Pakistan’s new prime minister is inheriting a turbulent situation that will only grow worse in the coming months. Along with a morose economic picture and the fallout generated from Pakistan’s latest constitutional crisis, Shehbaz Sharif is now facing the prospect of a mass resignation in parliament. Over 100 lawmakers who remain loyal to ousted prime minister Imran Khan quit today. If the resignations are accepted by the parliament speaker, 100 new elections will have to take place within two months. This will almost certainly be a major distraction for Sharif early on. It also provides an opportunity for Khan to mobilize his support and set the stage for deeper political turmoil in Pakistan down the line.
Sharif took the oath of office at Pakistan’s presidential residence late on Monday at a ceremony packed with lawmakers and leaders. Unlike his predecessor, Sharif enjoys good relations with Pakistan’s military. Pakistan’s military has traditionally controlled the country’s foreign and defense policies, leaving the prime minister to deal with domestic issues largely unfettered. He is looking to repair ties with the United States and improve relations with both India and China down the line. With regards to India, however, Sharif said warmer ties will not be possible until the Kashmir situation being resolved.
Sharif’s election as prime minister marks the return of political dynasties to the center of power and influence in Pakistan. He is the brother of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who was removed from power by the supreme court in 2017 because of undeclared financial assets. The Sharifs and Bhuttos, normally rival political clans, came together to unseat Khan. In essence, the establishment has won out and is now back in power for the moment.
Yet Khan will probably not fade into the background quietly. As mentioned above, this resignation of lawmakers may be the start of Khan’s counteroffensive. It remains unclear if the end result will be his return to power, but at the very least, Pakistan’s political landscape will face some boisterous times in the near future
Pakistan’s embattled leader is not giving up without a fight. Prime Minister Imran Khan addressed the nation as a no-confidence vote prepares to make its way through parliament on Sunday. He told Pakistanis he has no intention of leaving office on anyone else’s terms. “I will not resign,” Khan said, invoking a cricket analogy: “I will fight until the last ball.”
Also in the address, Khan blamed the United States, claiming Washington has conspired with opposition parties to remove him from power. Criticism of the US war on terror, US drone attacks against targets in his country and Pakistan’s refusal to allow the US military to stage attacks against targets in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan from the country were cited as the primary reasons for the US to seek his dismissal. Khan also claimed the US is attempting to control Pakistan’s foreign policy.
It is no secret that Washington is dissatisfied with Pakistan’s geopolitical maneuvers in recent months and years. Khan has attempted to reach out to Afghanistan’s new Taliban leaders and establish a rapport that could lay the foundation for a relationship down the line. Under Khan, Pakistan has continued to foster closer ties with China as US-China relations continue to deteriorate.
Khan has also had problems at home. Namely, the cooling relations between him and the military. Although Pakistan’s military is no longer the de facto ruler of the nation, it maintains a powerful presence in domestic politics. Some would even say it continues to control Pakistan from behind the scenes. The fact it now perceives Khan as a possible threat speaks volumes about the vast political instability that exists just beneath the surface in Pakistan.
Author’s Note: Back to Ukraine later this evening or tomorrow, as well as some changes to the blog’s theme and layout. The present setup is only permanent. Once I get some time tomorrow, I’ll work on it.
Kashmir is a long-established flashpoint and the focal point of Indo-Pakistani hostilities since 1948. 2019 saw the disputed region flare up once again, almost leading to open conflict between India and Pakistan in February. A suicide bombing by a Pakistani-supported terrorist group killed 40 Indian security personnel. Two weeks of rising tension followed, culminating with Indian and Pakistan launching airstrikes on targets in each other’s territory. The situation remained tense and then in August India’s revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s (J&K) special status threatened to spark a major conflict.
Over the past few days the situation along the Line of Control (LoC) has deteriorated with ceasefire violations bringing on cross-border shelling, and raids by Indian and Pakistani troops. The latest bout of fighting comes on the heels of Pakistan accusing India of moving medium-range ballistic missiles into Kashmir, and allegedly removing fencing in areas along the LoC. The Pakistani foreign minister warned India against “any misadventure” at the line, highlighting Pakistan’s concerns about events in the area.
