Ex-PM Khan’s party says facing crackdown in stronghold province ahead of Pakistan elections

Special Ex-PM Khan’s party says facing crackdown in stronghold province ahead of Pakistan elections
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party's worker convention in Dir district of Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on November 25, 2023. (Photo courtesy: @PTIofficial/X)
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Updated 28 November 2023
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Ex-PM Khan’s party says facing crackdown in stronghold province ahead of Pakistan elections

Ex-PM Khan’s party says facing crackdown in stronghold province ahead of Pakistan elections
  • Police confirm clashes with PTI ahead of political convention last week, cases filed against hundreds of supporters
  • Caretaker government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province says “no ban on any political party to hold rallies”

DIR LOWER: The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of former Prime Minister Imran Khan has said it is facing a crackdown in its stronghold province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa ahead of general elections scheduled in February, with police confirming clashes at a recent political convention and the subsequent arrests of dozens of PTI supporters.

The party says the crackdown in the northwestern province is part of a wider clampdown that began after May 9, when Khan supporters took to the streets in nationwide protests, ransacking military installations and government and private properties following the ex-PM’s brief arrest by an anti-corruption agency. Pakistan’s army and the then government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif responded fiercely, accusing Khan’s supporters of terrorism and vowing to punish the alleged perpetrators, including through trials in army courts. 

Thousands of PTI supporters, including top party leaders, were subsequently arrested and many remain in jail. A legion of senior PTI leaders also abruptly announced they were quitting the party or leaving politics, which they were widely believed to have done under pressure from the military establishment, which denies interfering in politics.

Khan himself has been embroiled in a tangle of political and legal battles since he was ousted as prime minister in April last year in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence. He has not been seen in public since he was jailed for three years in August for not declaring assets earned from the sale of state gifts during his tenure in office from 2018 to 2022.

Khan says the cases are politically motivated and part of a larger plan to keep him and the PTI out of elections. As things stands, Khan, as a convict, is barred from contesting any elections under Pakistani law.

But the PTI, like other political parties, has started election activities though it alleges it is being kept from holding corner meetings and political conventions, especially in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where the party ruled from 2013-23.

On November 25, a clash was reported between police and PTI supporters on their way to attend a workers convention in Wari, a union council in Upper Dir.

“PTI supporters were adamant to attend the workers convention and the police were not allowing them, which resulted in the clash,” General Secretary of the PTI in Upper Dir, Imran Saeed, told Arab News, adding that policemen were stationed at checkpoints across Dir Upper and Dir Lower to stop people from reaching the venue of the convention in the village of a former member of the national assembly, Sahibzada Sibghat Ullah.

Saeed said two PTI members were injured in the clash and dozens were arrested by the police.

Waqar Ahmed Khan, the district police office in Dir Upper, confirmed the arrests and clashes and said a police case had been filed against 188 people for violating a ban on public gatherings imposed this month under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure CrPC, which empowers district administrations to issue orders in the public interest that may place a ban on an activity for a specific period of time. Such a ban is enforced by the police who register cases under section 188 of the Pakistan Penal Code for violations of the ban.

The district police officer said 74 people had been arrested and nine police reports filed, while three civilians and three policemen were injured in the clashes. Among those charged in the police reports are former MPA Fazal Hakeem from Swat, former MPA Liaqat Ali Khan from Dir Lower, former MNA Gul Zafar Khan from Bajaur, Khan’s lawyer Muhammad Afzal Marwat and former MNA Junaid Akbar from Malakand.

In Swat, another district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, police said 36 people had been arrested and cases had been filed against more than 2,400 people for violating Section 144 on Nov. 26.

“NOT A GOOD THING FOR DEMOCRACY“

While the PTI says its political activities are being disrupted and its supporters intimidated through arrests, other political parties have been campaigning freely in the province.
 
The Pakistan Peoples Party held a workers’ convention and the party’s chairman, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, addressed a large public gathering in Dir Upper on Nov. 21. The Pakistan Tehreek Insaf Parliamentarian party organized a rally in Lower Dir on Nov. 24 while the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-F held a rally in Peshawar, the provincial capital, on Nov. 17.

