Ex-PM Khan urges Pakistan top judge to ensure equal opportunities to all parties in Feb. 8 polls

Ex-PM Khan urges Pakistan top judge to ensure equal opportunities to all parties in Feb. 8 polls
Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan gestures during talk with reporters regarding the current political situation and the ongoing cases against him at his residence, in Lahore, Pakistan, on August 3, 2023. (AP/File)
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Updated 30 November 2023

Ex-PM Khan urges Pakistan top judge to ensure equal opportunities to all parties in Feb. 8 polls

Ex-PM Khan urges Pakistan top judge to ensure equal opportunities to all parties in Feb. 8 polls
  • The ex-premier requests Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa to set up a commission to probe ‘disappearances,’ arrests of political workers 
  • The development comes amid months-long crackdown on Khan’s party and as Pakistan heads to national polls amid political turmoil

ISLAMABAD: Former Pakistan prime minister, Imran Khan, has drawn Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Justice Qazi Faez Isa’s attention toward the “discrimination” faced by his party, urging him to ensure that all political parties get equal opportunities in the upcoming general elections, scheduled to be held on February 8. 

The development comes amid a months-long crackdown on supporters of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, which began after violent attacks on government and military installations over Khan’s brief arrest in a graft case in May this year. 

Several top aides and members of Khan’s party have since distanced themselves from the party, while many still remain behind bars. The ex-premier himself is facing a slew of cases that he says are “politically motivated” and aimed at keeping him out of politics. He has been in jail since August 5 after being convicted in a case involving the sale of state gifts. 

In a letter written to CJP Isa on Thursday, Khan said the apex court could not be unaware of the “disappearances” and “arbitrary arrests” of individuals affiliated with the PTI, and that there was no possibility of a fair general election on February 8 without the intervention of the apex court to halt these widespread arrests. 

“The practice of successive arrests of persons granted bails in known cases must be stopped. Arrests on the basis of fresh FIRs (first information reports), or the inclusion through supplementary statements, the list of accused in existing FIRs may only be undertaken after affording the accused opportunity to approach a court of competent jurisdiction for pre-arrest bail,” Khan wrote in his letter. 

“A commission may kindly be set to in investigating the abductions/disappearances of journalists/political workers all across the country.” 

The former premier requested the top judge to direct the federal and provincial governments as well as the election regulator to ensure that persons affiliated with all political parties, including the PTI, are allowed to carry out political meetings and gatherings without “discrimination between one party and any other.” 

“The federal government and the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority be directed to ensure that all political parties, including the PTI, and their leaders and members are allowed coverage without any restriction or discrimination,” Khan added. 

Khan’s letter comes amid repeated accusations by his PTI party against the current caretaker administration and the military establishment of having a soft corner for three-time former premier Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party. 

Sharif, who was convicted of corruption in 2018 and returned to Pakistan in October after nearly four years in self-imposed exile, was on Wednesday acquitted in a case relating to the purchase of upscale London flats. He was previously sentenced to 10 years in prison in the case. 

Khan’s loyalists see the recent judgments granting relief to Sharif and his family members as favors given to the PML-N, which appears to be poised to take over the reins of the country once again. 

India’s basmati rice exports to fall as Pakistan’s surge

India’s basmati rice exports to fall as Pakistan’s surge
Updated 37 sec ago

India’s basmati rice exports to fall as Pakistan’s surge

India’s basmati rice exports to fall as Pakistan’s surge
  • Pakistan offering basmati rice at competitive prices amid rebound in production
  • India, Pakistan are leading exporters of rice to Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and UAE

