Pakistan army says dismayed over ‘unsubstantiated allegations’ of interference in Feb. 8 elections

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In this screengrab, taken from a handout video released by Pakistan’s Inter-Service Public Relations (ISPR), Pakistan Army Chief General Asim Munir speaks during the 263rd Corps Commanders’ Conference at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi on March 5, 2024. (Photo courtesy: ISPR)
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In this screengrab, taken from a handout video released by Pakistan’s Inter-Service Public Relations (ISPR), Pakistan Army officials attend the 263rd Corps Commanders’ Conference at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi on March 5, 2024. (Photo courtesy: ISPR)
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Updated 06 March 2024
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Pakistan army says dismayed over ‘unsubstantiated allegations’ of interference in Feb. 8 elections

  • Pakistan’s national election last month was marred by a mobile service shutdown, prolonged delays in release of results
  • The indecisive election led to widespread allegations of result manipulation, mainly by jailed ex-premier Imran Khan’s party

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s army on Tuesday expressed dismay over “unsubstantiated allegations,” especially on social media, of interference in last month’s national election in the South Asian country, which was marred by a mobile service shutdown and prolonged delays in release of constituency results.
The development came a day after Shehbaz Sharif took oath as prime minister, following the Feb. 8 vote that presented no clear winner, but candidates backed by jailed former prime minister Imran Khan won more parliamentary seats than any other party.
Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party forged an alliance with ex-foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari-led Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and other smaller groups to outnumber Khan-backed lawmakers in parliament for government formation.
Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, which was severely hamstrung ahead of the polls, with rallies banned, its party symbol taken away, and dozens of its candidates rejected from contesting polls, and few others have said the election was rigged to favor their rivals. Authorities have denied the allegation.
After a meeting of the army’s top commanders on Tuesday, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the army’s media wing, said the armed forces of Pakistan, at a great peril to their primary responsibility, provided security for the conduct of polls as per the given mandate and had nothing to do with the electoral process.
“The forum expressed dismay that some vested small segments of polity and media especially social media have been maligning Armed Forces of Pakistan with unsubstantiated allegations of interference which is highly deplorable,” it said in a statement.
“It’s unfortunate that rather than focusing on real issues such as good governance, economic recovery, political stability and public well-being, entire focus of such vested elements is on creating political instability and uncertainty by attempting to scapegoat others for their own failings.”
Pakistan’s powerful army has ruled the nuclear-armed nation of more than 241 million people for over 30 years. Even when not in power, the army is considered by many to be the invisible guiding hand of politics with a key say in the country’s decisions relating to trade, economics, defense, foreign affairs, and national security.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the army’s corps commanders emphasized that due legal processes be followed with evidence and proof with regard to poll results, rather than resorting to “unconstitutional and uncalled for baseless political rhetoric and emotional outbursts,” according to the ISPR.
They noted with satisfaction the smooth democratic transition of power in the center and provinces, and hoped that the post-election environment would bring in “desired political and economic stability,” resulting into peace and prosperity for the people of Pakistan.
The army said it strongly believed that democratic consolidation was the way forward for the country.
“Forum affirmed that military leadership is cognizant of the full spectrum of the challenges and threats and it remains committed to shoulder its constitutionally mandated responsibilities with support of the resilient people of Pakistan,” the ISPR said.
“Forum reiterated to continue providing full support to the government in combating security threats and uplifting the socioeconomic growth in the country including wholehearted assistance in curbing all illegal activities including smuggling, hoarding, electricity theft, implementation of One Document Regime and respectable & safe repatriation of all illegal foreigners.”
In line with the resolve of the prime minister, the ISPR noted, the forum committed that planners, instigators, abettors, perpetrators and desecrators of martyrs’ monuments and attackers of military installations during May 9, 2023 violent protests would certainly be brought to justice.
The protests last year erupted over the brief arrest of ex-PM Khan, who was ousted in a parliamentary no-trust vote in April 2022, in a graft case. Several of his party’s members and supporters were subsequently rounded up and booked for violence, while some still remain behind bars.
Khan, who has been in jail himself since August last year on a slew of charges, maintains the generals orchestrated his ouster together with his rivals and the United States for pursuing an independent foreign policy for Pakistan. All three have denied the allegation.
The former premier maintains the cases against him are “politically motivated” and accused the army ahead of polls of trying to keep him from returning to power. The army denies interfering in politics.
“In this regard, malicious efforts to create distortions, confusion and disinformation are absolutely futile and only part of an organized campaign being launched for narrow political interests to blur the abhorrent activities that took place,” the ISPR said.
“The forum noted with concern organized misinformation and fake news being spread by certain nefarious elements to sow despondency and divisions within the society, and urged the proud people of Pakistan to remain positive and united and wholeheartedly participate in the progress and development of the country.”


