Experts remain skeptical about Pakistan’s i-voting system

A woman casts her vote during Pakistan's general election at a polling station in Islamabad on July 25, 2018. (AFP/file)
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Updated 21 May 2021

Experts remain skeptical about Pakistan’s i-voting system

  • Insist online initiative may not provide ballot secrecy
  • Overseas Pakistanis happy to be given opportunity to participate in democratic process

KARACHI/JEDDAH: Citing a lack of ballot secrecy for voters as their main concern, independent analysts and members from the opposition parties expressed serious reservations over the i-voting system launched by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Friday.
According to the ECP, the initiative will enable overseas Pakistani citizens to vote for 11 national and 26 provincial constituencies.
The online resource, which contains video tutorials for prospective voters in English and Urdu, promises to help users “cast their vote online from anywhere in the world using any Internet-connected device”.
The service, from September 1 to September 15, is only for citizens who are already registered voters in Pakistan. Documents such as the National Identity Cards for Overseas Pakistani and Machine Readable Passports are a must to register for the service.
Once registered, users will receive a secret code — between October 10 and October 14 — that will be unique to each one of them and enable them to participate in the elections.
“The process seems to have started on the Supreme Court’s directives issued in response to a petition launched by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party,” Dr. Tauseef Ahmed Khan, a Karachi-based analyst, told Arab News on Saturday.
“The PTI will certainly be the top beneficiary of the i-voting system since it is quite popular with Pakistani expats,” Khan said. “But given the ECP’s capacity and the failure of the RTS [Results Transmission System] in the July election, one cannot rule out the possibility that the i-voting system may fall short of expectations,” he added.
Faisal Sabzwari, a Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) leader, concurs. “The recent failure of the RTS proves that the Election Commission of Pakistan lacks the capacity to operate election technology efficiently.”
He admitted that the ECP’s decision to set up the portal was “principally right,” though the mechanism raises important doubts in Pakistan’s context. “How will they authenticate the online registration? How will the ECP deal with any fake registration attempts? If the ECP wanted to give overseas Pakistanis the right to vote, it could have done that through our consulates in different cities across the world,” Sabzwari said.
PTI lawmaker Arsalan Taj Ghumman reasoned that the i-voting systems had been “successful globally”, adding that he sees no reason why it cannot be implemented in Pakistan. “We hope this pilot project succeeds as it will make it easier for the country to ensure the participation of overseas Pakistanis in the elections,” he said.
Abdul Jabbar Nasir, a Karachi-based analyst, noted that the exercise was still in its early stages, adding that the ECP had chosen by-polls on 37 seats “to test and implement the system with relative convenience”.
It may be recalled that the Supreme Court had convened a session to give voting rights to overseas Pakistanis on April 12, instructing the ECP to constitute a task force to undertake a technical audit of the i-voting platform.
The ensuing report warned that the i-voting system did not “provide ballot secrecy as required in Clause 94 of the Elections Act, 2017, and Article 226 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.”
“We realized that users can easily mount attacks on this system using their web browsers whereby they can cast votes for whichever national and provincial seat they choose, regardless of their constituency. These attacks can be launched with the moderate technical ability and can easily be automated to manipulate votes at a large scale,” parts of the report read.
IT experts observed that there was a “critical shortage of cybersecurity skills and expertise in Pakistan, particularly within the field of election security.” “We would, therefore, urge all stakeholders to exercise extreme caution in approaching the question of Internet voting,” the task force concluded.
Throwing caution to the wind, several overseas Pakistanis said they were happy to finally be a part of the country’s democratic process.
Maroof Butt, a resident of Lahore based in Jeddah, told Arab News that he considers it “a historic moment for overseas Pakistanis and a moment of recognition as well.” He added, “our participation and contribution in the elections will surely make our voice heard.”
Farmanullah Khan, a resident of Mardan working in Dubai, is one among many. Talking to Arab News, Khan — who could not vote in the past three elections – said he is happy to vote for his candidate in PK-53 and would certainly register online to facilitate the process.
Imran Shah, a resident of Clifton Karachi based in Australia, is all geared up. Although the by-polls in his home constituency, NA-247, have not been scheduled yet, he intends to register himself as soon as possible, especially because — if PTI’s Dr. Arif Alvi becomes the country’s next president — NA-247 constituency may soon become vacant. “I don’t want to miss the opportunity of voting, whenever there is a polling process in my constituency.” 


