Nawaz Sharif’s party plans mass welcome as he returns from self-exile ahead of January polls

Special Nawaz Sharif’s party plans mass welcome as he returns from self-exile ahead of January polls
Pakistani supporters of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif carry Sharif's poster and banner as they celebrate outside the high court building in Islamabad on September 19, 2018. (Photo courtesy: AFP/File)
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Updated 21 September 2023
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Nawaz Sharif’s party plans mass welcome as he returns from self-exile ahead of January polls

Nawaz Sharif’s party plans mass welcome as he returns from self-exile ahead of January polls
  • Sharif has announced to return to Pakistan from London on October 21 to spearhead his party’s election campaign
  • His political rivals say he must surrender before courts since he was serving jail term before leaving for London in 2019

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s political party is making preparations to welcome him on his return from London by organizing a mass gathering in the provincial capital of Punjab on October 21, as the election regulator announced its decision to hold national polls in the last week of January.

Sharif, a three-time prime minister, has been in London since November 2019 after securing medical bail following his conviction in two corruption references. The founding leader of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party remained in self-exile while the country was ruled by the rival political faction of ex-premier Imran Khan. However, his party leaders announced his return to the country last month, saying would be back on October 21 to spearhead the PML-N campaign ahead of the next general elections.

Sharif is planning his homecoming at a time when Pakistan is grappling with overlapping political, economic and security crises and he would have to deal with legal challenges of his own after being declared an absconder for violating his bail terms.

“We are organizing a massive public gathering at Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore on October 21 to welcome Nawaz Sharif and make him inaugurate the party’s election campaign,” Talal Chaudhry, PML-N’s joint-secretary who is currently in London to attend party meetings, told Arab News over the phone, referring to a historic monument built at the place where Pakistan’s founding fathers demanded a sovereign Muslim state in March 1940.

Pakistan’s parliament was dissolved on August 9 to pave the way for the national elections within 90 days as per the constitution, though the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) said it required at least four months to complete the delimitation of hundreds of provincial and federal constituencies ahead of the polls.

After significant political uncertainty in the country, the election regulator announced earlier in the day to hold elections in the last week of January.

“The final list of constituencies will be published on November 30,” it said in a statement. “After that, the elections will be held in the last week of January 2024 after a 54-day election program.”

Sharif’s party has started preparing to mobilize the public to give a “historic welcome” to him on his arrival in Lahore ahead of the national elections.

“We are going to organize a political power show on October 21 in Lahore,” Chaudhry said. “The party ticket holders have been assigned to bring workers to fill the space around Minar-e-Pakistan.”

The PML-N joint-secretary said there was no hurdle that could prevent Sharif’s return since the party’s legal team was already hard at work to deal with any outstanding issues.

“Nawaz Sharif is ready to return on October 21, come what may,” he continued. “He is ready to face the courts and all fabricated cases against him. We are also anticipating a landslide victory in the national election under his leadership.”

Asked about Sharif’s return to Pakistan, ex-PM Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party said that “convicted criminals like Nawaz Sharif” were roaming around while their own party leader was languishing in prison on trumped up charges.

“We welcome Nawaz Sharif’s return, but will he be serving his remaining jail term or allowed to lead the election campaign,” Zulfi Bukhari, a PTI leader and Khan’s close aide, questioned. “There seem to be two laws in Pakistan. One for PTI and its allies and the another for Sharifs.”

Bukhari said his party would win the national elections “even if Imran Khan remains in jail and is not allowed to lead the party’s election campaign.”

“We have a complete strategy in place to contest the election and hope the authorities would allow us to run the campaign,” he continued, adding that any decision to let Sharif run the PML-N campaign would amount to “pre-poll rigging in Pakistan.”

Meanwhile, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) also applauded Sharif’s decision to return, but pointed out he should submit to local courts on his return.

“We welcome Nawaz Sharif’s decision to return, but he should first surrender to courts as per the law of the land,” PPP information-secretary Faisal Karim Kundi told Arab News. “If the courts allow him to run the election campaign, then he will be a free man to do it.”

Asked about the ECP’s announcement to hold elections in Pakistan in the beginning of the next year, he said: “The ECP announcement for the election in last week of January is vague as election schedule has yet to be announced.”


7 killed, 10 injured in two days as heavy rains batter northwestern Pakistan

7 killed, 10 injured in two days as heavy rains batter northwestern Pakistan
Updated 15 April 2024
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7 killed, 10 injured in two days as heavy rains batter northwestern Pakistan

7 killed, 10 injured in two days as heavy rains batter northwestern Pakistan
  • Four children, two men and a woman were among the seven casualties, says provincial disaster management authority 
  • Pakistan consistently ranks among one of the most adversely affected countries in the world due to climate change 

PESHAWAR: Seven people have been killed and 10 others injured in the past two days due to rain-related incidents in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, a report by the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) said on Sunday. 

Heavy rains and snowfall last week damaged hundreds of houses and bridges and shut off road and rail routes in several areas of Pakistan, especially in the KP province. As per the PDMA’s latest report, four children, two men and one woman were among the seven casualties while the 10 injured included four women, five men and one child. 

