Opposition parties in Sindh announce ‘black day’ following clashes during provincial lawmakers’ oath ceremony

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Pakistan's religious Jamiat Ulema-I-Islam-Fazl party supporters protest against alleged rigging in country's national poll in Karachi on February 24, 2024. (AN Photo)
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Police fire tear gas to disperse the supporters of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam–Fazl party, as they protest against the alleged skewing in Pakistan's national election results, in Karachi on February 24, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 24 February 2024
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Opposition parties in Sindh announce ‘black day’ following clashes during provincial lawmakers’ oath ceremony

  • Political workers of different parties staged hours-long blockade of a central thoroughfare despite tear gas shelling
  • Jamaat-e-Islami, Grand Democratic Alliance and Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Islam raised rigging allegations after Feb. 8 polls

KARACHI: Several Pakistani parties on Saturday announced they would observe February 27 as “black day” in response to Sindh police firing tear gas at political workers protesting suspected rigging in the general elections earlier this month, as the newly elected lawmakers joined the inaugural session of the provincial legislature.
The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) bagged the highest 84 seats in the southern Sindh province, followed by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) which secured 28 seats, while 14 seats went to independents. The Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) religious party and the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) won two seats each.
Supporters of the JI, GDA, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), and other nationalist parties gathered near the provincial assembly in Karachi’s South zone to protest the alleged manipulation of the Feb. 8 election, which was marred by a mobile network outage and delays in the release of constituency results.
Hundreds of police personnel were deployed to prevent opposition supporters from advancing toward the Sindh Assembly building. The GDA and JUI-F were en route to the Karachi Press Club when clashes broke out between their workers and the police, resulting in stone-pelting and tear gas shelling.
“I strongly condemn the police shelling over the JUI-F workers,” Hafiz Naeem-ur-Rehman, the JI chief, said at a joint protest with the GDA. “We will observe February 27 as black day against election rigging and police torture on political workers.”
Rashid Soomro, a JUI-F leader, also confirmed development.
“Our peaceful workers were beaten and subjected to shelling as we attempted to reach the press club,” he said.
Political workers belonging to the protesting parties also blocked a main thoroughfare, Shahrah-e-Faisal, for several hours during the day.
Earlier, the outgoing speaker of the Sindh Assembly, Agha Siraj Durrani, administered oath to the newly elected lawmakers amid heavy security around the building.
“I do solemnly swear that I will bear true faith and allegiance to Pakistan, that as a member of the provincial assembly of Sindh, I will perform my functions honestly, to the best of my ability, faithfully, in accordance with the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the law and the rules of the assembly, and always in the interest of sovereignty, integrity and solidarity, well-being and prosperity of Pakistan,” Durrani said as he read out the oath to the lawmakers.
“May Allah Almighty help me and guide me.”
In view of the protest calls, the Sindh caretaker government on Friday imposed a ban under Section 144 on public assembly, gatherings, protests, processions, and demonstrations in Karachi’s South zone, where the provincial legislature is located, for a period of 30 days, according to the provincial home department.
Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) empowers the administration to issue orders in public interest and place a ban on any activity for a specific period of time.
The oath-taking ceremony came a day after the PPP nominated Murad Ali Shah, former Sindh chief minister, for the top provincial office once again, Syed Owais Shah for the role of speaker, and Anthony Naveed for the post of deputy speaker of the Sindh provincial assembly.
“We will not only compete with the governments of other provinces but also with the Center in performance,” Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, a former foreign minister and the PPP chairman, said at a meeting of newly elected party lawmakers in Karachi.
The PPP chairman announced that his party would forge a working relationship with all opposition parties in Sindh and address their legitimate grievances, according to a PPP statement. He urged the newly elected lawmakers to play their role in resolving the people’s problems in their respective constituencies.
“Be my eyes and ears,” Bhutto-Zardari was quoted as saying. “You play the role of a bridge between the people of your constituency and me; you are my ambassador to the people.”


Global airline body calls for release of $720 million in held revenues by Pakistan, Bangladesh

Updated 11 sec ago
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Global airline body calls for release of $720 million in held revenues by Pakistan, Bangladesh

  • IATA asks Pakistan in a statement to simplify the ‘onerous’ repatriation process causing ‘unnecessary delays’
  • The international organization says airlines are unable to repatriate $399 million from the Pakistani market alone

KARACHI: The International Air Transport Association (IATA) on Wednesday asked Pakistan and Bangladesh to release airline revenues amounting to $720 million, saying the two countries were holding it in contravention of international agreements.

IATA, an international organization representing the global airline industry, asked Pakistan to simplify the “onerous” repatriation process involving audit and tax exemption certificates in a statement, pointing out such procedures caused “unnecessary delays.”

Bangladesh, it said, had a more standardized system, though aviation needed to be a higher central bank priority to facilitate access to foreign exchange.

“The situation has become severe with airlines unable to repatriate over $720 million ($399 million in Pakistan and $323 million in Bangladesh) of revenues earned in these markets,” the statement informed.

IATA’s regional vice president for Asia-Pacific Philip Goh emphasized that the timely repatriation of revenues to different countries was critical for payment of dollar denominated expenses such as lease agreements, spare parts, overflight fees and fuel.

