US won’t let ‘propaganda’ get in way of valued partnership with Pakistan — State Department

State Department spokesman Ned Price speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, February 28, 2022. (AFP/File)
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Updated 01 November 2022

US won’t let ‘propaganda’ get in way of valued partnership with Pakistan — State Department

  • Spokesman says US supports peaceful upholding of constitutional, democratic principles around the world
  • The comments came in response to a question about ex-PM Khan’s renewed anti-US rhetoric during long march

ISLAMABAD: The United States (US) values its longstanding cooperation with Pakistan and it will not let “propaganda” get in the way of an important bilateral relationship, a State Department spokesperson said on Monday, when quizzed about former Pakistan premier Imran Khan’s anti-US rhetoric.

Khan, who was ousted in a parliamentary no-trust vote in April, says his ouster was part of a US-based foreign conspiracy aimed at a “regime change” in Pakistan. Washington and Khan’s political opponents in Pakistan have time and again denied the allegation.

The former premier, who has been leading a march to the Pakistani capital, has renewed his anti-US rhetoric in an attempt to force the government of PM Shehbaz Sharif into announcing snap elections in the country.

“We’ve said many times now, including in this briefing room, that there is no truth to these allegations. We won’t let propaganda, we won’t let misinformation or disinformation get in the way of an important bilateral relationship, including our valued bilateral partnership with Pakistan,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said at a weekly press briefing on Monday. 

“We value that longstanding cooperation between the United States and Pakistan. We’ve always viewed a prosperous and democratic Pakistan as critical to our interests. That remains unchanged.”

To a question about elections in Pakistan, he said the US supported peaceful upholding of constitutional and democratic principles not just in Pakistan, but around the world.

“These are issues that we discuss with all of our partners around the world,” Price added.

Khan on Friday began his anti-government march to Islamabad from the eastern city of Lahore. The arrival of the former premier is expected to be capped with an open-ended rally in the capital early next week.

General elections are scheduled to be held in Pakistan before October 2023, or less than 60 days from the dissolution of the National Assembly on August 13, 2023.


Pakistan degrades Wikipedia's services for 48 hours over content 'blasphemous' to Islam

Updated 01 February 2023

Pakistan degrades Wikipedia's services for 48 hours over content 'blasphemous' to Islam

  • PTA says it had degraded Wikipedia's services "on account of not blocking/removing sacrilegious contents"
  • Pakistan, second-largest Muslim-majority country in the world, has banned video sharing and dating apps in the past

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s telecommunication regulator on Wednesday announced it had degraded online encyclopedia Wikipedia’s services for 48 hours across the country, accusing it of failing to block or remove “blasphemous content” from its platform. 

Pakistan, the second-largest Muslim-majority country in the world, has banned video streaming platforms and dating apps in the past on charges of spreading “immorality” or promoting blasphemous content. 

In September 2020, Pakistan blocked Tinder, Grindr and three other dating apps for not adhering to local laws, with the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) saying it had taken the decision to curb the “negative effects of immoral/indecent content streaming.”

In November 2021, a Pakistan court reversed a ban on short-form video hosting service TikTok after the government assured it would monitor “immoral” content on the app with the company. Similarly in 2012, the South Asian country banned YouTube after a 2012 anti-Islam film was uploaded to the site. The ban was finally lifted in 2016 after remaining in place for three years. 

In a press release, the PTA said it had degraded Wikipedia’s services “on account of not blocking/removing sacrilegious contents.”

“Wikipedia was approached for blocking/removal of the said contents by issuing a notice under applicable law and court order(s),” it said, adding that it had even provided an opportunity to present its case to the authority in a hearing. 

“However, the platform neither complied by removing the blasphemous content nor appeared before the Authority,” it said. 

The PTA said that the reported blasphemous contents have been blocked across the country while Wikipedia’s services have been degraded for 48 hours. “In case of non-compliance by Wikipedia the platform will be blocked within Pakistan,” it added. 

