Pakistan's Newsmakers in 2018

Updated 29 December 2018

Pakistan's Newsmakers in 2018

KARACHI: 2018 was the year of politics in Pakistan: a new political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, and a new leader, Imran Khan, came to power in a landmark general election that signalled victory against old-style dynastic politics. On the other hand, three-time prime minister and political survivor Nawaz Sharif was barred from politics over corruption by the country's top court and is currently in jail serving seven years for corrupt practices linked to the setting up of a steel mill. Ultra-right leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi, whose Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan became the sixth largest party at the polls, kept the country on its toes with mass protests but was finally arrested for challenging the writ of the state. Asia Bibi, a poor Christian woman acquitted in a landmark blasphemy case after eight years on death row, still remains in protective custody. Leg-spinner Yasir Shah won the title of the fastest cricketer to take 200 Test wickets and Meesha Shafi unleashed Pakistan’s own #MeToo moment with allegations of sexual harassment against singer and actor Ali Zafar.

Here are some of the people who mattered most in Pakistani politics, society and sports, in 2018:

Imran Khan – The Man Who Would Be King

Sportsman-turned-politician Imran Khan was sworn in as the 22nd Prime Minister of Pakistan this August in what is the apogee of a 22-year-long political career spent prowling the margins of Pakistani politics and railing against the country’s corrupt, dynastic politicians. In the first four . months of his terms, he had made headlines for opening the Kartarpur border with India, a twitter war with U.S. President Donald Trump and bagging enough loans from Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E. and China.

Asia Bibi – Free, But In Chains

Asia Bibi, a poor Christian woman who was acquitted in October in a landmark blasphemy case, remains in "protective custody" of the state, unable to walk free because ultra-right extremists have threatened her life and mass protests across the country if she is released. Asia was the first Pakistani woman to be sentenced under the country's blasphemy laws in 2010. This year was her ninth Christmas unable to celebrate and worship as a free women.

Nawaz Sharif – The Perpetual Political Survivor

One of Pakistan's most high-profile politicians of the last four decades, Nawaz Sharif had a truly bad year. He was ousted from his third term as prime minister last year but this year was jailed for ten years in one case involving corrupt practices linked to the purchase of luxury London flats, and in another case related to the source of funds for setting up a steel mill. He has been prime minister three times and was unable to complete his term all three times, removed once by presidential order, then in a military coup, and finally by the country’s top court in July 2017. He is currently serving seven years in jail in the steel mills case.

Bushra Bibi – From Faith Healer To First Lady​

Bushra Bibi is the first lady of Pakistan and the third wife of Prime Minister Khan. She is a faith healer from the Pakpattan district of Pakistan's Punjab province and has five children from a previous marriage. She is considered a great influence on the prime minister. Little is known about her daily routine, except that she is deeply spiritual and spends most of her time in prayers.

Maryam Nawaz – Heir Apparent On The Edge Of Prison

Maryam Nawaz is the daughter of former PM Nawaz Sharif and was jailed along with her father earlier this year in the London apartments' money trail case, though she is now out on bail. She leapfrogged several influential relatives to emerge in recent years as a long-term heir of her father’s Pakistan Muslim League party. She has been known for years as one of her father’s closest advisers, but more recently took a much more public role in the party’s leadership. Since being convicted in July, she has shied away from public life.

Khadim Hussain Rizvi – The Star Of Pakistan’s Ultra-Right

Foul-mouthed, wheelchair-bound cleric Khadim Hussian Rizvi shot to fame during protests against the 2016 execution of Mumtaz Qadri, a police guard who murdered a popular governor who spoke up against the country’s draconian blasphemy laws. This year he was in the news for leading protests against the acquittal of Asia Bibi, after which he called for the murder of the judges who had ruled in her favour and incited rebellion against the army chief. He was finally booked under terrorism charges earlier this month and is now in police custody.

Young Tribesman Becomes Voice of Pashtuns​

Tens of thousands of Pashtuns have defied authorities to attend rallies let by Manzoor Pashteen this year, demanding an end to what they allege are extrajudicial killings and abductions of ethnic Pashtun people. The protests have mushroomed into a wider movement, and Pashteen has emerged as its unlikely spokesman, speaking for people brutalised during military operations in Pakistan's tribal regions and asking for the return of hundreds who have 'gone missing'. Last month, the military warned that it would take action against the movement if it crossed a red line.

Yasir Shah – Fastest To 200 Test Wickets

Pakistani leg-spinner Yasir Shah became the fastest cricketer to take 200 wickets in the history of Test cricket, breaking an 82-year-old record on the fourth day of the third Test against New Zealand earlier this month. Shah reached this milestone in his 33rd Test, beating Australian leg-spinner Clarrie Grimmett’s record of 36 Tests achieved against South Africa in 1936.

