After hours of drama, ex-PM Khan’s chief of staff handed over to Islamabad police 

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader Shahbaz Gill being taken by police to the court for hearing in Islamabad on August 16, 2022. (Social Media)
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Updated 17 August 2022

After hours of drama, ex-PM Khan’s chief of staff handed over to Islamabad police 

  • Local court had earlier in the day remanded Dr. Shahbaz Gill in custody of Islamabad police for another two days
  • Gill was handed over to Islamabad police after a heated standoff between Islamabad and Rawalpindi police

ISLAMABAD: After hours of drama outside Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi and a heated standoff between Islamabad and Rawalpindi police, ex-premier Imran Khan’s chief of staff Dr. Shahbaz Gill was handed over to Islamabad police on Wednesday night for investigation in a sedition case.

A local court in the federal capital had earlier in the day remanded Gill, a senior Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader, in the custody of Islamabad police for another two days. An Islamabad police team headed by Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Khalid Awan reached the jail to take the suspect into the custody for interrogation as per the court’s orders.

However, the situation turned ugly when a heavy contingent of Rawalpindi police was deployed outside the jail and Gill’s custody was delayed.

Later, he was handed over to Islamabad police and transported to the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) in Islamabad for a medical check-up.

Reacting to the drama outside Adiala Jail, a special assistant to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Malik Ahmed Khan, said the case registered against Gill was of a “clear nature.”

“Shahbaz Gill is booked under a serious case of incitement [of revolt within the army],” he said, adding that Islamabad police had arrived at the jail to take custody of Gill on the orders of the court.

He also rejected the PTI’s claim that Gill was tortured by police in custody. 

“The PTI leadership is making hollow claims of torture on Shahbaz Gill,” he said.

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.

Earlier in the court, 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.


UAE, Pakistan reject motion, UN votes down debate on China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims

Updated 4 sec ago

UAE, Pakistan reject motion, UN votes down debate on China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims

  • Defeat, 19 against, 17 for, 11 abstentions, is only second time in UN rights council’s history that motion has been rejected
  • China says motion an attempt by US and West to “use the UN human rights body to interfere in China’s internal affairs“

GENEVA: The UN rights council on Thursday voted down a Western-led motion to hold a debate about alleged human rights abuses by China against Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang in a victory for Beijing as it seeks to avoid further scrutiny.

The defeat — 19 against, 17 for, 11 abstentions — is only the second time in the council’s 16-year history that a motion has been rejected and is seen by observers as a setback to both accountability efforts, the West’s moral authority on human rights and the credibility of the United Nations itself.

The United States, Canada and Britain were among the countries that brought the motion.

“This is a disaster. This is really disappointing,” said Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress, whose mother died in a camp and whose two brothers are missing.

“We will never give up but we are really disappointed by the reaction of Muslim countries,” he added.

Qatar, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan rejected the motion, with the latter citing the risk of alienating China.

Phil Lynch, director of the International Service for Human Rights, called the voting record “shameful” on Twitter.

“Xinjiang-related issues are not human rights issues at all, but issues of counter-terrorism, de-radicalization and anti-separatism,” said China’s foreign ministry late on Thursday.

The motion was an attempt by the United States and some Western countries to “use the UN human rights body to interfere in China’s internal affairs,” said the foreign ministry in a post on its official website.

China’s envoy had warned before the vote that the motion would create a precedent for examining other countries’ human rights records.

“Today China is targeted. Tomorrow any other developing country will be targeted,” said Chen Xu, adding that a debate would lead to “new confrontations.” read more

The UN rights office on Aug. 31 released a long-delayed report that found serious human rights violations in Xinjiang that may constitute crimes against humanity, ramping up pressure on China.

Rights groups accuse Beijing of abuses against Uyghurs, a mainly Muslim ethnic minority that numbers around 10 million in the western region of Xinjiang, including the mass use of forced labor in internment camps. The United States has accused China of genocide. Beijing vigorously denies any abuses.

’ENORMOUS PRESSURE’

The motion is the first time that the rights record of China, a powerful permanent Security Council member, has been on the council’s agenda. The item has stoked divisions and a diplomat said states were under “enormous pressure” from Beijing to back China.

Countries like Britain, the United States and Germany, vowed to continue to work toward accountability despite Thursday’s outcome.

But activists said the defeat of such a limited motion, which stopped short of seeking an investigation, would make it difficult to put it back on the agenda.

