Af-Pak Digest | September 2019

I Overview


• Opposition Parties
• Pakistan-India
• Pakistan-China
• Pakistan-US
• Pakistan-Afghanistan
• No move to recognize Israel
• Pakistan-Saudi Arabia

• Peace and Reconciliation
• Presidential election
• UNSC Renews mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan

II Developments in Pakistan 

Opposition Parties

The number of opposition leaders arrested in the name of accountability continued to grow with another prominent name- Syed Khursheed Shah of PPP- added to the list. He was arrested by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on charges of acquiring assets worth millions of rupees through ill-gotten money. However, there was some relief in store for those already under arrest. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) dismissed a plea filed by some ruling party (PTI) members seeking disqualification of PML(N) leader Maryam Nawaz, who is under detention on corruption charges, from holding the office of Vice President of her party. It accepted the submission of Maryam’s lawyer that the position of Vice President was “non-functional”, without any powers. However, it also ruled that Maryam could not be appointed as the acting President of PML(N) and she should not accept any functional party position. Peshawar High Court granted bail to two Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) parliamentarians, Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar,  who had been in detention for four months for their alleged role in a clash between the army troops and PTM activists in North Waziristan. The Pakistan army has accused PTM of working for foreign agencies. Speaking after his release, Mohsin Dawar said that state oppression would not deter them from the path of non-violence. However, joint action by opposition parties against the government remained elusive.
Pakistan government announced that India would be provided consular access to the under detention Indian national Kulbhushan Jadhav on September 2 “in line with Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, ICJ judgments and the laws of Pakistan”. Pakistan’s earlier offer had not met with Indian approval because of the conditions- presence of Pak officials and recording of the meeting- attached to it. The Indian Deputy High Commissioner met Jadhav. A statement of the Pak Foreign Office claimed that to “ensure transparency”, the access was recorded. Pakistani officials were also present during it. Subsequently, the  spokesperson of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said that Jadhav “appeared to be under extreme pressure to parrot a false narrative to bolster Pakistan’s untenable claims” and added that further course of action would be decided after receiving a detailed report from the Indian mission. In a press briefing on September 17, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said that ascertaining the wellbeing of Jadhav being a priority, the government had gone through with the access proceedings “howsoever unsatisfactory they may be”. On September 12, Pakistan stated that it had no plans to provide consular access to Jadhav a second time, but the MEA spokesperson responded that India would continue to keep trying to ensure full implementation of the ICJ judgement. Responding to some reports in the Indian media of a former Pakistan army officer being in Indian custody and his possible swap with Jadhav, the Pak Foreign Office spokesperson said that the retired Pakistani Lt. Colonel had gone missing from Nepal, where he had gone for a job interview. All out efforts were being made to trace him out, Indian assistance had also been requested, but there had been no positive response.
Pakistan refused use of its airspace by flights carrying the President and Prime Minister of India on their foreign visits. It continued with ceasefire violations along the LoC. Army Chief General Bipin Rawat said that Pakistan had reactivated the Balakot terror camp that had been hit by the Indian Air Force in February this year and around 500 infiltrators were waiting to enter India. Pakistan rejected this claim. However, in an acknowledgement of the irrationality of its move to suspend trade with India following withdrawal of the special status of J&K, Pakistan was forced to lift the ban on import of medicines and active pharmaceutical ingredients from India.
Pakistan’s shrill rhetoric against the Indian move to withdraw the special status of J&K continued. It raked up the issue at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva in September, where Foreign Minister Qureshi called upon the international community not to “remain indifferent to the tragedy that is unfolding before our eyes” in Kashmir. He called for the following steps by the UNHRC: urge India to stop the use of pellet guns, “lift the curfew”, reverse the “clampdown” and “communications blackout”, constitution of a Commission of Inquiry by the UNHRC, monitoring of human rights situation in Kashmir by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and special procedures mandate holders and unhindered access by India to human rights organizations and international media to Kashmir. Though claiming to enjoy the support of over fifty countries without naming them, Pakistan failed to introduce any resolution or call for a special discussion on Kashmir in a clear sign of its stand carrying little traction in the Council and its above claim being a blatant lie. India responded that revocation of J&K’s special status was its sovereign decision and it could not accept any interference in its internal affairs. It criticized Pakistan’s malicious campaign on the issue, condemned its state sponsored terrorism and described Qureshi’s speech as fabricated narrative coming from the epicentre of global terror. India also questioned Pakistan’s human rights record.
