Pakistan opposition draws thousands to capital to protest ruling party’s ‘foreign funds’ case 

Maryam Nawaz Sharif (2L), daughter of former Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and a leader of opposition alliance Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) addresses a protest rally beside the other leaders in front of the election commission in Islamabad on January 19, 2021, against the Prime Minister Imran Khan's ruling party for allegedly receiving party funding from foreign nations and individuals. (AFP)
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Updated 20 January 2021

Pakistan opposition draws thousands to capital to protest ruling party’s ‘foreign funds’ case 

  • The Pakistan Democratic Movement urged the election commission to promptly announce its verdict in the case
  • The interior minister said the opposition alliance failed to attract large number of people to the protest demonstration 

ISLAMABAD: An alliance of Pakistani opposition parties, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), held a protest rally today, Tuesday, outside the election commission which is hearing a case involving alleged illegal foreign funding for Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. 

The case was filed in November 2014 by a founding PTI member, Akbar S Babar, who claimed massive financial irregularities in the handling of foreign funds by the party that amounted to about $3 million. 

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has still not adjudicated the matter, making the PDM leadership criticize it for “the inordinate delay.” 

“Neither is this government elected nor has it any right to rule the country,” the opposition alliance chief, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, said while addressing the participants of the rally in Islamabad. 

He accused the prime minister of contesting the 2018 elections after taking “funds from Israel and India,” adding that the foreign funding case was pending for the last six years even after a revelation by the State Bank of Pakistan that the PTI had 23 “hidden accounts.” 

Rehman said the ECP had held about 150 hearings in the case, noting that the PTI filed 50 applications for its deferment and that the nation was still awaiting the judgment. 

“Some powerful institutions had occupied the election system and brought an incompetent person to power,” he said. “They are now running the government from behind the scenes.” 

Criticizing the ECP, he said: “If this weak election commission provides them [the ruling party] protection, we won’t be able to trust it in the next elections.” 

Rehman said that no country in the world, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, was willing to trust Pakistan due to the government’s “poor foreign policy.” 

“We will continue our struggle [against the government] within the legal and constitutional ambit,” he added. 

The opposition alliance has frequently accused the PTI of coming into power by manipulating the 2018 elections and promised to dislodge through public support. The government denies the charge of election rigging. 

Addressing the protest demonstration, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Maryam Sharif also accused the prime minister of getting funds from India and Israel and using for his 2014 sit-in to overthrow an elected government. 

“Do you know who funded him from India? Bharatiya Janata Party member Inder Dosanjh. And the Israeli who funded him was Barry C. Schneps,” she claimed, adding that “countless” such people and companies from Israel and India had funded the PTI. 

Mocking the ruling party’s statement in the foreign funding case in which it blamed its agents in the US for any possible illegal funding, she asked the prime minister should also reveal the names of the “agents who brought you into power.” 

Lambasting the ECP, she said the election commission was “part of the crime of selecting an unqualified person and bringing him to power.” 

Pakistan Peoples Party’s senior leader Faisal Karim Kundi said that the PTI had admitted that its agents accepted the funds from foreign countries and companies. 

“If the agents had done something wrong, it means that the PTI is involved in it,” he said, urging the ECP to give its judgment in the case. “The verdict will prove which enemy countries had funded the PTI,” he said. 

Meanwhile, Islamabad’s local administration had beefed up the federal capital’s security to avert any untoward incident during the opposition’s protest demonstration. It had deployed over 1,800 security personnel to maintain the law and order besides identifying alternate routes to ensure smooth flow of traffic. 

Responding to the opposition’s protest, Federal Interior Minister Shaikh Rashid Ahmed termed it a “disappointing and poor” show and claimed that the opposition alliance had failed to attract a large number of protesters to its demonstration. 

“We welcome your long march [toward Islamabad] after this today’s show, and that will be your last show [of power],” the minister said, admitting that the opposition had all the right to address public gatherings. 

He also rejected the opposition’s accusations regarding Israel and India. 

“They [the opposition] were given a free hand [to protest outside the ECP], and they have been exposed,” he said. “We are waiting for their long march now.” 

