Despite setbacks, ex-PM Imran Khan’s political comeback can’t be ‘written off’ – analysts 

Despite setbacks, ex-PM Imran Khan’s political comeback can’t be ‘written off’ – analysts 
Former Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks during an interview with AFP at his residence in Lahore on May 18, 2023. (AFP/File)
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Updated 05 August 2023
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Despite setbacks, ex-PM Imran Khan’s political comeback can’t be ‘written off’ – analysts 

Despite setbacks, ex-PM Imran Khan’s political comeback can’t be ‘written off’ – analysts 
  • Khan’s legal troubles have mounted since the protests of May 9 while several of his key aides have parted ways with him 
  • Analysts say how well Khan’s party fares in the upcoming elections will depend on the environment in which they are held 

ISLAMABAD: Despite facing numerous defections within his camp, escalating tensions with Pakistan’s powerful military establishment, and mounting legal challenges, former prime minister Imran Khan remains a resilient political figure, according to leading political analysts. 

Since his ouster from office in April 2022 via a parliamentary no-confidence vote, Khan has been embroiled in confrontations with the military, accusing the country’s former army chief, General (retired) Qamar Javed Bajwa, of conspiring against him and blaming a senior intelligence official for an apparent bid on his life last November. 

The military has denied all these allegations. 

Khan’s tensions with the army reached a boiling point on May 9 when his party supporters attacked government buildings and key military installations following his brief arrest on graft charges from an Islamabad court. The former premier has also been facing a litany of cases against him since his ouster from power, with charges ranging from corruption to sedition and terrorism. 

Khan’s key aide and former defense minister, Pervez Khattak, has parted ways with him and formed a breakaway faction of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. Another estranged PTI leader and former Khan confidant, Jahangir Khan Tarin, has established the Istehkam-e-Pakistan Party to counter his old boss and advance his own political interests. 

“I wouldn’t say he is politically obscure; he is very much a strong political figure in the country,” journalist and author Zahid Hussain told Arab News, adding that Khan’s support base had increased over the last 15 months. 

“Nawaz Sharif [of the ruling PML-N party] was also ousted, but he came back both times,” he added. “Khan also cannot be written off.” 

Falling out of favor with Pakistan’s powerful military — which has held sway over the country’s political affairs in the past seven decades — forced former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif to leave the country and live in self-imposed exile for significantly long periods. However, they both managed to stage political comebacks years later and were re-elected prime ministers. 

Dr. Rasul Bakhsh Rais, professor of Political Science at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), agreed that Khan’s political base would remain intact come election time, adding that the breakaway factions led by Tarin and Khattak would not do much damage to the cricketer-turned-politician. 

“I don’t think they will be able to pull the popular constituencies away from Imran Khan’s reach,” Rais told Arab News. “They will gather a good group of electables and their personal constituencies, but I think on the ground, the support that Imran Khan enjoys will remain with him.” 

“I don’t think the politically and ideologically committed worker of the PTI would go with them (the PTI breakaway factions),” he added. 

Rais said the former premier’s political future largely depended on how long the country’s military wanted to keep him out of power, adding that “they do have the power to keep the courts and other state institutions dysfunctional.” 

“But it will [also] depend on an open, competitive, constitutional, and democratic system,” he said. “Whenever we have that – and I don’t think we have a possibility of this happening in the coming years – but whenever we have it, Imran Khan will have his opportunity.” 

Rais said it also depended on how Khan played his cards and restored his relationship with the military. 

Pakistani journalist Arifa Noor said how well Khan’s party does in the next elections would depend on the environment in which they were held. 

“It all depends on the environment that prevails at the time,” she told Arab News. “It would depend on multiple factors, such as how aggressively the party resists, or whether its candidates are allowed to contest elections and if they would be allowed to run election campaigns or not.” 

Noor said Khan’s narrative was resonating with the masses because of Pakistan’s dismal economic situation, adding that the fact that most of Pakistan’s political parties were in power during such inflationary times was a political advantage for him. 


