Parliament building in Islamabad, Pakistan

Political situation A democracy in great need of reform

Since gaining independence in 1947, Pakistan has spent long periods under military rule. With the parliamentary and presidential elections in 2008, the country completed a peaceful transition to democracy.

Pakistan is continuously facing major domestic policy challenges. They include an unstable majority situation in parliament and government, political unrest, and terrorist attacks, especially by the Islamist Pakistani Taliban. The country is also confronted with a protracted economic and financial crisis, high levels of government debt, an energy crisis, and widespread poverty.

One of the most important goals of the current coalition government led by Shehbaz Sharif is to overcome the economic and financial crisis by carrying out economic policy reforms. The government is heavily indebted. The country lacks the foreign exchange needed to pay for necessary imports. Pakistan has been on the brink of default several times.

Democracy and the rule of law

In 2010, a constitutional amendment was adopted. Among other things, it strengthened parliament, the position of the Prime Minister, the powers of the provinces vis-à-vis central government and the independence of the judiciary. The right to information and the right to education were also enshrined in the constitution. However, the military continues to have a great deal of influence, especially on foreign and security policy, but also in the economy.

In 2018, the constitution of Pakistan was amended again in order to make what used to be called the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) part of the Province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. This reform was an important step towards completing Pakistan's unity and towards establishing the rule of law and democracy in the region. However, the government has so far not been able to achieve greater equality of standards of living across provinces or to enforce its monopoly on force throughout the country.

Pakistan's political sphere and administrative bodies are characterised by a lack of transparency, corruption, and players pursuing vested interests. While the separation of powers does exist, the parliament and the judiciary only play their oversight role to a limited extent. In the recent past, restrictions have been imposed repeatedly on the activities of civil society organisations. In 2022, the Corruption Perceptions Index published by Transparency International ranked Pakistan 140th out of the 180 countries assessed.

Deficits in the area of human rights

Although Pakistan has ratified the main international human rights conventions, implementation is often inadequate. In rural regions in particular, women are largely excluded from public life. They also experience discrimination in judicial proceedings.

Freedom of expression and of the press is subject to what are in some cases significant restrictions. The media are under pressure both from government entities and from extremist organisations. Social media play an important role in shaping people's opinions.

Freedom of religion is restricted as well. In particular, followers of non-Muslim beliefs are faced with discrimination.

There are anti-terrorism laws that have been tightened several times, suspending a number of fundamental rights. The powers of security authorities have been expanded significantly over the past few years.

Terrorist attacks

Pakistan's internal security is threatened by terrorism, political and religious extremism, and separatist movements. The security situation in the Provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan is constantly tense. Since the Taliban took power in Afghanistan, terrorism has begun to increase again in Pakistan. Terrorists mainly target military and police installations. But their victims also include their political opponents, representatives of the media, and religious minorities.

As at: 18/07/2023