Pakistan - Politics
Pakistan's political system is broken: its political parties are ineffective, functioning for decades as instruments of two families, the Bhuttos and the Sharifs, two clans, both corrupt. The Bhutto-Zardari axis may be considered "left leaning," while the Sharif brothers may be considered "right leaning." The Sharifs are much closer to Pakistan's military, and to Pakistan's Muslim fundamentalists. Punjabi, the Sharifs represent Pakistan's major ethnic bloc, and the devout Sunni Sharif has an advantage over the Bhuttos, who have Shiite ties.
Pakistan held successful elections in February 2008 and has a coalition government. Voting in Pakistan is intensely personal, with parties gathering votes primarily through allegiance to an individual candidate who is either a feudal or has a proven ability to deliver services. Pakistan is a developing country with some modern facilities in major cities but limited in outlying areas. The infrastructure of areas of Pakistan-administered Kashmir and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) regions were devastated by an October 8, 2005, earthquake and have not yet been fully rebuilt. Massive flooding in 2010 destroyed infrastructure throughout the Indus River valley.
Pakistan continues to face extraordinary challenges on the security and law enforcement front. The country has suffered greater military, law enforcement, and civilian casualties in fighting extremism and terrorism than almost any other country. In the midst of this difficult security situation, Pakistan's civilian government remains weak, ineffectual, and corrupt.
Pakistan's long term stability depends more and more upon the government's willingness to confront difficult economic policy choices it has long sought to avoid. Pakistan must begin to address a breadth of economic challenges that would overwhelm many emerging economies: overhauling the tax infrastructure, eliminating over $4 billion in circular debt in its energy sector, altering revenue sharing agreements among the provinces and the Federal Government, reversing a contraction in consumer credit and expanding financial access, removing price controls in commodity markets, preventing a crisis in water distribution, and breaking Pakistan's dependence on external financial support.
A number of extremist groups within Pakistan continue to target US citizens and other Western interests and Pakistani officials. Terrorists have demonstrated a willingness and capability to attack targets where U.S. citizens are known to congregate or visit. Terrorist actions may include, but are not limited to, suicide operations, bombings -- including vehicle-borne explosives and improvised explosive devices -- assassinations, carjackings, assaults, and kidnappings. Pakistani military forces are currently engaged in a campaign against extremist elements across many areas of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and parts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Province, formerly known as Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP). In response to this campaign, militants have increased attacks against both civilian and government targets in Pakistan’s cities and in late 2010 launched several coordinated attacks against Pakistani government and civilian targets, especially in Bajaur and Mohmand Agencies.
By 2011 children of the country’s leading political figures were stepping out of their parents’ shadows and into the public realm. Maryam Nawaz, daughter of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif and wife of PML-N MNA Capt (Retd) Safdar, made her political debut in November 2011 while addressing a women’s convention. The 38-year-old defended her family against Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan’s ‘asset declaration’ campaign. Defending her father, Maryam said had Nawaz completed his second term, he would have made Pakistan an economic power at par with Malaysia, Turkey and Singapore. Nawaz Sharif had groomed Member of the Provincial Assembly Hamza Shahbaz [Hamza Sharif], son of the Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif, for a future political role. Hamza, 40, was rocked by a succession of scandals. He was alleged to have amassed billions through speculative trading in the poultry industry. His problems were compounded when Ayesha Ahad Malik claimed she was Hamza’s legitimate wife. Maryam’s stepping out for her family and taking on a political role suggested Nawaz Sharif was not happy with the conduct and performance of Hamza Shahbaz. PML-N observers were of the view that Maryam was a far better option than Hamza Shahbaz.
The only son of assassinated former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto told hundreds of thousands of supporters on December 27, 2012, the fifth anniversary of his mother's death, that he would carry forward her legacy, an appearance designed to anoint him as a political heir. "I am the heir to the martyr," Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, 24, told the crowd in the southern province of Sindh, referring to his mother and to his grandfather, the founder of the current ruling party who was hanged by a former military ruler. "If you kill one Bhutto, there will be a Bhutto in every house.'' Bhutto was joined by hundreds of high-ranking officials, including the current president, his father Asif Zardari, to commemorate his mother's killing in a gun and suicide attack during a 2007 political campaign rally. He is still not old enough to contest the elections scheduled for spring 2013 - the minimum age is 25. Bhutto, who has his mother's good looks, would only turn 25 in September 2013.