Kashmir will continue to be an area worth monitoring in 2020. As the Modi government continues to project its nationalist-fueled domestic and foreign policies, the prospect of Kashmir erupting in fighting again remains high. Pakistan has relied on diplomacy to challenge India’s actions in Jammu and Kashmir. Unfortunately, those efforts have not forced India to reconsider its designs for J&K and its millions of Muslim residents. The Modi government’s new Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is causing headaches on the domestic front. Violent protests, and unrest have broken out across India as opposition to the bill grows. Pakistan is worried India could be thinking about engineering a military conflict somewhere along the LoC to divert attention away from the anti-CAA protests.
As is evident above, the dynamic on the ground in Kashmir is made up of many moving parts. More important is the fact those parts are becoming more brittle as time goes on. Going into the new year, it will not take much to turn the region into a conflagration that could spark a major war, or worse. Bear in mind that both India, and Pakistan possess nuclear weapons.
Last week at the UN General Assembly Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan placed Kashmir back on the global stage with a thinly veiled warning. If the world does not pay attention to events in Kashmir, a nuclear war that engulfs the entire world will be the result:
“If a conventional war starts between the two countries … anything could happen. But supposing a country seven times smaller than its neighbor is faced with the choice either you surrender, or you fight for your freedom till death? What will we do? I ask myself this question … and we will fight. … and when a nuclear-armed country fights to the end, it will have consequences far beyond the borders.”
Khan’s contentious address to diplomats and world leaders in the general assembly hall was generally viewed as a threat wrapped in a warning about Kashmir following India’s move to integrate the territory with the rest of the nation. In spite of Khan, and many other Pakistani politicians’ efforts, India continues to charge ahead with its plans.
For its part, India responded to Khan’s rhetoric with calm and poise. Indian diplomat Vidisha Maitra called the Pakistani leader’s speech “brinkmanship, not statesmanship.” She also addressed Khan encouraging Muslims in Kashmir to rise up against the Indian occupiers, reminding him of Pakistan’s reputation as the home base for most terrorist groups in the region.
Pakistan has failed to muster collective outrage from fellow Muslim nations in Asia and the Middle East. Saudi Arabia has informed India that it understands New Delhi’s actions in Jammu & Kashmir. This position was personally conveyed by the Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman to India’s senior security adviser Ajit Doval during a meeting in Riyadh Wednesday.
The real concern for the time being is not Pakistan and India turning the region into a pane of glass via nuclear weapons. The true danger is that Khan and Pakistan will encourage Muslim groups in Kashmir to launch attacks against Indian security troops and other government targets in the state. Action such as that could prove to be a catalyst which eventually makes Khan’s words last Friday prophetic in nature.
A growing number of Western media outlets, particularly in the United States, are beginning to regard the latest Pakistan-Indian crisis as now beginning to ease. Pakistan’s release of the Indian pilot who’d been captured after ejecting over Pakistani-administered Kashmir territory is a step in the right direction. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s action has certainly defused immediate escalation, but danger still remains. Khan, and his counterpart in New Delhi Narendra Modi are not out of the woods. The possibility of this crisis worsening before it improves cannot be ruled out just yet.
Following the pilot’s release, hostilities in the vicinity of the Line of Control (LoC) broke out again. India and Pakistan targeted each other’s military posts and villages in close proximity to the border. Casualties were suffered on both sides of the LoC, including five civilians, and two Pakistani soldiers dead. Although tragic, exchanges of artillery fire like this are common and rarely enough to spark escalation. However, given what’s happening at the moment, it would be more productive for India, and Pakistan to refrain from taking any further military actions in Kashmir.
Pakistan and India are being urged to sit down and talk by a host of nations, NGOs, and supranational bodies around the world. Today, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) adopted a resolution pushing the rival nations to resolve their issues ‘through peaceful means.’ Yesterday, Russia offered to act as a mediator between Islamabad and New Delhi to ease tensions. Pakistan was fast to accept the offer, yet it is unclear if India has even mulled it over.
Pakistan has reopened its airspace with heavy restrictions which are expected to remain in place until 4 March, 2019. This essentially means that most of Pakistani airspace will remain closed longer than expected, which will undoubtedly lead to further complications and delays for all air carriers in the region.