Ifrah Waqar
Centre for Pakistan and Gulf Studies (CPGS), Islamabad, Pakistan
April 26, 2017

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By Ifrah Waqar

Apr 9, 2015

The-Yemen-Conundrum-A-Road-to-Nowhere[1]Yemen, a country located in the South of Saudi Arabia is increasingly making headlines these days both regionally and internationally. Conflicts, uprisings, drone attacks (which began in the country in 2002) and disturbances, none of which are unknown to the residents of Yemen, as the country, have been a magnet for trouble pretty much since the 1960s.

The current unrest in Yemen can be traced to the 1962 uprising when the British with the help of its Middle Eastern allies carried out covert activities in the country and used it as a battle ground. The country was divided into two fronts then: North and South. Ever since, the country has continuously faced turbulence and has been a soft target for other entities.

Al Qaeda, Islamic State (formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), “terrorist hub” are some of the names which are now associated with Yemen. Lately, it’s the Houthi Shia rebels who have brought the country to limelight.

Historically, Houthis are Zaidi Shias. They constitute about 30 percent of the population, were once best known as a movement who preached peace, are now being labelled as trouble mongers but this latest uprising or tide in their movement did not happen overnight.

The first time, Houthis came face-to-face with the Yemini government was in 2004 when the founder of the Houthis, Hussein Bader Addian was arrested and later killed. It was then when the movement turned to arms. The Houthis movement started conducting protests based on grounds of self-defence with the then Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh viewing them as a threat to his rule.

The Houthis have been gathering momentum pretty much since last August after the country cut down on the fuel subsidy by declaring it an economic strangulation. It was then that thousands of Houthi protesters marched towards the Yemini capital Sanaa and demanded the government under President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi to resign. The call which was given by the Houthi leader Abdulmalek al-Houthi also demanded granting them with political rights and reforms. The Houthi protestors were then called for dialogue by the Yemini government and a UN brokered deal was ultimately agreed upon by the two sides. The agreement did not last and Hadi was declared as illegitimate by the Houthi rebels after they moved to the capital on 21st September, 2014. The Houthi rebels stormed into the Presidential palace and placed Hadi, Yemen’s Prime Minister and two other ministers under house arrest.

However, President Hadi was able to escape. He flew to Aden on 21st February and declared himself as the rightful President of Yemen. On the other hand, violence and anarchy continued to rock Yemen when finally its Northern neighbour felt the need to intervene to save itself from the flames igniting from Yemen and Saudi Arabia formally began airstrikes against the Houthi Shia rebels.

Saudi Arabia

Sharing a border of 1,800 (1,100 miles) Kilometres with Yemen, Saudi Arabia is gravely concerned about the situation in its volatile backyard. Before initiating air strikes under its own-led coalition on Yemen, last year Saudi Arabia started building a giant border fence to seal its border with Yemen. The action obviously did not reap the desired results and about a month after ousting the Saudi backed Yemini President Hadi, Saudi Arabia initiated airstrikes in Yemen.

A 10-nation Saudi led coalition is currently carrying out attacks in Yemen. After initiation of airstrikes, an Arab League meeting was immediately called upon to discuss the issue of Yemen in Sharam-ul-Sheikh. The 22 nations representing the Arab League called for creation of a joint Arab military force whose Chief Nabil al-Arabi said the Saudi-led offensive would “continue until the militia withdraws and surrenders its weapons”.

Saudi Arabia is currently calling for international support against the Houthi rebels and has blamed Iran for creating confusion and destabilisation by supporting the Houthis. Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi has gone one step further and has referred to the Houthis as “puppets of Iran” thereby alleging Iran of directly supporting them.

Currently, Saudi Arabia is engaged on multiple fronts i.e. internal and external. Saudi Arabia recently experienced a power transition with King Salman bin Abdul Aziz coming to power after the recently deceased King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz. Firstly, the Kingdom feels a direct threat emanating from the Islamic State (formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) which has emerged as perhaps the biggest threat to the Middle-East and Saudi Arabia. Secondly, the recently concluded nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 led by the United States has added to the threats perceived by the Kingdom. Finally, the prevailing turbulence over its border with Yemen caused by the Houthi rebels, is a cause of grave concern.

Saudi Arabia is a heavy-weight and like other heavy-weights, the countries under its influence acting out on their own. The current Saudi regime feels it is being cornered and to get back into control, it has to tackle with the Yemini situation with an iron hand and complete success. It needs to be understood that Saudi Arabia will not leave any stone unturned unless it emerges from this situation with the upper-hand, no matter the cost.


Iran is once again amid controversy and this time it is not only about its impending nuclear deal. Iran is being accused by the Arabs especially Saudi Arabia of providing support to the Houthi Shias. Even through Iran has called for political talks between all parties on Yemen issue, it cannot save itself from the allegations of igniting the flames of war in the country.

Iran and Saudi Arabia have more than often found themselves on opposite side of the page. Iran, which takes great pride in its Iranian nationalism and Shia history has historically refused to bow down to Saudi Arabia’s lead, dictation and its place in the Muslim world. Though the two have never directly engaged in a conflict but they have been found fighting against each other via proxies. Over the years, their battle grounds have altered but the fight for dominance, regional or otherwise, has not.

The case of Yemen is no different. Houthis who share a Shia bond with Iran, it seems are being supported by it. The motivation or goal for supporting the Houthis can be debated upon but it seems Iran is bent upon extending its sphere of influence to Saudi Arabia’s backyard.

Adding to this mix is the geo-politics of sea. The Bab el-Mandeb Strait is a chokepoint between the Horn of Africa and the Middle East, and it is a strategic link between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean. It connects the Gulf of Aden and Arabian Sea with the Red Sea and is located between Yemen, Djibouti and Eritrea. In 2013, an estimated 3.8 million bbl/d of crude oil and refined petroleum products flowed through this waterway. This politics of sea is a driving factor that cannot be overlooked while considering the raison d’etre of the current conflagration.