Pakistan kicks off week-long anti-polio campaign to vaccinate over 45.8 million children

Pakistan kicks off week-long anti-polio campaign to vaccinate over 45.8 million children
Updated 23 sec ago
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Pakistan kicks off week-long anti-polio campaign to vaccinate over 45.8 million children

Pakistan kicks off week-long anti-polio campaign to vaccinate over 45.8 million children
  • Nationwide vaccination drive against polio to be held from Feb. 26-March 3
  • Pakistan’s health minister urges people to cooperate with polio volunteers 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani authorities on Monday kicked off a nationwide weeklong campaign to vaccinate over 45.8 million children against the poliovirus disease, with the country’s caretaker health minister urging masses to cooperate with polio workers for a safer and healthier future for their children. 

Pakistan aims to vaccinate over 45.8 million children below the age of five during the second anti-polio campaign of this year, which is being held from February 26 to March 3. The vaccination drive is scheduled to be held from March 2-6 in the 33 districts of Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province bordering Afghanistan. 

Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only two countries in the world where the poliovirus, which causes paralysis and can be a life-threatening disease, is endemic.

“Over 400,000 of our polio heroes are knocking at your doors for a bright and healthy future,” Pakistan’s Caretaker Health Minister Dr. Nadeem Jan said in a video message. 

“Cooperate with them because eliminating polio is our national, moral, religious and social obligation,” he added. 

This is the second nationwide campaign against the disease after poliovirus was detected in sewage samples from 19 Pakistani districts in January and in 126 sewage samples in 2023. The first campaign this year was held from January 8-14 in which over 43 million children were vaccinated, according to official figures. 

Pakistan’s efforts to contain polio have often been met with opposition, especially in the country’s northwestern KP province, where militants have carried out attacks against vaccinators and the security teams guarding them. Many believe in the conspiracy theory that polio vaccines are part of a plot by Western outsiders to sterilize Pakistan’s population. 

Pakistani masses’ doubts regarding polio campaigns were exacerbated in 2011 when the US Central Intelligence Agency set up a fake hepatitis vaccination program to gather intelligence on former Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden. 
 


Survivors, families of 94 migrants who died in shipwreck off Italy call for truth a year later

Survivors, families of 94 migrants who died in shipwreck off Italy call for truth a year later
Updated 30 min 12 sec ago
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Survivors, families of 94 migrants who died in shipwreck off Italy call for truth a year later

Survivors, families of 94 migrants who died in shipwreck off Italy call for truth a year later
  • On Feb. 26, 2023, wooden boat carrying about 200 migrants sank a few meters off the coast of southern Calabria
  • Many of the dead, and survivors fled Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan in hoping to join family members in Italy, Europe

CROTONE, Italy: Survivors and family members of victims of a tragic shipwreck a year ago that killed 94 migrants, including 35 minors, just a few meters off Italy’s southern coast, returned for three days of commemorations ending Monday, calling for truth and justice.

A torchlight vigil, a photo exhibition and a protest march were among events at the nearby town of Crotone organized by a group of activists named Network Feb. 26 after the date of the tragedy. Most of the dead hailed from countries in the Middle East or South Asia.

“One year after the carnage, their right to the truth, to justice and to be reunited with their families has not been guaranteed yet,” the group wrote on its Facebook page.

On Feb. 26 last year, a wooden boat departed from Turkiye carrying about 200 migrants and sank just a few meters (yards) off the coast of southern Calabria while trying to land on the seaside resort beach of Steccato di Cutro.

Network Feb. 26 includes over 400 associations that have repeatedly asked the Italian government to seek the truth about one of the deadliest migrant shipwrecks in the Mediterranean.

The group has denounced repeated policy failures and alleged violations of human rights by Italian and EU authorities, seen as the main cause behind the long string of deaths of migrants who face risky trips to reach European coasts in their search for a better life.

