From Bacha Khan to Manzoor Pashteen

The Pakistani state, whose identity is framed around religion, has always viewed any ethnic identity as a threat to its existence. Right from 1947, all Pashtun, Baluch, and Sindhi leaders have been viewed as separatists, traitors and anti-national. That is how the Pakistani state views the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) and its leader, Manzoor Pashteen, as well.

The arrest on Monday of Pashteen on five charges, including those of conspiracy and sedition, demonstrate how weak and frightened a state is that it is scared of a non violent movement that simply demands accountability for extrajudicial killings and kidnappings.

As The New York Times reported “Mr. Pashteen and his movement, widely known by the initials P.T.M., have presented one of the most influential challenges to the military’s dominance of Pakistan as it has cracked down on minorities, journalists and other critics in recent years. While the P.T.M. focused on demanding justice for the country’s sizable Pashtun minority, its influence quickly grew larger than the movement itself. The large crowds P.T.M. drew to the streets, and the boldness of its leadership in openly challenging the security forces, inspired other advocates to join in.”

Pashteen’s arrest was immediately condemned not only by international human rights watchdogs like Amnesty International but also Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

Leading Pakistani intellectuals and leaders also spoke out.

Even President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan and his predecessor Hamid Karzai tweeted asking for Pashteen’s release.

India and Pakistan should behave like responsible nuclear powers

In the aftermath of the August 5th decision by India to revoke Article 370, there has been a lot of rhetoric from both countries. Both countries need to behave like responsible nuclear powers.

The total state of shock within the Pakistani establishment is visible from the vitriol not just from Prime Minister Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi but also from former officials on the news and social media.

In this environment a tweet on Friday August 16th, the Home Minister of India, Rajnath Singh that India’s NFU (No First Use) policy may not hold did not help and FM Qureshi responded immediately.

BBC on Secret Human Rights abuses by Pakistan’s Deep State

Over the years reports by international Human Rights organizations like Amnesty and Human Rights Watch and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) have pointed to human rights abuses by the Pakistani deep state. Recently the BBC’s investigative reporting provides detailed reporting about the human rights abuses, the civilian death toll and the repression faced by locals in Pakistan’s north west.

According to BBC “militant violence since 2002 has forced more than five million people in Pakistan’s north-west to leave their homes to seek refuge either in government-run refugee camps or rented houses in peaceful areas. There are no official figures of the total death toll of this war but estimates from academics, local authorities and activists put the number of civilians, militants and security forces killed at well over 50,000.”

Further, “Local rights activists say scores of civilians have been killed in successive air campaigns and ground operations by the military. They have been collecting video and documentary evidence to back up their claims. These activists are linked to a prominent new rights campaign called the Pashtun Tahaffuz (Protection) Movement (PTM) which emerged early last year and has since been publicising alleged rights abuses in the tribal region that victims had previously been too scared to report.”

Further, “These individual stories are shocking but they are not unique. The PTM alleges that hundreds of people from the tribal areas could tell similar stories. But they remain officially unacknowledged. They are the consequences of a war Pakistan has gone to great lengths to hide from the world. This conflict on the Afghan border has for years been an information black hole.”

Finally, the report refers to how the Pakistani state is attacking the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement and its activists “when the PTM broke through this chokehold last year, its media coverage was put under a comprehensive ban. Those in the media who have not heeded the ban have faced physical threats and financial pressure. The military has openly called the PTM’s patriotic credentials into question, accusing it of links to “hostile” intelligence agencies in Afghanistan and India. And some PTM activists who were documenting cases of abuse and running the group’s social media campaign have been jailed. The treatment of the activists who are finally, after years of silence, raising the alarm on the abuses of a long and secret war suggests that those who have suffered in the conflict face an uphill battle for justice.”

The BBC report which gives details about individual cases can be read here

Pakistan’s economic woes continue: SBP talks of higher inflation

Pakistan’s leadership may be feeling good about staving off an immediate economic crisis through the $6 billion IMF bailout but Pakistan’s economic problems are structural and this will not resolve them.

On Monday, the State Bank of Pakistan raised its policy rate by 150 basis points to 12.25 per cent citing rising inflation as well as “expectations of future inflation driven by a weak rupee, widening fiscal deficit and potential adjustments to the utility tariffs.”

