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.
Unclaimed roadside bomb 2 Jan hit Frontier Corps (FC) patrol injuring four FC personnel and two civilians in Quetta, Balochistan. Anti-Shia extremist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) claimed market bombing 21 Jan that killed at least 22 in predominantly Shia Parachinar, Kurram Agency. Punjab police 18 Jan reported alleged LeJ leader Asif Chotu killed along with three other militants during clash in Sheikhupura, west of Lahore. PM Nawaz and military officials 9 Jan agreed to renew controversial military court system for trying civilians charged with terrorism; interior ministry reportedly drafting legislation to make the courts permanent. Parliament 9 Jan expressed concern after five activists, known for their criticism of religious extremism and security forces, went missing early Jan. Alleged abductions sparked protests 10 Jan in Islamabad, Karachi, and Lahore, where hundreds of people accused security forces of mandating abductions; in Karachi, around 100 members of hard-line Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah allegedly hurled stones at protesters while chanting slogans accusing activists of breaking blasphemy laws. Human rights activist 14 Jan filed Supreme Court petition seeking investigation into disappearances, charging that the missing activists were victims of “state enforced disappearances”. Four of the five missing activists returned late Jan. Police and security officials mid-Jan ordered around a dozen NGOs to halt operations, accusing them of activities “detrimental to national/strategic security”; groups mostly working on women’s and human rights in S Punjab. Defence Minister Khawaja Asif 6 Jan said ex-army chief Raheel Sharif had been appointed to head Saudi Arabian-led Islamic Military Alliance, prompting criticism from Shia political groups. Asif later conceded Sharif had accepted position without seeking govt’s permission.
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.
Pakistan’s six-month-old counter-terrorism strategy has failed to end the operations of violent jihadi groups, while military-led measures continue to undermine the civilian government. A winning strategy will have to include structural and governance reform, both to stop jihadis exploiting the absence of rule of law and to address the root causes of extremist violence.
In Pakistan, women’s security and political, social and economic status are under attack by religious extremists, undermined by discriminatory legislation and unprotected by the state. The government must stand by its pledge to end gender inequity and violence against women, especially in the conflict zones of north-western Pakistan and the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.
As Pakistan seeks to consolidate its fragile democracy, it should seize the moment to improve relations with its Afghan neighbour. Its biggest challenge comes from within. The civilian government has to regain control over national security and foreign policy from the military.
With the reestablishment of Afghanistan’s national air force, we’re seeing the Taliban being driven into the mountains more than previously.
Originally published in Política Exterior
As the world marks Polio Day today, Pakistan remains the greatest impediment to a polio-free world.
Originally published in Lowy Interpreter
Originally published in The Boston Globe