Activists have also complained that some of the relatives and survivors were denied the right to return to Crotone for the anniversary of the shipwreck, due to difficulties in obtaining proper documents.

“When we met (Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni ) in Rome after the tragedy, (she) promised that her staff would (work) to reunite us and our families, but that has never happened,” said Haroon Mohammadi, 24, a survivor from Herat, Afghanistan, who lost some of his friends in the shipwreck.

Mohammadi now lives in Hamburg, Germany, where he has obtained a one-year residence permit, and hopes to continue to study economics at a university there.

“It’s very difficult for me to be back here, but I came to honor friends and relatives we’ve lost. … We became like a family following that day,” he told The Associated Press.

Many of the dead and survivors had fled Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Syria, hoping to join family members in Italy and other Western European countries.

After the shipwreck, the right-wing government of Meloni approved a decree establishing a new crime — people smuggling that causes the death of migrants — punishable by up to 30 years in prison, and pledged to further toughen its battle against illegal immigration.

On Sunday, hundreds of people, including a group of about 50 survivors and relatives of the victims, marched in Crotone despite heavy rain with a banner asking to “stop deaths at sea.” Demonstrators also stopped to pay homage in front of PalaMilone, a sports complex that hosted the victims’ caskets.

On Saturday, Crotone’s Pitagora Museum inaugurated a photo exhibit titled “Dreams Cross the Sea,” featuring 94 photographs, one for each of the victims.

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS

In the early hours of Feb. 26, the boat named Summer Love sank just a few meters (yards) from the coast of the southern Calabria region, while trying to land on the nearby beach. Authorities say the shipwreck resulted in the deaths of at least 94 of the 200 on board. Eighty passengers survived and about 10 were considered missing. Dozens of young children were onboard and almost none survived.

The shocking accident raised several questions over how EU border agency Frontex and the Italian coast guard responded to it.

Six days after the tragedy, Meloni told journalists that “no emergency communication from Frontex reached Italian authorities,” who she said were not warned that the vessel was in danger of sinking.

However, a Frontex incident report later indicated that Italian authorities told the EU agency at the time of the sighting that the case was not considered an emergency.

The Cutro shipwreck soon became a stark illustration of the fatal dangers faced by migrants as they try to reach European coasts on overcrowded and fragile boats, after paying smugglers for costly trips.

A total of 2,571 migrants died at sea in 2023, according to figures from the International Organization for Migration. Nearly 100 people have been reported missing or dead in the Mediterranean since the beginning of 2024, more than double the toll recorded last year during the same period, the IOM said.

RAGE AND HOPE

Over the past year, Cutro survivors and relatives of the victims have voiced their rage, stressing that the tragedy could have been avoided if authorities reacted earlier to the migrants’ desperate calls for help.

Their testimonies on the tragedy have challenged both the Italian government and the international community to find new solutions to the migration crisis.

Meanwhile, the local community, which offered burial niches for some of the victims, expressed a deep solidarity and commitment to helping survivors and honoring the lost.

“My name is Mojtaba. I was born on Feb. 26, 2023. I feel I’m 1 year old today,” said survivor Mojtaba Rezapour Moghaddam, a 47-year-old Iranian who is building a new life in Crotone with the help of locals and aid groups.

Moghaddam fears the smugglers on board the Summer Love — after being arrested and sentenced — will be able go to back to Turkiye and restart their illegal trafficking activities.

His almost-deadly trip to Italy costed him about 9,000 euros, but he recalled that others on the boat had paid even more.

TRIALS PENDING

Earlier in February, a Crotone magistrate sentenced Gun Ufuk, a 29-year-old Turkish citizen accused of being one of the people smugglers on the vessel, to 20 years in prison and a 3 million euro fine. Ufuk was arrested in March last year after being identified in Austria, to where he had managed to escape.

Ufuk chose a fast-track trial, while the other three alleged smugglers who survived the shipwreck are undergoing ordinary procedures, which may last several months, if not years.

