Pakistani democracy is on the brink

A senior official in Pakistan has publicly confessed to vote-rigging in the country’s general election earlier this month. It is an unprecedented admission of malpractice that raises fresh questions about the legitimacy of the electoral process and whether the final results were manipulated by the country’s all-powerful military. Commissioner Liaqat Ali Chattha claimed that authorities in Rawalpindi, Punjab province, changed the final voting numbers so that the candidates who were ‘losing’ the elections ‘were made to win’. Chattha says there was so much ‘pressure’ on him to manipulate the results that he contemplated suicide, before opting to make a public confession: ‘I take responsibility for the wrong in Rawalpindi. I

Hanif Kureishi – portrait of the artist as a young man

If any novelist, playwright or screenwriter of the past 40 years could be called ‘a writer of consequence’, to use the literary agent Andrew Wylie’s term, it would be Hanif Kureishi. While not shifting units on the scale of his near contemporaries Ian McEwan, Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie, Kureishi’s cultural influence – through his explorations of race, class and sexuality in novels such as The Buddha of Suburbia and films like My Beautiful Laundrette – is inestimable. In this first major biography, Ruvani Ranasinha tracks Kureishi’s progress from his birth in Bromley in 1954 to a Pakistani father and English mother, through his glittering, always provocative career, to the

A Hindu Cromwell courteously decapitates hundreds of maharajas

On 25 July 1947, in the searing heat, almost 100 princes bedecked in jewels gathered in a circular room in New Delhi. Some of them ruled over principalities of less than a square mile; others over an area larger than Korea. All of them had been Britain’s close allies for more than a century and, now that the British were leaving India, many looked forward to regaining their states’ independence. But on that fateful day, as Lord Mountbatten swaggered around in his ivory white uniform, anxious murmurs rippled through the throng. A cousin of George VI, and related to virtually every royal in Europe, the viceroy was no republican; yet

Has Bazball rescued — or ruined — cricket?

The date 6 June 2021 was a grim day for cricket. As the world was adjusting to life after the pandemic, a Lord’s Test with a full house felt like ‘the promised kiss of springtime’. And so it was, until the final afternoon, when New Zealand challenged England to make 273 in 75 overs. The gesture was recognised as generous by all except the faint souls in the England dressing room, rendered frit by the possibility of defeat. Thousands of spectators, bewildered by five hours of fearful prodding, withdrew their consent. Cricket has witnessed more profound changes in the past decade than in the previous 100 years With ‘the Hundred’

Pakistan is on the brink

On Tuesday I speculated that Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan, now the opposition leader, was so popular that he might have to be shot by his enemies to prevent him from coming back to power. This was not a throwaway statement. After Sri Lanka and Lebanon, whose political murder rate since the second world war has been off the charts, Pakistan with 44 political murders comes a clear third, not including the peripheral hundreds if not thousands who have died in bombings. As if in sync with my warning, Tuesday afternoon saw another political murder in Pakistan. Majid Satti, the leader of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party in

Will the Taliban’s victory lead to attacks on British soil?

The security services in Britain have been concerned about the rise of the Taliban for many months. In government briefings they have been telling ministers that it was almost inevitable the Taliban would gain some role in the government of Afghanistan once Western forces withdrew – it was just a question of how much. It is easy to ignore, after the sudden collapse of Afghan forces, the fact that the national army had been losing ground to the Taliban over several years and bloody attacks have remained a constant in the centre of major cities in the country. The Taliban killed 16 people and injured 119 in a suicide bomb

Is Imran Khan Pakistan’s Donald Trump?

Imran Khan, the cricketing hero, legendary lothario and deposed prime minister of Pakistan, is in trouble again. His political opponents in the police and the judiciary, in a manner not dissimilar to the judicial attack on former US president Donald Trump, have moved against Khan in recent days by accusing him of terrorist activities. In theory, these charges could carry the death penalty. Khan’s crime was to threaten retaliatory action against the police and the judiciary in revenge for the arrest of his chief of staff, Shahbaz Gill. Gill had been roughly arrested by police and his assistant allegedly beaten up. In addition, police had tried to apprehend former Khan acolyte

What next for Imran Khan, Pakistan’s ousted leader?

