Despite crackdown, Pakistan’s former PM Imran Khan’s popularity, vote bank intact — analysts

Despite crackdown, Pakistan’s former PM Imran Khan’s popularity, vote bank intact — analysts
Security officers escort Pakistani former Prime Minister Imran Khan as he appeared in Islamabad High Court, Islamabad, Pakistan, May 12, 2023. (Photo courtesy: REUTERS/File)
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Updated 02 June 2023
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Despite crackdown, Pakistan’s former PM Imran Khan’s popularity, vote bank intact — analysts

Despite crackdown, Pakistan’s former PM Imran Khan’s popularity, vote bank intact — analysts
  • Experts say Khan’s vote bank is still intact despite recent crackdown on party workers, exodus of leaders
  • They say Khan should review anti-establishment policy to galvanize public support, win upcoming elections

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Imran Khan still enjoys wide public support, especially in the country’s populous Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, despite a massive crackdown against his supporters and defections of his senior party leaders since the violent protests of May 9.

About a hundred senior party leaders, including Khan’s close aides and former cabinet ministers, announced to quit the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party while condemning the May 9 protests that spread across the country following the ex-premier’s arrest from the Islamabad High Court in a graft case.

Security forces sprang into action against “arsonists and rioters” after protesters carrying the PTI flags stormed and vandalized public buildings and military installations, including the official residence of a top general and the army headquarters in Rawalpindi. Hundreds of Khan’s supporters and senior party leaders were rounded up on charges of inciting violence. Many of them later announced to quit the party and some even said they were going to take a break from politics.

Despite the current hardships of Khan and his party, political analysts said the ex-premier was still “among the most popular leaders” in the country, thought he needed to review his policies to win the next election.

“At the moment, Khan has a direct confrontation with the establishment and no political leader, irrespective of his popularity, can form a government in Pakistan without the establishment,” Sohail Warraich, a senior journalist and political analyst, told Arab News on Friday.

The establishment is a euphemism for the country’s powerful military in Pakistan. Historically, the army has ruled the country for more than half of its 76-year existence and continues to wield considerable power in the matters related to its security and foreign affairs.

The general elections in Pakistan are scheduled to be held in October after the expiry of the five-year term of the national and provincial legislative bodies.

“The electable are leaving the party and many more will quit,” he continued. “But Khan’s vote bank is still intact.”

Warraich said the ex-premier should “review his anti-establishment policy” to galvanize the public in his favor to secure a victory in the upcoming elections.

Since his ouster from power in April last year in a parliamentary no-confidence vote, Khan has been striving to make a political comeback by riding the wave of popularity. Pakistan is a parliamentary democracy where political parties field candidates in constituencies to win a majority to form the government.

Asked about the crackdown against Khan’s party, Zebunnisa Burki, a political analyst, said the recent developments seemed to be an attempt to make the former prime minister irrelevant.

“Apparently, the whole move appears to be suggesting a minus Imran Khan in the upcoming elections,” she said, adding the “powerful circles” in Pakistan seemed to be dismantling PTI into different factions to divide Khan’s public support.

She maintained if the PTI got divided into different groups before the elections, the future of Khan-led party would be bleak since “the electable still enjoy a significant support in their constituencies even without Imran Khan.”

“The PTI defectors may also form a forward bloc to win over the party supporters, but then again the voter still remains loyal to Khan only,” she continued. “There seems to be interesting times ahead in Pakistani politics, but it will be extremely difficult to take Khan out of it.”

PTI leaders and loyalists describe the prevailing circumstances as a “temporary” phase in their party’s history, saying they will not make much difference to their support base.

“The party is still intact, and these defections won’t make any difference to Imran Khan’s popularity,” Sayed Zulfi Bukhari, the ex-premier’s close aide, told Arab News. “This is all very temporary.”

However, Bukhari acknowledged the crackdown was aimed at dismantling the party, though he added these attempts would not succeed as long as the people were supporting Khan.

“Khan still enjoys overwhelming public support across Pakistan and it is even more than before as every arrest is making PTI stronger and resilient,” he said.

Bukhari predicted “70 percent” turnout in the upcoming elections since people were angry to see what was happening to the former prime minister and would do everything to bring him back to power.

“Imran Khan is a symbol of hope for majority of Pakistanis since they believe only he can steer the country out of the current political and economic mess,” he said.

The political parties in Pakistan have suffered defections and desertions in the past when their leaders fell apart from the military establishment, but they still remained part of parliamentary politics with varying strength.

