Sharif vows legal action against ex-PM Khan over ‘anti-state’ speech

Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif speaks during a news conference in Islamabad on April 1, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 09 May 2022

Sharif vows legal action against ex-PM Khan over ‘anti-state’ speech

  • PM says Khan “challenged” state, constitution, institutions in recent speech in Abbottabad
  • Army has urged politicians and journalists not to drag it into “political discourse”

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Sunday vowed to take legal action against former premier Imran Khan for “challenging” Pakistan’s state, constitution and institutions in a speech at a public rally in Abbottabad.

Khan has been holding rallies since last month when he was ousted from power in a no-confidence vote. He has repeatedly described the downfall of his administration as the result of a foreign conspiracy hatched in the United State and implemented in Pakistan by local actors. The US denies the charge.

Since his ouster, Khan and his supporters have also variously expressed disappointment in the all-powerful military and army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa for not siding with his government or blocking the success of the no confidence motion filed by a joint opposition.

In an address in Abbottabad on Sunday, Khan referred to Mir Jafar and Mir Sadiq, two leaders in the 18th century who have become symbols of treachery in subcontinental history for siding with the British as they colonized the region. Narrating their stories, Khan reminded his supporters that Mir Jaffar had joined hands with the British despite being the commander-in-chief of a governor of the Mughal emperor while Mir Sadiq betrayed Tipu Sultan, the ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore.

It was unclear if he was using the metaphors to refer to the Pakistan army, or the opposition parties that ousted him.

“Those concocting a narrative against national institutions were the real Mir Jaffar and Mir Sadiq,” a statement released by Sharif on Sunday night said. “The state of Pakistan, constitution of Pakistan, and the respected institutions of Pakistan were challenged by Imran Khan in Abbottabad on Sunday.”

The PM said legal action would be taken against the “anti-state” speech. 

Soon after Khan’s removal from office last month, top trending hashtags on Twitter targeted the army, the judiciary and the new government, with tweets using those hashtags garnering over five million posts. One hashtag that remained the top trend in Pakistan for days was #BajwaSurrender.

On Sunday, the media wing of the army issued a statement urging journalists and politicians to stop making “direct, insinuated or nuanced references to the armed forces as well as their senior leaders.”

“This practice of unsubstantiated, defamatory and provocative statements /remarks is extremely damaging,” the statement said. “Pakistan Armed Forces take strong exception to such unlawful and unethical practice and expect all to abide by the law and keep the Armed Forces out of political discourse in the best interest of the country.”

Babar Azam reclaims number 3 position in ICC Test batter rankings

Updated 1 min 44 sec ago

Babar Azam reclaims number 3 position in ICC Test batter rankings

  • Babar Azam scored 136 runs in Pakistan’s first innings against England
  • Australia’s Marnus Labuschagne secures top spot in Test batter’s ranking

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s all-format captain Babar Azam on Wednesday reclaimed the third spot in the ICC Men’s Test Batting Rankings, according to the International Cricket Council (ICC).

Azam, widely regarded as one of the best batters in international cricket today, is currently ranked at number 1 and number 4 on ICC’s ODI and T20I batters rankings. According to the latest update to the ICC rankings released on Wednesday, Azam reclaimed the number three spot he had lost with 879 points.

He scored an impressive 136 runs against England in Rawalpindi during the first Test match between Pakistan and England. However, Azam was unable to hold off the English bowling onslaught in the second innings, succumbing to 4 runs from 5 balls off a Ben Stokes delivery.

Pakistan ended up losing the match by 74 runs, earning flak from cricket analysts and pundits for their defensive approach. Stokes and the English side, on the other hand, won praise for playing attacking cricket and forcing a result out of a Test match that was headed for a certain draw.

Azam will have a chance to further move up the rankings as Pakistan take on England again in the second Test match of the series. The match will be played in Multan from December 9-13.

Meanwhile, Australia’s Marnus Lasbuschagne removed Joe Root to claim the top spot in the ICC’s Test Batter rankings.

Labuschagne registered scores of 204 and 104* against the West Indies during the first Test in Perth and that helped him take the top ranking and rise to a total of 935 rating points.

