Af-Pak Digest - November 2019

I Overview


• Controversy surrounding extension of army chief’s tenure
• JUI(F)’s Azadi march
• Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz)
• Treason case against Musharraf
• Pakistan-India
• Pakistan-US
• Pakistan-China
• Pakistan-Iran

• Presidential election result delayed
• Peace and Reconciliation
• Afghanistan-India
• Afghanistan-Pakistan


II Developments in Pakistan 

Controversy surrounding extension of army chief’s tenure

In July this year, PM Imran Khan had announced an extension of the three year tenure of Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa, due to end on November 28, by another three years. In late November, the government issued a notification for reappointment of Bajwa to the post for a fresh tenure of three years. Simultaneously, Lt. Gen. Nadeem Raza was appointed Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee to replace Gen. Zubair Mahmood Hayat on his retirement and took over the charge of his new assignment later in the month. However, in a surprise move, barely three days before Bajwa was to embark upon his second tenure, a three member bench of the Supreme Court headed by the Chief Justice, Asif Saeed Khosa took up a petition challenging the second tenure and suspended the government notification issued for the purpose. The court hearing over the next three days exposed the utter inept handling of the matter by the government. The Supreme Court pointed out that the Prime Minister had initially issued an order on his own even though President was the appointing authority. The order was later on got approved by the President. On realizing that approval of the cabinet had not been taken, the Prime Minister got approval of less than half the members of the cabinet, but no further order was obtained from the President. The Court questioned extension/ reappointment of Bajwa by the government on the ground that the army rules/ relevant constitutional provisions did not provide for it. Significantly, it also questioned the basis of the decision - the regional security situation - cited by the government, pointing out that the army as an institution was required to deal with regional security threats and going by the logic of the government, extension of tenure of everyone in the army would be warranted. The government lawyers had no satisfactory answers and legal manoeuvres by the government, including amendment of the army rules and a fresh approval by the cabinet, did not satisfy the court. For two days, it seemed that the matter might head into a crisis situation in case the Court refused to approve an extension/ reappointment for Bajwa. There was speculation of possible declaration of emergency by the government to tide over the crisis. However, having taken the situation to the brink, the Court backed down partially. In an order issued on November 28, it allowed extension/reappointment of Bajwa for a period of six months, while directing the government to determine the tenure, terms and conditions of service of the army chief through legislation within the above period. Thus continuation of Bajwa in army chief’s post beyond six months would depend upon the legal provisions to be adopted by the Parliament. In a subsequent statement, the Attorney General said that a suitable law would be framed for all services chiefs, adding that only the army regulations would need to be changed and no constitutional amendment was required. However, sensing an opportunity to embarrass the government, the opposition PML (N) said that legislation on the matter would not be easy. The reasons for the sudden action by the Supreme Court have been a matter of speculation. According to some observers, PM Imran Khan’s criticism of the judiciary in allowing Nawaz Sharif to go abroad for medical treatment (covered below) miffed the Supreme Court, making them show the government in a very poor light in the course of the above proceedings. It is also possible that some disgruntled senior army officers, whose promotion prospects were marred by Bajwa’s extension, might have encouraged the Chief Justice to take up this sensitive matter. This is borne out by the fact that the judiciary has in general not shown the courage to take on the army, let alone the army chief. To take a few examples, the superior judiciary stopped a special court from delivering its judgment in the Musharraf treason case (covered below). The judiciary has cooperated with the army inspired selective accountability against Nawaz Sharif. That he was finally allowed by it to go abroad for medical treatment seems most likely the result of the army wanting him out of the country. Bajwa’s fate after the initial six months and adoption of a suitable legislation for his continuation beyond this period would depend upon his control on his senior commanders and not on the political class. Should he be able to ensure cohesion within the army, the political class, including the opposition parties, could be expected to bend over backwards to give him the legislation that he needs for his continuation in his post for a fresh tenure of three years.

