In massive Lahore rally, ex-PM Khan lays out 10-point recovery plan to ‘save’ Pakistan

Protected by a bulletproof barrier, former Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks during a rally in Lahore, Pakistan, on March 26, 2023, to pressure the government of Shahbaz Sharif to agree to hold snap elections. (AP)
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Updated 26 March 2023

In massive Lahore rally, ex-PM Khan lays out 10-point recovery plan to ‘save’ Pakistan

  • The South Asian country of 220 million has for months been embroiled in political and economic crises
  • The ex-premier taunts the country’s military establishment, says there is no ‘easy way’ out of current situation 

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Imran Khan on Sunday laid out a 10-point recovery plan to steer Pakistan out of an economic crisis as he addressed a massive public gathering in the eastern city of Lahore. 

The former premier said the country’s revenue collected via taxes was far lesser than its expenses and the other major problem was higher outflow of dollars than the inflows, which increased pressure on the rupee and gave rise to inflation. 

He detailed a 10-point economic recovery plan to steer the country out of the crisis, stressing the need to increase exports and investment, and providing a conducive environment to businesspersons through mid- and long-term planning. 

“Overseas Pakistanis are the biggest asset of the country. If we fix our governance system, rule of law... then our governance system will safeguard their capital,” Khan said. 

Protected by a bulletproof barrier, former Prime Minister Imran Khan waves to supporters during a rally in Lahore, Pakistan, on March 26, 2023, to pressure the government of Shahbaz Sharif to agree to hold snap elections. (AP)

But to bring those reforms, the ex-premier said, the country’s governance system needed to be fixed and rule of law was supposed to be established. 

As long as the country won’t have an enabling environment for investment, no government could bring that money to Pakistan, he said. 

“Dollars flow in with increasing exports, but we never tried it,” he said. “We will divert the whole country toward exports. Whoever would bring dollars to the country by selling goods, they will be provided facilities.” 

Other points of Khan’s recovery plan included the promotion of information technology (IT), tourism, mineral exploration and agriculture in the South Asian country of 220 million. 

While laying out his plan, Khan also taunted the country’s all-powerful military about whether they had a plan to ‘save’ Pakistan. 

“I ask Pakistan’s establishment that this is clear you have decided... we won’t let Imran Khan win. All this drama, election delay, the attack on my house, there is only one aim that we won’t let Imran Khan come to power,” he said. 

“Fine, do not let [me] come to power, but tell [me] do you have any program to steer the country out of this destruction? Is there a roadmap? I challenge that the people sitting at the helm neither have the capability nor the will.”  

Supporters of Pakistan's former prime minister Imran Khan gather at a rally in Lahore early on March 26, 2023. (AFP)

The former premier said there was no “easy way” to take the country out of this difficult situation. 

“Only someone with public mandate can make difficult decisions, someone who came through the vote of people, whom the people trust in,” he said. 

“A party that would form government through public mandate, through the vote of public, that would be the first step. When a government would come for five years, then the people, business community would have the confidence that there is political stability.” 

Khan, who was ousted in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence in April last year, has been at loggerheads with the coalition government of PM Shehbaz Sharif and the country’s powerful military establishment. 

The former premier accuses the coalition and former army chief Gen (retired) Qamar Javed Bajwa of orchestrating his ouster as part of a United States-backed “foreign conspiracy.” All three deny the allegation. 

Since his removal from office, Khan has been agitating against the government and criticizing the military through his fiery speeches at rallies and pushing for early elections in the country which are otherwise slated to take place by October. 

The ex-prime minister is also facing dozens of cases, with charges against him ranging from terrorism to sedition. 

Amid decades-high inflation, Pakistan slashes petrol price by Rs8 per liter

Updated 31 May 2023

Amid decades-high inflation, Pakistan slashes petrol price by Rs8 per liter

  • After revision in prices, petrol will now be sold for Rs262 per liter, says finance minister
  • Pakistan slashes prices of high speed diesel, light diesel oil by Rs5 per liter respectively

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Finance Minister Ishaq Dar announced the government’s decision to slash the price of petrol by Rs8 per liter on Wednesday, as Pakistan attempts to provide relief to the masses amid decades-high inflation. 

Inflation increased to a historic high of 36.4 percent in Pakistan in April 2023, the highest since 1964, after the South Asian country hiked fuel and energy prices to revive a $6.5 billion loan program with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). 

To reduce the burden of inflation from the masses, Pakistan slashed the price of petrol by Rs 12 per liter two weeks ago. The South Asian country revises prices of petroleum products fortnightly. 

In a brief video message on Wednesday, the finance minister said that prices of petroleum products had not reduced drastically over the past 15 days nor had the value of the rupee significantly improved against the US dollar. 

“The maximum that we could reduce the petrol price [a fortnight ago] was Rs12 per liter,” Dar said. “Today, by reducing an additional Rs8 per liter, the price of petrol will reduce by Rs20 per liter in total. So, its price will reduce from Rs270 per liter to Rs262 from June 1,” he added. 

Dar also announced a reduction in the price of high speed diesel by Rs5 per liter and light diesel oil by Rs5 per liter. The price of kerosene oil will remain unchanged, he added.  

