Pakistan’s election regulator to announce national poll schedule in December, dismisses rumors of delay

A security personnel stands guard at the headquarters of Election Commission of Pakistan in Islamabad on September 21, 2023. (AFP/File)
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Updated 02 December 2023
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Pakistan’s election regulator to announce national poll schedule in December, dismisses rumors of delay

  • The ECP has already published the final list of national and provincial constituencies ahead of the polls
  • The Feb. 8 elections were originally meant to take place in November and were rescheduled for Jan.

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) will release the schedule for the upcoming national polls in December, confirmed its top official on Friday, amid speculations of a possible delay in the electoral exercise despite the release of the final list of constituencies earlier in the day.
The ECP announced last month the vote, originally expected in November and then scheduled for the last week of January, would instead take place on Feb. 8, a date chosen following consultations with the country’s President Dr. Arif Alvi that were requested by the Supreme Court.
Pakistan’s parliament was dissolved by the president on then Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s advice on Aug. 9, setting the stage for a national election amid political and economic crises. A caretaker administration subsequently took over with the constitutional mandate to hold new elections in 90 days.
According to Pakistan’s Geo News, Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja had a brief and informal chat with journalists after the ECP released the list of national and provincial constituencies for the national polls.
Asked about when the commission planned to release the election scheduled, he said: “Count 54 days backwards from February 8,” suggesting that the announcement could be expected in the third week of December.
Pakistan’s previous administration amended the Elections Act to empower the ECP to fix and announce the election date and specifying the timeline for the announcement of the election schedule which needs to be done about 54 days before the polling day.
The election commissioner also dismissed fears of any further delays in the national polls, saying the ECP had been “proactively handling election-related responsibilities” to ensure fair and transparent electoral contest in the country.


Ex-PM Khan’s party says no intention to compromise Pakistan’s economic interests in letter to IMF

Updated 56 min 55 sec ago
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Ex-PM Khan’s party says no intention to compromise Pakistan’s economic interests in letter to IMF

  • Khan’s legal team said he wanted to write a letter to the international lender, asking it to seek election audit
  • Khan’s party says it cannot damage the country’s economy, recalls developing welfare plans for its people

ISLAMABAD: A top Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party leader on Friday denied speculations that former prime minister Imran Khan wanted to compromise the country’s economic interests to make political gains in a letter to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), saying his party would never work against Pakistan.
The statement came a day after an IMF spokesperson told the media that the international lender did not want to comment on political developments in Pakistan in the wake of the general elections earlier this month which Khan’s party said were heavily rigged.
Prior to that, Khan’s legal team said he would send a letter to the IMF, which helped stabilize Pakistan’s economy when it was nearing default, requesting its officials to seek an independent audit of the February 8 national polls.
Pakistan is already under a short-term IMF loan program that is due to expire next month. The newly elected government is expected to negotiate yet another bailout package with the international lending agency in the coming months.
“We will not do anything that poses a threat to the state, causes harm to the state or damages the country’s economy,” Barrister Gohar Khan, PTI’s top leader in Khan’s absence, told a group of journalists in Rawalpindi. “The letter will be shared with you. You can read it.”
“Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has developed projects for the welfare of the people,” he continued. “It brought investment to Pakistan [during its tenure].”
Former PM Khan has faced legal challenges since he was ousted from power in a no-confidence vote in April 2022. He has been in prison after being convicted on corruption and other charges since August last year.
Another high-profile PTI leader, Barrister Ali Zafar, also tried to defend Khan’s decision to write to the IMF, saying Pakistan always came first and foremost for his party.
“We believe that Pakistan should continue to engage with IMF in order to ensure financial discipline, good governance and economic stability which is critical for the prosperity of the people of Pakistan,” he said in a statement.
“While we will continue to support all steps in this direction taken for the benefit of the country and in national interest, PTI will continue its struggle for democracy and raise its voice at all forums and expect the international community’s support,” he added.
According to media reports, Pakistan plans to get a new IMF loan of at least $6 billion, with the talks likely to begin in March or April.


International drivers from Saudi Arabia, Iran, US, rev up for Pakistan Cholistan Desert Rally

Updated 23 February 2024
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International drivers from Saudi Arabia, Iran, US, rev up for Pakistan Cholistan Desert Rally

  • The annual 19th Cholistan Desert Jeep Rally started in Bahawalpur this week
  • Over 150 racing enthusiasts from Pakistan and abroad are participating this year

ISLAMABAD: The annual 19th Cholistan Desert Jeep Rally started in Bahawalpur this week, with over 150 racing enthusiasts from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran and other countries participating.