On 11 May 2013, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party won a majority of seats in parliamentary elections, and Nawaz Sharif became prime minister for the third time. The election marked the first time since independence in 1947 that one elected government completed its term and peacefully transferred power to another. Independent observers and some political parties, however, raised concerns about election irregularities. Formal adjudication of challenges of disputed election results was weak and the high courts did not meet statutorily prescribed deadlines for adjudication in the majority of cases.
Violence, abuse, and social and religious intolerance by militant organizations and other nongovernmental actors contributed to a culture of lawlessness in some parts of the country, particularly the provinces of Balochistan, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP, formerly known as the North West Frontier Province), and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Militant and terrorist bombings in all four provinces and in the FATA resulted in hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, during the year 2013 terrorist and extremist attacks and operations to combat insurgency resulted in 4,369 deaths, of which nearly 2,413 were civilians, more than 544 were security forces, and more than 1,412 were terrorists or insurgents.
Discontent with the Sharif government grew in 2014 because of nationwide power shortages that have crippled economic activities in Pakistan. Moreover, critics said that a lack of clarity on how to tackle a deadly Islamist insurgency at home and reported differences with the military in terms of dealing with neighboring Afghanistan and India are primary sources of civil-military tensions.
In June 2014 prominent cleric-turned-politician Tahir-ul Qadri returned to Pakistan, vowing to organize anti-government protests. Canada-based Tahir-ul Qadri pledged a “peaceful revolution against a corrupt democracy.” But the sudden homecoming fueled speculation that Pakistan’s powerful military may be using him as a proxy in efforts to sideline the political government. Widely known as a pro-army cleric, Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT) is one of the country’s best organized political parties. Its base of support is rooted in Qadri’s large following from the vast network of mosques and religious centers he set up across Pakistan. Qadri’s ability to quickly organize mass rallies and openly denounce the civilian government has long been seen as evidence that he is backed by the army as a way of sidelining civilian leaders.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan demanded a full audit of the votes cast in the 2013 parliamentary elections, claiming that rigging was conducted to turn seven million votes into 15 million votes. He told a news conference on July 15 that ‘mid-term election wouldn’t derail democracy’. The PTI was pretty vague about what it would regard as victory — mid-term polls or a full audit of the May 2013 election results as was being done in Afghanistan. He called for a tsunami protest march on August 14, the Pakistan Independence Day. The Azad parade with regard to the Independence Day would be held in the morning whereas the ‘million march’ would reach Islamabad in the evening. Imran Khan knows that if Nawaz Sharif got his full term, it would be difficult for Khan and his PTI to win the next elections in 2018.
Makhdoom Amin Fahim, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader, downplayed the impression that differences within the opposition might lead to mid-term elections. The PPP is the biggest opposition group in the National Assembly, followed by Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
Tahir-ul-Qadri, leader of the Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT), rejected Imran Khan’s demand of mid-term elections. “I am against the system of which Imran Khan is also a part.” he said, adding that revolution was the only remedy of the problems of the country. The Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) decided not to become a part of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) agitation campaign after differences emerged at the top level. Tahirul Qadri says he wants a complete end of this corrupt system and rulers. He will stop at nothing short of a revolution, even if it entails violence.
The PML-N camp did not appear to be in the mood to concede anything to the PTI unless forced to do otherwise by the army, which did not look likely. The Saudis appeared to be betting on Nawaz, while the Americans did not seem to have any favourites. One observer noted “Mid-term election is called when there is a serious crisis, which doesn’t exist right now except that one political party that failed to get vote as per its expectations wants it”. Even the PTI’s own coalition partner in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, Jamaat-e-Islami, is equally opposed to it.
