- From the Covid-19 waves to security issues, 2021 gave us a lot to ponder over
2021 proved to be a difficult year for Pakistan with issues facing the country on multiple fronts.
The Covid-19 pandemic continued to challenge Pakistan’s health system with hospital staff burdened with pressure.
The country’s domestic security and political stability also faced increasing challenges with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) contesting the state’s writ.
Pakistan also played a pivotal role in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the US troops, particularly with its efforts to facilitate the evacuation of thousands of people from Kabul, including ambassadorial staff and employees of organisations such as the UN, World Bank, and others.
For the most part, the government remained under pressure from its political rivals, as the economy faced challenges and inflation increased. Towards the end of the year, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf's (PTI) loss in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) local bodies elections appears to have set the tone for the general elections.
As the world embarks upon 2022, amid hope of a better year, here is a recap of the issues that defined and dominated headlines in Pakistan. The list is chronological, and not in terms of importance.
In February, Pakistan and India signed an agreement to strict observance of ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) and other sectors.
Reports suggested that the ceasefire was the beginning of a larger roadmap to forge a lasting peace between the embattled neighbours, both of which have nuclear weapons and have regularly turbulent relations. Earlier, Pakistan's Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa asked India “to bury the past and move forward” while stating that the military was ready to enter talks to resolve “all our outstanding issues."
Prime Minister Imran Khan, on his part, called for a resolution on the Kashmir issue, which he described as “the one issue that holds us back".
In July, a bus carrying Pakistan and Chinese workers to the site of the Dasu project met with an accident after their vehicle plunged into a ravine. At least 13 people, including nine Chinese nationals and four Pakistanis, lost their lives in the incident, according to initial reports.
The government seemed uncertain about what actually caused the incident. According to one account, it said that the workers died after a bus plunged into a ravine owing to a mechanical failure. Later, it was confirmed that the incident was the result of a militant attack. China, on its part, issued a statement saying that the incident was a "bombing". Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi blamed Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies for the attack, saying their nexus cannot bear Pakistan and China’s “growing cooperation.”
The incident was significant as it amplified existing concerns of militants targeting the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in an attempt to derail the project. Moreover, it also raised concerns about security issues becoming a hindrance in China-Pakistan bilateral relationship. However, both countries reaffirmed their commitment to deal with actors trying to derail their economic cooperation and the bilateral relationship.
Noor Mukadam, daughter of a former ambassador of Pakistan to South Korea and Kazakhstan Shaukat Mukadam, was brutally murdered at a residence in Sector F-7/4 on July 20. A first information report (FIR) was registered against Zahir Jaffer under Section 302 (premeditated murder) of the Pakistan Penal Code on the complaint of the victim's father.
In the FIR, Shaukat said police took him to Zahir's house where he discovered that his "daughter has been brutally murdered with a sharp-edged weapon and beheaded".
As the investigation progressed, Zahir confessed to killing Noor while his DNA test and fingerprints also showed his involvement in the murder.
Later, the police also arrested Zahir's parents and household staff. Zahir and his father Zakir and others were indicted by a district and sessions court in Islamabad.
The case is still ongoing.
Read Here: Gruesome murder of Noor Mukadam echoes in NA
On August 31, the US completed its military withdrawal from Afghanistan after a huge but chaotic airlift that left behind thousands of Afghans and hundreds of Americans still seeking an escape from Taliban rule. The sudden withdrawal left thousands of people in limbo, as the Taliban marched to Kabul.
Pakistan played an important role in facilitating the withdrawal of thousands of people from Afghanistan, a move appreciated globally, including by the United States. Reportedly, Pakistan evacuated more than 8,000 foreign and Pakistani nationals stranded in Afghanistan through air and land routes since the Taliban took control of the country.
The controversy over the appointment of the Director-General (DG) Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) gripped the county’s politics for weeks, with many terming it an event that had a deep impact on the government’s ties with the military leadership.
In October, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) announced that Lt Gen Nadeem Ahmed Anjum was appointed as the new chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence, replacing Lt Gen Faiz Hameed.
