Pakistan army says has no role in decision on early elections — military spokesman

Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) director general Maj. Gen. Babar Iftikhar speaks during a press conference at the Pakistan Army headquarters in Rawalpindi on Feb. 27, 2020. (Photo courtesy: ISPR/File)
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Updated 13 May 2022

Pakistan army says has no role in decision on early elections — military spokesman

  • Military-civilian discord has been the source of tension throughout Pakistan’s history
  • Army denies it interferes in politics, says doesn’t want to be dragged into political discourse

ISLAMABAD: The head of the army’s media wing, Major General Babar Iftikhar, said on Thursday Pakistan’s political leadership had to make a decision on whether to hold early elections, adding that the military had no role in the matter.

Former Prime Minister Imran Khan was ousted from power in a no-confidence vote last month and Shehbaz Sharif was voted in as the new premier by parliament. Khan has since been calling for the announcement of immediate elections, and the debate on when polls would be held has dominated the country’s politics.

The election commission has said it needs until at least October to be prepared to hold elections. Elections are scheduled to be held in October 2023.

“Politicians have to make the decision on early elections, army has no role in this,” Iftikhar said during a TV interview on Dunya News when questioned about what role, if any, the army could play in ensuring early polls. “Pakistan’s senior political leadership, they have the status and the capability that they can sit together and talk about this in a better way.”

“Whenever the army has been called into a political issue or the army has intervened, it has always become controversial,” Iftikhar added. “So, that’s why the leadership of the army has decided that we will go to every limit to keep ourselves away from political matters.”

He said if the army was needed “in the conduct of elections,” it could be called in by the election commission to provide security.

Military-civilian discord has been the source of tension throughout Pakistani history. The army has ruled Pakistan for nearly half its 72-year history.

In a statement released on Thursday evening, the military called out senior politicians for what it called “imprudent” remarks about the institution and a top officer, Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed, the current corps commander in Peshawar and a former chief of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency.

The statement from the army, the second in just days cautioning politicians against dragging the military in politics, came in the wake of public remarks about Hameed by senior politicians, including former president and Pakistan Peoples Party leader Asif Ali Zardari, and ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party senior leader Maryam Nawaz Sharif.

“Peshawar Corps is an illustrious formation of Pakistan Army spearheading national war against terrorism for over two decades . One of the most competent and professional officers is entrusted with the responsibility to lead this prestigious formation,” the Pakistan army’s media wing said in a statement.

“Imprudent comments made by important senior politicians recently about Corps Commander Peshawar are very inappropriate. Such statements undermine the honor and morale of institution and its leadership.”

The military said it expected senior politicians to refrain from passing “objectionable remarks” against the army and its officers.

Hameed has variously been in the limelight in recent years, and was widely believed to have had a close relationship with ex-PM Imran Khan.


Officers from Bahrain, Palestine and Qatar graduate from Pakistan Naval Academy

Updated 54 min 8 sec ago

Officers from Bahrain, Palestine and Qatar graduate from Pakistan Naval Academy

  • Since its establishment in 1947, Pakistan Naval Academy has trained 2,000 officers from friendly countries, including many from the Middle East
  • Among four graduates who received distinction from Pakistani PM was one officer from Bahrain

ISLAMABAD: Nineteen cadets from Bahrain, Palestine and Qatar were among the midshipmen who completed the Pakistan Naval Academy’s 117th course on Saturday, the Pakistan Navy said, as Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif presented awards to the best graduates.

Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, (center front), with midshipmen who completed the Pakistan Naval Academy’s 117th course in Karachi on June 25, 2022. (Photo courtesy: Pakistan Navy)

The Pakistan Naval Academy, located in Manora Island, Sindh province, provides initial training to officers of the Pakistan Navy and since its establishment in 1947 has also trained some 2,000 officers from friendly countries, including many from the Middle East. 

“The commissioning contingent comprised of 23 Midshipmen including 4 from Pakistan, 14 from Bahrain Defence Forces, 3 from State of Palestine, 2 from Qatar along with 19 officers from SSC (Short Service Commission) Course,” the Navy said in a statement.

“While addressing at the ceremony, Prime Minister congratulated the commissioning term for successful completion of training and highlighted the modern warfare dynamics, while underlining challenges of responsibility for newly commissioned officers.”

Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif awarding Academy Dirk to the best midshipman during the 117th midshipman and 25th SSC commissioning parade at Pakistan Naval Academy Manora in Karachi on June 25, 2022. (Photo courtesy: Pakistan Navy)

The ceremony was attended by senior civil and military officials, as well as the cadets’ parents.

Among the four graduates who received distinction from the prime minister was one officer from Bahrain.

“The prestigious Quaid-i-Azam Gold Medal was awarded to Lt Syed Irtaza Haider Naqvi for his Overall Best Performance. Midshipman Adnan M Ebrahim Jasim Bader (Bahrain) clinched the Academy's Dirk,” the Navy said.

