Pakistani defense minister rules out martial law, says ‘no room’ for army to abrogate constitution

This photo, taken on January 31, 2023, shows Pakistani Defense Minister Khawaja Asif addressing the National Assembly of Pakistan in Islamabad. (Photo courtesy: Twitter/NAofPakistan)
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Updated 25 March 2023

Pakistani defense minister rules out martial law, says ‘no room’ for army to abrogate constitution

  • Pakistan has been ruled by all-powerful military for nearly half of its 75-year history
  • Khawaja Asif’s statement comes amid rising political instability and economic turmoil

ISLAMABAD: Defense Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif on Friday ruled out the possibility of a military intervention in Pakistan amid growing political instability, saying there was “no room”for the army to abrogate the constitution by carrying out a coup against a civilian government.

The South Asian country has been ruled by the military for nearly half of its 75-year history and even when the army is not directly in power, it retains an outsized role in political affairs and national security. The last time the military toppled a Pakistani government was in 1999, launching an era of direct and indirect army rule that ended in 2008. Incidentally, the civilian government that was overthrown in 1999 was headed by Nawaz Sharif, who is the elder brother of the current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

Since then, three general elections have seen three different parties make the government at the center and despite widespread speculation, the military has not directly taken over, even in moments of intense political crisis.

But over the past year, Pakistan has been in the grips of unending political uncertainty, mainly triggered by the ouster of former prime minister Imran Khan last April, who has since been holding rallies and marches against the PM Shehbaz Sharif-led coalition government to demand snap national polls. Khan, who is embroiled in a string of court cases, has been avoiding arrest, which has led to violent clashes between Khan’s supporters and police who have tried to take him into custody in recent weeks.

The situation has given rise to fears of another military intervention, which Asif ruled out in a briefing with foreign correspondents on Friday.

“If you look at the history of four army interventions we’ve had over the last 75 years, those interventions were personally motivated,” Asif said in Islamabad, adding that the situation in those years — 1958, 1969, 1977, and 1999 — never "warranted any intervention."

“There is no link between violence, civil unrest, and the Pakistani army taking over in our history. So speculating that there will be chaos and civil unrest and the army will take over, citing the example of past takeovers [is unfounded] because past takeovers were based on personal ambitions and not for any particular situation of law and order in Pakistan.”

The minister said there were no constitutional provisions in Pakistan that allowed the army to take over and impose martial law.

“If there is civil unrest, then the civilian governments are responsible under the constitution and they will tackle the [situation], and in that process, if they have to call the army in aid of civil power, it is in the constitution but taking over the country is abrogating the constitution and there is no room for that,” the defence minister said.

Asked if he was suggesting the current military leadership had no "personal agenda," Asif said:

“Absolutely, the current military leadership has no personal agenda. Their only agenda is to defend Pakistan, internally and externally.”

The minister said that the government was willing to talk to Khan “for the sake of peace in our country” and to reach some sort of consensus on major issues. But the government wanted a “comprehensive” rather than a "transactional dialogue," he added.

Speaking about elections in Pakistan, including a national election and general elections in Punjab whose legislative assembly was dissolved in January, Asif said polls would be held simultaneously in October as per the schedule. 

Earlier this week, the political crisis in Pakistan deepened as the election regulator announced the postponement of polls in Punjab province from April 30 to October 8.

The decision was made by the Election Commission of Pakistan, Asif said, as the body is empowered to make such decisions, adding that the federal government had only put forward suggestions to delay the polls due to security and financial reasons.

Pakistan has seen a rise in militant attacks in recent months and is also in the middle of a full-blown economic meltdown, which it is trying to avert by signing a loan deal with the IMF.

Ex-PM Khan remains in Attock jail despite court order for transfer to Rawalpindi — party

Updated 7 sec ago

Ex-PM Khan remains in Attock jail despite court order for transfer to Rawalpindi — party

  • Khan held in Attock since conviction in case involving ‘corrupt practices’ when he was PM
  • Khan has also been remanded in jail until Oct. 10 in separate case involving leaked state secrets

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party said on Tuesday its leader had not been moved yet to Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail despite an order from the Islamabad High Court a day earlier that he be transferred from a high-security prison in Attock.

Khan was arrested on Aug. 5 after a trial court in Islamabad found him guilty of “corrupt practices” in a case involving the unlawful sale of state gifts during his tenure as prime minister from 2018 to 2022. He has since been serving his sentence at Attock Jail.