MUMBAI: India’s basmati rice exports are likely to fall in 2024 after nearing a record high last year, as rival Pakistan is offering the grain at competitive prices amid a rebound in production, industry officials said.
India and Pakistan are the leading exporters of the premium long-grain variety of rice, famous for its aroma, to countries such as Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States.
India’s exports of basmati rice surged 11.5 percent from a year earlier to 4.9 million metric tons in 2023, just shy of the record high of 5 million tons hit in 2020, on lower supplies from Pakistan and stocking efforts by importing countries, industry officials said.
Basmati rice shipments helped the world’s biggest rice exporter to garner a record $5.4 billion in 2023, up nearly 21 percent from the previous year, because of higher prices, government data showed.
“Last year, buyers were hustling to stock up when Pakistan was facing production issues. This year, however, Pakistan offers lower prices than India due to increased production,” Vijay Setia, a leading exporter based in Haryana state of India, said.
Islamabad’s total rice exports could jump to 5 million tons in 2023/24 financial year, up from the last year’s 3.7 million tons, Chela Ram Kewlani, chairman of Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan (REAP) said last month.
The depreciation of the Pakistani rupee has made Pakistan’s exports more competitive, according to Akshay Gupta, head of bulk exports at KRBL Ltd.
Meanwhile, lower export demand amid an estimated 10 percent rise in India’s basmati rice production has started pulling down basmati prices in that country, said Gupta.
Iran, the biggest buyer of Indian basmati rice, slashed purchases by 36 percent in 2023, but higher shipments to Iraq, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia offset the shortfall, according to data compiled by India’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
Indian exports had lost momentum in September and October as the government imposed minimum export price (MEP) on basmati rice, but they quickly recovered, said a New-Delhi-based exporter.
In August, India imposed the MEP on basmati rice shipments at $1,200 per ton, exceeding prevailing market rates, before lowering it to $950 in October.
However, exports began faltering again in January, and may decline further in the near term as buyers delay purchases due to increased freight costs caused by disruptions in shipping via the Red Sea, exporter Vijay Setia said.
“Buyers are holding ample inventory; there’s no need for them to rush,” he said.

Pakistan’s newly elected lawmakers sworn in amid ruckus, vote fraud protests

Pakistan’s newly elected lawmakers sworn in amid ruckus, vote fraud protests
Updated 4 min 25 sec ago

Pakistan’s newly elected lawmakers sworn in amid ruckus, vote fraud protests

Pakistan’s newly elected lawmakers sworn in amid ruckus, vote fraud protests
  • PTI-backed lawmakers chanted slogan, ‘Release Imran Khan,’ while wearing masks resembling his face and carrying his portraits
  • PTI lawmaker Barrister Gohar Khan described the house as ‘incomplete’ without allocation of 23 reserved seats to the party

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s newly elected members of the National Assembly were sworn in on Thursday in a maiden session of parliament that was marred by ruckus, protests and pro-Imran Khan sloganeering who has been in jail since August last year.
The February 8 national elections were followed by widespread allegations of rigging and vote fraud, leading to nationwide protests by Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party that won the most seats in the National Assembly despite state crackdown and arrests of leaders. A slew of other nationalist and smaller parties have also protested the vote fraud.
The political parties got the split mandate in parliament that led to an agreement between Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of three-time Premier Nawaz Sharif on Feb. 20 to form a coalition government. This helped end days of uncertainty and negotiations after an inconclusive election threw up a hung National Assembly.
PML-N’s 79 and the PPP’s 54 seats together make a simple majority in parliament to form a government, and they have also roped in smaller parties in the coalition. Candidates backed by Khan’s PTI 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, which the election commission has denied.
Thursday’s session started with ruckus as soon as the national anthem ended and Khan-backed lawmakers, who have joined the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), surrounded the speaker’s podium.
“Who will save Pakistan? Imran Khan, Imran Khan!” PTI lawmakers chanted after the oath taking and as newly elected MNAs signed the NA register roll.
The PTI lawmakers were carrying placards inscribed with the slogan, “Release Imran Khan,” and some of them were also wearing masks resembling his face and carrying his portraits.
Khan’s party has been struggling to get a share in the 70 reserved seats, 60 for women and 10 for religious minorities, in the National Assembly that are distributed among parliamentary parties on proportional basis.
The PTI-backed candidates joined the SIC soon after the elections to get the reserved seats, but the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) reserved the judgment over the issue on Wednesday. Other major parties including the PPP and PMLN have opposed allocation of the reserved seats to the PTI-SIC alliance, saying the SIC was not a parliamentary party and could not claim the seats.
Speaking on the floor of the house, PTI lawmaker Barrister Gohar Khan raised the issue, saying the house was “incomplete” as his party was yet to be allocated the reserved seats.
“You become the elected member when you enjoy trust of the public, and trust of the people is earned,” he said while claiming that rigging in the elections had compromised PTI’s mandate which won 180 seats in parliament.
“This is the judgment of the Supreme Court that nobody can sneak into this house, and only those people can enter who enjoy the public mandate … It would violate sanctity of this house, if the people are sitting here who are strangers to this house,” he added.
Barrister Khan said the PTI-SCI alliance deserved 20 women and three minorities’ seats out of 70 reserved seats in the assembly.
“This house is incomplete. Our 23 MNAs are supposed to come in,” he pointed out.
The National Assembly will elect speaker and deputy speaker on Friday, and then election of the leader of the house – or the prime minister – will be held.
The coalition alliance has announced Shehbaz Sharif, the brother of three-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, as its candidate for the slot. Shehbaz is himself a former premier and replaced Khan when he was ousted in a no-confidence vote in parliament in 2022. Since then, Khan has been convicted of several offenses in what his supporters call politically motivated cases to keep him out of office.
The coalition alliance is backing Asif Ali Zardari of the PPP as their joint candidate for president when the new parliament and all the four provincial legislatures elect the successor of the outgoing President Arif Ali, a close Khan ally, in the coming weeks.
Shehbaz is expected to take over the country at the time when the new government would need to take tough decisions to steer the country out of financial crisis, including negotiating a new bailout deal with the International Monetary Fund. The current IMF program expires in March. A new program will mean committing to steps needed to stay on a narrow path to recovery, but which will limit policy options to provide relief to a deeply frustrated population and cater to industries that are looking for government support to spur growth.
Other big moves include privatization of loss-making state-owned enterprises such as the flagship carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).
Pakistan is also facing a troubling rise in militancy, which any new government will have to tackle. Lowering political temperatures will also be a key challenge as Khan maintains mass popular support in Pakistan, and a continued crackdown on his party and his remaining in jail would likely stoke tensions at a time when stability is needed to attract foreign investment to shore up the economy.