JUI (F)’s Azadi march

In spite of the sound and fury unleashed by the JUI (F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman through his azadi march on the capital, bereft of the sympathy of the army and active support of principal opposition parties that are busy dealing with the accountability cases against their top leaders, the Maulana found himself incapable of inflicting any serious damage on the government. The army spokesperson, Major General Asif Ghafoor said that no effort to harm national stability would be permitted. The Maulana responded that such a statement should have come from a politician and not a representative of the army. Earlier, while addressing his supporters, he had called upon the state institutions (a reference to the army) to stay impartial and not support the Imran Khan government. Finally, he called off his dharna in Islamabad and announced “plan B” involving blockage of major national highways and roads by his supporters. Some reports suggested that he had struck a deal with the government, but no details were available. After blockage of some roads and dharnas in various parts of the country, “plan B” was also called off.

Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) – PML (N)

There were signs of the Pakistani establishment softening its attitude somewhat towards PML (N). The Lahore High Court released Maryam Nawaz on bail at the beginning of November. Following sudden deterioration in his health condition, PML (N) leader Nawaz Sharif was moved from jail, first to a hospital and later on to his residence. It was reported subsequently that though he had been reluctant to leave Pakistan earlier, he had finally agreed to go abroad for medical treatment. Senior PTI leaders were reported to be opposed to Nawaz being granted permission to travel abroad. The PTI government made his exit from the country subject to his giving surety bonds of Rs. 7 billion (equivalent to the fines imposed on him by an accountability court in two corruption cases). This condition was rejected by Nawaz. However, ruling on a petition filed against the above government order, the Lahore High Court allowed Nawaz to go abroad for four weeks for medical treatment, stipulating further that the duration could be extended based on medical reports. The permission was granted based on undertakings given by Nawaz and his brother Shehbaz Sharif. Nawaz Sharif left for London soon thereafter, provoking Prime Minister Imran Khan to question his medical condition and criticize the judiciary for letting him go without the stringent condition stipulated by the government. The Chief Justice of Supreme Court, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa stated that the government had itself agreed to let Nawaz go abroad, adding that the judiciary should not be taunted regarding the powerful as everyone was equal before the law. Nawaz’s departure and the silence of Maryam Nawaz gave rise to speculation of a deal between the army and PML (N). There was no confirmation of such a deal, but it was clear that Nawaz could not have gone abroad without a nod from the all-powerful army. He has in the recent years become the torch-bearer of civilian supremacy in Pakistan and the army would have been keen to see him move away from the country and active politics.

Treason case against Musharraf

A special court in Islamabad reserved its verdict in the high treason case against the former President Musharraf, stating that it would be delivered on November 28. In doing so, the court noted that it had given three chances to the President’s lawyer to submit his arguments, which he had failed to do. According to media reports, the court had been informed in October that the government had sacked the entire prosecution team engaged by the previous PML-N government to prosecute Musharraf for high treason. Musharraf, who lives abroad, filed a petition in the Lahore High Court through his legal team praying for a stay on the proceedings of the special court. Surprisingly, the Imran Khan government also filed a petition in the Islamabad High Court, requesting it to set aside the order of the special court concerning pronouncement of its judgment on November 28. The Islamabad High Court barred the special court from pronouncing its verdict, directing it to listen to all the parties and complete all legal formalities before doing so. It also directed the government to appoint a prosecutor by December 5. The superior judiciary thus postponed the day of reckoning for the former military dictator, raising doubts about whether he would ever be punished for his unconstitutional actions.


