Tag Archives: tehreek-i-taliban pakistan

Pakistan’s Sharif caught between opposition and military


Amid the chaotic urban anarchy of Karachi and the lawlessness of tribal border areas near Afghanistan, it’s rare that Islamabad becomes the central focus of political instability in Pakistan.Pakistan Flag Icon

But that’s exactly what’s happening this week in the world’s sixth-most populous country, and if protests against Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif explode into further unrest, it could trigger a constitutional crisis or even a military coup. That Pakistan’s fate is now so perilous represents a serious step backwards for a country that, just last year, marked the completion of its first full five-year term of civilian government and a democratic transfer of power.

Imran Khan (pictured above), the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI, پاکستان تحريک انصاف, translated as the Pakistan Movement for Justice), is leading protests in the Pakistani capital calling for Sharif’s resignation relating to allegations of voter fraud in last year’s national elections. Sharif, in turn, is pressuring the country’s powerful military to guarantee order in Islamabad and the ‘red zone’  — a highly fortified neighborhood where many international embassies and the prime minister’s house are located and where Khan and his supporters have threatened to march if Sharif refuses to step down. Khan has increasingly escalated his demands, and he now seems locked in a high-stakes political struggle with Sharif that could end either or both of their careers.

In last May’s parliamentary elections, Sharif’s conservative, Punjab-based Pakistan Muslim League (N) (PML-N, اکستان مسلم لیگ ن) ousted the governing center-left, Sindh-based Pakistan People’s Party (PPP, پاکستان پیپلز پارٹی‎). Khan’s anti-corruption party, the PTI, won 35 seats, the second-largest share of the vote nationally, and the largest share of the vote in regional elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the northwestern border region near Afghanistan that is home to nearly 22 million Pakistanis, largely on the strength of Khan’s denunciation of US drone strikes on the region. Though Khan and the PTI hoped for a better result, it was nevertheless their best result by far since Khan entered politics in 1996.

Earlier this week, Khan directed his party’s legislators to resign from of the national assembly and three of the four regional assemblies. (The PTI wouldn’t, after all, be resigning its seats in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where it controls the government).


Khan’s protests dovetail with similar protests led by Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri (pictured above), a Sufi cleric and scholar who leads a small but influential party, the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT, پاکستان عوامي تحريک, translated as the Pakistan People’s Movement). Like Khan’s PTI, the PAT is an anti-corruption and pro-democratic party. Tahir-ul-Qadri, who returned to Pakistan in 2012 after living for seven years in Toronto, has been described as the ‘Anna Hazare’ of Pakistan, in reference to the Hindu social activist who’s fought against corruption in India, and he protested the PPP with equal gusto.

Early Thursday, there were hopes that negotiations among the parties could relieve the political crisis’s escalation, if not wholly end it. But it’s more complicated that, because of the delicate role that the military still plays in the country’s affairs.

You can think of the current tensions in Pakistan as a triangular relationship:
Continue reading Pakistan’s Sharif caught between opposition and military

Who is Raheel Sharif? A look at Pakistan’s new army chief of staff


There’s a new Sharif in town.Pakistan Flag Icon

Ending months of speculation, Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif announced late last week that Raheel Sharif (pictured above) is his choice to succeed Ashfaq Kayani as Pakistan’s new army chief of staff last week, just hours before Kayani’s resignation went into effect.

Though the two men share the same surname, it’s an open question as to which Sharif will be the more powerful person in Pakistani government over the years to come.  The army chief of staff will significantly influence issues of security and foreign policy, including long-term prospects for more peaceful Indian-Pakistani ties, patrolling Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan (all the more relevant given that the US military pullout is likely to occur in 2014), dealing with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (commonly referred to as the Pakistani Taliban), and the bilateral relationship with the United States, including the difficult issues of sovereignty and civilian deaths resulting from US drone strikes in northwestern Pakistan.

While Raheel Sharif may not exactly be able to set Pakistan’s policy on these issues, he can certainly complicate the civilian government’s policy decisions on security and foreign policy if he believes that they aren’t in the Pakistani military’s best interests.

What’s most interesting about the decision is that the last time Nawaz Sharif selected a new army chief of staff, as Pakistan’s prime minister in 1998, his choice was Pervez Musharraf, the third-most-senior officer at the time, who Sharif hoped would chart a more harmonious course in line with Sharif’s security policy than Jehangir Karamat, who Sharif dismissed earlier in 1998.  Within a year, however, Musharraf had ousted Sharif in a military coup, ushering in yet another era of military government in Pakistan that would last nearly a decade, and which coincided with intense cooperation between the United States and Pakistan with respect to Afghanistan and, more generally, US military efforts against radical Islamic terror across the Middle East, South Asia and Africa.

Given the ominous precedent, it was important for Sharif to choose very wisely this time around — and so far, there’s every indication that the new army chief of staff, though somewhat of a surprise pick, is unlikely to pursue a radically different path from Kayani, who has worked hard to keep the Pakistani military’s policymaking role behind the scenes since his appointment in 2007.  Kayani is credited, in part, with providing the backdrop of security and stability that allowed for the first government in Pakistani history to serve out its full five-year term, and his commitment to stable, civilian-led government is perhaps his chief legacy.

In choosing Raheel Sharif, Nawaz Sharif decided against Haroon Aslam, the most senior military officer, who was viewed as the frontrunner, and against Rashad Mehmood, who served as Kayani’s principal staff officer and has also served in the Inter-Services Intelligence, the top Pakistani spy agency.