The Cholistan Desert in southern Punjab forms part of the Greater Thar Desert, which extends to Pakistan’s southern Sindh province and the Indian state of Rajasthan. Cholistan was once a center for caravan trade, leading to the construction of numerous forts in the medieval period to protect trade routes, of which the Derawar Fort in Bahawalpur is the best-preserved example.

The 19th edition of the desert rally, which spreads over 500 kilometers, started on Tuesday. Drivers from Saudi Arabia, the UK, Afghanistan, Iran, and the US are participating this year, Managing Director of Tourism Development Corporation of Punjab (TDCP) Humaira Akram told state-run APP.

“The women’s category has been made more active,” the official said. “The event will highlight the history and culture of the Cholistan Desert, the historical palaces of Bahawalpur, historical buildings, historical backgrounds, tourism, and culture through beautiful cultural dances in addition to light and sound shows.”

A qualifying round was held in Cholistan on February 22, followed by the first round of prepared cars on February 23, and a stock category race along with a dirt bike race on February 24, followed by a cultural show.

“On February 25, the prepared category race and truck race will take place, followed by the prize distribution ceremony,” Additional Deputy Commissioner Headquarters Sumera Rabani told media. 

“The Cholistan Fort will be adorned with beautiful decorations during the Cholistan Rally. The Sports Department will organize competitions including Kabaddi, traditional wrestling, volleyball, and tug of war.”


Pakistan Supreme Court defends ruling on minorities after backlash

Updated 23 February 2024
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Pakistan Supreme Court defends ruling on minorities after backlash

  • Ruling by chief justice related to blasphemy has sparked online backlash, led to thinly veiled death threats
  • CJ Qazi Faez Isa ordered the release of a man from Ahmadi sect, considered heretical by Muslim scholars

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Supreme Court has defended its top judge after a ruling he issued related to blasphemy that sparked an online backlash and led to thinly veiled death threats.

The campaign targeting Supreme Court Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa began after he ordered the release of a man from the Ahmadi religious sect, considered heretical by hard-line Muslim scholars.

The man had been accused of disseminating a forbidden Ahmadi text, which firebrand clerics consider tantamount to blasphemy, a hot-button issue in Muslim-majority Pakistan where even unproven allegations of offending Islam have sparked violence.

The Supreme Court issued a statement on Thursday evening defending the ruling, denying that it went against the Islamic constitution.

“This impression is absolutely wrong,” it said. “The organized campaign against judiciary and judges is unfortunate.”

Isa’s ruling first went unnoticed two weeks ago, before it was highlighted by social media accounts linked to the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan party which has been behind violent anti-blasphemy protests.

The Pakistani chapter of the Taliban militant group — known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) — called Isa “an enemy of Islam” and “a damned man.”

Ahmadis have been discriminated against and persecuted for decades in Pakistan. The second amendment of Pakistan’s constitution, made in 1974, declares Ahmadis non-Muslims. The law also prohibits them from professing to be Muslims or spreading their faith, and allows the death penalty for those found guilty of insulting Islam.

In his judgment, Isa ruled that according to the constituion, “every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice and propagate his religion.”

“Freedom of faith is one of the fundamental tenets of Islam. But sadly, in matters of religion, tempers flare up and the Qur’anic mandate is forsaken,” he added.

He also said the book allegedly disseminated by the accused had not been outlawed at the time of the alleged crime in 2019.

Cleric Fazlur Rehman, the influential leader of the conservative religious party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, said Isa’s reasoning was “false and based on bad intentions.”

In 2011, the governor of eastern Punjab province was killed by his own bodyguard after calling for reforms to the stringent blasphemy laws.


Pakistani students show solidarity with Gazan children with exhibition of paintings and poems 

Updated 23 February 2024
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Pakistani students show solidarity with Gazan children with exhibition of paintings and poems 

  • Event organized by Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad with over 120 children participating 
  • Foreign diplomats, academics and dignitaries appreciate Pakistani students for taking a stand 

ISLAMABAD: Diplomats and envoys from various countries on Thursday condemned Israel for its “blatant and bold” war against Palestinians, as they attended an exhibition of poems and paintings by Pakistani students in support of children in Gaza.

The Institute of Strategic Studies, an Islamabad-based think tank, organized the event in which over 120 children aged between 5-12 from five schools in Islamabad took part. 

Almost 30,000 people have been killed in Palestine since Israel launched an aerial bombing and ground offensive campaign after Oct. 7 following a Hamas attack on Israel. About 70 percent of those who have been killed are women, 7,900, and children, 12,450. The head of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) told the United Nations Security Council on Thursday that medical teams in the Gaza Strip have come up with a new acronym, WCNSF, wounded child, no surviving family.