Muhammad Ziauddin wrote 06 August 2014. that "the clash between Imran and Nawaz appears to be no more than a tussle between Punjab’s two right-of-centre political factions, one led by the Sharifs, masquerading as some kind of royalty, and the other by an autocratic Ultimatum Khan plus a couple of zeroes like the media-manufactured Maulana Inqilab Qadri, the two-some Chaudhries at the fag end of their political careers and the loudmouth- loser, Sheikh Rashid."
An editorial in the Daily Times on 07 August 2014 noted that "The complexity of the political and economic situation has been completely ignored by politically immature figures such as Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri. The Azadi (independence) march and the Inqilab (revolution) march of both respectively, meant to derail the democratic process only to revive it later with a fresh mid-term election or with a new system are only muddying the water instead of helping to resolve problems..."
Political bickering over alleged rigging in the 2013 elections further eroded whatever economic stability the country was aspiring to. Investment, both domestic and foreign, dwindled due to terrorism and the energy crisis.
Wonders took place after two previous long marches, the one threatened by Benazir Bhutto in 1993 and the second sponsored by Nawaz Sharif in 2009 for restoration of dysfunctional superior court judges. At that time, the PPP-led federal government had conceded to Sharif’s demands as soon as the mammoth crowd had reached Gujranwala. That deal was struck through intervention of the top general of that time. Confusing signals came from the PTI that they wanted a million people to join its tsunami march. Simultaneously, the lack of preparations was too obvious and open.
Not long after Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) pioneer launched his Azadi March from Zaman Park, Lahore towards the government capital some 375 kilometers away, Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) pioneer Dr Tahirul Qadri likewise reported to dispatch ‘Inqilab March’ (insurgency walk) from Model Town. Khan and Qadri have vowed that their supporters will camp out in Islamabad until Sharif agreed to step down and new elections are held. The government quarters believed Imran Khan’s less field hardened, urban crowd of 200,000 comprising mostly youth, would get tired and bored within 24 to 36 hours of the sit-in despite all the political rhetoric and emotions being shown by his camp.
The presence of Chaudhrys of Gujrat in the Qadri camp was also a dividing factor, as Imran’s PTI did not wish to carry them along, even when the most important Sharif hater of present times, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, was hell-bent on doing so. The Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) decided not to join the PTI either on the way to Islamabad or after reaching there. Instead, the PAT planned to reach the federal capital on August 16, a day after the PTI.
Thousands of opposition protesters rallied in Pakistan's capital 15 August 2014 to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The protests in Islamabad, led by opposition leader Imran Khan and Muslim cleric Tahir ul-Qadri, constituted the biggest challenge yet to Sharif's year-old government. Khan and Qadri vowed their supporters will camp out in Islamabad until Mr. Sharif agrees to step down and new elections are announced. The unrest raised questions about Pakistan's stability at a time when the army was waging an offensive against Pakistani Taliban militants in the country's lawless tribal areas and when the influence of sectarian militant groups was growing. The rally failed to attract the vast crowds Khan had promised, and other opposition parties on August 18 distanced themselves from his appeal for civil disobedience.
Members of Sharif's party suggested the protests are secretly backed by elements in the military, which had a troubled relationship with Sharif. The military was frustrated with the government, especially over the prosecution of former army chief and President Pervez Musharraf for treason. There had also been differences between the government and the army on how to handle the Pakistani Taliban. The government had insisted on peace talks but eventually the army launched an offensive.
Khan's Pakistan Tehrik-e Insaaf (PTI) party announced 18 august 2014 that its lawmakers have all decided to resign from the 34 seats they control in the country's National Assembly. The party also said its lawmakers would resign from all provincial parliaments with the exception of the legislature in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, which the party controls. That announcement meant Pakistan would have to organize a raft of fresh elections.
Tens of thousands of protesters have forced their way past a barricade of shipping containers in the Pakistani capital as they marched on parliament to call for the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Some 40,000 Pakistani riot police and paramilitaries had used the containers to seal the "Red Zone" -- the diplomatic and political district of Islamabad -- before the march began.