Their trial was recently adjourned to April 10 to enable testimony from three survivors who are in Hamburg and will testify via videoconference.

Meanwhile, a second investigation launched by prosecutors in Crotone into alleged delays in the rescue operations is expected to wrap up in a month’s time. That probe involves three police officers from the Italian tax and border police and an additional three people whose identities are unknown.


PSL 2024: In-form Peshawar Zalmi lock horns with Islamabad United today

PSL 2024: In-form Peshawar Zalmi lock horns with Islamabad United today
Updated 26 February 2024
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PSL 2024: In-form Peshawar Zalmi lock horns with Islamabad United today

PSL 2024: In-form Peshawar Zalmi lock horns with Islamabad United today
  • Peshawar Zalmi have won two matches on the trot against Multan Sultans and Lahore Qalandars
  • United lost their last two matches and have just one victory from the three matches they have played

ISLAMABAD: After two wins on the trot, Peshawar Zalmi will be eyeing a victory over former two-time Pakistan Super League (PSL) champions Islamabad United when the two teams lock horns at the Qaddafi Stadium in Lahore today, Monday. 

After a dismal start to the tournament which saw them lose to the Quetta Gladiators and Karachi Kings, Zalmi defeated table-toppers Multan Sultans by five runs in a thrilling contest last Friday. Skipper Babar Azam’s side won again on Sunday night, beating defending champions Lahore Qalandars by eight runs to ensure their second win of the tournament. 

United began their PSL 2024 on a high, crushing the Qalandars by eight wickets before losing to the Sultans and the Gladiators last week. After losing two matches on the trot, United will be eyeing a comeback on Monday against Zalmi to improve their number five position on the PSL points table. 

“Your #Sherus roar again! Tomorrow, we will be back in action against Peshawar Zalmi,” United wrote on social media platform X on Sunday. 

While United bowlers Naseem Shah, Tymal Mills and Ubaid Shah have shown glimpse of brilliance this month, the team would require more of them if it needs to qualify for the playoffs this PSL. Skipper Shadab Khan has been consistent as an all-rounder so far along with explosive batter Salman Agha. 

Zalmi’s formidable opening pair Azam and Saim Ayub found form during their fixture against the Qalandars on Sunday night, putting up an impressive partnership of 136 runs. Ayub scored 88 runs while Azam narrowly missed out on yet another PSL fifty after he was caught on 48. 

The match is scheduled to begin at 7:00 p.m.

Squads:

Islamabad United

Shadab Khan, Naseem Shah, Imad Wasim, Azam Khan, Faheem Ashraf, Alex Hales, Colin Munro, Rumman Raees, Tymal Mills, Matthew Forde, Salman Agha, Qasim Akram, Shahab Khan, Hunain Shah, Ubaid Shah, Shamyl Hussain, Tom Curran, Jordan Cox, Haider Ali, Obed McCoy

Peshawar Zalmi

Babar Azam, Rovman Powell, Saim Ayub, Tom Kohler-Cadmore, Mohammad Haris, Aamir Jamal, Khurram Shahzad, Haseebullah Khan , Asif Ali, Naveen-ul-Haq, Umair Afridi, Dan Mousley, Gus Atkinson, Mohammad Zeeshan, Waqar Salamkheil, Mehran Mumtaz, Noor Ahmad Gus Atkinson, Salman Irshad, Arif Yaqoob, Shamar Joseph, Arshad Iqbal, Luke Wood, Sufiyan Muqeem


Key Karachi party says has decided to be part of upcoming Pakistani cabinet

Key Karachi party says has decided to be part of upcoming Pakistani cabinet
Updated 26 February 2024
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Key Karachi party says has decided to be part of upcoming Pakistani cabinet

Key Karachi party says has decided to be part of upcoming Pakistani cabinet
  • Muttahida Quami Movement Pakistan bagged 17 National Assembly seats in the inconclusive February 8 polls 
  • “No deadlock” in talks with ex-PM Sharif’s party on government formation, confirms MQM-P leader Mustafa Kamal

ISLAMABAD: A senior member of the Karachi-based political party Muttahida Quami Movement Pakistan (MQM-P) this week clarified it would be part of the federal cabinet, confirming that there was no “deadlock” with former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s party on talks related to forming the next government. 