On Sunday, Imran Khan became the first prime minister in Pakistan’s history to be ousted by a no-confidence vote. Followers of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party naturally took to the streets; much of their anger has been directed at the generals who engineered their leader’s downfall. It was a clash with the all-powerful military that, like so many of his predecessors, finally ended Khan’s prime ministership. The former cricketer had attempted to oust one of the country’s all-powerful spy chiefs, a move that finally ended the uneasy relationship between the PM and the military. Attempting to save his own politician skin, Khan tried to block a no-confidence vote by dissolving the

Can Imran Khan cling on to power in Pakistan?

In the brief interlude of Chechen independence between the Russia-Chechen Wars of the 1990s, I travelled with Imran Khan from Grozny to Baku, where we were due to meet Azerbaijan’s finance minister. We had different reasons for our visit. I was interested in the business potential of the countries of the Caucasus, while Khan, a former cricketer turned fledging politician who had recently formed the Pakistan Movement for Justice party (PTI), was keen to support the then independent Sufi Islamic state of Chechnya. To get to Baku we had to catch a plane from the neighbouring Russian republic of Dagestan. Our Chechen hosts told us that we did not need

Is this the end of Imran Khan?

Imran Khan’s innings as the Pakistani Prime Minister may be coming to an end. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement, one of his coalition partners, has split from the government. Khan has now lost his majority in the National Assembly, which is set to meet for a no-confidence vote on Sunday. And while all this falls perfectly in line with parliamentary norms, in the context of the country’s tumultuous political history, Khan’s premature exit would be another blow to democracy. Not a single Pakistani prime minister has completed their five-year term in the country’s 75-year history, almost half of which has seen direct military rule. The previous two civilian governments, which ran

Ahmad Shah Massoud was Afghanistan’s best hope

Ahmed Shah Massoud was described as ‘the Afghan who won the Cold War’. While famous in France (he was educated at the Kabul lycée, and the French saw him as the ultimate maquisard who drove a super-power out of his country), he is not a familiar figure in Britain. This book, a rich and detailed account of the travails and tragedy of Afghanistan between 1976 and Massoud’s murder in 2001, will correct that. Sandy Gall’s knowledge of the jihad is encyclopaedic. He was the first well-known journalist to make the dangerous journey into occupied Afghanistan and bring the human cost of this terrible war to our TV screens. To produce

Pakistan is relishing its role as kingmaker in Afghanistan

The details of engagements involving the head of MI6 are, unsurprisingly, usually kept secret. But not so Richard Moore’s meeting with the head of the Pakistani army, General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Officers from Britain’s intelligence service are also said to have met the Taliban, both in Kabul and Qatar. How do we know? Because hours after Moore met Bajwa, the news was plastered all over Pakistani media, much to the dismay and horror of British officials. Pakistani leaders have spent much of the past fortnight basking in the Taliban’s triumph. Imran Khan lauded the Taliban for breaking the ‘shackles of slavery’. The Pakistani prime minister’s office made special social media banners to advertise calls received from world

Pakistan’s masochistic support for the Taliban

Taliban flags are already flying in Islamabad. Among those hoisting the white flag of the group is the women’s madrassa Jamia Hafsa, affiliated with the adjoining Lal Masjid (Red Mosque), which has also released a song celebrating the Taliban as ‘the symbol of Islam’. Lal Masjid, a few miles from Pakistan’s military headquarters and parliament, has been an emblem of terror and factory of jihad in Pakistan since its formation in the 1960s. The Lal Masjid cleric Abdul Aziz has in the past pledged allegiance to Isis and appeared to defend the 2014 Peshawar school attack which killed 141, mostly schoolchildren. When the army moved against Lal Masjid in 2007

Pakistan is the true winner from the Afghan debacle

‘Everyone is getting out – and fast’, the man tells me over a crackling line. He is tired, clearly subdued. A UN staff member, he was in Afghanistan until very recently and is still trying to process what happened. ‘We knew this was going to happen,’ he continues, ‘but everyone was caught by surprise at the speed of the Taliban advance.’ UN staff are now being evacuated to Almaty in Kazakhstan, from where they will make their way to their respective countries. But what about the local Afghans that worked with them? ‘Our Afghan colleagues were given letters of support for country visas in the region: Iran, Pakistan, and India. Some