The regulator said it remains committed to ensuring a safe online experience for all Pakistani citizens according to local laws. “The restoration of the services of Wikipedia will be reconsidered subject to blocking/removal of the reported unlawful contents,” it added. 

Wikipedia has so far not commented on the development. 


Ex-PM Khan aide Chaudhry Fawad Hussain granted bail in sedition case

Updated 01 February 2023

Ex-PM Khan aide Chaudhry Fawad Hussain granted bail in sedition case

  • Hussain was arrested from Lahore last week over complaint filed by election regulator over ‘threatening’ remarks
  • Additional Sessions Judge says granting bail to Hussain on condition he “does not issue such remarks in the future”

ISLAMABAD: A sessions court in Islamabad on Wednesday granted bail to ex-premier Imran Khan’s aide, Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, who was arrested last week in a case involving charges of sedition, among others, filed by the country’s election regulator.

The former information minister was arrested in Lahore last Wednesday after the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) lodged a complaint with Islamabad police, saying the leader of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party had “threatened” members of the regulator as well as their families and issued remarks during a TV interview that were tantamount to inciting violence against them.

On Monday, a local court sent Hussain to jail on 14-day judicial remand, after which his lawyers filed a post-arrest bail petition with the judicial magistrate of Islamabad. The ECP’s counsel requested the court to adjourn the hearing of Hussain’s bail plea until February 2 to prepare arguments on the plea, but the request was rejected.

Both parties subsequently had to appear before the sessions court today, Wednesday, after which Additional Sessions Judge Faizan Haider Gillani granted bail to the PTI leader against Rs20,000 worth of surety bonds.

“In the case mentioned above, bail has been granted to the accused. Therefore, if he is not involved in any other cases, then he should be released after the verification of the surety bonds and must be informed about the date of the next hearing,” the court’s order said.

 

 

According to local media reports, the judge said Hussain’s bail was being approved on the condition that he “does not issue such remarks in the future.”

In recent months, Khan and his party have been at loggerheads with the ECP and its current leadership, which they blame for being biased in favor of the coalition government of PM Shehbaz Sharif government. The ECP denies this. The ECP has also ruled against Khan in a case late last year related to his disclosure of wealth earned from the sale of state gifts.

Hussain’s arrest comes months after another close Khan aide, Dr. Shahbaz Gill, was arrested by police and accused of inciting mutiny against the military. Gill is out on bail. Another PTI leader, Senator Azam Swati, was also arrested and released on bail in multiple cases, including for posting tweets considered to be anti-military.

Khan says the PTI and its leaders are being subjected to a political crackdown by the Sharif government and the army, with whom the party has fallen out recently. Both deny the charge.


Delaying polls unconstitutional, experts say, as Pakistan law minister hints at extension for provincial caretakers

Updated 01 February 2023

Delaying polls unconstitutional, experts say, as Pakistan law minister hints at extension for provincial caretakers

  • Ex-PM Khan’s party dissolved assemblies in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab to force government to announce snap polls
  • Law Minister Tarrar has hinted the constitution allows for extension for caretaker setups in case of security and economic issues

ISLAMABAD: The general elections in Pakistan’s Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces should be held within 90 days after the dissolution of the assemblies as per the constitution, election and constitutional experts said on Wednesday, warning that a violation would be ‘extra constitutional.’

Former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party dissolved both the provincial assemblies last month in a bid to force the federal government led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to announce early national elections. The federal government has rejected Khan’s demand, saying elections would be held on time in October.

The governors of Punjab and KP have not announced dates for general elections in their respective provinces yet though the assemblies were dissolved on Jan. 14 and 18, respectively.

On Monday, in comments made in parliament, Federal Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar hinted at the possibility of extending the terms of the caretaker governments in the KP and Punjab, unleashing debate over whether such a move would be legal.

“This would be extra constitutional, to not hold general elections in Punjab and KP within 90 days of the dissolution of these assemblies,” Ali Zafar, a lawyer who is a PTI senator and represents the party in its legal cases, told Arab News.

