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#EXCLUSIVE Pakistan eyes creating rifts within the Indian Ocean Region by establishing a parallel forum, with Chinese support

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Pakistan is planning to establish the Afro-Asian Ocean Forum on Maritime Cooperation (AAO-FMC) to counter India’s growing maritime and regional influence in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). There are reports that the government is considering opening an office for the Forum in a Tier One city like Karachi or Islamabad. However, due to financial constraints, Islamabad is seeking external funding. As an obvious option, Pakistan has approached China to seek a grant for the project. It is noteworthy that China has been aggressively making efforts to expand its maritime influence in the IOR. Pakistan has allowed China to use its territory through China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to reach the Indian Ocean via Gwadar Port.1 Therefore, it is possible that the new Forum could be another Chinese plan to target India in the IOR through Pakistan. Under immense debt liabilities from China, Pakistan will not have much say but to compromise its sovereignty and foreign policy to cater to Beijing’s interests in the region.

This new attempt to revive the old Pakistani propaganda of using the phrase “Afro-Asian Ocean” as a counter to the Indian Ocean will not find many supporters among the littoral states in the region. Most of the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), East African littorals, and West Asian countries are comfortable with the term “Indian Ocean” and are members of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA).2 Notably, IORA is an intergovernmental organization established in 1997 to promote economic cooperation and regional integration among countries bordering the Indian Ocean. Pakistan is not a member of IORA, and China is only a ‘dialogue’ partner. This further suggests that both countries are skeptical of the terminology and do not wish to acknowledge the centrality of India in the IOR.

Pakistan believes that the name Indian Ocean unfairly associates the ocean with India, thus giving undue prominence to one country in the region.3 In the past, Pakistan has even proposed renaming the ocean as the ‘Indo-Pak Ocean’ or ‘Muslim Ocean’ due to the significant Islamic presence in the region. Ironically, Pakistan has used the term in its first National Security Policy 2022-2026, released in January 2022. Under the sub-heading ‘Maritime Competition’, the policy document states, “the self-professed role of any one country [India] as a so-called net-security provider in the wider Indian Ocean would negatively affect the region’s security and economic interests.”4 This statement clearly shows Pakistan’s insecurities regarding India’s influence in the IOR. Consequently, Pakistan is attempting to promote AAO-FMC as a potential alternative to the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IORA).

Another reason for Pakistan’s initiative is the increasing prominence of the term ‘Indo-Pacific’ over ‘Asia-Pacific’, which has garnered support from Western countries and littoral states in the IOR. China and Pakistan are still uncomfortable with the new terminology. Therefore, this new Forum can be viewed within the broader context of countering both the names – Indian Ocean and Indo-Pacific.5 Pakistan may seek support from Islamic countries, which are littoral states in the Indian Ocean and members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), to promote the new Forum. It is worth noting that in 1963, Indonesia had objected to the term ‘Indian Ocean’ and wanted to rename it as the ‘Indonesian Ocean’.6 However, Indonesia and other ASEAN countries now use the term in their official discourse(s).7 Similarly, East African countries, island states, and West Asian littorals in the Indian Ocean are comfortable with the terminology. Notably, the vision for IORA originated during a visit by the late President Nelson Mandela of South Africa to India in 1995.8

Similarly, the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) was established as an intergovernmental organization in 1982, linking African Indian Ocean nations: Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Réunion (an overseas region of France), and Seychelles. India holds the ‘observer’ status in the IOC.9 These examples underscore the importance of both African and African littoral states for India. On the other hand, Pakistan is trying to create rifts within the Indian Ocean Region by establishing a parallel multilateral forum, with Chinese support, which will prove to be futile. Pakistan is aware that India enjoys excellent bilateral relations and strategic partnerships with member states in the region. Hence, it is possible that to promote the new Forum, Pakistan may approach only selected countries in the IOR and avoid reaching out to countries like Australia, which is a close partner of India and a member of the four-member Quad grouping.10

Furthermore, given China’s coercive military activities in the South China Sea (SCS) and the broader Indo-Pacific region, which have provoked the ire of many regional countries, Beijing seems to be utilizing Pakistan as a front to advance its agendas in the Indian Ocean.11 Consequently, China may provide funding for this forum and endorse the appointment of a Pakistani military official to head the AAO-FMC. However, Pakistan lacks both the diplomatic expertise and logistical capabilities to lead a sensitive multilateral forum. Additionally, littoral states may be wary and suspicious of the need for an alternative forum in the Indian Ocean when the IORA already exists. Lastly, the new Forum could be another attempt to revive CPEC by drawing attention of Asian and African littoral states on Gwadar port.12 Nevertheless, all these reasons will fail to provide any justification for the establishment of an agenda-driven multilateral forum in Pakistan.

1 https://jamestown.org/program/cpec-at-ten-a-road-to-nowhere/

2 https://www.iora.int/member-states

3 https://www.nation.com.pk/01-May-2017/maritime-security-in-the-afro-asian-ocean

4 https://static.theprint.in/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/NSP.pdf

5 http://seharkamran.com/maritime-security-in-afro-asian-ocean/

6 https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/heres-how-seas-receive-names-and-the-associated-problems-and-resolutions/articleshow/59922770.cms

7 https://asean2023.id/storage/news/ASEAN-India-Joint-Statement-on-Maritime-Cooperation-FIN-1.pdf

8 https://www.iora.int/indian-ocean-rim-association

9 https://www.commissionoceanindien.org/en/strategic-areas/

10 https://www.dfat.gov.au/geo/india/bolstering-our-ties-india

11 https://www.cfr.org/timeline/chinas-maritime-disputes

12 https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/china-s-big-gamble-pakistan-10-year-scorecard-cpec

Lawlessness in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir as Pakistani paramilitary Rangers called in to quell protests

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Pakistan-occupied Kashmir witnessed violent clashes on Saturday between the police and activists of a rights movement amid a wheel-jam and shutter-down strike across the territory, leaving at least one police official dead and more than 90 others injured, as per Pakistani media report.

