Nawaz Sharif’s party plans mass welcome as he returns from self-exile ahead of January polls

Pakistani supporters of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif carry Sharif's poster and banner as they celebrate outside the high court building in Islamabad on September 19, 2018. (Photo courtesy: AFP/File)
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Updated 21 September 2023

Nawaz Sharif’s party plans mass welcome as he returns from self-exile ahead of January polls

  • Sharif has announced to return to Pakistan from London on October 21 to spearhead his party’s election campaign
  • His political rivals say he must surrender before courts since he was serving jail term before leaving for London in 2019

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s political party is making preparations to welcome him on his return from London by organizing a mass gathering in the provincial capital of Punjab on October 21, as the election regulator announced its decision to hold national polls in the last week of January.

Sharif, a three-time prime minister, has been in London since November 2019 after securing medical bail following his conviction in two corruption references. The founding leader of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party remained in self-exile while the country was ruled by the rival political faction of ex-premier Imran Khan. However, his party leaders announced his return to the country last month, saying would be back on October 21 to spearhead the PML-N campaign ahead of the next general elections.

Sharif is planning his homecoming at a time when Pakistan is grappling with overlapping political, economic and security crises and he would have to deal with legal challenges of his own after being declared an absconder for violating his bail terms.

“We are organizing a massive public gathering at Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore on October 21 to welcome Nawaz Sharif and make him inaugurate the party’s election campaign,” Talal Chaudhry, PML-N’s joint-secretary who is currently in London to attend party meetings, told Arab News over the phone, referring to a historic monument built at the place where Pakistan’s founding fathers demanded a sovereign Muslim state in March 1940.

Pakistan’s parliament was dissolved on August 9 to pave the way for the national elections within 90 days as per the constitution, though the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) said it required at least four months to complete the delimitation of hundreds of provincial and federal constituencies ahead of the polls.

After significant political uncertainty in the country, the election regulator announced earlier in the day to hold elections in the last week of January.

“The final list of constituencies will be published on November 30,” it said in a statement. “After that, the elections will be held in the last week of January 2024 after a 54-day election program.”

Sharif’s party has started preparing to mobilize the public to give a “historic welcome” to him on his arrival in Lahore ahead of the national elections.

“We are going to organize a political power show on October 21 in Lahore,” Chaudhry said. “The party ticket holders have been assigned to bring workers to fill the space around Minar-e-Pakistan.”

The PML-N joint-secretary said there was no hurdle that could prevent Sharif’s return since the party’s legal team was already hard at work to deal with any outstanding issues.

“Nawaz Sharif is ready to return on October 21, come what may,” he continued. “He is ready to face the courts and all fabricated cases against him. We are also anticipating a landslide victory in the national election under his leadership.”

Asked about Sharif’s return to Pakistan, ex-PM Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party said that “convicted criminals like Nawaz Sharif” were roaming around while their own party leader was languishing in prison on trumped up charges.

“We welcome Nawaz Sharif’s return, but will he be serving his remaining jail term or allowed to lead the election campaign,” Zulfi Bukhari, a PTI leader and Khan’s close aide, questioned. “There seem to be two laws in Pakistan. One for PTI and its allies and the another for Sharifs.”

Bukhari said his party would win the national elections “even if Imran Khan remains in jail and is not allowed to lead the party’s election campaign.”

“We have a complete strategy in place to contest the election and hope the authorities would allow us to run the campaign,” he continued, adding that any decision to let Sharif run the PML-N campaign would amount to “pre-poll rigging in Pakistan.”

Meanwhile, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) also applauded Sharif’s decision to return, but pointed out he should submit to local courts on his return.

“We welcome Nawaz Sharif’s decision to return, but he should first surrender to courts as per the law of the land,” PPP information-secretary Faisal Karim Kundi told Arab News. “If the courts allow him to run the election campaign, then he will be a free man to do it.”

Asked about the ECP’s announcement to hold elections in Pakistan in the beginning of the next year, he said: “The ECP announcement for the election in last week of January is vague as election schedule has yet to be announced.”