Days after the ISPR’s announcement, the Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry held a press conference, announcing that a legal course will be followed for the appointment of the new DG ISI and Prime Minister Imran Khan had the authority to do that. Addressing speculation regarding differences between PM Imran and COAS Bajwa over the appointment of the new DG ISI, Fawad said: “Prime Minister will never take a step that could impact the prestige of Pakistan’s Army and its Chief.” Fawad also appreciated the media for not sensationalizing the issue of the DG ISI's appointment.
Later in the month, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) announced that the Ministry of Defence received a "list of officers during the process," and Prime Minister "interviewed all the nominees." It said that after a final round of consultation with the Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Nadeem Anjum was notified the new DG ISI with effect from November 20, 2021. "The prime minister has seen and approved the appointment of ... Lt Gen Nadeem Ahmed Anjum ... as director-general Inter-Services Intelligence, with effect from November 20, 2021, from the panel of officers at para 6 of the summary," a notification issued by the PMO said.
At the time, sources informed Business Recorder that the delay in the notification was only because of certain legal formalities, as the Prime Minister wanted to adhere to the process and fulfill all the legal requirements by receiving a summary carrying a few names of candidates before handpicking the new ISI chief.
As of November 2021, TTP carried out at least 27 terrorist attacks across Pakistan since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan on August 15, 2021, killing at least 58 civilians and security personnel. A month-long ceasefire between the government and the TTP ended earlier in December, allowing the militant outfit to resume its operations.
TTP’s resurgence in 2021 has posed a serious threat to Pakistan’s security as the group’s cross border attacks grow, frustrating Pakistan’s counterterrorism gains. The group is likely to increase its attacks in 2022 if its sanctuaries in neighbouring Afghanistan are not dismantled.
In November, the joint session of the Parliament passed on Wednesday the Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2021, and the Elections (Second Amendment) Bill, 2021 regarding the use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) despite hue and cry from the opposition.
The bill also authorizes the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to procure EVMs for casting of votes in general elections as well as granting voting rights to overseas Pakistanis.
According to another amendment in clause 3 of the bill, “notwithstanding anything contained in this Act or rules made thereunder, the commission shall, with the technical assistance of any authority or agency, procure and use in the prescribed manner, subject to secrecy and security, stand-alone Electronic Voting machine (EVMs) in general elections in Pakistan.”
Now it remains to be seen whether the Election Commission of Pakistan will be able to complete all the essential steps for the procurement and deployment of EVMs within the time remaining before the next elections.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court ordered the demolition of the Nasla Tower, saying that part of the building was constructed on the service road and had encroached upon the footpath. Following the order, authorities started the demolition, while Karachi police registered an FIR against building owner Abdul Qadir, as well as officials of various civic agencies and departments. However, steps have not yet been taken to provide compensation to the residents of Nasla Tower.
The SC decision was the first of its kind on illegal high rises and is being seen as a warning to those looking to find shortcuts in the construction industry. However, the development was followed by protests around the building with many saying that the entire system needs an overhaul.
On December 3, a mob of people described as “employees” of a garment factory in Sialkot had tortured and killed their Sri Lankan manager in factory premises and set his body on fire over blasphemy accusations. The incident brought Pakistan’s civil-military leadership and civil society together in condemning the attack. Pakistan’s religious parties also denounced the attack and called for strict measures to prevent any such incidents in the future.
In a major diplomatic achievement, the extraordinary session of the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers on the 'Humanitarian Situation in Afghanistan' was held in Pakistan on December 19, 2021. The meeting was held in Pakistan after 41 years. More than 90 delegations arrived and took part in the session.
Although the meeting concluded with no immediate financial assistance and pledges, it established a “Humanitarian Trust Fund” which would serve as a vehicle to channel humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan including in partnership with other international actors.
The event was hailed as a success internationally with the US thanking Pakistan for organising the episode.
Local bodies’ polls were held in 17 districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) on December 19, the first elections since the merger of tribal districts with KPK. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) lost ground as Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) was in lead on many fronts.
Opposition parties had a combined lead over the ruling PTI, prompting Prime Minister Imran Khan to announce a new organisational structure.
On December 27, the National Security Committee (NSC) meeting chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan approved Pakistan’s first National Security Policy (NSP) 2022-2026. Later, the Federal Cabinet also gave the green signal to the policy.
The policy aims to bolster the security apparatus to deal with all internal and external challenges. National Security Adviser Dr Moeed Yusuf has said that human security population, health security, and food security have been given importance in the NSP.