Pakistan’s profane blasphemy laws

An eight-year-old Hindu boy is currently in custody in the southern Punjab. He is the youngest person in Pakistan to be charged with blasphemy. The boy, accused of urinating in a local madrassa, was released last week on bail — in retaliation, a Muslim mob vandalised a local Hindu temple. Meanwhile, on Thursday, a day after the temple attack, a transgender person was arrested on blasphemy charges in Abbottabad, around 100 miles north of the capital Islamabad, for allegedly burning the Quran. These are but the latest in an unrelenting spree of blasphemy cases, a victimless crime that carries the death penalty in Pakistan. Indeed, this punishment is reserved solely

China is the latest victim of Pakistan’s Islamist problem

Nine Chinese engineers were killed in an explosion near Pakistan’s Dasu hydroelectric dam last Wednesday. The government initially said that their bus suffered a ‘mechanical failure’ after it plunged into a ravine, but officials eventually admitted that the incident was a terror attack after Beijing decided to send its own investigators. China has now postponed work on the $65 billion (£47 billion) China Pakistan Economic Corridor, a network of roads and infrastructure projects. The programme represents Beijing’s largest overseas investment and is a critical part of its Belt and Road Initiative. While no one has claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attack, the blast was orchestrated at a time when multiple militant groups

Why did no one diagnose my sister’s TB?

In 2016, Arifa Akbar’s elder sister, Fauzia, died suddenly in the Royal Free Hospital, London at the age of 45. Until the last hours of her life, the cause of her coughing, chest pain, night sweats and breathlessness had eluded a series of baffled experts. But you do not need a medical degree to hazard a guess at what might have been behind these symptoms. From Keats’s famous death to the consumptive heroines of 19th-century opera, spots of blood on a handkerchief were all that was missing to complete the picture. Only after Fauzia had a catastrophic cerebral haemorrhage, however, did someone think to test a sample of her spinal

Imran Khan’s dangerous bid to export Pakistan’s blasphemy laws

Imran Khan appears to want to impose Islamic blasphemy laws across the world. ‘I want the Muslim countries to devise a joint line of action over the blasphemy issue with a warning of trade boycott of countries where such incidents will happen,’ Khan said in an address on Monday. Last week, talking up his plan to launch a global movement, and his love for Islam’s prophet, Khan warned, ‘There will come a time when people in the West as well will be scared of blaspheming against our prophet (peace be upon him)’. The Pakistani premier’s rejuvenated bid to outlaw blasphemy against Islam came after he succumbed to the demands of

Imran Khan’s cowardly response to Pakistan’s rape crisis

Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan has once again blamed women for an appalling rise in rape cases. Khan used a televised question and answer session this week to say that sexual violence was a result of ‘increasing obscenity’. Women in Pakistan should remove ‘temptation’ because ‘not everyone has willpower’, he added, urging females to cover up to help reduce the sexual violence which has plagued our country. Khan pointed the finger of blame at Bollywood and Hollywood, for spreading ‘vulgarity’. He also repeated the growing divorce tally of the UK as evidence of the ‘ethical plunge’ of the West, which he said is messing up the moral compass of the Muslim world and Pakistan. ‘World history tells when

Will Modi’s ceasefire with Pakistan last?

The perpetually fractious relationship between India and Pakistan reached a particularly low point two years ago, after dozens of Indian paramilitary personnel were killed in a suicide attack in Pulwama in the mountainous terrain of Kashmir. India blamed the attack on Pakistan and bombed what it believed was a terrorist training camp in Balakot across the border. The Pakistani air force retaliated by shooting down an Indian air force plane in a dog-fight, with the pilot having to eject on enemy soil. The airman was returned; but the downward spiral in ties accelerated with the two countries withdrawing their high commissioners and suspending bilateral trade altogether. Now, the endless volley