that the issue of India and Pakistan is always on the agenda of the UNSC and “recently, we have also seen some tensions.” He recalled that Foreign Minister Qureshi had written a letter to the UNSC to pay attention to the situation in Kashmir. PM Imran Khan claimed that the closed door discussion implied that the “Kashmir dispute” remained on the agenda of the UN, which recognized the “seriousness of the prevailing situation.” At a separate meeting of the UNSC to discuss upholding of the UN Charter, the Pak Permanent Representative requested the Council to act “decisively to prevent a disastrous war between Pakistan and India”. In response, the Indian Permanent Representative called upon Pakistan to heal itself of its malaise. He referred, inter alia, to globalization of terror networks as one of the challenges facing the Council.
India rejected the offer of help on Kashmir, made by President Trump to PM Imran Khan during their meeting at Davos, stating that there was no role for any third party in the Kashmir issue.
Due to hold the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit later this year, India said that invitation would be extended to all members of the organization, including Pakistan.
With restrictions placed on bilateral trade from both sides, the Indo-Pak trade came down drastically. As per data released by Pakistan’s central bank, Pakistan’s exports to India during the second half of 2019 stood at $16.8 million compared to $213 million in the first half of 2019. Imports from India also fell to $286.6 million in the second half of 2019 as against $865 million during the first half.
During a phone call initiated by the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo in the wake of the killing of the Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, army chief Bajwa emphasized the need for maximum restraint and constructive engagement by all concerned to de-escalate the situation. He repeated this call following the Iranian retaliatory attack against US military bases in Iraq. Foreign Minister Qureshi informed the Parliament that Pakistan would not be part of any regional conflict in the wake of Soleimani’s killing. Qureshi visited Tehran, Riyadh and Washington in what was described by the Pakistanis as an attempt to de-escalate the situation. A US State Department official was quoted as saying during a media briefing that PM Imran Khan was among the world leaders who had engaged in an “off ramp” diplomacy to defuse tensions between Iran and the US. During Qureshi’s visit to Washington, Pakistan received a pat on the back from Secretary Pompeo for its support to a political solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. A further American pat came Pakistan’s way, when during his meeting with PM Imran Khan at Davos, President Trump said that the US has never been as close to Pakistan as it is right now. The backdrop of this remark was the American desire to continue to enlist Pak support in their talks with the Afghan Taliban. In a subsequent remark, Foreign Minister Qureshi said that President Trump had told PM Imran Khan that he would visit Pakistan soon. However, the Pak Foreign Office clarified quickly that Pakistan would not be part of Trump’s proposed visit to India in February 2020.
Earlier in the month, the Trump administration approved resumption of the International Military Education and Training (IMET) programme for Pakistani military personnel with a view to “strengthen” military to military cooperation between the two countries.
The US Justice Department indicted five Pakistanis, based in Canada, Hong Kong and the UK and associated with a Rawalpindi based front company called “Business World” on charges of smuggling American technology for the Pakistani nuclear and missile programme. None of them has been apprehended by the US authorities so far. Pakistan, however, said that it had not received any information on the matter from the US.
During her visit to Pakistan, the US Acting Assistant Secretary of State, Alice Wells again strongly criticized the Chinese assistance to Pakistan for the CPEC projects. However, in his subsequent remarks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, PM Imran Khan rejected the criticism of CPEC as nonsense and said that the project is really helping the country.
Reacting to the Trump plan for the Middle-East, the Pak Foreign Office said that Pakistan has consistently supported a two-state solution and establishment of a viable and independent state of Palestine, on the basis of internationally agreed parameters, the pre 1967 borders and with Al-Quds Al-Sharif (Jerusalem) as its capital.
Close on the heels of Pakistan’s decision to stay away from the Kuala Lumpur meeting of Muslim countries because of reservations of Saudi Arabia and UAE, which was followed by the visit of the Saudi Foreign Minister to Pakistan in December 2019, the UAE Crown Prince visited Pakistan in early January. The visit was characterized by political observers as an attempt to woo Pakistan away from the Malaysian initiative. UAE also announced the decision to allocate $200 million for development of small and medium enterprises in Pakistan.
The sixth Pak-China joint naval exercise, Sea Guardians 2020 took place off the coast of Karachi in January.
Following the above mentioned discussion on Kashmir in a closed door meeting of the UN Security Council, a statement issued by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs called upon India to “give serious consideration and positive response to the request of UNSC members.” The Statement added that at Pakistan’s request, UNSC members had heard a briefing by the UN Secretariat at the above meeting and claimed that “members of the Security Council are concerned about the current situation in Kashmir, and call for observance of the UN Charter and international law, and peaceful resolution of disputes through political dialogue. They believe relevant parties should remain restrained and deescalate the tension.” It stressed that “the India and Pakistan issue has all along been on the agenda of the UNSC, and the Security Council should continue to pay attention to Kashmir in light of new developments.”
