NationalVolume 14 Issue # 11

A roller coaster of a year

For Pakistan 2018 was a tumultuous year – a year of great political and economic changes. It was also an election year which saw Pakistan shifting gear to the Naya Pakistan of Imran Khan whose party, the PTI commenced its five-year tenure by winning a majority of seats in the National Assembly and Punjab and KP.

With the third general elections held successfully in a row, the year marked the consolidation of the democratic system amidst shifting political loyalties and widespread allegations of foul play. But there were also momentous developments taking place outside the corridors of power. Social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, took hold of the public mind as never before. What is now universally known as citizen journalism tilted the balance of power in favour of the masses as compared to the conventional media controlled by the powerful and the rich.

For Pakistan, the biggest news of the year was Imran Khan becoming the prime minister of Pakistan – a goal he had pursued single-mindedly for the last 22 years. His victory was a victory for the youth of Pakistan. For, it was the young, first-time voters whose support catapulted Imran Khan to power.

As his star soared to new heights, the outgoing year saw former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his family members face trials in three corruption references filed against them by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) under the orders of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

The case made international headlines. On July 6, Accountability Judge Mohammad Bashir sentenced Nawaz Sharif to 10 years in prison, handing his daughter Maryam and son-in-law retired Captain Mohammad Safdar seven and one years in jail, respectively, in the Avenfield properties reference. But, two months later, they were released on parole for five days to attend the funeral of Kulsoom Nawaz who had, in the meantime, passed away in London. Two days after they were shifted back to Adiala Jail at the end of their parole period, the Islamabad High Court suspended the sentences given to Nawaz, Maryam and Safdar, releasing them on bail. Towards the end of the outgoing year, Nawaz was found guilty once more by an accountability court and sentenced to seven years in prison, and fined Rs1.5 billion and US $25 million in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills corruption reference.

The apex court overturning the death sentence of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman convicted on a blasphemy charge, was another landmark event of the year. The release of Aasia Bibi touched off countrywide protests by religious parties led by the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan, whose  workers blocked roads and paralysed life across the country. The government played it cool and, two weeks later, swooped down on the law breakers and arrested TLP chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi under sedition and terrorism charges.

The year 2018 was remarkable for the relentless efforts made by the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Saqib Nisar, for the fundamental rights of the people. The biggest issue the chief justice took up was that of combating water scarcity. To this end, he announced the creation of a special fund for donations for the construction of Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand dams. To date, more than Rs9 billion have been collected through domestic and foreign contributions. Bottled water companies also came under the scrutiny of the top court for alleged exploitation of water resources and consumers. The chief justice ordered an audit of all mineral water companies and asked them to pay Rs1 per litre for use of ground water. He also forbade them from passing the charges on to consumers. The chief justice also took interest in the state of public hospitals and the availability of quality healthcare only to those who could afford to pay a premium.

Although terrorist networks have largely been decimated, militants continued to attack civilian and military targets. In February, 11 security officials were martyred and 13 others wounded in a TTP-claimed suicide attack on an Army camp in Swat. On July 10, a TTP suicide attacker targeted an Awami National Party (ANP) corner meeting in Peshawar, claiming the lives of party leader Haroon Bilour and 21 others. Soon after, four people were killed and 32 injured in a TTP-claimed remote-controlled blast targeting Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) candidate Akram Khan Durrani ─ who himself survived the attempt on his life. The same day, an IS-engineered suicide attack targeting a political gathering in Balochistan’s Mastung district claimed 149 lives.

Just three months after Imran Khan assumed the prime ministership, two attacks on a single day shook the government: The morning of November 23 saw a foiled gun-and-grenade attack ─ claimed by the Baloch Liberation Army ─ on the Chinese consulate in Karachi, followed hours later by an explosion in lower Orakzai, which left 34 people dead and 36 injured.

The gruesome murder of JUI-S chief Maulana Samiul Haq in his home in Rawalpindi in November shook the whole country. The Darul Uloom Haqqania seminary head, also known as the “father of the Taliban”, was found “stabbed to death and lying in a pool of blood” in his bedroom by his son. Investigations into the case indicated the involvement of those well known and very close to him.