Saudi Arabia sees Iran’s influence in Yemen as a way to spread its wings in its backyard, in the Gulf of Aden. This conflict needs to be seen in this geo-strategic backdrop.


The prevailing situation in Yemen is an outright play of realpolitik, narrowing it down to sectarianism will perhaps be, over simplifying it. It is a fight for dominance and interest. As in this conflict, one of the parties involved is Saudi Arabia, a lot of attention has been focused on Pakistan’s decision and role in the Yemen conflict.

To put it simply, Pakistan is in a conundrum with regard to the situation in Yemen. The country shares a deep historical bond with Saudi Arabia and any decision to join or not join the Saudi-led coalition against airstrikes on Houthi rebels will have a deep impact on the relations between the two countries.

On the other hand, Pakistan houses 20 percent of Shi’a population and any wrong decision at this time when Pakistan itself is rocked by violence and turbulence has the possibility of impinging upon the country’s future by provoking sectarian violence in the country. A Pakistani delegation led by Khwaja Asif, Pakistan’s Defence Minister went to Riyadh to assess the situation. Pakistan’s policy makers have sat down together in a joint Parliamentary Session and are currently contemplating on which decision to take.

Different political parties have expressed divergent views on Pakistan’s supposed role in Yemen but they all have agreed that Pakistan should not be directly involved in the conflict.

The main opposition parties, Pakistan People’s Party, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, Awami National Party, Muttahida Qaumi Movement and smaller parties like Awami Worker Party have outrightly opposed military intervention in the ongoing conflict. The religious political parties especially Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamiat-ullema-Islam have called for Pakistan’s role as a mediator and not as an interventionist. It should be noted that the Adviser on Foreign Affairs and National Security Sartaj Aziz has hinted at an emerging consensus in parliament against intervention in Yemen. Furthermore, media and civil society is staunchly opposing Pakistan’s role as an interventionist force.

The safest policy option for Pakistan would be to play the role of a negotiator among all parties and avoid taking a part in the Saudi-led coalition carrying out attacks in Yemen. Pakistan’s interests are in playing the role of a facilitator and avoiding conflict with any of the involved parties to save itself from any future controversy.


Violence and wars are never a solution. World’s history is full of evidence on how every war ended on a political solution. Pakistan, itself, being the victim of anarchy and violence for more than three decades, has enough experience of how a vulnerable neighbour can impinge upon a country’s security, and it therefore, needs to convey this sentiment to its Arab allies especially Saudi Arabia to solve these issue diplomatically. Yemen is a sovereign country and the world needs to let the people of Yemen decide on which direction to take.

With the over-all volatile situation in the Middle-East, all parties involved need to let sanity prevail or else the situation will get worse and perhaps engulf the countries along with their monarchies, and there will be nothing to fight over.

Ifrah Waqar is currently working as a Research Associate at the Centre for Pakistan and Gulf Studies. The views expressed in this report are of writers own and do not necessarily present the position of the Centre.

By Ifrah Waqar

Mar 11, 2015

pak india

Indian Foreign Secretary, S. Jaishankar, as a part of his South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) member countries’ tour, visited Pakistan last week. He started his journey from New Delhi to Bhutan, then went to Dhaka, then Islamabad, which was then followed by Kabul. S. Jaishankar, who is the son of one of India’s leading strategic analysts, the late K. Subrimanyan, was also a part of the Indian team which negotiated the landmark Indo-U.S. nuclear deal.  This was his first tour of the SAARC countries after he took office in January 2015.

The visit of the Indian Foreign Secretary was portrayed way too ambitiously in the Pakistani media. It would be recalled that India had called off the scheduled bilateral secretary-level talks with Pakistan in August last year, citing Pakistan alleged involvement in India’s internal matters when Pakistani High Commissioner in India met with the Kashmiri Hurriyat leaders.

The media frenzy which was witnessed as Indian’s Foreign Secretary reached Pakistan was not new. But, this media hoopla seemed a bit far-fetched as some portions of the media even termed it as a drastic turnaround insofar as relations between Pakistan and India are concerned.

It should not be forgotten that India has not made any exception for Pakistan; this visit was part of Jaishankar’s SAARC tour. Some part of Pakistan’s current government tried to depict this visit as a part of its successful foreign policy in being able to engage the country hostile neighbour, India, but, according to some observers, it was nothing more than another photo-shoot opportunity.

Pakistan and India have not yet resumed composite dialogue. Even the dialogue process which has taken place in the past has not been able to reap any long-lasting results. Furthermore, it should be remembered that the SAARC Charter clearly states that bilateral and contentious issues shall be excluded from the deliberations.

The Indian Foreign Secretary’s visit may be seen as a positive development for both Pakistan and India as the two countries have agreed to talks in future, but making a mountain out of a molehill is uncalled for.  There are some serious questions which the policy makers in Pakistan need to ask themselves before they rejoice over the Indian Foreign Secretary’s visit:

Is this a strategy to establish Indian hegemony in the region by depicting Pakistan as nothing more than a state subservient to India? Is this a part of a long-term series by getting India a permanent seat in the United Nations, making other SAARC countries nothing but dormant in the region by displaying India as a leader of the region and a global power instead of a regional power? Is Pakistan ready to deal with India as a member of the UNSC, in non-compliance to the UNSC resolutions regarding Kashmir? Are we cognizant of the price on which peace comes at?

It seems as if the current government of Pakistan has bitten more than it can chew, especially ever since Modi came to power. Pakistan wanted to start its relationship with the Modi regime on a positive note; Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif even attended his swearing-in ceremony. He also deviated from the traditional practice of Pakistani heads of government meeting Kashmiri leadership during their visits to India.