Universal Rights Group’s Marc Limon said it was a “serious miscalculation,” citing the timing which coincides with a Western-led motion for action on Russia.

“It’s a serious blow for the credibility of the council and a clear victory for China,” he said. “Many developing countries will see it as an adjustment away from Western predominance in the UN human rights system.”

The event raised political dilemmas for many poor countries in the 47-member council who are loath to publicly defy China for fear of jeopardizing investment.


In Pakistan, mental health crisis brews among survivors of deadly floods

Updated 07 October 2022

In Pakistan, mental health crisis brews among survivors of deadly floods

  • Over 2,000 people came to Civil Hospital Mirpurkhas in Sindh between June and September seeking psychiatric treatment
  • The figure is at least a 10 percent increase from past four months, according to data from the facility and doctors’ testimonies

MIRPURKHAS, SINDH: Nasir Khan, a 40-year-old laborer from the southern Pakistani district of Mirpurkhas, stood outside the Civil Hospital last week, complaining of anxiety and feelings of sadness and hopelessness.

In August, Khan’s home and livestock were washed away in deadly floods that have affected at least 33 million people in Pakistan since mid-June and killed nearly 1,700. The father of four has since been living with his family at a relief camp in Sindh, the province worst-hit by the floods, where water and vector borne diseases are now rampant and a return to normalcy is months, if not years, away.

Last year, the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London said intensifying climate change impacts, from fiercer heatwaves to flooded homes, were driving a growing mental health crisis around the world.

A view of the psychiatric outpatient department (OPD) at the Civil Hospital Mirpurkhas where Dr Lakesh Khatri, the district psychiatrist, examines a patient in Mirpurkhas, Pakistan, on October 3, 2022. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

“Before the floods, I did not have any psychiatric issues,” Khan told Arab News, describing sleepless nights spent swatting mosquitos and days with little food. “Now, I feel scared for mine and my family’s future.”

Pakistan’s minister for climate change, Sherry Rehman, has highlighted the need for urgent medical supplies to protect against fast-spreading water-borne diseases due to stagnant water, urging the developed world to accelerate funding for a disaster that she has said had no parallel in known history.

But little to no attention is being paid to the psychological toll of the catastrophe.

A view of a roadside temporary shelter for flood survivors in Mirpurkhas, Pakistan, on October 3, 2022. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

Already, the damage from the floods is reflected in a jump in the number of people reporting mental health problems. Over 2,000 people came to the Civil Hospital Mirpurkhas between June and September this year to seek psychiatric treatment, at least a 10 percent increase from the past four months, according to data from the facility.

“At Civil Hospital Mirpurkhas, the number of patients coming to the psychiatric outpatient department has increased by 10 percent as compared to the average number of patients in the previous four months,” Dr. Lakesh Khatri, the district psychiatrist, told Arab News. “The increased number of cases are flood-affected people who have faced trauma due to the widespread devastation.”

A view of a roadside temporary shelter for flood survivors in Mirpurkhas, Pakistan, on October 3, 2022. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

Mental health patients, a majority of them male, were also arriving at the hospital from the nearby Sanghar and Umerkot districts, Khatri added. Diagnosed mental health problems were caused by financial stressed, as well as a lost sense of security.

The Sindh Mental Health Authority (SMHA) said the surge in mental health cases was mostly due to uncertain and deteriorating socio-economic conditions in the wake of the floods. It would take months, according to the body, to quantify the exact damage to mental health in the province where over 750 people have been killed, 2,045,349 homes damaged and 435,173 livestock lost.

A view of a roadside temporary shelter for flood survivors in Mirpurkhas, Pakistan, on October 3, 2022. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

Officials say more than two million acres (809,371 hectares) of agricultural land has been flooded countrywide, destroying most standing crops and preventing farmers from sowing new ones.

“This monsoon and floods affected farming communities’ dual crops, standing and upcoming. It also washed away their houses and uprooted them,” SMHA chairman Dr. Karim Ahmed Khawaja told Arab News last week.

At this stage quantifying the number of mental health patients related to Sindh flood devastation is difficult and the SMHA will conduct a study after the flood water recedes close to the end of the year.”

Due to stagnant floodwater in agricultural fields, a large number of farmers were likely to miss the upcoming winter cultivation season Khawaja said. As the next cultivation season would begin in March 2023, many farmers would have no livelihood for at least the next six months, a worry that was triggering mental health problems.