“All surveys and polls suggest one thing: Imran Khan is the most popular leader in Pakistan, especially in Punjab and KP provinces, and his PTI party would sweep the upcoming polls,” Habib Akram, a senior journalist and political commentator, told Arab News.

He said there was no future of any forward bloc or electable without Khan, adding the recent by-elections in the country had “clearly demonstrated that people’s vote is only for Khan.”

“In this age of digital and social media, importance of political parties has increased manifold as people prefer parties over electable while voting,” he said. “As long as Imran Khan is alive and doing active politics, people will vote for him.”


Clinical Rizwan guides Multan Sultans to five-wicket win over Lahore Qalandars 

Clinical Rizwan guides Multan Sultans to five-wicket win over Lahore Qalandars 
Updated 21 February 2024
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Clinical Rizwan guides Multan Sultans to five-wicket win over Lahore Qalandars 

Clinical Rizwan guides Multan Sultans to five-wicket win over Lahore Qalandars 
  • Muhammad Rizwan scores 82 runs off 59 balls to hand Multan Sultans third PSL 2024 win 
  • Sultans bowler Mohammad Ali returns figures of 2/28, Abbas Afridi, Usama Mir take one wicket each

ISLAMABAD: A quickfire half-century by Multan Sultans skipper Muhammad Rizwan helped his side secure a five-wicket win over defending champions Lahore Qalandars on Wednesday night, as the two sides locked horns in the seventh match of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) 2024 clash in Multan. 
“Captain’s knock once again by Muhammad Rizwan,” the Sultans wrote on social media platform X. “3/3 wins in the bag.”

The Qalandars batted first, scoring 166-5 at the end of their 20 overs. A half-century by Rassie van der Dussen (54 off 37 balls) and a quick 41 runs from 36 balls by left-handed batter Fakhar Zaman gave the defending champions some support. 
However, Sultans bowler Mohammad Ali impressed yet again, returning figures of 2/28 while Abbas Afridi and spinner Usama Mir picked up a wicket each. The Qalandars could only manage 166-5 at the end of their 20 overs. 
The Sultans suffered early setbacks when they came out to bat, losing opening batter Dawid Malan for 0 and Reeza Hendricks for 9 while Rizwan stood his ground to score a half-century. Yasir Khan and David Willey departed after scoring 8 and 25 runs, respectively, before a valiant knock from Iftikhar Ahmed (34 runs from 11 balls) sealed the Qalandars’ fate.
Rizwan’s 82 runs from 59 balls featured three sixes and nine fours. He was awarded the Player of the Match award after the Sultans finished successfully at 170-5 at the end of 19 overs. 
Qalandars’ pacers Shaheen Shah Afridi and Zaman Khan grabbed the lion’s share of the wickets, returning figures of 2/25 and 2/52 respectively. 
With three consecutive wins in this year’s PSL, the Sultans sit pretty at the top of the table while the Qalandars are at the bottom after suffering three defeats.

 


Pakistan in for ‘roller coaster’ ride after parties strike deal

Pakistan in for ‘roller coaster’ ride after parties strike deal
Updated 21 February 2024
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Pakistan in for ‘roller coaster’ ride after parties strike deal

Pakistan in for ‘roller coaster’ ride after parties strike deal
  • Pakistan’s next government needs to take tough decisions to steer country out of a financial crisis
  • Another big move is the expected privatization of loss-making state-owned enterprises

ISLAMABAD: The deal between two Pakistani parties to form a coalition government will be based on conditional support from one of them, the Pakistan People’s Party, that will review decisions on a case-by-case basis, a top PPP official said on Wednesday.
Such an arrangement could make life difficult for the government, which needs to take tough decisions to steer the country out of financial crisis facing a strong opposition bloc led by supporters of jailed former prime minister Imran Khan.
“It will be, of course, a roller coaster,” said political commentator and author Ayesha Siddiqa of the road ahead for the next government.
The agreement between Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s PPP and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of three-time Premier Nawaz Sharif late Tuesday night ended days of uncertainty and negotiations after an inconclusive Feb. 8 election.
But the PPP is not taking cabinet positions, its secretary of information, Faisal Karim Kundi, told Reuters, and its support in parliament would depend on the party’s stance.
“We will support policy decisions on an issue-to-issue basis,” Kundi said, adding that PPP would vote for the PML-N’s prime minister candidate, Shehbaz Sharif, younger brother of party chief Nawaz Sharif.
The most challenging task is to agree on critical fiscal tightening conditions under a new International Monetary Fund (IMF) program.
The current IMF program expires in March.
Other big moves include the privatization of loss-making state-owned enterprises such as the flagship carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).
Kundi said the PPP would not support the privatization of the airline, while the PML-N would want to fast-track it.
In return for supporting the formation of government by PML-N, PPP will seek the offices of the president, chairman of the upper house of the parliament, and governors in two of the four provinces, he said.
PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb did not respond to a request for a comment.
Markets on Wednesday reacted positively to the news of an alliance, which removed days of uncertainty. Pakistan’s benchmark share index rose 1.81 percent.
The index had fallen more than 5 percent since the elections.
Pakistan bonds recovered after three straight day of falls. The December 2027 bond was the biggest gainer, rising 2.58 cents, closely followed by the April 2031 bond which rose 2.54 cents.
PML-N’s 79 and the PPP’s 54 seats together make a simple majority in parliament to form a government, which, however, will also rope in smaller parties in the coalition.
Candidates backed by Imran Khan won 93 seats, but do not have the numbers to form a government. He and his party have rejected the results of the elections, alleging widespread rigging.