But, as time progressed, the hopes of opening a fresh page in the Indo-Pak context faded soon. Given the frequent display of hostility by Indian officials, unprovoked firing and shelling across the Line of Control and the Working Boundary, and then eventually calling off the Foreign Secretary talks last August, it seems as if Indian side has other ideas on dealing with Pakistan. It would not be far-fetched to assume that perhaps India would not have returned to the table, had it not been due to the external pressure, mainly U.S.’s pressure.

It is rather ironic that India did not raise any hue and cry as the Pakistani High Commissioner in India met with the Kashmiri Hurriyat leader, Syed Ali  Shah Geelani, yesterday, as opposed to the previous time when they altogether called off the scheduled talks.

Peace should not have a price. It is not barter trade. Events like these may be viewed as a positive development, but unrealistic expectations should not be attached or expected from such meetings. Seriousness should be shown by both sides because peace is not just a question for the ruling elite, but for over 1.6 billion people. In one line, the best expression to describe the recent talks in Pakistan will be, at best, talks will remain talks.


Ifrah Waqar is currently working as a Research Associate at the Centre for Pakistan and Gulf Studies.
The views expressed in this article are of writers own and do not necessarily present the position of the Centre.

Case Study of the Recent Political Crisis in Pakistan

(Ifrah Waqar)

This paper revolves around the functioning of the electronic media in Pakistan and its role in last year’s political crisis. The paper questions whether the electronic media in the country is functioning as a source of independent reporting or pursuing various agendas. The role of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulation Authority (PEMRA) has also been discussed at length. A case study of Pakistan’s two leading media corporations has also been made which proves the assertion that the electronic media did, indeed, go haywire as far as the dharna (sit-in) crisis was concerned.

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By ifrah Waqar & Tahir Ahmad
Jan 8, 2015

National Action Plan Pakistan

Afterthe attack in Peshawar on Army public school that claimed the lives of 149 including 8 school teachers, the government, political leadership and armed forces have embarked upon a national action plan to counter terrorism called The National Action Plan (NAP). All the political parties have vowed to fight terrorism and build consensus on issues of public importance. The government lifted the moratorium on death penalty and called for the establishment of military courts for the speedy trail of terrorism related cases. However, different quarters have expressed different reactions. The repost has compiled the government actions, the parliamentary proceedings, the actions taken by armed forces and the reaction of different organisations and civil society.

Response of the Government:

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after declaring the attacks as national tragedy announced a three days mourning and summoned All Parties’ Conference (APC) in Peshawar. Before the meeting PM lifted the moratorium on death penalty in terrorism related cases. The same day, the Army Chief, General Raheel Shareef signed the execution of six terrorists.  The Prime Minister announced that there will be no difference between good and bad Taliban and expressed his resolve to continue Operation Zarb-e-Azb. The decisions made during the APC were presented in the joint session of the parliament that includes nationwide campaign against terrorism and extremism, and bills regarding national security and 20 points national security strategy. A list of the 20-point action plan follows:

  1. To enforce executions for terrorists sentenced to death.
  2. To avoid criminals evading punishment due to weaknesses in the legal system, special trial courts will be established under military officers so such elements can be dealt with without delay. These courts will exist for two years. Constitutional amendments will be made for these courts.
  3. No armed militant group or organization will be allowed to operate.
  4. The anti-terrorism organization, NACTA, will be strengthened and activated.
  5. Censoring Literature, newspapers and magazines that are spreading hate, violence sectarianism, extremism and intolerance
  6. All funding for terrorists and terrorist organizations will be eliminated.
  7. Banned organizations will not be allowed to re-establish themselves under another name.
  8. A special anti-terrorism force will be created of 10,000 soldiers will be created.
  9. Action is being taken to stop religious extremism and protect minorities.
  10. The government will register and regulate all madrassahs.
  11. Print and electronic media will be banned from glorifying the views of terrorists and terrorist organizations.
  12. Reforms in FATA will be given priority to ensure the speedy return of internally displaced persons.
  13. The communication networks of terrorists will be completely dismantled.
  14. The government will take steps to stop the spread of terrorism on the Internet and social media.
  15. There will be no space left for terrorism in any part of the country, including Punjab.
  16. The ongoing operation in Karachi will continue until it accomplishes its goals.
  17. For broader political consensus, stakeholders will work to empower the Balochistan government.
  18. Decisive action will be taken against sectarian elements.
  19. A comprehensive policy for the repatriation of Afghan refugees is being developed.
  20. The government will focus on legislation to ensure provincial intelligence organizations get access to terrorists’ communication networks and anti-terrorism organizations.

The APC also issued a joint notification for the elimination of terrorism. The notification states that Madaris (religious institutions) would be registered and the activities of extremist organisations would be stopped. The notification calls for the restructuring of NECTA and prohibition of hate and provocative speeches, and the distribution of extremist materials.

The APC agreed to destroy the communication system of terrorism, to work for the rehabilitation of the IDPs and ban those terrorist organisations trying to operate under different names. The use of social media and internet by terrorist organisations would be stopped.

The APC decided to establish for a period of two years, special courts which are presided by Army Officers. For this purpose amendment in the constitution was introduced.

On December 24, 2014, the prime minister chaired the meeting of parliamentary leaders which was attended by the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif, Director General of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt General Rizwan Akhtar and Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Ahmed Shah, Pakistan’s Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and other senior PPP, PTI and MQM leaders. During the meeting Prime Minster said that extraordinary situation demands extraordinary measures. The Chief of Army Staff and the interior minister briefed the meeting.

The interior minister discussed the following points;

  • Finances of terrorist organizations
  • The regular update of the most wanted terrorists.
  • To deal with all terrorist organizations (including those under new names).
  • Civil and military understanding on regulation of internet
  • Misuse of media by the terrorists and media code of conduct
  • Media broadcast and black list terrorist
  • Terrorist threats and breaking news
  • Online hate speech and content generated by terrorists and regulation of the Internet.
  • Greater regulation of explosives material.
  • An audit of all companies dealing with explosives with civilian and military coordination.