The Kartarpur corridor was inaugurated in separate ceremonies in India and Pakistan on November 9 after some confusing signals from Pakistan regarding the need for Indian pilgrims to carry passports and pay a $20 fee. While Imran Khan seemed to signal relaxation of the above requirements, the army spokesperson contradicted him. The Indian authorities said that they would go strictly by the requirements stipulated in the agreement signed with Pakistan. Speaking at the Pakistani ceremony, PM Imran Khan could not resist attacking India, accusing it of keeping Kashmiris “like animals”. He added that when the Kashmir issue is resolved and “Kashmiris get their rights”, India and Pakistan would see prosperity. Prime Minister Modi inaugurated the corridor on the India side and flagged off the first batch of pilgrims, including former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Punjab Chief Minister Amrinder Singh and other politicians. He thanked Prime Minister Imran Khan for making the corridor possible.
Pakistan expressed “deep concern” at the Ayodhya verdict of the Indian Supreme Court. A Pak Foreign Office statement said that the verdict had “shredded the veneer of so-called secularism of India by making clear that minorities in India are no longer safe…..” and alleged that a process of “re-writing history is underway in India in order to recast it in the image of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ in pursuance of the Hindutva ideology.” It called upon the Indian government to ensure protection of Muslims, their lives, rights and properties.
Pakistan rejected the maps issued by India at the beginning of November to depict the boundaries of the newly created union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.
The army spokesperson, Major General Asif Ghafoor described as incorrect the media reports concerning amendment of the Pakistan Army Act to implement the verdict of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Kulbhushan Jadhav case. He added that various legal options for review and reconsideration of the case, ordered by the ICJ, were being considered and final status would be shared with the public in due course of time.


According to a US State Department report, Pakistan’s implementation of international standards to combat money laundering and terror financing remains uneven. The report maintains that Pakistan has made serious efforts to meet the standards set by the global watchdog, FATF. However, it failed to significantly limit LeT and JeM from raising money, recruiting and training in Pakistan and allowed the candidates affiliated to the LeT front organizations to contest the July 2018 election. The report also complains that Pakistan did not restrict the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network from operating in Pakistan based safe havens and threatening the US and Afghan forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan expressed its disappointment at the above report, alleging that it had overlooked the factual situation on the ground.
In a strong indictment of China’s CPEC investment in Pakistan, the US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Alice Wells, speaking at a think tank, warned Pakistan that it could face long term economic damage with little return if China kept pursuing its giant infrastructure push. She added that CPEC was not about aid, but was driven by non-concessionary loans, with Chinese companies sending their own labour and material. It would take a growing toll on the Pakistani economy, especially when the bulk of repayments became due. Even if loan repayments were deferred by China, they would continue to hang over Pakistan’s economic development potential. She wondered why China, whose own growth had been made possible by private sector investment from developed countries, was following a different model for Pakistan by placing it under a heavy debt burden.  While acknowledging that the US could not come to Pakistan with offers from state-run companies, Wells said that US private investments, coupled with grants, could improve Pakistan’s economic fundamentals. She referred in particular to the Chinese project to upgrade the railway from Karachi to Peshawar, which was initially priced at $8.2 billion, but had subsequently risen to $9 billion.  She alleged lack of transparency in the CPEC projects, adding that the recently set up CPEC authority had been made immune to the national accountability process. She challenged the notion that CPEC would create jobs in Pakistan. Stating that Pakistan owed $15 billion to the Chinese government and $6.7 billion in Chinese commercial debt, Wells called upon Pakistan to introduce economic reforms that would encourage US investors to invest there. Reacting to Wells’ criticism, the Pakistani Minister for Planning, Asad Umar said that Pakistan was conscious of the fact that CPEC was not an aid but an investment. He added that the aid that Pakistan had received in the past did not contribute in real terms towards the country’s progress. He rejected the charge that only China would benefit from CPEC, pointing out that the lack of infrastructure in Pakistan, especially in the power sector, was an area where a lot of the country’s needs had been met as a result of the CPEC investments. Responding to Wells’ assertion that Pakistan would be under a heavy burden of Chinese debt, Umar claimed that out of Pakistan’s total debt of $74 billion, the Chinese debt amounted to $18 billion and debt on account of CPEC only to $4.9 billion. He maintained that after the Chinese short term commercial debt, taken to tide over the balance of payments crisis, had been repaid, the portion of the Chinese debt servicing will decline sharply. The public debt obtained from China had a maturity period of 20 years with the interest rate of 2.34%. After the initial emphasis on infrastructure, the focus in future would be on special economic zones, agriculture and social sectors. Foreign Minister Qureshi said that Pakistan did not share the US assessment and had conveyed as much to them.


Speaking at an event in Islamabad, the Chinese envoy to Pakistan said that the CPEC projects were free of corruption. He expressed his shock and surprise at the statement made by Alice Wells and added that if Pakistan was in need, China would never ask it to repay its loans in time. He wondered why the US had suspended its aid promised to Pakistan. He claimed that CPEC had so far provided jobs to over 75000 Pakistani workers and its projects are expected to create around 2.3 million jobs by 2030.


