Ex-PM Khan urges Pakistan top judge to ensure equal opportunities to all parties in Feb. 8 polls

Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan gestures during talk with reporters regarding the current political situation and the ongoing cases against him at his residence, in Lahore, Pakistan, on August 3, 2023. (AP/File)
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Updated 30 November 2023
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Ex-PM Khan urges Pakistan top judge to ensure equal opportunities to all parties in Feb. 8 polls

  • The ex-premier requests Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa to set up a commission to probe ‘disappearances,’ arrests of political workers 
  • The development comes amid months-long crackdown on Khan’s party and as Pakistan heads to national polls amid political turmoil

ISLAMABAD: Former Pakistan prime minister, Imran Khan, has drawn Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Justice Qazi Faez Isa’s attention toward the “discrimination” faced by his party, urging him to ensure that all political parties get equal opportunities in the upcoming general elections, scheduled to be held on February 8. 

The development comes amid a months-long crackdown on supporters of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, which began after violent attacks on government and military installations over Khan’s brief arrest in a graft case in May this year. 

Several top aides and members of Khan’s party have since distanced themselves from the party, while many still remain behind bars. The ex-premier himself is facing a slew of cases that he says are “politically motivated” and aimed at keeping him out of politics. He has been in jail since August 5 after being convicted in a case involving the sale of state gifts. 

In a letter written to CJP Isa on Thursday, Khan said the apex court could not be unaware of the “disappearances” and “arbitrary arrests” of individuals affiliated with the PTI, and that there was no possibility of a fair general election on February 8 without the intervention of the apex court to halt these widespread arrests. 

“The practice of successive arrests of persons granted bails in known cases must be stopped. Arrests on the basis of fresh FIRs (first information reports), or the inclusion through supplementary statements, the list of accused in existing FIRs may only be undertaken after affording the accused opportunity to approach a court of competent jurisdiction for pre-arrest bail,” Khan wrote in his letter. 

“A commission may kindly be set to in investigating the abductions/disappearances of journalists/political workers all across the country.” 

The former premier requested the top judge to direct the federal and provincial governments as well as the election regulator to ensure that persons affiliated with all political parties, including the PTI, are allowed to carry out political meetings and gatherings without “discrimination between one party and any other.” 

“The federal government and the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority be directed to ensure that all political parties, including the PTI, and their leaders and members are allowed coverage without any restriction or discrimination,” Khan added. 

Khan’s letter comes amid repeated accusations by his PTI party against the current caretaker administration and the military establishment of having a soft corner for three-time former premier Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party. 

Sharif, who was convicted of corruption in 2018 and returned to Pakistan in October after nearly four years in self-imposed exile, was on Wednesday acquitted in a case relating to the purchase of upscale London flats. He was previously sentenced to 10 years in prison in the case. 

Khan’s loyalists see the recent judgments granting relief to Sharif and his family members as favors given to the PML-N, which appears to be poised to take over the reins of the country once again. 


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.