On December 24 the Prime Minister in a televised address to the nation announced the ‘National Action Plan (NAP) to deal with terrorism. According to the Interior Minister, the plan was prepared in the light of the decisions taken by All Parties Conference. For this purpose the PM established the National Action committee consisting of the members from all the political parties and decision were taken in the light of the recommendations of this committee. The PM address gave the following outlines of the National Action Plan (NAP) are those points which were decided in the APC. The summary of these points is given as given under.

i)  The Execution of terrorists convicted of death penalty.

There are 3000 convicts in terrorism related cases; the execution of some 500 convicts in terrorism related cases is due in the comings weeks. The prime minster has said that the executions would continue. According to the interior minister the decision to lift moratorium on death penalty for terrorism cases was made in principle.

ii)  The establishment of Military courts:

For the establishment of military courts the government needed to amend the article 175 of the constitution which defines the jurisdiction and establishment of the courts, and the Pakistan Army Act 1952. The government tabled the bill called the 21st Constitutional Amendment Bill 2015 and Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill 2015, in the Parliament for parliamentary discussion and approval.  The Parliament passed both the bills.

iii)  To take measure against hate speech.

iv)   To make no distinction among good and bad Taliban.

v)    The regulate madaris (religious schools).

vi)   Political reconciliation in Balochistan, reforms in FATA and rehabilitation of IDPs.

vii)  To deal with the issue of Afghan refugees.

Reaction from the Armed forces:

The Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Raheel Shareef visited Kabul and had meetings with his counterpart and the ISAF commander. The PM said that he had a telephonic conversation with the Afghan president, asked him to take strict action against the terrorists and ensure maximum cooperation.

 On December 20 2014, the security forces killed 45 terrorists across the country in different operations. Brother of Peshawar school mastermind among five killed in Peshawar, twenty killed in jet bombardment in Tirah valley in Khyber Agency, four in drone strike in North Waziristan, two in Charsadda and five killed in Karachi. The military has intensified is operation country wide against the terrorists in which scores of terrorists have been killed.

The Army Chief briefed the meeting of parliamentary leaders chaired by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that 2100 terrorists were killed and 190 soldiers had died during Zarb-e-Azb.

According to the interior ministry the 10, 000 army personnel are deployed in all the four provinces who act in times of crises with the provincial security forces. The interior minister addressing the meeting of parliamentary leaders chaired by Prime Minister said, “After the initiation of Zarb-i-Azb, the government realised that the police is neither equipped nor trained who would require time to tackle the current law and order crisis. In order to deal with the reaction of the operation, the army chief has told the government that the military was willing to help and support the federal and provincial administrations but for that the requisition of the army needs to be made under Article 245 of the Constitution”

He further added that letter has been written to three provinces that if the deployment of armed forces under article 245 was not requested, armed forces from the three provinces would be withdrawn.

According to the ISPR press release on January 3, 2015, “In a bid to coordinate the security and to implement the recently approved National Action Plan (NAP), Provincial Apex committees have been formed in all provinces which would be constituted of both military and political leadership.”

During the 178th Corps Commanders Conference at the General Headquarters, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Raheel Sharif has stated that petty differences should not put at stake the political consensus. The COAS reviewed the homework done by various quarters for the execution of National Action Plan agreed in the APC. The upsurge in Intelligence Based Operations and it effects were reviewed.

Policy outlines:

The national action plan has three such elements on which disagreement prevails among different political parties, civil society, non Governmental and international organisations, and some sections of press and electronic media.

Death Penalty and reaction from various quarters:

The execution of the terrorist convict of death penalty has been criticised by human rights organisations, the European Union, the Nongovernmental organisations, and the leading human rights activists.

The EU envoy to Pakistan Lars-Gunnar Wigemark and other delegates said in a joint statement, “”We believe that the death penalty is not an effective tool in the fight against terrorism”. The envoy stated that the EU delegation regrets the decision of the Pakistani government to lift the moratorium on executions.

The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon called on the government of Pakistan to put an end to the execution of all convicts and re-impose the moratorium on death penalty. The UN High Commissioner Zeid Raad Al Hussein had also condemned Pakistan’s decision to lift moratorium on death penalty.

David Griffiths, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director stated, “The planned execution figures being quoted are deeply disturbing and indicate a huge regression from a government which until last week maintained a moratorium on executions”.

 The United States has adopted not official position on the issue. The United States Department spokesperson for the U.S Department of State Marie Harf said that the lifting of the moratorium on death penalty is Pakistan’s internal issue.

Asma Jehangir Lawyer and Activists said that punitive actions would not absolve government from taking hard decisions on security paradigm or revamp criminal justice system. She further added, “Terrorism does not disappear with revenge tactics but through making justice and equality before law a reality”.

The establishment of Military Courts and Constitutional Amendment:

After  the Peshawar attack the decisions of the APC which were incorporated in to National Actions Plan to counter terrorism, the government as part of its plan has tabled the bill aiming at amendment to the constitution to establish military courts.

For this purpose the Bill called The 21st Amendment Bill 2015 and the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill 2015 were passed from the parliament.

a) The Bill amended Article 175 of the constitution.

 The article is about the jurisdiction and establishment of the Courts.

b) The Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill 2015.

It is about the trail and composition of the Military Courts.

The Pakistan Army Act (Amendment) Bill 2015 would remain in force for two years and stands repealed on the expiration of the said period unless extended by the Parliament.

21st Amendment Bill 2015

“Whereas extraordinary situation and circumstances exist, which demand special measures for speedy trial of certain offences relating to terrorism, waging of war or insurrection against Pakistan and for prevention of acts threatening the security of Pakistan by the terrorist groups using the name of religion or a sect and also by the members of armed groups, wings and militias,” reads the 21 amendment bill.

In the first schedule of the Constitution, the 21st amendment to the Constitution ,the Pakistan Army Act 1952, the Pakistan Army Act 1953, the Pakistan Navy Act 1961 and the Protection of Pakistan Act, 2014 will also be inserted.

