Former Pakistan PM Khan faces popularity test in provincial by-election

Pakistani former prime minister and PTI leader Imran Khan (front 2R) waves to supporters during a protest rally against inflation, and political destabilisation in Rawalpindi on July 2, 2022. (AFP/File)
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Updated 15 July 2022

Former Pakistan PM Khan faces popularity test in provincial by-election

  • 20 Punjab seats fell vacant after election commission disqualified members of Khan’s party when they switched loyalties
  • PM Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N party needs to win at least half the 20 seats up for grabs in Punjab

ISLAMABAD: Former Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan faces a popularity test this weekend in a by-election for 20 assembly seats in the country’s most populous province.

Sunday’s vote in Punjab is seen as a possible bellwether for national elections that must be held by October next year, although Khan has campaigned across the country for an earlier poll since being dismissed by a no-confidence vote in April.

Twenty Punjab seats fell vacant after the election commission disqualified members of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party at his request when they switched loyalties.

The machinations led to a change of government in the province, which is now headed by Hamza Sharif, son of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

Analysts say the election gives Khan the chance to gauge how well his campaign to raise popular support is going.

“If he wins, he will say ‘people are with me’ and increase pressure for fresh elections,” political commentator Hasan Askari told AFP.

If he loses, “Khan will definitely call it a rigged election,” he added.

Khan has drawn thousands to rallies across the country since being deposed, giving lengthy speeches claiming the government was imposed on Pakistan by a US-led conspiracy.

He also blames the current government for soaring inflation, although most analysts agree Sharif inherited the country’s economic woes — which were given some relief this week by an agreement with the International Monetary Fund to resume a rescue package.

Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N party needs to win at least half the 20 seats up for grabs in Punjab or else they will likely cede control of the assembly to the PTI and its allies.

“Stakes are high on both sides,” Askari said.

“The future political direction will remain uncertain in Pakistan even in the post-election period.”


‘She was trapped,’ says father of woman beaten to death by Pakistani husband

Updated 28 September 2022

‘She was trapped,’ says father of woman beaten to death by Pakistani husband

  • Sarah Inam, 37, was murdered with dumbbells by her husband at an Islamabad home last week, police said
  • Father says Inam met Amir only thrice before marriage, had told her parents about nikkah on July 18 in Chakwal

ISLAMABAD: The father of Sarah Inam, a Pakistani-Canadian who was beaten to death by her husband of less than three months last week, said on Wednesday his daughter had been “trapped” into marriage by Shahnawaz Amir to fleece her out of money.

Inam, a 37-year-old economist who worked in Abu Dhabi, was murdered with dumbbells, according to police, by her husband at a suburban Islamabad home last week. Amir is currently under arrest and being investigated by police.

“She was trapped,” Rahim, who arrived from Canada on Monday night, told Arab News before Inam’s funeral prayers at Chak Shahzad in Islamabad. “She thought he [Shahnawaz] was a good man but he trapped her into the marriage to fleece money from her.”

“We will stay here [in Pakistan], pursue the case and not let these criminals go,” he said. “Shahnawaz was a predator from the start, and we hope to get justice.”

Rahim said his daughter had met Amir only thrice before the marriage and had told the parents about the relationship and the marriage, which took place on July 18 at Amir’s hometown of Chakwal.

“She was grown up and we believed they would have a happy life,” he said. “Shahnawaz and her mother spoke to me on the phone before the marriage … His mother assured me she would treat Sarah as her own daughter.”

He added: “We never thought this was coming.”

According to the first information report filed with police, Amir’s mother had called the police on September 23 and informed them that her son had murdered his wife “with a dumbbell.”

Inam’s murder is reminiscent of last year’s headline-grabbing murder of Noor Mukadam, 27, which drew an outpouring of anger over femicides in the South Asian nation. 

In March this year, a Pakistani court sentenced to death Pakistani-American Zahir Jaffer, a childhood friend of Mukadam, for beheading her. Mukadam and Jaffer were widely believed to have been in a romantic relationship, which they had broken off a few months before her murder. 

Hundreds of women are killed in Pakistan every year, while thousands more suffer brutal violence. But few cases receive sustained media attention, and only a small fraction of perpetrators are ever punished or convicted by courts. 