Mirpur Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Kamran Ali told the media that Sub-inspector Adnan Qureshi succumbed to a gunshot wound in the chest in the town of Islamgarh where he was deployed along with other police personnel to stop a rally for Muzaffarabad via Kotli and Poonch districts under the banner of the Jammu Kashmir Joint Awami Action Committee (JAAC).

The JAAC, which has traders at the forefront in most parts of the state, has been seeking the provision of electricity as per hydropower generation cost in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, subsidised wheat flour and an end to the privileges of the elite class that has backing from Pakistan.

In response to these protests, the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) government on Sunday deployed Rangers in Muzaffarabad and partially suspended internet to stop protesters from reaching the capital.

The PoK government sought help from Islamabad after yesterday’s violent protest who sent Rangers to control the situation.

On Wednesday-Thursday night, around 70 JAAC activists were arrested by police during raids at their residences and those of their relatives in Muzaffarabad and Mirpur divisions, triggering serious clashes in Dadyal on Thursday.

The committee had subsequently announced a shutter-down and wheel-jam strike on Friday, a day ahead of its planned long march towards Muzaffarabad on Sunday.

Amid a crippling strike on Friday, fierce clashes between police and protesters were witnessed in different areas of Muzaffarabad.

JAAC spokesperson Hafeez Hamdani made it clear while talking to the media that the action committee had nothing to do with violence.

“It seems that such elements have been purposely planted in the ranks of protesters to bring a bad name to a struggle that aims nothing but the legitimate rights of the people,” he said.

Former AJK premier and senior PML-N leader Raja Farooq Haider urged the demonstrators to protest peacefully for resolution of their demands and not take the law into their hands and damage government properties.

He also offered his condolences for the sub-inspector’s death and called for an end to the “lawlessness”.

Former president Arif Alvi said the imagery coming out of AJK was the “real brutal input of those who think, believe and act on their rudimentary idea that: ‘Force is the only solution to all human problems.’”

As per latest reports, markets and business centers are all shut in the city while traffic has thinned out on roads as a complete wheel jam strike is being observed throughout PoK today.

Internet services have been suspended since last night.

Narco-Smuggling into Holy City by Pakistani Drug Traffickers- A Challenge for Saudi Authorities

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Last week, two Pakistani individuals were apprehended during a crackdown on drug trafficking in the holy city of Medina, for selling crystal methamphetamine, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported. The Pakistani nationals were taken into custody during a raid against drug dealers. The suspects are accused of dealing in methamphetamine, more popularly known by its street name, ice, as well as heroin.

In the hundreds of drug busts made by Saudi authorities in recent months, the majority of drug traffickers were found to be Pakistanis, who were operating trafficking dens mostly in Mecca, Riyadh, and the Eastern regions of the Kingdom.

Just two weeks before this bust on April 15, the Saudi Criminal Investigation and Search Department of the Riyadh Region Police arrested two Pakistani residents found using a residential unit as a base to distribute 13,000 narcotic tablets.

In a separate incident, yet another Pakistani national was apprehended in Hafr Al-Batin city for involvement in methamphetamine distribution. Earlier, the General Directorate of Narcotics Control arrested two drug dealers, a Pakistani and a Filipino, in Jeddah for trying to sell 2.6 kilogrammes of meth. In separate incidents, almost four Pakistani nationals were arrested for trying to smuggle or sell the drugs in the kingdom.

The arrests of several Pakistanis comes at a time when the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has launched a nationwide crackdown against drug peddlers and smugglers. Aside from narco-trafficking, Pakistani individuals have also been found associated with other crimes in KSA like prostitution, female and child trafficking, theft, money laundering, aside from the traditional hawala networks.

For instance in January 2022, following a video clip that went viral on the social media, a Pakistani national found running a large prostitution ring exploiting runaway housemaids, was arrested in Riyadh. The clip showed the ring run by the Pakistani was for sexual exploitation of a number of housemaids who had run away from their sponsors’ homes in Riyadh.

Drug consignments from Pakistan have always been the norm for the world, including Africa and the Middle East. There is widespread usage of meth in Pakistan as well. Meth has quickly overtaken heroin and cannabis as the drug of choice in Pakistan. Addiction to crystal meth is soaring in the nation of some 240 million. The spike has been most visible in the restive northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The lax enforcement of its anti-narcotics laws have allowed the drug trade to thrive in Pakistan, also allowing the drug to freely move into other countries in the region. “The investigation procedures are weak and the courts release drug smugglers,” said Azlan Aslam, an officer at the Excise, Taxation, and Narcotics Control Department in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.” Due to judicial leniency, a drug smuggler can easily get bail,” Aslam told Radio Mashaal. “They get released without being properly punished.”

Last August, Saudi authorities General Directorate of Narcotics Control apprehended four Pakistanis who were found in possession of 1.9 kilograms of methamphetamine (ice).

During the Covid-19 pandemic Pakistani Tramadol networks were found to be linked to ISIS and Boko Haram, raising security concerns. Drugs continued to freely flow from Pakistan despite the pandemic. There were several instances of seizures of Tramadol from Pakistan destined for Islamic State territory. And this has continued despite international awareness vis-a-vis Tramadol. As recently as February 2022, anti-narcotics officers seized 649,300 capsules of Tramadol 225mg weighing 460.95kg imported from Pakistan via Addis Ababa through Ethiopian Airlines.