Pakistan government accuses PTI party of ‘standing with terrorists’ over opposition to new anti-terror operation

Updated 23 June 2024
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Pakistan government accuses PTI party of ‘standing with terrorists’ over opposition to new anti-terror operation

  • Top national security forum approves Operation Azm-e-Istehkam as Pakistan faces surge in militancy and mob violence 
  • Opposition led by PTI party says operation cannot be announced without approval from the parliament 

ISLAMABAD: Defense Minister Khawaja Asif on Sunday accused the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) of “standing with terrorists” as the opposition backed by the party opposed a newly approved counterterrorism operation. 

Pakistan’s top national security forum on Saturday announced the Operation Azm-e-Istehkam, or Resolve for Stability, campaign after a meeting of the Central Apex Committee on the National Action Plan (NAP) that was attended by senior military leaders and top government officials from all provinces, including PTI-backed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Ali Amin Gandapur.

The approval for the operation comes amid a surge in militant attacks across Pakistan and after a mob lynching this week of a local tourist over accusations of blasphemy in the northwestern Swat district.

“Even KP CM was present in the meeting yesterday, it was all decided in front of him, the measures that would be taken against terrorism,” Defense Minister Asif said on the floor of the house as cries of “end the operation” rang out through the hall. 

“Today by their demonstrations they are showing that they stand with terrorists, they are demonstrating against the martyrdoms rendered by the Pakistani army, they are demonstrating against the Pakistan army that’s sacrificing lives in the fight against terrorists.”

Before Asif’s speech, PTI lawmakers had staged an hour-long walkout against the operation, but later returned and began chanting slogans against Azm-e-Istehkam.

Speaking to the media outside parliament during the walkout, PTI Chairman Barrister Gohar Khan said the opposition was against the operation because it had not been discussed in parliament. 

“Our demand and point of order is that be it any operation, a full-fledged one or an intelligence-based operation, or be it in certain districts, it is imperative for parliament to be taken into confidence,” Khan said, arguing that an operation could not be launched simply with the approval of the NAP apex committee. 

“No matter how big the apex body is and no matter who comes and sits there, it can never supersede the parliament,” the PTI leader said. “According to the constitution, parliament is the supreme. Our demand is that no operation should be initiated without taking parliament into confidence.”

Senior PTI leader Asad Qaiser also spoke to reporters and gave a similar message:

“In simple and short words, we cannot support any kind of operation … What is this parliament for that you’re taking such a big decision and not consulting the parliament?”

THORN IN THE SIDE

Khan’s PTI is currently part of the parliament under the umbrella of the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), which remains a thorn in the side of the fragile coalition government led by PM Shehbaz Sharif.

Weeks before the national election on Feb. 8, ex-PM Imran Khan’s PTI was stripped of its iconic election symbol of the cricket bat on technical grounds, and all its candidates had to contest polls as independent candidates. 

After the election in which Khan-backed independents won the most seats overall, they joined the SIC to claim a share in the reserved seats in the parliament for women and religious minorities. Under Pakistan’s election rules, political parties are allotted reserved seats in proportion to the number of parliamentary seats they win in the election. This completes the National Assembly’s total strength of 336 seats.

However, Pakistan’s election commission (ECP) had ruled in March that the Khan-backed SIC party was not eligible for extra reserved seats in the legislature, dealing a blow to the embattled group’s governing prospects and proving to be a major setback for Khan, who is in jail following a string of convictions. 

The election regulator’s decision was upheld by the Peshawar High Court but last month the Supreme Court overruled the verdict.

A 13-member bench of the Supreme Court, a full court, is now hearing a set of petitions filed by the chairman of the SIC challenging the denial of the reserved seats to the party and their distribution to other parties in Sharif’s ruling coalition.
 


Pakistan’s Punjab warns of urban flooding as 35 percent more rains expected this monsoon season

Updated 23 June 2024
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Pakistan’s Punjab warns of urban flooding as 35 percent more rains expected this monsoon season

  • Large swathes of the South Asian country were submerged in 2022 due to extremely heavy monsoon rains
  • Pakistan has also been in grips of heat wave since last month, with temperatures in some regions rising adobe 50°C

ISLAMABAD: The Punjab Disaster Management Authority on Sunday warned of urban flooding in parts of the province next month as monsoon rains start from July 1, with 35 percent more downpours expected this year in a country considered one of the most vulnerable to climate change impacts.