But Mukadam’s shocking murder, involving members of the privileged elite of Pakistani society, triggered an explosive reaction from women’s rights activists reckoning with pervasive violence. 

It also increased pressure for a swift conclusion of the trial in a country known to have a sluggish justice system and where cases typically drag on for years.


Pakistan’s Naseem Shah out of fifth England T20

Updated 28 September 2022

Pakistan’s Naseem Shah out of fifth England T20

  • Shah was taken to hospital with an infection and will miss the fifth Twenty20 international against England today
  • The 19-year-old’s availability for the rest of the seven-match series will be decided after assessing his medical reports

LAHORE: Pakistan’s highly rated teenage fast bowler Naseem Shah was taken to hospital with an infection and will miss the fifth Twenty20 international against England later Wednesday, said a cricket board spokesman.

The 19-year-old’s availability for the rest of the seven-match series will be decided after assessing his medical reports.

“Naseem was taken to hospital on Tuesday night with a viral infection and will not be available for Wednesday’s match,” a Pakistan Cricket Board spokesman said.

Naseem played the first match of the series and went for 41 runs in his four wicket-less overs.

The series is tied 2-2 after four matches in Karachi. The remaining three are in Lahore.

England are on their first tour of Pakistan for 17 years.


Pakistan's new finance minister vows to tame inflation, cut interest rates

Updated 39 sec ago

Pakistan's new finance minister vows to tame inflation, cut interest rates

  • Ishaq Dar most famous for strong-arming central bank to liberally inject foreign exchange into market to prop up rupee
  • Pakistan’s foreign reserves currently stand at a level that cover just over a month of imports, making intervention difficult

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s new finance minister, Ishaq Dar, will work to rein in inflation and cut interest rates, he said on Wednesday, calling the rupee currency undervalued and promising a strong response to resolve the South Asian nation’s worst economic crisis.

In his fourth time in the role, the chartered accountant must tackle a balance of payment crisis, foreign reserves that cover barely a month’s imports, historic lows in the rupee, inflation exceeding 27 percent and the aftermath of devastating floods.

“We will control inflation,” Dar told reporters, referring to the deep-rooted challenges ahead, in televised comments made after he was sworn in. “We will bring interest rates down.”

He had a warning for currency market speculators, saying that the Pakistani rupee was undervalued.

“Our currency right now is not at the place where it should be, it is undervalued,” said Dar, who is known to favor currency market intervention to keep the rupee stable.

“I hope the speculators will stop. I think they have already got it and we are seeing the rupee rising,” he added. “No one will be allowed to play with the Pakistani currency.”

A member of parliament’s upper house, Dar got the job after his predecessor, Miftah Ismail became the fifth to quit in less than four years, amid persistent economic turbulence.

The rupee has been gaining firmly ahead of his appointment and stocks responded positively before Wednesday’s swearing-in.

WRECKED ECONOMY

The senior politician belonging to the ruling party of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif flew to Islamabad on Monday night after ending five years in self-exile in London.

In 2017, he had been facing corruption charges he says were politically motivated, but last week an anti-graft court suspended warrants for his arrest, enabling his return.

On Wednesday, the court extended the suspensions.

“I told the court that my passport was revoked,” Dar said after appearing in court.

“I wasn’t able to travel for the last four years,” he added, describing the legal action against him as political victimization by the previous government of Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Khan’s party denies this.

Analysts say Dar’s key mandate is to halt inflation that mainly stems from his predecessor’s unpopular decisions to stick to preconditions set by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), including rolling back subsidies made by Khan’s government.

Sharif’s coalition government says it inherited a wrecked economy after Khan’s ouster in a vote of no-confidence in April, a charge the former premier denies.

As the new government took over, the IMF’s $6 billion bailout package agreed in 2019 was in the doldrums because of the lack of an agreed policy framework.

Last month the IMF board approved the program’s seventh and eighth reviews, allowing the release of more than $1.1 billion.

The tranche, said former finance minister Ismail, was likely to be boosted after Pakistan sought help to remedy economic losses of an estimated $30 billion caused by the unprecedented floods.

