Pakistan’s ousted PM expresses shock as local court approves Azam Swati’s two-day physical remand

An undated file photo of Pakistan's former minister for railways Azam Khan Swati. (Photo courtesy: social media)
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Updated 27 November 2022

Pakistan’s ousted PM expresses shock as local court approves Azam Swati’s two-day physical remand

  • The Federal Investigation Agency arrested the PTI senator and Khan’s close aide from Islamabad earlier in the day
  • He was also arrested last month over a controversial tweet against the army chief, though he was later released

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan said on Sunday he was “shocked” by the arrest of one his close aides, Azam Swati, for making critical comments against the country’s army chief after a local court approved his two-day physical remand on the request of the Federal Investigation Agency.

The FIA also arrested Swati last month after registering a case against him over a controversial tweet targeting General Qamar Javed Bajwa, though he was later released on bail.

A senior senator belonging to Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, Swati maintained he was stripped and tortured while he was in the custody of the law enforcement agency. He also told a news conference this month that his wife had received an obscene video which featured him and her, though he refused to divulge further details.

Swati addressed a protest rally arranged by Khan’s PTI party in the garrison city of Rawalpindi just a few hours before his arrest wherein he raised the issue of custodial torture and mistreatment of his family once again.

“I am shocked & appalled at how rapidly we are descending into not just a banana republic but a fascist state,” said ex-prime minister Khan in a Twitter post. “How can anyone not understand the pain & suffering Senator Swati underwent with custodial torture & blackmailing video of him & his conservative wife sent to his family?”

The PTI chief maintained Swati was rightly furious about what had happened to him and his family while asking people to resist “state fascism.”

“His justifiable anger & frustration at the injustice meted out to him especially the doors of SC remaining closed to him despite over a fortnight of appeals by Senators in support of him,” he continued. “So he tweets & is arrested again. Everyone must raise their voice against this state fascism.”

 

 

According to local media reports, the FIA sought an eight-day physical remand from a local court in Islamabad but was only granted two days.

“During the hearing, the investigation officer informed the court that the senator was arrested as there were some controversial tweets done by him,” Geo News reported. “He added that the FIA seeks to recover the senator’s Twitter account, mobile and other things.”

However, some PTI leaders said he was arrested for his fiery speech at the protest rally in Rawalpindi.

“Senator Azam Swati arrested again by FIA after he spoke at our Azadi [Freedom] March where he asked some questions and spoke about what happened to him and his family,” Shireen Mazari, a member of Khan’s party and former human rights minister, said on Twitter.

“Is that a crime?”

 

 

 

Swati’s made the comments at the protest rally shortly before Khan announced that his party was quitting the country’s provincial and national assemblies while making his first public appearance since being wounded in a gun attack on November 3.

Khan, a former cricket star turned politician, was ousted in a no-confidence vote in April. He is now in opposition and has been demanding early elections, claiming his ouster was illegal and orchestrated by PM Shehbaz Sharif with the backing of the United States. Sharif and Washington have dismissed the allegations and the current government says the next polls will be held as scheduled in 2023.

Khan launched an anti-government march late last month from the eastern city of Lahore toward Islamabad as part of his campaign to demand snap polls. However, his motorized caravan came under attack by a gunman who killed one man and injured Khan along with ten other party supporters.

Both Khan and Swati have accused officials of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency and others government functionaries of orchestrating the November 3 attack and being behind the alleged custodial torture of PTI members.

The Pakistani military has denied the allegations and insists that it was “neutral” during the political transition earlier this year.

Since Khan’s ouster, anti-army trends and posts on social media have become a routine occurrence in Pakistan, where the military was long feared and for decades ruled either through coups or as the invisible guiding hand in politics.


Fearing torture, ex-PM Khan's aide files petition for medical examination

Updated 29 January 2023

Fearing torture, ex-PM Khan's aide files petition for medical examination

  • Chaudhry Fawad Hussain urges court to take notice of violation of his constitutional rights
  • Hussain was arrested last week on charges of threatening members of Pakistan's election regulator

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Imran Khan's aide, Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, on Sunday submitted a plea before an Islamabad judicial magistrate for his medical examination to be conducted, fearing he may be subjected to torture in police custody.