Islamic Development Bank announces $100 million loan to make Pakistan polio-free

Updated 05 December 2023

Islamic Development Bank announces $100 million loan to make Pakistan polio-free

  • The South Asian country has already received $60 of this amount, the IsDB president says
  • Pakistan, Afghanistan are only two countries in world where polio continues to threaten lives

ISLAMABAD: The Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) has announced a $100 million loan to support Pakistan’s polio eradication efforts, the Pakistani health minister and the Bank said, on the sidelines of the ongoing COP28 United Nations climate summit in Dubai. 

This loan builds on a previous support from the IsDB and includes a $35 million principal buydown from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, according to an IsDB statement.  

The new funding complements previous loans and will be used to secure and deliver millions of polio vaccines needed to protect all children across Pakistan against the debilitating yet preventable virus. 

"I am very pleased to announce that the IsDB approved US$100 million financing in the 4th Phase of Polio Eradication Program for Pakistan in April 2023, which brings the IsDB total financing for Polio eradication in Pakistan to US$ 587 million, making the Bank one of the largest providers of finance to the national polio eradication program in Pakistan," IsDB President Dr. Muhammad Al-Jasser was quoted as saying in the statement.  

"Under this latest phase, I am happy to note that US$60 million of this amount was disbursed in mid-November 2023. We and our partners remain committed and are working hard to win this battle against this disease. We really are at the last mile in this long journey as only 5 cases of wild poliovirus have been reported in the country in 2023.”  

The IsDB president thanked the Pakistani government, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, UN International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) for their steadfast commitment to polio eradication. 

Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by poliovirus mainly affecting children under the age of ten years. It invades the nervous system, and can cause paralysis or even death.  

Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only two countries in the world where polio continues to threaten the health and well-being of children.  

“We welcome the support of the IsDB and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in contributing to the critical effort of ending polio in Pakistan,” Pakistan Health Minister Nadeem Jan said, addressing the ‘Reaching the Last Mile’ forum related to polio at COP28. 

“Interrupting poliovirus transmission remains a core focus for the Government of Pakistan, and thanks to the heroic efforts of community health workers, global partners and contributors like the IsDB and the foundation, we have pushed the virus to the brink of eradication.” 

An official of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said they saw this loan as an important step forward for the eradication of polio in Pakistan.  

“We are pleased to partner again with the IsDB and the Government of Pakistan to ensure funding opportunities to provide the needed resources to reach every child with polio vaccines,” said Chris Elias, president of the Global Development Division at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  

“With continued support to health workers and the efforts from partners like the IsDB, I am confident we will end polio in Pakistan.” 

The IsDB said this new loan would enable Pakistan's polio program to reach all children and communities with the life-saving vaccine.  

"It will also help meet the country’s commitment of US$155 million towards its national polio program supported by the partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI)," it added. 

Ailing Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui ‘raped’ inside US prison, lawyer says

Updated 05 December 2023

Ailing Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui ‘raped’ inside US prison, lawyer says

  • Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, a 49-year-old mother of three, is serving an 86-year sentence at a US federal prison
  • Her lawyer says she has been abused 'countless times' by guards and prisoners at US detention facility

ISLAMABAD: Ailing Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui, who has been jailed in the United States (US) after being convicted of attacking US troops in Afghanistan, has been "raped" inside a US prison, her lawyer said on Tuesday.

Siddiqui, a 49-year-old mother of three, is currently serving an 86-year sentence at the Federal Medical Center (FMC) in Carswell, Texas after a New York court convicted her in 2010 of attempting to shoot and kill a group of US soldiers and FBI agents in Afghanistan who wanted to interrogate her for alleged links to Al-Qaeda.  

Her sentencing by a US court has riled many in Pakistan, including former and current Pakistani governments that had campaigned for her release and paid for her legal defense.  

Siddiqui's lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, on Tuesday made shocking disclosures about mistreatment of Siddiqui, a day after his meeting with the Pakistani scientist at FMC Carswell. 

"She has been raped in FMC Carswell, no question about it," Smith, a US-based human rights lawyer who is representing Siddiqui, said in an interview to a Pakistani broadcaster. 

