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Pakistan: failed state or Regional Power

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The unexpected and abrupt change of power in Pakistan has shown the weakness of semi-isolated autocracies in an unstable and transit system of international relations. Researchers of political science and international relations receive another empirical proof in their database: the consistency of political processes is unshakable. In the context of the growing US-Chinese great-power confrontation for leadership, no country or region is guaranteed a “safe haven” of non-alignment. Consequently, the events in Pakistan show that autocracies are the most vulnerable, and their stability is imaginary and wrong. In addition, such players in world politics cannot play for two camps. They should decide. At the same time, in the case of Pakistan, a change of power does not mean a fundamental change of priorities and course since, according to the political culture, the country is ruled by the military. 

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is often referred to as the sick man of Great Asia. A young country with a weak, unbalanced pre-industrial economy, lacking deep identity factors, disparate demographic elements, and constantly at war. The country with more than 220 million people is located between Afghanistan in the West, China in the Northeast and India in the East, which gives it important strategic importance. But why is a political system of this kind vulnerable? Why can’t an autocracy with a theoretically advanced Westminster parliamentary form of government and the hypertrophied influence of the army exist stably and without shocks?

The events that occurred in Pakistan raise another series of issues. First, we must pay tribute to the imperfect Pakistani political system. For the first time in many years of the existence of this state, the change of power took place within the framework of formal institutions and processes provided for by the country’s constitution. According to the basic law, the Parliament can vote and declare a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister. And unlike previous periods of coups, this time, everything happened in a highly civilized manner, without violence and armed forces. These circumstances confirm those theories of political science that assert the steady evolution and improvement of the ideas of humanism and democracy in the world, albeit with significant reservations, amendments, exceptions and different speeds in certain regions of the world.

This time Islamabad failed to pass rain and stay dry, or, as they say, between Scylla and Charybdis. It may seem that another internal political crisis and a rollback to internal affairs are inevitable. However, in reality, the Pakistani political system is very complex and is influenced by a political culture that has no formal description and is not constitutionally and legislatively fixed. Pakistan is still a military country, and key decisions about power are made exclusively with the participation and coordination of military elites. Thus, those who claim that the change of power will not lead to fundamental changes in the foreign policy course and accepted approaches and practices in domestic politics are right. The military rules Pakistan, and they have remained in their positions. Therefore, it is unnecessary to wait for significant democratization and a tilt towards the Global West.

Remind you that on April 10, Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan was dismissed from the post due to a vote in Parliament. Deputies put forward a vote of no confidence in him early on Sunday morning. Khan acted as Prime Minister for four years and seven months and, apparently, managed to create a lot of enemies during this time, both inside and outside Pakistan. A bright tribune with little political experience (Khan is a well–known cricketer with high results in the past) spoke brightly and confidently and did not hesitate in his expressions to the great powers and influential political leaders in the region and beyond. Since coming to power in 2018, Khan’s rhetoric has become more anti-American, and he expressed a desire to get closer to China, and recently, on February 24, the day the military conflict in Ukraine began, Khan held talks with President Vladimir Putin.

Opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif was appointed the new Prime Minister. The new leader of Pakistan is considered more pro-Western by politicians with close contact with elites in the UK and the US. It should be noted that the Sharif family has serious positions in the political elite of Pakistan. Thus, Nawaz Sharif has held the post of Prime Minister four times, has serious business positions, and has a particular influence on the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (N) party. At the same time, some observers note that despite family ties, there are complex relations associated with some competition for influence and power within the clan between the current prime minister and the former. But, despite this, from the perspective of political science, we can say that the current political leadership of Pakistan is much more pro-Western than the elite of Imran Khan.

In addition, the Sharif clan has always sought more than the rest of the political forces of Pakistan and especially the military to bring their positions closer to neighbouring India. So, as Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif maintained good relations with Narendra Modi and hosted him at his residence in Lahore in December 2015, when the Indian leader made an unexpected trip to Pakistan.

Imran Khan cited his independent foreign policy and ties with China and a visit to Moscow as the reason for his resignation. It should be noted that his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin took place in the days when Moscow launched a military operation against Ukraine. However, these statements should be treated with scepticism, and it is evident that they have a political background. Firstly, Russia does not have a serious political influence on Pakistan and cannot be seriously considered as a competitor to the United States, the Global West. Given the economy’s weakness, the Pakistani elite, no matter what orientation it has, will not choose a conditional alliance with Moscow instead of a pro-Western vector. Another thing is China, which has significantly strengthened its economic and political positions in the world in recent decades, especially in Asia. The Celestial Empire is a severe challenge to the West. Perhaps the most serious in recent decades. However, Pakistani-Chinese relations are natural and mainly concern economic cooperation. In addition, the history of the formation of the Pakistani army, where British and American specialists played a significant role, suggests that the political system still has specific informal barriers to the excessive strengthening of China’s influence.

