Ex-PM Khan ‘running out of options’ as party set to quit all assemblies

Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan during his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party's rally in Rawalpindi, Pakistan on November 26, 2022. (REUTERS)
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Updated 27 November 2022

Ex-PM Khan ‘running out of options’ as party set to quit all assemblies

  • The former prime minister said his PTI party was getting out of a ‘corrupt system’
  • Announcement was made to create possibility of political disruption, expert says

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan is trying to create more pressure on the government, experts said on Sunday, as he announced that his party was quitting all assemblies while addressing a mammoth public rally in Rawalpindi a day before.

Khan, who was removed in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence in April, has since held several anti-government rallies while demanding early elections. He has frequently maintained that his ouster was part of a US-backed “foreign conspiracy,” a claim denied by Washington and Khan’s opponents who are now in power.

The leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party made his first public appearance on Saturday since being wounded in a gun attack earlier this month, when he called off a protest march that began from the eastern city of Lahore and was set to culminate in Islamabad.

He announced at the recent rally that his party was going to resign from all assemblies, telling tens of thousands of his cheering supporters that PTI was getting out of this “corrupt system.”

The announcement was a new move taken after months of calling for early elections, said political analyst Dr. Huma Baqai, which saw Khan’s narrative “getting weaker due to repetition.”

“Economy is the main concern of all, and after mass resignations by the PTI, the situation will further deteriorate and put the government on the back foot and can force them to announce early elections,” she added.

Pakistan, faced with high inflation and dwindling foreign reserves, has been battling an economic crisis exacerbated by devastating floods that killed over 1,700 people.

Former attorney-general of Pakistan, Anwar Mansoor Khan, also said the latest political development “can build pressure” on the current government.

“But they [the PTI] tried it [the resignation move] in the national assembly but did not succeed. It is a matter of wits and how long the government can sustain pressure,” Khan told Arab News.

PTI lawmakers resigned from the national assembly en masse in April, ahead of a vote to elect a new premier after Khan was removed from office.

Khan’s decision could “create a lot of problems” for the federal government, said senior journalist Arifa Noor, and was taken because of the recent change in military leadership.

“[He] wants to increase the pressure on the new army chief to make some decision in favor of his demand of calling early elections,” Noor told Arab News.

Pakistan named Lieutenant-General Asim Munir on Thursday as chief of its army, a major power center that plays a vital and influential role in the governance of the nuclear-armed nation. The appointment coincided with a dispute between Khan and the military, who the former premier blamed for playing a part in his ouster.

PTI’s mass resignation was intended to “create the possibility of political disruption,” said Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, president of Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency.

“By doing this he maintains pressure on the government and sends a message to the army as well that they should use their influence to prevent the possible disruption,” he continued.

Khan, who said he canceled his protest march because he feared it would cause havoc in the country, was “running out of options,” Mehboob added.

“Threat to resign from provincial assemblies is all he could do at this time to keep the momentum of his campaign.”

But there remain uncertainties with Khan's announcement, with political analyst Mosharraf Zaidi saying that “resignations from the assemblies would not have the same effect as a dissolution.”

“PTI’s threat of the dissolution of the KP and Punjab assemblies would need to actually happen for it to actually challenge the federal government,” he told Arab News, alluding to PTI’s stronghold in the northwest province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the coalition government Khan has in Punjab with ally PML-Q.

Former secretary of Pakistan’s election commission Kanwar Dilshad highlighted that Khan’s announcement was incomplete, as he did not clarify whether “he will dissolve assemblies or will just resign,” also noting that each would have different consequences.

“Dissolution of assemblies can bring a real constitutional crisis and force the federal government to call early elections,” he said.


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.