Prime Minister Imran Khan visited New York to address the UN General Assembly. He met US legislators and addressed some other gatherings, continuing with his vitriolic rhetoric against India and the attempt to stoke international anxieties by raising the spectre of a war with a nuclear dimension. He also had a meeting with President Trump, following which the US President reiterated his offer to be a mediator if both parties wanted it. In his speech at the UNGA, Prime Minister Modi made no direct reference to Pakistan, but described terrorism as one of the biggest challenges for the entire humanity and stated that it was absolutely imperative that the world united against terror. However, a large part of Imran Khan’s speech at the UNGA was devoted to Kashmir and it was characterized by his false, self-serving and virulent rhetoric against India. He expressed his disappointment with the international community for remaining silent in the face of eight million people of Kashmir “being treated worse than animals.” He again indulged in war mongering and claimed that the events in Kashmir would create radicalization among Muslims across the globe. India exercised its right of reply at the level of a diplomat of the Indian mission to rebut Imran’s allegations.
International reaction to the Indian move to withdraw the special status of J&K and the restrictions imposed there continued to unfold in September. The OIC Secretariat issued a statement reaffirming “the United Nations Security Council Resolutions on the internationally recognised status of Jammu and Kashmir dispute and its final disposition through a UN supervised plebiscite.” The OIC Contact Group on Kashmir (comprising Turkey, Azerbaijan, Niger, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) met later in New York and called upon the international community to accelerate its efforts to help the people of J&K to achieve their legitimate rights. It stressed that “lasting and durable peace in South Asia rests with just and final settlement of the (Kashmir) dispute, in line with the UN Resolutions, and that dialogue is the only way forward.” After meeting of External Affairs Minister Jaishankar with the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini, the EU stressed the importance of “steps to restore the rights and freedoms of population in Kashmir” and its support to a peaceful resolution of the “crisis in Kashmir” through bilateral dialogue between India and Pakistan. The Saudi and UAE Foreign Ministers were in Pakistan in early September, reportedly to discuss the situation arising from the Indian move on J&K. According to Pak media reports, Pakistan requested the visiting ministers to take a “clear and unambiguous” position on Kashmir. The same reports claimed that Saudi Arabia and UAE offered their good offices to defuse the tension in South Asia. Some other Pak media reports claimed that the two ministers had come with a message from their countries and certain other “powerful” countries, asking Pakistan to engage in backchannel diplomacy with India. They also asked Imran Khan to tone down his verbal attacks against the Indian Prime Minister. However, Pakistan turned down the suggestion of backchannel engagement and stipulated certain conditions for talking to India, including lifting of restrictions imposed in Kashmir. The Pak Foreign Office dismissed media reports that quoted the Saudi and UAE Foreign Ministers informing their Pakistani interlocutors that Kashmir was “not a Muslim ummah  issue.” Speaking at the UNHRC, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed her concern at the “recent actions by the Government of India on the human rights of Kashmiris, including restrictions on internet communications and peaceful assembly and detention of political leaders and activists” and stressed the need to include the people of Kashmir in “any decision-making processes that have an impact on their future.” On being asked about the situation in Kashmir, the UN Secretary General said that “human rights must be fully respected in the territory” and dialogue between India and Pakistan was “an absolute essential element” for the solution of the problem. He added that the UN good offices could be implemented only if the parties accepted it. The US Assistant Secretary of State expressed agreement with PM Imran Khan’s statement that any militants from Pakistan carrying out violence in Kashmir would be enemies of both Kashmiris and Pakistan. She added that sustained commitment of Pakistan to counter all terrorist groups was critical to stability. President Trump continued to reiterate his offer of mediation on Kashmir, but made it subject to both the parties wanting it. According to the details of Trump’s meeting with PM Modi in the margins of the UNGA session, released by the White House, the President “encouraged” the Prime Minister to improve relations with Pakistan and fulfil his promise to better the lives of the Kashmiri people. In response to media queries regarding Pakistan’s terror, he said that Iran would have to be at the top of the list (as perpetrator of terror).  