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 Karachi, 104-year-old migrant from India recalls potent memories of a violent partition

Updated 10 min 53 sec ago

In Karachi, 104-year-old migrant from India recalls potent memories of a violent partition

  • Muhammad Akram Khan’s family swapped an affluent life for an uncertain future in Pakistan in 1947
  • Khan got his passport made a few years ago but the dream to travel back to India could not come true

KARACHI: With six metal suitcases, three filled with gold and three with clothes, the family of Muhammad Akram Khan fled Jabalpur in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh for newly created Pakistan in 1947, leaving without saying goodbye even to best friends and forsaking a sprawling home and a vast business for an uncertain future in Karachi.

In this undated photo, Muhammad Akram Khan, 104-year-old migrant, photographed with the children in his family in his hometown, Jabalpur in India. (AN photo)

Khan’s family was among the millions whose lives were thrown into turmoil by the partition of colonial India into two states, mainly Hindu India and mostly Muslim Pakistan, when British rule ended in 1947.

One of the biggest mass migrations in history was marred by violence and bloodshed as about 15 million Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs swapped countries in a political upheaval that cost more than a million lives.

Muhammad Akram Khan, a 104-year-old transporter who migrated from Jabalpur in India after the independence of Pakistan 75 years ago, shares with Arab News his story of partition at Frere Hall, Karachi on August 2, 2022. (AN photo)

Before partition, Khan, now 104 years old, recalled that his family lived in harmony with Hindu neighbours and the young man’s best friend was a neighbour called Shankar Lal. But in the months running up to the partition of India on August 14, Khan said he began to feel unsafe and started convincing his reluctant father to leave for Pakistan.

“I’m alive today but tomorrow they’ll kill me,” he said, quoting his words to his father. “All young men will be killed if we don’t leave.”

When the family eventually left, they took the route of Khokhrapar, a border town situated in Tharparkar District in Sindh, considering it safer compared to Punjab province where much of the violence was taking place. With death looming over him, Khan walked for miles and miles with his family, often carrying his disabled mother on his shoulders, until they made it safely to the other side. 

The Sikh personnel who checked the family’s luggage at the border were kind, he said, and the Sikh and Hindus they met along the way, who were en route India, also didn’t show hate.

But the ordeal didn’t end there.

Muhammad Akram Khan, a 104-year-old migrant, chats with his sons and grandchildren in Karachi, Pakistan, on August 2, 2022. (AN photo)

In Pakistan “there was no shade,” Khan said, and his family had to wait a whole day to catch a train to Karachi. At first, the family lived in a small house owned by a relative, before moving to a shanty for several years. Finally, at a cost of Rs2,400, the government allotted them two small quarters in Karachi's Korangi area.

Muhammad Akram Khan, a 104-year-old transporter who migrated from Jabalpur in India after the independence of Pakistan 75 years ago, shares with Arab News his story of partition at Frere Hall, Karachi on August 2, 2022. (AN photo)

It took Khan a few months to grasp the new reality of his life, but he ultimately resumed the scrap business after selling the 12 kilograms of gold the family had brought with them from Madhya Pradesh and eventually bought cycle-rickshaws to launch a transportation business.

“I earned and built bungalows,” Khan said, smiling. “I have constructed 25 to 30 houses, all through my hard work.”

The centenarian said he had lived a full life, tying the knot four times.

“Now at my home there are 200 people,” he said smiling. His eldest daughter is in her 90s and youngest is 14 years old.  

Though he does not regret his decision to migrate to Pakistan, Khan said he was distressed by the country’s ever worsening economic situation.

“We dreamt of a great Pakistan,” he said. “We wanted young people to be honest, hardworking and respectful toward their parents and country.”

Khan got his passport a few decades ago and had a strong urge to return to Jabalpur to meet old friends. The dream of traveling back to India, however, has not come true.

“I don’t think I will be able to go now since my eyes don’t open,” he said, wistfully. “In any case, who am I going to meet there after so much time has passed?”