Mullah Fazlullah – Pakistan’s Most Wanted Terrorist

Mullah Fazlullah, the leader of the Pakistan Taliban (TTP), was the country’s most-wanted militant, notorious for attacks including a 2014 school massacre that killed 132 children and the 2012 shooting of schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, who was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He was in hiding in Afghanistan since 2009 and was killed in a U.S.-Afghan airstrike in June this year.

Asma Jahangir – The Conscience of Pakistan

Asma Jahangir, Pakistan’s leading rights activist, staunch defender of rule of law and a fearless critic of the all-powerful army’s interference in politics died In February this year. She was a a human rights lawyer who won international fame for being the conscience of a country where liberal, secular voices have been suppressed for decades and defending the weak and the marginalized in society, particularly women and minorities.

Meesha Shafi - The Face Of Pakistan’s #MeToo

Singer and actress Meesha Shafi launched Pakistan’s version of the viral #MeToo campaign that has exposed sexual harassment around the world and created a public platform for victims and their supporters. Shafi accused Pakistani superstar Ali Zafar of sexually harassing her, an allegation he denies. Though several Pakistani celebrities have come forward to reveal their personal experiences of child sexual abuse, Shafi’s statement against Zafar was the first instance of a Pakistani entertainer publicly calling out a peer for sexual misconduct and ignited a much needed public debate.

Islamabad says Beijing has agreed to 'phased return' of Pakistani students to China

Updated 22 min 52 sec ago

Islamabad says Beijing has agreed to 'phased return' of Pakistani students to China

  • Pakistani embassy says both sides are finalizing arrangements for the return of first batch of students 
  • 28,000 Pakistani students are enrolled in Chinese varsities, with a majority stuck in Pakistan since 2020 

ISLAMABAD: Beijing has agreed on a "phased return" of Pakistani students to Chinese universities, the Pakistani embassy in China said on Friday, which would be subject to the COVID-19 situation in the host country.

Around 28,000 Pakistani students are enrolled in Chinese educational institutions, with most of them stuck in Pakistan since China suspended entry of foreign nationals in March 2020 to stop the spread of COVID-19.

For more than a year, the Pakistani government had been saying it was in touch with the Chinese authorities to help Pakistani students return to their colleges and universities.

In a telephonic conversation on May 16, the Pakistani embassy said, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif discussed the issue with his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang and conveyed the sentiments of the families of Pakistani students who wished to resume their studies in China.

“The embassy had long been engaged with the relevant Chinese authorities regarding the return of Pakistani students to their universities in China,” the Pakistani embassy said in statement.

“Resultantly, the two sides have agreed for phased return subject to the Covid-19 situation in China.”

In the recent telephonic conversation, the statement said, the Chinese premier assured that Beijing accorded “high priority” to the matter. “Two sides are now finalizing arrangements for return of 1st batch of students at an early date,” it read.

The Pakistani embassy said it would keep pursuing the matter with the Chinese authorities for the return of the remaining students as well.

Pakistan’s Azhar Ali makes unbeaten double hundred in English county game 

Updated 21 May 2022

Pakistan’s Azhar Ali makes unbeaten double hundred in English county game 

  • Azhar reached his double century in the final over of the day with a cover drive for four 
  • Azhar arrived at Worcestershire’s headquarters after a successful Test series against Australia 

LONDON: Pakistan’s Azhar Ali made an unbeaten double century as he helped Worcestershire rewrite the record books in an English County Championship match against Leicestershire on Friday.
Azhar and former England Under-19 international Jack Haynes put on 281 for the third wicket — a record partnership against Leicestershire, surpassing the 278 by Cyril Walters and Harold Gibbons in 1934.
Their stand was the cornerstone of Worcestershire’s 456 for three, a lead of 308, at stumps on the second day of four at New Road.
Haynes was eventually dismissed for 127 but Azhar reached his double century in the final over of the day with a cover drive for four off Rehan Ahmed.
By that stage Azhar had faced 328 balls, with one six and 18 fours, and also shared in another century stand with Brett D’Oliveira (52 not out).
Azhar arrived at New Road, Worcestershire’s headquarters, after a successful Test series against Australia which included a marathon 185 spanning 11 hours at Rawalpindi.
The 37-year-old struggled at first with the change to English conditions and his opening six innings for Midlands county Worcestershire yielded 34 runs.
But the former Pakistan captain has found his form since hitting 92 against a Durham attack including new England skipper Ben Stokes.