Islamabad wants to break out of ‘cyclical pattern’ of Pakistan-US ties — foreign minister

Updated 5 sec ago

Islamabad wants to break out of ‘cyclical pattern’ of Pakistan-US ties — foreign minister

  • Qureshi says Pakistan looking for new “anchors” in trade, investment and people-to-people exchanges
  • Wishes to work with US to create jobs, economic prosperity on both sides of Pak-Afghan border

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has said Pakistan wanted to “break out of the cyclical pattern” that had long defined its ties with the United States and build a more broad-based and multidimensional relationship.
Qureshi was delivering a keynote address at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in New York on Tuesday.
Officially allies in fighting terrorism, Pakistan and the United States have a complicated relationship, bound for decades by Washington’s dependence on Pakistan to supply its troops in Afghanistan but plagued by accusations Islamabad is playing a “double game.”
Tensions grew over the last decade over US complaints that the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network that target American troops in Afghanistan were allowed to shelter on Pakistani soil. Pakistan denies the charge and has long insisted that the US view Islamabad beyond the lens of Kabul.
“With the end of the US mission in Afghanistan, Pakistan wanted to build a more broad-based and multidimensional relationship with the United States,” Qureshi said in his address at CFR. “Pakistan wanted to break out of the cyclical pattern that had defined Pakistan-US ties in the past and find new anchors for the relationship in trade, investment, and people-to-people exchanges.”
He said an economically strong Pakistan would be “an anchor of stability” in the region, which had suffered because of 40 years of conflict in Afghanistan. He added that Islamabad wanted to work with the US in areas that would create jobs and economic prosperity on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and help the Afghan people rebuild their country.
“Isolating Afghanistan had proven to be a mistake in the past,” Qureshi said, urging the international community to encourage progress toward a more inclusive government in Afghanistan through sustained engagement.
“A stable government in Afghanistan would be more effective at denying space to terrorist groups. While the Taliban should be held to their commitments on counter-terrorism, human rights and political inclusivity, the immediate priority must be to help the Afghan people as they confronted a potential humanitarian crisis.”
Qureshi is in New York to represent Pakistan at the United Nations General Assembly session scheduled for later this week. The session will focus on boosting efforts to fight climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, along with discussions on Afghanistan and Iran.


Pakistani, Egyptian foreign ministers meet on UNGA sidelines

Updated 8 min 16 sec ago

Pakistani, Egyptian foreign ministers meet on UNGA sidelines

  • Discuss finding peaceful solutions to crises in Middle East, South Asia
  • Qureshi visited Cairo in February this year and met President El-Sisi

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi met his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Hassan Shoukry in New York on the sidelines of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, with both leaders agreeing to enhance bilateral political exchanges.
Qureshi is leading Pakistan’s delegation at the UNGA, which Prime Minister Imran Khan will address virtually.
“(They) agreed to enhance the frequency of bilateral political exchanges to foster understanding between the leadership and eventually the peoples of our brotherly countries,” Pakistan’s foreign ministry said about the Pakistani and Egyptian leaders’ meeting.
They agreed to remain in close contact to upgrade ties and discussed important developments in the Middle East, South Asia and Gulf region. Both leaders emphasized the importance of finding “peaceful solutions through diplomatic means.”
“Situation in Afghanistan also came under discussion between the two Foreign Ministers. Qureshi apprised his Egyptian counterpart about continued humanitarian support by Pakistan in several ways for their Afghan brethren through air and land routes,” the statement said.
Qureshi visited Cairo in February this year and met President El-Sisi.