Hussain, who served as information minister in former PM Khan's cabinet, was arrested on Wednesday from Lahore and brought to Islamabad. A sedition case was registered against Hussain after a case was registered against him by the Election Commission of Pakistan's (ECP) secretary, who said Hussain had threatened members of the commission and their families. 

On Saturday, an Islamabad local court remanded Hussain for two days in police custody. Hussain and Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party have denied allegations he threatened ECP's members. The party and its chairman have repeatedly raised concerns Hussain's constitutional rights are being violated by authorities. 

“It is feared that the applicant may be subjected to mental and physical torture,” Hussain's petition read. “It is important to conduct the medical examination of the applicant to protect his legal and constitutional rights," it added. 

The petition said police were not conducting Hussain's medical examination which was against the court's directives, adding that they were also in violation of his constitutional rights. 

The petition alleged that Islamabad police had subjected two PTI senior leaders, Senator Azam Swati and Dr. Shahbaz Gill, to torture during custody. Islamabad police has rejected the allegations.  “The police might do the same as they did in the past, and this is why they are not conducting my medical,” the petition said. 

It also requested the court to direct police “to immediately conduct the applicant’s medical examination and submit a report in the court.” 

The former information minister is scheduled to be produced before the judicial magistrate in Islamabad tomorrow, Monday, after the expiry of his two-day physical remand. The investigators argued before the court that they wanted to have a photogrammetry test of the accused conducted. They also demanded his laptop and cell phone be recovered for forensic analysis. 


Central bank rejects claim capping dollar price caused $3 billion losses in exports, remittances

Updated 29 January 2023

Central bank rejects claim capping dollar price caused $3 billion losses in exports, remittances

  • State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) says rising inflation, global economic slowdown behind dwindling remittances, exports
  • SBP says devastating floods last year and ensuing supply disruptions also contributed to decline in Pakistan's exports

ISLAMABAD: The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) on Sunday rejected media reports which stated that capping the price of the US dollar caused the country losses worth $3 billion in exports and remittances, saying that a decline in both was due to "exogenous factors."

In a major sign that it was willing to swallow the bitter pill and agree to the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) tough conditionalities, Pakistan's foreign exchange companies last week removed the cap on the US dollar. The price of the rupee, as a result, fell to a 24-year-low against the greenback, compounding problems for the South Asian country. 

Local media reports had claimed that capping the price of the US dollar had dealt Pakistan losses of $3 billion in exports and remittances as people preferred to send remittances to Pakistan via illegal channels, which offered a better rate. 

In a press release, the SBP rejected the reports, describing them as "incorrect." It added that Pakistan's exports were facing headwinds due to moderating demand in international markets as the country's trading partners go through a period of monetary tightening. 

"For instance, US Federal Funds rate has surged from 0.25 percent in March 2022 to 4.5 percent to date; suggesting a noticeable global monetary tightening," the SBP said. 

The central bank said inflation has been "significantly higher" in developed countries, eroding people's purchasing power. The SBP also said that devastating floods last year and ensuing supply disruptions are also to blame for Pakistan's dwindling exports. 

"In this backdrop, linking decline in exports to relatively stable exchange rate is not appropriate," it added. 

It said workers' remittances were gradually "tapering off" from the all-time high figure of $3.1 billion in April 2022 due to Eid-related flows.  

"This decline is primarily attributed to global economic slowdown as higher inflation in developed countries has led to higher cost of living abroad, thus reducing the surplus funds that could be sent back to homeland as remittances," the central bank added.

Pakistan's foreign reserves have dipped to an alarming eight-year low of $3.6 billion, barely enough to cover three weeks of imports. Islamabad hopes the resumption of the IMF's stalled loan program would help unlock inflows from allies and multilateral organizations.