‘Dance Icon’: Breakdancing makes school boy a household name in Pakistan’s Balochistan

Updated 21 May 2022

‘Dance Icon’: Breakdancing makes school boy a household name in Pakistan’s Balochistan

  • 10-year-old Subhan Sohail was inspired to dance after seeing Michael Jackson’s videos online
  • Sohail has never received professional training and hones his skills by watching online videos 

QUETTA: Subhan Sohail was six years old when he first saw a video of the “King of Pop,” Michael Jackson, on his mother’s cellphone and announced he wanted to be a break-dancer.
Four years later, Sohail, 10, has become a household name in his home province of Balochistan in southwest Pakistan since a video of him in his school uniform breakdancing went viral after a teacher shared it on social media.
“People started praising me, which gave me confidence,” the resident of Degari Kahan village in Kech district told Arab News.
Subhan’s mother, who only identified herself by her first name Shereen, said she supported her son pursuing breakdancing as a career, though the family had faced some opposition in Balochistan where many conservative Pakistanis frown on dancing. And breakdancing, an art form born on the streets of New York City in the 1970s, is a novel concept in the impoverished province. 
“I was very happy after hearing that my son’s video was appreciated,” Sohail’s mother said. “But later many people in our family discouraged Subhan and told him that dancing was not thought to be a good profession within our rural society.”
“Despite such negative comments,” she added, “I still want him to take up dancing as a career because my son wants to be a world class dancer.”
Sohail, who has never taken any professional lessons, says he learns new skills by watching online videos. That’s also how he started his dancing journey:
“I learned how to breakdance by watching videos on my mother’s cellphone. I was six years old and started practicing at my house without taking any dance classes.”
On a regular day, Sohail said, he spends two hours after school practicing.
Lately, performing in public has become a favorite activity.
“Initially, I was shy and hesitant to dance in public,” Sohail said. “Then my family supported me and emboldened me to perform at school and family events.”
Amul Sakin Baloch, a teacher at the dancer’s school for the last 11 years, said her young student was a “hero,” entertaining others with his unique talent.
“I first uploaded his dance video on social media after which many people requested me to share it again because they loved his performance,” Baloch told Arab News. “Now he has become a dance icon for the whole province of Balochistan.”
Sohail Ismael, a driver employed at the school his son attends, said he had never discouraged Sohail from pursuing his passion, but wanted him to become an engineer to secure a more viable future.
“He was reluctant to dance in front of me and used to practice in my absence,” Ismael said. “But I have been encouraging him and now he often shows me his new dance moves.”

Pakistani FM says Islamabad and Washington entering new engagement after years of strain

Updated 21 May 2022

Pakistani FM says Islamabad and Washington entering new engagement after years of strain

  • Bilawal Bhutto Zardari says United States and his country must move beyond past tensions over neighboring Afghanistan
  • Recalls legacy of his mother and grandfather, calls them “towering figures on world stage” and says he feels “burden of history”

UNITED NATIONS: Pakistan’s new foreign minister says the United States and his country must move beyond past tensions over Afghanistan and are entering a new engagement after years of strained relations under former Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the 33-year-old son of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, spoke in an interview with The Associated Press in New York, where he was attending meetings this week on the global food crisis at UN headquarters. He has also held talks with top diplomats, including a one-hour discussion with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Bhutto Zardari called the meeting with Blinken “very encouraging and very positive and productive.”

“We believe that Pakistan must continue to engage with the United States at all levels,” he said. “This meeting was indeed an important first step.”

Bhutto Zardari co-chairs one of the two largest parties in Pakistan’s disparate governing coalition, which spans the political spectrum from the left to the radically religious. The coalition removed Khan in a no-confidence vote on April 10. Shahbaz Sharif, the leader of the other major party, replaced Imran Khan as prime minister.

US-Pakistani ties deteriorated under Khan, who as prime minister tapped into anti-American sentiment in Pakistan that has spread ever since the 9/11 terrorist attacks by Al-Qaeda, and the US war on terror. The 2011 American raid that killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan angered many hard-liners in the country.

Khan accused the Biden administration of colluding with the opposition to oust him, a claim the administration denies.

Afghanistan also raised mistrust between the two countries. Washington felt Islamabad did too little to help ensure peace as the US and NATO withdrew their troops from Afghanistan; Pakistan insists it did all it could to broker peace and blamed the abrupt US pullout. During the final weeks of the American withdrawal, the Taliban overran Kabul in mid-August and seized power.

Bhutto Zardari said the Pakistan-US relationship in the past had been “too colored by the events in Afghanistan, of the geopolitical considerations, and it’s time for us to move beyond that to engage in a far broader, deeper and more meaningful relationship.”

Under Khan, Pakistan pushed hard for the world to engage with Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers, and Bhutto Zardari said his country continues to do so.

“Regardless of what we feel about the regime in Afghanistan,” the world can’t abandon the Afghan people and must immediately address the country’s humanitarian crisis and crumbling economy, he said. A total collapse of the Afghan economy would be a disaster for Afghans, Pakistan and the international community, he said, expressing concern that many Afghans would flee the country.

Pakistan is also insisting the Taliban live up to their international commitments that the country not be used for terrorism, that girls and women be able to pursue education, and that they form an inclusive government, he said.

