Constituent policy

Imran Khan injured in attack at rally – Foreign Policy

welcome to Foreign Police‘s South Asia Brief.

This week’s highlights: Pakistan’s opposition leader Imran Khan survives a reported assassination attempt, Russia tries to recruit former Afghan Commandos fight in Ukraine, and a new airline launches in Sri Lanka.

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Pakistan’s breaking point?

Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan was target in a reported assassination attempt at a political rally on Thursday, suffering gunshot wounds to the leg. Gunshots rang out as Khan stood on a container truck that was part of a convoy in Wazirabad, eastern Pakistan. The politician had led an anti-government march which is expected to arrive in Islamabad next week. Several of Khan’s senior party colleagues were also injured and one person was killed. Khan was hospitalized in stable condition.

In June, counterterrorism officials in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a province controlled by Khan’s party, warned that terrorists were plotting to assassinate Khan. However, much of the circumstances of Thursday’s shooting remain unknown: who was behind it, how many people were involved and the motive. Video footage shows a man attacking a gunman as he fired towards Khan’s convoy, suggesting that the attack could have been much worse.

It’s clear: Pakistan’s political environment, supercharged for months, has reached a pivotal and potentially explosive point. The attack on Khan represents a red line for his large and growing support base. Pakistani civilian and military leaders have clashed with Khan for months, and many of his supporters suspect their involvement in the attack. The state’s response will go a long way in determining what comes next.

Khan, a former cricket star, entered politics in 1996 and served as Prime Minister of Pakistan from 2018 until April, when he was ousted in a parliamentary vote of no confidence. During his early days as a politician, Khan’s focus on rooting out corruption won him a passionate following, especially among disillusioned young Pakistanis. His political fortunes improved as he strengthened his ties with the Pakistani military and was catapulted into power.

When Khan finally fell out of favor with the head of the Pakistani army, his fortunes suffered; the army probably supported the vote of no confidence. Since his ouster, Khan has railed against the new government – and, more subtly, against the military rulers – and has branded his rivals traitors.

The government repression on Khan and his followers has only galvanized them, and his popularity has skyrocketed, even though he no longer enjoys the same support in high places as before. His rallies draw huge crowds and his party has performed well in local elections.

Regardless of the circumstances of Thursday’s attack, the opposition leader’s popularity is set to grow even more. He is a populist who enjoys mass appeal and is unlikely to be deterred. But returning to the head of his protest movement is a risky decision: the former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was the victim of an attempt on life in October 2007, before being assassinated two months later. And just last week, one of Khan’s best-known supporters, the journalist Arshad Sharifwas killed under mysterious circumstances in Kenya.

Pakistani politics has reached an inflection point. The government, with the help of an army that has lost public support but remains powerful, could now step in to negotiate with Khan to bring down the political temperature. But it wouldn’t be easy. The government has rejected Khan’s request for a snap election – currently scheduled for October 2023 – as he is likely to lose. Pakistan’s prime minister and military have condemned the attack, but that won’t appease Khan’s furious base.

The attack on Khan also puts the Pakistani army in the hot seat; he faces a difficult situation from a weaker position than he is used to. With already angry Khan supporters convergent over military installations in protest, military officials may be tempted to push Islamabad to compromise to avoid unrest. But the army now lacks influence: it has lost popularity and its current leadership is unstable as it prepares to bring in a new army chief in the coming weeks.

Pakistan badly needs some form of de-escalation, but neither side has indicated a willingness to compromise. There is a real risk that rival political factions in Islamabad will instead find themselves on a collision course with no exit in sight.

India’s infrastructure challenges. On Sunday, a bridge collapsed in Gujarat, India, killing 135 people. The tragedy was one of India’s deadliest public safety accidents in years. It offers a painful reminder of the persistent infrastructure challenges facing the country, even as major advances have made it the first fifth economy.

Despite all the buzz about new forms of infrastructure, such as fiber optics and 5G, the country’s more traditional infrastructure – roads, rails and bridges – is in poor condition. A 2020 study found that up to 2,130 bridges in India “failed to provide [their] intended service” or collapsed during construction in the previous four decades. Some failures have become high casualty incidents.

These infrastructural problems are not unique to India, but these accidents are notable because of their frequency and the high political prominence given to them. In 2016, New Delhi admitted that the country had an infrastructure deficit estimated at $1.5 trillion. Public spending on infrastructure has increased significantly in recent years, to the tune of $1.4 trillion between fiscal years 2019 and 2023. Business leaders in India have described infrastructure constraints as one of the country’s problems. the biggest obstacles for investment.

Russia is recruiting former Afghan special forces. More information emerged this week following reports that Russia is recruiting former Afghan special forces – many of them now based in Iran – to fight in Ukraine. (Lynne O’Donnell of FP had the story last week.) Three former Afghan generals said The Associated Press that Russia is trying to recruit thousands of Afghan commandos, offering a monthly paycheck of $1,500 and “safe havens” – presumably in Russia – to former special forces and their families.

Russia badly needs troop reinforcements; they will find few takers overseas, but in desperation, former Afghan special forces are among the few groups likely to take up the offer. They have few prospects in Afghanistan, where they and their families are threatened by the Taliban. Last year the the wall street journal reported that some former security forces had joined the Islamic State-Khorasan to fight against their common Taliban enemy.

Pakistani Prime Minister’s visit to Beijing. Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif come in Beijing on Tuesday, embarking on his first trip to China since taking office in April. Pakistan had hoped to secure pledges of financial assistance from China as well as promises to revitalize the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the Pakistani component of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, which recently lost ground. its momentum due to Chinese security concerns.

China has good relations with Sharif, partly because his brother Nawaz Sharif was prime minister when the two countries officially launched CPEC in 2015. However, based on a joint statement issued after this week’s visit, the trip produced few substantial results. Bloomberg reported that the two parties have agreed to launch a new high-speed rail line in Pakistan; Sharif’s office said the project would start soon, but the language of the joint statement is more cautious.

In addition, a statement from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Noted Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “great concern” over security in Pakistan, a reminder that the growing risk of terrorism has given Beijing pause to make new investments in the country.

FP’s most read articles this week

• Iran is now at war with Ukraineby John Hardie and Behnam Ben Taleblu

• War in Ukraine looks like WWI, not WWII by Anatol Lieven

• US immigration has become an elaborate bait and switch by Edward Alden

Sri Lanka has a new airline: For years government-owned SriLankan Airlines was the country’s only international carrier, but last month privately owned FitsAir was launched. The new airline will offer initial flights to Dubai; Male, Maldives; and Trichy, India. He is also considering domestic flights in the near future.

The fact that the airline has managed to get started in the midst of Sri Lanka’s acute economic crisis is impressive. In a recent interviewFitsAir vice-chairman Peter Hill noted that travel demand was increasing as the pandemic receded and the airline had struck a deal to import aviation fuel so it wouldn’t have to use foreign currency.

Still, it’s unclear how many Sri Lankans will choose to use the airline. Hill describes the airline as affordable, but he also cites a $370 round-trip fare to Dubai, a seemingly high cost for residents of a country experiencing one of the world’s worst economic crises.