Pakistan’s election regulator rules out delaying polls after Senate resolution calling for postponement

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 15 January 2024

Pakistan’s election regulator rules out delaying polls after Senate resolution calling for postponement

  • A non-binding resolution passed by Senate on Friday called for delaying polls due to poor weather, security challenges
  • In letter to Senate, election commission says has made necessary arrangements to hold polls on Feb. 8 across country

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s election regulator has categorically told the Senate that “it will not be advisable” for it to postpone polls beyond Feb. 8, days after a resolution in the upper house sought postponing polls in the South Asian country due to poor weather and security challenges. 

The non-binding resolution was passed on Friday in the Senate, calling for polls to be delayed out of fear that elections in the cold month of February would trigger a low voter turnout, especially in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and southwestern Balochistan provinces. 

The resolution was presented by Dilawar Khan, an independent senator from KP, who also cited recent attacks on politicians in the province as another reason to postpone polls. It was passed when only 14 senators out of 100 were present in the upper house of Pakistan’s parliament, according to media reports. 

In a letter addressed to the joint secretary of the Senate Secretariat on Jan. 13, ECP’s Additional Director General Elections Syed Nadeem Haider mentioned that the ECP had appointed Feb. 8 as the election date after consulting Pakistan’s president. It added that the ECP had also issued directions to the caretaker federal and provincial governments to beef up security arrangements and provide a “congenial environment” to the electorate for peaceful elections on Feb.8.

“ECP has made all necessary arrangements regarding the conduct of General Elections 2024,” the letter stated. It said that the election watchdog had also committed to Pakistan’s Supreme Court that it would hold polls on Feb. 8. 

Responding to Khan’s reservation on polls being held during the extremely cold in KP and Balochistan, the ECP said general elections had been held in the past during the winter season. 

“Sequel to the above narrated facts, it will not be advisable for the Commission to postpone General Elections 2024 at this stage,” the letter concluded. 

Caretaker Information Minister Murtaza Solangi shared a copy of the letter on social media platform X, saying that the ECP is “committed” to hold elections on Feb. 8.

Elections in the politically and economically troubled South Asian nation were originally due to be held in November, 90 days after the dissolution of the lower house of parliament in August, but were first delayed to February due to the fresh demarcation of constituencies under a new census.

Pakistan is currently being run by a caretaker government under interim Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar that is meant to oversee a general election.

Caretakers are usually limited to overseeing elections, but Kakar’s set-up is the most empowered in Pakistan’s history thanks to legislation that allows it to make policy decisions on economic matters.

Political analysts fear that a prolonged period without an elected government would allow the military, which has ruled Pakistan for over three decades since independence in 1947 and wields considerable control even if not in power, to consolidate control.

Fears of violence spreading ahead of polls were ignited last week when an election candidate, contesting the upcoming polls independently, was shot dead with two others in Pakistan’s northwestern Waziristan district. The same day, a Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) former minister was critically wounded when gunmen opened fire on his vehicle in the southwestern Turbat district. 

Pakistan’s western provinces bordering Afghanistan have seen a surge in militant violence since November 2022 when a fragile truce between the Pakistani Taliban and the state broke down. 

The Pakistani Taliban have carried out some of the deadliest attacks against security forces and civilians in the country for the last decade-and-a-half. In a bid to impose its brand of strict Islamic law, the Pakistani Taliban have targeted political parties and their candidates, such as the Awami National Party (ANP) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) who position themselves as secular, progressive forces. 