Despite calls from foreign governments and peace activists worldwide, Israel has vowed not to stop its bombing of the densely populated territory until it destroys the Palestinian group Hamas.

“This message given by Pakistani children should show the world that no one will forget Gaza and will not accept their dual standards,” Brian Witbooi, a counselor at the South African High Commission in Pakistan, told Arab News.

“The atrocities in Gaza are blatant and bold and for the entire world to see,“

Palestine’s ambassador to Pakistan, Ahmed Jawad A.A. Rabei, said the message of support from Pakistani children to the Palestinian people “means a lot to them.”

“They [Pakistani children] draw and write many important things that came from the heart, conveying that you [Palestinians] are not alone, we stand with you, and, God willing, we will witness your freedom,” he told Arab News. 

“I am very proud to see the hope for Palestinians, its children, students here [in Pakistan], and I am very proud of you in what you drew and wrote for children in Gaza.”

Ambassador of Morocco to Pakistan, Mohamed Karmoune, said Pakistanis’ support for Palestinians transcended generations.

“They [Pakistani children] are the future of the Muslim world and their support means a lot for the Palestinian children who are suffering inhuman violence,” he told Arab News.

 Zainab Mohmand, a grade five student, said she had written a poem for children in Gaza, who were on the brink of starvation. 

“The children of Gaza are living in such a hard situation,” she said. “They don’t have enough water to drink, they don’t have enough food. So, I wrote about this so that they can somehow get out of this situation.”


Indictment of Bushra Bibi, wife of Pakistan’s Imran Khan, in land bribe case on Feb. 27 — party 

Updated 23 February 2024
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Indictment of Bushra Bibi, wife of Pakistan’s Imran Khan, in land bribe case on Feb. 27 — party 

  • Khan and his wife are accused of receiving land as a bribe through the Al Qadir charitable trust set up in 2018
  • Bushra is already convicted in two other cases involving illegal sale of staff gifts and non-Islamic nikkah to Khan

ISLAMABAD: Bushra Bibi, the wife of jailed former prime minister Imran Khan, was brought to a prison in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi on Friday for a hearing in a land graft case, with the ex-premier’s party saying indictment would take place on Feb. 27. 

Bushra has been living under house arrest at her husband’s sprawling Bani Gala mansion, declared a sub-jail, in Islamabad since Jan. 31 when both were sentenced to 14 years in prison in a case that relates to accusations they undervalued gifts from a state repository and gained profits from selling them while Khan was prime minister from 2018-22. 

Earlier this month, Khan and his wife are also sentenced to seven years on charges they violated the country’s marriage law when they wed in 2018 — the fourth sentence so far for Khan and the second for his wife.

“Former first lady Bushra Bibi has been brought to Adiala Prison from Bani Gala sub prison for 190 million case trial,” the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party said in a message to reporters, referring to the Al Qadir Trust case. 

While the party said on Friday morning that indictment was “very much on the cards today,” it told media in the afternoon that it would take place on Feb. 27. 

The former premier and his wife are accused in the case of receiving land as a bribe through the Al Qadir charitable trust set up in 2018 when Khan was still in office. Pakistani authorities have accused Khan and his wife of receiving the land, worth up to 7 billion rupees ($25 million), from a property developer charged in Britain with money laundering. The bribe, authorities say, was in exchange for a favor to the property developer by using 190 million pounds repatriated by Britain in the money laundering probe to pay fines levied by a court against the developer.

Khan’s aides say the land was donated to the trust for charitable purposes. The real estate developer has also denied any wrongdoing.

“OTHER CASES”

Khan and most senior leaders of his party were rejected as candidates for Feb. 8 general elections in what they say was a state-backed campaign to thwart their participation. Khan, 71, was ousted in April 2022 after falling out with Pakistan’s powerful military leaders who are widely believed to have backed him into power in 2018. In opposition, he waged an unprecedented campaign of defiance against the military establishment which has directly ruled the nation for almost half of its history but says it no longer interferes in politics. 

Khan was also convicted last month for making public a classified cable sent to Islamabad by Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington in 2022, in what is commonly known as the Cipher case. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He denies the charge and has said the contents appeared in the media from other sources.

In August last year, he was convicted in the Toshakhana or state treasury case and handed a three-year prison sentence by the election commission for selling gifts worth more than 140 million rupees ($501,000) in state possession and received during his 2018-2022 premiership.

He has also been indicted under Pakistan’s anti-terrorism law in connection with violence against the military that erupted following his brief arrest related to the Al-Qadir case on May 9. A section of Pakistan’s 1997 anti-terrorism act prescribes the death penalty as maximum punishment. Khan has denied the charges under the anti-terrorism law, saying he was in detention when the violence took place.