In December 2019, at least 1.4 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine was recovered from a passenger identified as Basheer, aboard a Saudi Arabia-bound flight at Islamabad International Airport (IIAP) in Pakistan’s capital. The suspect was reportedly travelling to Madina. Previously Pakistani drivers were found to be involved in heroin smuggling to Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia hosts 12 million foreigners, over one-third of the country’s total population. About 1.6 million Pakistanis, most of them foreign migrant workers, make up the second-largest migrant community in Saudi Arabia. The country has executed more Pakistanis, than any other foreign nationality, nearly all for heroin and drugs smuggling.

As per independent estimates, nationals from Pakistani background have been involved in smuggling crimes in the Middle East more than immigrants belonging to other countries. Also, Saudi authorities have in several instances nabbed Pakistani men for allegedly laundering illegal money out of the Kingdom. In one such case, the Saudi police arrested a ring of Pakistani expatriates in Medina for collecting and smuggling unspecified amounts outside the Kingdom. In addition, the authorities also confiscated cash from the suspects which, according to the police, was being arranged for being transferred out of the country through hawala (illegal means).

On 6 September 2023, a Saudi court sentenced 11 Pakistani expatriates, convicted of financial fraud, to seven years in prison each. The Financial Fraud wing completed an investigation into the illegal activities of 11 Pakistani nationals and found that the accused persons were engaged in financial fraud by sending text messages to the victims, communicating with them by telephone, urging them to update their bank information, and then obtaining their personal information and using it to access their bank accounts and steal their money.

Last year police in Jeddah city of Saudi Arabia arrested a group of 13 Pakistanis suspected of stealing vehicles. According to the Saudi police, the suspects stole 19 vehicles of several types which were later dismantled and sold in parts.

There are close to 3,400 Pakistani jailed in Saudi Arabia for various criminal activities, making Pakistanis the largest number of expatriates in Saudi prisons. In 2019, an agreement was reached between former Prime Minister Imran Khan and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and KSA agreed to release 2,100 Pakistani prisoners. However, despite the agreement 60% of the Pakistani detainees could not be released as they were involved in drug smuggling.

When this information was shared during the Sub-Committee of National Assembly Standing Committee on the Overseas Pakistanis session, chair Mehreen Razzak Bhutto lamented that 29 kg of heroin was loaded on an airplane and sent to the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia. She questioned how the staff at a Pakistani airport could let go of such a huge quantity of drugs.

So widespread is the involvement of Pakistani expatriates in criminal activities, like drug smuggling, human trafficking, money laundering, theft and others that a few years back top Emirati security official, Lt Gen Dhahi Khalfan, took to Twitter to denounce Pakistanis, accusing them of being a “dangerous threat to Gulf societies,” after a drug racket was busted in Dubai. Khalfan wrote in Arabic: “The Pakistanis pose a serious threat to the Gulf communities for the drugs they bring with them to our countries.” Khalfan resorted to asking his fellow citizens “not to employ Pakistanis”. The security official, who was the head of Dubai Police Force until 2013, termed it a “national duty to stop hiring Pakistanis”.

Pakistan: Attempts to Promote Buddhism Amidst Violent Crimes Against Religious Minorities

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In the last few years, Pakistan has accelerated efforts to present itself as an emerging Buddhist destination in the South Asia region. It is targeting countries such as Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, and other Southeast Asian states with significant Buddhist populations. Islamabad has made similar attempts in the past to promote tourism for the followers of the Buddhist religion. For example, in April 2016, Pakistan invited 40 Sri Lankan Buddhist monks to showcase its heritage and promote the Gandhara School of Art and Takshila Museum.1

What Pakistan has been attempting to do is to create an image of “a Muslim country” that has preserved the world’s richest Buddhist sites and artifacts. On the contrary, through such ‘soft power’ initiatives, the Pakistani state has been trying to absolve itself of all crimes related to ethnic and religious minorities in the country.

Secondly, Pakistan aims to enhance bilateral relations with South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries by promoting itself as a Buddhist destination. Thirdly, China has been urging Pakistan to revive the ‘Gandhara Trail’ that links Lahore, Taxila, and Peshawar along the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) route. The Trail falls under the Chinese-sponsored ‘Buddhist Network,’ a discreet programme to appropriate Buddha’s legacy in Asia.2 Lastly, a religion-centric tourism activities may bring some foreign currency reserves in Pakistan, which is facing a dire economic situation.

Reports suggest that Pakistan may organize a SAARC event in May at Taxila to promote religious tourism. Interestingly, a few Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) charter flights are scheduled to bring selected tourists from countries like Bhutan, Vietnam, and Myanmar to showcase the main Buddhist sites in the country. Furthermore, the government of Pakistan is planning to engage social media influencers from South Korea, Japan, and Singapore to promote the Buddhist tourism. These desperate attempts to portray Pakistan as a religiously secular country may not be enough to distract the international community from the daily occurrences of violent crimes against religious minorities in the country. According to the annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices by the US State Department, violence against religious minorities continued in Pakistan in 2023, including forced conversions, early and forced marriages, and mob attacks targeting minorities.3

According to an Islamabad-based Think Tank, Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), a total of 193 incidents of violence against religious minorities took place in Pakistan last year, a number that is believed to be much lower than the actual figures.4 Several local human rights activists have also claimed that there had been no “improvement” in safeguarding basic rights of different religious minorities – Hindu, Christian, Sikhs, Buddhists – in Pakistan.

