Pakistan’s New Prime Minister Faces Turbulent Times Ahead

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 Prime Minister Fights For His Political Life

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.

India To Shift 50,000 Troops To Its Northern Border

Last week we discussed the new strategic realities India is contending with at the present time as China is replacing Pakistan as the nation’s primary adversary. The solidifying Chinese military footprint in areas near the Sino-Indian frontier was touched upon, as was the absence of a similar response by India. Whatever the hesitancies were that prevented New Delhi from formulating an effective countermove appear to have disappeared. The Indian military will be shifting 50,000 troops towards the border region in an effort to increase the number of options available to Indian commanders. The shifting of these forces to the north will reduce the number of troops allocated to the defense of India’s western border with Pakistan. This is a prime indication of the shift in strategic focus from Pakistan to China.

The timing of this move must be taken into account as well. India has just been ravaged by a recent wave of COVID-19 cases and the economy is contracting at a dangerously rapid pace. There will be less money available for defense in future budget cycles, meaning this shift of troops needs to take place now. However, even as this troop movement plays out and India continues to realign its strategic priorities, China continues to hold an advantage along the border.

This is an area that we will certainly explore a bit later in the week, along with today’s drone attack on an Indian Air Force installation in Kashmir. Tomorrow’s post will take a look at the dueling NATO and Russian naval exercises now kicking off in the Mediterranean and Black Sea. Hope everyone has had a good weekend!

the burgeoning iran-china partnership

With most doors on the international front now closed to Iran, it was only a matter of time before the Tehran regime turned to China for a lifeline. A major partnership between China and Iran has been discussed by the two governments for well over a decade. A diplomatic track aimed at bringing such a partnership into reality has been active since around the time of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s tenure as the Iranian president.

Now it would appear that the deal has become a near-certainty. A strategic partnership proposal between China and Iran is on the table awaiting approval from the Iranian legislature . The deal binds the two nations together through the next 25 years with economic and military cooperation making up a large part of the new arrangement. Under the terms of the deal Iran will provide crude oil to China for 25 years, giving Tehran a sorely needed long term, secure market for Iranian oil. The two nations will cooperate deeply in many areas from energy, to tourism, and cybersecurity. China will be granted ‘unprecedented privileges.’ It will assume control of Iran’s telecommunications infrastructure, and ease the introduction of 5G technology to the nation. China will also invest billions of dollars in Iran as part of the Belt and Road Initiative.

At first glance the partnership seems to offer Iran a lucrative lifeline back into the world, and a way to circumvent the crippling effect US sanctions have had on it in the past two years. But there is a considerable amount of internal opposition to the deal. Probably not enough to derail it since it had the official support of Ayatollah Khameini, but perhaps enough opposition to make the regime’s hold on power less assured. A number of prominent Iranians have stated their opposition to the deal, and with good reason. In effect, Iran will be the junior partner in the new relationship, similar to the role Pakistan plays in the Sino-Pakistani partnership. In return for practically handing China the keys to the kingdom, Iran will receive the benefit of becoming a Chinese colony. Power will transfer, albeit gradually, and surreptitiously from Teheran to Beijing. Iranian sovereignty will be degraded.

All of this to defy the United States, and stubbornly hold firmly to the dream of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. If the Iranian government was more moderate perhaps a happy medium could be reached with Washington. Unfortunately, events have gone in another direction and now Iran stands on the verge of selling its soul to the Chinese.

Kashmir Separatist Commander Killed in Raid

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An Indian military operation in the Pulwama district of Indian-administered Kashmir has resulted in the death of four rebel separatists including the commander of Hizbul Mujahideen. Riyaz Naikoo was one of the most wanted men in Kashmir, spending the last eight years on the run and evading Indian security forces. His luck ran out on Tuesday when he was killed by Indian troops in his home village of Beigh Pora. Naikoo had assumed command of Hizbul Mujahideen after the group’s former leader Burhan Wani was killed by security forces in 2016. Naikoo’s killing comes days after militants killed eight Indian security officers in two separate encounters in northern Kashmir.

On Wednesday morning, Indian authorities locked down mobile internet access across the region to prevent large crowds from gathering to mourn Naikoo’s death. The underlying fear here is that such a gathering will lead to more violence and unrest in the region. As a nationwide lockdown to combat COVID-19 continues across India, fighting between separatists and Indian security forces and army troops in Kashmir has intensified. Separatist groups like Hizbul Mujahideen have been fighting against Indian rule for decades, desiring either independence for the Kashmir region or to join Pakistan.

The next month will likely see tensions rise, and fighting increase in Jammu and Kashmir. Snow is beginning to melt in the mountainous region, making it easier for militants to cross the border from Pakistan. Historically, May is the time of the year when infiltration activities across the Line of Control reach their high point.