Pakistan is a country located in the region of Southern Asia. In Pakistan, periods of fragile democracy have been replaced by long-standing military power holdings. As late as 2013, the first democratic power change was implemented. Since the summer of 2018, Imran Khan is the prime minister of a government dominated by his party Pakistan Movement for Justice (PTI). In the July election, he attracted both young city dwellers and conservative Islamists with promises of everything from fighting corruption within the elite to supporting Pakistan’s disputed heathen laws.
While PTI quadrupled its representation in Parliament, the then ruling party, the Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), fell sharply. After the election victory, Khan formed a government consisting of PTI and five small parties.
- Countryaah: Country facts and history of Pakistan, including state flag, location map, demographics, GDP data, currency code, and business statistics.
The PML-N’s term of office in 2013–2018 had been marked by an ongoing power struggle between party leader Nawaz Sharif and the politically influential military. Sharif’s conflict with the military dates back to the late 1990s. It was further intensified as the military opposed Sharif’s ambitions to both approach the country to the arch-enemy India and to try to subordinate the military political control by sorting it under the Ministry of Defense.
Sharif’s attempts in 2013–2014 to negotiate peace with the Pakistani Taliban movement Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP) and other militant Islamist groups were not met by direct disapproval from the military. But when it became clear that the talks had failed, a major offensive was carried out against the clan areas in the Northwest, where the resistance groups had their strongest attachments. TTP and some violent Islamist networks weakened (some were regrouped elsewhere) and the level of violence in the clan areas dropped. Over the next four years, the number of suicides and other terrorist attacks gradually dropped in the rest of the country.
Sharif is forced to resign
At the end of the term, Sharif and the family-based PML-N happened in blustery weather when the so-called Panama Papers in April 2016 revealed that Sharif and a couple of his children had unrecognized assets linked to tax havens. This included property in the form of apartments in London. In July 2017, Sharif was forced to step down as head of government since the Supreme Court disqualified him. He was replaced by Shahid Khaqan Abbasi of PML-N. In February 2018, for the same reason, Sharif had to leave the party leader post and was replaced by brother Shahbaz Sharif. Nineteen days before the elections were held, in July 2018, Sharif was sentenced to ten years in prison for corruption. In December of that year, he was sentenced to another seven years in prison, even this time for corruption.
Sharif, PML-N and several judges believe that the military controlled the judicial process through contacts within the judiciary. The term “sneaky coup” has been used to describe how the military should have undermined Sharif’s attempt to be re-elected and help Khan win the election.
The prison sentence against Sharif was a severe blow to the PML-N. But there were also many Pakistanis who were tired of the traditional family-based politics that PML-N represents.
The Oxford-educated, former cricket star Khan led PTI for a long time as a kind of grassroots movement. Through sitting strikes, demonstrations and long marches, he demanded a halt to corruption and promised millions of new jobs, strengthened democratic institutions and a welfare system.
Criticism of the election
Khan is sometimes described as a social conservative and, for example, has termed feminism as “a Western concept” that “degrades the role of mothers”. His ambition to start peace talks with TTP has given him the nickname “Taliban-Khan” and he has been accused of apostasy against Muslim extremists. PTI supports the laws against blasphemy which means that a person can be sentenced to death for having blasphemed Islam or the Prophet Muhammad. Many observers believe that the mock laws are used by conservative Muslim forces to suppress religious minorities and secular forces, as well as influence the outcome of everyday conflicts between Pakistani residents.
It was not only the opposition that criticized the election. The US and the EU, as well as several independent election observers, felt that it was not free and fair. The head of the EU Observer Group described it as a “systematic attempt to undermine the former ruling party through corruption cases, court clashes and terrorist charges against its leaders and candidates”.
Khan’s honeymoon as prime minister fell short. Soon he had to await both China and Saudi Arabia in search of support for Pakistan’s crisis economy (see Economic overview).
When Khan visited China in the fall, a domestic political crisis broke out in his home country. Conservative Islamists staged mass demonstrations against a ruling in the Supreme Court that meant a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2009 had her death sentence upheld. Khan was criticized from several quarters when he caused the protesters to leave the streets through a settlement that meant that the acquitted woman was not allowed to leave the country during the appeal.
A violent country
However, the biggest challenge for the Khan government is the security situation. Pakistan is one of the world’s most violent societies, with a number of complicated conflicts within its borders. TTP and militant Islamist networks such as Haqqani continue to carry out suicide attacks and other acts of violence. In Baluchistan, Shia Muslims (mainly Hazarese) are subjected to attacks by extreme Sunni groups such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Other vulnerable groups are Christians, Sufis and members of the ahmadiyya movement.