In response to US criticism regarding its poor track record on stopping violent crimes against religious minorities, Pakistan “categorically” rejected the 2023 Country Report on human rights practices.5 Islamabad argued that the contents of the report were unfair, based on inaccurate information, and completely detached from the ground reality. The Pakistani government is reportedly targeting social media channels and accounts that report true incidents of violations of religious rights, forced conversions, abductions, rapes, and robberies targeting Hindu and Christian minorities in Pakistan.6 7

It is estimated that the state authorities have identified 279 Twitter accounts, and several Facebook and Instagram accounts are also under scrutiny, along with 31 YouTube channels. The government is even planning to conduct a forensic examination on around 200 vlogs. Notably, Twitter has been banned in the country since February this year.8 These actions are perceived as known tactics to silence independent voices highlighting ongoing crimes against humanity in Pakistan and to safeguard the image of the Army establishment.9 10

Facing regular international scrutiny on the deteriorating human rights situation, Pakistan is desperately looking for a face saver and is therefore attempting to revive the so-called ‘Gandhara Corridor’ in some areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab. As a result, on April 4, Member National Assembly (MNA) Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani introduced “The Gandhara Corridor Bill, 2024” to establish the Gandhara Corridor to connect Pakistan with the Buddhist world.11 According to the bill, the Corridor shall be headed by the chairperson to be appointed by the Pak Prime Minister with head office at Islamabad.12

Meanwhile, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government has expressed strong reservations against the bill, terming it as “federal overreach” in provincial affairs and rejecting it as controversial, unconstitutional, and unethical.13 Former KP Minister of Archaeology, Syed Aqil Shah, also criticized the proposed bill, declaring it a violation of the 18th Amendment to the Pakistan Constitution, which guarantees provincial autonomy.14 Notably, 90 percent of the Gandhara civilization antiquities are based in KP.15 The province is already facing severe difficulties in revenue generation and is demanding a hike in hydropower profits and oil and gas royalties to fund its development expenditure.16 On top of this, the federal government is now trying to snatch away any revenue generated from the proposed Buddhist corridor.

It is expected that the ongoing tussle between the federal government and KP over claims on the corridor will intensify in the coming months. Moreover, local Islamist organizations may object to the Gandhara Corridor Bill and the special attention given to a minority religion in Pakistan.17 This could result in increased targeted violence against religious minorities in KP and Punjab. Despite efforts to revive the Buddhist trail, a report highlights that the ongoing construction of the Diamer Basha dam in Gilgit-Baltistan will drown ancient carvings, some dating back to 8,000 BCE, including “images of Buddha and Buddhist stupas (burial mounds).”18 Therefore, Pakistan’s plans to promote Buddhism are seen as another attempt to distract the international community from ongoing violence against religious minorities.

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SOURCE:

1 https://www.dawn.com/news/1253899

2 https://morungexpress.com/exporting-chinese-buddhism-as-chinese-goods-unsustainable

3 https://www.state.gov/reports/2023-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/pakistan/

4 https://tribune.com.pk/story/2458695/punjab-records-193-cases-of-violence-against-minorities-in-a-year

5 https://twitter.com/ForeignOfficePk/status/1783497991778714061

6 https://hrcp-web.org/hrcpweb/hrcp-warns-senate-against-imposing-social-media-curbs/

7 https://www.hrw.org/news/2024/03/12/pakistans-blasphemy-law-targets-youth-social-media

8 https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/4/17/pakistan-says-it-blocked-social-media-platform-x-over-national-security

9 https://www.dw.com/en/pakistans-new-internet-laws-tighten-control-over-social-media/a-52375508

10 https://www.dawn.com/news/1818574

11 https://www.dawn.com/news/1825549

12 https://thefridaytimes.com/08-Apr-2024/minorities-lawmaker-offers-to-clear-up-kp-s-confusion-on-gandhara-bill

13 https://www.brecorder.com/news/40297111/gandhara-corridor-bill-introduced-in-na#

14 https://www.dailymirror.lk/international/Proposed-Gandhara-Corridor-Bill-causes-rift-between-Islamabad-and-KPK/107-280961

15 https://www.arabnews.com/node/1609141/amp

16 https://www.dawn.com/news/1792620

17 https://international.la-croix.com/news/world/a-hammer-blow-to-pakistans-buddhist-heritage/12780

18 https://dialogue.earth/en/water/pakistans-diamer-basha-dam-will-drown-ancient-carvings/

IMF to rescue Pakistan, again… But how many times?

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Pakistan is in discussions with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a potential follow-up program to its nine-month, $3 billion stand-by arrangement (SBA) but it is unlikely that the IMF will let Pakistan acquire the bail-out easily given Islamabad’s failure to fulfill its commitments.

As per media reports, cash-strapped Pakistan officially approached the IMF last week for another bailout package ranging between $6 billion and $8 billion, with the possibility of augmentation through climate financing.

Pakistan’s relationship with the IMF has become a recurring narrative, with this potentially marking its 24th engagement with the global lender. Regrettably, Pakistan stands as the most frequent and fourth-largest recipient of IMF assistance globally, a distinction highlighting deeper systemic issues.

According to Pakistan’s leading newspaper Dawn, the next few years are likely to see Pakistan trapped in low-growth mode. International lenders maintain that economic growth in the country will remain subdued, hovering in the range of 1.8pc-3.5pc in the medium term because of plummeting investment, persisting fiscal and external imbalances, and a large state presence in the economy.

The global lender’s chief Kristalina Georgieva said Pakistan had important issues to solve before the next agreement with the IMF. At an event at the Atlantic Council think tank, Georgieva said Pakistan was successfully completing its existing program, however “there are very important issues to be solved in Pakistan: the tax base, how the richer part of society contributes to the economy, the way public spending is being directed and of course, creating … a more transparent environment,” she added.

Pakistan also has another issue to deal with: money laundering and terror-financing. While Islamabad recently passed new anti money laundering and anti-terror financing laws, there is a serious issue of implementation of these laws. Many religious extremist organizations in Pakistan continue to raise funds that are then directed to terrorism in the region and elsewhere in the world. In recent months, many Pakistani Islamist organizations have been openly seen raising funds for jihad in Palestine, and supporting Hamas, which along with the United States, several countries have listed as a terrorist organization.

