Developments in Pakistan

External:

Financial Action Task Force: According to press reports the National Security Committee (NSC) chaired by the caretaker Prime Minister in a meeting on 8th June has approved an action plan to be submitted to the FATF as part of the process for Pakistan to be placed on the organization’s ‘grey list’. The FATF meeting is scheduled to take place in the last week of June. According to reports Pakistan has so far had difficulties in persuading the FATF to accept earlier drafts of its action plan on the grounds that significant loopholes remained in its financial regulatory system w r t terror financing. Failure to have an agreed “Action Plan’ carries the risk of Pakistan being placed on a ‘black list’ that would increase transaction costs for a range of financial activities even more than being on the ‘grey list’. There is however considerable opacity on the exact sticking points. According to some reports in mid-May Pakistan had submitted some additional measures w r t terror financing by domestic groups but these were found to be insufficient requiring further approvals by the NSC.

India: Line of Control Ceasefire: Following a telecon on 29th May the DGMOs of the respective militaries agreed that the 2003 ceasefire would be maintained by both sides. The telecon was described as having been initiated from the Pakistani side. That the telecon was followed by near identical statements by both sides suggests some behind the scenes efforts to secure this outcome. The statement said: “Both DGs MO agreed to fully implement the ceasefire understanding of 2003 in letter and spirit forthwith and to ensure that henceforth the ceasefire will not be violated by both sides,” and “in case of any issue, restraint will be exercised and the matter will be resolved through utilisation of existing mechanisms of hotline contacts and border flag meetings at local commander’s level”. Although there have been breakdowns of the ceasefire within days of the agreement being reached nevertheless the ceasefire has held better in the past 3 weeks than any other time over the past few months. It is to be noted, although the two developments may not be directly related, that the understanding has as background the announcement of of the GOI announcement of ceasing of offensive operations during the month of Ramazan.

J & K: Developments w r t J and K merit mention. The release of a report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation in J&K (and on POK) was welcomed by the Government of Pakistan and a statement issued by the Foreign Office  said that it “welcomes the proposal by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to establish a Commission of Inquiry for international investigation into human rights violations in the Indian Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (IoK).This proposal is consistent with Pakistan's several calls to this effect since 2016, even as India has continued to ignore legitimate demands for probe into gross and systematic violations, including pellet guns, excessive use of force, arbitrary arrest and detentions as well as continued sexual violence as part of overall impunity enjoyed by Indian security forces.” W r t the references to the situation in Gilgit Baltistan and ‘Azad Kashmir’ the Pakistan government statement was to say “references to human rights concerns in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and Gilgit-Baltistan should in no way be construed to create a false sense of equivalence with the gross and systematic human rights violations in IoK.” Many in Pakistan see the timing of the report coinciding with developments in J and K- the assassination of a senior journalist, ending of the Ramazan suspension of operations, reaffirmation of LOC ceasefire and fall of the state government and President’s rule in the state- as an opportunity to bring the J and K issue back on the international radar. The fact that there is a caretaker government in Pakistan at this time is not necessarily a drawback for this point of view. The opportunity is enhanced as currently India is not a member of the Human Rights Council while Pakistan is. The Human Rights Council is to meet in Geneva in the second week of July.  

Kishan Ganga Hydro Electric Project: The inauguration of the project by PM Modi on 19th May led to expected comment and criticism in Pakistan – both against India for ‘violation’ of the Indus Waters Treaty and against its own government for being unable to stop the construction in time. Pakistan officials have been stating that the matter will be taken up with the World Bank but clearly its approach has not worked.