‘Positive’ progress in talks between Pakistani parties as government seeks budget’s parliamentary approval

Updated 19 sec ago

‘Positive’ progress in talks between Pakistani parties as government seeks budget’s parliamentary approval

  • PPP says its recommendations relating to the budget are based on its manifesto that centers on public welfare
  • The party has taken up issues related to development funds and administrative positions with the ruling PML-N

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) said on Sunday the latest round of negotiations with the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party continued in a “positive way” after the PPP expressed reservations about a range of issues following the presentation of the federal budget earlier this month.
The PPP decided to support the PML-N’s efforts to form a coalition government soon after the last general elections in February, though its top leadership announced it was not interested in becoming part of the federal cabinet or getting ministerial posts.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif invited PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari last week to discuss his reservations over the government’s economic and political policies amid efforts to secure a smooth passage for the budget from parliament.
The two leaders agreed to form negotiating teams to discuss all outstanding issues that mostly related to development funds and administrative positions in the country’s most populous Punjab province.
“Different matters were discussed between the two sides, and the talks continued to move forward in a very positive way,” PPP Secretary General in Central Punjab Syed Hassan Murtaza, who is part of his party’s negotiating team, told Arab News after the latest round of talks with the PML-N in Islamabad earlier today.
“We have given all our recommendations regarding the budget, good governance, appointments and transfers [of bureaucracy], funds for ongoing development schemes in Sindh and other areas,” he continued. “We have also urged to release funds for the schemes suggested by the PPP members.”
Murtaza maintained the PPP’s stance and recommendations relating to the federal budget were based on its manifesto that centered on public welfare.
He said the party had also informed the PML-N that PPP leaders must be consulted if the government wanted to make changes to the local government legislation in Punjab.
According to some reports, it was also discussed during the negotiations that an additional secretary be appointed at the chief minister’s secretariat in Punjab, with the sole responsibility of resolving the issues faced by the PPP.
The PPP also wanted a say in the Punjab administration’s decisions to appoint deputy commissioners, district police officers and revenue functionaries in districts where the party boasts active support.
“Now, we will inform our leadership, and the PML-N delegation will consult their leadership on [these issues] before another round of talks is held to move forward,” Murtaza said. “The final decisions will be taken as per the direction of the party leadership.”

New Pakistan political party to focus on economic reform, reduce government footprint, founder says

Updated 57 min 42 sec ago

New Pakistan political party to focus on economic reform, reduce government footprint, founder says

  • Awam Pakistan Party led by former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi scheduled for launch on July 6 in Islamabad
  • Founder Miftah Ismail says party leaders will hold workers’ conventions, seminars across the country to mobilize the public

ISLAMABAD: The Awam Pakistan Party, scheduled for launch on July 6 in Islamabad, plans to focus on the economic prosperity of people by extending tax concessions to middle-income and salaried classes and bringing down annual government expenditure, a top party official announced Sunday.
Miftah Ismail, one of the founding members of the party who previously served as finance minister, said that people from all four provinces had already started joining the party.
More than 175 political factions have been registered with the Election Commission of Pakistan, though only 13 of them managed to get their members elected to the National Assembly in the wake of the last general elections held on February 8.
The leading political parties in the country pivot around a central leader who is viewed as charismatic by its followers and play a vital role in getting the popular vote.
Former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and ex-finance minister Ismail, the driving forces behind the new party, aim to encourage public participation in governance and address the country’s fragile economy through reforms and the privatization of public entities.
“One of our major purposes behind forming the new political party is to struggle for the uplift of poor people through their active participation in politics, governance and economy,” Ismail told Arab News in a conversation over the phone.
“We have to extend tax concessions to middle-income and salaried classes, focus on privatization, limit the government’s footprint by encouraging the private sector and privatize the public organizations to reform the economy,” he added.
Ismail said Pakistan had been one of the leading economies in the region until the 1990s, but the poor governance model brought its development to the lowest level in the last two to three decades.
“A specific elite group is ruling the country without the active participation of the public, experts and professionals,” he maintained, pointing out that his party wanted to focus on improving the education and health sectors.
Criticizing the ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, the ex-finance minister said the current administration had lost the opportunity for economic reforms by bringing in the latest budget.
“This government has literally wasted opportunities for effective reforms in the governance and economic models,” he said.
Ismail acknowledged it was a long and assiduous journey to establish the new party, adding it would also be challenging to get its members elected to parliament.
“We know it is difficult,” he said, “but the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.”
“If elections are held in a year now, definitely we will not be in a position to fully participate in them through our platform,” he continued. “But if we get two to three years ahead of the national elections, we will be in a position to field our candidates across the country.”
Ismail said the Awam Pakistan Party leadership planned to hold workers’ conventions across the country and mobilize the public.
“We will be using social media effectively for our publicity, but along with that, we will be focusing on ground activities like conventions and seminars on issues of public importance,” he added.