Furthermore, Pakistan may also face pressure from the IMF because of its involvement with proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Last Friday, the US state department sanctioned three China-based companies and one Belarussian company for supplying items that are needed for ballistic missiles to Pakistan for its ballistic missile programme, including its long-range missile programme. The sanctions were imposed on the following companies: China’s Xi’an Longde Technology Development, Tianjin Creative Source International Trade and Granpect Co. Ltd and Belarus’ Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant. 

Owing to such issues, no wonder Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb is in Washington to lobby for a larger, three-year Fund programme of $6bn-8bn to support planned economic reforms.

Mr Aurangzeb is discussing a new programme at a time when global creditors like the Asian Development Bank are repeatedly warning that Pakistan will continue to face challenges from substantial new external financing requirements and the rollover of old debt, exacerbated by difficult global financial conditions.Pakistan’s desperation to close a new deal with the IMF is reflective of the perilous state of its economy. In its April 2024 Asian Development Outlook report, the ADB describes Pakistan’s economic prospects as uncertain, with high risks on account of the impact of political uncertainty on the sustainability of stabilization and reform efforts. As per the ADB report: “With Pakistan’s large external financing requirements and weak external buffers, disbursement from multilateral and bilateral partners remains crucial.”

Will Pakistan be successful in negotiating another deal with the IMF? It is what the country needs, but is it willing to commit to positive change? The question remains.

Why is Pakistan’s counter terrorism strategy ineffective?

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Pakistan has been jolted by three high-profile terror attacks recently. The Majeed Brigade of the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) has taken responsibility for two attacks in Balochistan. The first targeted the Turbat naval air base, which reportedly deploys Chinese drones and two, the Port Authority Complex of the Gwadar port, operated and expanded by the Chinese. The third attack in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) killed five Chinese engineers working at the Dasu Hydropower Project on the Indus River under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). These attacks in close succession, on Chinese personnel and facilities underscore the degree of unhappiness of the common man with the exploitative Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that China has thrust upon the people of Pakistan. More importantly, it signals the complete inability of the Pakistani state to combat terrorism and the knee jerk reaction is to blame such attacks on India and more recently, on Afghanistan.

In the latest series of such attacks, five Chinese workers were killed (26 March) when a vehicle packed with explosives was rammed into the bus in which they were travelling from Islamabad to their camp at the Dasu hydro-electric dam in KPK province.  A day earlier, militants launched an attack (25 March) on the Pakistani naval station PNS Siddique, one of its core functions was to provide support to the CPEC, the flagship BRI project in Pakistan. Chinese drones are reported to be stationed at the naval air base at Turbat, in Balochistan. While the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) was suspected to have carried out the attack on the naval air base, the deadly attack on Chinese workers in KPK is suspected to have been carried out by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The involvement of diverse militant groups in these attacks point to the widespread ire in Pakistan against the BRI being sponsored by China.

Significantly, Chinese personnel and interests have borne the brunt of periodic terror attacks in spite of the constitution of a special force to protect them. The presence of a number of Chinese personnel in Pakistan in connection with the CPEC projects, makes them an easy target and is a serious issue for China. The Chinese are reported to have leaned heavily on the Pakistanis behind the scenes to counter this threat effectively. China’s diplomatic mission in Pakistan has demanded that Islamabad carries out a thorough investigation into the deadly attack at the Dasu hydro-power station. On an earlier occasion, Beijing had demanded that China be allowed to arrange its own security for Chinese personnel working in Pakistan, but this was not agreed to by Islamabad, with the contention that this will amount to sacrificing the sovereignty of Pakistan to China.

The ineffectiveness of the Pakistani state’s response is clearly shown in the multiple attacks on Chinese personnel and facilities over the years. The findings of a recent three-month study by the Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), Islamabad, indicates that in the first three months of 2024 at least 432 individuals have been killed due to attacks by militant groups, with more than 92% of the total casualties (and 86% of the total attacks) attributed to KPK and Balochistan and which share a border with Afghanistan. The study has shown that at least 245 terrorist attacks occurred in Pakistan, including limited instances of counter-terrorism operations. The findings indicate that Balochistan witnessed a staggering 96% increase in violence, with the number of victims rising from 91 in the first three months of 2023 to 178.

The latest in the series of attacks occurred on 20 March, on the Gwadar Port in the Balochistan province where China is planning to establish a naval base. Heavily armed BLA militants entered the complex, opened fire, and carried out multiple explosions. The Gwadar Port has been projected by Chinese and Pakistani authorities as the crowning glory of CPEC, though in commercial terms the port is a complete failure. It will, however, provide China with a convenient access to the Indian Ocean region. In yet another similar attack on Chinese personnel at the Dasu hydro power dam by militants of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan in July 2021, nine Chinese engineers and four others were killed in a suicide bombing on a bus in which they were travelling. Groups like the BLA and the TTP are opposed to Chinese investments in Balochistan and accuse China of exploiting the resource-rich province of Pakistan.

The BLA has been vocal against the CPEC, warning of more attacks if China does not vacate Balochistan. They have also warned that the BLA has formed a special unit particularly to attack Chinese personnel and installations in Balochistan. Incidentally, the responsibility of the latest attack on Gwadar Port has been claimed by the “Majeed Brigade” of BLA, which is opposed to Chinese investments in the Balochistan province and accuses China and Pakistan of exploiting the resources of the region. The reality is that projects sponsored by China bring little benefit to the common people in Pakistan. At Gwadar, local fishermen complain that they are no longer allowed to carry out fishing in the area where the port has come up. People have been forced to part with agricultural land in places where CPEC projects, like power plants have come up. Charges of terrorism have been slapped on people who have protested such forcible acquisition of land. The highly polluting thermal power plants have also raised health issues as well.