Apparently, the events in Pakistan are unlikely to be of much interest to the American administration. “We have many other problems,” said Robin Raphel, a former assistant Secretary of State for South Asia senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. According to some analysts, since the Pakistani military maintained its behind-the-scenes control over foreign and security policy, the change of government did not cause serious concern. “Since the military determines the policy that really concerns the United States, that is, Afghanistan, India and nuclear weapons, domestic Pakistani political events are largely irrelevant to the United States,” said Curtis. He served as senior director of the National Security Council of US President Donald Trump for South Asia.

Equally important in this context may be Pakistan’s systemic policy of supporting the extremist Taliban movement, which has come to power in Afghanistan since the summer of 2021. Support for Islamist groups in the region has become a systemic component of Pakistan’s foreign policy, and given the influence of the military, it is unlikely that a change of Prime Minister will make significant changes to these processes. 

Thus, it can be assumed that the change of power in Pakistan will not make fundamental transformations in its foreign policy. Islamabad will continue to maneuver between the Global West and China, trying to bargain for more advantageous positions for itself. As for the Afghan track, the Pakistani military elite will continue to build strategic depth by supporting the radical Taliban movement. The Sharif clan is unlikely to be able to promote its advanced ideas for reconciliation with India, which is in the interests of Pakistan, and strengthening democratic principles inside the country, as this does not meet the vital interests of the Pakistani military. The military elite in Rawalpindi can ensure its dominance and dominance over the political system and economy of Pakistan only if the current status quo, the current configuration and political culture are preserved, where the last word remains with people in uniform and no checks and balances against the army work (they are not even provided). The Islamic Republic of Pakistan will remain a militarized country vacillating between the status of a failed state or a regional power.

Georgi Asatryan, associate professor, Lomonosov Moscow State University and Plekhanov Russian University of Economics.

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South Asia

Economic And Political Reform Is Needed In Sri Lanka, Not State Violence

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Image source: Wikipedia

Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis since independence has highlighted years of political and economic mismanagement and a reliance on state-sanctioned violence in response to legitimate protests. Legitimate reform and respect for human rights is required if the island nation is to act in the best interests of its people.

The crisis has resulted in the import-reliant country’s foreign currency reserves running dry, meaning that the government is unable to pay for imports of basic goods, including food and fuel. Rising inflation of 17 per cent has meant that any food available is now too expensive, with a kilogram of rice costing 500 rupees when it previously cost 80. The lack of fuel has meant that Sri Lankans are suffering through 12-hour power cuts, with the government asking people to work from home to save fuel.

Making matters worse, the government has defaulted on its foreign debts for the first time since independence. Sri Lanka’s debt is approximately $51 billion, making it now reliant on negotiations with its creditors, such as the Asian Development Bank, to pause payments so basic goods can be purchased.

As always, these issues are affecting Sri Lanka’s most vulnerable, particularly those in poorer rural areas, the elderly and people with disability. There are reports of people dying while lining up for fuel in the heat. This has the potential to worsen into a significant humanitarian crisis, with half the country sinking into poverty and food insecurity rising.

This is a big step back for a country that was once regarded as one of Asia’s success stories, formerly enjoying economic growth, burgeoning industries and a wealthier middle class. The was a sign of a country that was beginning to rebuild after a brutal civil war that affected all Sri Lankans.

While the government has blamed the crisis on the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent drop in tourism, the cause is closer to home, and the government deserves significant blame.

The President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, previously slashed taxes and focused on domestic markets rather than exports, creating an economy reliant on imports, which created unsustainable levels of debt. The government has also racked up huge debts to fund irresponsible infrastructure projects which has severely depleted the country’s foreign reserves. The banning of imports of chemical fertilisers left Sri Lanka’s large agriculture sector crippled and increased debt through the reliance on importing food.

The Rajapaksa family has ruled Sri Lanka for over two decades, with Mahinda Rajapaksa ruling as President between 2005 and 2015 and then as Prime Minister until his recent resignation. Gotabaya Rajapaksa has served as President since 2019 and several family members have long held prominent positions within the military and government. This has resulted in rampant nepotism, corruption and poor economic decisions that have turned the public away from the once popular family.

The crisis in Sri Lanka has led to nation-wide protests, which have rapidly turned violent. Protesters have stormed government buildings and government forces have been injured. Citizens are justifiably angry about years of poor economic decisions that has crippled the economy, leaving millions without the most basic of goods.