In Sindh, decades of neglect and neglect have made Karachi, the country’s largest and richest city, a gunfight of social, ethnic and political tensions. Migrated jihadists from the clan areas, mafia-controlled arms trafficking, drugs and black money, as well as gang crime with links to political parties, have exacerbated the situation in the port city, as well as the paramilitary force of Rangers’ powers to shoot to kill.
Read more about the events in the Calendar.
Read about the Pashtun clan areas.
Read about the Conflict in Kashmir.
Read about the political parties in the Political system.
READING – read more about Pakistan in the UI’s online magazine Foreign Affairs magazine:
Pakistan forced to balance China-US (2018-09-13)
FACTS – POLITICS
Islami Jumhuriyah e Pakistan / Islamic Republic of Pakistan
Head of State
President Arif Alvi (2018–)
Head of government
Prime Minister Imran Khan (2018–)
Most important parties with mandates in the last election
Pakistan Movement for Justice (PTI) 116, Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) 64, Pakistani People’s Party (PPP) 43, Small Parties and Independence 47, Unallocated Mandate 2 (2018) 1
Main parties with mandates in the second most recent elections
Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) 129, Pakistani People’s Party (PPP) 37, Pakistan’s Movement for Justice (PTI) 27, MQM 19, Small Parties 32, Independent 26, Unallocated Mandate 2 (2013)
Between 50% and 55% in the 2018 parliamentary elections, 55% in the 2013 parliamentary elections
provincial and parliamentary elections 2023
- after the October 2018 general election, the PTI + alliance party has PML 177, PML-N 85, other 80Sources
The Pashtun clan areas
In Pakistan, there is a conflict between the state and clans merged with militant Islamist groups and networks. The conflict was triggered when the country decided in 2001 to support the US-led invasion of Afghanistan that year. Seven areas in northwestern Pakistan, along the border with Afghanistan, are often identified as strongholds for resistance groups.
Until the spring of 2018, these areas, officially named Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), were not fully incorporated into the Pakistani state and were practically ruled by the local clans. Several of the areas were periodically taken over by Taliban militia. In May 2018, however, the central government in Islamabad increased control of Fata through a constitutional amendment that would merge the areas with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Fata (from north to south: Bajaur, Mohmand, Khyber, Orakzai, Kurram, North Waziristan, South Waziristan) are populated by Pashtun clans. Their relative autonomy has a long history. None of the invading armies that have gone from Central Asia down to the Indian Peninsula have succeeded in taking command of the well-armed clan armies, which have always fought hard for their independence.
From the middle of the 19th century, the British colonial power tried to subdue Afghanistan to halt the expansion of the Russian tsar empire southward. It was not until the 1890s that the British gained such influence over Afghan politics that they succeeded in drawing a boundary, called the Durand Line after British Indian Foreign Minister Henry Mortimer Durand, right through the territory of the Pashtun clans. In doing so, the British annexed large areas that belonged to Afghanistan. By destroying Pashtun society, one could indirectly rule Afghanistan and make the country a buffer zone against Russia. To this day, Afghanistan has not recognized the Durand Line as an international border.
Pashtunwali – unwritten laws
The British gave up early attempts to incorporate the Pashtun mountain clans into colonial society. The clans were largely taken care of themselves, and when Pakistan became independent in 1947, the new state took over the old arrangement. By allowing special aged men, called Malik, to continue to maintain certain order and to ensure that important paths – for example, through the legendary Khyber Pass – were kept open, swearing in return the clans loyalty to Pakistan. A state-appointed “political agent” had the formal responsibility.
In addition to the “political agent” consent, the only laws prevailing in Fata have basically been Islam and the local traditions. The Pashtuns have their own set of unwritten laws, called Pashtunwali, which govern how they live their lives. A Pashtun should be hospitable, protect those who need protection, and be loyal to their family and clan, act righteously and respectfully, rely on God, guard their dignity and family, and protect women’s dignity. The Taliban ideology is based at least as much on Pashtunwali as on Islam.
The downside of Fata’s autonomy has been partly that nepotism and corruption have flourished when state representatives had free hands to buy themselves clan leaders’ loyalty with the help of state money, and partly that the areas slipped far behind the rest of Pakistan socially and materially. The number of hospital beds and doctors in relation to the population is well below the Pakistani average, the income per person is half of the Pakistani, reading and writing skills are extremely low. The economy is based on agriculture, opium trade and smuggling. The central government has the ambition to develop the clan areas and raise the living standards of the residents as part of the goal of linking the areas closer to the rest of Pakistan.