Pakistan has followed exploitative policies in Balochistan and China has become complicit in these policies through its projects that have brought little benefit or employment opportunities to locals. The Saindak Copper-Gold Project run by the Chinese and construction activities in relation to the Gwadar port are some examples. China’s activities in the strategically located Balochistan, particularly the potential projection of its naval power from Gwadar and other Pakistani ports, sitting close to the Strait of Hormuz, have been a matter of concern. Recall that Rehman Malik then Interior Minister of Pakistan had said in 2012 that 14 organisations were operating in Balochistan, and both “friends” and “foes” of Pakistan were equally involved in financing and encouraging them. This is really a result of Pakistan’s own policies regarding the state sponsorship of terror. The more the deep state colludes and nurtures the terror infrastructure, the blowback will be harder. Pakistan needs to face this reality as it faces an angry China whose unsaid message is that Islamabad is incapable of combating terrorism and protecting Chinese interests in Pakistan.

Turbat Naval Base Attack: Pakistan’s Governance Failures and China’s Economic Dilemma

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The recent assault on the Pakistan naval air base in Turbat, Balochistan, by Baloch insurgents serves as a stark reminder of the deep-seated grievances and resistance prevailing within the region. The Baloch rebellions in Pakistan have been fueled by decades of systemic marginalization, economic exploitation, and cultural suppression by the Pakistani state. Despite repeated calls for autonomy, equality, and justice, the Baloch people have been met with repression and neglect. Faced with the denial of their fundamental rights and the failure of peaceful avenues for change, many Baloch have been left with no choice but to take up arms in defense of their dignity, identity, and freedom. The insurgency represents a desperate struggle to reclaim sovereignty over their land and resources, to resist external exploitation, and to assert their right to self-determination. This attack, coupled with previous incidents, not only highlights Pakistan’s governance failures but also raises questions about China’s economic interests and their implications for regional stability.

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE TURBAT NAVAL BASE?

On March 25th, Baloch insurgents launched an audacious attempt to infiltrate the Pakistan naval air base in Turbat. The naval base holds strategic importance within the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a comprehensive infrastructure project that spans roads, energy initiatives, and various development ventures. This corridor is a key component of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, aimed at enhancing connectivity and economic cooperation across regions. Despite their efforts, security forces managed to repel the attackers, resulting in the death of all assailants.2 However, the loss of one paramilitary soldier underscores the seriousness of the situation and the challenges faced by security forces in Balochistan.

The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), a prominent separatist group in Balochistan, claimed responsibility for the assault. This attack is not an isolated incident but rather part of the BLA’s ongoing struggle against what they perceive as Islamabad’s oppressive rule and China’s exploitative economic agenda in the region. The BLA’s actions underscore the simmering discontent and resistance among the Baloch people, who have long been marginalized and oppressed by the Pakistani state. The BLA has been at the forefront of the fight for Baloch rights, autonomy, and freedom in Pakistan. Through a combination of guerrilla warfare, targeted attacks on military and government installations, and international advocacy efforts, the BLA has sought to highlight the grievances of the Baloch people and draw attention to their struggle for self-determination.

The attack on the naval base has broader implications for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship project of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. China’s extensive investments in infrastructure projects in Balochistan, particularly the development of the Gwadar port, have been targeted by Baloch insurgents. This attack highlights the security risks associated with CPEC investments and raises concerns about China’s long-term strategy in Pakistan. It underscores the urgent need for both nations to reassess their priorities and policies, prioritizing the well-being and rights of the Baloch people over short-term economic gains.

PAKISTAN’S RESPONSE TO BALOCH INSURGENCY

Pakistan’s response to the Baloch insurgency has been characterized by a combination of denial, repression, and neglect. Instead of addressing the root causes of Baloch grievances, Islamabad has resorted to heavy-handed tactics, including military crackdowns and enforced disappearances. The recent attack is a reflection of Pakistan’s failure to address the legitimate aspirations of the Baloch people and its inability to provide governance and development in the region. Despite decades of Baloch grievances regarding autonomy, economic exploitation, and cultural suppression, Islamabad’s response has been marked by repression, militarization, and denial. Enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and crackdowns on dissent have become commonplace, exacerbating rather than resolving tensions. The lack of meaningful dialogue and inclusive development initiatives has further alienated Baloch communities, perpetuating a cycle of violence and resistance. Pakistan’s failure to acknowledge and address the legitimate aspirations of the Baloch people not only undermines its claims to democracy and justice but also fuels instability and undermines national cohesion.

BRINGING PEACE TO THE REGION

China’s steadfast support for Pakistan’s policies in Balochistan, driven primarily by its economic interests, has come at a cost. The targeting of Chinese assets and personnel by Baloch insurgents, including the recent suicide attack that killed five Chinese nationals and one Pakistani in the country’s northwest Shangla region, underscores the risks associated with China’s investments in the region. China’s myopic focus on economic gains has blinded it to the human rights abuses and security challenges in Balochistan and elsewhere in the country, posing a dilemma for Beijing as it seeks to balance its economic interests with regional stability.

The Baloch insurgency is not merely a law and order issue but a legitimate struggle for rights, autonomy, and justice. Baloch have long been subjected to systemic discrimination, economic exploitation, and cultural marginalization by the Pakistani state. The attack on the naval base is a manifestation of the Balochis’ determination to resist oppression and reclaim their rights. It serves as a wake-up call for both Islamabad and Beijing and highlights the need for Pakistan to address governance failures and respect the rights of the Baloch people, and for China to reconsider its economic interests in the region in light of security risks and human rights concerns.

Pakistan’s Governance Crisis and South Asian Stability

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Pakistan is confronted with formidable challenges on its path to progress, stemming from issues within its social, political, economic, and security domains. The repeated military intervention in the country’s north west against local Islamists since 2009, prompted by external pressures rather than a genuine resolve to address internal problems, underscores a concerning trend of Pakistan responding to external influences rather than proactively solving its domestic issues. This raises questions about Pakistan’s autonomy in shaping its policies and actions.