India continued to stress that the recent changes concerning J&K were its internal matter and issues with Pakistan needed to be resolved bilaterally, but Pakistan must first put an end to terror against India. Leaders of Turkey, Malaysia and China also made a reference to Kashmir in their UNGA speeches. The Turkish President Erdogan said that it was imperative to solve the Kashmir problem through dialogue and on the basis of justice and equity, but not through collision. He added that Kashmir was “still besieged and eight million people” were stuck there. Malaysian PM Mahatir Mohammad said that despite UN resolutions on J&K, the territory had been “invaded and occupied”. He added that there might be reasons for India’s action, but it was wrong and India should work with Pakistan to resolve this problem by peaceful means. The Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that the Kashmir issue should be resolved properly and peacefully, based on the UN Charter, relevant UNSC resolutions and bilateral agreements and added, “No actions that would unilaterally change the status quo should be taken.” India reiterated that the changes concerning  J&K were an internal matter and Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh are an integral part of India. The Spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs said that India expected other countries to respect its sovereignty and territorial integrity “and desist from efforts to change the status quo through the illegal and so-called China Pakistan Economic Corridor in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.” Some US lawmakers also expressed concern at the recent developments in Kashmir.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi paid a two day visit to Pakistan and met PM Imran Khan among others. In a joint statement issued at the end of the visit, the two sides reaffirmed that their bilateral relationship was a priority in their foreign policies. China reiterated its support to Pakistan in safeguarding its sovereignty, territorial integrity, independence and national dignity and in working for a better external security environment. Both sides agreed that the CPEC had entered a new phase of high quality development and decided to firmly push forward the construction of CPEC, complete its ongoing projects in a timely manner and realize its full potential by focusing on socio-economic development, job creation, better livelihood and accelerating cooperation in industrial parks and agriculture. They underlined that a peaceful, stable, cooperative and prosperous South Asia was in the common interest of all parties and they needed to settle disputes and issues in the region through dialogue on the basis of mutual respect and equality. The Chinese side informed the Pakistanis that it was paying close attention to the current situation in J&K and reiterated that the dispute should be properly and peacefully resolved based on UN Charter, UNSC resolutions and bilateral agreements. China opposed any unilateral actions that complicate the situation. Both sides agreed to strengthen cooperation on the Afghan issue and support Afghan led and Afghan owned peace and reconciliation process. Reports in the Pakistani press continued to refer to slowing down of the CPEC work because of Pakistan’s economic problems and possible US influence in recent times. According to media reports, China’s COSCO Shipping Lines terminated its container liner services between Karachi and Gwadar due to slow construction of Gwadar Free Trade Zone, resulting in insufficient pick up in export and import volume at the port terminal. However, the Chinese envoy to Pakistan denied that there was any slowdown of CPEC. The Pakistani Minister for Planning and Development announced that the legal framework of Gwadar Free Trade Zone was ready and an apex body, the CPEC Authority was being established to push the CPEC forward.
Following President Trump’s decision to call off talks with the Taliban, Pakistan urged the US and Taliban to resume the talks and reiterated that there was no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. President Ghani and PM Imran Khan had a phone conversation, during which the Afghan President sought Pakistan’s help to mitigate violence in the upcoming Presidential election. Media reports quoted Imran Khan as promising to put in efforts, within Pakistan’s capacity to help with the election. Prime Minister Imran Khan formally inaugurated the opening of the Torkham border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan for 24 hours.
President Trump issued an executive order to designate eleven individuals, including the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan chief Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud as global terrorists. Speaking at a news briefing on PM Imran Khan’s meeting with President Trump in the margins of the UNGA, Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells said that Imran Khan’s commitment to prevent cross-border terrorism, if implemented, would provide a strong basis for India-Pakistan dialogue. She said that the US was going to host 15 Pakistani trade delegations over the next year in order to support trade and investment in energy, healthcare, agriculture and franchising. She added that Trump appreciated Pakistan’s efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan and the US wanted Pakistan to meet the requirements of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
No move to recognize Israel
Reacting to media speculation regarding possible recognition of Israel by Pakistan, the Spokesman of the Pak Foreign Office said that no such move was under way. Speaking at the Asian Society in New York later in the month, PM Imran Khan said that Pakistan would not recognize Israel until there was a homeland for the Palestinians.
Pakistan-Saudi Arabia
Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Saudi Arabia ahead of his speech at the UNGA and expressed his country’s resolve to stand with Saudi Arabia “in the event of a threat to its sanctity and security”. He condemned the attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities. According to a statement issued by Prime Minister’s Office, he briefed the Saudi King about the current situation in Kashmir. The Prime Minister also had a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. In a subsequent statement, Foreign Minister Qureshi said that while Pakistan had assured Saudi Arabia of its solidarity, it had also emphasized the need for caution and urged them not to rush into decisions that could hurt peace and stability of the region.