“Delaying repatriation contravenes international obligations written into bilateral agreements and increases exchange rate risks for airlines,” he said. “Pakistan and Bangladesh must release the more than $720 million that they are blocking with immediate effect so that airlines can continue to efficiently provide the air connectivity on which both these economies rely.”

Goh maintained that his organization recognized the two governments were facing difficult challenges, making it necessary for them to determine how to utilize foreign currencies strategically.

“Airlines operate on razor-thin margins,” he continued. “They need to prioritize the markets they serve based on the confidence they have in being able to pay their expenses with revenues that are remitted in a timely and efficient fashion.”

He pointed out reduced air connectivity limited the potential for economic growth, foreign investment and exports, adding such large sums of money involved in the Pakistani and Bangladeshi markets necessitated urgent solutions.


Pakistan Stock Exchange hits record high, breaks 72,000 points in intraday trade

Updated 24 April 2024
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Pakistan Stock Exchange hits record high, breaks 72,000 points in intraday trade

  • Analysts say investors expect a significant decline in April inflation data that may lead to a cut in interest rates
  • The Pakistani bourse has recently been trading at record highs due to hopes of positive loan talks with the IMF

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s benchmark share index breached the key level of 72,000 to trade at a record high of 72,414 points during intraday trade earlier on Wednesday, according to data from the Pakistan Stock Exchange website.

The Pakistani bourse has recently been trading at record highs amid positive sentiment prevailing among investors due to hopes of the country’s successful talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a new loan program.

The country’s finance minister, Muhammad Aurangzeb, recently visited Washington to hold talks with IMF officials for a long-term bailout facility as Pakistan’s current $3 billion program is due to expire this month.

The finance minister expressed hopes the outline of the new program would soon become visible, adding that the loan would help Pakistan continue with structural economic reforms.

“After a record current account surplus, investors are now expecting a big fall in April inflation data that may result in a cut in interest rates in the coming months,” Sohail Mohammed, CEO of Karachi-based brokerage company Topline Securities, told Reuters.

Pakistan’s benchmark KSE100 index has surged 75.5 percent over the past year and is up 11.5 percent year-to-date.

The equity market is expected to surge further as an IMF delegation arrives in Pakistan next month to determine the contours of the new loan facility.

“We are still hoping that we can get into a staff-level agreement [with the IMF] by the time June is done or early July so that we can move on,” the finance minister said on Tuesday while addressing a news conference in Islamabad.

With input from Reuters


Matthews’ second century powers West Indies Women to convincing 88-run victory over Pakistan

Updated 24 April 2024
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Matthews’ second century powers West Indies Women to convincing 88-run victory over Pakistan

  • The victory in the third ODI helps West Indies sweep the ICC Women’s Championship fixer by 3-0
  • The two teams are now scheduled to play five Twenty20 cricket matches in Karachi from Friday

ISLAMABAD: West Indies Women’s captain Hayley Matthews scored her second century of the series to help her team convincingly beat Pakistan Women by 88 runs in the third One-Day International (ODI) in Karachi and sweep the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) Women’s Championship 2022-25 fixture by 3-0.

Matthews, who scored 140 not out in the series opener five days ago, made an excellent 141 to steer her side to 278 for six in 50 overs. Pakistan Women, in their run-chase, faltered to 190 all-out in 47.5 overs.

Matthews faced 149 balls and struck 19 fours in her career-best innings in 83 matches. She put on 93 runs in 110 balls for the second wicket with Shemaine Campbelle and 111 runs for the third wicket in 124 balls with Stafanie Taylor. She was the fifth batter to be dismissed at the score of 250 in the 46th over.

“West Indies win the third and final ODI of the series by 88 runs,” the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) announced in a social media post.

Campbelle contributed a 58-ball 38 with two fours, while Taylor followed up on her 73 in the previous match with a 62-ball 47 including four fours. Later in the order, Aaliyah Alleyne struck three fours in a 12-ball 20 not out to put West Indies Women in a position of strength.

For Pakistan Women, Nashra Sandhu was the most successful bowler with three wickets for 54 runs, while Fatima Sana snapped up two wickets for 67 runs.

In their run-chase, Pakistan Women were formally out of contention after losing half their side for 95 runs in 27.2 overs. Aaliya Riaz (36) and Fatima Sana (23) delayed the inevitable by adding 41 runs in 63 balls for the sixth wicket, before the home side were sent packing for 190 with 13 deliveries of their quota remaining.

Muneeba Ali top-scored with 38, while Bismah Maroof contributed 19 as the two batters added 45 runs for the third wicket.

For the West Indies Women, Aaliyah Alleyne grabbed two wickets for 10 runs, Hayley Matthews picked up two wickets for 26 runs, and Stafanie Taylor bagged two wickets for 29 runs.

After seven rounds of the ICC Women’s Championship 2022-25, Pakistan have remained in fifth position on 16 points with eight wins and 13 losses. In contrast, the West Indies have moved ahead of Bangladesh and joined Sri Lanka in seventh position on 14 points (six wins, seven losses) after five rounds.

