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[Burning Issue] Political Crisis in Pakistan

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Context

Pakistan’s opposition parties are ready to move a no-confidence vote against Prime Minister Imran Khan. The country is facing a recurring financial crisis and Khan is accused of mismanaging the economy.

What is the real issue?

  • Anger against the govt: Pakistan’s economy was already facing a crisis that Khan has been unable to resolve. He has been accused of mismanaging the economy and the country’s foreign policy.
  • Pakistan military’s stance: When Khan came to power, he had the complete support of the military. As pressure grows on Khan, Pakistan’s powerful military is said to have withdrawn support to the government.
  • Support within his government: Ahead of the crucial no-confidence vote, Khan’s cabinet ministers are resigning. Khan is losing support quickly and it is unlikely that he will survive the no-confidence vote.

Pakistan has a history of political crisis

  • Political instability has been endemic with the country alternating between military interventions and civilian rule.
  • Inherent motives of elite class: Reforms that could have transformed the country and placed its economy on a high-growth were repeatedly postponed as they would have threatened the ruling elite’s privileges and hold on power.
    • Complicating the quest to address persistent economic, governance and security challenges was the impact of global and regional developments.
  • Reasons for the political conflict in Pakistan: The political conflict in Pakistan is because of the gap between –
    1. the modern state and traditional society,
    2. between institutional design and practice and
    3. between “a ‘Western’ framework of authority and Islamic norms and practices”.
  • Governance failures and the ruling elite’s resistance to reform have marked Pakistan’s political history.
  • An Establishmentarian Democracy: Pakistan’s present hybrid regime is democratic only in form and not substance. There is also a long history of manipulation of elections by extra-parliamentary forces to shape outcomes.

Pakistan leaning toward a failed state

  • Advance by Taliban: Concerns about stability in Pakistan became more acute when the Taliban began their advance out of Swat towards Punjab. The Taliban had come within 100 miles of Islamabad.
  • A collapsed Pakistan will be a nightmare for the US and the region: The US fears that Al Qaeda could launch attacks against the US from Pakistani territory.
    • An even greater fear is that Pakistani nuclear weapons may fall into the hands of radicals. Thus, it is imperative for the US to stabilize Pakistan.
  • Pakistan’s approach towards terrorism: Despite military action against the Taliban, Pakistan’s attitude towards terrorism remains ambiguous.
    • It has done precious little to bring to book the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attacks. Terror groups from Punjab and PoK are regarded as assets against India.
  • Seeds of long-term instability have sown: The military has once again become stronger after the Swat operations although.
    • The army has about 20 per cent Pushtuns. The operations against the Taliban who are also Pushtuns may affect the morale within the army.

Failure of CPEC

  • China has played the game: China will largely be benefitted by CPEC at the cost of Pakistan. Pakistan is slowly moving towards a financial doomsday.
  • Negative Economic Growth of Pakistan: Almost half of the time has passed and CPEC has not been able to contribute even a single penny towards the GDP of Pakistan.
    • At the same time, Chinese debts are mounting and the re-payment of these loans and interests is causing holes in the Pakistan economy.
    • CPEC failed to generate even a single job except for casual labour for the construction of some of the projects.
  • No accountability for delay/cost escalations: Except early harvest power projects, not even a single CPEC project was completed in time. Each and every project is running late with major cost escalations.
  • Ceding of strategic assets: Pakistan has already ceded two islands and is in the process of ceding a few more assets including the entire Gwadar Free Trade Zone to China.
    • In mid-2020, Pakistan also gave total mining rights at its Saindak Mines to China at a throwaway price of just 350 Million USD.
  • Military Aspects of CPEC: Military have been ruling the country ever since its inception in 1947 and will continue to do so.
    • Also, Pakistan is facing the wrath of US and other international powers because of its involvement in terror-related activities.
    • Pakistan needs military hardware and at this point of time, China is the only source.
  • Industrial output in Chinese Hands: China is slowly acquiring Pakistani industries.
    • As such there is negative growth in the Industrial output of Pakistan in the last 5 years, handing over key industries to China will invariably put China in the driving seat of its economic growth.
    • China is never going to use it for benefit of Pakistan but will make all efforts to achieve maximum profits in the least possible time. It will put a serious strain on Pakistan’s Economy and overall GDP.
  • Pakistan is fast turning into a Chinese colony: China is known for its aggressive policies and debt-trap diplomacy. Their union has created a serious impact on the foreign relations of Pakistan.
    • Recently, Pakistan lost all its rapport among the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC) especially Saudi Arabia and UAE and one of the major reasons is the dirty association of China-Pakistan.