Police did not intervene 19 August 2014 when protesters broke down barricades and forced their way into the high-security "Red Zone." The area houses the parliament and offices of the prime minister and president along with other key government buildings. In an unexpected reaction to the political tensions, Pakistan's powerful military called for a "meaningful dialogue" to resolve the crisis. In a brief statement, it warned that the situation requires "patience, wisdom and sagacity from the all stakeholders to end the prevailing impasse."
Pakistan’s powerful military stepped in on August 29, 2014 to act as “mediator and guarantor” to broker a deal between embattled Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and two anti-government leaders calling for his ouster. While the army is unlikely to grab power at a time when chronic economic, security and energy challenges are facing Pakistan, some analysts did not rule out the possibility of the military’s involvement in encouraging the anti-government protests in order to retain its share in key national matters.
Pakistan's military rejected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s claims he did not ask the army to play a role in defusing the of crippling anti-government demonstrations in the capital. Sharif came under severe criticism from pro-democracy forces in the country, largely for turning to the army in his bid to resolve what analysts saw as a crisis that needed political means to settle. Pakistan's powerful military held an unprecedented Sunday meeting of its top commanders who said the government should immediately end the standoff peacefully.
Pakistani security forces cleared hundreds of anti-government protesters from the state television studio after they seized the building on 01 September 2014 and briefly took the channel off the air. The protesters stormed into Pakistani Television, or PTV, as it carried live coverage of the demonstrators in its offices in the capital, Islamabad. Later in the day, crowds of protesters armed with wooden clubs tried to break through police lines to push their way to the prime minister's residence in Islamabad. Police responded by firing tear gas.
Khan and Qadri's supporters waged months of protests calling for Sharif to step down over alleged rigging of the 2013 elections that brought him to power. Sharif refused to step down, and by mid-November 2014 protesters remained camped out around the country's parliament. Qadri gave up and left the country, although Khan was still in Pakistan and addressing his supporters.
By December 2014 even Khan's audience in Islamabad had dwindled to a few hundred loyalists. Khan pledged to ‘shut down’ several Pakistani cities in his campaign to force the premier to step down over claims he rigged last year’s election. Khan’s campaign was due to culminate in moves to ‘close’ the whole of Pakistan later in December.
Information Minister Pervez Rasheed said 08 December 2014 that Imran Khan’s ‘Plan C’ aimed at creating chaos had begun from Faisalabad. Imran’s ‘Plan A’ was to attack democracy, ‘Plan B’ to besiege the democracy, ‘Plan C’ to create anarchy while his ‘Plan D’ is aimed at destroying democracy. But none of the plans conceived by Imran will ever succeed, he said while addressing a press conference.
Sharif spent most of 2014 locked in disputes with the powerful military, with tens of thousands of protesters camped near the prime minister's residence demanding that he resign. During those protests, speculation mounted that the military was considering a coup to oust Sharif. In order to keep his job, Sharif reportedly conceded foreign-policy decisions to the military.
The United Nations, the European Union, and human rights groups have deplored the government’s heavy-handed measures taken following the Pakistani Taliban's gruesome ambush of a military-run school in the northwestern city of Peshawar in December 2014 that left 147 people dead, the deadliest ever attack in Pakistan. Pakistan hanged more than 300 people since lifting a moratorium on the death penalty in December 2014. Many were convicted in closed military courts, which critics say fail to meet fair trial standards.
Mumtaz Qadri was executed in February 2016 at the order of the Islamabad High Court five years after he assassinated a liberal Punjab governor over his calls to reform the country's blasphemy laws. Thousands of hard-line Islamists rallied in the heart of the Pakistani capital for four days to denounce Qadri's execution and to call for the introduction of strict Shari'a law in Pakistan. The sit-in protest ended on 31 March 2016 after protest leaders said they were given assurances that controversial blasphemy laws would not be amended and more than 1,000 Islamists detained by police during the protest would be released. The government, however, denied it had acceded to any of the protesters' demands.
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