Pakistan court rules ex-PM Khan’s trial to continue in jail, allows media access

Police officers stand at the entrance of the district Judicial Complex in Islamabad, Pakistan November 28, 2023. (REUTERS)
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Updated 28 November 2023
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Pakistan court rules ex-PM Khan’s trial to continue in jail, allows media access

  • Khan and his close aide Shah Mahmood Qureshi are charged with leaking state secrets
  • Trial previously held behind closed doors in jail, now media, public, family to get access

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani judge ruled on Tuesday the trial of prime minister Imran Khan in a case in which he is accused of leaking state secrets would be held in jail but members of the public and media would have access.

Khan, who is the chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, is being held at Rawalpindi’s Adiala jail, serving a three-year sentence in a separate case in which he was convicted in August of failing to disclose assets earned from the sale of state gifts while he was PM from 2018-2022. Khan is also accused in a number of other cases, including what has come to be called the cipher case, in which he has been indicted for leaking official secrets and using them for political gains.

The government had announced in August that the trial in the cipher case would be held in jail for “security reasons,” and a special court had since been conducting the trial on the prison premises, with no members of the public or media allowed. Last week, however, the Islamabad High Court declared the confidential proceedings illegal, following appeals by Khan’s lawyers that their client would not be given a fair trial behind closed doors. 

Public hearings in the matter began last Thursday at the Judicial Complex in Islamabad, but Khan did not appear and the case was adjourned until Nov. 28, with the court directing the ex-premier, and former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who has also been indicted in the case, to appear in person on that date.

Khan and Qureshi, who have both pleaded not guilty, were not brought to the court on Tuesday when the judge ruled that the trial would continue in jail but media and the public would be allowed access to the court proceedings. Five family members of each suspect would also be allowed to attend the hearing.

The next hearing has been set for Dec. 1 at Adiala Jail.

“The jail officials are saying that he [Khan] cannot be presented,” the judge remarked after reviewing a report submitted by Adiala jail authorities. 

Lawyers representing Khan and Qureshi objected to the report and urged the court to implement its previous order that the duo be presented in court.

“It was their [jail authorities] responsibility to present the suspect [Khan] in the court,” Salman Safdar, who is representing Khan, said.

Safdar also rubbished reports by intelligence agencies that there was a threat to Khan’s life, saying it was the state’s responsibility to provide him security.

“If there are security threats, then please adjourn this hearing for an indefinite period,” Safdar urged the court. “The accused should be granted bail if the jail authorities could not present him here for the trial.”

Qureshi’s lawyer also argued that it was “court’s responsibility to get its [production] orders implemented”:

“If the court orders are not implemented, you [the judge] have the authority to send the government officials to jail.”

Khan had been appearing in courts prior to his August arrest protected by his personal security guards. But he has also sought exemptions from personal appearances, often citing threats to his safety.

Khan, arguably the most popular politician in the country, has not been seen since he was arrested in August. Before that, he would regularly address his millions of followers via social media and hold massive public rallies and protest marches.

The cipher case relates to an alleged diplomatic correspondence between Washington and Islamabad that Khan says was proof that his ouster as PM in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence in April 2022 was part of a US conspiracy to remove him. Washington has repeatedly denied Khan’s accusations.

A special court was formed on Aug. 21 under the Official Secrets Act, 1923, to adjudicate the case through in-camera proceedings. Khan and Qureshi were indicted in the case last month.

Last week, the Pakistan government also approved Khan’s jail trial in a separate case of a £190 million settlement with a property tycoon.

Khan is currently being held at Rawalpindi’s Adiala jail where he is serving a three-year jail sentence.


Pakistani security forces kill six militants in intelligence-based operation in northwest

Updated 29 February 2024
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Pakistani security forces kill six militants in intelligence-based operation in northwest

  • An official statement says the militants were involved in violent activities against North Waziristan’s residents
  • The Pakistani security forces also recovered weapons, ammunition and explosives from the dead militants

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s security forces killed six militants in an intelligence-based operation (IBO) in the country’s northwest on Wednesday, saying they were involved in violent activities against the civilian population in the area.