The IHC suspended Khan’s sentence on Aug. 29 but he remains in jail on remand in another case, popularly called the cipher case, in which he is charged with leaking state secrets. The latest extension of the remand order will keep Khan in jail until Oct. 10. Meanwhile, the former PM had filed a petition with the IHC seeking his transfer to Adiala Jail.

On Monday, IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq observed that under-trial prisoners (UTPs) of all the courts in the federal capital were kept at Adiala, issuing directions to shift Khan to that prison.

The direction followed arguments by Khan’s counsel Sher Afzal Khan Marwat who said the court had suspended Khan’s sentence in the state gifts case and the ex-PM was now facing a trial in the cipher case before a special court in Islamabad. As a UTP in the federal territory, Khan must be kept in Adiala Jail, he had argued.

“Imran Khan is still in Attock Jail where a special court judge conducted today’s hearing in the cipher case,” Rizwan Ahmed, a PTI spokesperson, told Arab News on Tuesday morning. “The court has extended Imran Khan’s judicial remand in the cipher case till October 10.

“Imran Khan may be shifted to Adiala Jail from Attock prison after the Islamabad High Court issues a written order in this regard,” he added.

“Our legal team is following it and we’ll be updating the media accordingly.”

A day earlier, a senior Khan aide, Zulfiqar Bukhari, had said arrangements were being made to move Khan to the Rawalpindi prison.
In the state secrets case, Khan is charged with making public the contents of a confidential cable sent by Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States and using it for political gain, according to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).

Khan alleges that the cable proves the United States had pressed Pakistan’s military to orchestrate the fall of his government because he had visited Russia shortly before its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Washington and the Pakistani military have denied Khan’s accusations.

Khan also faces a range of other legal cases he says are politically motivated.

Pakistan in talks with Saudi Arabia to introduce shorter stay Hajj visits

Updated 7 min 26 sec ago

Pakistan in talks with Saudi Arabia to introduce shorter stay Hajj visits

  • Pakistani pilgrims traveling for Hajj under government’s program have to stay for 40 days in Kingdom
  • Saudi Arabia has recently proposed reducing number of Hajj operators from Pakistan from 905 to 46

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is working with Saudi Arabia to introduce short Hajj packages for next year’s annual pilgrimage, according to the minutes of a meeting on Monday of the Senate Standing Committee on Religious Affairs and Inter-Faith Harmony.

More than 81,000 Pakistani pilgrims performed the pilgrimage under the government scheme this year while the rest from a total quota of 179,210 used private tour operators. Pakistani pilgrims traveling for Hajj under the government’s program have to stay for 40 days in the Kingdom.

“The ministry with the collaboration with Saudi Government is planning to introduce a short time period for the Hajj,” the minutes of the Senate panel meeting said, quoting Caretaker Federal Minister for Religious Affairs, Aneeq Ahmed.

Briefing the committee on arrangements for Hajj 2024, Ahmed said the ministry would introduce suitcases with QR codes and specially design scarves for women so that pilgrims from Pakistan could be easily identified.

The panel also discussed a recent letter written by Saudi Arabia, proposing to reduce the number of Hajj operators from Pakistan from 905 to 46.

“Saudi Arabia intends to provide better facilities to pilgrims, and in this regard, the letter has been sent to all Muslim countries,” Ahmed said.
 “The Committee recommended that exception should be provided to Hajj operators for the year 2024 and the proposed number of operators by the Saudi government should be increased to 100.”

The committee also discussed the Makkah Route initiative, introduced by Saudi Arabia in 2019 to streamline Hajj pilgrims’ visas, customs, and health requirements at departure airports, thus saving them time both before departure and upon arrival in the Kingdom.

“Ministry is in negotiation with Saudi government to extend Road to Makkah Project currently available at Islamabad International airport, and with due course of time the same service will also be available at Karachi and Lahore,” Ahmed added. 

Pakistani leaders, Saudi envoy laud Kingdom’s efforts to ‘shape’ the future

Updated 26 September 2023

Pakistani leaders, Saudi envoy laud Kingdom’s efforts to ‘shape’ the future

  • Glittering ceremony held in Islamabad to celebrate Saudi Arabia’s 93rd National Day
  • Senate chairman praises Saudi efforts to promote peace, stability in Middle Easy and beyond

ISLAMABAD: At celebrations to commemorate Saudi Arabia’s 93rd National Day in Islamabad on Monday, Pakistani leaders as well as the Kingdom’s envoy to Pakistan praised the leadership in Riyadh for its efforts to realign Middle East dynamics and open up the Saudi economy and society.

