Ex-PM Khan calls for ‘free and fair elections’ after winning 15 seats in Punjab by-polls

In this file photo, Imran Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) gestures to his supporters during a campaign meeting ahead of general elections in Islamabad, Pakistan, July 21, 2018. (REUTERS/FILE)
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Updated 18 July 2022

Ex-PM Khan calls for ‘free and fair elections’ after winning 15 seats in Punjab by-polls

  • The ruling PML-N party secures four seats, ‘bows before the decision of the people’
  • PM Sharif accuses Khan of ‘rewriting Machiavellian principles of politics in his lust for power’

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan on Sunday reiterated his demand for free and fair general elections in the country shortly after his political party won 15 seats, according to unofficial results, in by-elections held in 20 provincial assembly constituencies of Punjab.
The electoral contest was held after the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) disqualified 25 lawmakers belonging to Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party for switching loyalties and voting for Hamza Shehbaz in an April election for the chief minister’s slot.
The ECP announced fresh polls on 20 general seats as five of the disqualified members were elected on reserved seats for women and religious minorities.
Khan congratulated his workers for defeating the candidates of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, saying the PTI voters had won against the entire state machinery along with biased election authorities.
“The only way forward from here is to hold fair & free elections under a credible ECP,” he said in a Twitter post. “Any other path will only lead to greater political uncertainty & further economic chaos.”

While the election commission is yet to announce the official results of the Punjab by-elections, several PML-N leaders have conceded defeat.
According to the local media, the PTI has secured 15 seats, PML-N has won four, and one seat has gone to an independent candidate.
“The PML-N should generously accept the results,” Maryam Nawaz, who spearheaded her party’s election campaign in Punjab, said in a Twitter post. “One should bow before the decision of the people.”
However, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif accused Khan of running a “sordid campaign” against state institutions ahead of the by-polls in Punjab.
“Every speech Imran [Khan] Niazi delivers shows how unfit he is to hold public office,” he wrote on Twitter. “Under his direct supervision, the PTI has run a sordid campaign to defame national institutions & thus undermine Pakistan. He is rewriting Machiavellian principles of politics in his lust for power.”

A local newspaper, Express Tribune, reported that the top PML-N leader, Nawaz Sharif, had attributed his party’s defeat in the by-polls to “difficult decisions” taken by the coalition government after the PTI administration was driven out of power in a no-confidence vote in April.
It added that Sharif had also called an “emergency meeting of the party to discuss the future course of action” in the context of the recent election results.
Punjab has traditionally been a stronghold of the ruling PML-N party.
The outcome of the recent by-polls in the province will also determine the fate of its newly elected chief minister, Hamza Sharif, in the coming days.
 


Pakistan’s Naseem Shah out of fifth England T20

Updated 14 sec ago

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 finance minister vows to tame inflation, cut interest rates

Updated 1 min 46 sec ago

Pakistan 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.


Blinken defends Pakistan arms sales against Indian criticism

Updated 28 September 2022

Blinken defends Pakistan arms sales against Indian criticism

  • Top US diplomat defends $450 million F-16 deal for Pakistan approved in September, says package for maintenance of existing fleet
  • Pakistan’s military relies heavily on US equipment but the relationship soured during the two-decade-long US war in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday defended military sales to Pakistan after withering criticism from growing US partner India, which considers itself the target of Islamabad’s F-16 planes.

Blinken met in the US capital with India’s foreign minister a day after separate talks with his counterpart from Pakistan.

The US-Pakistan alliance, born out of the Cold War, has frayed over Islamabad’s relationship with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

The top US diplomat defended a $450 million F-16 deal for Pakistan approved earlier in September, saying the package was for maintenance of Pakistan’s existing fleet.

“These are not new planes, new systems, new weapons. It’s sustaining what they have,” Blinken told a news conference with his Indian counterpart, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

“Pakistan’s program bolsters its capability to deal with terrorist threats emanating from Pakistan or from the region. It’s in no one’s interests that those threats be able to go forward with impunity,” Blinken said.

Jaishankar did not criticize Blinken in public. But on Sunday, speaking at a reception for the Indian community in the United States, Jaishankar said of the US position, “You’re not fooling anybody.”

“For someone to say, I’m doing this because it’s for counter-terrorism, when you’re talking of an aircraft like the capability of the F-16, everybody knows where they are deployed,” he said, referring to the fleet’s positioning against India.

“Very honestly, it’s a relationship that has neither ended up serving Pakistan well nor serving American interests well,” he said.

Pakistan’s military relies on US equipment but the relationship soured during the two-decade US war in Afghanistan, with Washington believing that elements in Islamabad never severed support for the Taliban, who seized back power last year.

India historically has bought military equipment from Moscow and has pressed the United States to waive sanctions required under a 2017 law for any nation that buys “significant” military hardware from Russia.

Speaking next to Blinken, Jaishankar noted that India has in recent years also made major purchases from the United States, France and Israel.

India assesses quality and purchase terms and “we exercise a choice which we believe is in our national interest,” he said, rejecting any change due to “geopolitical tensions.”

The United States since the late 1990s has made warm relations with India a top goal, seeing common cause between the world’s two largest democracies on issues from China’s rise to the threat of Islamist extremism.

The United States has largely turned a blind eye to India’s continued relationship with Russia since the Ukraine invasion but was pleased when Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently told President Vladimir Putin that it was “not a time for war.”

Jaishankar indicated that India was working behind the scenes, saying it had “weighed in” with Russia during UN- and Turkish-led negotiations that opened up grain shipments from the blockaded Black Sea.

India “is widening its international footprint,” Jaishankar said.

“There are many more regions where we will be intersecting with American interests. It is to our mutual benefit that this be a complementary process,” Jaishankar said.

But once rock-solid support for India in the US Congress has seen gaps amid concern over rights under Modi, a Hindu nationalist whose government has been accused of marginalizing Muslims and other religious minorities and pressuring activists through legal action and financial scrutiny.

Blinken addressed the issue delicately, saying the two nations should commit to “core values including respect for universal human rights, like freedom of religion and belief and freedom of expression, which makes our democracies stronger.”

Jaishankar responded indirectly that both nations were committed to democracy but “from their history, tradition and societal context.”

“India does not believe that the efficacy or indeed the quality of democracy should be decided by vote banks,” he said.