These military courts – with prior permission of the federal government – will also be able to try any person – who is claimed or is known to belong to any terrorist group or organization using the name of religion or sect and who commits an offence. The federal government can also transfer pending cases to these military courts.

Both the bills have been voted in the parliament none of the political party opposed the bill.

Response of the political parties:

The Pakistan Tehrek e Insaaf (PTI) called off the protests and participated in the APC. However, it abstained from voting the bill and amendment. Jamiat e Ulema e Islam Fazal Rahman Group (JUI F) and Jumat e Islami (JI) also abstained from voting. JI proposed that the word religion should be omitted from the text of the bill.  JUI insisted that the word sect is objectionable. The Pakistan’s People Party (PPP) and Awami National Party (ANP) voted in favour of the bill and amendment.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) publicly stated that it is dismayed over the decision of the political parties supporting the establishment of military courts. HRCP stated. “The Commission is dismayed that all political parties supported this unfortunate decision, although some had earlier expressed reservations. HRCP concerns were based on three grounds; firstly, it undermines the judiciary, secondly, trying civilians has always been controversial issue, thirdly, the movie may affect the political dissidents in Baluchistan and Sindh. The HRCP further added “HRCP believes that the need instead is to reform and strengthen the system of investigation and prosecution. Reforms should include more scientific methods of investigation, rather than torture and coercion, as well as witness protection programmes and better security for lawyers, judges and witnesses. The hasty decision is all the more questionable as the Supreme Court itself is attempting to expedite cases of terrorism.”

Way Forward:

Undoubtedly, Pakistan is going through one of its most difficult times in its history but it seems the people and the leadership of the country has decided to take a united stand against the elements threatening the security and sovereignty of the country. It is the need of the time that decisions on matters of national security are taken through mutual consensus and consultation. The National Action Plan can be successful if transparency and accountability is maintained in implementing this plan. Mere slogans and speeches will not help achieve the required targets, for that, sanity must prevail over rage and emotions.

The writers are currently working as Research Associate at the Centre for Pakistan and Gulf Studies (CPGS).

The views expressed in this article are of writers own and do not necessarily present the position of the Centre.

Stephen P. Cohen

Review by
Ifrah Waqar

The book titled “Shooting for a Century: The India-Pakistan Conundrum” by Stephen P. Cohen makes a detailed study of the history of conflicts between Pakistan and India, their explanation, American interests and prospects in the region. The author has suggested that Pakistan-India rivalry is likely to continue for several more decades even a “century”, and full normalization between the two countries seems impossible. He further speculates that out of the two countries, Pakistan seems to be the possible contender which might disintegrate or fragment owing up to the on-going conflicts in the country, and the result might end up as a catastrophic event in the form of a fully-blown nuclear war between Pakistan and India.

Contrary to the already existing literature available on Pakistan-India relations, Mr. Stephen Cohen has presented another narrative from the perspective of all stakeholders involved and has suggested possible scenarios of how the future might shape. He has at many places put up the rationale of the current status-quo continuing to exist between Pakistan and India; declaring it to be the best state of normalization that the countries can achieve.

Mr. Cohen has succinctly narrated the historical background of Pakistan and India since 1947 and their positions vis-à-vis each other. He has also successfully shed light at the two schools of thought in both the countries, and how their views about the other country have shaped the foreign policies of the respective countries. The governments of both the countries have succumbed in one way or the other when these groups have built up domestic pressure and it has shown in the policy posture of Pakistan and India.

The author has given a detailed account of the disputes and issues that exist between the two countries which include the Kashmir dispute, the water issue and the Siachen Glacier. He has also included the issues of nuclearisation of both countries and the issue of Islamic extremism pertaining to the topic of conflicts which exist between the two countries.

The topic of contemporary conflicts which exist between the two countries is then discussed. Mr. Cohen has dismissed any acts of vivisecting Pakistan by India like the one that happened in 1971. He has said that acquiring of nuclear status by the two countries has put a full-stop to such acts, and the two countries cannot afford adventures like these as the stakes are too high now.

Mr. Stephen Cohen has categorized the relation between Islamabad and New Delhi to be under the influence of “Westphalian issues” which has dominated the dialogue process between the two. These issues include sovereignty, terrorism, propaganda campaigns against each other and reluctance to hold negotiations. He has given six accounts of the Pakistan-India rivalry which include civilizational clash, state identity, the Kashmir dispute, power politics rivalry, enmity based on the psychological abnormalities of the other side, and a feeling of hostility and antagonism based towards each other created by the third or outside powers. He has termed the existing conflicts between Pakistan and India as intractable.

The author has then given an account of the attempts made to normalize relations between the two countries. He has elaborated on the role of Track II diplomacy and has highlighted the unofficial attempts and the role of back-channels to initiate secret talks on sensitive issues like the nuclear programme to ease the global fears of a possible nuclear war occurring between the two. He has also shed light on the role of third parties who have intervened in the matters of the two countries and have played their part over the years.

American interests and policies are discussed by the author in detail. He has said that the United States perhaps cannot do much about the identity issues between the two, but it can definitely play its role as far as trade and economic cooperation are concerned. He, however, has said the U.S. can perhaps play its role for cooperation on strategic issues, but only in Afghanistan and not in solving the sensitive Kashmir dispute.

Mr Cohen has discussed the recent U.S. Policies towards India and Pakistan which include a Comprehensive South Asia Policy, the necessity for the U.S. to recognize the importance to ensure normalization of relationship between the two nuclear states in South Asia without being in the colonial past, or be too deeply involved in the process of normalization. He has advised the U.S. policy-makers to do something to normalize the relations between Islamabad and New Delhi, but not to do harm.  It is important that the pace and terms of cooperation are set and pursued by the two instead of the United States.


