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The South Asia Channel Watching Kunduz Collapse From the Sidelines

The fall of Kunduz jeopardizes Pakistan’s quest for internal stability.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (C) inspects the indigenously manufactured surveillance drone at the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex in Kamra, some 65 km west of Islamabad on December 18, 2013, as Pakistani air chief Tahir Rafique Butt (R) and army chief Raheel Sharif (L) look on. Pakistan on December 18 launched  production of a new version of a combat aircraft featuring upgraded avionics and weapons system. The plane, to be called Block-II JF-17, will be manufactured at the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex west of Islamabad, which has so far produced 50 older-model Block-I JF-17s for the air force. AFP PHOTO/Aamir QURESHI        (Photo credit should read AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)

This week, the Taliban have overrun Kunduz, the first major city to suffer such fate in over a decade. While there will be obvious security and policy ramifications for Afghanistan and the United States, what will it mean for Pakistan?

For Pakistan, the fall of Kunduz means that its quest for internal stability could be in jeopardy. Pakistan has to use its leverage over the Taliban to bring them to the negotiating table. Pakistani Army chief, General Raheel Sharif, has once again called for restarting the Afghan reconciliation process for the security of the region and added that the Chinese investment in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor could be shared with Afghanistan. Gen. Sharif’s suggestion can only materialize once the Taliban are contained and the Afghan government is strengthened.

There is a consensus among most experts that if the Taliban’s power grows in Pakistan’s neighborhood, it could exacerbate Pakistan’s internal security problems. Pakistani Taliban, currently fleeing to Afghanistan due to the military’s clean-up operations, will find support from their Afghan counterparts. The Afghan Taliban might not support the Pakistani Taliban or fight alongside them, but they will let the Pakistani Taliban regroup on Afghan soil in order to mount attacks within Pakistan which will come back to haunt Pakistan. […]

Publish At Your Peril

South Asia remains one of the most repressed regions for journalists and by governments muzzling the freedoms of the press, the region’s democratic gains are in jeopardy.


South Asia, home to one-fifth of the world’s population and growing fast, has undergone major democratic transitions in the past decade. Today, all the countries in the region are governed by democratic systems. With Nepal’s successful toppling of its monarchy a decade ago and Pakistan’s transition to democracy from military rule, the portents have never been so encouraging. Similarly, Afghanistan, the victim of perennial conflict, is also moving towards democratic governance and reform. These developments are ground-breaking given the turbulent history of the region.

Yet, on one vital test of democracy — freedom of the press — the region is lagging. Between 2013 and 2015, South Asia remained one of the most repressed regions for journalists. According to Reporters without Borders, which publishes a press freedom annual index ranking 180 countries based on the freedom granted to members of the press, countries in South Asia rank discouragingly low.

Most of the countries in South Asia have scores in the bottom two tiers on the press freedom index. In the 2015 index, South Asian countries remained fairly stagnant from previous years: Pakistan ranked at 159th place; Bangladesh was ranked 146th; Sri Lanka was ranked 165th; and the Maldives was ranked at 112th place. […]

Bangladesh on the Brink

Unrest sweeps Dhaka after disputed elections, but Bangladesh’s problems extend much farther from the ballot box. Also sparking the flames of turmoil are a stagnant economy, authoritarian rule, and weak governance


The recent political turbulence sweeping Bangladesh has cost more than 100 lives since January and job strikes have brought near standstill to Dhaka, the country’s capital and economic nerve center. Stretching back to independence, the country’s divorce with Pakistan has left a trail of political instability resulting from frequent military interventions, high-profile political assassinations and a dysfunctional democratic order that revolves around two political parties. Atop these bipolar camps are two women known as the ‘Begums’ — the current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League (AL) and the opposition leader Khaleda Zia. The former is the daughter of the country’s founder and national hero Sheikh Mujib ur Rehman, and the latter the widow of the first military ruler Gen Zia ur Rehman, who was popular with the conservative sections of society.

From these parties, politicians, and their resulting governance has flowed a degree of political instability in the country. The recent round of turbulence started with the disputed elections of January 2014 that was held amidst an opposition boycott. This put a question mark on the credibility of the contest. The opposition, notably the Bangladeshi National Party (BNP) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), had demanded a neutral interim administration that could oversee the elections. Hasina refused to budge and proceeded with a one-sided electoral exercise that clearly brought her back into power for another term.


The Art of U.S.-Pakistan Relations

A Pakistani theater group uses satire to question the national anti-American narrative.


e U.S.-Pakistan relationship remains an enigmatic story of converging and competing interests, and above all, magnificent delusions that the former Pakistani Ambassador Haqqani elaborated in his recent book, Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding, about the mismatched expectations of both countries. The primary focus of this relationship remains security-focused for both sides — from the Cold War to the recent U.S. withdrawal in Afghanistan. The large security apparatuses of the two states define how to view the other at any given moment — more so in Pakistan where anti-Americanism is an article of policy for populist politics.

However, there is also a people’s story that accompanies this relationship. There are nearly 1 million Americans of Pakistani descent, and many more Pakistanis who wish to study, work, or migrate to the United States. Things are not the same after 9/11, many complain, and the Pakistani government’s complex, almost schizophrenic, perspective on the United States continues to delineate the Pakistani public’s imagination. […]

Back in the Driver’s Seat

Pakistan’s military retakes pivotal control, and the public does not seem to mind.


Pakistan’s military is back in the driving seat. This time, not through a conventional coup d’etat, but through an amended constitution that enables military tribunals to try civilians accused of terrorism.

On Jan. 6, in a joint session, the Parliament amended the country’s constitution to establish military courts. The Islamist parties, opposed to the inclusion of the term “religious terrorism,” backed out at the last minute. But the major secular political parties, ostensibly committed to democratic rule, passed on the judicial powers to special military courts for a period of two years. This is a significant blow to the democratic transition that occurred after Gen. Musharraf’s ouster in 2008, when the country returned to civilian rule.

The unenviable history of democratic evolution in Pakistan is well known. The military directly governed for more than three decades, and in the periods of so-called civilian rule (such as the present one), the military retains control over security and foreign policy. Pakistan’s military is also synonymous with the nationalist identity and therefore shapes the political discourse as well.

The current prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, assumed office in June 2013. In November, he appointed a new Army Chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, thinking that he was consolidating civilian power. Sharif also pushed for the trial of former President Musharraf (who ousted Sharif in 1999) for violating the constitution by imposing emergency rule in November 2007.


January 16th, 2015|History, Pakistan, Published in Foreign Policy, terrorism|0 Comments

Pakistan’s Dueling Military Cultures

Ccristine fair

C. Christine Fair, Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).

Aqil Shah, The Army and Democracy: Military Politics in Pakistan (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014).

Pakistan’s military has been in the global spotlight for several decades. Within the country, it has shaped both state and society, including arbitrating key decisions — from foreign policy to economic management. A large number of Pakistanis view it as a “guardian” of the state. Yet, scant scholarship exists on the institution itself and the roles it has played. Instead, hagiographical accounts from Pakistani authors (mostly retired military officers) and media commentary that often overlook the important questions dominate the discussion.

Two new books published in quick succession have expanded the debate and provide new insights into the workings of the Pakistani military. The first is a provocative assessment by Dr. C. Christine Fair entitled Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War and second is Aqil Shah’s in-depth study, The Army and Democracy: Military Politics in Pakistan. Both books extend the scope of research by relying on the military’s own literature, and by bringing to light lesser-known dimensions of the internal norms and processes that determine its organizational culture and outlook. […]