The MQM-P emerged as the third largest political party in the country after securing 17 National Assembly seats in the inconclusive Feb. 8 elections. While independent candidates backed by former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party form the largest group in the parliament after winning over 90 seats, they cannot form the government on their own as they contested the polls as independents and not members of the party. 

Ex-PM Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) bagged 75 and 54 seats respectively. Both announced earlier this month they would join hands to form a coalition government by jointly supporting ex-PM Sharif’s younger brother, Shehbaz Sharif, as their candidate for prime minister and PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari for president. 

“We have decided to support the government and we have agreed that we will be part of the government,” Kamal told Geo News on Sunday night. “We will also take ministries and governorship.”

Kamal said the MQM-P wanted to head certain departments and ministries through which it could serve people in its constituencies and in the southern Sindh province. He rejected reports there was a deadlock between the PML-N and the MQM-P on the power-sharing formula. 

“There is no deadlock [between the MQM-P and the PML-N],” Kamal said. “Our last meeting was a great one.”

The formation of the next government is expected to end political uncertainty, which has shrouded Pakistan since April 2022 when ex-PM Khan was ousted from office via a parliamentary vote. 

Pakistan is facing an economic crisis, with dwindling foreign currency reserves that will be further strained by a $1 billion bond payment due in two months, while its $3 billion funding program with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) expires on April 12.

A new government is expected to quickly take necessary steps on various economic issues, for instance regarding the governance of state-owned enterprises to complete the last remaining review of the current $3 billion IMF Standby Arrangement — a bridge loan that helped pull the country back from the brink of default.


Pakistan dispatches seventh consignment of relief goods for Gaza as death toll from Israel’s war tops 30,000

Pakistan dispatches seventh consignment of relief goods for Gaza as death toll from Israel’s war tops 30,000
Updated 26 February 2024
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Pakistan dispatches seventh consignment of relief goods for Gaza as death toll from Israel’s war tops 30,000

Pakistan dispatches seventh consignment of relief goods for Gaza as death toll from Israel’s war tops 30,000
  • Israel’s relentless bombing and ground assaults continue despite ceasefire calls from rights groups and governments
  • Pakistan’s latest assistance, sent via cargo ship, contains 300 tons of blankets, tents, medicines and tinned food items

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Sunday dispatched a seventh consignment of relief goods for Palestinians in Gaza, the country’s disaster management authority said, amid continuing air and ground assaults by the Israeli military in the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s war on Gaza has killed more than 30,000 Palestinians since Oct. 7, according to the Palestinian health ministry. Thousands more have been injured as Israel continues to ignore calls for a ceasefire from rights groups and governments around the world, amid warnings from the United Nations (UN) of an outbreak of disease and starvation.

To mitigate the suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza, Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) dispatched another consignment of relief goods through a cargo ship, which would be delivered via Port Said in Egypt.

“The government of Pakistan has dispatched the seventh batch of relief goods to the people of Gaza by a cargo ship,” the NDMA said in a statement. “The relief package consists of 300 tons of essentials, including blankets, basic food, and other essential items.”

Officials of the Pakistani foreign ministry, NDMA, and the Palestinian ambassador to Pakistan, Ahmad Jawad Rabei, attended the sending-off ceremony at the South Asia Pakistan Terminal in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi.

The South Asian country has previously sent six flights, carrying 330 tons of relief goods, including blankets, tents and food items, for Palestinians in Gaza.

“Pakistan will continue to support and help its brothers and sisters in times of trouble,” the NDMA said.