Pakistan and India’s relations have always existed in a paradox. The two countries have been a victim of colonialism and have been historically hostile towards each other. International events such as the Cold War politics have had deep impact on the psyche of these two countries and the two perceive each other as rivals. Mr. Cohen has, in detail, documented the history between Pakistan and India and the bottom-line of his historical documentation stands at the point that the rivalry between the two countries will continue to exist, and perhaps the best stage of normalization between the two is if the status-quo continues to prevail. He has advised the Americans to have a long-term policy in South Asia and has always suggested that China should be involved in the dialogue process between the two countries. Furthermore, he has given his suggestion that the Line of Control in Kashmir should be changed into a permanent border.

The author has also advised the U.S. to extend cooperation between Islamabad and India on the issue of Afghanistan, but has neglected to mention the insecurities and mistrust that exist amid the policy-makers in Islamabad towards the role of India in Afghanistan. The book aims to explain the existing rivalry between the two countries, but ends up in giving partisan recommendations to solve the existing disputes and crises. Furthermore, Mr. Cohen has focused on Pakistan’s internal fissure points and has predicted that, sooner or later, the country is going to disintegrate, but has not mentioned similar problems faced by India like the Maoist insurgency. A few statements made by the author are untrue. Like, he has said Allama Iqbal studied at Aligarh University and that the Dawoodi Bohras are “persecuted violently” in Pakistan. These assertions are far from the truth.

All in all, Mr Stephen Cohen’s book is an interesting narrative of the Pakistan-India history. It is an informative read and should be read by the students of history and international relations as that would be beneficial for understanding the outstanding issues and disputes between the two countries.

By Ghani Jafar & Ifrah Waqar
Sep 4, 2014

A Political Circus

Pakistan has been in the grip of a political turmoil since the second week of last month. The schools are closed, government offices shut, public transportation halted and the economy of the country jammed because of the on-going protests and sit-in by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri’s PAT (Pakistan Awami Tehreek). The two parties are currently encamped outside the Parliament House in Islamabad. They have one demand in common which calls for the resignation of both Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother, the Chief Minister of Punjab, Shehbaz Sharif.

Although the government and the prime minister have repeatedly refused to oblige the protestors by stepping down, the two parties have also been reiterating that nothing short of the resignations of the two brothers would make them call off the sit-ins.

The Federal Government is virtually paralysed as the protestors have also blocked the entrance to the Federal Secretariat in the vicinity of the Parliament House. Nor is the protest confined to the Capital; the supporters of the two parties are staging demonstrations and sit-ins in other major cities of the country as well.

On top of all this, the President of Pakistan’s one of the most friendly countries, China, Xi Jinping, was scheduled to visit Islamabad from September 14 to 16. The visit has been postponed according to media reports because the Chinese President’s security team which was in Pakistan this week refused to issue him security clearance. It is most regrettable that Pakistan’s lingering political dispute has barred the Chinese President from visiting Pakistan.  It is also deplorable that Pakistan has not been able to extend hospitality to the honourable guest from China.

Nobody can predict what will happen or what shape or form these on-going events will take?  Speculations and rumour mills are at an all-time high, with some quarters wanting the army to take over, whereas others are rallying against the protesters. The security situation of the country is precarious with the on-going military operation “Zarb-e-Azb” in North Waziristan, and about 800,000 internally displaced persons from North Waziristan in relief camps or other places to which nobody, except the Pakistan Army and Paramilitary Forces, is giving any attention.

At the same time, taking advantage of Pakistan’s internal turmoil, Indian troops are frequently firing and shelling rockets across the Line of Control as also the Working Boundary dividing Indian-occupied former state of Jammu and Kashmir and Azad Kashmir and some of Pakistan’s border areas with India. The international scenario is getting further complicated with every passing day as the electoral crisis in Afghanistan remains unresolved, whereas the date of the American and NATO troops’ withdrawal from Pakistan’s bordering country, Afghanistan, is only a few months away. Militants of the so-called “Islamic State of Syria and Iraq” are opening up their tentacles beyond Syria and Iraq and now there are reports of their distributing pamphlets and literature in Pakistan and Afghanistan as well.

Against this backdrop, it would perhaps not be wrong to say that Pakistan is currently facing one of the worst political crises of its turbulent history. According to the figures released by the Finance Minister, Ishaq Dar, the PTI and PAT sit-ins have caused some 500-800 billion rupees to the country’s economy since the protests began. The policy-makers in Islamabad seem incapacitated to deal with the on-going political crisis.

According to some observers, the present government’s attitude is a part of the continuing problem rather than a solution. Their dismissive attitude and failure to cope with the crisis has led the country to the point that it has become a laughing stock within the world community. The government, instead of trying to resolve or even listen to the grievances of the protesting parties, has chosen to pay no heed instead. The protesters are being imprisoned all over the country, and, in Islamabad, they are being obstructed by the police and even shelled with tear gas, rubber as well as metal bullets which has resulted in the death of an unknown number of persons and hundreds have been injured.

A week-long Joint Parliament Session was called in the after-math in which leaders from a number of political parties have made thunderous speeches on the importance of democracy, and yet have aligned themselves with the government by stating they would support democracy and would not provide  space for a third party to intervene.

 The current political situation seems like a big ongoing circus. The protesters do not know their exit strategy, and the government has no clue as how to deal with them. Add to in this mix the inflated egos and hubris of the political leaders involved, and we have a full-blown crisis on our hands. No one is ready to give a breathing space or show some flexibility to the other as it has now become more of a personal face-saving issue rather than an attempt to get the country out of this mess.

The solution of the problem lies in both the Opposition and the Government parties taking a step back in the larger interest of the country. The onus of responsibility is on the Federal Government as it responsible for all citizens of Pakistan not just the ruling group. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is currently serving his third time as the Chief Executive of the country, has spent more or less 31 years in politics; the current situation demands a display of political maturity and magnanimity on his part. Whether the current ruling elite is able to follow rationality, only time will tell, but what is evident is that the Government needs to review and revise its current and future policies if it wants to survive politically and in  government.