Rising energy costs may decrease exports, trigger industrial closures, warn Pakistani industrialists

Rising energy costs may decrease exports, trigger industrial closures, warn Pakistani industrialists
Updated 21 February 2024
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Rising energy costs may decrease exports, trigger industrial closures, warn Pakistani industrialists

Rising energy costs may decrease exports, trigger industrial closures, warn Pakistani industrialists
  • Pakistani industrialists demand reduction in electricity prices by 43 percent to compete with regional countries 
  • Pakistan has increased electricity, gas prices to comply with key conditions of an International Monetary Fund program

KARACHI: Pakistani industrialists warned on Wednesday that if energy prices are not slashed by approximately 43 percent, various industries may not survive as high input costs would lead to the loss of export markets, and eventually trigger industrial closures.
Pakistan, already reeling from skyrocketing inflation, has increased gas prices twice since November 2023. The latest increase was notified on Feb. 15, 2023, to meet the conditions of a $3 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout program. 
The IMF has pointed out that liquidity conditions in Pakistan’s power sector were acute, with a buildup of arrears and frequent power outages. The arrears, a form of public debt that builds up due to subsidies and unpaid bills, were a major issue in the eight months of negotiations between the lender and Islamabad before a deal was reached last year for the bailout package.
However, Pakistani industrialists say the international competitiveness of Pakistan’s textiles and apparel exports is being continuously eroded by ever-increasing energy prices that, on average, are over twice than those of competing countries.
“Energy, electricity or gas is the raw material of the product and it makes about 20 percent to 25 percent, and up till now, within two years, it has almost increased to double,” Saquib Fayyaz Magoon, acting president of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) said at a press conference in Karachi.
He said the price hikes have made Pakistani exporters “uncompetitive” in the export markets by a large margin.
Magoon said electricity prices for consumers are hovering at 16.7 cents per kilowatt, adding that the prices of gas for industries have been jacked by over 222 percent from Rs.852 ($3.05) per mmBtu to Rs. 2,750 ($9.83) per mmBtu.
The acting FPCCI head reiterated that this month, Pakistan’s cabinet approved a significant increase in gas prices, hiking them up to 67 percent for residential users and by 700 percent for fertilizer plants.
 “At the current energy rates, the survival of the industries is at stake,” Magoon said. “We are demanding an immediate reduction of the electricity rate from the current 16.7 cents to 9 cents (43 percent) because our regional competitors are getting electricity at half of that price.”
Asif Inam, chairman of the All Pakistan Textile Mills Association (APTMA), said the industry is paying cross-subsidy, which means that industries are paying for losses of other industries that are non-productive.
“If the government is not coming up with the right set of policies to keep the industrial wheel in motion, a large chunk of the country’s industries would eventually fall victim to high input cost and close down,” Inam said. 
“So cross-subsidization must end to protect trade and industry.”
Pakistan’s exports have increased by 7.8 percent to $17.8 billion during the seven months of the current fiscal year, FY24. The textile sector contributed $9.7 billion or 54.4 percent to the overall exports of the country, as per official data.
However, FPCCI officials warned that the country’s exports will decline after the rise in the energy rates due to the factor of regional competitors, where power tariffs were still lower. In Vietnam, Bangladesh, and India, the power tariff stands at 7.2 US cents, 6 US cents, and 8.6 US cents per kilowatt.
The APTMA head noted that while the country has a 47,000 megawatt-installed generation capacity, its transmission and distribution capacity is only 28,000 megawatts.
“Independent power producers (IPPs) on take-or-pay basis are causing enormous financial burden on consumers across the board, be it households, commercial or industrial [users],” Inam said.