Norwegian woman climber on track to break 'super peaks' record

Updated 45 min 25 sec ago

Norwegian woman climber on track to break 'super peaks' record

  • Kristin Harila successfully summit Pakistan's Gasherbrum I on Thursday  
  • Pakistan has enjoyed a record-breaking climbing season this year

ISLAMABAD: Norwegian climber Kristin Harila has just three mountains left in her bid to climb the world's 14 "super peaks" in record time after successfully summiting Pakistan's Gasherbrum I, officials said Thursday.
Nepali Nirmal Purja holds the record for climbing the world's 8,000 meter-plus (26,000 feet) mountains -- six months and six days -- but Harila now has until early November to complete her quest and beat his time.
Harila's latest successful summit was reported on her official social media pages and confirmed by Karrar Hadri, secretary of Pakistan's Alpine Club.
"The second phase in Pakistan was very challenging and dangerous: ever-changing weather conditions, being hit by a rock, illness and a very tight schedule," read a message on Harila's Instagram page.
"But here we are with only three peaks left."
Five of the 14 super peaks are in Pakistan -- including K2, the world's second highest mountain -- and the country has enjoyed a record-breaking climbing season this year.
Sajid Hussain, head of the tourism department in Gilgit Baltistan, told AFP they had issued about 1,780 permits for the top peaks.
"It has boosted our tourism and has increased our foreign exchange," he said.
Only around 40 people in history have summited all 14 of the super peaks, but none have come close to Purja's 2019 expedition.
He demolished the previous record for accomplishing the feat with supplemental oxygen, set by Poland's Jerzy Kukuczka in the 1980s at seven years, 11 months and 14 days.
In an interview with AFP earlier this year, 36-year-old Harila said she was inspired to show women were as capable as men of achieving great mountaineering feats.
"In history and until now, it has been the strong macho men going out climbing mountains," she said.
"When I talk to people that are not in this sport, they believe that men are more capable than women... If we are going to change, we need to get attention and show that women are just as capable."
The three remaining mountains for Harila are Cho Oyu (sixth highest, in Nepal/China), Manaslu (eighth, Nepal) and Shishapangma (14th, China). 


Government in Pakistan’s northwest takes note of Taliban resurgence, pledges to ensure writ of state

Updated 11 August 2022

Government in Pakistan’s northwest takes note of Taliban resurgence, pledges to ensure writ of state

  • Swat Valley was a former Pakistan Taliban bastion seized by Pakistan’s army in a major offensive in 2009
  • This week saw widespread reports of the return of the Pakistani Taliban to Swat and parts of Waziristan

PESHAWAR: A spokesperson for the government of Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province said on Thursday the local administration had taken notice of a protest against reports of the return of a banned militant outfit to the area, ensuring the public that the government would ensure it write.

Swat Valley was a former Pakistan Taliban bastion seized by Pakistan’s army in a major offensive in 2009. During a reign of terror under the Taliban before the military operation, militants decapitated people and tied the heads to the victim’s feet. Bodies were left hanging by telephone poles and for days no one was allowed to take them down for burial.

This week, there have been widespread reports of the return of the Pakistani Taliban, also known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, to Swat and parts of Waziristan.

“The provincial government has already taken notice following a security incident in Swat and a sit-in by tribesmen in the country’s restive North Waziristan tribal district,” KP government spokesman Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif told Arab News on Thursday.

“The province’s top police officer, district administration and security officials are in Swat to address reservations of people regarding the presence of some armed men in remote mountains. We’ll ensure writ of the government at every cost because our security officials have already rendered matchless sacrifices for peace there.”

The reports of the resurgence of the Taliban come as the government of Pakistan and the TTP are holding peace talks to end violence in the country, with the latest round of negotiations held last month in Kabul and mediated by the Afghan Taliban who rule Afghanistan.

The TTP, which has carried out some of the bloodiest attacks in Pakistan since 2007, is not directly affiliated with the Afghan Taliban.

Swat police spokesperson Moin Fayyaz said a search operation by Swat police was being conducted in remote areas, including Kabal and Khwazkhela, to purge the region of” miscreants” who two days ago opened fire at a police party, leaving a senior police officer wounded.

For the past several days, an unverified video has been making the rounds on social media, showing security officials, including a senior police officer, in the captivity of militants. The hostages were later released on the mediation of tribal elders in the area, according to media reports.

Zahid Khan, an elder and social worker from Swat, told Arab News the presence of militants had been observed in the Kanala and Balasoor mountainous regions of Swat, who were threatening well-off people, traders and contractors to pay extortion money.

“We’ve summoned a grand jirga on August 17 of all tribes in Mingora, the main town in Swat, in which we will develop consensus on how to deal with emerging threats posed by militancy,” Khan added.

In 2009, thousands of families in Swat were forced to flee to safer areas after authorities asked people to leave their homes following a military operation against militants there.

