Ex-PM Khan’s political woes persist as party vice chairman rearrested after bail

Shah Mahmood Qureshi, deputy head of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party speaks with media as he waits to attend a hearing near the police headquarters where former Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan is being kept in custody and will appear before a special court set-up for his trial, in Islamabad on May 10, 2023. (AFP/File)
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Updated 24 May 2023

Ex-PM Khan’s political woes persist as party vice chairman rearrested after bail

  • Shah Mahmood Qureshi made a brief public appearance and said he was and would always be part of the PTI party
  • Former prime minister says his party leaders and workers are under intense pressure to quit PTI by the authorities

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Imran Khan said on Tuesday top Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leaders were facing intense pressure to quit his political faction after his close aide and party vice chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi was rearrested after he got bail and gave brief public appearance.

The PTI has been facing a crackdown after violent protests broke out earlier this month following Khan’s arrest from the Islamabad High Court by paramilitary Rangers on May 9. Thousands of his party workers and supporters stormed government buildings, including the official residence of a top army general, and set them on fire.

The government and Pakistan’s powerful army maintained the protests were planned and organized, leading to the arrests of top PTI leaders, including Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who briefly stepped out of a prison in Rawalpindi before he was detained by the police once again.

Asked by the media if he was under pressure to leave PTI, he briefly responded: “I was, am and will remain part of the party.”

Reacting to the development, Khan said Qureshi was rearrested like several other party workers and supporters.

“We are now being governed by law of the jungle, might is right and the only thing standing in its way is our judiciary,” he said in a Twitter post. “The constitution is being brazenly violated along with [Supreme Court] rulings. Police [is] being used to crush PTI, [and] our leaders [are] forced to quit the party.”

The ex-premier maintained the fundamental rights of PTI leaders and supporters had been “trampled” while the media community was “muzzled” and social media activists felt “threatened.”

He said a pro-PTI journalist, Imran Riaz, had not been produced in any court despite judicial orders after his arrest, adding his other party workers were languishing in small cells in “blistering heat” and many of them were facing “custodial torture.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Khan suffered a major blow when one of his most senior party members, Shireen Mazari, announced she was quitting the PTI and “active politics,” making her the most-high profile individual in a long line of aides to abandon Khan in the last two weeks.

Mazari made the announcement after being arrested four times in the last couple of days. She said she had taken the decision due to her health and recent hardships faced by her family.

“I have decided that I am quitting active politics and I also want to say this from today onwards, I will not be a part of the PTI or any political party,” she continued.

Meanwhile, two prominent PTI leaders, Hammad Azhar and Omar Ayub Khan, complained of police raids on their homes on Twitter.

Azhar said his 82-year-old father, Mian Muhammad Azhar, who served as Punjab governor in the past, was threatened by the authorities.

Khan, on the other hand, informed the police raided his house without warrants and “abducted” his staff while warning to arrest his 16-year-old son.

The PTI has already urged rights groups to raise their voice against the ongoing crackdown against the party.

Ex-PM Khan sends defamation notice to health minister after being accused of substance use

Updated 20 sec ago

Ex-PM Khan sends defamation notice to health minister after being accused of substance use

  • The former prime minister demands unconditional apology in 15 days while serving a Rs10 billion legal notice
  • The health minister recently shared Khan’s medical report with journalists while questioning his mental stability

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Imran Khan on Tuesday sent a Rs10 billion ($35.05 million) legal notice to Pakistan’s health minister Abdul Qadir Patel for making “false, disparaging and malicious” allegations in a recent news conference wherein he accused the ex-premier of substance use.

Last week, the health minister publicized Khan’s confidential medical report, allegedly prepared while he was taken into custody earlier this month, saying traces of alcohol and illegal drugs were found in the former PM’s urine sample. He also rebutted that Khan had endured a fracture to his leg after an apparent assassination attempt on him last November when he received gunshot wounds while leading an anti-government rally.

The minister shared Khan’s medical report while calling it a “public document” and maintained it also raised questions about the ex-premier’s mental stability.

“We act for and on behalf of Mr. Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi … who has instructed us to serve upon you the following legal notice under Section 8 of the Defamation Ordinance, 2002 … on account of dissemination and circulation of wrongful, baseless, false, misleading, erroneous, malicious and defamatory information/facts made against Our Client by you vide your Press Conference, dated 26.05.2023,” said the notice Khan’s legal team sent Patel.

The presser, as per the notice, was watched in Pakistan as well as all over the world through electronic media channels, YouTube, and various other social media platforms, while its details were also published in national and international newspapers.

The notice asked the health minister to retract his statements, tender unconditional apology, accept that he had misstated information, and pay Rs10 billion for defaming the former prime minister. It asked the minister to take these actions within 15 days, warning him that Khan would otherwise initiate legal proceedings against Patel.

It may be recalled that Khan was arrested by paramilitary Rangers on the instructions of Pakistan’s anti-graft body on May 9 in a corruption reference amounting to £190 million. He remained in the custody of authorities until his arrest and detention were declared “illegal” by the country’s judiciary that ordered his release.

