Meeting of Intelligence Chiefs: There have been unconfirmed reports in the media that the intelligence heads of Russia, Iran, China and Pakistan met in Islamabad on 10th July to discuss the spread of the organization ‘Islamic State’ in Afghanistan. The news was first reported in Russian and then US news agencies. No formal statements were made by the Pakistan government although media reports mention official sources confirming such a meeting.
China: Optic Fibre Link: The Pak-China Optical Fibre Cable project was inaugurated on 13th July. Its main features are a 820km underground Optical Fibre Cable from Rawalpindi to Khunjerab and the 172km aerial OFC link from Karimabad to Khunjerab. This is the first land-based communication link between Pakistan and China. Pakistan has hitherto been connected to international hubs through undersea cable networks owned by consortiums that includes Indian companies as partners or shareholders. To many in Pakistan this was an unacceptable security risk as equally an excessive dependence on one route which in the past has been interrupted for prolonged periods. The land based optic fibre link thus provides a backup route for Pakistan’s internet traffic, which is currently entirely dependent on undersea cables.
Satellite Launch: The Pakistan Foreign Office announced on 9th July that two Pakistani satellites had been launched with Chinese help. The statement issued said that Pakistan Remote Sensing Satellite-1 (PRSS-1) and Pakistan Technology Evaluation Satellite-1A were co-launched from China’s Jiuquan Satellite Centre. PRSS-1 is China’s first remote-sensing satellite sold to Pakistan and the 17th satellite of its type developed by the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) for an overseas buyer. PakTES-1A is a low-to-medium resolution, earth observation and remote-sensing satellite. It is described as having been “indigenously developed though its payload was developed by a South African firm".
Iran: The Iranian Chief of General Staff Maj Gen Mohammad Bagheri visited Pakistan and called on the Pakistan COAS and the acting Foreign Minister on 16th July.
Elections and Nawaz Sharif: The announcement of a ten-year jail sentence and of seven years for his daughter by an accountability court on 6th July was the final act in the series of judicial pronouncements against the former Prime Minister. His periods of absence in London where his wife is critically ill meant that he was also not available for the last weeks of campaigning in an election where the scales seem to be tilting in favour of Imran Khan and the Pakistan Tehreek i Insaaf. Nawaz Sharif returned to Pakistan on 13th July and was immediately jailed. His return was timed to enable mobilization of supporters in the last fortnight before the elections. It saw nevertheless a comprehensive use of the state machinery to see that his party leaders were unable to milk the opportunity. Nawaz Sharif’s conviction in this and earlier cases, some leakage away of prominent party men to the PTI, and pressure on some of the prominent leaders of his party is the story of the period since his deposition as Prime Minister. His defiant postures against ‘unseen forces’ has furthered strengthened the impression that his is the party least favored by the Pakistan Army and the establishment.
The national elections are held simultaneously with election for the provincial assemblies. In all, some 11,800 candidates are in the fray for 849 seats of national and provincial assemblies. Many of the leaders of different parties are contesting from multiple constituencies: Imran Khan from five, Shahbaz Sharif, now the head of the PML(N), from four.
One feature that has marked this election is the greater tendency to put restrictions on independent minded media organizations than was the case in 2008 or 2013. The English language Dawn - possibly Pakistan’s best-known paper - has complained of pressures through restrictions on its distribution networks both for newspapers and for its TV programmes. Two other of Pakistan’s oldest media groups - the Jang group and the Nawai Waqt group - have faced similar pressures. The Army - through one or the other agency - is generally believed to be responsible for this.
The 2008 election was generally believed in advance to go the PPP’s way. In 2013 the PML(N) was correctly predicted to be the leader. This time around the election is more difficult to predict with the only certainty being spoken about that no single party may get a majority in the National Assembly on its own. The general expectation is that Imran Khan and the PTI may well emerge as the single largest party and then be in a position to cobble up a coalition. There are numerous ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ around this prediction not least the sympathy factor that may yet play in favour of the PML (N).
Post-election predictions also have a nebulous quality to them. Here the final position of the PPP may also have a role to play. It is generally believed that Nawaz Sharif - Zardari differences over a host of issues would continue beyond the elections. However, some recent developments including legal pressures on Zardari introduce a greater element of uncertainty. On 11th July the Supreme Court issued summons to Zardari and his sister as being beneficiaries of ‘suspicious financial transactions’. An alliance of convenience between the PPP and the PML (N) cannot therefore be ruled out still in the future.
Islamic Parties: The Barelvi party the Tehrik i Labbaik Pakistan that gained prominence after it staged a prolonged demonstration in Rawalpindi and Islamabad last year has put up around 150 candidates for National Assembly seats across the country. Along with the PML-N, PTI and the PPP — the TLP is the only party which has fielded over 100 candidates in Punjab’s 117 constituencies. This is larger than those put up by the older religious-political parties’ alliance - the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA).
The political front of the Jamaat ut Dawa/ Lashkar i Taiba – the Milli Muslim League – was not registered by the Election Commission. It has however put up 50 candidates under the name of Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek (AAT) - 43 in Punjab and 7 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). Similarly, the extremist sectarian outfit Ahle Sunnat Wa Jamaat has been permitted to put up candidates.