Balochistan’s Uprising

  • During the British withdrawal from the Indian subcontinent, the Kingdom of Balochistan was given the choice of joining India, Pakistan, or remaining independent.
  • Balochistan’s king chose to remain independent, and the country did remain independent for over a year.
  • In 1948, the Pakistani government used a combination of military and diplomatic means to seize control of the region and incorporate it into Pakistan.
  • The insurgency in Balochistan has been active since 1948, owing to a lack of development and the human rights violations in the province by the Pakistani military and terror groups.
  • Pakistan claims that India has provided arms and intelligence to these rebel fighters.

Back to Basics: About Balochistan

  • Balochistan is one of Pakistan’s four provinces. Despite being the largest province in terms of land area, it is the least populated.
  • It is populated by ethnic Baloch people who can be found across modern-day Iran and Afghanistan, while Balochistan has the majority of the Baloch population.
  • Balochistan is one of Pakistan’s most important areas, rich in natural gas and oil reserves.

India’s position in Balochistan

  • India has always maintained a stance of not intervening in Pakistan’s or any other country’s internal affairs.
  • Despite Pakistan’s repeated references to the Kashmir issue over the years, India has remained silent on the Balochistan issue.
  • In 2016, however, comments about Balochistan were made in the immediate aftermath of Pakistan’s Independence Day celebrations, which were dedicated to the independence of Kashmir.
  • The government of India is now making an issue of annexed areas like Baluchistan should be given back to their people along with independence.
  • It is now for the first time taking about such issues a bold step in the right direction, and gets their people the human rights denied to them for long. Pakistan and its Army has not dreamt of this changed India.
  • By invoking Balochistan freedom struggle, PM targeted both Pakistan & China, whose CPEC depends on safe passage from Gwadar.

Area of conflict with Afghanistan

  • Durand line conflict: Durand line is separating Afghanistan and Pakistan, forced by the British dividing the Pashtun people between Pakistan and Afghanistan, is not endorsed by any Afghan government including the Taliban.
  • Independent Pashtunistan can also soon be a reality with areas from Afghanistan and Pakistan making up their country. The Pashtun people are Sunni Muslims.
  • Independent Kurdistan freedom movement: The actions in the area for an Independent Kurdistan are also having ramifications on freedom movements of other ethnic groups divided by history.
    • The Kurds are much ahead than all other freedom movements in the area, as they are backed by oil wealth from the region under their control.
    • The Kurds are also divided into three parts: one part with Syria, the second part with Turkey and the third part with Iraq.

Shia-Sunni Divide in Pakistan

  • The origin of Shia–Sunni relations can be traced back to a dispute over the succession to the Islamic prophet Muhammad as a caliph of the Islamic community.
  • After the death of the Islamic prophet Muhammad in 632, a group of Muslims, who would come to be known as the Sunnis, believed that Muhammad’s successor should be Abu Bakr whereas a second group of Muslims, who would come to be known as the Shia, believed that his successor should have been Ali.
  • Recently, thousands of Deobandi followers seen chanting anti-Shia slogans in Pakistan, referring to the community as ‘kafir’ (non-Muslim) and calling upon the state to ban Ashura, the Shias’ main religious event to mourn the death of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussain in 680 AD.
  • The Pakistan government tried to contain any outbreak of violence, because Shias in Pakistan are a sizeable minority. They represent about 21% of the total Muslim population, the highest number in a country after Iran.
  • Violence is inevitable: Deobandi ideology has been given a freer hand, as demonstrated by the passing of the Tahaffuz-e-Bunyad bill in July 2020 in the provincial Punjab Assembly.
    • The bill is problematic due to its lack of consensus on key religious concepts between Sunnis and Shias.
    • Pakistan has reportedly witnessed the killing of approximately 4,847 Shias in incidents of sectarian violence between 2001 and 2018. Karachi saw the targeted killing of Shia doctors and lawyers in 1999, even before 9/11.
    • The Barelvis who are known for greater sympathy with the Shias also seem to have turned against them in recent times.

