Pakistan top court hears reserved seats petitions filed by ex-PM Khan-backed party

Pakistan’s top court is hearing a significant political case involving petitions that challenge the denial of reserved seats in parliament to the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), a party backed by the country’s jailed former prime minister Imran Khan in Islamabad, Pakistan on June 24, 2024. (Supreme Court of Pakistan)
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Updated 24 June 2024
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Pakistan top court hears reserved seats petitions filed by ex-PM Khan-backed party

  • Pakistan’s election regulator denied these seats for women and minorities to Sunni Ittehad Council after Feb. polls
  • Outcome of the case may impact National Assembly’s composition, influencing how the government functions

ISLAMABAD:  Pakistan’s top court resumed hearing a significant political case today, Monday, involving petitions that challenge the denial of reserved seats in parliament to the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), a party backed by the country’s jailed former prime minister Imran Khan.

These seats for women and minorities in Pakistan’s national and provincial legislatures, constitutionally reserved for greater political inclusion, are allocated to various political factions on a proportional basis after considering the number of general seats won by them during elections.

Leaders from Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) were compelled to contest the national polls in February as independent candidates after being deprived of their party symbol, the cricket bat, by the Supreme Court of Pakistan due to internal elections deemed flawed.

The PTI-backed independent candidates won the maximum number of seats, emerging as the single largest bloc in the National Assembly, but chose to join the SIC in the absence of their original party identity. However, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) decided not to allocate the reserved seats to them on technical grounds, instead distributing the SIC’s share among other parties.

SIC counsel Faisal Siddiqui presented his arguments before a 13-member bench of the apex court headed by Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa on Monday. Justice Isa remarked during the hearing that despite the ECP’s decision to strip it off its iconic bat symbol, the PTI continued to remain a registered party even then. 

“PTI continued to exist [as a political party] after the decision, continues to exist today,” Justice Isa said, wondering why independent candidates did not join the PTI, and then put forth the demand for reserved seats. 

“Didn’t you (PTI) commit suicide yourself,” Justice Isa asked Siddiqui, referring to the PTI. “You could have simply said we want to join PTI. End of story.”

When Siddiqui promptly said no, Justice Isa informed him that he had a “great conflict of interest” in the case and he should make clear to the court whether he was representing the SIC or the PTI, which were two separate entities.

The outcome of the case can be politically significant since it may impact the National Assembly’s composition, influencing how legislations are passed and the government functions.
Khan’s party says it is hopeful of winning 78 reserved seats in parliament given to the rival parties after the elections.

Khan, has been in jail since August 2023 after being convicted by a local court on corruption charges, accused the ECP of stripping the PTI of the bat symbol in its bid to keep the party from winning the polls. The Pakistani election regulator has denied the party’s allegations. 


Actor Noor Xarmina crowned ‘Miss Universe Pakistan 2024’

Updated 21 July 2024
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Actor Noor Xarmina crowned ‘Miss Universe Pakistan 2024’

  • The 29-year-old venture capitalist-turned-actor hails from Islamabad and recently moved back to Pakistan from abroad
  • Xarmina says she wants to represent Pakistan on international forums, bring about a change for women

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani actor Noor Xarmina has been declared ‘Miss Universe Pakistan 2024,’ after which she is poised to represent Pakistan at the 73rd Miss Universe 2024 pageant in November this year.
The announcement of Xarmina’s successful bid was made in a video published on the official YouTube channel of Miss Universe on Saturday.
The 29-year-old venture capitalist-turned-actor, who has studied biology and business, hails from Islamabad and recently moved to Pakistan.
In the video shared on Miss Universe YouTube channel, she said she wanted to bring about a “positive change” in her home country.
“I want to be an agent for positive change in two respects. The first is for our country. Pakistan is scarcely represented internationally across so many industries and I want to enhance our representation on an international stage,” Xarmina said.
“In the second respect, I want to have change for women in our country. Pakistan needs strong female leaders that can mobilize its women and empower them to create positive change in society.”
Asked if Pakistan would support Xarmina’s bid at international beauty pageants, Pakistani Information Minister Ataullah Tarar said if Xarmina has played a role in projecting Pakistan’s soft image, then a discussion can be held on this.
“I do not know about that woman, what background she has and what professional achievements she has before this, they can be looked into. If she has played her role for Pakistan’s image, Pakistan’s soft image, and Pakistan’s development, then discussion can be held on this,” he told reporters in Islamabad on Sunday.
Tarar noted that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif recently invited Naila Kiyani, a UAE-based Pakistani mountaineer, and appreciated her.
“So, we definitely believe that whatever achievement one has, it should be recognized,” he added.
Last year, Erica Rabin became the first Pakistani woman to be crowned Miss Universe Pakistan. Prior to that, no woman from Muslim-majority Pakistan ever participated in the Miss Universe pageant.
Miss Universe Pakistan is a national beauty pageant franchise organized by the Yugen Group of Dubai to select a representative from Pakistan for the Miss Universe pageant.


