A fragile democratic transition faces the dual challenges of political instability and poorly designed counter-terrorism strategies that sacrifice long-term peace for perceived short-term security goals, fuelling militancy in various parts of the country. Across the border, rival India accuses Pakistan of harbouring terrorists and even sponsoring deadly attacks on Indian soil. There is no resolution in sight to the two countries’ dispute over Kashmir, which continues to claim soldiers’ and civilians’ lives along the Line of Control. Crisis Group monitors Pakistan’s domestic politics and security, with the aim of informing Pakistani leaders and international stakeholders about effective strategies for countering instability within the country and preventing its spillover abroad.
The new government of Imran Khan is repressing opposition voices and yielding to parties propagating sectarianism. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2019 for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU to help Pakistan abide by its international commitments and keep supporting democratic governance.
Militant violence continued while govt focused on responding to COVID-19 and its relations with Afghanistan. Amid COVID-19 lockdown announced 24 March, military 3 April echoed PM Khan’s concerns that prolonged restrictions would adversely affect poor people, saying country could not afford “indefinite lockdown”. President Arif Alvi 8 April reached agreement with clerics to reopen mosques for congregational prayers. Khan 15 April relaxed restrictions, allowing some industries, businesses and shops to reopen; opposition parties Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan Peoples Party, criticising govt’s decisions, called for stringent lockdown. Govt 2 April revealed Financial Action Task Force granted govt additional five months to implement anti-terrorism financing measures due to postponement of June review of country’s performance due to COVID-19. Sindh High Court 2 April overturned July 2002 conviction and death sentence for Ahmad Omar Sheikh for Jan 2002 kidnap and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl in Karachi, acquitting three others and reducing Sheikh’s sentence to seven years served for kidnapping; hours after verdict, all four detained after Sindh govt ordered arrests under public safety law that allows three month detentions; same day, top U.S. official for South Asia called judgement “affront to victims of terrorism” and welcomed appeal; 22 April Sindh govt challenged verdict in Supreme Court. Internationally, foreign ministry 1 April welcomed Afghan govt’s announcement of negotiating team for Taliban dialogue, calling on all parties to “pursue reduction of violence”. However tensions rose after Kabul 11 April rejected Islamabad’s 9 April demand to hand over Islamic State-Khorasan Province chief, a Pakistani citizen who Afghan intelligence arrested 4 April; FM Qureshi 20 April stressed, in telephone call with acting Afghan FM Atmar, importance of “existing bilateral mechanisms” such as Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity whose working groups include one on security and intelligence cooperation. Militant violence continued, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province; in North Waziristan tribal district, soldier killed during 13 April operation against Pakistani Taliban; next day, militants killed soldier during gunfight; militant attack 20 April killed one soldier and injured three. Sindh police 19 April arrested four alleged terrorists affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent in Karachi.
Pakistan is moving to bring its Federally Administered Tribal Areas into the constitutional order. But rights remain severely restricted in the borderlands, threatening deeper popular alienation. To stop militants from stepping in, the government should lift its draconian interim regulations and deliver needed services.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, opened in 2015, could bring needed jobs and investment to Pakistan. But many projects also risk widening social divides and heightening political tensions along the route. With Beijing’s support, Islamabad should seek the public’s input to ensure equity in economic gains.
This report examines President Trump’s emerging counter-terrorism policies, the dilemmas his administration faces in battling ISIS and al-Qaeda across the Middle East and South Asia, and how to avoid deepening the disorder both groups exploit.
Ethnic, political and sectarian rivalries, jihadist groups, criminality and heavy-handed security policies are turning Pakistan's biggest city into a pressure cooker of tensions. Feuding politicians must set aside their conflicts or Karachi's law-and-order crisis may further worsen.
Once-tolerant southern Punjab has become a base for jihadist groups. Socio-economic grievances, political alienation and poor education provide a near endless source of recruits. To reverse the tide, the government must end a climate of impunity, block hate speech, improve rule of law, and refocus counter-terrorist action to target all jihadist groups.
Pakistan remains the greatest impediment to a polio-free world. The link between the disease and Islamist anti-immunisation campaigns is clear but without an appropriate political response. The authorities must tackle extremist networks, step up health services, and make sure that health workers are safe.
I don’t believe that Pakistan has the capability to straight out make peace happen in Afghanistan, but they definitely have the capability to make peace not [happen].
Reciprocal airstrikes by India and Pakistan have been accompanied by shelling, troop reinforcements and small arms fire. In this Q&A calling for restraint between the nuclear-armed neighbours, Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director Laurel Miller notes that the airspace violations alone were the worst for 50 years.
A 14 February suicide attack by Pakistan-based militants was their bloodiest strike in Indian-administered Kashmir in over three decades. In this Q&A, our Asia Program Director Laurel Miller warns that even a limited Indian retaliatory strike could spark a sharp escalation in conflict between the nuclear-armed neighbours.
Pakistan’s central government is all-in on CPEC. But at key points, local communities are resisting.
Originally published in The Diplomat
Addressing security concerns in Pakistan is vital for creating a more gender equal society. In this video, Crisis Group's South Asia Project Director Samina Ahmed highlights the need for measures geared toward enabling women to become more economically independent, such as safer public transport and a more gender-sensitive police force.