Hamza Shahbaz retains Punjab CM's post, opposition PTI to challenge result in court

Hamza Shahbaz waves to supporters outside a court in Lahore, Pakistan, on June 11, 2019. (AFP/File)
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Updated 22 July 2022

Hamza Shahbaz retains Punjab CM's post, opposition PTI to challenge result in court

  • Deputy Speaker rejects ten votes polled for opposition's candidate for violating the party directions
  • PTI announces challenging the election in Supreme Court as legal experts differ with deputy speaker

ISLAMABAD: Hamza Shahbaz, son of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, on Friday managed to retain the coveted slot of Punjab chief minister, with the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party announcing it would challenge the election result in the Supreme Court of Pakistan.  

Hours of drama followed the crucial election for the chief minister of the country’s most populous province on Friday, which was held on the directions of Supreme Court of Pakistan after 25 members of the opposition PTI were disqualified for voting for the rival Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) candidate, Shahbaz, in violation of party directives.  

In Friday's election, the opposition alliance, comprising former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s PTI and the PML-Q parties, bagged 186 votes and the PML-N-led ruling coalition secured 179 votes in the provincial house of 371.  

But in a shock move, PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain sent a letter to Deputy Speaker Dost Muhammad Mazari, in which he had directed PML-Q members to vote for Shahbaz, instead of his cousin brother and opposition's nominee, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi.   

The deputy speaker read out the letter and announced the ten votes cast by PML-Q members had been rejected in light of Hussain's declaration and the Supreme Court's ruling.  

"I, hereby, disregard the votes of Pakistan Muslim League [Quaid] polled in favour of Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi," Deputy Speaker Mazari announced.   

The announcement came as a shock to the PML-Q and Khan's PTI party, which had defeated the ruling PML-N in Sunday’s by-elections and won 15 out of 20 Punjab Assembly seats. The other five members disqualified by the election commission had been elected on reserved seats for women and minorities. 

Asad Umar, a senior PTI member, said his party would file a petition against the election result in apex court tonight. 

"The entire nation has its sights on the Supreme Court whether the door of justice would open tonight or not," Umar said on Twitter.

 

 

PTI lawmaker Muhammad Basharat Raja strongly objected to the deputy speaker’s ruling, giving references of Article 63-A of the constitution. He said the parliamentary party leader was the only authorized person to issue directions to his party lawmakers about the vote.   

Raja said PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain had “no legal authority to issue directions,” but the deputy speaker rejected his argument and said “you may challenge it in the court.”   

According to Article 63-A of the constitution, a parliamentarian can be disqualified on grounds of defection if he or she “votes or abstains from voting in the House contrary to any direction issued by the parliamentary party to which he belongs, in relation to election of the prime minister or chief minister; or a vote of confidence or a vote of no-confidence; or a money bill or a Constitution (amendment) bill.”     

In a unanimous decision in May, ECP members said the PTI dissidents were being de-seated for defecting from the party under Article 63-A of the constitution. The Supreme Court of Pakistan, in its interpretation of Article 63-A, has said votes cast against the party direction “cannot be counted and must be disregarded.”     

The PTI has announced moving the Supreme Court against the deputy speaker’s ruling, describing it as “unconstitutional” and hoping it would be overturned.   

PTI Senator Ali Zafar said it was the mandate of the parliamentary party head and not the party chief to decide about the vote of lawmakers in the house. “The constitution is very clear and the decision of the parliamentary party is supreme with respect to vote in the house,” he told Arab News.  

Barrister Ahmed Pansota said the lawmakers were bound to follow directions of the parliamentary party head, which was done in the PML-Q's case in Friday's election.   

“The Supreme Court has already ruled on these issues and if this matter goes to the apex court for adjudication, I believe the PTI-backed candidate will be declared winner in the chief minister’s election,” he said. 


Latest audio leak of ex-PM Khan sheds light on Pakistani political intrigues

Updated 8 sec ago

Latest audio leak of ex-PM Khan sheds light on Pakistani political intrigues

  • Leak puts spotlight again on diplomatic cipher at center of Khan’s allegations his ouster was part of regime change conspiracy
  • Khan was ousted in vote of no-confidence in April which he blamed, and continues to blame, on a US conspiracy 

ISLAMABAD: A latest audio leak from the Prime Minister’s Office on Wednesday has shed new light on Pakistan’s political intrigues, once again bringing into the spotlight a diplomatic cipher that is at the center of ex-premier Imran Khan’s allegations that his ouster earlier this year was part of a regime change conspiracy hatched abroad.

In April, the Khan government handed an official protest to the US embassy over what it called Washington’s interference in the country’s affairs, referring to a diplomatic note from a Pakistani diplomat based on his meetings with US officials that Khan has said was evidence of a foreign conspiracy to oust him from power.

Just weeks later, Khan was removed from office in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence, which he blamed, and continues to blame, on a conspiracy hatched by the United States with Khan’s rivals in Pakistan, including current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. Both deny the charge but Khan has held rallies across the country since, sticking to the theory of a foreign conspiracy and challenging the mandate of the Sharif government.

Last weekend, a slew of audio recordings of conversations between key government figures were leaked online from the PM’s Office, including discussions between PM Sharif and members of his cabinet. But a latest leak released today, Wednesday, features a conversation between Khan when he was PM and his then principal secretary Azam Khan. 

Speaking to reporters after the leak, Khan did not deny the authenticity of the audio file, saying the diplomatic cipher itself should be released so the nation could see “magnitude of the conspiracy.”

The purported audio file starts midway through a conversation between Khan and Azam.

“Now we have to play with this [cipher],” Khan is heard saying. “Don’t take America’s name, just play with this.”

Azam then suggests that the PM call a meeting with Shah Mahmood Qureshi, then foreign minister, and the Foreign Secretary Suhail Mahmood to put on record the threat allegedly contained in the cipher. 

“Qureshi would read out the letter and whatever he reads out, we will turn it into a copy. I will do that in the minutes [of the meeting] that the Foreign Secretary has told this. Then the analysis will be done here [at the PM Office],” the former principal secretary said. 

“We will do analysis of minutes [of meeting] of our own choice, this way minutes would be on the records of the [PM] office. The analysis will be that [the cypher] was a threat.”

On Tuesday, PM Sharif called the audio leaks a ‘serious security lapse’ and said it would be thoroughly investigated.


‘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 34 min 25 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.