How Pakistan’s new cricket coaches can approach tough tasks ahead

Updated 23 June 2024

How Pakistan’s new cricket coaches can approach tough tasks ahead

  • The two coaches need to lead from the front and protect the players from attacks by ex-cricketers
  • The coaches should also set up clear expectations within the team to make player perform better

NEW YORK: How many times have we heard the words inconsistent, unpredictable and chaotic used to describe the Pakistan men’s cricket team’s performances over the years?

The answer is numerous, although usually the description is followed by the qualification that the team are at their most dangerous when in that state.

In the wake of the team’s failure to progress to the Super 8s stage of the 2024 T20 World Cup, the mood is different and much darker.

Inconsistency, unpredictability and chaos did not translate into becoming a dangerous opponent. Nor should it, because it is much more likely that a team characterized as consistent, hardworking and united will perform best.

In my view, it is time for those involved in Pakistan’s cricket world to step away from the myth surrounding what it takes to galvanize the team. In its place ought to be a realization that the raw talent that once helped them produce magical moments is not being harnessed properly and that teams in other countries have adopted a more adventurous style of playing cricket.

The big question is how can Pakistan achieve such a transformation? There is nothing new about the current environment. Issues with chairmen and selection have abounded over the years, leading to accusations of nepotism and favoritism. However, I believe that there is reason to be hopeful.

The two new coaches, Gary Kirsten for white ball cricket and Jason Gillespie for red ball, are in positions which allow them to make decisions which are likely to be backed unconditionally by the hierarchy, even if it is just to save face for themselves.

Hopefully, the coaches will take full advantage of this opportunity to set their paths immediately. It is not an understatement to suggest that they are set for the hardest task of their careers. I was coached by Gillespie at Yorkshire and know his style is to be calm, which will be of help in this task. He prefers to let players lead while occupying a supporting act. From a distance, Kirsten seems to have a similar style, evidenced by his time with India in winning the 2011 World Cup under MS Dhoni’s captaincy.

Anyone who has followed the men in green will be very aware of all the issues with the team environment, so those must be addressed first. It is a very insecure one with a lot of noise.

Personally, I would not have chosen the two-coach policy. These players need simple and consistent messaging to be able to go out and express themselves. However, given that two coaches are in place, it will be especially important for them to work together and build a trusted backroom staff body which is the same across the formats. Time is of the essence to put this in place as pressure to improve both team and individual performances will build quickly. In my view, the environment needs freshening and unnecessary baggage which has built up over the last couple of years needs removing.

One of the most difficult and contentious issues is that of the captaincy. In the current situation, I would play down the power and importance of the captain. This goes against my natural grain but, for the immediate future, the coach needs to be the figurehead and lead. Obviously, there still needs to be a captain, ideally across formats, so as to reduce noise and deliver one simple message. Pakistan’s next white ball match is not until early November in Australia, so there is no need for immediate action. However, there are two Tests with Bangladesh to be hosted in August. Shan Masood is the current captain.

Another contentious issue is the selection process and, within it, the role of Wahab Riaz. It was only on Mar. 24 that the current seven-member selection committee was established. This included Riaz, who had previously acted as chair, but that title was removed, Riaz remaining as a committee member. Somewhat impracticably, each member carried an equal vote from which a majority decision would be formed. How this works in practice is unclear.

In my view, the experiment should be ditched, with the coaches having the final say in a reduced committee. Riaz, who is believed to be close to the PCB (Pakistan Cricket Board) chair, was senior team manager during the World Cup, despite there being a team manager and a coach! There is a public perception that Riaz appears to wield too much influence. It remains to be seen if the review of Pakistan’s World Cup performance will recommend that it is reduced. The results are expected shortly.