Sanctuary for Taliban
The relative stability that had prevailed in the area since the turn of the century was disrupted during the 1980s, when Afghan mujahedin movements fighting the Soviet occupation army began to use Fata as retreat bases. The Pashtun guerrilla warriors were well received by their local clan kinsmen and began to build a new power structure. It was taken over by the Taliban following the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and was strengthened as Pakistani Taliban groups began to emerge. In 2007, Pakistani Taliban formed their own faction, TTP (Tehrik-e-Taliban), with strong ties to al-Qaeda. The young militia leaders ignored the clan elders and in many cases murdered those who opposed the militia violence.
The fact that the Pakistani military, despite several major offenses during the first decade of the 21st century, failed to overcome Taliban and clan militia is partly due to the inaccessibility of the mountainous area and partly to the failure of the security forces. Many militaries and members of the semi-military police forces are themselves Pashtuns and all are Muslims, and it is not obvious simply to fight ethnic kinsmen and religious brothers.
The ISI military security service has for decades built up extremist groups to fight against either the Soviet Union in Afghanistan or India in Kashmir. While the army has made half-hearted efforts to fight the Taliban among the mountains, ISI has been suspected of helping the same Taliban with both weapons and intelligence.
Both the military and the Taliban movements have been accused of serious human rights violations directed at residents of the clan areas. The Pakistani government has been criticized for not doing anything about the situation. Among the crimes that the parties to the conflict have been accused of include illegal abductions, arbitrary arrests and arrests and that people have been detained for too long without prosecution. There have also been reports of torture of persons deprived of liberty. Information on human rights violations in the clan areas has rarely been investigated by the judiciary and the impunity for perpetrators is widespread.
Military offensive and reduced violence
In November 2013, TTP elected the ultra-Orthodox and militant Taliban leader in Swat Valley, mulla Fazlullah, as new leader. His Taliban grouping was, among other things, behind the attempted murder of Malala Yousafzai in October 2012 (see Calendar). The former leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, had been killed by an American drone in North Waziristan. The Pakistani government condemned the drone attack that occurred just when talks were to start between Pakistani representatives and the Taliban. By appointing Fazlullah, the plans for peace talks were put into effect. The appointment also split TTP as several factions advocated calls.
After the peace talks failed, the military launched its biggest offensive against the Pakistani Taliban in 2014. Hundreds of suspected Islamists were killed, over one million residents fled the clan areas (mainly to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and violence levels dropped in the following years. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, 1,800 civilians were killed in terrorist attacks in Pakistan in 2014, compared with 540 three years later.
When the Taliban in December 2014 avenged the military by attacking a school for military children in Peshawar (132 children and 16 adults were killed), the government responded quickly. The death penalty was introduced for terrorist offenses and military courts with special powers to investigate civilians for terror suspects were set up.
Resistance pockets still exist in the clan areas, from where Islamist networks and Taliban still carry out attacks. The United States has accused the government of Islamabad of not doing enough to access the very root of extremism. The US has also frozen military support for Pakistan in protest against this.
The Islamic State (IS) is establishing itself
One complication is that the Islamic State (IS) has taken root in the country. Already in 2015, several Pakistani Taliban leaders changed loyalty from al-Qaeda to IS, and in September 2016, the army admitted for the first time that IS exists in Pakistan.
In June 2018, Afghan President Ghani said TTP’s notorious leader Fazlullah had been killed by a US drone in Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border.
In 2018, violent resistance groups conducted 264 attacks in Pakistan, according to the Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center (JTIC). This is 28 percent less than in 2017. Overall (with the perpetrators included) 660 people were killed in these attacks, which is a 29 percent reduction compared to 2017 in terms of terrorist deaths. The attacks were largely targeted at police and military, as well as members of religious minorities. The most common approaches were suicide bombings by a single person and home-made explosive charges.
The Pashtuns demonstrate
Since May 2018, the Movement for the Protection of the Pashtuns (PTM) has protested against the military’s actions in Fata. Several military offenses have been made and the level of violence in Pakistan has subsequently declined significantly. However, PTM says that calm has been achieved at a high price: many disappearances and extra-terrestrial killing in Fata. PTM demonstrates peacefully but has made very critical statements against the military. PTM leader Manzur Pashtin, a former veterinary student, was arrested in January 2020 on charges of, among other things, revival and incitement against ethnic groups. He was released on bail the following month.