Irfan Saleem, the Deputy Secretary of Information PTI-KP, said it was “unfair” that his party’s political activities were being blocked under the “pretext” of Section 144 while other political parties were free to carry on with their campaigns.

“Leaders and workers from the PTI were arrested in Dir Upper, Lower Dir and in Swat on the pretext of violating Section 144,” he told Arab News. “We want free and fair elections and that the voice of the public is heard.”

“We will use the rights given to us by the constitution and we will conduct peaceful rallies,” he added.

Feroz Jamal Kakakhel, the caretaker Information Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, denied that the PTI was being blocked from campaigning, saying Section 144 had been imposed in view of rising militant attacks in the province in recent months.

“There is no ban on any political party to hold political rallies,” he said. “There is a law-and-order situation in the province and the district administration has imposed section 144 in the larger public interest.”

But independent political analysts warned about the legitimacy of an election in which the PTI was not allowed a “level playing field” and fair competition.

 “To stop only one political party from conducting political rallies is not a good thing for democracy,” analyst and journalist Tariq Waheen said, “and will have bad consequences for the upcoming polls.”


PSL 2024: Rutherford blitz ensures Quetta snatch last-ball win over Karachi

PSL 2024: Rutherford blitz ensures Quetta snatch last-ball win over Karachi
Updated 29 February 2024
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PSL 2024: Rutherford blitz ensures Quetta snatch last-ball win over Karachi

PSL 2024: Rutherford blitz ensures Quetta snatch last-ball win over Karachi
  • Sherfane Rutherford scores 58 runs from 31 balls to hand Quetta the victory
  • Quetta spinner Abrar Ahmed returns figures of 3/31 to put Karachi Kings at bay

ISLAMABAD: West Indian batter Sherfane Rutherford handed Quetta Gladiators their fourth victory of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) 2024 tournament on Thursday, smashing a fiery half-century as the Gladiators edged out Karachi Kings, the home side, in a last-ball thriller. 
Batting first, the Kings were considerably troubled by the Gladiators’ bowling line-up. Spinner Abrar Ahmed returned figures of 3/31 while Usman Tariq and Akeal Hosein finished with figures of 2/16 and 2/34 respectively.
James Vince top-scored for the Kings, scoring 37 runs from 25 balls while all-rounder Anwar Ali contributed with an impressive 25 runs from 14 balls. The Kings finished with a score of 165-8 from their 20 overs. 
“#PurpleForce breathe.. we have won the thrilling encounter,” the Gladiators wrote on social media platform X after securing the win. 
The Gladiators had a strong start to their batting, with opener Jason Roy scoring 53 runs from 31 balls while left-handed Saud Shakeel scored 24 runs from 20 balls. Middle order batters Khawaja Nafay, former skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed and Gladiators skipper Rilee Rossouw fell in quick succession, all failing to score in the double digits. 
However, an 80-run stand between Rutherford and Hosein proved to be fatal for the Kings, who lost to Quetta by five wickets in the end. 
Rutherford scored 58 runs from 31 balls, smashing six sixes and a four at a strike rate of 187.10. Hosein, on the other hand, scored 22 runs from 17 balls. 
For the Kings, Hasan Ali and Zahid Mahmood were the best bowlers, returning figures of 2/39 and 2/17 respectively. 
The Gladiators remain at number two on the PSL points table, with four wins from their five matches so far. The Kings remain at the number five spot with only two wins from their five matches in this year’s PSL.


OIC’s COMSTECH joins hands with Pakistan hospital for eye surgeries in Somalia

OIC’s COMSTECH joins hands with Pakistan hospital for eye surgeries in Somalia
Updated 29 February 2024
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OIC’s COMSTECH joins hands with Pakistan hospital for eye surgeries in Somalia

OIC’s COMSTECH joins hands with Pakistan hospital for eye surgeries in Somalia
  • COMSTECH, Al-Shifa Eye Trust Hospital to set up free cataract eye surgery camp in Mogadishu from March 1-10
  • Initiative aims to eliminate “avoidable blindness” with free cataract eye surgeries to those in need, says state media