FATF keeps Pakistan on grey list over inadequate 'terrorist financing' controls

Updated 25 February 2021

FATF keeps Pakistan on grey list over inadequate 'terrorist financing' controls

  • While acknowledging progress made by the country, FATF president says Pakistan's financial system still vulnerable to terror funding
  • Pakistan reiterates commitment to work with global financial watchdog and bring its system in line with international standards

ISLAMABAD: A global watchdog on Thursday announced its decision to keep Pakistan "under increased monitoring" over inadequate terror funding controls after a three-day virtual plenary, giving the South Asian nation until June to fulfill all conditions so it could be removed from a grey list.
The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) sets standards and promotes effective implementation of legal, regulatory and operational measures for combating money laundering, terror financing and other related threats to the integrity of the international financial system.
In 2018, FATF placed Pakistan on its "grey list" of countries with inadequate controls over terror financing and gave it a 27-step action plan to implement, which includes passing new legislation.
"The FATF recognizes that Pakistan has made significant progress to improve its anti-money laundering and counterterrorism financing framework," FATF president Marcus Pleyer said. "However, some serious deficiencies remain. All of these deficiencies are in areas that relate to terrorist financing." 
Pleyer noted that "out of 27 items on its action plan, three still need to be fully addressed." 
"I again recognize the progress that Pakistan has made, but I strongly urge the completion of the action plan," he added. 
Reacting to the development, Pakistan's finance ministry said in a statement it had "undertaken enormous work" to strengthen its financial framework and address the deficiencies related to strategic counterterrorism financing. 
"The FATF has also acknowledged the continued high-level political commitment of Pakistan to combat terrorist financing which, according to FATF statement, has led to significant progress across a comprehensive countering financing of terrorism plan," the statement added. 
It noted that the country had "made notable progress in the remaining 3 action items" which were now "partially addressed." 
Pakistan's Minister for Industries and Production Hammad Azhar noted in a Twitter post that FATF member states had acknowledged his country was "subject to perhaps the most challenging & comprehensive action plan" ever given to any state. He reiterated Islamabad's commitment to comply with the FATF evaluation process and do everything to bring Pakistan's financial system in line with global standards.



Cricket crowds in Karachi increased to 50% for Pakistan Super League games

Updated 25 February 2021

Cricket crowds in Karachi increased to 50% for Pakistan Super League games

  • The decision means around 19,000 fans could go to National Stadium to see country’s premier Twenty20 cricket league
  • Government also allowed cricket board to fill Gaddafi Stadium Lahore to 27,000-seat capacity for four playoffs this month

ISLAMABAD: The 14 remaining round-robin matches of the Pakistan Super League at Karachi had their attendance increased from 20% to 50% by the Pakistan Cricket Board on Thursday.
The decision meant that around 19,000 fans could go to the National Stadium to see the country’s premier Twenty20 cricket league.
The government also allowed the board to fill Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore to its 27,000-seat capacity for the four playoffs this month.
But the PCB said it would first assess spectators at Karachi before raising the crowd capacity to 50% in Lahore, which hosts the last 14 games from March 10.
“We will continue to assess how the crowds follow and implement the (coronavirus protocols) before we make a decision on crowd attendances for the Lahore-leg matches,” PCB chief executive Wasim Khan said.
Khan urged spectators to wear masks, maintain social distancing, and regularly use hand sanitizers inside the stadium.

Pakistani foodpreneurs say Dubai's Gulfood 2021 exhibition good for business

Updated 25 February 2021

Pakistani foodpreneurs say Dubai's Gulfood 2021 exhibition good for business

  • Officials say Pakistan's food sector contributes about 20 percent to its overall exports to United Arab Emirates
  • Some Pakistani restaurant owners say high taxation, import restrictions make it difficult for them to run profitable businesses

DUBAI: Pakistani food entrepreneurs who recently flew to the United Arab Emirates to partake in the Gulfood 2021 exhibition on Thursday described Dubai as a place to get new ideas and find new opportunities. 

Sixty Pakistani companies participated in this year's food festival that started on February 21 and ended on Thursday, February 25. It was the 26th edition of the annual exhibition held at the Dubai World Trade Center. 

Speaking to Arab News, Ammar Mohsin, a partner at the Lahore-based Rina's Kitchenette, said it was important to study innovations in the restaurant business, especially in the post-Covid world.

"I see Dubai as a place where we get ideas and look for opportunities in terms of restaurant-specific machinery that can be used in Pakistan," he said, adding that import restrictions and heavy taxes imposed by his country made things difficult for businesses like his. 

"Restaurants in Pakistan have not been given the status of an industry and things sometimes get hard for us due to heavy taxes and import restrictions on ingredients," he said. 

Mohsin also said that he had made several contacts at the exhibition, though he suspected they would not benefit him in the long run.

"We have historically benefited from global vendors for ingredients. If import restrictions are not lifted, however, our work here may not yield us dividends in the long run," he added. 

Pakistan's Consul General in Dubai Ahmed Amjad Ali told an audience while inaugurating the Pakistan pavilion earlier this week that the food sector contributed about 20 percent of his country's UAE export. 