Pakistan has witnessed an uptick in militant activities since Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a proscribed conglomerate of armed factions, called off a fragile ceasefire with the government in November 2022.

The violence has largely been confined to the western provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan that share frontier with the neighboring state of Afghanistan.

The country’s security forces and law enforcement agencies have carried out several operations in recent months to deal with militants in places like North Waziristan where the recent engagement with the militants took place.

“During the conduct of operation, intense fire exchange took place between own troops and the terrorists,” the military’s media wing, ISPR, said in a statement, adding that this led to the killing of six militants.

“Weapons, ammunition and explosives were also recovered from the killed terrorists, who remained actively involved in numerous terrorist activities including target killing as well as extortion & abduction of innocent civilians,” it added.

The ISPR said one of the Pakistani soldiers who participated in the operation also got injured.

It informed the Pakistani forces started a “sanitization operation” to find other militants who might have taken refuge in the area.

Pakistan’s North Waziristan district was once described as the hub of militancy before the government launched a clear-and-hold military operation to reclaim the territory.


US urges new Pakistan government to prioritize economy, continue working with IMF on reforms 

Updated 29 February 2024
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US urges new Pakistan government to prioritize economy, continue working with IMF on reforms 

  • The US says it supports Pakistan’s efforts to break free from the vicious cycle of debt and international financing
  • Analysts believe government will have to negotiate another IMF loan program amid continuing economic challenges

ISLAMABAD: The United States said on Wednesday Pakistan’s new government should address the economic situation facing the country on priority, emphasizing it was important for the emerging administration in Islamabad to continue engagements with international financial institutions.

Pakistan is holding the first National Assembly today, Thursday, in which the newly elected lawmakers will take oath. The country’s new government is expected to take the reins of power within the next few days after the in-house election of the next prime minister.

The issue of Pakistan’s economy came up for discussion during a regular State Department briefing after a journalist asked about a letter written by former premier Imran Khan’s party to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), asking it to link the next loan facility to “good governance” in the country.

“I’ll just say with respect to the IMF that we support Pakistan’s efforts to break free from the vicious cycle of debt and international financing,” Spokesperson Matthew Miller said. “The long-term health of Pakistan’s government – or economy is crucial to its stability.”

“Pakistan’s new government must immediately prioritize the economic situation because the policies over the next several months will be crucial to maintaining economic stability for Pakistanis,” he added. “And we urge Pakistan to continue working with the IMF and other international financial institutions toward macroeconomic reforms.”

Pakistan has been facing significant financial challenges in recent years, with dwindling foreign exchange reserves and declining value of its national currency.

The country’s caretaker administration negotiated a $3 billion, short-term loan facility with the IMF that is scheduled to expire in March.

Pakistan’s economic challenges persist, prompting many analysts to point out it will continue to need external financing from the international lending agency.
 


Pakistan’s National Assembly convenes as Imran Khan-backed MNAs protest vote result

Updated 1 min 38 sec ago
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Pakistan’s National Assembly convenes as Imran Khan-backed MNAs protest vote result

  • PML-N’s 79 and PPP’s 54 seats together make a simple majority in parliament to form a government
  • Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf won 93 seats but does not have the numbers to form a government

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s National Assembly convened for its first session on Thursday, with opposition lawmakers continuing to protest the results of a general election on Feb. 8 that has been widely marred by allegations of rigging. 

The agreement between Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of three-time Premier Nawaz Sharif on Feb. 20 ended days of uncertainty and negotiations after an inconclusive election threw up a hung National Assembly. 

PML-N’s 79 and the PPP’s 54 seats together make a simple majority in parliament to form a government, and they have also roped in smaller parties in the coalition. Candidates backed by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) won 93 seats, but do not have the numbers to form a government. He and his party have rejected the results of the elections, alleging widespread rigging, which the election commission has denied.