The finance minister said after the latest price reduction, high speed diesel, kerosene, and light diesel oil would cost Rs253, Rs164.07, and Rs147.68 per liter respectively.

Pakistan also slashed its oil imports by almost half last month, reducing it by 48 percent to 1.07 million tons during April 2023 as compared to 2.05 million tons during April 2022, a research report by Pakistan’s largest securities brokerage company, Arif Habib Limited, said. 

British Army chief calls on Pakistani counterpart, discusses regional security issues

Updated 31 May 2023

British Army chief calls on Pakistani counterpart, discusses regional security issues

  • British Army chief arrived in Pakistan this week to discuss military cooperation in response to climate-related disasters
  • General Nicholas Sanders lays floral wreath at Martyrs’ Monument, acknowledges Pakistan Army’s sacrifices against militancy

ISLAMABAD: British Army chief General Nicholas Yardley Monrad Sanders called on Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Syed Asim Munir on Wednesday to discuss regional security issues at the General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi, the Pakistani military said. 

Sanders arrived in Pakistan on a five-day visit on Monday to discuss military cooperation in response to climate-related challenges, with the UK High Commission in Islamabad saying his visit is part of a long-standing military cooperation agreement between the two countries.

Pakistan and UK’s militaries cooperate frequently, with many Pakistani officers undertaking training at the UK’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, the Advance Command and Staff Course, and the Royal College of Defense Studies. 

During his visit, Sanders laid a floral wreath at the Yadgar-e-Shuhuda (Marters’ Memorial) while a Pakistan Army contingent gave him a guard-of-honor. 

“During the meeting, regional security issues and matters of mutual interest were discussed,” the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said. 

“The visiting dignitary acknowledged the sacrifices and achievements of the Pakistan Army in the fight against terrorism and efforts for bringing peace and stability to the region,” the military’s media wing added. 

Earlier, Sanders also met General Sahir Shamshad Mirza, Pakistan’s chairman joint chiefs of staff committee at the Joint Staff Headquarters in Rawalpindi, the ISPR said. 

Pakistani neuroscientist in US prison being subjected to ‘worst monitoring’— senator

Updated 31 May 2023

Pakistani neuroscientist in US prison being subjected to ‘worst monitoring’— senator

  • Dr. Aafia Siddiqui has been in a high-security American prison on terrorism charges for nearly two decades
  • Pakistani senator who arranged Siddiqui’s meeting with sister says even her visits to bathroom being monitored

KARACHI: Pakistani neuroscientist Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, who has been in a high-security US prison on terrorism charges for nearly two decades, is suffering from the “worst monitoring” with security keeping a check even on her visits to the bathroom, Pakistani Senator Mushtaq Ahmed Khan said on Wednesday. 

Siddiqui gained international attention after she was arrested in 2003 and was later convicted by a US court for attempting to kill US military personnel in Afghanistan and was sentenced to 86 years in prison. The US also suspected her of having connections to Al-Qaeda.

Senator Khan helped arrange an emotional meeting between Siddiqui and her sister Dr. Fowzia Siddiqui after 20 years in Houston. Khan said the meeting took place under strict surveillance and limitations where they weren’t even allowed to hug each other. 

“She is facing the worst type of monitoring, as six people accompany her round the clock,” Khan told Arab News over the phone from Houston. “Everything, even if she goes to the bathroom, is being monitored.” 

“She has been chained and put on a list of dangerous inmates,” Khan added. 

Earlier, Khan took to Twitter to share details about the meeting, saying that it lasted for two-and-a-half hours. 

“Dr. Fouzia was not allowed to hug or shake hands with Aafia. Dr. Fowzia was also not allowed to show Dr. Aafia pictures of her children. [The meeting took place] in one of the prison rooms where there was a thick glass wall in the middle and they could see each other through it,” Khan wrote. 

Fowzia Siddiqui has been tirelessly campaigning for her sister’s freedom for years. Her efforts also gained global recognition after numerous human rights organizations and individuals raised their voices in support of her cause.

The Pakistani senator informed that her health had also deteriorated in captivity, adding she had developed hearing impairment after suffering an injury to her head.

Khan said the overall situation was alarming, though it had now become possible for people to meet the Pakistani scientist in prison.

“It is necessary now for the people to raise their voice and force the [Pakistani] rulers to take up the issue of Aafia’s release with the American government,” he added.

Khan will also meet Siddiqui in prison on Thursday. He will accompany Dr. Fowzia Siddiqui and Clive Stafford-Smith, a British attorney who works on civil rights issues and helped Guantanamo detainees in the past.

A statement issued by Afia Movement, a campaign that demands freedom for the jailed neuroscientist, said Siddiqui’s sister was not even allowed to share pictures of her nephew and niece with her sister.

“Dr. Fowzia was stopped from sharing photos of Afia’s son and daughter with her. Both children are now above twenty years,” the statement reads.

“Afia informed her sister about incidents that happened to her and her children in 2003,” the statement reads, adding the children were “permanently frozen” during their “kidnapping in Karachi.” 