Authorities have reacted to this unrest with a heavy handed approach. The deployment of the military with orders to shoot looters on sight and the use of water cannons and tear gas had led to two deaths of the arrest of over two hundred people, including peaceful protesters. President Rajapaksa has also declared two state of emergencies, severely restricting the rights of Sri Lankans and giving authorities sweeping powers to detain legitimate protesters or those breaking curfew. This raises serious concerns about the governments respect for human rights and will do little to rebuild trust in government.

Instead of the use of violence to crush protests, the government needs to take responsibility and undertake meaningful economic and political reforms to address the crisis and quell unrest.

Human rights need to be at the forefront of any solution. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has rightly called for any attacks on civilians and peace protesters to be independently and transparently investigated. State of emergency declarations and curfews should also cease, allowing Sri Lankans their right to peacefully protest about legitimate issues of concern. Any peaceful protester illegally detained needs to be released immediately.

The government should also work with international partners to find rapid solutions to critical problems, such as providing basic goods to their citizens. The decision by the World Bank to provide $600 million in assistance and ongoing negotiations with the International Monetary Fund are welcome. But more needs to be done.

The government needs to undertake meaningful economic reforms, including reversing damaging tax cuts and reducing debt, so the IMF will agree to a more substantial financial package that allows the country to recover.

The democratic process also needs to be respected. The government should maintain dialogue and consult with other political parties’, civil society and non-governmental organisations to find adequate solutions to the economic and political problems facing the country.

This includes negotiating with opposition parties to reach political solutions that lead to ongoing stability. However, while the embattled President has replaced his brother as Prime Minister in an attempt to ease political pressure, the opposition has so far refused to join an administration with the Rajapaksa family. A political solution may need to be found that finally breaks the link with the Rajapaksa’s so Sri Lanka can move forward as a nation.

Sri Lankan’s have shown that they desire legitimate change in response to this unprecedented crisis. They demand meaningful political and economic change that will allow Sri Lankans to buy basic goods and reduce poverty. The government, whether it includes the Rajapaksa’s or not, needs to listen to the people and not respond with violence by respecting their human rights and undertaking meaningful change.

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“Haqeeqi Azaadi” or “Political Invasion”?

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You call it a “Long March” or an “Azaadi March” or a “Haqeeqi Azaadi March” and lastly according to some people “Political invasion of the capital”; whatever attempt it may be, the impact of this “Long March” will not be “Short” at all. Seems like history is repeating. Yesterday, it was PTI, later it was TLP, then JUIF, PDM & now again PTI. This reminds us about a Supreme Court’s historic judgment on Faizabad Sit in by Supreme Court, which is quite relevant again in these crucial times. The historic judgment of Supreme Court on Suo moto quotes that “The leaders of the dharna intimidated, hurled threats, abused, provoked and promoted hatred. The media provided unabated coverage. Inflammatory speeches were delivered by irresponsible politicians. Some unscrupulous talk-show hosts incited and provoked citizens.” Isn’t the situation once again similar? Doesn’t it seem like history is repeating? Few analysts consider it to be a worst kind of situation.

Supreme Court writes in its judgment that “the freedom of speech and expression and of the press are fundamental right. However, these rights cannot be used to denigrate or undermine the glory of Islam, security or defence of Pakistan, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, or commission of or incitement to an offence.  He categorically mentions that “PEMRA Ordinance mirrors the restrictions as set out in Article 19 of the Constitution and further prohibits broadcasts which are, “likely to create hatred among the people or is prejudicial to the maintenance of law and order or is likely to disturb public peace and tranquility.” So, Supreme Court has already given clear instructions that if some event is likely to disrupt peace and tranquility, media broadcasts can be prohibited.

Insiders say that we are in a dead end and this is the most crucial time of history for Pakistan, especially when the economic fate has to be decided by IMF on 25th May when Imran khan marches on Islamabad. So let’s playout the possible upcoming scenarios which political stakeholders may have to consider;