“We have moved the Lahore High Court for directions to the governor and Election Commission of Pakistan for announcement of a date for the elections in Punjab,” he said. “The violation of the constitution can only be expected during martial law.”

Article 224 of the constitution says that when the National Assembly or a provincial assembly is dissolved, “a general election to the assembly shall be held within a period of ninety days after the dissolution.”

The ECP has also written separate letters to the Punjab and KP governors to announce dates for elections in their respective provinces, so that the regulator could start the electoral process, which requires at least 54 days to complete.

In response, KP Governor Hajji Ghulam Ali has advised the election commission to consult with law enforcement agencies before fixing an election date, given what he called an ‘alarming law and order situation in the province.’

“The Election Commission of Pakistan should consult and take into confidence the relevant institutions/LEA [law enforcement agencies] as well as political parties to ensure that conduct of general elections in a fair, free and peaceful manner in the province is possible,” the KP Governor said in a letter to the regulator.

Militancy has been on the rise in Pakistan in recent weeks and Peshawar, the capital of KP province, was hit this week by one of the deadliest attacks in recent memory, as a suicide bomber struck a mosque inside a police compound, killing over 100 people, at least 97 of them from police.

In his comments in parliament this week on the day of the Peshawar attack, Law Minister Tarrar said the constitution allowed for an extension in the tenure of a caretaker setup “in case of law and order or economic issues.”

He cited past examples of election delays due to floods in 1988 and the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007, which resulted in a change in the dates for the 2008 general elections.

Currently, Pakistan is in the grips of a deep economic crisis amid its biggest ever currency devaluation and a rash of emergency spending cuts, offering the clearest sign yet that the nuclear-armed nation faces the risk of a default unless it receives massive external support.

Tarrar and State Minister for Law and Justice Senator Shahadat Awan did not respond to attempts to seek comment for this story.

Election experts said the federal government wanted to delay the elections in Punjab and KP provinces, but there was no provision for it in the constitution.

“The constitution is very clear on holding the elections, so technically the government or even the election commission cannot delay them by just giving any excuse,” Rashid Chaudhry, deputy-director programs at the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) in Islamabad, told Arab News.

He said it would be “unprecedented” to delay the elections in the provinces: “There is no room for it in the constitution.”

Chaudhry said a timeline was not given in the constitution about the election schedule, but a clear deadline of “within 90 days” was mentioned, which “must be respected.”

“It is beyond our imagination as to how the constitutional provision can be violated by the election commission,” he said, adding that the superior judiciary should intervene to ensure elections were held within the specific timeframe.

Concurring with Chaudhry, Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, president of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT), said the election commission, not the federal government, was the relevant authority to decide on election dates.

“We cannot rule out a delay in the elections at the moment especially after the deadly Peshawar blast in which around hundred police personnel have been killed,” he told Arab News. “The election commission has already delayed local government elections in Islamabad and other territories following a request by the government.”

Constitutional experts said the federal government and the election commission would have to provide “solid reasons” if they decided to delay the elections.

“It is a constitutional requirement to hold the elections, so they cannot just violate it without any valid reason,” Justice (retired) Shaiq Usmani told Arab News.

However, he said the federal government and election commission could stave off the consequences of violating the constitution by citing Article 254, which states:

“When any act or thing is required by the constitution to be done within a particular period and it is not done within that period, the doing of the act or thing shall not be invalid or otherwise ineffective by reason only that it was not done within that period.”
 


Suspects arrested over Pakistan mosque blast, police focus on how bomber got in

Updated 01 February 2023

Suspects arrested over Pakistan mosque blast, police focus on how bomber got in

  • Peshawar police chief says it is not possible to rule out internal assistance while the investigation is in progress
  • The attack was the deadliest in the city since suicide bombers killed scores of worshippers at a church in 2013

PESHAWAR: Police investigating a suicide bombing that killed more than 100 people at a Pakistan mosque said on Tuesday that several people had been arrested, and they could not rule out the possibility that the bomber had internal assistance evading security checks.