The Taliban, however, have taken a more hard-line turn in recent weeks, imposing new restrictions on women. At the same time, tensions have grown between the Taliban and Pakistan over militants based in Afghanistan carrying out attacks in Pakistan.

Bhutto Zardari said the more the humanitarian crisis is alleviated and the economy is saved from collapse, “the more likely we are to succeed in our pursuit for women’s rights and the more likely we are to succeed in our efforts against terrorism.”

He said his focus in talks with Blinken was on increasing trade, particularly in agriculture, information technology and energy. He said he is looking forward to working with the US on an initiative to empower women, including women entrepreneurs.

On economic, defense and military coordination, “if we continue to engage, then we can move forward in a more positive direction,” Bhutto Zardari said.

Asked about Khan’s anti-US rhetoric, Bhutto Zardari dismissed the ex-premier’s accusation of American collusion, calling it a “fanciful conspiracy theory based on a big lie” to explain his removal.

“I am particularly anti the politics of hate, division and polarization,” the foreign minister said. “If we consistently pursue the politics of `you’re with us or against us,’ whether that’s on an international level or a domestic level, I don’t believe it serves the interests of the people of Pakistan.”

He said he believes Pakistanis understand their country needs to engage with the US and all countries, in order to become democratic and progress economically.

President Joe Biden has strengthened ties with Pakistan’s arch-rival India, but Bhutto Zardari said Pakistan is not “jealous” of their relationship. “We believe the world is big enough for both Pakistan and India,” he said.

Biden will meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the leaders of Australia and Japan at a summit in Tokyo on May 24 of the so-called Quad, an Indo-Pacific alliance which China sees as an attempt to contain its economic growth and influence.

Pakistan has a very close economic and military relationship with neighboring China, where Bhutto Zardari is heading to on Saturday. He told the AP he didn’t think the growing relationship with the US would hurt its ties to Beijing.

Pakistan has abstained on UN General Assembly resolutions condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and withdrawal of its troops. Bhutto Zardari said Pakistan used to rely a lot on Ukrainian wheat and fertilizer and has been affected by rising food prices and calls for diplomacy to end the war.

The lives of the Bhutto Zardari family have in many ways reflected their country’s turbulence. Bhutto Zardari took over his mother’s Pakistan People’s Party after she was killed in a suicide bombing in December 2007.

The daughter of Pakistan’s first democratically elected prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who led Pakistan in the 1970s and was overthrown and executed by the military, Benazir Bhutto was Pakistan’s first woman premier and twice served as head of government.

At the time of her assassination, she was rallying in a third bid for premiership. Bhutto Zardari’s life in politics was also shaped by his father, Asif Ali Zardari, who served as Pakistan’s president from 2008 to 2013.

In the interview with the AP, Bhutto Zardari recalled the legacy of his mother and grandfather. He called them “towering figures on the world stage,” and said he feels “the burden of history.”

“What motivates and drives me is the pursuit of their unfulfilled mission,” he said. “I hope that we live up to the expectations of the people of Pakistan” who have longed for true democracy and struggled for their economic, political and human rights.

“These are the ideals that we hold dear and we work toward every day,” Bhutto Zardari said.

Ex-PM Khan says Islamabad march to begin between May 25 and 29 

Updated 21 May 2022

Ex-PM Khan says Islamabad march to begin between May 25 and 29 

  • Former premier has been calling for early election in the South Asian country 
  • In April, he became the first Pakistani PM to be ousted through a no-trust vote 

ISLAMABAD: Former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan on Friday announced his party would begin its anti-government march to Islamabad between May 25 and May 29 to compel the new administration to announce a snap election in the South Asian country.

Last month, Khan became the first prime minister in Pakistan’s history who was driven out of power in a no-confidence vote.

He has accused the United States (US) of orchestrating his removal with the help of his political rivals, saying that Washington was displeased with his desire to pursue an independent foreign policy for Pakistan. US officials have repeatedly denied the allegation.

The former premier has since held scores of rallies across the country, urging the masses to prepare for a march to the Pakistani capital to pressure the new government of PM Shehbaz Sharif into announcing fresh polls.

“I have summoned my core committee to Peshawar on Sunday. And let me tell you we are to decide between 25th and 29th May,” Khan said at a rally in Multan Friday night.

“God willing, I will clear this to you the day after tomorrow so that you may get enough time to prepare.”

He told the attendees he wanted them all to prepare for the final showdown in the Pakistani capital.

Supporters of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan listen to speech by the party leader during a rally in Multan on May 20, 2022. (AFP)

“God willing, when the sea of people will come, we will only ask them for one thing,” he said, “when will the assembly be dissolved and election announced.”

Khan, who is the chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, has called for early elections in the country.

The ex-premier has vowed to keep holding political protests until the new government announces the next election.