According to the monetary policy statement issued, “The [IMF] program is designed to restore macroeconomic stability and support sustainable economic growth, and is expected to unlock considerable additional external financing. Inflation is expected to be in the range of 6.5pc to 7.5pc in the current financial year and it is anticipated to be considerably higher in fiscal year 2020. Inflation outlook is subject to a number of upside risks from an expected rationalisation of taxes in the upcoming budget, potential adjustments in electricity and gas tariffs, and volatility in international oil prices. The bank stated: “In addition, a greater reliance on central bank financing of the deficit has acted to dilute the impact of previous monetary tightening … The resulting increase in monetisation of the deficit has added to inflationary pressures.”

According to a detailed report in Dawn, “Inflation eased from 9.41pc in March — the highest in five years — to 8.8pc in April. Average inflation reached 7pc in July-April fiscal year 2019, compared to 3.8pc in the same period last year. The decline in the rupee’s value during the past two weeks and the lagged impact of previous bouts of depreciation pushed the prices of almost all essential items including flour, dates, meat, fruit etc during Ramazan.”

Further, “The SBP’s financing of the fiscal deficit resulted in increase of printed money leading to further inflationary pressures, said the monetary policy statement. The government had borrowed Rs4.8 trillion from the SBP during the ongoing fiscal year, 2.4 times higher than the same period last year, as it is expected to book a considerably higher fiscal deficit during the first three quarters of the current fiscal year due to a decline in revenue collection, increase in security-related expenditures and higher interest-related payments. On the external front, the current account deficit narrowed by $4 billion to $9.6bn during the July-March period but financing challenges rose despite significant bilateral inflows. “The reduction is mainly driven by import compression and a healthy growth in workers’ remittances. [However,] this impact was partially offset by higher international oil prices. The non-oil trade deficit declined from $13.7bn in July-March FY18 to $11bn in the first nine months of 2018-19 reflecting the impact of stabilisation policies implemented so far,” the SBP policy statement explained. Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves have already fallen to $8.8bn — enough to cover three months of imports — despite bilateral inflows from China, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. “Despite improvement in the current account and a noticeable increase in official bilateral inflows, the financing of the current account deficit remains challenging,” the SBP pointed out. The recent exchange rate fluctuation reflects the underlying pressures on the local currency that has depreciated by 5.9pc since the last monetary policy announcement hitting record low of Rs150 against the greenback last week.”

Gwadar Suicide Attack Reflects the Challenges in Balochistan

On May 10, 2019, five people including a soldier were killed after gunmen stormed the Pearl Continental, a five-star luxury hotel, in Balochistan. According to news stories the attack killed four hotel employees and a Pakistan Navy soldier and injured six others, including two army captains, two navy soldiers and two hotel employees.

In a statement the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) claimed responsibility for the attack referring to it “a practical example of following our founder leader martyr General Aslam Baloch’s approach of fighting against the occupiers until the complete liberation of Balochistan.” The BLA also asserted that the attack “was fully supported by Baloch armed organisations Balochistan Liberation Front and Baloch Republican Army (Beebarg).”

Further, the statement said “Our self-sacrificing squad successfully achieved all their targets and killed dozens of Chinese and military personnel in Gwadar attack today. China or any other foreign power will not be allowed to exploit the natural resources of Balochistan and they will be targeted with brute force until and unless they leave Balochistan and put an end to all their so-called economic and military endeavours.”

BLA statement also noted: ““Today members of BLA Majeed Brigade broke all security cordons in Gwadar and fully occupied Pearl Continental Hotel, where we had information that dozens of Chinese and other foreigners were present. In the battle that lasted for multiple hours our brave fighters killed scores of foreigners and Pakistani personnel. Simultaneously, Gwadar port was also attacked with rockets inflicting heavy losses on it. Our brave fighters occupied the hotel for more than ten hours. During this time, they did not only fight against the Pakistani military but also searched each and every room of the hotel and killed scores of Chinese officials. Pakistani state and its media are once again hiding their failures by downplaying the number of causalities. However, Baloch fighters successfully achieved their targets and embraced martyrdom by using their last bullets on themselves after they run out of ammunition. We have warned China and other foreign investors multiple times and we want to inform them once again that Baloch Liberation Army will not accept any so-called economic or military manoeuvres in Balochistan. No one will be allowed to plunder Baloch resources and use our coastal line for their military interests. Therefore, foreign powers particularly China should immediately withdraw from their all projects in Balochistan. In these circumstances BLA is willing to halt its actions against Chinese nationals until they fully evacuate. Otherwise, today’s attack in itself proves that BLA is capable of achieving any target no matter how heightened Pakistani security cordons are.”

The Chinese embassy in Islamabad condemned the attack and hailed the “heroic action of Pakistani army and law enforcement agencies” in a post on Twitter.