The top five teams in the 10-team ICC Women’s Championship 2022-25, along with hosts India, will directly qualify for the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup 2025. The bottom four teams of the ICC Women’s Championship 2022-25 and the top two teams from the ICC ODI rankings will progress to a Women’s Cricket World Cup Qualifier tournament.

The two sides will now go toe to toe in the five-T20I series, which will be played at the National Bank Stadium on 26 April, 28 April, 30 April, 2 May, and 3 May. The matches will commence at 7.30 pm.


Pakistan’s independent election monitor says by-poll irregularities overshadowed improved result management

Updated 24 April 2024
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Pakistan’s independent election monitor says by-poll irregularities overshadowed improved result management

  • FAFEN says its observers were stopped from monitoring elections at 19 polling stations in two Punjab constituencies
  • It mentions a decline in the number of votes cast despite an overall increase in registered voters since February 8

ISLAMABAD: An independent election monitoring network in Pakistan highlighted low voter turnout and procedural irregularities in provincial constituencies in Punjab on Tuesday, saying such teething issues dominated improved result management in the by-polls held on April 21.

Established in 2006, the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) aims to promote electoral transparency, integrity and fairness in Pakistan through citizen observation and advocacy efforts.

It operates independently, monitoring various aspects of the electoral process, including voter registration, polling procedures and result tabulation to ensure impartial elections in the country.

“Low voter turnout, procedural irregularities and restrictions on independent observation in two provincial constituencies in Punjab overshadowed the improved results management and lower numbers of ballots excluded from the count during April 21 elections in 22 national and provincial assembly constituencies,” FAFEN said in its report on by-elections.

“Polling station establishment, voter identification, and counting at polling stations were observed to have been largely compliant with law and procedures,” it continued. “However, instances of omissions in ballot issuance requirements by Assistant Presiding Officers (APOs) were reported from around 14 percent of the observed polling stations.”

FAFEN said while polling agents and accredited observers could generally access voting and counting process, security officials or Presiding Officers barred its observers at 19 polling stations in PP-36 Wazirabad and PP-22 Chakwal-cum-Talagang.

“In PP-22, the accreditation process of FAFEN observers was also delayed until the midday on the polling day causing last-minute changes in the observation scope,” it added.

The report said nearly 36 percent of registered voters cast their votes on polling day, which was nine percent less than the turnout in 18 of these constituencies on February 8.

Votes polled by women decreased by 12 percent, while votes polled by men declined by nine percent, despite an increase of 75,640 registered voters, including 37,684 men and 37,956 women compared to the general elections.

“Lahore’s five constituencies recorded the sharpest decline in the voter turnout with PP-147 reporting a mere 14 percent as against 35 percent on February 8,” it noted. “Similarly, NA-119 Lahore registered a 19 percent turnout against 39 percent on February 8. However, the voter turnout in Gujrat and Khuzdar constituencies recorded an increase compared to general elections.”

FAFEN said it deployed 259 Election-Day observers, including 187 men and 72 women, to observe the voting and counting processes at 1,036 polling stations in five National Assembly and 17 Provincial Assembly constituencies in Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces.

It said that its report was based on the observations received on Election Day from 532 polling stations through FAFEN Election Day Observation mobile application.


US warns of sanctions risk as Iran, Pakistan agree to boost trade ties with new agreements

Updated 24 April 2024
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US warns of sanctions risk as Iran, Pakistan agree to boost trade ties with new agreements

  • State Department statement came as the Iranian president concluded his Pakistan visit to discuss energy and connectivity
  • US also defends its decision to impose sanctions against four international entities supplying missile components to Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: The United States warned on Wednesday countries doing business with Iran faced the “potential risk of sanctions,” as President Ebrahim Raisi concluded a three-day visit to Pakistan where his government signed eight memoranda of understanding (MoUs) for cooperation in different fields and to boost trade to $10 billion.

The Iranian president arrived in Islamabad on Monday as the two Muslim neighbors sought to mend ties after unprecedented tit-for-tat military strikes earlier this year. The visit also took place as tensions continued to remain high in the Middle East after Iran launched airstrikes on Israel a week ago and Israel retaliated with its own attack on Friday.

During his stay in Pakistan, Raisi held several official meetings in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi to discuss issues related to trade, connectivity, energy and people-to-people contacts.

Asked about his engagements in Pakistan and signing of MoUs, US State Department Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel cautioned against possible sanctions in a brief response.

“Just let me say broadly, we advise anyone considering business deals with Iran to be aware of the potential risk of sanctions,” he said. “But ultimately, the Government of Pakistan can speak to their own foreign policy pursuits.”

He was also asked about the US administration’s decision to announce sanctions against three Chinese and one Belarus-based entity supplying missile components to Pakistan last week.

“The sanctions were made because these were entities that were proliferators of weapons of mass destruction and the means of their delivery,” Patel said. “These were entities based in the PRC [Peoples Republic of China], in Belarus, and that we have witnessed to have supplied equipment and other applicable items to Pakistan’s ballistic missile program.”

“We’re going to continue to disrupt and take actions against proliferation networks and concerning weapons of mass destruction procurement activities wherever they may occur,” he added.