"Well, I mean, at least two times is a formal thing by guards, but in terms of abuse by the guards and prisoners, countless times." 

As an American, Smith said, he was "ashamed of" what the US prison system had done to Siddiqui. 

"I have filed a report on her abuse and what they have been doing to her is pretty unspeakable in terms of the sexual mistreatment," he said. "She has told me in great detail about how she has been abused." 

Smith said Siddiqui's complaints were all "extreme" and "true," and that she had been meted out the "harshest" treatment by the US prison authorities. 

"There are 10,250 women in the [US] federal prison system," the lawyer said. "The woman who has been treated the harshest of all those 10,250 is Aafia Siddiqui." 

Siddiqui, who is reportedly ailing, earned advanced degrees from Brandeis University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before she was sentenced for assaulting US soldiers after being detained in Afghanistan two years earlier.  

Her punishment sparked outrage in Pakistan among political leaders and her supporters, who viewed her as a victim of the US criminal justice system.  

In the years since, Pakistani officials have publicly expressed interest in any sort of deal or swap that could result in her release from US custody, and her case has continued to draw attention from supporters.  

The government of Nawaz Sharif, three-time former prime minister of Pakistan, as well as the outgoing Pakistani administration of his younger brother, Shehbaz Sharif, have made efforts for Siddiqui’s release during their tenure.  

In March this year, the younger Sharif instructed Pakistan’s foreign ministry to remain engaged with the US government and the country’s mission in Washington for the release of jailed Pakistani neuroscientist, following his meeting with Siddiqui's sister, Dr. Fowzia Siddiqui. 

Smith said he had apprised the Pakistani government of Siddiqui's abuse and was certainly going to let Pakistani authorities know of the "gruesome details." 

He, however, said it was the duty of the Pakistani government to protect her from the abuse. 

"That's her government, it is their duty to protect her," he said. "I will do what I can, I am an American, I apologize for what has happened to her. But it is actually, ultimately the job of the government in Pakistan." 

AirBus A320 acquired for $13 million by PIA from Indonesia to fly to Pakistan today

Updated 05 December 2023

AirBus A320 acquired for $13 million by PIA from Indonesia to fly to Pakistan today

  • The purchase by the loss-making airline is part of $26 million two-plane deal
  • PIA has accumulated hundreds of billions of rupees in losses and arrears

KARACHI: An Airbus A320 acquired by Pakistan International Airline (PIA) for $13 million from Indonesia will land in Karachi on Tuesday night, a spokesperson for the airline said.

Loss-making PIA has accumulated hundreds of billions of rupees in losses and arrears. The government announced in August it would privatize the airline, a move that would be in line with an International Monetary Fund (IMF) deal.

PIA leased two Airbus A320 planes from leasing company AirAsia in 2012. The lease concluded in September 2021, after which PIA returned the aircraft to the leasing company. However, a dispute arose when AirAsia declined to accept the planes, contending they were not returned in satisfactory condition.

The row continued for nearly two years and the airline finally struck a deal with the leasing company to buy the two planes after a PIA delegation met with AirAsia officials in Jakarta in October.

“PIA has acquired these aircraft, which were earlier sent to Jakarta for return to the leasing company, AirAsia, upon the completion of a six-year lease,” PIA spokesman Abdullah Khan told Arab News.

“The lessor agreed to PIA's proposal of buying out these aircraft at the price of $26 million.”

PIA made a payment of $13 million last week, the spokesman said, after which one aircraft was released and flying to Pakistan today, Tuesday. 

“One aircraft will land at Karachi airport today at 11pm, while the second one will be acquired after paying the remaining $13 million within the next couple of weeks,” Khan added.

The purchase comes at a time of deep crisis for the loss-making airline, which the government says it can no longer fund. PIA has also been in disputes with the Pakistan State Oil company (PSO) over payments.

The airline has long been in trouble. 

PIA flights to Europe and the UK have been suspended since 2020 after the European Union's Aviation Safety Agency revoked the national carrier's authorization to fly to the bloc following a scandal over pilot licences.