“We can’t afford to leave our homes again and live a refugee life in other districts. We’ll offer stout resistance against any eventuality,” Khan added.

Jamal Dawar, a tribal elder from the North Waziristan tribal district, said that a sit-in staged by thousands of tribesmen has entered its 26th day, closing all main arteries of the district including a route leading to the Pak-Afghan Ghulam Khan border.

He said the protesters were demanding security following a sharp rise in targeted killings in the restive district.

“We’re just told that a high level delegation of all political parties including government and security officials will meet the protesters in Edak, a village where the sit-in is underway, to address our prime demand of security and getting rid of targeted killings,” Dawar added.

According to a notification, a copy of which was seen by Arab News, the federal government has constituted a committee comprising senior political leaders to meet tribesmen in North Waziristan district and address their concerns.

“The formation of a committee by the federal government to meet protesters in North Waziristan is nothing but a political gimmick and political point-scoring,” the KP spokesperson said. “The provincial government is already in contact with the elders of the district to address their legitimate issues.”


PM Sharif hopes GSP+ trade status will continue for Pakistan beyond 2023

Updated 11 August 2022

PM Sharif hopes GSP+ trade status will continue for Pakistan beyond 2023

  • European Union is Pakistan’s second biggest trade partner
  • Pakistan’s GSP+ status is set to expire on December 31, 2023

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Thursday he hoped the European Union's (EU) preferential trade arrangement with Pakistan known as the GSP+ would continue beyond 2023.

Sharif was meeting with Dr. Riina Kionka, the newly appointed Ambassador of the European Union to Pakistan.

The Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) was first institutionalized in 1971 and has since been a trade and development policy instrument which allows the EU to remove duties from products exported by vulnerable developing countries.

Under the GSP+ status, designated countries get special access to the European market after making commitments to implement several international conventions on human rights, environmental protection and governance.

Pakistan’s GSP+ status is set to expire on December 31, 2023.

In a meeting with ambassador Kionka PM Sharif underlined that Pakistan attached "high importance" to its relations with the EU, as well as its historically close and cooperative bilateral ties with EU member states.

“He [PM Sharif] credited the current GSP Plus scheme with enhancing the mutually beneficial trading ties between Pakistan and EU and hoped that Pakistan would continue to be part of the arrangement beyond 2023,” a statement from the PM Office said.

The EU is Pakistan’s second biggest trade partner, accounting for 14.3 percent of the country’s total trade in 2020 and absorbing 28 percent of its total exports.

“Prime Minister expressed the confidence that the upcoming visits to Pakistan by the EU Parliamentary delegations as well as the next rounds of political and security Dialogues under EU-Pakistan Strategic Engagement Plan would pave the way for more substantive cooperation between the two sides,” the statement added.

“Dr. Riina Kionka thanked the Prime Minister for receiving her and expressed her resolve to work for further deepening of EU-Pakistan relations during her tenure in Islamabad,” the statement said. 

Last year in April, the European Parliament moved a resolution against Pakistan, seeking an immediate review of its eligibility for GSP+ status over what it called violence and discrimination against religious minorities and other vulnerable groups, as well as a crackdown on media.


Spain evacuates 294 more Afghan workers and families through Pakistan 

Updated 11 August 2022

Spain evacuates 294 more Afghan workers and families through Pakistan 

  • Group included who had worked for or helped Spanish government officials and Spanish troops 
  • Government will continue to bring former Afghan workers and their families, says Spanish foreign minister

MADRID: A plane provided by the Spanish government has brought 294 Afghan refugees via Pakistan to Spain, authorities said Thursday, bringing to 3,900 the number of people evacuated by Madrid since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan last year.

A government statement said the latest group of Afghan workers and their families flew into an air base near Madrid late Wednesday and were met by government officials, including Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister José Albares.

“This flight is further evidence that we are keeping our commitment to not leave anyone behind,” Albares said in the statement.

The group included people who had worked for or helped Spanish government officials and Spanish troops stationed in Afghanistan before the Taliban takeover.

The statement said Spain has carried out five evacuation operations over the past year.

Albares told Spanish National Television on Thursday that the government will continue to bring former Afghan workers and their families to Spain, but for security reasons he couldn't say how many.

Spain launched the flights to bring workers who hadn’t been able to leave Afghanistan during the airlift operation in August 2021, when it pulled out about 2,200 Spaniards and Afghans via Kabul’s airport.