ISLAMABAD: The Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC) Ministerial Standing Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation (COMSTECH) has joined hands with a leading Pakistani hospital to provide free cataract eye surgeries in Mogadishu, Somalia, from next month, state-run media reported on Thursday. 
COMSTECH and Pakistan’s Al-Shifa Trust Eye Hospital are collaborating with Al-Nur Foundation Somali and the Benadir University Somalia to organize a free cataract eye surgery camp in Mogadishu from March 1-10, the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) said in a report. 
“The goal of this initiative is to eliminate avoidable blindness by providing free cataract surgeries to those in need,” the report said, adding the camp would be organized at the Dalmar Specialized and Teaching Hospital in Mogadishu. 
APP said that the eye surgery camp is poised to make a “significant impact” on the lives of individuals in need. 
“By offering free medical consultations, medications, eyeglasses, and surgeries to address cataract-related issues, the camp aims to alleviate the burden of visual impairment and improve the overall quality of life for participants,” APP said. 
Headquartered in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad, COMSTECH aims to strengthen cooperation among OIC member states in science and technology, and enhance their capabilities through training in emerging areas.


Pakistan’s stock market records gain as National Assembly holds maiden sitting

Pakistan’s stock market records gain as National Assembly holds maiden sitting
Updated 29 February 2024
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Pakistan’s stock market records gain as National Assembly holds maiden sitting

Pakistan’s stock market records gain as National Assembly holds maiden sitting
  • Analysts say maiden National Assembly session boosted investors’ confidence in Pakistan’s stock market
  • After much political uncertainty and rigging accusations, Pakistani legislators will elect a new premier on Sunday

KARACHI: Pakistan’s stock market continued its bullish run on Thursday, extending its previous day’s gains to close with an increase of 1.3 percent, as political uncertainty somewhat decreased after the country’s National Assembly convened its maiden session following controversial polls this month.
The stock market’s benchmark KSE100 index gained 875 points to close at the 64,579 level on Thursday, official data showed. On Wednesday, the KSE100 index had gained by 484 points to close at 63,703 points. 
Pakistan has been wracked with political uncertainty due to countrywide protests by political parties, who say the national polls of Feb. 8 were heavily rigged. However, financial analysts noted that investors’ confidence in the market increased as Pakistan’s National Assembly held its maiden session on Thursday, indicating that the country would soon be led by a new democratic government. 
“Stocks closed bullish after the president summoned the National Assembly session himself for the formation of a government,” Ahsan Mehanti, the chief executive officer of Arif Habib Corporation, told Arab News. 
“The move is easing political noise.” 
The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) parties have announced joining hands to form their government at the center. The two parties have the required number of seats to form a coalition government. They also have the support of smaller parties in the assembly and have announced former premier Shehbaz Sharif as their candidate for prime minister. 
Sheheryar Butt, portfolio manager at Pakistani securities brokerage company Darson Securities, said the market had continued its bullish trend from Wednesday amid growing anticipation of the PML-N forming the next government. 
“The next government will have to negotiate with IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the manifesto of the PML-N is compatible with the IMF,” Butt noted. 
He said that Pakistani investors expect the new government will continue to implement the measures undertaken by the caretaker administration to secure a new long-term program from the IMF.
One of the principal tasks of the new government would be to secure a long-term bailout program from the international lender, as its short-term program expires next month. Pakistan’s fragile $350-billion economy is in desperate need of external financing to shore its up its foreign exchange reserves and escape its economic crisis. 
“Pakistan needs a long-term program for at least three years to ensure economic stability, so the market expects that the PML-N will follow the footprint of the caretaker government,” he explained.
Butt was confident Pakistan would secure the last tranche from the IMF under the $3 billion short-term financing agreement it reached with the lender last summer. 
Pakistan’s National Assembly will elect the country’s prime minister on March 3 while elections for the speaker and deputy speaker’s posts are scheduled to be held on Friday, March 1.