The Saudi government, in an effort led by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, has made remarkable changes in recent years under a vast economic transformation plan, the Vision 2030, to diversify away from oil and open the Kingdom to business and tourism amid rising regional competition. The Kingdom has also gone into diplomatic overdrive, restoring relations with Iran and agreeing to a rapprochement with Syria in its quest to rebuild regional alliances, instead of leaning entirely on the United States, its long-time big power ally. It has also recently joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as parts of Riyadh’s attempts to build a long-term partnership with China.

“Under the ideal leadership, Saudi Arabia is not just addressing the future, it is actively shaping it,” Chairman Senate Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani said at a ceremony to celebrate Saudi National Day, which the Kingdom is marking this year with the slogan, “We dream and we achieve.”

The Senate chairman lauded steps taken by Saudi Arabia to promote peace and stability in the region.

“Dialogue and mutual respect are the bedrock on which lasting peace is made,” he said. “We are confident that Saudi efforts will open doors to various opportunities, including trade, the sharing of initiatives, and collaboration between leaders and their followers, not only for the region but for the entire world.”

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are close allies and share strong economic, security and cultural ties. Saudi Arabia is also home to more than two million Pakistani expatriates, making it the largest contributor to remittance inflows.

This year, Pakistan received $2 billion in financial support from Saudi Arabia in July, a day before the International Monetary Fund’s board gave the final approval for a $3 billion bailout deal. Saudi Arabia’s continued economic and investment support is key for Pakistan, as economic stabilization is a major challenge, with the $350 billion economy on a narrow recovery path after the IMF bailout averted a sovereign debt default. Economic reforms have already fueled historic inflation and interest rates.

“Pakistan is grateful for all the support extended by the Kingdom in the difficult times,” Sanjrani said, adding that Pakistan had also provided “unwavering and never-ending” support to the Kingdom on the diplomatic and security fronts.

Speaking at the ceremony, which was organized by the Saudi embassy, Ambassador Nawaf bin Said Al-Malki called on Pakistan and the world to “support all development plans and initiatives taken for the progress and prosperity of the Kingdom.”

“At the forefront of these successful initiatives is the Kingdom’s Vision 2030,” the ambassador said, “which represents a new stage leading the country to a bright future.”

Pakistani PM pitches investments, improved business climate in stopover visit to UK

Updated 24 min 10 sec ago

Pakistani PM pitches investments, improved business climate in stopover visit to UK

  • Kakar meets senior leaders of London’s capital and financial markets, prominent British-Pakistani business heads
  • Discusses “multifaceted bilateral relations and resumption of PIA flights” with British foreign secretary

ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar on Monday met the UK’s foreign secretary as well as financial and capital market leaders and top British-Pakistani and other business groups on a stopover visit to London on his way back from New York to attend the UN General Assembly.

Pakistan in June set up a Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) — a civil-military hybrid forum — to fast-track decision making and promote investment from foreign nations. The council has identified five sectors as priority for seeking investment, namely agriculture, mining, information technology, defense production and energy, as the South Asian country deals with a balance of payments crisis and requires billions of dollars in foreign exchange to finance its trade deficit and repay its international debts in the current financial year.

Last week, Kakar used his visit to New York for the UN General Assembly as an opportunity to meet business and thought leaders and stakeholders and make the case for improved business climate in Pakistan and its potential for foreign direct investment in a range of sectors.

On Monday, senior leaders of London’s capital and financial markets called on Kakar in London and expressed “keen interest in exploring promising investment opportunities in the financial and capital market of Pakistan, reflecting a growing mutual interest in expanding economic collaboration,” the PM’s Office said in a statement released after his meeting with notable investment firms, including Fidelity International Limited (FIL), Wellington Management, Ashmore, Jefferies International, Redwheel Capital, Switex Industrial SA, Oxford Frontier Capital, GuarantCo, JP Morgan, Kalrock Capital, and UBL UK.

“Prime Minister Kakar informed the delegation about Pakistan’s current economic landscape, highlighting government measures for external account improvement,” the PM office said.

“He said that recent administrative actions strengthened the Pakistani rupee against the US dollar, fostering optimism for stability. He said positive indicators, including inflows from the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and friendly nations, contributed to reduced inflation, stabilized reserves, and revival of industrial growth.”