In a Press statement issued on February 21, he said: "This event will further enhance bilateral trade between two countries and provide a platform to connect with buyers from other countries." 

Ali said that after about a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the opening of Gulfood 2021 was good news for international trade in general and the food industry in particular. 

"Keeping in view the COVID-19 situation, [Pakistan's] participation [of 60 companies] is encouraging," he continued, adding that Pakistani food companies were already doing good business with the UAE. 

Zain Qureshi, the chief financial officer of a Lahore-based gourmet bakery, Cocotalia, told Arab News the exhibition gave him the opportunity to connect with various retailers needed for his business. 

"This is my first visit to the exhibition since our restaurant is just a year old, but it will give a huge boost to our business," he said. 

Qureshi noted that the restaurant business had grown in Pakistan, "unlike the rest of the world," during the pandemic. 

"We received massive orders and had to put some on hold for weeks," he said. "This is also the reason why I am here, to invest in more ovens for the restaurant." 

By-poll in Punjab constituency declared null and void, reelection on March 18

Updated 25 February 2021

By-poll in Punjab constituency declared null and void, reelection on March 18

  • Last week's electoral contest for a National Assembly constituency in Daska was marred by violence and irregularities
  • The Election Commission of Pakistan said in a statement results of 20 polling stations had been falsified

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan on Thursday declared a recent by-election in a National Assembly constituency of Punjab null and void while announcing reelection on March 18, local media reported.
Last week's electoral contest for NA-75 in Daska, a small town in Sialkot district, became controversial after two people were killed and three injured in clashes between the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and its rival Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) opposition faction.
The constituency fell vacant after a PML-N lawmaker Syed Iftikharul Hassan Shah died last year.
Nine candidates were in the race for the National Assembly seat, though the real contest was thought to be between PML-N's Nousheen Iftikhar Shah and PTI's Ali Asjad Malhi.
The two parties accused each other of generating violence to manipulate the by-poll.
The PML-N accused its rival faction of intimidating voters and trying to manipulate the election results by influencing the election commission staff.
The ECP also issued a statement the following day, saying that results of 20 polling stations had seemingly been falsified in Daska.
The statement maintained it was not possible to release the initial outcome of the election without a complete inquiry.
The election commission also informed the results of NA-75 were received with "unnecessary delay," adding that it had tried to communicate with presiding officers several times with no success.
Other than that, the ECP suspected that the situation in Daska owed to the weakness of administrative and law enforcement agencies.
On Thursday, the PML-N candidate for the said National Assembly constituency, Nausheen Iftikhar, described the ECP verdict as a "historic decision."
Reacting to the development, information minister Shibli Faraz said that his party's legal team would review the short order and determine PTI's future course of action.
He added that the government had promised to give the country independent institutions "unlike previous administrations," implying that the ECP decision had signified that the PTI leadership had delivered on its commitment.

India, Pakistan militaries agree to stop cross border firing in Kashmir

Updated 25 February 2021

India, Pakistan militaries agree to stop cross border firing in Kashmir

  • Such exchange of gunfire has been frequent in recent months on the disputed border
  • Military operational heads of the two countries spoke over telephone, agreed to discuss each other’s concerns

NEW DELHI: India and Pakistan’s militaries said on Thursday that they had agreed to stop firing along their disputed border in Kashmir, where such gunfire has been frequent in recent months, often killing or maiming people living in the area.
“In the interest of achieving mutually beneficial and sustainable peace along the borders, the two DGsMO agreed to address each other’s core issues and concerns which have propensity to disturb peace and lead to violence,” a joint statement said, referring to the military operations heads of the two countries.
The nuclear-armed neighbors signed a cease-fire agreement along the Line of Control (LoC) — the de facto border in the Kashmir region — in 2003, but the truce has been fraying in recent years.
An official in New Delhi said the cessation was partly aimed at easing the fraught situation for civilians living along the border, who are regularly caught in the crossfire.
“We are cautiously optimistic that the violence levels and tensions along the LoC will come down,” the official said, declining to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.
But India will not ease up on deployments along the LoC that aim to stop infiltration or counterinsurgency operations in the Kashmir valley, the official said.
Last summer, Indian and Pakistani troops were locked in their most frequent cross-border fighting in at least two years, amid surging coronavirus outbreaks.
Kashmir has long been a flashpoint between the neighbors, but tension was renewed after New Delhi withdrew the autonomy of the Himalayan region last August and split it into federally administered territories.
Both countries claim the region in full, but rule only parts.