Pakistan’s president, PM express sorrow after 50 die in twin transport mishaps

Updated 29 January 2023

Pakistan’s president, PM express sorrow after 50 die in twin transport mishaps

  • A passenger bus fell into a ravine and caught fire in Balochistan's Bela area, killing at least 40 people
  • In second mishap, 10 children were killed after their ferry capsized in country's northwest on Sunday

KARACHI: Pakistan's President Dr. Arif Alvi and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in separate statements on Sunday expressed “deep grief and sorrow” over two transport tragedies that left at least 50 people dead and renewed the debate about transport safety protocols in the South Asian country.

In the first incident, a passenger bus fell into a ravine and later caught fire in the Bela area of Pakistan's southwestern Balochistan province, where road accidents claim thousands of lives annually.  At least 40 people were killed in the accident. 

In another incident, 10 children, aged between seven to 14 years, died when their boat capsized in Tanda Dam lake near Kohat in the country's northwest, according to police.  The boat was carrying between 25 and 30 students on a day trip from a local madrassa when it overturned.

“The president has stressed authorities take practical steps to avert the occurrence of such incidents in the future,” the state-owned Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) reported, citing a statement from the president’s secretariat said.

“The prime minister has directed [authorities concerned] to ensure the provision of all available medical facilities to the injured,” the Prime Minister’s House said in a statement according to the APP. 

Balochistan, a mountainous, desert region bordering Afghanistan and Iran, is Pakistan’s largest but most impoverished province, with a staggering 40,000-kilometer network of road infrastructure.  

According to the Motorway police, 6,000 to 8,000 people die each year in accidents across the Balochistan province, mainly on single-lane roads that have infamously come to be known as "killer highways."  

“A bus going from Quetta to Karachi plunged into a ravine and caught fire at around 3 am,” Hamza Anjum Nadeem, the Bela assistant commissioner, told Arab News. "At least 39 bodies have been recovered and search for others is underway."  

Anjum later confirmed the death of another passenger, taking the count to 40.

Of these, 38 dead bodies were being moved to the southern port city of Karachi, 177 kilometers away from Bela, for medico-legal formalities, Karachi Police Surgeon Dr. Summaiya Syed told Arab News.

Balochistan is the epicenter of the $64 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a road and infrastructure development plan, which aims to ultimately provide the shortest route for Chinese cargo headed for the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia.  

Major roads are slated for construction under the CPEC, including the road from Balochistan’s Khuzdar district to the Chinese-funded, deepwater port of Gwadar. But for now, the absence of dual carriageways, inadequate training of drivers, and a lack of highway patrol mean thousands continue to die on these roads each year.  

Like road accidents, mass drownings are also common in Pakistan when aged and overloaded vessels lose their stability and pitch passengers into the water.

In July, 18 women drowned when an overcrowded boat carrying a wedding party across the Indus river in Punjab province capsized.

The South Asian country also has poor road safety controls and thousands of lives are lost to road crashes each year, particularly in the southwestern Balochistan province.

According to the National Road Safety Strategy 2018-2030, a report administered by the Asian Development Bank that cited police data, 6,548 people died at the scene of an accident on Pakistan’s roads in 2016. Of these, 355 fatalities happened on national highways and 6,003 on provincial roads.  

At least seven people were killed, and 15 others were injured after a passenger bus collided with a truck in Balochistan's Killa Saifullah district this month.    

In June last year, 22 people were killed when a passenger bus veered off a narrow road and fell into a ravine in the same district.


PM calls for 'global unity' to fight Islamophobia after desecration of Holy Quran in Denmark

Updated 29 January 2023

PM calls for 'global unity' to fight Islamophobia after desecration of Holy Quran in Denmark

  • Danish far-right politician torched a copy of the Holy Quran on Friday near a Copenhagen mosque
  • PM Shehbaz Sharif says desecration of Holy Quran 'highly offensive' act, calls on world to denounce it

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif called for "global unity" to fight Islamophobia on Sunday amid increasing incidents of the desecration of the Holy Quran in Denmark and Sweden last week. 