Currently, Australia’s Steven Smith is placed at number 2 with 893 points, followed by Azam with 879 points.  

Pakistan Supreme Court orders government to form new investigation team on journalist's assassination

Updated 30 min 2 sec ago

Pakistan Supreme Court orders government to form new investigation team on journalist's assassination

  • Fact-finding report says Arshad Sharif was forced to leave Pakistan, UAE after his relations suffered with military
  • The document says role of transnational characters is suspected behind the journalist’s assassination in Kenya

KARACHI: Pakistan’s top court on Wednesday directed the federal government to constitute a new joint investigation team (JIT) to probe the assassination of journalist Arshad Sharif which, according to a fact-finding team (FFT), was the work of transnational individuals.

Sharif, a prominent Pakistani journalist who turned into a harsh critic of the incumbent government and the country’s military, was shot and killed by the police in the East African state of Kenya on October 23. The authorities in Nairobi described the incident as a case of “mistaken identity,” adding it took place when the journalist’s vehicle sped up and drove through a checkpoint.

The federal government constituted a five-member JIT to probe the murder a day after the first information report (FIR) was registered by the Islamabad police on the Supreme Court’s instructions on Tuesday. The FIR was lodged against three people, Waqar Ahmed, Khurram Ahmed and Tariq Wasi, who are suspected to have played a role in Sharif’s killing.

“The federal government should immediately constitute a new joint investigation team,” Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial said while hearing the suo moto case related to the matter. “The court wants an independent team to probe this case.”

Justice Bandial said the new team should include officials belonging to the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Intelligence Bureau (IB), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and police. He argued the court had not constituted a judicial commission as demanded by Sharif’s family since it was a criminal case.

The slain journalist’s mother, who attended the proceedings along with her daughter-in-law, told the court the fact-finding report had recorded how her son was forced to leave Pakistan and then pressured to move out of Dubai.
The court proceedings would resume tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the fact-finding team’s report seen by Arab News said the role of transnational characters in Kenya, Dubai and Pakistan could not be ruled out in the assassination.

“Both the members of the FFT have a considered understanding that it is a case of planned targeted assassination with transnational characters rather than a case of mistaken Identity,” the report said.

The team noted there were compelling reasons for Sharif to leave Pakistan, adding that criminal cases registered against him in different districts were most likely the reason why he was also asked to leave by the UAE authorities.

“The four GSU [General Service Unit] police officials [in Kenya] ... had been used as instruments in this case under any influence, either financial or some other compulsion,” the report said, adding that Waqar, who hosted Sharif, was connected to the National Intelligence Service (NIS) of Kenya and international intelligence agencies and police.

His brother, Khurram, was driving Sharif back to Nairobi when the shooting incident took place.

The fact-finding team said the role of Tariq Wasi was also dubious.

“Since he was the one who was directly linked with Waqar and who arranged for Arshad Sharif to be hosted by Waqar in Kenya, if indeed the case has a transnational angle, then Tariq Wasi would also become a key lynchpin for anybody wanting to murder Arshad Sharif,” the report added.

The document noted Sharif was widely considered throughout the journalistic community in Pakistan as a “pro-establishment journalist.” He was known to have a very positive relationship with the military and also developed a very close relationship with former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.

The report said the slain journalist became critical of “the military’s stance” following the no-trust motion against Khan which resulted in the change of government in the country.

“That criticism became sharper and sharper and, in some cases, came out in very personal terms against certain individuals,” it maintained. “This created a rift with the institution.”

The document further said Sharif was struggling to reconcile his previous closeness to the military with his new anti-establishment stance, adding he was conducting a dialogue “either internally or with someone else.”

Barrister Shoaib Razzaq, Sharif’s lawyer and friend, confirmed to the fact-finding team that 16 cases had been registered against the slain journalist who left Pakistan due to the fear of being arrested. He added that some of these cases were brought against Sharif on the behest of a serving brigadier since the two developed a bad relationship after the downfall of Khan’s administration.

Pakistan’s military has so far not responded to the claim.