Pakistan to play ‘aggressive’ cricket on Australia Test tour — skipper

Updated 05 December 2023

Pakistan to play ‘aggressive’ cricket on Australia Test tour — skipper

  • Pakistan will play first Test against Australia in Perth on Dec. 14, followed by two others in Melbourne and Sydney
  • Ahead of the first Test match, Pakistan will play Prime Minister’s XI on December 6 at Manuka Oval in Canberra

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will try playing an ‘aggressive’ cricket in their three-match Test series against Australia, skipper Shan Masood said on Monday.

Pakistan will play the first Test against Australia in Perth on December 14, before the traditional Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. 

The third Test will be played in Sydney and begin on January 3. 

Masood, who was recently appointed Pakistan Test captain, said Test cricket had undergone a significant change over the years. 

“We will try playing with a positive mindset, an aggressive mindset,” he told reporters in Canberra. 

“Wherever an opportunity came to put the other side under pressure, we will try to put pressure as a bowling unit or a bowling unit.” 

Ahead of the Test series, Pakistan will play Prime Minister’s XI on December 6 at Manuka Oval. 

Masood believed time factor was quite important for his side the games against Australia. 

“As a batting unit, you will have to improve the run rate a bit,” he said, adding Pakistan pacers will also have to strive to bowl as many players out as they can. 


Shan Masood (captain), Aamir Jamal, Abdullah Shafique, Abrar Ahmed, Babar Azam, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Imam-ul-Haq, Khurram Shahzad, Mir Hamza, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Mohammad Wasim Jr., Noman Ali, Saim Ayub, Salman Ali Agha, Sarfaraz Ahmed (wk), Saud Shakeel and Shaheen Shah Afridi 

Pakistani power distributors overcharged around 13 million consumers in July, August — report

Updated 05 December 2023

Pakistani power distributors overcharged around 13 million consumers in July, August — report

  • Report reveals power consumers were charged beyond the mandated 30-day billing period in violation of rules
  • Regulator gives all power distribution companies 30 days to replace all faulty meters and rectify overcharged bills

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani power distribution companies overcharged some 13 million electricity consumers across the country in July and August this year through inflated bills beyond the mandated 30-day billing period, the national electric power regulator said on Monday. 

The revelation was made in a 14-page inquiry report conducted by the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA), following complaints by the public regarding excessive billing by power distribution companies (discos). 

The report comes months after nationwide protests hit the South Asian country, with thousands protesting inflated electricity bills and demanding an inquiry into the billing process as well as ensuring transparency in it. 

The power regulator has constituted a four-member committee to look into the matter and present its recommendations to fix the issue. 

“There is [not a] single disco in the country who is charging bills in 100 percent correct manner, which is serious matter of concern at present,” NEPRA concluded in its report released on Monday. 

“The distribution companies are charging excessive bills to consumers by adopting illegal and unlawful practices, therefore, prima facie, are in violation of the Nepra Act, Consumer Service Manual, terms and conditions of tariff and other applicable documents.” 

The inquiry report revealed the billing cycles carried out by distribution companies ranged from above 30 days to 40 days and even more. As per the notified tariff terms and conditions, the billing period means a billing month of 30 days or less reckoned from the date of last meter reading. 

“It is alarmingly noted that thousands of consumers were charged for more than 40 days billing,” NEPRA said in its report, adding this was a “major cause” of overbilling during the months of July and August this year. 

There are eleven power distribution companies across Pakistan, including K-Electric for Karachi, with millions of consumers. The inquiry report revealed that 13.76 million people were charged for more than 30 days of electricity usage, while 0.4 million were sent average bills due to faulty electricity meters. 

NEPRA has decided to initiate legal action against all the power distribution companies in light of the inquiry report. 

“The regulator has given thirty days to all the distribution companies to replace the faulty meters and fix the overcharged bills,” Masroor Ahmad Khan, a NEPRA spokesperson, told Arab News. 

“Otherwise, strict legal action will be initiated against those failing to comply the directive.”