The first requirement for team selection will come with the Bangladesh Tests. Gillespie will oversee a training camp ahead of these matches to prepare both the national and A teams. He has already said that “we can’t rely on the same 11 players to play day in and day out. We need to make sure that we’ve got a squad mentality.”

Surprisingly, the talent pool appears to be small with a lack of ready-made replacements in some positions, so there is a need to identify and back those with the necessary character and skill. One of the options is Mohammad Haris. He has the modern-day approach which surely needs to be injected into the team’s approach and pursued all the way to the next T20 World Cup. Irfan Khan Niazi is another young dynamo who could grow into a good finisher, whilst investment in batter Omair Yousuf could prove beneficial.

In the fast-bowling department, Shaheen Shah Afridi needs the necessary support to return to basics and improve his performance. In my view, he would be advised to forget about the captaincy to concentrate on taking wickets and being a match winner. Naseem Shah needs protection and support as he appears to be on the right path to being world class. I expect Gillespie to provide those levels of support for both players.

Leg-spinner Usama Mir would have been in my World Cup squad, whilst Mehran Mumtaz has the ability to be the all-format No. 1 spinner. Shadab Khan needs time to rediscover his bowling skills. He has been brilliant as a batter for Islamabad but that seems to have skewed his thought processes in international cricket. He has succeeded before and I have no doubt he will again, but he is another who needs to go back to basics.

My suggested change in approach for both coaches may not be very natural for either man. Both prefer to have a strong captain who takes the lead while they create an environment which encourages the players to make their own decisions.

In the short term, my view is that the coaches need to lead from the front, dealing with the noise and protecting their players from the inevitable attacks by ex-players, pundits and fans. Internally, they are advised to set out clear expectations. The team must become the priority in what is an insecure culture which makes the players think more about personal performances.

The two men need to settle the players in their minds through a combination of hand holding and tough love. Hopefully, a period of calm and support will create a better environment for success.

Joint investigation team arrests 23 in mob lynching case in Pakistan’s Swat valley

Updated 23 June 2024

Joint investigation team arrests 23 in mob lynching case in Pakistan’s Swat valley

  • The incident happened when a local tourist was accused of desecrating the Holy Qur’an by people
  • Pakistan’s defense minister urges parliament to protect people and minorities against such violence