It said that 84 houses were affected in various districts of the province when their walls and roofs collapsed due to heavy rain. Of these, 15 houses were destroyed while 69 were damaged.

“Due to heavy rain, accidents and financial losses were reported in various districts such as upper and lower Dir, lower Chitral, Swat, Bajaur, Shangla, Mansehra, Mohmand and Malakand,” the report. 

It added that KP Chief Minister Ali Amin Gandapur had directed the relevant district administrations and institutions to provide immediate assistance to the affected families and instructed them to ensure the provision of best medical facilities to those injured in rain-related incidents.

The PDMA said it is in contact with the district administrations throughout the province and has instructed them to speed up relief operations. 

Separately, over 20 people were killed last week in lightning strikes in Pakistan’s Punjab and southwestern Balochistan provinces amid heavy rains and thunderstorms in the two provinces. 

Pakistan has been prone to natural disasters and consistently ranks among one of the most adversely affected countries due to the effects of climate change.

In March, heavy rains in Pakistan’s Balochistan triggered urban floods in Gwadar and Kech districts, destroying nearly 100 homes and killing at least five people.

In 2022, torrential monsoon rains triggered the most devastating floods in Pakistan’s history, killing around 1,700 people. Over 33 million people were affected by the floodwaters — a staggering number close to the population of Canada.

Millions of homes, tens of thousands of schools as well as thousands of kilometers of roads and railways still need to be rebuilt.


Pakistan, Sri Lanka could benefit from debt-for-nature swaps to fight climate change — report

Pakistan, Sri Lanka could benefit from debt-for-nature swaps to fight climate change — report
Updated 15 April 2024
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Pakistan, Sri Lanka could benefit from debt-for-nature swaps to fight climate change — report

Pakistan, Sri Lanka could benefit from debt-for-nature swaps to fight climate change — report
  • Debt-for-nature swaps refers to when poorer countries have debt written off in return for protecting ecosystems
  • Swaps could provide $100 billion for fight against climate change, new report by British non-profit organization says

LONDON: Debt-for-nature swaps, where poorer countries have debt written off in return for protecting ecosystems such as barrier reefs or rainforests, could provide $100 billion for the fight against climate change, a new report has calculated.

The UK-based, non-profit International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) based the estimate on the possibility of debt swaps in many of the 49 less developed countries seen as most at risk of debt crises.

Belize, Ecuador, Barbados, Gabon and Cabo Verde have all done such swaps in recent years and Laura Kelly, the director of IIED’s sustainable markets research group, said many of those in debt distress and also often most threatened by global warming, were looking at them.

The IMF and World Bank, whose figures the analysis is based on, estimate the countries focused on collectively owe $431 billion, mostly to wealthier governments, the IMF itself and pension and hedge funds.

At the same time, these countries received less than $14 billion in climate finance according to OECD figures from 2021, which is significantly less than they need to limit climate change or at least adapt to it.

The aim of IIED’s report is to encourage a drive for more debt swaps at the upcoming IMF and World Bank Spring meetings which start later this week.

Kelly said countries that could benefit included Pakistan, Sri Lanka and The Gambia in West Africa, which is at “huge risk” of sea level rise she stressed and needs to invest heavily in flood prevention and wetland preservation.

Ghana too, which like Sri Lanka is now restructuring its debt, is another obvious candidate. One of its key exports, cocoa beans used for chocolate, could thrive if more is done to protect its vital rainforests.

“For governments (that do debt swaps) it creates some fiscal space, but also it helps to achieve outcomes in terms of climate and nature that have global impact,” Kelly said, adding that many countries were interested in potentially doing them.


Pakistan investigating death of suspect in 2013 killing of accused Indian spy

Pakistan investigating death of suspect in 2013 killing of accused Indian spy
Updated 15 April 2024
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Pakistan investigating death of suspect in 2013 killing of accused Indian spy

Pakistan investigating death of suspect in 2013 killing of accused Indian spy
  • Accused Indian spy Sarabjit Singh died in 2013 after inmates attacked him in a Lahore prison
  • Pakistan has previously accused India’s intelligence agency of being involved in killings inside Pakistan

LAHORE, Pakistan: Pakistani authorities are investigating the shooting death of a man suspected in the killing of accused Indian spy Sarabjit Singh in a Lahore prison in 2013, a police official said Saturday.

Pakistan has previously accused India’s intelligence agency of being involved in killings inside Pakistan, saying it had credible evidence linking two Indian agents to the deaths of two Pakistanis last year.

The man who died in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore on Saturday was Amir Tamba. He was a suspect in the death of Sarabjit Singh, an Indian national who was convicted of spying in Pakistan and handed a death sentence in 1991.

But Singh died in 2013 after inmates attacked him in a Lahore prison. His fate inflamed tensions between the two South Asian nuclear-armed rivals.

Tamba was accused of being involved in Singh’s death but was not convicted.

