13 February, 2008

Pakistan backgrounder

Courtesy of Usama Rehman.



1. Politics in Pakistan

There are three main players in current Pakistani political scenario

President Mushraff:

  • Came to power after overthrowing Nawaz Sharif’s government. A strong Western ally because of the support offered in the ‘war against terror’. Mushraff although still very popular in the West has been loosing popularity within the country because of the deteriorating law and order situations , and laws seen as increasing his own powers and curbing the media.

Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP):

  • PPP has been a very influential party since the country’s independence in 1947. Benazir Bhutto the leader of the PPP was recently assassinated while campaigning for upcoming elections. Benazir Bhutto twice served as prime minister of the country, each time her government was sacked on corruption charges. The Party’s new co-chairmen are Benazir’s husband Asif Ali Zardari, also know as ‘Mr. Ten Percent’ for the alleged kickbacks from deals he received while his wife served as prime minister. The other co-chairman is Benazir’s 19 year old son Billawal, who is currently a student at the oxford university. The party although accused of mass corruption during power is favoured by the west because of its liberal approach to all aspects of life.

Nawaz Sharif:

  • Leader of another of Pakistan’s most important political party. He has twice served as prime minister, the first time his government was dismissed on corruption charges whereas the second time he was overthrown by Musharaff in a military coup. Lived about 8 years in self exile in Saudi Arabia after the military coup.


  • Alliance of religious parties in Pakistan. The MMA is considered by the West as a threat to moderate Islam. The party is supposed to support strict religious laws enforcement in the country.

2. Religious Extremism:


· One of the major concerns for the West. Pakistan is thought to be a haven for the Taliban and other religious extremists, especially the border regions with Afghanistan.


· Efforts are being made to bring the ‘madrassahs’ (religious schools) in line with the national schools, with their curriculum monitored. Some madrassahs, usually in the area bordering Afghanistan, promote religious extremism.


· The regions along the Afghan border face another issue of abuse of women’s rights. These border regions tend to follow a strict code of conduct for life leading to women not being granted rights and freedom they enjoy in the developed cities and most parts of the country. In many of these areas, the customs which are followed, as regards to women, are the same as those in Afghanistan.

3. Military Dictatorships:

Military dictators have ruled the country as long as if not more than the elected governments. Whilst the usual caveats of dictatorships being bad apply, military dictators in Pakistan have tended to bring stability in the country, improve the economy and improve law and order. The periods of military rule have usually had high levels of development and progress.


  1. Relations with India

Relations with India have mostly been strained since independence. The biggest thorn in the relations is the dispute of Kashmir. Kashmir stands to be a flash point for the two nations. Pakistan supports the UN resolution in regards to Kashmir (i.e. hold a plebiscite and let the Kashmiris decide their own fate). India, on the other hand, claims that it has rights over Kashmir because it was ruled by a Hindu dynasty at the time of independence.

Both nations, although struggling to cope with poverty, continue to increase defence budgets each year to maintain the military along the borders especially across the regions in Kashmir.

Recently, the train service between Pakistan and India has been resumed as a result of a thaw in relations between the two powers.

  1. Relations with Afghanistan

The border regions with Afghanistan seem to be the biggest problem for Pakistan at the moment. Taliban are thought to use the mountainous border to promote religious extremisms and terror activities within the country. The border is very hard to patrol because of the terrain but efforts are being made in conjunction with the US military now to increase surveillance on the border.

  1. Inter Services Intelligence (ISI)

Ever since Independence Pakistan and India have traded allegations blaming the other nations intelligence service for the terrorist activities happening in their countries. These accusations are often a cause of bad relations between the two nuclear nations.

  1. Nuclear Power

Pakistan is the only Islamic nuclear power of the world. It is not a signatory to the NPT. The West has some concern over Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal – less because it has one than other factors such as India and extremism etc. However Pakistan claims that its nuclear arsenal is safe from threats such as extremists.

Pakistan’s top nuclear scientist was accused of proliferating the technology. Pakistan maintains, and international enquiry concluded that this was an act of an individual.

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