Minister denies ex-PM Khan claims, says he lives in ‘presidential suite’ inside Pakistani jail

Updated 21 July 2024
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Minister denies ex-PM Khan claims, says he lives in ‘presidential suite’ inside Pakistani jail

  • In an interview with a UK publication, Khan claimed he was ‘confined in a 7ft by 8ft death cell, typically reserved for terrorists’ and being denied basic rights
  • Information Minister Ataullah Tarar says Khan has an exercise bicycle, a dedicated kitchen and holds three meetings weekly with his family, friends and aides

ISLAMABAD: Information Minister Ataullah Tarar on Sunday denied jailed former prime minister Imran Khan’s claims that he was being denied basic prisoner rights in Pakistan, saying that the ex-premier’s “presidential suite” inside Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail was much better than several middle-class homes in the South Asian country.
Khan, 71, has been imprisoned at Adiala Jail since August last year. All four jail sentences he received ahead of a February national election in Pakistan have been overturned or suspended in recent weeks.
He remains in jail after authorities this month issued fresh arrest warrants for him in three cases linked to violence against the military and other state installations that erupted following his brief arrest in May 2023, according to his party.
In an interview with UK publication The Sunday Times this week, Khan claimed he was “confined in a 7ft by 8ft death cell, typically reserved for terrorists” and being denied “basic prisoner and human rights such as visitation.”
Speaking at a press conference in Islamabad, Tarar denied the claims and described Khan’s prison cell as the “presidential suite” of a five-star hotel, which offered a number of “amenities.”
“This convicted person (Khan) who is the ex-chairman of PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party), he lives in a presidential suite. He has an exercise bicycle at his disposal,” the information minister said.
“He has a walking gallery at his disposal, he has a kitchen at his disposal and he gives a proper, lavish menu of what he wants to eat in the entire day. He holds three meetings weekly with his lawyers, with his friends, family, with his political leaders.”
Tarar said these were not the things normally found inside prisons and that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz-led government in Pakistan had never victimized its political opponents.
He criticized Khan for mistreatment of his political opponents during his tenure as the prime minister from 2018 till 2022.
“Mr Khan himself incarcerated people and put them in death cells, including women. And he was responsible and he used to openly state that ‘I will not let any medicine get through to them in the prison. I will not let them have home food, I will not let them meet people’,” the minister recounted.
“He used to state it very openly and now, he is having a lavish lifestyle inside the jail. Your presidential suite inside Adiala jail is better than several middle-class homes.”
Khan’s convictions had ruled the 71-year-old out of the Feb. 8 general election as convicted felons cannot run for public office under Pakistani law. Arguably Pakistan’s most popular politician, Khan says all cases against him are motivated to keep him out of politics.
An anti-terrorism court this month canceled his bail in one of the May 9, 2023 cases registered against him and thousands of his supporters. His PTI party called it a “gimmick” aimed at prolonging his imprisonment.


Family, activists call for recovery of Hindu girl who went missing in Pakistan’s Sindh in 2021

Updated 21 July 2024
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Family, activists call for recovery of Hindu girl who went missing in Pakistan’s Sindh in 2021

  • Seven-year-old Priya Kumari went missing on August 19, 2021 in Sukkur city of Pakistan’s Sindh province
  • In the past, the province has reported cases of forced conversions of Hindu girls and marriages with abductors

KARACHI: The family of Priya Kumari, a Hindu girl who went missing in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province in 2021, and rights activists have called on provincial authorities to ensure her release and sought a clear deadline in this regard.
Seven-year-old Kumari went missing in Sindh’s Sukkur on August 19, 2021. While her family suspects no one, the southern Pakistani province has previously reported cases of forced conversions and marriage of Hindu girls, with those from poor families and low castes largely targeted.
The Minority Rights March, Aurat March, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Women Democratic Front, Priya Kumari Bazyabi Committee and other civil society organizations this week held a protest in Sindh’s provincial capital of Karachi to demand her release.
On Saturday, Luke Victor, a human rights defender, led a delegation, comprising Kumari’s parents, Raj Kumar and Reena Kumari, and other activists, to meet with Sindh Home Minister Zia-ul-Hassan Lanjar. They said the minister claimed Kumari was alive but offered no solid assurance for her release.
“While we welcome the details and progress shared by the JIT (joint investigation team) after three years [of Kumari’s abduction], we expect the JIT and the Sindh Home Minister to be able to provide more than just a vague promise of ‘soon’ and to commit to a specific date by which they expect to recover Priya safely,” the protest organizers said in a statement on Saturday.
“Open-ended discussions and vague commitments have occurred too many times without any results and have only eroded the trust once placed in the Sindh Police, which can only be restored with the safe recovery of Priya Kumari without further delay.”
During the meeting on Saturday, Kumari’s parents submitted a written application to the Sindh home minister for their daughter’s recovery and a transparent investigation into her abduction.
“There are hopes. The child is alive, and we have evidence,” the minister is heard saying in a video of the meeting.
“I cannot commit regarding the timeframe. She could be found tomorrow or within a week. We are trying to recover her soon,” he says, when asked for an assurance.
Luke, who led the delegation to the meeting, said on Sunday the “vague” statement suggested the authorities were either “lying or unwilling to act.”
“They are either lying about having traced Priya Kumari or they are unable to take action against the culprit, who could be influential,” he said.


