Normalcy returns to Pakistani capital as ex-PM Khan calls off protest

Pakistan's ousted prime minister Imran Khan (C) waves at his party supporters during a rally in Islamabad on May 26, 2022. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 26 May 2022

Normalcy returns to Pakistani capital as ex-PM Khan calls off protest

  • Khan addresses rally on Jinnah Avenue after day of clashes between demonstrators and police, arrests of hundreds of supporters
  • Khan had urged supporters to march on Islamabad, stay there until government dissolved, date for fresh elections announced

ISLAMABAD: Normalcy resumed in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, on Thursday after ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan called off a protest march in the federal capital, giving the government six days to dissolve assemblies and announce fresh elections.

On Thursday morning, thousands of supporters of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party who had gathered at D-Chowk in front of the parliament house, arriving from different parts of the country especially the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab provinces, dispersed peacefully following Khan’s address to a charged crowd. 

This followed a long day of political drama that included clashes between demonstrators and police, and the arrests of hundreds of Khan supporters across the country.

“We are leaving for our homes now, but will come back again on Khan’s call to topple the government,” Hassan Shirazi, a demonstrator from Pakpattan city, told Arab News.

Shortly after the protest ended, the Islamabad district administration started removing shipping containers to unblock all roads in the federal capital and adjoining Rawalpindi city. Police and other law enforcement personnel requisitioned from other provinces were also seen packing up and boarding buses to go back to their stations.

The administration also reopened Jinnah Avenue, the main protest venue, and all other roads in Islamabad, including Srinagar Highway and Islamabad Expressway. The main Murree Road in Rawalpindi has also been reopened for both sides of traffic, according to Islamabad Traffic Police.

Entry into the Red Zone, which houses important buildings like parliament and the Supreme Court, is however still restricted and allowed from Margalla Road only.

Meanwhile, the federal government has filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking contempt of court proceedings against Khan for what it says was a violation of the apex court’s directions.

The Supreme Court had on Wednesday ordered the federal government and the PTI to constitute negotiating committees and meet at 10pm to finalize modalities for the peaceful and safe conduct of Khan’s long march to the capital. However, negotiations were not held as both sides claimed the other’s representatives did not show up.

The court had also ordered the government to designate a spot in H-9 where the protesters could rally. However, protesters converged at D-Chowk instead and Khan held his rally on Jinnah Avenue. 

Pakistani police fired teargas, baton-charged and detained supporters of Khan on Wednesday to stop them from reaching the capital to demand fresh elections. Clashes between Khan’s supporters and police were reported in multiple cities and the government called in the army to maintain law and order in the capital.

Khan, ousted in a no-confidence vote last month, had urged supporters to march on Islamabad and stay there until the new government was dissolved and a date for a fresh election announced. Khan alleges he was ousted in a foreign conspiracy orchestrated by the United States and has refused to accept the new government.

“I am giving you [government] six days, if you don’t announce elections I will come back to Islamabad again with all Pakistanis,” Khan said as he addressed a rally on Islamabad’s Jinnah Avenue before ending his protest.

“Government has tried every method to crush our Azadi [freedom] March, they used teargas on peaceful protest, our homes were raided and privacy of the homes were violated,” Khan said. “However, I have seen the nation free itself of fear of slavery.”

Khan started his anti-government march from Peshawar on Wednesday morning while the government blocked all roads leading to the federal capital and rounded up supporters. 

Khan’s supporters clashed with security forces in major cities, including the southern port city of Karachi and the eastern city of Lahore.

Videos shot by an Arab News reporter on Wednesday evening showed thousands of Khan supporters walking down the capital’s Blue Area business zone toward D-Chowk while police fired tear gas at, and baton charged, them. Supporters had lit fires all the way down the road to D-Chowk in an apparent bid to neutralize the effects of the tear gas but Islamabad police said on Twitter they had set fire to trees and vehicles.

“Police called the fire brigade. Some places were set on fire while the protesters again set the trees on the Express Chowk,” police said. “Security in the Red Zone has been beefed up,” police added, referring to an area in Islamabad where government, judiciary and legislature buildings are located.

Video clips on social media platforms also showed a burning metro station in the city surrounded by hundreds of PTI while a mob torched a prison van in Karachi after clashing with police.

Live local TV footage showed police fighting with Khan’s supporters in Lahore, beating them and in some places breaking their vehicles’ windscreens and bundling them into police vans.

Amjad Malik, an interior ministry official, told Reuters no one had been seriously injured in the clashes.

Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah later said police had carried out a total of 4,417 swoops on Khan supporters’ homes, offices and on protest rallies and had arrested nearly 1,700 people. Of those, 250 were later freed, he said.

“We haven’t stopped anyone from exercising their constitutional and legal right to hold a rally or take part in democratic politics, but we can’t allow anyone to sow violence and chaos,” Sanaullah said.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court meanwhile ordered the government and Khan’s party to negotiate on holding a peaceful public meeting in Islamabad.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said his government was trying to clear up an economic mess that he blamed Khan for.