Pakistan’s chief election commissioner says in favor of using technology for voting

Updated 07 December 2022

Pakistan’s chief election commissioner says in favor of using technology for voting

  • Sikandar Sultan Raja maintains electronic voting machines should be easy to use and ensure secrecy of vote
  • The chief election commissioner says all political stakeholders should have concensus on the voting devices

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s top election official said on Wednesday he was in favor of using technology to strengthen the polling process in the country, though he added that such a shift should help fulfil certain basic requirements to ensure transparent voting exercise.

The country’s previous administration of former prime minister Imran Khan sanctioned the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in February, though its political rivals resisted the move and vowed to challenge it in the country’s top court.

Pakistan’s election regulatory authority also opposed the introduction of EVMs on technical grounds while pointing out that their potential for misuse and tampering was too high.

However, Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja told a gathering in Islamabad that his institution was not against EVMs and had taken steps to ensure electoral transparency under his tenure.

“The election commission supports the use of technology in the electoral process,” Radio Pakistan quoted him as saying while addressing an event to mark National Voters’ Day. “But the technology should be such on which all the stakeholders have consensus.”

He added the devices used for voting purposes should help people exercise their right to franchise easily while ensuring secrecy of vote.

“We have not opposed the EVMs or the voting right of overseas Pakistanis, but there should be a method for this,” he continued. “We cannot make general elections controversial in haste.”

Raja said the election commission had tried to make sure that the code of conduct for electoral process was duly implemented by taking action against violators across the board.

He noted that his institution was also serious about holding local bodies polls.

Battered Pakistan seek livelier pitch in 2nd Test against England

Updated 07 December 2022

Battered Pakistan seek livelier pitch in 2nd Test against England

  • Pakistan lost the first Test by 74 runs after England benefited from batting depth on a dead Rawalpindi wicket
  • Despite not hosting a Test match for 16 years, the pitch in Multan is expected to provide more spin to bowlers

MULTAN: Pakistan hope to get more life from the pitch when they take on England in the second Test in Multan starting Friday.

England took full advantage of winning the toss — and their batting depth — to win the first Test by 74 runs Monday on a dead Rawalpindi wicket that offered nothing to the bowlers.

Multan, however, despite not hosting a Test match for 16 years, could provide more spin if recent domestic matches are anything to go by.

Pakistan skipper Babar Azam, who scored a century in Pakistan’s first innings in Rawalpindi, said he wanted something more lively.

“We wanted a spin pitch (in Rawalpindi),” he told reporters.

“I gave my input ... but unfortunately it was not what we planned.”

Rawalpindi yielded 1,768 runs in four innings — the third most in Test history — with seven individual centuries and five 50s.

But Multan helped spinners in the last first class match played there, with former Test spinner Yasir Shah taking five wickets in each innings.

Still, leg-spinner Zahid Mahmood — who conceded a whopping 319 runs for his six wickets in the first test — may get the axe from the Pakistan selectors.

Mohammad Nawaz and the uncapped Abrar Ahmed are vying for his spot.

Fast bowler Hasan Ali will likely fill in for the injured Haris Rauf, himself a replacement for world-class pacer Shaheen Shah Afridi, who is out of the series.

England will also make an injury change, with wicketkeeper-batter Ben Foakes likely coming in for Liam Livingstone, who is heading home for treatment on his knee.

Regardless of the Multan surface, England skipper Ben Stokes has promised no end to “Bazball,” the brand of aggressive cricket coined from the nickname of head coach Brendon McCullum.

“We’re going to play to win every game,” he said after Monday’s win — the seventh in eight Tests since the McCullum-Stokes partnership took over in May.

“It’s not always going to work, but if you’re brave enough and willing enough to go out and play in that way, if you lose a game, it’s still going to be entertaining.”

The weather could also be a factor.

Provincial authorities have issued a fog alert for the next few days, which could eat into playing time.