Pakistan’s Khan gets bail on new charge of abetting violence — lawyer

Updated 12 min 43 sec ago

Pakistan’s Khan gets bail on new charge of abetting violence — lawyer

  • Ex-PM Khan’s May 9 arrest sparked violent protests, which saw military facilities ransacked
  • Khan has appealed for talks to end Pakistan’s political crisis, a demand rejected by the government

LAHORE: Pakistani former prime minister Imran Khan was on Tuesday granted bail on a new charge of abetting violence against the military by his protesting supporters after he was arrested and detained on May 9 in a corruption case, his lawyer said.

The embattled Khan, who says the corruption charges have been concocted, is embroiled in a confrontation with the powerful military, which has ruled Pakistan directly or overseen civilian governments throughout its history.

His May 9 arrest sparked widespread protests by his supporters who ransacked various military facilities, raising new worries about the stability of the nuclear-armed country as it struggles with its worst economic crisis in decades.

Khan, 70, was later freed on the orders of a court.

His lawyer, Intezar Hussain Punjotha, said an anti-terrorism court confirmed the bail on the new charge after the former premier appeared before it and submitted surety bonds.

Khan has denied the charge saying he was in detention when the violence took place.

The bail until June 2 on the new charge means he will not be detained on that charge.

The 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 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 late this year.

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

Dozens of Khan’s supporters have been handed over to army authorities for trial in military courts.

A team of investigators looking into the May 9 violence summoned Khan on Tuesday for questioning but Punjotha said a member of his legal team would go instead.

Khan has appealed for talks to end the crisis. The government has rejected his call.

‘Arsonists’ don’t qualify for dialogue, Pakistani PM says on Imran Khan talks’ offer

Updated 20 min 42 sec ago

‘Arsonists’ don’t qualify for dialogue, Pakistani PM says on Imran Khan talks’ offer

  • Sharif’s rejection of talks dashed hopes of lowering of political tensions amid stalled talks with IMF as Pakistan on brink of default
  • Embattled ex-PM Khan has dialed down his anti-government rhetoric since last week and called for talks in a rare overture

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Tuesday turned down an offer of talks by former premier Imran Khan, saying “anarchists and arsonists” who attacked symbols of the state did not qualify for dialogue.

In a rare overture last week, Khan said he was forming a committee for talks with the government to end the country’s lingering political turmoil, worsened this month by violent protests following the opposition politician’s arrest in a land fraud case.

Authorities began a crackdown on close associates and supporters of Khan after his followers attacked security forces and torched government and military properties, including the home of the Corps Commander in Lahore, following Khan’s detention on corruption charges on May 9.

Troops were deployed to contain the violence, which subsided only after Khan was released on bail on May 12. Thousands of supporters of the popular opposition politician have since been arrested, including the most senior leaders of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. The government and army have said those found to be behind the violence would be tried under relevant Pakistani laws, including the Army Act. Many top Khan aides have also since announced leaving the party.

Against this background, the embattled Khan dialed down his anti-government rhetoric and called for talks.

“Dialogue is deeply embedded in the political process, which helps democracy mature & evolve. Many political & constitutional breakthroughs occurred when political leaders sat across the table to craft a consensus,” Sharif said on Twitter.

“However, there is a major difference here, the anarchists & arsonists who wear the garb of politicians and attack the symbols of the State do not qualify for a dialogue. They should rather be held to account for their militant actions.”

Sharif’s rejection of the talks’ offer dashed hopes of the lowering of political tensions amid stalled talks between the International Monetary Fund and cash-strapped Pakistan, which is currently trying to avoid a default.

Khan was ousted from the office of the PM by an alliance of opposition parties headed by Sharif in a no-confidence vote last year, and has since been calling for new elections. He alleged, without providing evidence, that Sharif, the US and the Pakistani military conspired to remove him from office — allegations they deny. Khan later backtracked saying only the military and Sharif were behind his ouster.

Under the constitution, the next vote is due in October when the parliament completes its term.

First group of 773 Pakistani Hajj pilgrims reaches Makkah from Madinah

Updated 30 May 2023

First group of 773 Pakistani Hajj pilgrims reaches Makkah from Madinah

  • Hajj flights from Pakistan commenced on May 21, final flight will depart for Saudi Arabia on June 21
  • Religious affairs ministry says all Hajj pilgrims who landed in Madinah would reach Makkah in eight days

ISLAMABAD: The first group of 773 Pakistani pilgrims had reached Makkah from Madinah ahead of the annual Hajj pilgrimage, the Pakistani religious affairs ministry said on Tuesday.

This year, Saudi Arabia has restored Pakistan’s pre-pandemic Hajj quota of 179,210 pilgrims and waved off the upper age limit of 65. Around 80,000 Pakistani pilgrims are performing the pilgrimage this year under the government scheme, while over 91,000 will use private tour operators.

As per the Pakistani religious affairs ministry, Hajj flights from the country commenced on May 21, with the final flight departing for Saudi Arabia on June 21.

