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South Asia

Pakistan in 2012: Between hope and despair

Despite gradual improvements in relations with the US and India, terrorism, lawlessness, human rights abuses and multiple political crises hampered Pakistan's progress in the year 2012.

The year 2012 was not very different for Pakistan than the previous years as the country's progress continued to be plagued by terrorism and a non-functional economy. Terrorist attacks were mostly perpetrated by the Pakistani Taliban on civilians and security forces but there was also an increase in targeted killings of political and human rights activists, particularly in the southern port city of Karachi.

Pakistan, which some experts think is either a failed state or on the verge of becoming one, had a better year in terms of its relations with its regional arch-rival, India, and its biggest international donor, the US.

Despite bad governance and the ongoing tug of war between Pakistani parliament and judiciary - and at times between parliament and the military – Pakistan's civil society continued to assert itself in 2012 as well and spoke out against rights abuses, institutional corruption, and in favor of the supremacy of law and constitution.

Although religious intolerance was on the rise, secular and progressive Pakistanis campaigned against controversial religious legislation, discrimination against women and religious minorities and atrocities committed by Islamists. Many were awarded on international forums for their work.

Political crisis

In June, Pakistan plunged into deeper political turmoil as the country's Supreme Court disqualified former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani from holding office, following a contempt conviction in April - a move which many analysts said was a setback for Pakistan's nascent democracy.

Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Asharf 
(Photo: EPA/T. MUGHAL)

Raja Pervez Ashraf replaced Gilani as PM in June

In April, the court found Gilani guilty in a contempt case after failing to write a letter to the Swiss government to re-open graft cases against Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, which the Swiss authorities had shelved in 2008. The incumbent Pakistan People's Party (PPP) government says the cases are ''politically motivated" and cannot be re-opened while Zardari remains head of state and enjoys presidential immunity.

Commenting on Gilani's disqualification, Harris Khalique, an Islamabad-based political analyst and human rights activist, told DW that certain groups had been pulling the strings from behind to dislodge the civilian government.

"They [those in power] are not being ousted for being corrupt and incompetent; they are being ousted because there is a tug of war between institutions about who holds more power and who actually calls the shots in Pakistan," Khalique said.

Relations between the government and the judiciary remained tense throughout the year. At the start of the year, the PPP government also faced a case in the apex court related to a scandal known as "memogate" revolving around a letter written to the US government with the request to rein in the Pakistani army and its generals to prevent a possible coup following the assassination of Osama bin Laden in May last year. President Zardari and his government denied any involvement in the scandal, which opposition parties claimed had undermined Pakistan's security and national sovereignty.

The 'War on Terror'

US-Pakistani relations got off to a rocky start in 2012. They had already been greatly strained by a covert US special forces operation in May the previous year which killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The year then started with Pakistan blocking NATO supply routes to Afghanistan after a NATO airstrike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in Salala near the Afghan border at the end of 2011.

Pakistani border security men guard the NATO containers as they move into Afghanistan from Pakistan
(Photo: DW/Rafat Saeed)

Islamic parties staged demonstrations against the resumption of NATO supplies

Pakistan agreed to reopen NATO supply lines to Afghanistan seven months later in July, after the US government apologized for the deaths of Pakistani soldiers.

Malik Siraj Akbar, a former Reagan-Fascell Democracy fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in Washington DC, told DW that both countries had realized they were "gaining nothing from the deadlock" and that they had to go forward.

Observers said Islamabad's decision to resume NATO supplies eased its tensions with the US. The US responded by resuming much-needed civilian aid to Pakistan.

As 2012 draws to a close, US-Pakistani ties have improved considerably, with Islamabad trying to facilitate the Afghan peace process by helping Washington and Kabul in negotiations with the Taliban. Experts, however, warn against too much optimism on this front. They say that Pakistan's interests in Afghanistan still clash with US policies for the region.

Islamabad continued to officially protest against the US drone strikes against al Qaeda and Taliban operatives in Pakistan's semi-governed northwestern tribal areas and called them a violation of its sovereignty.

On the other hand, the Afghan-Pakistani ties have yet to improve. Both uneasy neighbors have accused each other of cross-border attacks which took place this year. Kabul allefed that Pakistan had been shelling its territory and threatened to report the border violation to the United Nations Security Council. Islamabad has repeatedly denied the allegations and has instead blamed Afghanistan for propelling rockets onto Pakistani soil.

Indo-Pakistani ties

Relations between New Delhi and Islamabad have also improved this year. The 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai had been a big set back to peace efforts between the two rival nations.

Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik (R) shakes hands with Indian Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde during the launch of new visa agreement in New Delhi on December 14, 2012
(Photo: PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images)

Trade is expected to rise considerably between India and Pakistan in the coming years

In 2012, India allowed direct investment from Pakistan, which trade analysts say is one such step towards improved relations.

"Bilateral trade would definitely improve relations between Pakistan and India because business would mean an increase in interpersonal contacts," Moonis Ahmar, professor of international relations at the University of Karachi, told DW.

At the beginning of December, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik formalized a new visa agreement with in India during his visit to New Delhi. The new travel rules make it easier for traders, elderly people, tourists, religious pilgrims, members of civil society and children to get visas.

Analysts say that with the hanging of Ajmal Kasab - the sole surviving gunmen of the attacks belonging to Pakistan - in November, both nations have a chance to bury the hatchet and move ahead.

Terror attacks

Taliban militants wreaked havoc on the country throughout 2012 as they targeted civilians and attacked sensitive military installations.

In August, militants armed with guns and rocket launchers attacked an air base in the town of Kamra in the Punjab province. The large base is home to several squadrons of fighter and surveillance planes, which air force officials said had not been damaged in the attack.

The Taliban indiscriminately killed innocent civilians in markets and places of worship, targeted international and national human rights and charity workers, journalists, and religious and sectarian minorities. The Taliban shooting of teenage activist Malala Yousafzai in northwestern Swat valley shocked the entire world. Most Pakistanis also condemned the attack on Malala, who is recuperating in the UK.

A Pakistani man comforts another mourning over the death of his relative, a victim of a rocket attack by militants, at a local hospital in Peshawar, Pakistan on Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012
(Photo: Mohammad Sajjad/AP/dapd)

At least eight people were killed in a militant attack on an airport in Peshawar in December

The year 2012 has been one of the deadliest for Pakistan's Shiites. Human rights groups estimate that more than 300 Shiites have been killed in Pakistan this year so far in sectarian conflict.

In August, several gunmen dressed as Pakistani security officials stopped a bus traveling from Rawalpindi to the northwestern Gilgit region and dragged the passengers off the bus. The gunmen asked the passengers to show their identity cards and then shot 22 Shiites at point blank range.

It was the third such incident in six months. Pakistani experts say that although Shiite Muslims are also murdered in other parts of Pakistan, those living in the northwestern Gilgit-Baltistan region, a predominantly Shiite area, face systematic attacks by the Taliban and other militant groups. Some experts have even gone so far as calling it a "sectarian cleansing" of Shiites.

DW.DE