The prime minister's comments came after a far-right Danish politician torched a copy of the Holy Quran on Friday near a mosque and outside the premises of the Turkish embassy in Copenhagen. 

Rasmus Paludan, known for his extremist stance towards Muslims, pulled a similar stunt in Stockholm last week. Paludan said he would repeat the act every Friday until Sweden is included in the NATO alliance. Turkey, whose support is crucial for Denmark to join the military alliance, has spoken out against Copenhagen's bid to join NATO. 

Paludan's Islamophobic acts have triggered anger among the Muslim community worldwide and evoked strong condemnations from Pakistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other Muslim countries around the world. 

In a Twitter post, Pakistan's prime minister condemned the "highly offensive" incident, calling on the civilized world to denounce it as well

 

 

"The need for global unity to fight Islamophobia couldn't be more urgent than it is now. We are deeply hurt," he wrote on Twitter. 

Pakistan's foreign office on Saturday issued a strong statement against Paludan's act, describing it as "a senseless and deeply offensive" action. 

"This repetition of the vile act leaves little doubt in the minds of Muslims around the world that freedom of expression is being blatantly abused to spread religious hatred and incitement to violence," it had said. 


Pakistan has to abide by tough IMF conditions out of ‘compulsion’ — defense minister

Updated 29 January 2023

Pakistan has to abide by tough IMF conditions out of ‘compulsion’ — defense minister

  • IMF wants Pakistan to reestablish market-based mechanism to determine Pakistani rupee's value
  • Defense Minister Khawaja Asif says government would try not to burden citizens under IMF’s conditions

ISLAMABAD: As Pakistan increased petrol prices by Rs35 per liter, Defense Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif said on Sunday that the country had to agree to “very tough” conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) out of “compulsion” to address its economic woes.

The IMF’s mission is scheduled to visit Pakistan on January 31 to discuss the resumption of its $7 billion loan program, as Islamabad desperately seeks another loan tranche to shore up its foreign exchange reserves. Pakistan's forex reserves have declined to a staggering $3.6 billion, not even enough to cover a month of imports.

Earlier today, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar announced jacking up prices of petroleum products in the country by as much as Rs35 per liter. The minister said the decision was taken due to the Pakistani rupee's recent devaluation and up to an 11 percent increase in global fuel prices.

The hike in prices of petroleum products is part of the IMF's conditionalities to revive the stalled loan program, which requires Pakistan to do away with expensive energy subsidies. The price hike is expected to further increase decades-high inflation in the South Asian country. 

The global lender also wants Pakistan to reestablish a market-based mechanism to determine the value of the Pakistani rupee, which fell to a record low of 269.60 against the dollar in the open market this week. Such a mechanism is a key prior action for the country to receive IMF support.

“The IMF program, which we had to re-enter because of the [current] circumstances and out of compulsion, has set very strict and tough conditions for Pakistan,” Asif said on Sunday, speaking to reporters.

He added the government would undertake efforts to ensure the common man would not have to bear the economic burden of IMF’s conditions.

“We will try that only those belonging to the [upper] socioeconomic class will have to bear the economic burden of this crisis,” he said.

Answering a question related to the acute dearth of forex reserves in the country and the ensuing depreciation of the rupee against the dollar, the defense minister said people who have a foreign currency account in the country would still be able to withdraw “some” of their money in dollars.

“If someone here has a dollar account and wants to withdraw money from their banks, they can do so but in small amounts. For instance, if someone wants to take out money to pay for their children’s school fees, they can do so,” he clarified.

Asif also said the country’s imports, which had to be halted due to the dwindling reserves, were “gradually being relaxed.”

“Our exports are gradually being relaxed, so we will hopefully recover from the economic [turmoil] soon,” he said. “Slowly and gradually, things are being streamlined.”

Pakistan secured a $6 billion IMF bailout in 2019, which was topped up with another $1 billion last year. However, the lender then stalled disbursements in November due to Pakistan’s failure to make more progress on fiscal consolidation and economic reforms.