To fully grasp the intricate dynamics of Pakistan’s politics and security, an in-depth analysis of the relationship between the government and its citizens becomes imperative.

The multifaceted landscape of Pakistan, coupled with historical conflicts and regional tensions with neighboring countries like Afghanistan, adds layers of complexity to the internal political scenario. The unresolved issues stemming from the Durand Line and the historical struggle to establish a unified national identity continue to challenge the country’s governance. The reliance on religion as a unifying force is diminishing, further complicating the nation-building process.The prevalence of bad governance in Pakistan bears significant implications for South Asia, primarily due to the presence of terrorist organisations within the country. The intricate nexus between governance deficiencies and the flourishing of extremist elements poses a potent threat to regional stability, security, and geopolitical dynamics.

Firstly, Pakistan’s governance challenges contribute to an environment of political instability, which becomes a breeding ground for extremist ideologies. The lack of effective governance mechanisms allows for the perpetuation of corruption, nepotism, and inefficiency, creating a vacuum that extremist groups often exploit to gain influence. This instability not only hampers Pakistan’s internal development but also spills over into neighboring regions, unsettling the delicate balance in South Asia.

Secondly, the presence of terrorist organisations in Pakistan, operating with relative impunity, poses a direct threat to regional security. The porous borders and weak governance structures enable these groups to maintain safe havens and plan and launch attacks not only within Pakistan but also in neighboring countries. This has far-reaching consequences for the stability of South Asia, fostering an environment where cross-border terrorism becomes a persistent challenge.

Besides, the influence of extremist ideologies tends to transcend national borders, making bad governance in Pakistan a regional concern. The porous nature of borders in South Asia allows for the easy movement of radicalized individuals and the exchange of resources among terrorist organisations. Weak governance in Pakistan exacerbates these challenges, making it difficult for the country to counter the cross-border movement of extremists effectively. Bad governance also impacts counter-terrorism efforts in the region. The lack of effective law enforcement, judicial loopholes, and compromised intelligence-sharing mechanisms hinder collaborative efforts among South Asian nations to combat terrorism. This creates an environment where terrorist organisations can operate with relative ease, further destabilizing the entire region.

Additionally, the presence of terrorist organisations in Pakistan contributes to a negative perception of South Asia on the global stage. The region’s image is marred by concerns about security, hindering economic development, foreign investment, and diplomatic relations. This, in turn, perpetuates a cycle of instability and underdevelopment, which can have far-reaching consequences for the prosperity of South Asian nations. Moreover, Pakistan grapples with societal divisions, particularly evident in regions like Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where tribe-based disparities persist. The prevailing governance system, incompatible with traditional tribal structures, contributes to ambiguity regarding power dynamics. The concentration of power among a select few, including military personnel, exacerbates challenges, as the nexus between military officials and elected leaders often prioritizes personal gain over national service.

Political interference, particularly by appointing favorites in critical positions, hampers the effectiveness of local government’s accountability to the public. The inappropriate level of military involvement further skews the political landscape and influences the legal system. Internal conflicts, such as the confrontations with the Pakistani Taliban and the Balochistan Liberation Army, compound governance challenges. The recent elections in Pakistan were marred by chaos, with prominent politicians incarcerated, economic issues unresolved, and leadership disputes causing discord. Allegations of election irregularities cast doubt on the legitimacy of the process, contributing to the difficulty in addressing fundamental issues such as inflation, militant attacks, and power shortages.

Pakistan’s economic downturn will only intensify as the International Monetary Fund is hesitant from providing financial aid, possibly plunging Pakistan into a further severe economic crisis. The confluence of political uncertainty, financial constraints, and pervasive corruption further compounds the country’s challenges, pushing it towards a state of chaos. The erosion of public trust in the government poses a significant hurdle to efficient governance. As the World Bank emphasizes the inadequate allocation of funds to education, the specter of a future with a poorly educated populace looms large. The repercussions are already evident, with a growing number of Pakistanis falling into poverty and social living conditions deteriorating. A substantial portion of the population remains illiterate, and millions of children are denied access to education, painting a grim picture of Pakistan’s socio-economic landscape.

In conclusion, Pakistan stands at a critical juncture, grappling with a myriad of challenges that demand a comprehensive and nuanced approach. The intersection of political, economic, and security issues necessitates a concerted effort from policymakers to chart a sustainable path towards progress and stability, avoiding succumbing to external pressures. Addressing corruption, fostering inclusive governance, and prioritizing education emerge as pivotal steps to steer Pakistan away from its current precarious state. The imperative lies in adopting a balanced and pragmatic approach that acknowledges the intricacies of the issues at hand. Furthermore, the ramifications of Pakistan’s governance challenges extend beyond its borders, posing a significant threat to the stability and security of South Asia. The presence of terrorist organisations capitalizes on governance deficiencies, creating an environment conducive to their activities. To mitigate these risks, collaborative regional efforts, stringent counter-terrorism measures, and a collective commitment to addressing governance issues are essential. Only through a cohesive and proactive approach can Pakistan contribute to regional stability while simultaneously realizing its potential for resilience and prosperity.

References

https://www.dawn.com/news/1804084

https://www.dawn.com/news/1721825

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/8/15/pakistans-caretaker-pm-challenges-lie-ahead

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-22506464

Brutal state crackdown against Sindhi activists out on roads protesting in Pakistan

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Pakistan’s way of suppressing the voices of dissent violently was once again demonstrated, after the law enforcement agencies of Pakistan on Sunday launched a brutal crackdown against a demonstration organised by the family members of late Sindhi social activist Hidayat Lohar.