Kakar also spoke about the potential for foreign direct investment in Pakistan’s key sectors and the positive impact of a Stand-By Arrangement (SBA) with the IMF, agreed in June. He highlighted economic improvements such as reduced inflation and improved trade after the removal of restrictions on imports and fiscal measures for monetary support and medium-term inflation targets.

“Furthermore, the Prime Minister highlighted Pakistan’s pro-investment efforts, introducing the Special Investment Facilitation Council,” the PMO said. “This initiative, led by the Prime Minister himself, streamlines investment processes, attracts investments in key sectors, and fosters long-term growth by simplifying the business landscape.”

Kakar separately met prominent British-Pakistani businessmen in London and highlighted positive economic indicators resulting from reforms pursued by his government, including a strengthening of the rupee, reduced inflation, and expected economic growth.

 “The Prime Minister spoke about Pakistan’s investment-friendly approach, mentioning incentives and ease-of-business reforms,” the PMO said. “He introduced the Special Investment Facilitation Council, chaired by himself, to streamline investment in key sectors through a single-window platform. This initiative aims to enhance ease of doing business, remove bureaucratic hurdles, and create a long-term investment roadmap.”

Kakar also shared the government’s resolve and commitment to privatize loss-making state-owned enterprises and urged overseas Pakistanis to take advantage of the opportunities for investment in Pakistan. He invited diaspora business leaders “to invest, especially in Special Economic Zones, to contribute to Pakistan’s economic recovery.”

The PMO said the business leaders “conveyed their strong interest in expanding their business operations in Pakistan while actively seeking to increase their investments in the country.”

Abdullah Kamani, a leading British businessman and the co-founder and executive chairman of Boohoo Group, separately called on Kakar. Boohoo Group plc is a British online fashion retailer, aimed at 16–30-year-olds. The business was founded in 2006, and had sales in 2019 of £856.9 million. It specializes in own brand fashion clothing.

“Kamani expressed keen interest in establishing long-term buying linkages with Pakistan and the ambition to create a comprehensive supply chain in the country, encompassing organic cotton to apparel production,” the PM’s office said. “They also hoped for improved Pakistan-UK air connectivity to facilitate increased imports from Pakistan.”

Kakar conveyed Pakistan’s commitment to facilitating investment and offered support in establishing manufacturing facilities within the country, particularly within Special Economic Zones (SEZs). He urged Boohoo Group to consider opening buying houses in Pakistan and invited the company to send a buying delegation to Pakistan.

Kakar also met UK’s Foreign Secretary James Cleverly on Monday and discussed “all areas of mutual interest, including multifaceted bilateral relations, and resumption of PIA flights.”

Pakistan condemns latest desecration of Qur’an in the Netherlands

Updated 25 September 2023

Pakistan condemns latest desecration of Qur’an in the Netherlands

  • Anti-Islam activists have burnt, damaged several copies of Muslim holy book in recent months
  • Desecrations have enraged Muslims, unleashed demands governments ban such acts 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Monday condemned the latest “senseless” act of desecration of the Qur’an in the Netherlands in front of a number of embassies of Muslim countries.
Anti-Islam activists have burnt and damaged several copies of the Muslim holy book in recent months, prompting outrage in the Muslim world and demands the nations’ governments ban such acts.
Intentionally burning the Qur’an is seen by Muslims as a blasphemous and insulting act worthy of severe punishment. 
“Pakistan condemns in the strongest terms the latest senseless and deeply offensive act of desecration of the Holy Qur’an that took place in The Hague, the Netherlands in front of some embassies of OIC member countries including Pakistan,” the Pakistani foreign office said.
“It is a deliberately provocative and Islamophobic act that has hurt the sentiments of Muslims around the world. Such acts cannot be condoned under the guise of freedom of expression, opinion and protest.”
The foreign office said Pakistan believed freedom of expression came with responsibilities and governments should actively prevent racist and Islamophobic acts that incite religious hatred.
“Pakistan’s concerns have been conveyed to the Dutch authorities. We urge them to be mindful of the sentiments of the people of Pakistan and Muslims around the world and take active steps to prevent such hateful and Islamophobic acts.”
Last month the United Nations Human Rights Council approved a disputed resolution on religious hatred in the wake of the burning of a Qur’an in Sweden, prompting concern by Western states who say it challenges long-held practices in rights protection.