Pakistan ‘used and binned’ by England over canceled tour

Updated 21 September 2021

Pakistan ‘used and binned’ by England over canceled tour

  • The British High Commissioner to Pakistan confirmed the decision was taken on the grounds of player welfare
  • Pakistan’s cricket chief says ‘a little bit of caring was needed after the New Zealand pull out and we didn’t get that from England’

LONDON: Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ramiz Raja said on Tuesday he felt “used and then binned” after England canceled a white-ball tour for their men’s and women’s teams next month.
The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) cited “increasing concerns about traveling to the region” just days after New Zealand also pulled out of a tour to Pakistan over security concerns.
However, the British High Commissioner to Pakistan, Christian Turner, confirmed the decision was taken by the ECB on the grounds of player welfare.
The first trip by the England men’s side to Pakistan since 2005 was only meant to last four days with two Twenty20 matches in Rawalpindi on October 13 and 14.
Two women’s T20 matches were scheduled on the same days as double-headers with three women’s one-day internationals to follow in the same city.
Reaction to the withdrawal in Pakistan has been furious.
Pakistan traveled to England last year at a time when COVID-19 infection rates in Britain were among the highest in the world for a three-match Test and T20 series that saved the ECB millions in television rights deals.
“It’s the feeling of being used and then binned. That’s the feeling I have right now,” Raja told reporters.
“A little bit of hand-holding, a little bit of caring was needed after the New Zealand pull out and we didn’t get that from England which is so frustrating.
“We’ve been going out of our way to meet the international demands, being such a responsible member of the cricketing fraternity, and in return we get a response from ECB saying the players were spooked by New Zealand’s withdrawal. What does that mean?“
New Zealand officials refused to give details of the security threat that forced them to abruptly cancel their matches.
A deadly 2009 attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore saw Pakistan become a no-go destination for international teams.
In 2012 and 2015 Pakistan hosted England in the UAE, which has staged most of their “home” games since the attack.
A rapid improvement in security in recent years has led to the return of international cricket, with Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, the West Indies, South Africa and Bangladesh touring in the past six years.
“I share the deep sadness of cricket fans that England will not tour Pakistan in October,” Turner said in a video post on Twitter. “This was a decision made by the ECB, which is independent of the British government, based on concerns for player welfare.
“The British High Commission supported the tour; did not advise against it on security grounds; and our travel advice for Pakistan has not changed.”
The series was supposed to be part of the preparation for England’s men ahead of next month’s T20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates and Oman.
But many of their star players would now be free to play in the latter stages of the lucrative Indian Premier League, also being hosted in the UAE, should their sides reach the knockout phase.
“You are quoting fatigue and mental tension and players being spooked and a hour-and-a-half flight from here before a World Cup they are quite happy to be caged in a bubble environment and carry on with the tournament,” added Raja.
“One feels slighted, one feels humiliated because withdrawal doesn’t have an answer.”
The ECB’s decision has also been met with fierce criticism at home.
“They had a chance to repay a debt, uphold their honor and side with a cricketing nation that has undergone the kind of challenges others cannot even begin to contemplate,” former England Test captain Michael Atherton wrote in The Times.
“Instead, citing a mealy-mouthed statement, they did the wrong thing.”


PM Khan says Afghanistan’s ‘strong’ women will assert rights under Taliban rule

Updated 21 September 2021

PM Khan says Afghanistan’s ‘strong’ women will assert rights under Taliban rule

  • The Pakistani prime minister says absence of an inclusive government in Afghanistan may lead to a civil war
  • Khan warns the world community that an unstable Afghanistan will be an ‘ideal place for terrorists’

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Tuesday Afghan women were “very strong” and likely to assert their right under the Taliban rule.
Khan was responding to a question about the rights of women in Afghanistan after the fall of the US-backed Ashraf Ghani administration and the emergence of the Taliban regime during an interview with the BBC.
Women were not allowed to work and girls could not go to school when the conservative Afghan faction came into power between 1996 and 2001.
While the Taliban have said they will not implement their previous policies, they recently closed the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in Kabul and replaced it with the Ministry for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.
“Their women are very strong,” the Pakistani prime minister told the British news channel. “I feel give them time and they will assert their rights.”
Asked how much time would be required for that to happen, he said: “A year, two years, three years ... It’s too early to say anything because it has just barely been a month. After 20 years of civil war, they have come back into power.”