“Officer Cadet Naufil Malik was awarded Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Gold Medal, while Commandant Gold Medal was awarded to Officer Cadet Sumayya Sajjad from Short Service Commission Course. The Proficiency Banner was awarded to Quarter Deck Squadron.”


Pakistan plane carrying aid joins Afghan quake relief effort

Updated 57 min 16 sec ago

Pakistan plane carrying aid joins Afghan quake relief effort

  • Thousands were left homeless or injured by this week’s powerful earthquake in eastern Afghanistan
  • UN representative says among the 1,150 dead from Wednesday’s magnitude-6 quake are 121 children

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani military cargo plane carrying relief goods for Afghanistan’s earthquake-affected people landed at the Khost airport Saturday, officials said, as tents, food and medical supplies rolled into the mountainous region. 

Thousands were left homeless or injured by this week’s powerful earthquake in eastern Afghanistan, which state media said killed 1,150 people. An aftershock Friday took five more lives. 

Among the dead from Wednesday’s magnitude 6 quake are 121 children and that figure is expected to climb, said the U.N. children's agency representative in Afghanistan. He said close to 70 children were injured. 

Mansoor Ahmad Khan, Pakistan’s ambassador in the Afghan capital of Kabul, said relief goods dispatched by Pakistan on Saturday were handed over to Taliban officials. 

Earlier, Pakistan’s government and a Pakistani charity had sent 13 trucks carrying food, tents, life-saving medicines and other essential items to Afghanistan. 

A 19-member team from the neighboring country comprised of physicians and paramedics has been helping Afghanistan’s Taliban-run government in Khost, providing medical treatment for those injured in Wednesday’s earthquake. 

The quake struck a remote, deeply impoverished region of small towns and villages tucked among rough mountains near the Pakistani border, collapsing stone and mud-brick homes and in some cases killing entire families. Nearly 3,000 homes were destroyed or badly damaged in Paktika and Khost provinces, state media reported. 

Officials said Pakistan has opened its border in the northwest to transport critically injured Afghans to hospitals in Pakistan. But it was unclear how many Afghans have arrived in Pakistan’s northwest from the quake-affected areas for medical treatment. 

Pakistan and Afghan Taliban officials pose for a photo in front of C-130, Pakistani aircraft carrying relief goods for Afghanistan's earthquake victims in Khost, Afghanistan on June 25, 2022. (@ambmansoorkhan/Twitter) 

Overstretched aid agencies said the disaster underscored the need for the international community to rethink its financial cut-off of Afghanistan since Taliban insurgents seized the country 10 months ago. That policy, halting billions in development aid and freezing vital reserves, has helped push the economy into collapse and plunge Afghanistan deeper into humanitarian crises and near famine. The effort to help the victims has been slowed both by geography and by Afghanistan’s decimated condition. 

Rutted roads through the mountains, already slow to drive on, were made worse by quake damage and rain. The International Red Cross has five hospitals in the region, but damage to the roads made it difficult for those in the worse-hit areas to reach them, said Lucien Christen, ICRC spokesman in Afghanistan. 

Also on Saturday, an Afghan military chopper transported food and other necessities to people in Gayan district in Paktika province. Dozens of men and children gathered in an open area under the hot sun to wait for food, water and tents from the Afghan Red Crescent. 

The aid organization said it would distribute relief items to around 1,000 families in the district, including food, tents and clothes. 


COVID-19 once again on rise in Pakistan as virus positivity soars to 3.19 percent 

Updated 25 June 2022

COVID-19 once again on rise in Pakistan as virus positivity soars to 3.19 percent 

  • Provincial authorities advised to administer booster doses to improve protection against infections 
  • Pakistan reconstituted pandemic response body after health officials detected new omicron sub-variant 

ISLAMABAD: The COVID-19 infections have once again been on the rise in Pakistan as the country reported 3.91 percent virus positivity rate on Saturday, the National Institute of Health (NIH) said. 

In late March, Pakistan disbanded the National Command and Operations Center (NCOC), which was overseeing the COVID-19 response in the country, as infection numbers were at the lowest since the start of the outbreak early in 2020. 

The South Asian country on May 23 reconstituted the NCOC at the NIH after health officials detected a new omicron sub-variant in a passenger arriving from Qatar. The new sub-variant of omicron is said to be highly infectious, though not as deadly as previous coronavirus strains. 

In the last 24 hours, health authorities conducted 13,644 tests for the virus, of which 435 came out to be positive, according to NIH figures. It constituted a 3.19 percent virus positivity ratio. 

 

 

Earlier this week, Pakistan’s Health Minister Abdul Qadir Patel presided over a meeting of the NCOC that advised all provinces and regions to administer booster doses on priority to improve protection against the virus transmission. 

“In view of the global pandemic situation, the Central Health Establishment (CHE) should strictly monitor the health status of incoming passengers at points of entry,” Patel was quoted as saying in a statement. “The CHE will be strengthened to enhance the functionality,” he added. 

The health minister stressed the need to adopt timely precautions, including social distancing and mask compliance, to avoid further spread of the virus, especially in the lead up to Eid Al-Adha. 