In common with earlier election of 2008 and 2013 by all accounts India is not a factor in this election. How the radical Islamists perform - and in this the TLP and the Let fronts may be counted - remains to be seen. The historical pattern in Pakistan so far has been that for all their spit and bluster the extremists do not fare well in elections. In case the radical Islamists, of different hues, in the fray perform well or better than in the past it would suggest that the Pakistan Army’s political and social engineering skills have advanced, its policy of mainstreaming terrorists is working and is more than just a tactic for muddying the prospects of those politicians they do not like. Religious parties are not new in Pakistan and in 2002 the MMA had shown the best ever result by religious parties in an election - attributed then to support from the Army to bolster up Musharraf. The current lot of radicals in the fray are however different from the MMA constituents who were in the main mainstream political parties of many years standing. The current phenomenon is the rise in the electoral arena of a disparate group of ultra-right and militant electoral contenders and their supporters and therefore has a different quality.
Terrorist Attacks: Three major terrorist attacks, one devastating in its intensity and the other two for the impression they made reignited fears in Pakistan about resurgence of terrorism after being dormant for some time. On 13th July much as attention was largely focused on Nawaz Sharif’s return and arrest two election related terrorist attacks in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa caused as many as 150 fatal casualties. In Baluchistan the attack was in Mustang and the target was a candidate for the provincial assembly but as many as 130 others were also killed with even larger numbers injured. The KPK attack received its profile because the target was a former Chief Minister who survived but the attack killed at least five people. On 10th July in another attack in KPK province a senior leader of the Awami National Party (ANP) was targeted and killed along with at least 13 others.
Judicial Activism: A caretaker government seems to have imparted added momentum to the activism of the Chief Justice of the Pakistan Supreme Court. Some prominent examples of this are as follows. On 3rd July taking suo motu notice of unchecked population growth and expressing its concern at this Supreme Court constituted a committee to formulate a uniform policy to address the issue. The Court said that the policy so formulated would then be referred to the government that would take charge after the election. Thereafter on the 4th of July the Supreme Court directed immediate and effective measures to build two dams - Diamer Bhasha and Mohmand. The court sought a report with detailed timelines and milestones and also constituted an implementation committee to oversee execution of the dams. The four-judge bench headed by its Chief Justice appealed to people to contribute generously in foreign and local currency for the construction of the dams. The donations will be deposited in a special public account dedicated solely for the construction of dams. The chief justice also announced that he would donate Rs1 million. These orders followed after the Court, on a suo motu basis had taken up a report by the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) regarding acute water scarcity in Pakistan. A court order later issued stated that the branches of all banks receiving such deposits will prominently display banners that donations/contributions are being received for the construction of Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand dams as ordered by the Supreme Court. The ministry of foreign affairs was also directed to issue appropriate directions to the Pakistani missions abroad for receiving donations. Thereafter on the 8th of July the Court, meeting on a Sunday, ordered a thorough analysis of the petroleum products import mechanism in the country by examining the prices at which consumers purchased these. The Supreme Court sat on a weekly holiday to take up Suo motu the taxes and cesses imposed on petroleum products.
In this context a comment made by a columnist in the Dawn bears repition: Constitutionalism and judicial activism appear to be a new form of Pakistani nationalism and the Supreme Court proceedings resemble a state of ‘government by the judiciary’.
Economy: On 21st June the rating agency Moody’s downgraded Pakistan’s outlook to ‘negative’ from ‘stable’ pointing to the heightened external vulnerability on account of falling foreign exchange reserves. Thereafter in the first week of July the rating agency Fitch said that “Pakistan’s declining foreign exchange reserves and widening current account deficit are adding to the country’s external financing risks”. This agency had downgraded the outlook on Pakistan’s B rating to ‘negative’ in January. There have been reliable reports that a Chinese assistance package of 1 Bn US $ has already been received to stabilize the foreign exchange reserves position and there appears to be a growing awareness of an impending return to the IMF post the election. In Pakistan’s recent history the formation of a new government has been accompanied by an approach to the IMF. The big difference this time as compared to 2008 and 2013 is the state of the Pakistan US relationship and the view the IMF may take on the indeterminate amount CPEC related imports have affected the current account deficit.
FATF: The Financial Action Task Force formally placed Pakistan on its ‘Grey List’ on 29th June as “a jurisdiction with strategic AML/CFT (anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism) deficiencies”. The decision to put Pakistan on the grey list had been taken at the FATF in February and took effect after Pakistan negotiated an action plan for overcoming those deficiencies.
The deficiencies identified in Pakistani anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing regime included inadequate monitoring and regulatory mechanisms, low conviction rate on unlawful transactions, poor implementation of United Nations Security Council resolutions 1267 and 1373 and cross-border illicit movement of currency by terrorist groups.
The political mainstreaming of radical outfits, some listed by the UNSC as terrorist entities, the poor state of the country’s external finances and an inevitability about negotiating a new IMF package alongside the FATF listing - the three together will comprise a major set of issues for the new government to address.
July 24, 2018