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.
Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has pledged his country will not explore military options to deal with India’s decision to strip its portion of the Kashmir region of the special autonomy it has held since 1949. This statement has eased concerns of a possible military conflict breaking out between the two South Asian rivals as a result of the current situation in the Kashmir region. Pakistan, according to Qureshi, will rely on political, diplomatic, and economic measures to deal with the situation.
Pakistan’s actions over the past thirty-six hours have mirrored that pledge. The Pakistani government has downgraded diplomatic relations. Islamabad expelled the Indian High Commissioner, and recalled its own envoy from New Delhi. Trade ties with India have also been suspended. Even though this move is symbolic, it will hurt Pakistan’s economy more than India’s.
These moves have certainly matched the rhetoric coming out of Islamabad since Monday. Aside from the latest statement by the foreign minister, most Pakistani politicians have taken a more bellicose tone when speaking on events in Kashmir. The Minister of Human Rights has claimed India’s status change of Kashmir violates the Geneva Convention, which considers any change in a held area’s demographic composition to be a war crime.
There has been little independently corroborated information coming out of Jammu and Kashmir. The region is effectively on lockdown and a communications blackout is in place. Internet access is blocked, and a curfew imposed. Newspapers in cities across the two states are not being published. For the outside world, news is restricted mainly to government statements or reports by pro-Indian government media outlets. Travel restrictions are also affecting daily life in J&K considerably. The Indian government’s attempts last week to clear the region of tourists and foreigners was largely successful. Many nations around the world are presently advising their citizens not to travel to Kashmir until the situation there stabilizes.
For now it appears that India’s move to place Jammu and Kashmir under the full control of New Delhi is succeeding.
The beginning of the week has been a volatile one across the world from the Middle East to Asia. I am coming off of a long weekend and feel the best way to begin the week on here is with a brief on some of the world’s brightest flashpoints at the moment.
The Indian government has decided to fully incorporate the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) into the nation. It will become a union territory and the central government in New Delhi will assume considerably more control over the state’s affairs. The Kashmir region has enjoyed almost full autonomous authority since 1949. Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, the section of the document allowing J&K to conduct its own affairs, will be scrapped. Last week, a buildup of army troops, and paramilitary police in Kashmir, coupled with government warnings for visitors to leave the region immediately, foreshadowed Monday’s announcement. Unrest is expected and will likely occur. The growing concern in the region and around the world is what Pakistan’s reaction will be to India’s move. It will likely intensify tension between the rivals, who have fought multiple wars over the Kashmir region in the past. The Pakistani government has called for a joint session of the nation’s parliament today, and the military leadership has begun discussions on ‘regional security.’
Turkey Prepares for Syrian Offensive
Turkey has started moving forces onto its border with northwestern Syria as a major offensive against the US-backed Syrian Kurdish forces in that area becomes likely. A military move against the Kurds by Turkey will significantly ramp up already high tensions between Ankara and Washington. A delegation of US military officials is presently in Turkey and conducting talks aimed at heading off the Turkish offensive. Whether or not the Turks heed the US warning remains to be seen.
US-China Trade War
Following a sudden, and sharp drop of the yuan against the dollar, the US Treasury has designated China as a currency manipulator. The exchange is the latest as the US-China Trade War shows no signs of letting up anytime soon. The US viewed the drop in the yuan’s value as a deliberate move by Beijing to make China’s products cheaper on the international market and circumvent US tariffs. Stock indexes around the world reacted negatively to the Chinese action, and the US label, especially Wall Street which saw its worst trading day of the year. Today, China’s central bank set the yuan’s official position above the 7 yuan-to-the-dollar mark, bringing it out of currency manipulation territory and calming world markets. It is becoming clear, however, that the US-China Trade War will likely escalate further before it calms.
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.