Gen Asim Munir takes over as Pakistan army chief amid intense political acrimony

This handout photograph released by Pakistan's Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) on November 29, 2022 shows General Qamar Javed Bajwa (right) handing over command of Pakistan Army to General Asim Munir (left) at a change-of-command ceremony in Rawalpindi.
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Updated 29 November 2022

Gen Asim Munir takes over as Pakistan army chief amid intense political acrimony

  • Bajwa retires after completing six-year extended term that began in 2016
  • Army has recently come under unprecedented criticism for its role in politics

ISLAMABAD: General Asim Munir assumed charge of the Pakistan army at a ceremony on Tuesday, taking over command from outgoing chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, at a moment of intense public debate over the military’s role and power in Pakistan’s political system.

Bajwa retires after completing a six-year extended term heading an institution that has historically held a massive sway in governance and foreign policy matters of the nuclear-armed South Asian nation.

He also steps down at a time when the army, which has ruled Pakistan for nearly half of its 75-year history, has come under intense criticism, arguably unprecedented for the all-powerful institution, particularly for its role in politics.

At the center of the attacks is ex-premier Imran Khan and his PTI party, which has accused Bajwa of backing the Shehbaz Sharif-led coalition government and helping it come to power through a parliamentary vote of no-confidence that removed Khan from office in April. The army denies this.

“I have complete faith that under his leadership, the army will set new benchmarks of success,” Gen Bajwa said of his successor in his farewell speech at the change of command ceremony at the army’s headquarters in Rawalpindi.

“God willing, his appointment will prove to be positive for the army and the country.”

At a speech last week, Bajwa directly took on Khan, saying the military would play no role in national politics in the future.

“A state of hysteria was created in the country on the pretext of a fake and false narrative,” the army chief said about criticism of the military based on Khan’s main accusation that Washington supported his removal with the help of local political rivals, a charge denied by the United States.

Bajwa also said last week that the military had decided in February last year to quit any role in Pakistani politics.

Analysts remain skeptical that it will do so, and soon after his retirement, his critics described his legacy as one of “political turmoil.”

“Gen Bajwa leaves behind a legacy of political turmoil, a shattered economy and worst of all a fracturing of the relationship of trust between the army and citizens, with his decisions,” senior PTI leader and Khan aide, Asad Umar, said on Twitter.

“There is massive damage control that the new GHQ set up will have to undertake post departure of Gen Bajwa,” former human rights minister Shireen Mazari said, referring to the new military leadership.

Ahead of the handing over, Bajwa on Monday held farewell meetings with PM Sharif and President Arif Alvi, in which both leaders lauded the outgoing officer’s services for Pakistan.

“Under the leadership of General Qamar Javed Bajwa, the army demonstrated exemplary services in effectively dealing with various challenges, including the country’s exclusion from the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) Grey List, COVID-19 pandemic, and the recent flashfloods,” the PM office said in a statement.

“You had the honor of leading the best army in the world.”




This screengrab, taken on November 29, 2022, shows the Pakistan army's outgoing chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, and the newly appointed chief General Asim Munir at a change-of-command ceremony in Rawalpindi. (Photo courtesy: YouTube/PTVNews)

The army’s command now goes to Munir who has held some of the top positions in the military in a career spanning over three decades.

Described as a “clear-headed” general by the media, Munir grew up in the garrison city of Rawalpindi and is the son of a school principal. He received a prestigious award for officers known as the ‘sword of honor’ as top of his year at the military academy.

Munir has previously served as chief of Pakistan’s Military Intelligence in 2017 and the Inter-Services Intelligence in 2018. He was abruptly removed as ISI chief after just eight months on what is widely believed to be the request of then-prime minister Khan. No reason was given for his removal.

Before becoming army chief, Munir served as the army’s quartermaster general.

Domestically, his appointment could impact Pakistan’s fragile democracy at a time of street protests and amid widespread calls for early elections. He will also most certainly lead the path of Pakistan’s ties with neighbors India and Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, and choreograph the delicate dance of Islamabad’s relationship with Beijing and Washington.


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.