Peace and Reconciliation
The US-Taliban talks continued through January. Foreign Minister Qureshi said that the Taliban were ready for reduction in violence. Media reports also referred to the willingness of the Taliban to reduce violence to pave the way for intra-Afghan dialogue. A Reuters report claimed that the Taliban were prepared to implement a 10-day ceasefire with the US troops, a reduction in violence with the Afghan forces and dialogue with Afghan government subject to their reaching an agreement with the US. However, Salam Rahimi, the state Minister for Peace Affairs of Afghanistan rejected the reported Taliban offer of reduction in violence and said that they must agree to a ceasefire before engaging in intra-Afghan dialogue. The Taliban chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was quoted as saying that war would end when the US withdrew from Afghanistan. During his meeting with President Ghani in the margins of the World Economic Forum at Davos, President Trump said that he wanted to see a “significant” drop in violence by the Taliban before “meaningful” negotiations could happen. Speaking at a panel discussion in Davos, President Ghani said, “Negotiations with the Taliban is a means. The desire of the Afghan people is to see the end of the violence. If the Taliban are ready to end the violence, the Afghan society is ready to reintegrate them”. He claimed that the Afghan security forces had emerged as a significant force. In an apparent reference to Ghani’s insistence on a ceasefire by the Taliban, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah criticized him for impeding the peace process by introducing new conditions for a peace agreement. In the midst of the continuing impasse, the US Special Representative Khalilzad visited Pakistan and met, inter alia, the Chief of Army Staff. The Pakistanis were reported to have told Kahalilzad that the US could lose a historic opportunity to end the conflict in Afghanistan if they did not act fast to clinch a deal with the Taliban. Subsequently, Khalilzad visited Kabul and briefed President Karzai and other Afghan leaders about the peace talks. The Afghan Presidential palace quoted him as telling President Ghani that the Americans were waiting for a clear answer from the Taliban regarding a ceasefire or lasting reduction in violence based on a working mechanism acceptable to the people of Afghanistan and the US government.
Even as the peace talks remained inconclusive, there was no let up in violence in Afghanistan. A report released by the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) noted that while there was an apparent decline in attacks in Afghanistan in early 2019 during active peace negotiations, the second half of the year saw a return to high levels of violence.
Presidential Election Result delayed further
With the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission continuing to look into the complaints filed against the preliminary result of the Presidential Election announced in December, the final result remained unannounced at the end of January.
UN seeks emergency aid for Afghanistan
The UN Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan announced that the UN was seeking $730 million in humanitarian aid for Afghanistan this year, an increase over the figure in 2019, as poverty had surged in the country. He added that about 9.4 million Afghans were in need of basic food and housing this year, up from 6.5 million in 2019.
According to Pak media reports, Afghan transit trade started from the Gwadar port after a cargo ship brought the first transit consignment of fertilizers from the UAE.
Speaking at Davos in the margins of the World Economic Forum, in an apparent reference to the Haqqani network, President Ghani said that Pakistan continued to give sanctuary to an insurgent group that helps the Taliban in its war against Kabul. He added that PM Imran Khan’s statement in Davos that the Haqqani network had no activities or bases in Pakistan was not helpful. He quipped that going by what the Pak Prime Minister had said, one could also say that the earth did not revolve around the sun! He also said that talks between the US and the Taliban had shown few signs of progress.
President Ghani expressed his concern at the arrest of Manzoor Pashteen, chief of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) in Pakistan. In response, the Pak Foreign Office cautioned him against interfering in the internal matters of Pakistan.
Ambassador Sharat Sabharwal
Former High Commissioner of India to Pakistan and Distinguished Fellow, Ananta Centre
Mr Sharat Sabharwal joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1975. After serving in various positions in the Permanent Mission of India to the UN in Geneva and the Indian Missions in Madagascar, France and Mauritius, he was Director/Joint Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi from 1990 to 1995. The positions held by him subsequently have been Deputy High Commissioner of India in Pakistan (1995-99), Deputy Permanent Representative of India to the UN in Geneva (1999-2002), Ambassador of India to Uzbekistan (2002-2005) and Additional Secretary/Special Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs (September 2005-March 2009).
Mr. Sabharwal was High Commissioner of India to Pakistan from April 2009 to June 2013.
He was appointed Central Information Commissioner in November, 2013 and served in this position till September, 2017.
Mr. Sabharwal has been Deputy leader/member of the Indian delegations to the UN General Assembly, the erstwhile UN Commission on Human Rights, International Labour Conference and World Health Assembly. He was also the Deputy Leader of the Indian delegation to the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent held in Geneva in October 1999 and member of the Indian delegation to the World Conference against Racism, held in Durban in September 2001.
Mr. Sabharwal holds a post graduate degree in Political Science. He speaks English and French besides Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi.
Mr. Sabharwal has been an author at the Indian Express, The Hindu, India Today, The Tribune and The Wire.