The state of Pakistan’s economy

  • Forex and currency crises: Pakistan has repeatedly run into macroeconomic crises- runaway inflation, current account and trade deficits, depleting foreign reserves, and currency devaluations.
  • The two immediate threats to the country’s economy come from the build-up of inflationary pressures, and a payments crisis that stems from a combination of global and domestic factors.
  • Foreign exchange reserves crisis: Pakistan’s Forex reserves are plummeting continuously.
  • Currency devaluation: A persistently high deficit can potentially lead to an excess supply of a country’s currency in its foreign exchange market, which eventually negatively impacts the value of the currency.
  • The IMF bailout: As growth fell and debt services obligations mounted, the country has been faced with a potential balance-of-payments crisis.
    • Pakistan imports most items of domestic consumption, making it more vulnerable to these pressures; the increasing debt servicing obligations have added to the pressure.
    • In exchange for a $6 billion funding package, Pakistan had to commit to structural reforms and reducing public debt. But the funding plan stalled earlier this year over issues related to reform commitments.

Pakistan Army and the State

  • The army disregarded the development of the people in order to control more assets.
  • In order to justify its existence, it converted Pakistan into a security-seeking State (over-emphasizing the threat from India) where a strong army was considered a necessity for the existence of the country.
  • The first military coup happened early in its history — Pakistan President Iskander Mirza abrogated the Constitution and declared martial law on 27 October 1958, and appointed General Ayyub Khan as chief martial law administrator.
  • After this incident, the army in Pakistan has always been in control. They have controlled defense and external affairs portfolios since then.
  • The Pakistani army is essentially meant to handle external threats, but it is also involved in domestic affairs of the State.

New dynamic Pakistan has to face

  • As the US withdraws its troops from Afghanistan, Pakistan is eager to build a relationship with Washington that is not tied to US stakes in Afghanistan.
  • Pakistan does not want to be totally alienated from U.S. in the new geopolitical jousting between the US and China.
  • How Pakistan copes with the new dynamic between the US and China as well as manages the deepening crisis in Afghanistan would be of great interest to India.

Pakistan’s approach to alliances

  • Pakistan’s insecurities in relation to India meant it was eager for alliances.
  •  And as the Anglo-Americans scouted for partners in the crusade against global communism, Pakistan signed a bilateral security treaty with the US and joined the South East Asia Treaty Organisation and Central Treaty Organisation in the mid-1950s.
  • Rather than target Pakistan’s alliance with a West that was intensely hostile to Beijing in the 1950s, Chinese premier Zhou Enlai saw room to exploit Pakistan’s insecurities on India.
  • While Pakistan’s ties with the US went up and down, its relationship with China has seen steady expansion.
  • Pakistan’s relations with the US flourished after the Soviet Union sent its troops into Afghanistan at the end of 1979.
  • The US and Pakistan reconnected in 2001 as Washington sought physical access and intelligence support to sustain its intervention in Afghanistan following the attacks on September 11.
  • Now the US wants Pakistan to persuade the Taliban to accept a peaceful transition to a new political order in Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s ability to adapt to shifting geopolitical trends

  • Pakistan worries that its leverage in U.S. will diminish once the US turns its back on Afghanistan and towards the Indo-Pacific.
  • Pakistan does not want to get in the Indo-Pacific crossfire between the US and China.
  • It would also like to dent India’s growing importance in America’s Indo-Pacific strategy.
  • India should not underestimate Pakistan’s agency in adapting to the shifting global currents.
  • Pakistan has been good at using its great power alliances to its own benefit.

Way Forward

  • Despite the democratic elections in Pakistan, the military wields real power in the country. This holds true, especially on matters of defense, national security and foreign policy.
  • Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), consisting for personnel from Pakistan Armed Forces, is often accused of supporting and training separatist militant groups operating in India.
  • Thus, a strong political reform in Pakistan, one that focuses on the welfare of the Pakistani nationals is vital to improving its relations with India.
  • There is a need to focus on trade to revive the economy for Pakistan. It need to understand that China is present only for its economic gains and accordingly steps need to be taken.
  • Solutions of the problem of mass illiteracy and economic inequities and the imperatives of national integration and national security will determine the degree of political stability, or instability in Pakistan in future.
  • Support from the IMF and friendly countries like Saudi Arabia, China, and the UAE will only provide some breathing room in the short term to its shattered economy.
  • Promoting manufacturing by creating a more investment-friendly environment, broadening its tax base, and encouraging innovation and modernization in export-led industries are just some of the most urgent measures the government can take to address the growing fiscal and current account deficit.
  • It is essential for Pakistan to do away with supporting terrorism and terrorist activities as the people of Pakistan are becoming the main victims of their policies.

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