Internal:

Elections: Pre-election atmospherics have included speculation of possible postponements and numerous issues around the two principal parties- the PML(N) and the PTI- and their leaders. Imran Khan faced turbulence on account of revelations over his personal life as it became clear that his second wife had written a no holds barred memoir of their 9 month long marriage in 2015. Selections from the book have been circulating widely in the social media. To add to this former chief justice Iftikar Chaudhury has made a statement that he has proof of Imran Khan having an illegitimate child and therefore, by implication, is in violation of constitutional provisions that require elected representatives be sadeeq and ameen – righteous and truthful. Supposed infringement of these is what had led to Nawaz Sharif’s judicial ouster as Prime Minister. Whether all this translates into more than mild embarrassment for Imran Khan is however difficult to say. The real battle lies ahead in the villages and towns of Punjab against Nawaz Sharif. The latter has had his own set problems with accountability courts seeking to fast track his prosecution. Nawaz Sharif has hitherto successfully used this to project himself as the victim of the machinations of the military and the judiciary. 

Long Awaited Constitutional changes: The outgoing PML (N) government was able to effect, virtually in its last days, two significant constitutional changes w r t the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Gilgit Baltistan. 

FATA: The constitution amendment bill for the merger of Fata with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, formally known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas Reforms Bill, was passed in the national Assembly and the Senate and thereafter by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assembly. In effect it provides for the end of the British-era Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) with the territory getting merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. With the passage of the bill, the KP government’s administrative authority will now extend to the 27,220-square-kilometre tribal areas. The final step in the merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) was completed on 31st May with Presidential assent. 

FATA reform or merger has been on the agenda in Pakistan since at least the 1970s and the inability to address its anachronistic status was part of larger strategic issues concerning Pakistan Afghanistan relations. While the merger will be a sequenced process nevertheless its formal approval implies that the process of the Pakistan military establishing itself strongly along the Durand line with Afghanistan has reached fruition. That there is however no early closure to Afghanistan related issues in the tribal areas was underscored by a statement from the Afghan president after the passage of the bill. The statement inter alia said that Pakistan’s decision is “against the 1921 agreement between the British India and Afghanistan”. The statement, posted online, also said that the decision was taken by Pakistan’s Parliament at a time when the “military was governing” the areas. It went on to say that “Every decision about the tribal regions should be made in normal situation and in accordance with the consensus of the tribal people,”; “The Afghan government believes that one-sided decision under the pretext to end the British-era laws and inhuman system is not solution to the problems,”, and; “We have always shared our concerns through diplomatic channels with Pakistan and international community about Pakistan’s military intervention across the Durand Line, especially in the tribal regions,”.

The Pakistan Foreign Office had tweeted in response that “Our parliament’s decision reflects the will of the people of Pakistan,” and “The principles of non-interference and non-intervention in the conduct of bilateral relations need be scrupulously adhered to by Afghanistan,”. 

Gilgit Baltistan: Equally significant has been the outgoing government’s effort to address anachronisms pertaining to the status of Gilgit Baltistan in Pakistan. Here the choices are fewer as merging the territory with Azad Kashmir is not a realistic option given the local resistance likely to be aroused by such a move. Similarly, any move to declare the territory as a fifth province of Pakistan comes up against the assessment that such a move is not desirable as this would open a Pandoras box w r t Pakistan’s position on Jammu and Kashmir. Simultaneously however there have been pressures w r t ‘mainstreaming Gilgit Baltistan’ and expanding the powers of locally elected representatives.

In view of these conflicting pressures the government has sought to devolve an additional tranche of powers to Gilgit Baltistan by means of the Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) Reforms Order 2018, replacing the old GB Self Governance Order 2009. Under the new order, all powers earlier exercised by the GB council, including passing legislation regarding mineral, hydropower and tourism sectors, have been shifted to the GB Assembly. 

Opposition parties in Gilgit Baltistan have protested against the order on the grounds that the federal government’s role and power have in fact expanded under the new order rather than substantive devolution being carried through.

The Ministry of External Affairs of the GOI expectedly protested regarded the passage of the GB Reforms Order 2018 saying “that the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir which also includes the so-called 'Gilgit-Baltistan' areas is an integral part of India” and “Any action to alter the status of any part of the territory under forcible and illegal occupation of Pakistan has no legal basis whatsoever, and is completely unacceptable”. 

 

June 25, 2018

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About the Author

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.