Large swathes of the South Asian nation were submerged in 2022 due to extremely heavy monsoon rains and melting glaciers, a phenomenon linked to climate change that damaged crops and infrastructure and killed at least 1,700 people, displaced millions and inflicted billions of dollars in losses.

“Heavy rains with thundershowers are expected in Upper Punjab, Central Punjab and South Punjab,” the PDMA said in a statement, announcing that the monsoons would begin in the province from July 1 and 35 percent rain more rain was expected this year compared to previous years. “Monsoon rains in July threaten urban flooding and hill torrents in South Punjab.”

The PDMA called on the district administration to ensure safety measures were put in place before the rains began. 

“Complete cleaning of rivers and drainage arrangements should be made as soon as possible,” the statement said. “Protection of life and property of citizens is the first priority and there is no room for negligence or irresponsibility.”

In 2010, the worst floods in memory affected 20 million people in Pakistan, with damage to infrastructure running into billions of dollars and huge swathes of crops destroyed as one fifth of the country was inundated.

Pakistan has also been in the grips of a heat wave since last month, with temperatures in some regions rising to above 50 degrees Celsius. 


Two paramilitary soldiers killed in northwest Pakistan by militants ‘infiltrating from Afghanistan’ — police

Updated 23 June 2024
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Two paramilitary soldiers killed in northwest Pakistan by militants ‘infiltrating from Afghanistan’ — police

  • Police say clashes reported on Saturday in different locations in Lower Dir but situation now “under control”
  • Islamabad says militants use safe havens in Afghanistan to launch attacks inside Pakistan, which Kabul denies

PESHAWAR: Two soldiers from Pakistan’s paramilitary Frontier Corps had been killed in two days of clashes between local security forces and militants who had allegedly infiltrated from neighboring Afghanistan into Pakistan’s northwestern border regions over the weekend, police said.

Islamabad blames an ongoing surge in militant attacks on Afghanistan, saying Pakistani Taliban, or TTP, leaders have taken refuge there and run camps to train insurgents to launch attacks inside Pakistan. The Afghan Taliban rulers in Kabul say rising violence in Pakistan is a domestic issue for Islamabad and it does not allow militants to operate on its territory.

The TTP pledges allegiance to, and gets its name from, the Afghan Taliban, but is not directly a part of the group. Its stated aim is to impose Islamic religious law in Pakistan, as the Taliban have done in Afghanistan.

Mazhar Iqbal, a district police officer in Lower Dir, told Arab News clashes were reported on Saturday in different locations in the district but the situation was now “under control.”

“Backed by police, FC has been carrying out clearing operations,” Iqbal said on Sunday. “We have no reports of exact number of casualties on either side as of yet … The situation has now returned to normalcy. Security forces and police have started patrolling to thwart any untoward incident.”

A report issued by police in Dir yesterday, Saturday, said two FC soldiers had been killed and another injured in the clashes.

“Both sides are locked in intense fire and a search and strike operation is underway in mountainous areas by police and security forces,” the report said, adding that helicopter gunships were pounding militant hideouts in Lower Dir district on the Pakistani side.

Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper and other media outlets also reported infiltration by militants from the Afghan side via the Shahi border area at Lamotai Top, Suripao and Safarai forest.

“According to locals, members of the banned TTP, hailing from Lower Dir and Swat districts, often use the Shahi and Binshahi route to enter into Lower Dir and move further toward Swat,” Dawn said.

The Pakistan army and FC have not yet commented on the latest clashes. 

The TTP is responsible for some of the bloodiest attacks in Pakistan, including on security forces, churches, schools and the shooting of Malala Yousafzai, who survived the 2012 attack after she was targeted for her campaign against the Taliban’s efforts to deny women education.

Pakistani forces were able to effectively dismantle the TTP and kill most of its top leadership in a string of military operations from 2014 onwards in the tribal areas, driving most of the fighters into neighboring Afghanistan, where Islamabad says they have regrouped. Kabul denies this.


23 of 49 suspects in Pakistan blasphemy lynching case arrested — police

Updated 23 June 2024
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23 of 49 suspects in Pakistan blasphemy lynching case arrested — police

  • Swat District Police Officer Dr. Zahid Khan confirms formation of joint investigation team to probe Swat lynching 
  • Rights groups say Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are often misused to persecute minorities or even against Muslims 

PESHAWAR: At least 23 out of 49 suspects identified in the case of the lynching of a man over suspected blasphemy earlier this week have been arrested, police said on Sunday, as the provincial government of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province set up a special investigation team to probe the incident of mob violence. 