ISLAMABAD: A 10-member joint investigation team (JIT) has been formed by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police after a local tourist was lynched to death in Swat over an accusation of desecrating the Holy Qur’an, confirmed officials on Sunday, noting that 23 suspects have been arrested based on the incident’s CCTV footage.
The tourist, Muhammad Suleman, who belonged to Pakistan’s Sialkot city, was dragged from a local police facility by a mob on Thursday before being tortured, killed and set on fire on suspicion of burning the pages of the Islamic scripture.
According to a notification seen by Arab News, the JIT includes senior police officials along with members of the Counter Terrorism Department, Special Branch and Intelligence Bureau to uncover the facts of the incident and bring those involved to justice.
“The JIT has started systematically collecting evidence, working along modern scientific and technical lines, including performing forensic analysis of the CCTV footage,” Superintendent of Police Hazrat Khan, who is leading the team, told Arab News. “We have also recorded statements from eyewitnesses and are adopting other investigative means.”
Khan said the team was investigating the matter from all possible angles to ensure that the perpetrators of the crime do not evade justice.
Asked about the details of the incident, he said that as soon as the accused was brought to a local police station on the fateful day, a large number of people stormed the building and damaged property and vehicles.
He confirmed the mob took the accused, killed him and then burned his body.
“So far, 23 people have been arrested, and efforts are underway to arrest more of the individuals involved,” he added.
The suspects in the case are facing several charges, including premeditated murder, rioting, unlawful assembly, use of deadly weapons and obstructing public servants in the discharge of their duties.
Giving details of the damages to the police station caused by the enraged mob, the police spokesperson in Swat, Nasir Iqbal, said that two motorcycles, five personal vehicles and one police mobile were set on fire.
He informed the building had also been damaged and ransacked by people.
Iqbal said all arrested individuals were local residents, and no political leader had been found involved in the incident.
“In the police report, 49 people were named after being identified through CCTV footage, and over 2,000 others were listed as unknown suspects,” he added.
Asked about reports of police negligence while dealing with the situation, he said no inquiry had been initiated against the Station House Officer (SHO) of the police precinct that came under attack.
He also maintained that all details of the case would be mentioned in the JIT report which was still investigating the matter.
The incident also came up for discussion in the National Assembly of Pakistan where the defense minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, said on Sunday it was parliament’s responsibility to take a clear stance on the issue.
“It is the responsibility of this parliament to unanimously stand and protect the people and minorities against such violence,” he said during his speech.
The minister added that no one should exploit the incident for political purposes, adding that Islam prohibited the killing of innocent people in the name of religion.
“No evidence of blasphemy has been found against those who were killed across the country in different incidents by mobs and, in many cases, people leveled such allegations to settle personal scores,” he continued.
Speaking to Arab News, security expert Syed Kaleem Imam emphasized the need to build police capacity to handle such sensitive situations and to educate the community to prevent such incidents.
“There are standard operating procedures in place to handle such crimes, but unfortunately, the police often struggle to control the mob or secure the accused due to a lack of understanding of the situation,” Syed Kaleem Imam, former inspector general of police, said.
“There should be more mock exercises for community policing to help the law enforcers deal with such incidents at every level,” he continued, adding that police officials faced undue inquiries and feared for their jobs when they resorted to the use of force in such emergency situations.
Imam also noted the government should stop pandering to popular sentiment and take proper action against such crimes, committed in the name of religion.
“There should be no administrative leniency toward criminals,” he emphasized. “The government should also sensitize the community through mosques and tell them that if anyone commits such crime [of blasphemy], they should be dealt with by the police. The locals should be made to refrain from using loudspeakers at the mosques to spread messages in such sensitive situations.”

Karachi hosts vibrant donkey cart race to revive traditional sport, engage youth in ‘positive activities’

Updated 23 June 2024

Karachi hosts vibrant donkey cart race to revive traditional sport, engage youth in ‘positive activities’

  • Donkey cart races have been a cultural staple in various regions of Pakistan, particularly in rural environments
  • Part of a larger festival, the race witnessed maximum participation from the impoverished Lyari neighborhood

KARACHI: A unique donkey cart race, organized by the administration of Pakistan’s southern Karachi port city to promote the traditional regional sport, elicited an enthusiastic response on Sunday, with over 40 participants vying for the title.
Donkey cart races have been a staple in the cultural landscape of various regions in Pakistan, particularly in rural areas where they are often featured as part of local festivals or special events.
The sport not only embodies a tradition with significant social and entertainment value for these communities but also underscores the reliance on livestock, with donkeys predominantly used for logistical and transportation purposes.
Part of the Commissioner Karachi Sports Festival, the race brought together most participants from the impoverished Lyari neighborhood of the city and was described by the organizers as part of the effort to promote “positive activities” among youth.
“I earn for my children, and I earn for it [donkey] and it earns for me in return,” Abdul Qadir, who won the race, said gleefully. “I earn my living for my children through it [donkey cart] and feed it [the donkey] like I feed my own kids and I look after it, that’s why I got this prize today.”
Another participant, Shahjahan, who stood third in the competition, said he had been driving donkey carts for the past 25 years.
“I have taken part in over 20-25 races and won first, second and third prizes,” he said with the touch of pride. “God has given me respect. Even though I am a laborer by profession, I drive a donkey cart, but by the grace of god I am able to educate my children.”
The race that began from Karachi’s ICI Bridge and ended at the commissioner’s office on Club Road what attended by Mayor Murtaza Wahab as chief guest.
He described the event as part of the city’s “ancient culture and heritage” while appreciating the love of its residents for sports.
The ongoing sports festival in the city also includes a hockey tournament, girls’ basketball tournament, cycle race and shooting ball competition.