Referring to a 2020 mental health study in Sindh focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, Khawaja said the prevalence of depression was assessed at 42 percent, while 85 percent of the 1,494 people surveyed had anxiety. Among the participants, 10 percent were reported to have received a psychiatric diagnosis.

A view of submerged houses on the Mirpurkhas-Sanghar road, Mirpurkhas, Pakistan, on October 3, 2022. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

“Since the COVID pandemic is still continuing and so are its impacts, the devastation from floods has added to the mental health impacts [already] present in the society,” the SMHA chairman said.

“Floods have caused depression and anxiety among survivors,” he added. “They find their future bleak because of poor health, economic and livelihood conditions.”

A view of submerged agricultural lands on the Mirpurkhas-Sanghar road, Mirpurkhas, Pakistan, on October 3, 2022. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

The province also does not have the requisite number of doctors to deal with the surge in mental health concerns, Khawaja said.

“Sindh has a total of 145 psychiatrists,” he said. “Out of 30 districts in the province, more than 20 districts do not even have a single psychiatrist.”

A girl poses at a roadside shelter in Mirpurkhas, Pakistan, on October 3, 2022. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

 


Bangladesh win toss, bowl against Pakistan in tri-series opener

Updated 07 October 2022

Bangladesh win toss, bowl against Pakistan in tri-series opener

  • The two teams and tournament hosts New Zealand are playing two rounds of matches
  • New Zealand will play Pakistan on Saturday and Bangladesh on Sunday, both at the same venue

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand: Bangladesh captain Nurul Hasan won the toss and chose to bowl against Pakistan on Friday in the opening match of a Twenty20 tri-series in Christchurch, New Zealand — but only after snow was cleared.

The two teams and tournament hosts New Zealand are playing two rounds of matches and a final over the next week in preparation for the T20 World Cup in Australia.

The tourists will need to adjust to cold conditions in Christchurch, which is recovering from a cold blast this week that left ground staff sweeping snow from the covers and outfield at Hagley Oval on Thursday.

Temperatures had climbed to a relatively warm 12 degrees Celsius (54F) for the start of the match, to the relief of Pakistan skipper Babar Azam.

“It’s been a little bit cool, but today there’s sunshine,” Babar said after losing the toss.

“And conditions are a little bit different because in New Zealand there’s a little bit of bounce, but we’re ready for anything.”

Hasan confirmed usual captain and accomplished allrounder Shakib Al Hasan had arrived in Christchurch on Thursday, several days after his team-mates, and would miss the opening game.

He should be available for the remainder of the tournament.

New Zealand will play Pakistan on Saturday and Bangladesh on Sunday, both at the same venue.

Pakistan: Babar Azam (capt), Mohammad Rizwan, Shan Masood, Iftikhar Ahmed, Shadab Khan, Haider Ali, Asif Ali, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Wasim, Haris Rauf, Shahnawaz Dahani

Bangladesh: Sabbir Rahman, Mehidy Hasan, Afif Hossain, Mosaddek Hossain, Nurul Hasan (capt), Litton Das, Yasir Ali, Hasan Mahmud, Taskin Ahmed, Mustafizur Rahman, Nasum Ahmed

Umpires: Shaun Haig (NZL), Wayne Knights (NZL)

TV Umpire: Alex Wharf (ENG)

Match Referee: Jeff Crowe (NZL)


Pakistani FM says water receded 50 percent in flood-ravaged Sindh

Updated 06 October 2022

Pakistani FM says water receded 50 percent in flood-ravaged Sindh

  • An estimated 400,000 people are living in tents or relief camps in Pakistan's Sindh
  • Thankful to world community but we need more assistance, says foreign minister