A local tourist belonging to Pakistan’s Sialkot city was dragged from a police station by a mob in the northwestern Swat district on Thursday before being killed and set on fire over accusations he had burnt pages of the Qur’an. 

“23 suspects have been arrested in connection with the lynching case,” District Police Officer (DPO) Dr. Zahid Khan told Arab News. “A total of 49 identified and 2,000-2,500 unknown suspects have been nominated in the first information [police] report.”

Khan confirmed that a joint investigation team had been formed by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa administration with members from the counter-terrorism, information technology and special branch departments.

Police teams were continuing raids to arrest remaining suspects, the DPO said, and authorities were using modern technology like facial recognition to identify people involved in the incident, videos of which were widely circulated on social media. 

Suspects in the case have been nominated under several Pakistani laws dealing with premeditated murder, rioting, unlawful assembly, being armed with deadly weapons and obstructing public servants in the discharge of public functions, among other charges. 

Lynchings are not uncommon in Pakistan where the mere accusation of blasphemy can lead to mob violence. 

Last month, a Christian man in his seventies was attacked by a mob on charges of burning pages of the Qur’an. He later died of his injuries in hospital. 

In 2021, a Sri Lankan factory manager was lynched in one of the highest-profile incidents in the country. Six people were sentenced to death for their part in the lynching after the incident sparked a global outcry.

Human rights groups say Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are often misused to persecute minorities or even against Muslims to settle personal rivalries.


Pilgrims arrive in Pakistan from India to mark death anniversary of Sikh empire’s first emperor 

Updated 23 June 2024
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Pilgrims arrive in Pakistan from India to mark death anniversary of Sikh empire’s first emperor 

  • Ranjit Singh was first Maharaja of Sikh Empire, which ruled northwest Indian subcontinent in 19th century
  • Death anniversary rituals will be centered around the famed Gurdwara Panja Sahib in Hasan Abdal city

ISLAMABAD: Around 447 Sikh pilgrims from India have arrived at the famed Gurdwara Panja Sahib shrine in the Pakistani city of Hassan Abdal to attend events marking the 185th death anniversary of Ranjit Singh, the first Maharaja of the Sikh Empire, state media reported on Sunday.

Sikhs are a small minority mostly based in the Punjab region that is divided between Muslim-majority Pakistan and Hindu-majority India, but several key Sikh holy sites are in Pakistan, including the famed Gurdwara Panja Sahib, some 45 kilometers northwest of Islamabad. The shrine is one of Sikhism’s holiest sites and it is believed that the handprint of the founder of the religion, Guru Nanak, is imprinted on a boulder there.

Nanak was born in what is now called Nankana Sahib in present-day Pakistan. Ranjit Singh, popularly known as Sher-e-Punjab or “Lion of Punjab,” was the first Maharaja of the Sikh Empire, which ruled the northwest Indian subcontinent in the early half of the 19th century.

“As many as 447 Indian Sikh pilgrims have arrived at the Gurdwara Punja Sahib in Hassan Abdal to participate in rituals in connection with the 185th death anniversary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh,” Radio Pakistan said on Sunday. 

The pilgrims were welcomed by officials of the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee as well as the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB), a key government department that administers evacuee properties, including educational, charitable or religious trusts left behind by Hindus and Sikhs who migrated to India after partition.

Group leader Sardar Khushwint Singh thanked the government for allowing a large number of Sikh pilgrims to visit religious sites in Pakistan, the report said.

The Sikh pilgrims arrived in Pakistan by foot on Friday through the Wagha Border, according to the ETPB, where they were welcomed by Additional Secretary Shrines Saif Ullah Khokhar, along with the head of the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Sardar Ramesh Singh Arora, who is also the provincial minister for minority affairs. 

Khokhar told media the pilgrims would be provided free accommodation, meals, transportation and medical facilities during their stay in Pakistan. 

“After completing immigration and customs formalities, the sikh pilgrims departed for Gurdwara Panja Sahib on special buses,” the ETPB said. “The main ceremony for Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s death anniversary will be held on June 29 at Gurdwara Dera Sahib in Lahore.”

Pakistan’s government has taken significant steps in recent years to make Sikh holy sites more accessible to devout Sikhs, particularly those from India. In 2019, Pakistan established the Kartarpur Corridor, a visa-free border crossing and religious corridor that devotees from India can use to visit a famous gurdwara in Kartarpur, 4.7 kilometers from the India-Pakistan border on the Pakistani side.