It should also be remembered that a crises bring opportunities as well. While this political turmoil has created a tense situation, it has also given many lessons to the ruling elite as well as the people of Pakistan. Politics and Parliament have once again become relevant to the educated middle class. Political awareness has reached new heights. Politics is no longer the business of a few selected families. Depending on a peaceful resolution of the crisis, all these developments would have a positive impact in the long run, insofar as democracy in the country is concerned.

Mr. Ghani Jafar is currently working as an Editor/senior research fellow at the Centre for Pakistan and Gulf Studies.

Ifrah Waqar is currently working as a Research Associate at the Centre for Pakistan and Gulf Studies (CPGS).

The views expressed in this article are of writers own and do not necessarily present the position of the Centre.


By Ifrah Waqar
Jul 9, 2014

A Draconian LawThe Protection of Pakistan Bill has finally been passed by both the houses of Parliament. This much hyped Bill was first presented in October 2013 in the National Assembly by the name of Pakistan Protection Ordinance, but the government was not able to get it passed due to some controversial clauses which were heavily criticized and slammed by both the media and the civil society. This Bill, however, was then amended and named Protection of Pakistan in January 2014.

The Protection of Pakistan Bill was then presented in the Senate and was passed unanimously. Then it was tabled in the National Assembly on July 2, 2014, and there too it was accepted, thus making this Bill into an Act of law. It is applicable for the next two years.

The critics of this legislation have declared it to be in clear violation of not only the Constitution of Pakistan but also to be against the United Nations Convention against torture. For example, it allows any law enforcement official of Grade 15 and above to shoot anyone he/she suspects to be a terrorist. The officials (armed and civilian), under this Act would be allowed to “enter and search, without warrant, any premises to make any arrest or to take possession of any property, fire-arm, weapon or article used or likely to be used…” Moreover, the Act enables the authorities to hold an individual in detention for a period of up to 60 days without presenting the detainee before a court.

The Protection of Pakistan Bill calls for the creation of special courts and Joint Investigation Teams consisting of armed and civil forces to hold investigations against those accused. The forces would have to inform the special courts about the location of their investigative centres.

The suspects held under this Act would be not be granted bail, and “A person arrested or detained under this Ordinance whose identity is unascertainable shall be considered as an enemy alien.” It means that if a person cannot prove his/her identity, and their neighbours fail to recognize them, he/she would be considered an “enemy alien” who is waging war against the state of Pakistan unless he/she can prove otherwise.

The Act also states: “acts that are calculated to influence or affect the conduct of Government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct” are also punishable under this Act. It means the government can crackdown on legitimate protestors and processions under the cover of this law and use it as a means to achieve their own political objectives, thus hampering people’s democratic and constitutional rights by legalizing unchecked use of violence by the State and legitimizing State oppression.

It is not too far-fetched to speculate that the Act would create impunity for the State to hold people in illegal detention which could result in an increase in the number of cases of missing persons in the country which would further create chaos and instability in the country.

This bill violates the fundamental human rights like the freedom of speech as one of the scheduled offenses state “crimes against computers including cyber crimes, internet offenses and other offences related to information technology etc”.

This clearly states the underlying agenda of the government about how it wants to restrict and control the cyber space. Freedom of speech is guaranteed in the United Nations Charter of Human Rights. If the authorities think the state can strip its citizens of their opinion and their voices then they are gravely mistaken as such tactics adopted to terrorise its citizens have not worked before and will not do so even in the future.

National security is perhaps the most important aspect of any state and a state can go to any length to protect and preserve it but it should not be merged with freedom.  National security and freedom should not be exclusive to each other. There is a difference between a police state and a democratic one and that difference should be evident in the policies and laws implemented by the state. Any laws which magnify black spots in the systems which the agencies or the government can utilise to their own interests should be discouraged especially when the laws categorically state that any person accused or who commits a crime in the scheduled offenses listed in the Protection of Pakistan (Amendment) immediately comes under the “cognizable and non-bailable offense.”

On the other hand, proponents of this bill argue that in these testing times especially in the light of the on-going military operation in the country, the bill was the need of the time. They are of the view that in the light of the current ground realities of Pakistan, the constitution does not embody full punishments and the methods to deal with the terrorists and this bill provides with a way to apprehend these terrorists.

All in all, it is pertinent that the government ensures that this law is not used for perusing personal vindictive agendas and to carry out extra judicial killings. However, it should be kept in mind that what benefit this Protection of Pakistan will have when the other laws pertaining to maintain the law and order situation in the country are not fully enforced. When the trials are delayed and there is no accountability of the executive then it would not be wrong to say that such laws or bills will not make a significant impact in the longer run.

The writer is currently working as Research Associate at the Centre for Pakistan and Gulf Studies (CPGS). The views expressed in this article are of writers’ own and do not necessarily present the position of the Centre.

By Ikram Ullah Khan & Ifrah Waqar

Jun 5, 2014

Pak RussiaPakistan and Russia are entering into a new phase of bilateral cooperation as Moscow announced lifting of an arms embargo on Pakistan on June 2, 2014 which was imposed during the Soviet era. This step is being viewed by the relevant experts as a major development insofar as the two countries’ relationship is concerned as no such cooperation or collaboration has existed before between them.

Nonetheless, it needs to be seen how the lifting of this embargo will benefit Pakistan. While Pakistan already has a sufficient arms supply chain from the United States, it is widely assumed that the quality of those weapons is better than the Russian ones.

If we analyze the situation carefully, the scope of this development may not be limited to military cooperation only. It is highly likely that this development will widen the scope of bilateral cooperation between these two countries. This notable development will open new frontiers of cooperation which will primarily deal with three main domains, i.e., defence, politics and economy.