The disaster could cut GDP growth below 3 percent, down from 5 percent estimated for fiscal 2022-23, the government has said. 


UN says disease outbreaks remain ‘growing concern’ in flood-hit Pakistan

Updated 28 September 2022

UN says disease outbreaks remain ‘growing concern’ in flood-hit Pakistan

  • Deaths from infections, malaria, dengue have caused more than 300 deaths since July in worst-hit province of Sindh
  • Flood-ravaged regions have become infested with diseases including malaria, dengue fever, diarrhea and skin problems

ISLAMABAD: The United Nations has said outbreaks of mosquito-borne and water-borne diseases in flooded Pakistan were a “growing concern,” as deaths from infections, malaria and dengue fever have caused more than 300 deaths since July in the worst-hit province of Sindh, according to health officials.

The death toll from the deluge itself has reached 1,663, including 614 children and 333 women, a figure that does not include deaths from fast-spreading diseases, according to data from the National Disaster Management Authority.

“Outbreaks of vector-borne and water-borne diseases are a growing concern in Sindh and Balochistan provinces, where many districts remain inundated by floodwaters,” Stephane Dujarric, a spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said on Tuesday.

He said floods had damaged nearly 1,500 health facilities across the country, including more than 300 refrigerators and solar power systems, which was disrupting vaccine cold chains.

“Assessments are continuing, but an estimated 7.9 million people remain displaced by the catastrophic floods.  Nearly 600,000 people are living in relief camps, and more than 7,000 schools across Pakistan are being used as temporary relief camps,” the spokesperson said, adding that the UN and its humanitarian partners were continuing to scale up response and had reached more than 1.6 million people impacted by the floods.

“Nearly 600,000 people are living in relief camps, and more than 7,000 schools across Pakistan are being used as temporary relief camps … More than two million houses have been damaged by the heavy rains and floods. More than 25,000 schools and 13,000 km of roads have also reportedly been damaged.”

Record monsoon rains in south and southwest Pakistan and glacial melt in northern areas triggered the flooding that has affected nearly 33 million people in the South Asian nation of 220 million, sweeping away homes, crops, bridges, roads and livestock and causing an estimated $30 billion of damage.

Hundreds of thousands of displaced people are in dire need of food, shelter, clean drinking water, toilets and medicines. Many have been sleeping in the open by the side of elevated highways.

The economic losses from the flooding will slash the country’s GDP growth to around 3 percent from the estimated target of 5 percent set out in the budget when it had narrowly escaped defaulting on its debt in a balance of payment crisis.

Pakistan was already reeling from economic blows when the floods hit, with its foreign reserves falling as low as one month’s worth of imports and its current account deficit widening.


PM Sharif, army chief congratulate Saudi crown prince on becoming prime minister

Updated 28 September 2022

PM Sharif, army chief congratulate Saudi crown prince on becoming prime minister

  • Saudi King Salman ordered the cabinet reshuffle on Tuesday
  • King’s son Khalid bin Salman becomes defense minister

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa on Wednesday congratulated Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on becoming the kingdom’s prime minister.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz announced the cabinet reshuffle that also saw his second son Prince Khalid as defense minister, and another son, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, as energy minister, a royal decree, carried by state news agency SPA, said on Tuesday.

“I congratulate my brother Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman,” Sharif said, praying for Saudi Arabia’s continued progress and prosperity.

The Pakistani army chief also shared his congrats with the crown prince, saying Pakistan valued its “historic and brotherly” relations with Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan and Investment Minister Khalid Al-Falih remained unchanged, the decree showed.

The crown prince had previously been the defense minister of Saudi Arabia. Prince Khalid bin Salman, his younger brother, previously served as deputy defense minister.

King Salman will still preside the cabinet meetings that he attends, the decree said.

The 86-year-old king, the custodian of Islam’s holiest sites, became ruler in 2015 after spending more than 2-1/2 years as the crown prince. He has been hospitalized several times over the last two years.

Prince Mohammed has changed Saudi Arabia radically since 2017, leading efforts to diversify the economy from dependence on oil, allowed women to drive and curbed the clerics’ power over society.