Pakistani, Saudi commerce ministers agree to enhance bilateral trade, investment 

Pakistani, Saudi commerce ministers agree to enhance bilateral trade, investment 
Updated 21 February 2024
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Pakistani, Saudi commerce ministers agree to enhance bilateral trade, investment 

Pakistani, Saudi commerce ministers agree to enhance bilateral trade, investment 
  • Commerce Minister Dr. Gohar Ejaz is leading a delegation of prominent Pakistani businesspersons in Saudi Arabia 
  • Both sides agreed to increase investment in construction, digital economy sectors, says Pakistani commerce ministry

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Caretaker Commerce Minister Dr. Gohar Ejaz on Wednesday discussed enhancing bilateral trade and investment with Saudi Arabia in various sectors such as construction, infrastructure and digital economy, the commerce ministry said. 
Ejaz met Saudi Arabia’s commerce minister, Majid bin Abdullah Al-Qasabi, as he led a delegation of prominent Pakistani businesspersons in the kingdom on Wednesday. Members of the delegation included notable Pakistani businessperson Arif Habib and the president of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry, (FPCCI) Atif Ikram. 
“Pakistan and Saudi Arabia agreed on enhancing bilateral trade,” Pakistan’s commerce ministry said. “The two sides agreed to enhance investment in the fields of construction, digital economy and infrastructure.”
In a message on social media platform X, Al-Qasabi said he and Ejaz discussed developing bilateral trade relations and “investing in promising opportunities” in the two countries.
Last year a delegation of 15 top Pakistani IT companies led by IT Minister Dr. Umar Saif visited Saudi Arabia and signed deals to accelerate digital transformation, foster innovation and advance digital infrastructure. 
The agreements will also boost the ecosystems for small and medium-sized enterprises and startups and encourage the transfer of businesses and the exchange of information on accelerators and incubators.
Both countries have also decided to establish a special task force to promote Saudi-Pakistan digital cooperation.
Pakistan enjoys strong economic and trade relations with Saudi Arabia. The kingdom is home to over 2.7 million Pakistani expatriates, serving as the top source of remittances for the cash-strapped South Asian country.
Saudi Arabia has also frequently bailed Pakistan out of its economic crisis over the years, serving as an important strategic partner for the South Asian country.


Karachi Kings thrash Peshawar Zalmi by seven wickets in PSL 2024 contest

Karachi Kings thrash Peshawar Zalmi by seven wickets in PSL 2024 contest
Updated 21 February 2024
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Karachi Kings thrash Peshawar Zalmi by seven wickets in PSL 2024 contest

Karachi Kings thrash Peshawar Zalmi by seven wickets in PSL 2024 contest
  • Karachi bowlers Mir Hamza, Hassan Ali return figures of 3/28, 3/30 to dismiss Zalmi for 154
  • Zalmi skipper Babar Azam’s 72-run knock comes to naught as his team suffers second PSL 9 loss

ISLAMABAD: Backed by impressive bowling performances from Mir Hamza and Hassan Ali, Karachi Kings thrashed Peshawar Zalmi by seven wickets at Lahore’s Qaddafi Stadium on Wednesday.
The Kings won the toss and elected to field first against Zalmi in the sixth match of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) 2024 tournament. The decision proved to be the correct one as Hamza and Ali dealt severe blows to the Zalmi batters, dismissing the “Yellow Storm” for 154 runs.
Skipper Babar Azam scored 72 runs off 51 balls but could not find ample support from the middle order as Ali and Hamza kept picking wickets one by one. Rovman Powell scored 39 from 25 balls while Asif Ali scored 23 off 16 balls to lend some support to Azam.
“I think we scored less, we lost few wickets in power play,” Azam said at the post-match press conference. “You have to build partnerships and that’s what we missed today.”
Kings bowlers Hamza returned figures of 3/28 while Ali finished with 3/30. Daniel Sams returned figures of 2/28 while spinners Mohammad Nawaz and Shoaib Malik took one wicket each.
The Kings chased the target in 16.5 overs at the loss of three wickets. Skipper Shan Masood scored 16 runs while Muhammad Akhlaq made 24 runs. James Vince and Keiron Pollard remained unbeaten on 38 and 49 runs respectively to guide their team to victory.
Zalmi bowlers Luke Wood returned figures of 2/20 while Waqar Salamkheil finished with 1/54 from his four overs.
Peshawar Zalmi remain at the bottom of the table with two losses from as many games while Karachi Kings have moved up to fourth place with a win and a loss from their two matches.