Thursday’s session started with ruckus as soon as the national anthem ended and Khan-backed lawmakers, who have joined the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), surrounded the speaker’s podium.

“Who will save Pakistan? Imran Khan! Imran Khan!” PTI lawmakers chanted after the oath taking and as newly elected MNAs signed the NA register roll. 

The coalition alliance has announced Shehbaz Sharif, the brother of three-time former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, as its PM candidate. Shehbaz is himself a former premier and replaced Khan when he was ousted through a no-confidence vote in parliament in 2022. Since then, Khan has been convicted of several offenses in what his supporters call politically motivated moves to keep him out of office. 

The coalition alliance is backing former President Asif Ali Zardari of the PPP as their joint candidate for president when the new parliament and all the four provincial legislatures elect the successor of the outgoing President Arif Ali, a close Khan ally, in the coming weeks.

Shehbaz will take over the country at the time when the new government would need to take tough decisions to steer the country out of financial crisis, including negotiating a new bailout deal with the International Monetary Fund/ The current IMF program expires in March. A new program will mean committing to steps needed to stay on a narrow path to recovery, but which will limit policy options to provide relief to a deeply frustrated population and cater to industries that are looking for government support to spur growth.

Other big moves include privatization of loss-making state owned enterprises such as the flagship carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).

Pakistan is also facing a troubling rise in militancy, which any new government will have to tackle. Lowering political temperatures will also be a key challenge as Khan maintains mass popular support in Pakistan, and a continued crackdown on his party and his remaining in jail would likely stoke tensions at a time when stability is needed to attract foreign investment to shore up the economy.


Two Pakistanis charged over calls for Dutch far-right leader’s killing

Updated 29 February 2024
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Two Pakistanis charged over calls for Dutch far-right leader’s killing

  • The Netherlands and Pakistan do not have an extradition treaty, leaving prospects for a trial unclear
  • A Dutch court says the Pakistanis were suspected of publicly calling on people to kill Geert Wilders

AMSTERDAM: A Dutch court said it had charged two Pakistani nationals on Wednesday over public calls for the murder of far-right anti-Muslim leader Geert Wilders, who aims to lead a new government after his party won elections in November.

In a statement on Wednesday, the court said prosecutors had asked authorities in Pakistan to extradite the two suspects – aged 55 and 29 – to stand trial in the Netherlands.

It said the two Pakistanis were suspected of publicly calling on people to kill Wilders and promising them a reward in the afterlife if they did so. It did not say how those calls were made.

In September, a Dutch court sentenced a Pakistani former cricketer to 12 years in prison after he was tried in absentia for publicly urging people to kill Wilders.

“I hope they (two suspects) will be extradited, convicted and jailed!” Wilders wrote in a post on X.

The court scheduled its first hearing on the case for Sept. 2. The Netherlands and Pakistan do not have an extradition treaty, leaving prospects for a trial unclear.


Finance minister says China rolls over $2 billion loan to Pakistan

Updated 29 February 2024
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Finance minister says China rolls over $2 billion loan to Pakistan

  • The loan was due in March and has been extended by the Chinese authorities for one year
  • Securing external financing is one of the most urgent issues facing Pakistan’s next government

ISLAMABAD: China has rolled over a $2 billion loan to Pakistan, caretaker finance minister Shamshad Akhtar confirmed in a response to Reuters on Thursday.

The $2 billion loan was due in March and has been extended for one year, Geo News which first reported the news said, citing sources in the Pakistan finance ministry. Beijing had communicated the decision to Islamabad, it added.

Pakistan’s cash-strapped economy is struggling to stabilize from a financial crisis and secured a $3 billion standby arrangement from the International Monetary Fund last summer.

Pakistan’s vulnerable external position means that securing financing from multilateral and bilateral partners will be one of the most urgent issues facing the next government, ratings agency Fitch said last week.