The statement added that Siddiqui had been weeping silently in the car following her meeting with Fowzia Siddiqui. Despite it being very upsetting, Smith said it was an honor to be present in the meeting between the two sisters. 

“The importance of this meeting is that how can we bring Afia home after getting out of his hell,” Smith said.

Smith earlier tweeted about the emotional reunion of the two sisters, describing the interaction as “tough 2.5 hours” for Fowzia Siddiqui.

“I miss my family every day,” he quoted the Pakistani scientist as saying in a graphic that accompanied his social media post. “My mother, my father, you [my sister], my children, I think of them all the time.”

Last year in July, the two sisters lost their mother, though Khan said Aafia Siddiqui was still not aware of the tragic development.

Pakistan’s foreign minister departs for Jordan to attend royal wedding

Updated 31 May 2023

Pakistan’s foreign minister departs for Jordan to attend royal wedding

  • Several heads of state are expected to attend royal wedding of Jordanian crown prince
  • From Jordan, FM Bhutto Zardari will travel to Iran from June 5-6, says foreign ministry

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari departed for Jordan on Wednesday afternoon to attend the royal wedding of Jordanian crown prince and Saudi citizen Rajwa Khalid Al-Saif, the foreign ministry confirmed.

Jordan kicked off festivities on Wednesday for Crown Prince Al-Hussein bin Abdullah II’s wedding with Al-Saif. The two-day celebrations would include a royal feast hosted by King Abdullah II at the Royal Hashemite Court, with 4,000 people from across Jordan attending the event.

The marriage ceremony is expected to take place on Thursday at Zahran Palace in Amman while the reception would take place at Al-Husseiniya Palace with international heads of state and the Jordanian royal family in attendance. 

“Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is traveling this afternoon to Jordan and Iraq,” the spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) said in a statement. “In the first leg of the visit, Foreign Minister will travel to Jordan to attend the royal wedding.”

MoFA said the foreign minister would then travel to Iraq from June 5-6 where Bhutto Zardari will meet the Iraqi leadership and hold a detailed meeting with his Iraqi counterpart. 

“Important agreements will also be signed during the visit,” MoFA said, adding that the foreign minister was invited to Iraq by the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Iraq, Dr. Fuad Hussein. 

Meanwhile, the royal wedding between the Jordanian crown prince and the Saudi national has drawn interest from local, regional, and international media, Jordanian news agency Petra reported.

Several television networks will be broadcasting the ceremony on Thursday.

Trial of civilians in military courts ‘totally unjustified,’ Pakistan’s top rights body says

Updated 31 May 2023

Trial of civilians in military courts ‘totally unjustified,’ Pakistan’s top rights body says

  • Ex-PM Imran Khan’s May 9 arrest sparked violent protests, with supporters damaging military properties
  • Dozens of Khan supporters have been handed over to the military to be tried under Army Act since last week

ISLAMABAD: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), one of the oldest and most respected rights bodies in the country, on Wednesday called on the government not to try civilians who were involved in recent anti-government protests before military courts and opposed a ban on the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of ex-premier Imran Khan.

A wave of violence engulfed Pakistan following the dramatic arrest of Khan from a courtroom in Islamabad earlier this month. Angry Khan supporters torched buildings and vehicles and attacked police and military personnel and facilities. Khan was later released on bail but the Pakistani army and government later announced they would try “the arsonists” involved in the violent protests under military laws. 

Since then, dozens of suspects have been handed over to the military for trials and on Tuesday, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said Khan, as an “instigator” of the violence, would also be tried under army laws.

Military trials in Pakistan are usually held behind closed doors, depriving civilians of some of their basic rights, including contracting a lawyer of their choice.

“The trial of civilians in the military courts is totally unjustified,” HRCP chairperson Hina Jilani said at a press conference in Islamabad. “Civilians should be tried in ordinary courts to ensure transparency and fairness in the process.”

“HRCP objects to the arbitrary manner in which certain cases are selected to be tried by military courts, thereby violating the principle of equality before the law and equal protection of the law,” she said.

Since May 9, the government has also said it was considering banning Khan’s PTI party.

“We consider any step by the government to ban the PTI both reckless and disproportionate,” Jilani said. “In the long term, it would strengthen a bad precedent and prevent political parties from developing naturally in line with the wishes of their electorate.”

Khan, a former international cricket star, became prime minister in 2018 with the tacit support of the military, though both sides denied it at the time. He later fell out with generals and was ousted as prime minister after losing a parliamentary confidence vote in 2022.

Khan has since then been campaigning for a snap election, with rallies with his supporters across the country, but the prime minister who replaced him, Shahbaz Sharif, has rejected the call for an election before it is due in October this year.

HRCP said national elections should “under no circumstances” be delayed beyond October 2023.

“Such a step by the government would amount to derailing the democratic process and compound the current political instability,” Jilani said. “Anything less than free, fair and credible elections in an environment that allows the exercise of all fundamental freedoms will leave the country open to further ill-judged and undemocratic political experiments.”

The continuing political turmoil has exacerbated Pakistan’s economic crisis with inflation at record highs, growth is anemic amid fears of a sovereign default on external debts unless the International Monetary Fund (IMF) unlocks delayed disbursements.