“You’ve handed over a sinking economy to us, and now you’re planning sit-ins and protest,” Sharif said in Islamabad. “We are trying to energize this weak economy.”


In rare move, court orders ex-PM Khan aide’s police remand for another two days

Updated 11 sec ago

In rare move, court orders ex-PM Khan aide’s police remand for another two days

  • Dr. Shahbaz Gill was arrested last Tuesday over televised comments media regulator says were ‘seditious’
  • Senior PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry seeks judicial inquiry into alleged torture of Gill during police custody

ISLAMABAD: A local court in the federal capital on Wednesday remanded Dr. Shahbaz Gill, a senior Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader and former prime minister Imran Khan’s chief of staff, in police custody for two days for investigation in a sedition case.

Gill was arrested last Tuesday afternoon, a day after he made a controversial comment in a talk show aired by a private news channel, asking army officers not to follow orders of their top command if they were “against the sentiments of the masses.”

The country’s national media regulator described the statement as “seditious” and said it was tantamount of inciting revolt within the military. The regulator also issued a show-cause notice to the channel, ARY News, for airing the “illegal” content. The channel has since been off air. 

Last Friday, after Gill had been in police custody for two days, the court sent him to jail on judicial remand, rejecting a request by the police to extend the suspect’s physical remand. Islamabad Advocate General Jahangir Khan Jadoon filed a plea in the Islamabad High Court on Saturday last week challenging the order and saying the physical remand of Gill was important to help complete the investigation.

Prosecutor Raja Rizwan Abbasi on Wednesday urged the court to allow physical remand of the suspect as investigators have yet to recover his mobile phone and conduct a polygraph test. In a rare move, the court accepted the demand for another round of police remand. 

“We are yet to investigate the person who approved the script [of what Gill said on TV show],” Abbasi told district and session judge Zeba Chaudhry during the hearing.

Gill’s counsel Barrister Salman Safdar opposed the prosecution’s plea for physical remand and said he had already faced torture by police last week.

“Shahbaz Gill has been tortured in police custody,” Safdar said, referring to a previous period of physical remand, adding that Gill was blindfolded when subjected to torture: “Even his private parts were tortured in custody.”

After hearing arguments from both the sides, the judge first reserved the verdict and later announced that Gill should be handed over to police on physical remand for 48 hours.

Meanwhile, senior PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry called for an independent inquiry.

“A judicial inquiry should be conducted and an independent board should be constituted on which both Shahbaz Gill and prosecution have the trust,” he told reporters.

PTI chairman Imran Khan wrote on Twitter he was “very concerned about Shahbaz Gill being sent into police remand again.”

“He is in a fragile state of mental & physical health because of the torture inflicted on him when he was abducted & taken to undisclosed location & then again at the police station,” Khan said.


Pakistan to host ten international cricket teams over next 4 years

Updated 37 min 4 sec ago

Pakistan to host ten international cricket teams over next 4 years

  • Cricket-obsessed Pakistan will also host Asia Cup and Champions Trophy during this period
  • Pakistan has struggled to convince international players to visit since attack on Sri Lanka team in 2009

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will host ten test playing nations between 2023 and 2027, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) said on Wednesday as it unveiled the country’s cricketing schedule under the next Future Tours Programme.

International cricket teams stopped visiting Pakistan after a 2009 attack on Sri Lankan players in Lahore and Pakistan hosted most bilateral international series in the UAE.

However, international matches partially resumed in May 2015, when Zimbabwe toured the South Asian country, followed by other international teams. 

Early this year, the Australian team visited Pakistan in February for their first cricket tour in nearly 24 years and later West Indies played three one day matches in Pakistan in June.

“The PCB has scheduled around 238 days of international cricket during the four-year period comprising 27 ICC World Test Championship fixtures (13 home and 14 away), 47 One-Day Internationals (26 home and 21 home) and 56 Twenty20 Internationals (27 home and 29 away),” PCB said in a statement.

“Pakistan’s FTP 2023-2027 reflects that it will play hosts to 10 out of 12 ICC Full Member nations for the first time in more than two decades.”

Pakistan will also host major cricket events like the Asia Cup and Champions Trophy. 

“Pakistan will host the Asia Cup 2023 and triangular series in February 2025 in the lead up to the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023 and the ICC Champions Trophy 2025, respectively, it will play 11 T20Is against the Netherlands, Ireland and England in the build up to the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2024, which will be jointly hosted by the United States and the West Indies,” PCB said.

“I am sure that our cricket fans will be delighted to know that top-ranked and attractive sides such as Bangladesh, England, New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka and the West Indies will visit Pakistan to compete in matches for the ICC World Test Championship,” PCB Chief Executive Faisal Hasnain said.