The army Chief Qamar Bajwa paid a visit to Iran. He met, inter alia, President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. According to Pak media reports, discussions covered security cooperation and better monitoring of the Pak-Iran border. According to Mehr News Agency, President Rouhani called for all-out efforts to broaden the range of cooperation between the two countries and noted positive developments concerning border security.


III Developments in Afghanistan

Presidential election result delayed

The counting of votes cast in the Presidential election held on September 28 remained mired in controversies through November. At the beginning of the month, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) released new numbers of votes cast, but election observers of Abdullah Abdullah and some other candidates refused to accept them. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar alleged that 44% of the votes were fraudulent. In the face of these controversies, the IEC postponed the announcement of election results due on November 14. The IEC Chairperson stated that some election campaign teams had prevented the vote count process in 15 provinces. The Council of Presidential candidates announced subsequently that they would not accept the election results based on fraud. The Abdullah Abdullah campaign team organized a protest march in Kabul and the result remained unannounced at the end of the month, giving rise to apprehensions of political trouble ahead for the war torn country.

Peace and Reconciliation

President Ghani’s spokesperson stated at the beginning of November that in a phone conversation with the Chinese Foreign Minister, the President had agreed to a meeting on the Afghan peace process in Beijing. He added that the dates of the meeting to be held in the “near future” would be announced by China. However, as the month progressed, the focus shifted again to the peace talks between the US and the Taliban. President Ghani said that he had decided to release three senior Taliban prisoners, who had been arrested outside the country with the help of Afghanistan’s international partners and were held in the Bagram prison, in exchange for two western professors – an American and an Australian- who had been kidnapped by the Taliban in 2016. Media reports referred to the expectation that the prisoner swap would pave the way for an intra-Afghan dialogue. The prisoner exchange took place on November 19, with the Afghan government releasing the following prisoners: Anas Haqqani, Haji Mali Khan and Hafiz Rashid- all Haqqani network commanders. President Trump expressed the hope that the prisoner exchange would lead to more good things on the peace front like a ceasefire. He also thanked PM Imran Khan for Pakistan’s efforts in facilitating the exchange and stated in a media interaction that he was working on an agreement with the Taliban. Subsequently, the International Committee of the Red Cross announced that the Taliban had released ten Afghan soldiers in their custody. The US president made a surprise Thanksgiving visit to the US troops in Afghanistan and again expressed the hope that the Taliban would agree to a ceasefire. According to a Reuters report, the Taliban too stated that they were in contact with US officials in Doha and might soon resume formal peace talks. (The formal talks resumed in the first week of December).
In spite of the above positive developments, there was no let-up in the violence perpetrated by the Taliban. A car blast in Kabul killed 12 persons and injured another 20. A grenade attack took place near a Kabul military training facility a few days later. Around 13 Afghan soldiers were killed in a Taliban attack in the Kunduz province later in the month.


An Extradition Treaty was signed in Kabul by the Acting Foreign Minister of Afghanistan and the Indian Ambassador. Speaking at the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies, the Indian Ambassador to Afghanistan said that the Afghans should have full ownership of the peace process. He added that India was engaged in a serious dialogue with the US on issues related to Afghan peace and believes that sustainable peace in Afghanistan requires in the first place dismantling of the infrastructure that supports violence and terrorism. On being asked whether the return of a Taliban Emirate to Afghanistan would be tolerated by India, the Ambassador said that it was for the people of Afghanistan to choose the kind of government they wanted.


Tension mounted between Pakistan and Afghanistan on the allegations of mistreatment of diplomats of both sides. The Pakistan Foreign Secretary, accompanied by DG (ISI), visited Kabul. According to media reports, the two sides decided to set up a technical committee to look into the above allegations and it was also decided that the next meeting of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS) would be held in Kabul in December. APAPPS comprises five working groups on politico-diplomatic, military, intelligence, economic and trade and refugee issues.

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About the Author

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.