Pakistan concludes 60-hour joint military exercise with Saudi Arabia, US, other nations 

Pakistan concludes 60-hour joint military exercise with Saudi Arabia, US, other nations 
Updated 29 February 2024
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Pakistan concludes 60-hour joint military exercise with Saudi Arabia, US, other nations 

Pakistan concludes 60-hour joint military exercise with Saudi Arabia, US, other nations 
  • The exercise was held at semi-mountainous terrain of Pakistan’s Punjab province from Feb. 25-27
  • Pakistan’s army chief attends closing ceremony, lauds participating teams for their professionalism

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan concluded a three-day, 60-hour joint military training exercise with participating teams from Saudi Arabia, the United States, Jordan and other countries this week, Pakistan Army’s media wing said on Thursday.
Pakistan opened the 7th International Pakistan Army Team Spirit (PATS) Exercise in the northwestern town of Pabbi on Sunday. The exercise, which ran from Feb. 25-27, was aimed at enhancing combat skills through the sharing of innovative ideas and experiences by participants. 
The exercise would also help hone basic soldierly attributes besides interoperability through the sharing of innovative ideas and mutual best practices, the ISPR said last week. 
Seven teams from the Pakistan Army and 15 teams from Bahrain, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, Maldives, Morocco, Qatar, the US, Uzbekistan, Srilanka, Thailand and Turkiye participated in the exercise. Azerbaijan, China, Germany, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Myanmar witnessed the exercise as observers, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said.
“The exercise was conducted from 25-27 Feb 2024 in the semi-mountainous terrain of Punjab,” the ISPR said. “Over the years, the exercise has gained much prominence as a very competitive professional military activity for friendly countries.”
Pakistan’s army chief General Syed Asim Munir attended the event’s closing ceremony at the eastern city of Kharian, the ISPR said. Munir appreciated the participating teams for their professionalism, and for demonstrating physical and mental endurance during the various stages of the exercise.
“At the end, COAS [chief of army staff] gave away individual and team awards to the participants of the exercise,” the ISPR said.
Pakistan routinely holds joint air, ground and sea exercises with friendly nations to foster interoperability and joint deployment concepts to counter threats to global peace.
Several cadets from these nations annually visit the South Asian country, which has fought back militancy for decades, to undergo specialized military training.


Pakistan’s Rawalpindi administration to deploy over 5,000 cops for next month’s PSL matches

Pakistan’s Rawalpindi administration to deploy over 5,000 cops for next month’s PSL matches
Updated 29 February 2024
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Pakistan’s Rawalpindi administration to deploy over 5,000 cops for next month’s PSL matches

Pakistan’s Rawalpindi administration to deploy over 5,000 cops for next month’s PSL matches
  • Pakistan’s eastern Rawalpindi city will host Pakistan Super League matches from March 2-10
  • Snipers, police to be stationed along ‘critical routes’ and at rooftops near stadium says state media

ISLAMABAD: The administration in Pakistan’s Rawalpindi has taken “extensive measures” to provide security to players and citizens as the city gears up to host the remaining matches of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) 2024 tournament next month, state-run media reported on Thursday.
Pakistan’s eastern city of Rawalpindi will host PSL matches from March 2-10. PSL matches every year draw thousands of people to stadiums in Lahore, Multan, Karachi and Rawalpindi, where matches are usually held. The PSL also features apart from local cricket stars, international cricketers of renown. 
The Rawalpindi administration has finalized a security plan ahead of the tournament’s matches, the Associate Press of Pakistan (APP) said in a report, amid a surge in militant attacks across the country. 
“Under the security plan finalized for PSL matches, over 5,000 police personnel, including elite forces, would be deployed to provide foolproof security cover to the matches,” the APP said. 
It said the security plan includes closing stations, managing traffic, and “strict surveillance” to ensure the safety of the cricketers, officials and spectators. 
It said around 750 police officers would be tasked with managing the teams’ movement from the Islamabad airport across the districts of Attock and Rawalpindi.
“Snipers, along with police equipped with advanced security tools, would be stationed along critical routes and rooftops near the stadium,” the report said. “These measures are designed to ensure a secure environment for the event.”
It said Rwalpindi’s traffic police has also developed a traffic management plan to cope with the expected increase in vehicles during the matches. 
Pakistani authorities have been wary of attacks targeting cricketers and cricket events, especially since 2009 when militants attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore. The incident scared international teams from touring Pakistan, forcing the South Asian country to choose the UAE as its home ground for several years before international teams started touring the country again.
Pakistan has seen a surge in militant violence, especially in its western regions bordering Afghanistan, since November 2022 after a fragile truce between the state and the Pakistani Taliban broke down.