Pakistan reports 11th polio case of this year amid outbreak in northwest 

Updated 25 June 2022

Pakistan reports 11th polio case of this year amid outbreak in northwest 

  • All 11 cases have been reported in the northwestern North Waziristan district 
  • The outbreak is a blow to the South Asian nation’s efforts to eradicate the virus 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani health authorities on Friday confirmed the 11th case of polio virus so far this year in the country’s former Taliban stronghold in the northwest, a region bordering Afghanistan. 

The outbreak, after the first polio case of 2022 was registered in the same region in April, is a blow to the South Asian nation’s efforts to eradicate the disease, which can cause severe paralysis in children. 

All 11 cases have been reported in North Waziristan, a district in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, where parents often refuse to get their children inoculated. 

“Polio [virus] confirmed in an eight-month-old child. The child hails from Union Council 7 of Mir Ali in North Waziristan,” a spokesperson for the Pakistani health ministry said in a statement. 

“This year all cases have been reported in North Waziristan. The number of cases in Mir Ali has reached eight.” 

Pakistan’s Health Minister Abdul Qadir Patel said authorities were taking emergency measures to contain the virus, according to the statement. He urged parents to get their children administered the anti-polio vaccine. 

North Waziristan, a former tribal region, was a stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban until recently, when the military claimed to have cleared the region of militants following several wide-scale operations there. However, attacks still persist. 

Pakistan has for the past 25 years carried out regular inoculation campaigns in which health workers go door-to-door to give polio drops to children. Most of the workers are women, as they can get better access to mothers and children. The anti-polio teams are often escorted by security forces. 

So far this year, the government has carried out three nationwide anti-polio drives — in January, March and in May. During the March campaign, gunmen in northwestern Pakistan shot and killed a female polio worker as she was returning home after a day of vaccinations. And in January, gunmen shot and killed a police officer providing security for polio vaccination workers, also in the country’s northwest. 

Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only countries in the world where polio remains endemic. In 2021, Pakistan reported only one case, raising hopes it was close to eradicating polio.


Pakistan receives $2.3 billion Chinese loan to stabilize falling reserves

Updated 25 June 2022

Pakistan receives $2.3 billion Chinese loan to stabilize falling reserves

  • Islamabad still seeking to revive $6 billion International Monetary Fund loan program
  • Finance minister says the South Asian country is no longer on the path to debt default

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Friday received a $2.3 billion Chinese consortium loan that would help stabilize its dwindling foreign exchange reserves, Finance Minister Miftah Ismail confirmed, after saying the South Asian nation was no longer on the path to debt default. 

The development comes as foreign exchange reserves held by the Pakistani central bank deplete to as little as $8.2 billion — barely enough for 45 days of imports — with the Pakistani rupee at record lows against the US dollar. 

Grappling with a balance-of-payment crisis, the South Asian country is still seeking to revive a $6 billion loan program it secured from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2019. The revival of the program, which is stalled since March, will release around $1 billion to Pakistan and help unlock funding from external sources. 

The latest deposit by a Chinese consortium provides a crucial boost to Pakistan’s fast-emptying coffers. 

“I am pleased to announce that Chinese consortium loan of RMB 15 billion (roughly $2.3 billion) has been credited into SBP (State Bank of Pakistan) account today, increasing our foreign exchange reserves,” Ismail said on Twitter. 

Pakistan entered the 39-month, $6 billion IMF program in 2019, but less than half its size has been disbursed as Islamabad struggled to achieve the targets. 

On Friday, the government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif announced a one-year, 10 percent tax on large-scale industries to raise over 400 billion Pakistani rupees ($1.93 billion), in a bid to unlock $1 billion IMF tranche to avert the economic crisis. 

Pakistan is expected to receive an updated memorandum on macroeconomic and financial targets from the IMF soon, which would pave the way for the disbursement of the $1 billion installment. 

In a parliamentary session to wind up the budget debate on Friday, Ismail said the country was not going to default on international debt, but was instead on the “path to progress” due to the tough economic decisions taken by the government. 

On June 10, Pakistan set a revenue target of Rs7 trillion ($34.6 billion), a 17 percent rise on a year-on-year basis, in a Rs9.5 trillion ($47 billion) budget it unveiled for the next fiscal year. 

Ismail said the 10 percent super tax on large-scale companies would increase the revenue by Rs470 billion ($2.2 billion). 

“We have taken tough decisions,” the finance minister said. “The IMF program is essential to shield the country from default.” 

He said the current account deficit in the ongoing fiscal year could reach around $17 billion, adding the meagre foreign exchange reserves held by Pakistan could not sustain this deficit. 

To achieve revenue targets, Ismail said the government had also decided to bring at least 2.5 million out of 9 million retail shops in the tax net through a fixed tax. 

He said there were around 30,000 gold shops but only 22 of them were registered with the government, adding they would be charged a fixed income and sales tax of Rs40,000. 

“This tax is on their income and not expenses and that is why it will not increase inflation, rather help boost the revenue,” the finance minister added.