A Taliban fighter watches as Afghan women hold placards during a demonstration demanding better rights for women in front of the former Ministry of Women Affairs in Kabul on September 19, 2021. (AFp)

Khan said his biggest worry about the situation in Afghanistan related to a possible humanitarian disaster that could lead to another refugee influx in the region.
He reiterated it was important for the Taliban to form an inclusive government since Afghanistan could witness another civil war if all the factions in the country did not get a stake in its governance and administration.
The prime minister also warned that an “unstable and chaotic Afghanistan” was going to be an “ideal place for terrorists.”


Pakistani exporters complain of high freight charges amid global supply chain disruption

Updated 21 September 2021

Pakistani exporters complain of high freight charges amid global supply chain disruption

  • Global shipping charges have increased by about 500 percent since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic
  • Pakistani exporters want the government to activate the National Shipping Corporation to address the situation

KARACHI: Pakistani exporters on Tuesday complained about global supply chain disruption, saying their shipments were becoming more expensive due to the unavailability of containers which was leading to much higher freight charges.
The global supply chain industry is yet to recover from the impact of lockdowns imposed by countries since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The container movement primarily become difficult due to the congestion at major ports in countries like the United States and China, resulting in significant rise in shipping costs worldwide.
“Exporters are worried since ships and containers are not available and freight cost has increased manifold,” Jawed Bilwani, chief coordinator of the Pakistan Hosiery Manufacturers and Exporters Association, told Arab News. “The containers that used to be only a phone call away are now made available after 20 days or more which delays our shipments. It also doubles our cost.”
Pakistani exporters said the availability of containers had become a major challenge to their businesses.
“The shipping line business is concentrated in a few hands, and these people are taking full advantage of the prevailing situation,” Khurram Mukhtar, patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Textile Exporters Association, said.
Local exporters informed freight charges had increased by 200 and 500 percent for 40- and 20-foot containers, respectively, since the emergence of the pandemic.
The cost of the 20-foot container from Karachi to the United States has increased from $5,157 to $7,685 since May, while its price for the month of October is quoted at $8,500.
Similarly, the 40-foot container price increased from $6,439 to $9,760 between May and September. The shipping line businesses plan to charge $10,800 for it starting next month.
Pakistani shipping experts believe the situation will not improve anytime soon and may take at least a year to get back to the pre-pandemic level.
“The pressure on global supply chain is mounting and there is no immediate solution in sight,” Mohammed A. Rajpar, chairman of the Pakistan Ships Agents Association, told Arab News.
He said that ships used to complete their full cycle from east to west and west to east in four to six weeks before the COVID-19 outbreak, but this duration went up to three to six months under the current circumstances.
He added that many shipping lines had also stopped their operations worldwide and scrapped their ships.
“New ships have been ordered and that will take at least two years to be delivered. New containers have also been ordered by companies,” Rajpar said.
Amid the aggravating situation, Pakistani exporters said the government should intervene by mobilizing the National Shipping Corporation, the national flag carrier and state-owned shipping company.
“All relevant ministries of the country must immediately intervene by taking necessary measures to safeguard the country’s exports,” the patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Textile Exporters Association said. “The government may dedicate its shipping corporation for export and import purposes for now.”
Pakistani exporters said they had been forced to pay demurrage — a charge applied to containers that are left at the port longer than their allotted free time — for the first time due to the ongoing shipping problems.