Raheel Sharif was born in 1956 in Quetta, which is located in the relatively remote province of Balochistan in Pakistan’s southwest, and he comes from a family with a long military tradition — his brother was killed in the 1971 war with India and was awarded Pakistan’s highest military honor, the Nishan-i-Haider.  Though just third in line in terms of military seniority, he has developed new training doctrines under Kayani’s leadership in transitioning the Pakistani army away from its traditional focus on India and toward a role based in counterinsurgency strategy.  He has ties to both top army officials and the political elite and, in particular, is close to lieutenant-general and tribal affairs minister Abdul Qadir Baloch, who’s a key confidante to the prime minister.


Five years after returning to Pakistan and five years after the transition back to civilian rule, Nawaz Sharif returned to power after May’s parliamentary elections, which saw Sharif’s Punjab-based, center-right Pakistan Muslim League (N) (PML-N, اکستان مسلم لیگ ن) win a landslide victory against both the Sindh-based, center-left Pakistan People’s Party (PPP, پاکستان پیپلز پارٹی‎) of Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan’s former president and widower of assassinated prime minster Benazir Bhutto, and the anti-corruption, populist Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice or PTI, پاکستان تحريک) of Imran Khan.

Upon becoming Pakistan’s prime minister for a third time, Sharif championed a politically negotiated settlement with the TTP and also better economic and security ties with India.  In both cases, the Pakistani military has undermined his goals behind closed doors.   Continue reading Who is Raheel Sharif? A look at Pakistan’s new army chief of staff

Despite his tumble, Imran Khan is the key to Saturday’s Pakistani election


The final days leading up to Pakistan’s general election this weekend have been dominated by the fate of one man — Imran Khan.Pakistan Flag Icon

With tensions running high over campaign violence, Khan this week was seriously injured, though not by radical Islamist elements, but by falling off a stage at a campaign rally.

Khan tumbled seven feet Tuesday after falling from a forklift when another staffer lost his balance at a campaign rally in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province.  Khan suffered three broken vertebrae and additional head injuries, and Pakistan’s other parties suspended campaigning on Wednesday out of respect for the man who’s become the star of the 2013 campaign.  Khan will not be able to headline any further rallies before the election (today is the final day for active campaigning, in any event), and he won’t physically be able to vote in person on Saturday, either, but he’s already recorded a message for supporters from his hospital bed.

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While the fall may have dampened the prospects for a final campaign rally, it may well have compensated by catapulting Khan into 36 hours of news coverage throughout Pakistan and stepping on the economic reform message of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, whose Pakistan Muslim League (N) (PML-N, اکستان مسلم لیگ ن) was expected to win the largest share of the vote.

But even before the fall, Khan was always going to be the key to determining the outcome of Pakistan’s parliamentary elections.

Some polls show that Khan and his surging nationalist, anti-corruption movement, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice or PTI, پاکستان تحريک) was already gaining ground against both Sharif’s PML-N and the governing Pakistan People’s Party (PPP, پاکستان پیپلز پارٹی‎).

A Herald poll earlier this week showed the PML-N with 25.68% support and the PTI with 24.98% support, a statistical dead heat, with the PPP in third place with 17.74% — notably, it showed Khan trailing the PML-N by only single digits in the populous Punjab province and with a huge lead in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan’s northwest.

So who is Imran Khan and how did he become the fulcrum of Pakistan’s 2013 elections?  Continue reading Despite his tumble, Imran Khan is the key to Saturday’s Pakistani election

How does Pakistan hold a normal election campaign in the middle of widespread terrorism?


It’s been 45 years since a presidential candidate in the United States has been murdered by an assassin in cold blood, and not since 1864 has the United States held a presidential election in the middle of a war taking place on U.S. soil.Pakistan Flag Icon

But imagine a national campaign that takes place under constant threat of radical terrorist attack.

That is exactly what’s happening in Pakistan, where a tense campaign has taken place not through the recognizable open-air rallies that mark campaigns throughout the world, but in large part behind closed doors — or at least behind thick glass.

Campaign violence began late in 2012 — members of the pro-U.S., pro-NATO, anti-Taliban Awami National Party (ANP, عوامی نيشنل پارٹی‎ in Urdu, ملي عوامي ګوند‎ in Pashto), the country’s largest Pashtun ethnicity party have long been accustomed to being targets of violence.  But as election day has neared, mainstream parties have been increasingly targeted as well.

The most vulnerable parties have been the incumbent Pakistan People’s Party (PPP, پاکستان پیپلز پارٹی‎) of Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of the late prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who was killed in December 2007 by assassins, and its allies like the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM, متحدہ قومی موومنٹ), a Karachi-based party.  But even their main rivals, the more conservative Pakistan Muslim League (N) (PML-N, اکستان مسلم لیگ ن) of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif has also been targeted.  The threat of violence is so strong that the PPP has barely held any rallies — it even called off its kickoff rally.  Sharif (pictured above) has campaigned only with extremely cautious protections.

Given that a functioning democracy requires a certain respect for the rule of law and a baseline ability of voters to interact with party leaders and potential prime ministers, the current state in Pakistan is hardly any kind of way to wage a political campaign, and the gruesome toll of violence has led to an eerily subdued campaign season.

The main culprit is the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP, تحریک طالبان پاکستان), better known simply as the ‘Pakistan Taliban.’

So what exactly is the TTP and why is it trying to destabilize Pakistan’s election this year?  Continue reading How does Pakistan hold a normal election campaign in the middle of widespread terrorism?