Teams (from):

Pakistan: Babar Azam (captain), Mohammad Rizwan, Imam-ul-Haq, Abdullah Shafique, Azhar Ali, Mohammad Ali, Faheem Ashraf, Mohammad Nawaz, Nauman Ali, Saud Shakeel, Zahid Mahmood, Mohammad Wasim Junior, Naseem Shah, Agha Salman, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Abrar Ahmed, Shan Masood

England:: Ben Stokes (captain), James Anderson, Harry Brook, Zak Crawley, Ben Duckett, Ben Foakes, Will Jacks, Keaton Jennings, Jack Leach, Jamie Overton, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson, Joe Root, Mark Wood, Rehan Ahmed

Umpires: Marais Erasmus (RSA) and Aleem Dar (PAK)

Tv umpire: Joel Wilson (WIS)

Punjab schools get three-day weekend due to smog, private offices to close two days a week

Updated 07 December 2022

Punjab schools get three-day weekend due to smog, private offices to close two days a week

  • Lahore regularly ranks at top of IQAir AirVisual’s live pollution rankings of major global cities
  • As of November 2019, Pakistani authorities still don’t publish real-time PM2.5 air quality data

ISLAMABAD: Amid ‘calamitous’ levels of smog in Punjab province, the government has announced the closure of schools three days a week and of private offices two days a week, the provincial administration said in separate notifications on Wednesday.

The latest ranking showed the PM2.5 concentration in Lahore, the capital of Punjab, at 36.9 times the WHO annual air quality guideline value. PM2.5 is lung-damaging particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns.

Lahore, which is frequently described as the cultural capital of Pakistan, faces heavy smog in the winter months as farmers burn the stubble of harvested crops before planting new ones.

“It is notified that owing to prevailing SMOG condition, all Public & Private Schools in District Lahore shall remain closed on every Friday & Saturday, in addition to the weekly holiday on Sunday till further orders,” a notification released by the provincial education department said.

A separate notification by the Punjab Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) said private businesses would remain closed two days a week in favor of “work from home.”

The Lahore High Court had on Tuesday ordered the government to notify the closure of schools in the provincial capital for at least three days a week and of private offices two days a week. Justice Shahid Karim of the LHC passed the order while hearing public interest petitions.

Punjab chief minister, Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, has described the smog situation as a “calamity” and instructed the environmental protection department to address its causes. He also announced his administration’s decision to act against farmers who burn crop stubble, which is an illegal practice in the province.

Lahore suffers from high levels of air pollution, with the city regularly ranking at the top of IQAir AirVisual’s live pollution rankings of major global cities. However, pollution only became a public issue in early 2017, when actionable air quality data was published for the first time in Pakistan.

In the absence of publicly available government data, a network of citizen-operated sensors began to monitor PM2.5 and report data in real-time. The data laid bare Lahore’s high levels of air pollution, shocking the public and becoming a media talking point for the first time.

The resulting publicity led to a public interest petition to review the government’s response to the smog crisis, which was heard at the Lahore High Court in November 2017. The court ordered authorities to prepare an updated smog response action plan, and publish daily pollution updates until it was able to publish hourly updates, as the non-government monitors do.

Following the court order, the Punjab Environment Protection Council approved a Smog Action Plan and adopted an Air Quality Index (AQI) classification system in 2017. However, the AQI has been criticized by air quality advocates as being too lax and underreporting the severity of the pollution.

As of November 2019, Pakistani authorities still don’t publish any real-time PM2.5 air quality data. All data come from non-government sensors and the US State Department. The US Embassy in Islamabad, and the three US Consulates in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar began monitoring and publishing real-time PM2.5 data online in the first half of 2019.

Air quality in Lahore usually worsens during the winter season from October to February when farmers in the wider Punjab province set light to the remnants of crops, producing smoke that adds to smog. At the same time, weather changes mean pollutants remain trapped in the air for longer.

Air pollution in Lahore is also caused by a combination of vehicle and industrial emissions, smoke from brick kilns, the burning of crop residue and general waste, and dust from construction sites. Other factors of air pollution include large scale losses of trees to build new roads and buildings.

Winter air pollution is worse due to temperature inversion, which results in a layer of warm air that is prevented from rising trapping air pollutants.