Pakistan recovered over $370 million in nationwide campaign against power theft — report

Updated 21 July 2024
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Pakistan recovered over $370 million in nationwide campaign against power theft — report

  • The South Asian nation’s power sector has long been plagued by high rates of electricity theft and distribution losses
  • Authorities have arrested 83,000 individuals for involvement in power theft since the announcement of a campaign this year

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has recovered more than $370 million in a nationwide campaign against electricity theft, Pakistani state media reported on Sunday.
The South Asian nation’s power sector has been plagued by high rates of electricity theft and distribution losses, resulting in accumulating debts across the production chain.
In March, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi announced that authorities had launched a “massive crackdown” against electricity and gas theft, aiming for fair distribution of utilities and access to all citizens.
“In a countrywide campaign against power pilferage, 105 billion ($377 million) rupees have been recovered,” the state-run Radio Pakistan broadcaster reported. “More than 83,000 individuals involved in power theft have been arrested.”
From June 30 till July 17, authorities collected more than Rs1 billion from power pilferers in Punjab’s Lahore, Gujranwala, Faisalabad and Multan cities as well as in the federal capital of Islamabad, according to the report.
Another Rs430 million were recovered from Peshawar, Hyderabad, Sukkur and Quetta during this period. This was a result of actions taken by the government to revive the country’s economy and bring people out of the power crisis.
Relevant institutions were determined to continue their operations until complete elimination of power theft from the country, it added.
The report comes days after Pakistan reached a staff-level agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a new $7 billion loan.
Energy sector debt has already been a main issue that the IMF has highlighted in tackling Pakistan’s fiscal deficit, telling the South Asian nation to prevent further accumulation of circular debt in its power sector arising from subsidies and unpaid bills.
The lender has asked to implement reforms to reduce costs by improving electricity transmission and distribution, moving captive power into the grid, improving governance, and combating theft.


Pakistan to push Chinese utilities in Pakistan to switch to domestic coal

Updated 21 July 2024
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Pakistan to push Chinese utilities in Pakistan to switch to domestic coal

  • Such a transition would benefit the Chinese-owned plants in Pakistan by reducing pressure on Islamabad’s foreign exchange reserves
  • The transition could save Pakistan over $700 million a year in imports, translating to a drop of as much as Rs2.5 in per unit electricity price

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan this month will ask Chinese power plants operating in the country to shift to using coal from Pakistan’s Thar region rather than imported coal, the power minister said on Sunday.
Islamabad may also begin talks on re-profiling Pakistan’s energy sector debt during the visit to Beijing, Awais Leghari, head of the energy ministry’s Power Division, told Reuters.
Leghari will be part of the delegation to discuss structural reforms to the power sector suggested by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which last week agreed on a $7 billion bailout for the heavily indebted South Asian nation.
Neighbouring China has set up over $20 billion worth of energy projects in Pakistan.
“One of the key purposes of going along is the conversion of our imported coal units to the local coal. That would have a huge impact on the cost of energy, of power in the near future. So that is one of the biggest (items on the) agenda,” Leghari said in an interview.
Such a transition would benefit the Chinese-owned plants in Pakistan by reducing pressure on Islamabad’s foreign exchange reserves, he said, making it easier to repatriate dividends and offering a better return in dollar terms.
The transition could save Pakistan more than 200 billion Pakistani rupees ($700 million) a year in imports, translating to a decrease of as much as 2.5 Pakistani rupees per unit in the price of electricity, Leghari said.
In April a subsidiary of conglomerate Engro agreed to sell all of its thermal assets, including Pakistan’s leading coal producer, Sindh Engro Coal Mining to Pakistan’s Liberty Power. Liberty said the decision stemmed from Pakistan’s foreign exchange crunch and its indigenous coal reserve potential.
The minister declined to elaborate on the possible talks with China over re-profiling energy debt.
Pakistan’s power sector has been plagued by high rates of power theft and distribution losses, resulting in accumulating debt across the production chain — a concern raised by the IMF.
The government is implementing structural reforms to reduce “circular debt” — public liabilities that build up in the power sector due to subsidies and unpaid bills — by 100 billion Pakistani rupees ($360 million) a year, Leghari said.
Poor and middle-class households have been affected by a previous IMF bailout reached last year, which included raising power tariffs as part of the funding program that ended in April.
Annual power use in Pakistan is expected to fall consecutively for the first time in 16 years as higher tariffs curb household consumption, despite summer temperatures surging to near records, which typically boosts air conditioning and fan use.
“We have seen a shrinking demand trend in the past year or year and a half, and we are expecting this to continue unless we rationalize the price of power,” Leghari said, adding that the government’s major challenge was get demand to stop shrinking.
He said that since the per-unit tariff for power is more expensive, both urban and rural households are moving toward alternatives such as solar.
“Right now we have close to 1,000 megawatts that are on the grid itself in the form of net metering systems and others. It’s a very conservative estimate that (solar) could be five to six times more than that on the grid right now,” Leghari said.