After Dr Mahrang Baloch, a young Baloch doctor who had taken on the might of the Pakistan military early this year, it is the turn of daughters of a prominent Sindhi intellectual and activist, Hidayat Lohar, who was killed by security agencies last month. His three young daughters, Sorath, Sarang and Sasui, were on the road, blocking the Nasirabad Highway, demanding an FIR.

Sasui Lohar and Sorath Lohar are the founders of the Voice of Missing Persons of Sindh, an organization aimed at supporting victims of enforced diappearences and their families to seek justice.

The police refused to accept their demand and the sisters were leading a street protest demanding action against those who killed their father, Hidayat Lohar but now they have been arrested.

WHO IS HIDAYAT LOHAR?

Hidayat Lohar, a well known intellectual and activist, had been on the target of security agencies for long. In 2017, he was abducted by security forces and released two years later after his daughters fought tooth and nail. A veteran teacher, Lohar has been active in Sindh politics and often fell foul with the military establishment.

On 16 February, Hidayat Lohar was assassinated by two unidentified gunmen who shot him while he was traveling to work. Such targeted killings have become a favourite weapon of the army and police forces to eliminate popular ethnic leaders. Dr Mahrang Baloch’s father too had met a similar fate. Several thousand others too have been `disappeared` by the security forces over the years.

BRUTAL CRACKDOWN AGAINST SINDHI ACTIVISTS NOW A REGULAR FEATURE

This is not the first time that Sindhi activists have been targeted by security forces and agencies. Last year, in September, Pakistan Rangers, a para-military force led by Army officers, killed at least four Sindhi villagers and injured nine others in Sakrand village. The local community was enraged by this targeted killing and said the villagers were shot only because they had protested the high-handedness of the security forces. The Rangers, on the other hand, countered that the killed villagers were members of a Sindhi militant group. No one knows the truth even though the then Interim Chief Minister had ordered an inquiry into the incident.

The murder of Hidayat Lohar has spread a wave of anger in the Sindhi community. His daughters have since his death been on the street demanding action from the government but the police continue to stall any request to file the First Information Report. The daughters refused to budge unless police filed an FIR and investigated the murder of their father.

In their support, sporadic protests have broken out in other parts of Sindh. In Karachi, protesters argued that forced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings of political activists and innocent citizens have turned the country into a lawless state where no respect for human dignity exists. They pointed out how Dr Mahrang Baloch and her community had been squatting in Islamabad seeking return of their loved ones who were forcibly taken away by security forces without any formal charges. Amnesty International has called for an independent, impartial and prompt investigation into the killing of Lohar.

With the state refusing to pay heed to the cries of Sindhis, the protests by Lohar family was likely to turn into a major headache for the new government. The Baloch are already on the street and now the Sindhis. The people of Gilgit Baltistan have been protesting for long time over wheat and power issues. The Pashtuns are angry with the state over many issues, mainly for treating them as terrorism suspects and at the same time imposing Talibaization on their population. The entire ethnic population of Pakistan today feel marginalised by the state, as the Baloch have been feeling for decades.

There is no hope for missing Baloch, be it Sharif or Zardari

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The outcome of the February 8 elections has made no difference to the people of Balochistan; who continue to `disappear` or being killed as terrorists and their family members are treated as shabbily and cruelly as enemies, by the State.

Neither Shehbaz Sharif, who took over as the Prime Minister despite not winning a majority nor Imran Khan, who remains in prison despite winning the elections; have made any references towards the plight of people of Baluchistan.

The elections and its results have only made matters worse for Baloch who have been pleading every single institution, be it the legislature, the police, judiciary and the media, for the release of young and old Baloch kept in secret prisons by the Pak army.

A young doctor, Dr Mahrang Baloch, slept outside the Islamabad Press Club for weeks along with her crowd of protesters, and no one came out from their ivory towers to even talk to them. The army, on the other hand, snatched their blankets, mikes and other essentials, fired water cannons at them in peak winter days and then forced the press club to withdraw permission to hold the protest. The then interim Prime Minister, belonging to Balochistan, had abused them as `traitors` and refused to help them. Instead, he ordered the local police to harass the young doctor and her companions.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan has also chosen to play a game of charade on the sensitive issue of beloved ones taken away forcibly by state agencies and locked up in secret prisons of torture. The apex court had been making loud noises about holding high officials of government and military accountable for countless disappearances of young Baloch, but the action in reality has been a mirage. Even in the latest case, the apex court had summoned the Interim Prime Minister but when he declined to attend the court on some pretext, the judges were quick to set up a committee of chiefs of three intelligence agencies, ISI, MI and IB, to find the whereabouts of the missing Baloch. There could have been nothing more humiliating and hypocritical. The world is aware that these are the same agencies which are behind the grave human rights violation of abducting and killing Baloch and other ethnic minorities, since creation of Pakistan.

Pakistan’s largest English daily, the Dawn, commented in its editorial that the state has more often blocked any effort to find a solution to the Baloch missing persons. The newspaper even chided the Interim Prime Minister for accusing the protesters like Mahrang Baloch of indulging in terrorism. The daily blamed the state for cruelly dismissing the protests as publicity stunts but facts are telling–people from Balochistan are disappearing every day with their families forced to march on the streets to know about their whereabouts.

Now that Shehbaz Sharif is the new Prime Minister and Asif Ali Zardari as the President, is there any likelihood of the issue of missing persons getting any priority. The answer is a clear ‘No’. Neither Sharif nor the Bhutto family, who have not actually won the mandate to rule, have shown any inclination to even hear Dr. Mahrang Baloch and other protesters even when they sat in Islamabad seeking the return of their loved ones. The hopelessness of the Baloch and Sindhi people has become so pervasive that they do not harbour any hope from anyone.