“DG Hajj Mission in Makkah Abdul Wahab Soomro welcomed the pilgrims who were served dates, coffee and juice in the traditional manner on their arrival at Makkah,” the ministry said.

Accommodation arrangements for the pilgrims had been made in the Azizia and Bitha Quraish areas of Makkah.

Director of Hajj Makkah Faheem Afridi said that a special bus service would be available to take pilgrims from Azizia to Haram.

“All the Pakistani Hajj pilgrims are well catered for, will be provided three meals including breakfast in Makkah,” the statement said. “The health of pilgrims will be taken care of. To meet the complete nutritional needs of the pilgrims, fruits are being served in the afternoon and sweets in the night.”

The ministry said all Hajj pilgrims who landed in Madinah would reach Makkah after eight days.

For the Hajj pilgrimage, pilgrims perform the welcome tawaf after entering Makkah, circling the Kaaba seven times in a counterclockwise direction, starting at the Black Stone. They then head to the hills of Safa and Marwa, where they perform saee, which is the act of going back and forth between the two hills seven times. 

Pilgrims then travel to Mina, an area of 20 square kilometers nearly five kilometers away from the Grand Mosque in Makkah, on the eighth day of Dhul Hijjah, also known as Yom Al-Tarwiyah, where they will stay and fill their day and evening with prayers and supplications, resting and consuming water ahead of their long, perilous journey. 

On the second day of Hajj, pilgrims travel to Mt. Arafat, 20 kilometers away. The day is devoted to prayer and supplications as they observe duhr (noon) combined with asr (afternoon) prayers until sunset. 

The Day of Arafat is considered the most critical day for pilgrims and the millions not performing. It is the day that, “atones for the sins of the preceding and coming (Muslim) year” and is the best day for worship and supplication in the entire year. 

After sunset, pilgrims descend from Mount Arafat and make their way to Muzdalifah for isha (night) prayers, collect pebbles no larger than the size of a fingertip ahead of the stoning ritual on the next day, and rest until midnight or dawn, when they will make the long journey back to Mina for the final steps of Hajj, the stoning ritual at Jamarat Al-Aqabah. 

On the third day of Hajj, Eid Al-Adha, pilgrims stone the Jamarat Al-Aqabah, or the big pillar, a place where the Prophet Ibrahim threw seven pebbles at the devil. After doing so, pilgrims change from their Ihram; sacrificial animals are slaughtered, and men cut or shave their heads while women cut a fingertip’s length of hair to commemorate the end of the Hajj pilgrimage. 

For three days, known as Ayyam Al-Tashreeq, pilgrims stay in Mina and perform the stoning of the other two pillars, Al-Jamarah Al-Wusta and Al-Jamarah Al-Sughra.

Lightning kills six Hindu pilgrims, injures nine in southern Pakistan

Updated 30 May 2023

Lightning kills six Hindu pilgrims, injures nine in southern Pakistan

  • Pilgrims were on their way to Verhijhap village in Tharparkar’s Diplo district when they were struck by lightning
  • Hindu monastery Parbrahm Ashram attracts large number of Hindus from Sindh, Balochistan during annual festival

ISLAMABAD: A flash of lightning killed six Hindu pilgrims and injured nine others on Sunday evening in Tharparkar district in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province, a report by the district’s deputy commissioner said.

According to the deputy commissioner’s report, the pilgrims were struck by lightning at village Sathaar near Mithi, Tharparkar’s capital, while they were on their way to Verhijhap village in district Diplo. Verijhap is home to the famous Hindu monastery Parbrahm Ashram, where an annual festival attracts Hindus in large numbers from Pakistan’s Sindh and southwestern Balochistan provinces.

“Today on 29th May 2023, at about 9:40 PM, a group of pedestrian pilgrims proceeding to Faqir Parbirham Verijhap, 06 persons died along with 9 injured at the spot when lightening triggered by a cloudburst struck a caravan of pedestrian near village Sataar Taluka Mithi,” the report said.

The deputy commissioner said police brought the bodies and the injured to the Civil Hospital Mithi. He said the injured were provided first aid, adding that their condition was stable and would be discharged soon.

“It is requested to kindly move the Relief Department, Sindh, to compensate the bereaved families as the deceased belong to very poor Hindu families of Mithi district Tharparkar,” the deputy commissioner wrote.

As per the report, the deceased included males in the 16-35 age group and were residents of Mithi and Sathaar villages while the injured were also males in the age group of 12-40 who hailed from the villages of Sathaar, Dharar, and Harjani in Sindh.

Before 1947, India and Pakistan were under British colonial rule for over two centuries. The partition of 1947 created the newly independent states of Pakistan and India, with partition etching a deep fissure in the region as millions of Muslims migrated from India to Pakistan while Hindus and Sikhs in large numbers left for India with their families and belongings.

Around 4 million Hindus still live in Pakistan, or about 1.9 percent of the country’s population, and 1.4 million are in Sindh. Pakistan houses prominent Hindu temples that host annual festivals where devotees worship their deities, such as the centuries-old cave temple of Hinglaj Mata in southwestern Pakistan where thousands of Hindus flock each year in April to attend a four-day religious festival.