This recent move by the Russian side will bolster the bilateral ties between these two states. It would act as a catalyst to improve bilateral relations between Pakistan and Russia in the coming years. It will also facilitate in establishing close professional collaboration based on mutual trust between the two militaries and in energy development and industrial sector. This cooperation will also strengthen the regional anti-terrorism efforts and maritime security.

In the past, both the states have had no formal cooperative defence mechanism, and their defence ties were rather strained and more influenced by the Cold War era relationship of the Soviet Union with India. During the Cold War period, there were two global blocs headed by the United States and the Soviet Union. Pakistan was then a U.S. ally and had tense relations with the Soviet Union.

Especially after the 9/11 incident, the strategic landscape has changed which has set a strategic compulsion forcing the countries to revisit their earlier foreign policies. In this context, Pakistan and Russia are no exceptions.

In the post-9/11 era, the politico-military leadership of both sides paid important visits to each other’s country. In this context, the Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affaris, Alexander Losyukov’s visit in April 2001, former Pakistani President Pervaiz Musharaff’s visit to Moscow in 2003 are worth mentioning. The relations revitalized between the two countries when the Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov visited Pakistan in 2007. He was the first post-Soviet prime minister to visit Pakistan in 38 years.

The Army Chiefs of both sides have also visited each other’s country. First, the Russian Army Chief paid a visit to Pakistan and then Pakistan’s former Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani, visited Russia in 2012. This visit turned many heads as Russia’s Defence Minister cancelled his visit to India in order to receive General Kiyani in Moscow.

Apparently, these past developments have brought no significant outcome as far as the relationship between the two countries is concerned. It is important to note that the recent happenings are a direct result of the afore-mentioned events that have taken place as far as Pakistan-Russia relations are concerned. It is also a poignant question as to why such a crucial decision, having strategic implications, has been taken by the Russian side to lift the arms embargo on Pakistan, at this point?

It is pertinent to note that the Russian decision to lift this arms embargo has come after the Crimea episode which has been referred to by the observers as Cold War version 2.0; the echoes of the Cold War era are being heard across the globe.

Experts view that in this current world order, new informal alliances are taking place, especially after the Syrian crisis when Iran, Russia and China have made it clear through diplomatic means and gestures that they will not accept any foreign interference in the entire region. The world has seen that there were tangible Western plans to attack Syria, but they changed their intentions mainly due to the resistance of and the combined pressure applied by China, Russia and Iran.

Many believe the resurgence of Russia has brought a new opportunity for Pakistan to engage, initiate and enhance a meaningful bilateral dialogue and cooperation with Russia. This opportunity should not be missed as was the case during Liaquat Ali Khan’s first visit to Washington in 1950 because, according to some historians, he chose to visit Washington instead of the Soviet Union and so the opportunity to forge ties with the Soviet Union was not utilized.

A pleasant and meaningful bilateral cooperation between these countries appears to be of paramount importance for regional peace and stability as a stable Afghanistan is in favour of both states.  A prevailing opinion within Pakistan is that the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the likelihood of a proxy war will have a spill-over effect on this country.

It has been evident in the past that the U.S. has left Pakistan to deal with the consequences as was seen at the end of the Afghan war in 1988. It is a known fact that the extremists Pakistan is currently fighting against are a by-product of that Afghan war. So, in this regard, Pakistan has a lot of concerns regarding the American withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Some political analysts within Pakistan also believe that the formation of a new regional alliance consisting of China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan would have great potential in stabilizing the region in the post-2014 scenario. Moreover, Russia can play an instrumental role in preventing a vacuum formation in Afghanistan. It is of significant importance that Pakistan needs to be on the same page with all  neighbouring countries of Afghanistan to the extent post 2014 Afghanistan is concerned.

Pakistan and Russia are nuclear weapon states. Russia can help Pakistan by providing its support in this domain just the way it supported India by leasing it a nuclear submarine in 2011 which was formally commissioned into service by the Indian navy as INS-Chakra in 2012. If Russia and Pakistan can strike a deal on the procurement of the Russian Mi-35 helicopters, which are currently being negotiated between the two countries, it would be a huge leap forward in their relations.

Pakistan and Russia have a huge potential in the field of trade. Russia can utilize Pakistan’s southern waters for trade and shipping. That will help increase Pakistan’s bilateral trade volume with Russia many-fold. Pakistan’s infrastructure will also improve if Pakistan provides Russia with this trade corridor in case these plans materalise. An example of Pakistan steel mills is in front of us which was established with Russia’s assistance and has proved to be one of the most important strategic assets for Pakistan.

Russia can help Pakistan in the energy development sector as it has the relevant expertise and technology. During the past few years, Pakistan has been facing an intense energy crisis which has directly affected Pakistan’s economic growth. Pakistan’s energy sector can provide a huge potential for establishing collaboration between Pakistan and Russia. Russia can not only invest in Pakistan’s energy sector, but Pakistan can also reap benefits from Russia’s vast experience and expertise in the fields of oil and gas exploration.

Pakistan can utilise Russia’s influence in Central Asia to garner future energy collaboration with the Central Asian Republics (CARs) as it will not only benefit Pakistan’s energy needs but also provide the CARs with a new market. Moreover, an agreement with Russia’s Gazprom (Gas company in which Russian government has major stakes) can prove to be of vital strategic importance between the two countries.

In a nutshell, Pakistan and Russia have a huge unexplored potential in their relationship. It is quite evident that Islamabad is not oblivious to the resurgence of Russia and, meanwhile, a strong realization of Pakistan’s geo-strategic location and importance also exists in Moscow. It is the need of time that the two countries formally channelized their bilateral cooperation and explore further avenues of mutual importance to the maximum. The lifting of the Russian arms embargo is a significant step, but it should be kept in mind that this step is not an end in itself; it should rather be viewed as one of the many steps to come.

The writers are currently working as Research Associate at the Centre for Pakistan and Gulf Studies (CPGS).

The views expressed in this article are of writers own and do not necessarily present the position of the Centre.

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