III Developments in Afghanistan

Peace and Reconciliation

In a trilateral meeting held in early September, Pakistan, China and Afghanistan agreed that there was a need for a comprehensive peace deal through an inclusive Afghan led and Afghan owned reconciliation process and condemned the recent Taliban backed terror attacks in Afghanistan. They agreed to further deepen their cooperation, including advancing connectivity under the Belt and Road Initiative and recognized the need for continuing their joint fight against ETIM. Following President Trump’s decision to call off talks with the Taliban, a statement issued by the Afghan government reiterated its desire and that of the Afghan people for a “dignified peace” and the government’s commitment to make all efforts for this purpose. It described Taliban violence as the main hurdle to peace. The statement also stressed the formation of a strong and legitimate government through the upcoming Presidential election in order to move forward the ongoing peace process. In a separate statement, the Taliban said that they had finalized an agreement with Khalilzad and both sides were preparing to announce its signing. They added that they had selected September 23 for commencement of intra-Afghan negotiations after signing of the peace agreement. However, the US President called off talks. They remained committed to continuing negotiations if a settlement was chosen over war. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the Fox News that talks with the Taliban were dead “for the time being.” However, he separately told CNN that Khalilzad had made real progress, but now the Trump administration wanted to see if the Taliban leaders were serious about the commitments they made during the talks. He added, “We have to see them be able to deliver it. We have to have proof that it’s delivered. And when we get to that point….I am confident President Trump will continue the process.” Pompeo thus left the door open for future talks. The Iranian Foreign Minister expressed grave concern at the situation in Afghanistan and said that “defeated foreigners must leave and fratricide must end; especially as foreigners can exploit the situation, bringing renewed bloodshed.” Russia’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan said that even though Trump’s decision to call off the talks was a negative signal, Moscow expected that the talks would be resumed. The Taliban continued to perpetrate violence in Afghanistan even as the peace process remained suspended. In another significant development, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the US would withdraw about $100 million earmarked for an energy infrastructure project in Afghanistan and withhold a further $60 million in planned assistance, blaming corruption and lack of transparency in Afghanistan.
Presidential Election
In the face of the fraught security situation and uncertainty concerning the outcome of the talks between the US and Taliban, the election campaign for the Presidential election remained subdued and lacklustre. The Taliban continued to threaten disruption of the election process. There were discordant voices within the Afghan political circles. Days before the election, certain Afghan leaders, including former President Karzai, called for stopping the election process and focusing on peace, arguing that the election would lead the country towards a deeper political and social crisis and the US-Taliban negotiations should resume as soon as possible. Finally the election took place on September 28. At least 18 candidates were in the fray , but  two- Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah- were seen as front-runners. According to Tolo News, 260 security incidents were reported on the election day, 90 of them directly targeting polling centres, in which over 20 police officers and nine civilians were killed and over a hundred injured. Both the front runners declared victory after the voting. Out of 9.7 million registered voters, only around 2.5 million were reported to have cast their vote. However, the Independent Election Commission continued to face questions regarding the exact number of votes cast and allegations of electoral fraud had already surfaced. The country seemed headed to  another period of political uncertainty of the kind it faced after the 2014 Presidential election in case allegations of electoral fraud persisted.
UNSC renews mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)
The United Nations Security Council unanimously agreed to renew the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) for a period of one year. The resolutions mandating the mission in 2016, 2017 and 2018 included a reference welcoming and urging efforts like China’s Belt and Road Initiative to facilitate trade and transit. In March 2019, the US and some other council members had expressed their inability to accept that language. Therefore, the mandate of the mission was extended only for six months at that stage. The Chinese had threatened to exercise veto if there was no reference to the Belt and Road Initiative. However, finally the extension of one year was granted in September without the above reference.

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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.