The deputy inspector general of police in Lahore, Ali Nasir Rizvi, said gunmen entered Tamba’s house and shot him. They fled the scene on a motorbike. Officials from Pakistan’s army and intelligence agency reached the site and removed Tamba’s body, taking it to the city’s Combined Military Hospital.

Rizvi said a case had been lodged against unidentified assailants but gave no further information about the case, including a possible motive for the attack.

There was scant coverage of Tamba’s death in Pakistan’s media. However, Indian outlets were quick to report on the shooting. There was no immediate comment from the Indian authorities.

Singh was arrested in 1990 for his role in a series of bombings in Lahore and Faisalabad that killed 14 people. His family said he was innocent.

Last year, both the United States and Canada accused Indian agents of links to assassination plots on their soil. India dismissed the allegation of its involvement in the killing in Canada as “absurd.”

In the case involving the US, India’s foreign ministry said it had set up a high-level committee to investigate the accusations, adding that the alleged link to an Indian official was “a matter of concern” and “against government policy.”


Pakistan finance minster arrives in US to attend IMF, World Bank meetings

Pakistan finance minster arrives in US to attend IMF, World Bank meetings
Updated 15 April 2024
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Pakistan finance minster arrives in US to attend IMF, World Bank meetings

Pakistan finance minster arrives in US to attend IMF, World Bank meetings
  • The development comes amid Islamabad’s efforts to reach an agreement with the IMF for a new bailout program
  • Pakistan remains in need of external financing to shore up its reserves to escape another macroeconomic crisis

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s finance minister, Muhammad Aurangzeb, has arrived in Washington D.C. to participate in spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, Pakistani state media reported late Sunday.

The development came amid Islamabad’s efforts to reach a staff-level agreement with the IMF for a new loan program by the end of the current fiscal year in June.

Pakistan successfully completed a final review of its current $3 billion IMF deal this month, clearing the way for the disbursement of a final tranche of nearly $1.1 billion.

However, the South Asian country remains in desperate need of external financing to shore up its foreign exchange reserves and escape yet another macroeconomic crisis.

“During his stay in US, the Finance Minister will meet IMF and World Bank officials,” the state-run Radio Pakistan broadcaster reported. “Meetings with international media and think tank representatives are also included in the Finance Minister’s schedule.”

On Friday, Aurangzeb met with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to discuss Pakistan’s economic strategy ahead of his meetings with IMF and World Bank officials.

“He discussed with the prime minister his scheduled meetings with the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and other organizations during the visit,” the Pakistani finance ministry said.

“The overall economic situation of the country was also discussed in the meeting.”

Last week, IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva confirmed Pakistan was in discussions with her organization on a potential follow-up loan program to its nine-month, $3 billion stand-by arrangement (SBA).

The IMF chief recognized Pakistan’s commitment to structural economic reforms during an event at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington. She, however, noted that some important issues, including the tax base and overall economic transparency, were yet to be addressed by Pakistani authorities.


Government in Pakistan’s Balochistan to revise security plan after gunmen kill nine people

Government in Pakistan’s Balochistan to revise security plan after gunmen kill nine people
Updated 14 April 2024
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Government in Pakistan’s Balochistan to revise security plan after gunmen kill nine people

Government in Pakistan’s Balochistan to revise security plan after gunmen kill nine people
  • Gunmen killed nine bus passengers near Noshki district last week, alleging they were spies from the Punjab province
  • Outlawed Balochistan Liberation Army claimed responsibility for attack, offering no evidence in support of its claim

ISLAMABAD: The government in Pakistan’s Balochistan province has decided to revise security plan for the province, it said on Sunday, a day after the killing of nine people in the restive region.
The decision was made at a meeting to review law and order in the province following the killing of nine people, who hailed from the eastern Punjab province, after they were abducted by gunmen from a bus on a highway near the Noshki district.
The outlawed Balochistan Liberation Army claimed responsibility for the attack in the restive Balochistan province, which has long been the scene of an insurgency by separatists fighting for independence.
Balochistan Chief Minister Sarfraz Bugti presided over the law-and-order meeting to review the situation after the tragedy, Bugti’s office said in a statement on Sunday.
“It was decided to revise the security plan to prevent such incidents in the future,” the statement read.
The meeting was attended by Provincial Police Chief Abdul Khaliq Sheikh, Balochistan Chief Secretary Shakeel Qadir Khan and other senior civilian and military officials.
“This war against terrorism is not only for security forces,” the chief minister was quoted as saying. “Politicians, civil armed forces, bureaucracy, judiciary, media all have to fight this war.”
Bugti said they would fight this war through a “common plan of action,” asking officials to ensure payment of compensation to the families of the victims.
The mineral-rich province of Balochistan has been the scene of a low-level insurgency by the BLA and other groups, which demand independence from the central government in Islamabad. The militants usually target police forces and soldiers or infrastructure.
Although the government says it has quelled the insurgency, violence in Balochistan has persisted and the bus attack is the latest incident in the restive region.