  1. Marching towards Islamabad with huge crowds is one thing but forcing a government to dissolve assemblies with this crowd is another thing. Imran Khan very well knows this is a do or die situation for his political career as well. He knows his March will only succeed if he can force an early election.
  2. Bringing larger mobs to Islamabad will only be fruitful if there is some kind of disruption by the present government or by the PTI itself. IK knows that a prolonged sit in without happenings in the red zone won’t be impactful.
  3. PTI leaders have been repeatedly convincing people including government employees, Army officers and police to bring their families in their Haqeeqi Azaadi March. The question which arises is that “Why IK doesn’t bring own family members to join the “Jihad” or “Haqeeqi Azaadi”?
  4. IMF has to take crucial decision on Pakistan’s economic fate. Without an IMF Package, a Srilanka type scenario may arise. The decision will come on the same date as of long march, on 25th May. This is a do or die situation for Pakistan’s economy. So the leaders of this March should definitely come with a futuristic economic plan and tell the masses how will they get rid of this dire economic situation.
  5. While Srinagar Highway will be full of Marchers led by the so-called Ambassador of Kashmir, a big decision is expected to come from Srinagar about Yasin Malik. Unfortunately, it is expected that his sentencing maybe announced on 25th May as well.

The government also has limited options. They are arresting leaders of PTI. They are raiding houses in their own panic mode which will further incite the situation. The removal of fuel subsidiary has become inevitable and when it happens it will be the most unpopular decision. Rising, Inflation will cut purchasing power. Finalization of IMF program has brought them to a dead end.

The dread is in the air. 25th May is around the corner. It is Crucial. It is Do or Die for Pakistan. We must fear!!

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When Politics turns Personal; The Toxic Allegations & Accusations become a Norm

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Image source: timeofpakistan.com

There is something happening beneath this political turmoil which is NOT looking good!!

Whenever Political landscape turns into a Personal battleground, defeats become unacceptable. These past few days are a perfect case study to see that how Political elite in Pakistan has done whatever it took it to stay in power. In this power grab scenario, there could be numerous losses including the integrity of institutions. We have unfortunately entered into a very dangerous phase, where some political stakeholders have put all stakes at risk, where they have stretched their limits beyond a constitutional limit, all to gather mass support, all to stay in power and avoid defeat. Is it a threat of losing power? Is it a double game? Is it a practical hybrid war we are fighting?  Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem to be good. All is at stake, all is at risk and all is toxic.

As if the political temperature was not noxious enough, Shireen Mazari Saga took place. Once again, accusations, allegations and assumptions started pouring in against the state institutions. Soon after her arrest, her daughter, a lawyer herself Imaan Zainab Mazari alleged that her mother was beaten by male police officers during the arrest. But few minutes later, a video clip surfaced that showed clearly that her mother was arrested by Female Police officers in broad daylight and as per the law. Lie number 1 of the daughter stood exposed. Within moments, without any cogent evidence the lady, known for many controversies in the past targeted state institution for such an act, although the anti-corruption already had taken responsibility of her arrest.

Abuse of power can never be tolerated, regardless of who it targets or from where it emanates. This mantra is true and everyone has an equal belief on it but let’s take a deep dive to see that how politics turned dirty in this case, how blame game took place and how this entire episode was used as a tool to churn propaganda against Army leadership and Armed Forces.

1. The anti-corruption police had arrested Shireen Mazari and she herself accepted that Prime Minister and Interior minister were responsible for my arrest. But the mother daughter nexus brazenly started blaming institutions without any solid evidence. Shouldn’t there be an inquiry on this too?

2. PTI was always of the opinion that why courts were opened mid night to send IK packing while he wasn’t listening to anyone however when same court gave a verdict in favor of PTI ex minister, late night, it was celebrated and much appreciated by Shireen Mazari & IK who have been spearheading anti judicial tirade until recently. Isn’t it blatant hypocrisy? Judicial inquiry has been ordered by the Court which is a positive sign, but the serious allegations which Mazari nexus have raised must also be inquired during this newly formed judicial inquiry. Should the Judiciary not question them on hurling these baseless allegations?

3. The present government, whose Police itself arrested Shireen Mazari disowned this attempt. Attorney General displayed his ignorance about the matter in front of the court. So, somehow the government created this impression in the public eye that they are not to be blamed for the arrest of Shireen Mazari. Was it a double game? Or a deliberate effort to discredit institutions?

Pakistan is already facing serious economic downfall, political uncertainty and civil strife. PTI has also announced Long March to Islamabad on 25th May which is likely to further exacerbate already fragile political and economic instability. It has become quite evident now for achieving petty political ends, our political elite has no serious resolve to address the crisis confronting the country. Country is being deliberately pushed to limits of economic and political dead end. The political immaturity and lack of vision to handle the crisis situation is also hurting the repute of institutions amidst internal political wrangling. If political leadership doesn’t come to grips of the critical situation prevailing which is likely to aggravate further in coming days, people of Pakistan in particular and the country in general are likely to suffer unprecedented damage. Political elite must put its acts together and steer the country out of prevalent political and economic crisis by showing sagacity and political wisdom until it’s too late.

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