Pakistan fulfills another FATF condition, makes currency declaration mandatory for air travelers

Updated 17 August 2022

Pakistan fulfills another FATF condition, makes currency declaration mandatory for air travelers

  • No passenger will be able to board a flight or leave the airport without submitting the declaration form
  • The global financial watchdog praised Pakistan for implementing its recommendations in its last meeting

ISLAMABAD: The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) of Pakistan has made it mandatory for all incoming and outgoing passengers to fill out a currency declaration form, said an official statement on Tuesday, to meet yet another requirement of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
Pakistan has been on the international watchdog’s “grey list” of countries since 2018 due to inadequate controls over money laundering and terrorism financing.
However, the country moved closer to exiting the list in recent months after implementing FATF recommendations to strengthen its financial system.
The Paris-based international watchdog also praised Pakistani officials for making substantial progress while saying its team would soon carry out an onsite visit of the country.
The CAA notification on Tuesday said no passenger would be allowed to board a flight or leave the airport without submitting the declaration.
“For inbound flights, airlines are required to ensure in-flight announcement by the flight crew for every inbound flight for submission of subject declaration wherein the passengers will mention the currency under the regulatory requirement of FATF,” the notification informed.
“The said declaration will be deposited at the customs counter before the immigration desk at international arrival,” it added.
The CAA said airline staff and travel agents should provide a copy of the declaration form to all potential passengers who intend to be on an outbound flight while booking their tickets.
“At check-in counters, airlines are directed to issue boarding pass only once the passenger has deposited the declaration with the them,” the notification added.


Pakistan's finance minister criticizes manufacturers for importing parts instead of building them

Updated 54 min 11 sec ago

Pakistan's finance minister criticizes manufacturers for importing parts instead of building them

  • Miftah Ismail says cellphone manufacturers were only adding five percent value to their products
  • He points out that automobile manufacturers had not exported cars to lucrative destinations in 30 years

ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister for Finance and Revenue Miftah Ismail on Wednesday highlighted the structural problems of the country’s economy, saying that Pakistani companies preferred to import parts of their products instead of manufacturing them indigenously at home.

The government recently imposed a temporary ban on the import of luxury items since it was facing a massive current account deficit along with dwindling forex reserves and a rapidly depreciating currency.

The finance minister issued the statement against the same backdrop while addressing a conference of business leaders in the federal capital where he specifically mentioned the country’s cellphone and automobile manufacturers.

“We have given subsidies and 10 percent duty advantage to mobile industry to manufacture phones in Pakistan but their value addition is not more than five percent,” he said. “They get all of their parts from outside and only assemble them here. We have given double duty protection than its value addition and the same thing holds true for car manufacturing companies as well.”

Ismail noted that automobile manufacturers had been working in Pakistan for more than 30 years, but they had not exported vehicles worth a single dollar.

“Pakistani companies are selling inside the country only, though they should try to sell [their products] in rich markets of the United States, Europe and far eastern countries,” he added. “They sell locally to earn more profit because it is a protected market.”

The minister pointed out that out of Pakistan’s $30 billion exports, around $20 billion were generated by the textile sector.

“We import $80 billion worth of goods from abroad which is unsustainable,” he continued. “Our industries have to increase exports instead of only making local sales.”

Ismail also maintained that agriculture was the backbone of Pakistan’s economy, though he added it needed more innovation by adopting advanced Agri-Tech.

“My focus is to strengthen our agriculture as we have imported $450 million tons of wheat this year and more is still required,” he said.

The money spent on the import of wheat, the minister continued, could be used to support farmers and introduce latest technology in the sector.


Pakistani minister promises voting rights to overseas nationals while visiting Saudi Arabia

Updated 17 August 2022

Pakistani minister promises voting rights to overseas nationals while visiting Saudi Arabia

  • The interior minister met expats in Jeddah where he described overseas Pakistanis as country’s ‘assets’
  • The kingdom is home to the highest number of Pakistanis living abroad, making it the biggest source of remittances

ISLAMABAD: Federal Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah told a group of Pakistani nationals in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday the government was finalizing the modalities of voting process for citizens living abroad ahead of the next general elections that are scheduled to take place in August next year.

The minister, who went to the kingdom to perform Umrah, met with representatives of Pakistani community in Jeddah where he described the overseas nationals as “the country’s assets.”

Saudi Arabia has the highest number of Pakistani expatriates, making it the top source of remittances for the South Asian country.

“The government will ensure that overseas Pakistanis manage to use their voting right in the coming elections,” the interior minister said, adding it was “finalizing the modalities of the voting procedure.”

Pakistan’s ruling coalition revoked the voting right of overseas Pakistanis in May by passing the Election Amendment Bill, 2022, which also prevented the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in general elections.

The country’s ousted prime minister Imran Khan’s administration sanctioned the use of EVMs during a joint parliamentary sitting in February, though its political rivals resisted the move and vowed to challenge it in the country’s top court.

“Overseas Pakistanis are our best national asset,” Sanaullah said. “Their remittances are key for the economic stability [of the country].”

Discussing the Pak-Saudi ties, the minister said the kingdom had always helped Pakistan in the most difficult of situations.

“We are grateful to the Saudi government for providing employment opportunities to Pakistani workers and professionals,” he added.