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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. […]

Six ideas for Pakistan to defeat the Taliban

There’s a lot Pakistan could do to root out terrorism. But will it?

Raza Rumi3


It is being seen as a watershed moment in Pakistan, the December 16 massacre of 142 children and teachers in Peshawar. Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership has vowed to act against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. The first policy response was to lift the moratorium on the death penalty. Human rights campaigners say this may not be the appropriate response to the challenge that Pakistan faces. There are over 6,000 inmates on death row in Pakistani jails.

A committee of parliamentarians met on Friday to discuss the way forward. Earlier this year, Pakistan’s cabinet and the National Assembly endorsed an internal security policy that, among other measures, called for intelligence coordination, a special counter-terrorism force and steps to de-radicalise society. The policy has not been implemented because political turbulence since July has prevented the Nawaz Sharif government from focusing on policy decisions. Fearful that the Imran Khan-led political agitation has the backing of sections of the military-intelligence complex, Sharif has been busy just finding ways to survive.

After the December 16 massacre, however, the Pakistani public is asking for concrete action. It is looking to the government to deliver. Will it rise to the occasion? There are six key policy planks that the civilian government will have to decide on, and take the military on board for them to be implemented. Without a civil-military compact, such changes may not be possible. […]

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. […]

Saudi bailout & jihad as a foreign policy tool

Pakistan’s finance minister has proudly announced that a friendly country has deposited $1.5 billion in our reserves and more is likely to follow. The impact of this cash injection has been the stabilisation of the rupee and its dramatic appreciation in the past few days. This may prove to be good for arresting inflationary trends and decreasing energy prices. However, the underpinnings of this generous assistance are lesser known. Usually, bilateral agreements operate under a legal framework and there is a semblance of transparency. However, this case remains mysterious thus far. The government needs to tell parliament and the people as towhat the deal with the friendly government entails. Recent developments on our foreign policy — hostage to worn-out doctrines — may provide some clues.

In recent weeks, there have been high-profile visits of Saudi officials and the joint statement issued on the visit of Deputy Prime Minister Crown Prince Salman Bin Abdulaziz, in February 2014, indicated a shift in Pakistan’s approach to the ongoing Syrian crisis. Discarding the earlier policy stance, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, in addition to the usual diplomatic platitudes, agreed on the “formation of transitional governing body with full executive powers enabling it to take charge of the affairs of the country”. This, essentially, means the ouster of the Assad regime. […]

March 17th, 2014|Pakistan, Published in the Express Tribune|0 Comments

Nawaz Sharif, a veteran of Pakistan’s political tumult

CNN’s Jethro Mullen weighs in on Nawaz Sharif

The strongest contender to become the next Pakistani prime minister is hardly a newcomer to the country’s political stage.

Nawaz Sharif, 63, has had a long and rocky career that includes two stints as prime minister during the 1990s, ordering Pakistan’s first nuclear tests, a showdown with the nation’s powerful military, time in jail and years of exile.

After spending the past several years in opposition to the governing Pakistani People’s Party (PPP) — which has struggled to tackle the country’s crippling problems of militant violence, chronic power shortages and a flagging economy — Sharif now has a shot at another stint in office.

But observers say his positions on key issues such as Islamic extremists and relations with the United States remain vague, raising uncertainty about what kind of approach he would take if his Pakistani Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) were to succeed in forming a government in the national assembly following general elections this weekend.


June 13th, 2013|development|1 Comment

Foreign policy directives

Here is another on-point editorial from ExTrib

For those who thought that there would be monumental shifts in Pakistan’s foreign policy with the advent of a new government in Islamabad, it is time to settle for realism. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s latest message to the heads of Pakistani missions abroad restate what has been […]

Afghanistan: no cooperation, no stability

This is a shorter version of a brief which was prepared for Pakistani Senate’s standing committee on Defence. Also published here. Full report here

Pakistan and Afghanistan are joined by geography and a complex history. A long and imaginary border drawn at the end of the colonial era runs through bonds of religion, culture, language and ethnicity. Thirty years of war, political upheaval and instability in Afghanistan have been shared by Pakistan in no small measure. Since independence in 1947, Pakistan has had an unstable bilateral relationship with its northwestern neighbour, stemming from border disputes. Afghanistan has always objected to the Durand Line as the official border and claims areas in Pakistan’s tribal areas and the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province as its own territory.

Despite the affinities and physical proximity, this has been a troubled relationship, worsened by British, Soviet and American ambitions.

Pakistani strategists – comprising mostly the security establishment – have always feared a hostile Afghan government since it would lead to the country’s encirclement. An unfriendly Afghan government on the western border, with traditional enemy India to the east, has been an overarching fear in conventional military estimates. The hostility towards India has therefore informed the way Pakistan views Afghanistan.

The Cold War, jihad and the Taliban

The Cold War has had the greatest impact on Pakistan-Afghanistan relations in recent decades. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 plunged the country into civil war, after which Pakistan, with the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, backed the Afghan ‘mujahideen’ resistance, which eventually ‘defeated’ the U.S.S.R. ten years later. What followed was abandonment by the international community, especially the West. During the 1990s, the rise of a predominantly Pashtun religious militia – the Taliban – facilitated by Pakistan complicated matters, pitting Pakistan against non-Pashtun Afghans as the Taliban carried out atrocities against other ethnic and religious groups in Afghanistan.

The Taliban captured Kabul in 1996 and ended up controlling around 90 percent of the country by 2001. Pakistan was their closest ally, and one of just three countries that recognized their regime. There is increasing evidence that Pakistan’s intelligence establishment aided Taliban’s consolidation of power in Afghanistan in the 90s.

The U.S.-led war on terror after the September 11, 2001 attacks transformed the Taliban – who were providing safe havens to al Qaeda – into the enemies of the United States. The Taliban’s main opponents, the Northern Alliance, became the obvious favourite of the West, and was provided a generous share of power after coalition forces toppled the Taliban regime.

Pakistan had officially urged the Taliban to surrender al Qaeda and their leader, Osama bin Laden, to the U.S., but the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar refused, and vowed to defend his ‘guests’. After Kabul fell on November 13, 2001, the Taliban went into hiding.

As the U.S.-led NATO forces declared victory and started their disastrous state-building project, the Taliban movement re-emerged in mid-2000s, starting an insurgency against coalition and Afghan forces. […]

March 9th, 2013|Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, SouthAsia|1 Comment