The bombing was the deadliest in a decade to hit Peshawar, a restive northwestern city near the Afghan border, and all but three of those killed were police, making it most suffered by Pakistan’s security forces in a single attack in recent history.

The bomber struck on Monday as hundreds of worshippers gathered for noon prayers in a mosque that was purpose built for the police and their families living in a highly fortified area.

“We have found some excellent clues, and based on these clues we have made some major arrests,” Peshawar Police Chief Ijaz Khan told Reuters.
“We can’t rule out internal assistance but since the investigation is still in progress, I will not be able to share more details.”

Investigators, who include counter-terrorism and intelligence officials, are focusing on how the attacker managed to breach the military and police checkpoints leading into the Police Lines district, a colonial-era, self-contained encampment in the city center that is home to middle- and lower-ranking police personnel and their families.

Defense Minister Khawaja Asif had said the bomber was in the first row in the prayer hall when he struck. Remains of the attacker had been recovered, provincial Police Chief Moazzam Jah Ansari told Reuters.

“We believe the attackers are not an organized group,” he added.

The most active militant group in the area, the Pakistani Taliban, also called Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), has denied responsibility for the attack, which no group has claimed so far. Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah had told parliament a breakaway faction of the TTP was to blame.

The blast demolished the upper story of the mosque. It was the deadliest in Peshawar since twin suicide bombings at All Saints Church killed scores of worshippers in September 2013, in what remains the deadliest attack on the country’s Christian minority.

Peshawar sits on the edge of the Pashtun tribal lands, a region mired in violence for the past two decades.

The TTP is an umbrella group for Sunni and sectarian Islamist factions opposed to the government in Islamabad. The group has recently stepped-up attacks against police.


Pakistan January CPI rises 27.5% year-on-year, highest since May 1975

Updated 01 February 2023

Pakistan January CPI rises 27.5% year-on-year, highest since May 1975

  • Food inflation increased to 42.9% in Jan 2023 as prices of chicken, wheat, rice, wheat flour and vegetable increased
  • Pakistan desperately needs IMF to release an overdue tranche of $1.1 billion, leaving $1.4 billion remaining in a stalled bailout

KARACHI: Pakistan’s inflation rate surged to 27.6 percent, the highest in over four decades, on a year-on-year basis in January 2023, due to a surge in the cost of transportation and commodities, according to official data released on Wednesday.

On a month-on-month (MoM) basis, the consumer price index (CPI) was up 2.9 percent as compared to an increase of 0.5 percent last month, according to Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS). 

On January 1, the statistics bureau said Pakistan’s consumer price index rose 24.5 percent in December, year-on-year. 

Arif Habib Limited, a Karachi-based investment firm said year-on-year inflation was the highest since May 1975, which saw a rise of 27.8%.

“The monthly CPI is highest in at least 20 years,” Muhammad Sohail, CEO of Topline Securities, told Arab News.

“This takes seven months of the current fiscal year’s (7MFY23) average inflation to 25.4 percent compared to 10.3 percent in the same period last year. Inflation remained higher than market expectations.”

Rural inflation increased to 32.3 percent on a year-on-year basis in the months of January 2023 as compared to an increase of 28.8 percent in the previous month and 12.9 percent in January 2022. Food inflation increased to 42.9 percent in January 2023 as the prices of chicken, wheat, rice, wheat flour and vegetable increased according to the bureau of statistics. 

Pakistan last week enhanced the prices of petroleum by Rs35 per litter and devalued its currency by almost 13 percent ahead of talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the revival of a stalled $7 billion loan program. 

Analysts say the recent impact of the petroleum price hike and massive rupee depreciation has “yet to come.”

Pushed to the brink by last year’s devastating floods, the South Asian nation has reserves of just $3.7 billion remaining, or barely enough for three weeks of essential imports, while hotly contested elections are due by November.

It desperately needs the IMF to release an overdue tranche of $1.1 billion, leaving $1.4 billion remaining in a stalled bailout program set to end in June.