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s foreign minister on Thursday said that about 50 percent of the water has receded in the country’s worst-hit southern Sindh province, raising hopes that farmers will be able to sow wheat in a first step toward returning to a normal life.
“We are utilizing all of our resources for draining the remaining water in flood-affected areas in Sindh,” Bilawal Bhutto Zardari told a news conference. It was the first time that any official confirmed that the water had dropped 50 percent in Sindh, where 400, 000 people are living in relief camps or in tents.
Bhutto-Zardari’s remarks were a sign of hope for hundreds of thousands of farmers who had been uncertain about the sowing of the upcoming wheat crop, which usually starts in October.
Nearly 15 percent of Pakistan’s rice crop and 40 percent of its cotton crop were lost in this year’s flooding, according to officials. The waters wiped out the personal grain stores that many farming families rely on for food year-round.
On Thursday, international aid agency Mercy Corps warned that the approaching cold weather of the winter would pose further threats to disaster-ravaged areas of the country, even as the floodwaters recede. In a statement, Farah Naureen, the agency’s country director for Pakistan, said there was an urgent need for winterized tents and other items for survivors.
The record-breaking flooding, blamed in part on climate change, affected 33 million people, killed nearly 1,700, damaged more than 2 million homes and overall wreaked damage estimated at $30 billion.
Bhutto-Zardari said Pakistan alone cannot handle the devastation caused by climate change.
“We are thankful to the world community for helping us but we need more assistance,” he told reporters in Karachi, the capital of his Sindh province, where 760 people died in floods and 350 survivors later lost life due to the outbreak of diseases.
The latest remarks of Bhutto-Zardari also came two days after the United Nations — amid a surge in diseases in flood-hit areas of Pakistan — raised its aid appeal for Pakistan to $816 million from $160 million, saying recent assessments pointed to the urgent need for long-term help lasting into next year.
Bhutto-Zardari said Pakistan has witnessed its worst-ever flooding because of climate change since June, although his country contributes less than 1 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. August rainfall in the Sindh and southwestern Baluchistan provinces was eight and nearly seven times normal amounts, while Pakistan as a whole this summer had three-and-a-half times its normal rainfall.
Bhutto-Zardari criticized former Prime Minister Imran Khan for continuing anti-government rallies even during floods. “I cannot hold such rallies when my people are dying in the floods,” he said.
Khan was ousted from power in April through no-confidence in the parliament.
But he says he was ousted under a US plot, a charge Washington denies.
Bhutto-Zardari said Khan during his tenure strained Pakistan’s ties with many countries, including Washington.
His remarks came after Khan vowed to march on Islamabad soon to force Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif to hold snap elections which are due next year.
Bhutto-Zardari said Pakistan cannot afford to go to the elections when many areas are still submerged. He said Pakistan will first accomplish the task of helping people rebuild homes in flood-hit areas and return to their normal life.
“Elections will be held next year,” he said, amid threats from Khan for a march on Islamabad.


Moody’s downgrades Pakistan’s credit rating over liquidity, external vulnerability risks

Updated 06 October 2022

Moody’s downgrades Pakistan’s credit rating over liquidity, external vulnerability risks

  • Caa1 rating reflects Pakistan highly reliant on multilateral partners for financing — Moody’s
  • Pakistan says Moody’s rating ‘not truly reflective’ of macroeconomic conditions

ISLAMABAD: International credit rating agency Moody's cut Pakistan's sovereign credit rating on Thursday by one notch to Caa1 from B3, citing increased government liquidity, external vulnerability risks and higher debt sustainability risks as the main reasons.  

The rating agency's outlook on Pakistan remained unchanged at negative. In a statement, Moody’s said floods have exacerbated Pakistan's liquidity and external credit weaknesses. It added that the natural calamity has also vastly increased the country’s social spending needs, while government revenue is “severely hit.” 

“Debt affordability, a long-standing credit weakness for Pakistan, will remain extremely weak for the foreseeable future,” it added.  

Moody’s further said the Caa1 rating reflects Pakistan would remain “highly reliant” on financing from multilateral partners and other official sector creditors to meet its debt payments.

The rating agency also lowered Pakistan's real GDP growth to 0-1% for the fiscal year 2023 (the year ending June 2023) from a pre-flood estimate of 3-4%. 

"The floods will affect all sectors, with the impact likely more acute in the agriculture sector, which makes up about one-quarter of the economy," it said. "As the economy recovers from the floods, Moody's expects growth to pick up next year but stay below trend."

Pakistan’s finance ministry reacted sharply to Moody’s updated rating, saying it was done unilaterally without prior consultations and meetings with Pakistan’s finance team and the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) officials.  

“After a regular stock take of the economic and fiscal conditions, the Ministry of Finance seeks to inform that government policies over the last few months have helped in fiscal consolidation,” the finance ministry said in a statement.  

It said Pakistan has adequate liquidity and financing arrangements to meet its external liabilities, adding that the South Asian country has secured the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) programme.  

“The [IMF programme’s] continuity is based on the confirmation and confidence in the country’s ability to maintain the fiscal discipline, debt sustainability and its ability to discharge all its domestic and external liabilities,” the ministry said.  

The finance ministry concluded by saying that it feels the downgrading of Pakistan’s rating is “not truly reflective of Pakistan’s macroeconomic conditions.”