Imran Khan loyalists elected speaker, deputy speaker of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial assembly

Imran Khan loyalists elected speaker, deputy speaker of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial assembly
Updated 47 min 19 sec ago

Imran Khan loyalists elected speaker, deputy speaker of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial assembly

Imran Khan loyalists elected speaker, deputy speaker of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial assembly
  • Babar Saleem Swati won 89 out of 106 votes against his rival who got 17 votes
  • Suraiya Bibi becomes first women ever to be elected as deputy speak of KP assembly 

ISLAMABAD: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial assembly on Thursday elected lawmakers backed by former prime minister Imran Khan as the new speaker and deputy speaker of the provincial legislature, a day after it held its first session following general elections earlier this month. 

Independent candidates backed by Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party swept provincial polls in Feb. 8 elections, bagging over 90 of 111 general seats on which voting was held. Since independent candidates cannot form a government, PTI loyalists have joined the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) to make their government in the province for a third consecutive term.

Khan’s PTI previously ruled the province from 2013 to 2023. 

Babar Saleem Swati, who became the custodian of the house, contested as the SIC candidate for the post.

“PTI’s Babar Saleem Swati has been elected speaker [KP] assembly by getting 89 votes,” Khan’s party said on X. 

Another Khan-backed candidate, Suraiya Bibi, was elected deputy speaker, the first woman ever elected to the post in KP. 

Candidates backed by Khan won the most National Assembly seats, 93, in the elections but the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) have agreed to an alliance to form a coalition government. The Sunni Ittehad Council party backed by Khan alleges that the election was rigged against them and has called for an audit of the polls. 

No single party won a majority.

Media bodies urge Pakistan top court to cancel committee probing anti-judges online campaign

Media bodies urge Pakistan top court to cancel committee probing anti-judges online campaign
Updated 29 February 2024

Media bodies urge Pakistan top court to cancel committee probing anti-judges online campaign

Media bodies urge Pakistan top court to cancel committee probing anti-judges online campaign
  • Joint investigation team set up last month to “ascertain facts behind malicious social media campaign” against judges
  • Was formed after social media campaign unleashed following a Supreme Court judgment against Imran Khan’s party

ISLAMABAD: Media bodies including the Press Association of the Supreme Court and the Islamabad High Court Journalists Association have filed a joint petition requesting the top court to cancel a joint investigation team (JIT) probing a so-called social media campaign against judges in which many journalists have been served notices. 

The interior ministry set up a five-member joint investigation team last month to “ascertain facts behind a malicious social media campaign” against Supreme Court judges.

The panel was formed under Section 30 (power to investigate) of the controversial Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (Peca) 2016 and convened by the additional director general of the Federal Investiga­tion Agency’s (FIA) cybercrime wing. It was formed against the backdrop of a “smear campaign” that erupted on social media soon after a Jan. 13 Supreme Court judgment that upheld an Election Commission of Pakistan ruling to revoke the iconic electoral symbol, the cricket bat, of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party of former Prime Minister Imran Khan. The decision meant all candidates from the party had to run in Feb. 8 elections as independent candidates with different election symbols.

The petition filed by the journalists’ bodies said roving inquiries by the FIA, the appointment of the JIT and multitudinous summons with regards to vague allegations regarding a so-called “explicit and malicious campaign against Hon. Judges of Supreme Court of Pakistan” or “derogatory remarks against the Superior Judiciary of Pakistan” had a “chilling effect” and unreasonably restricted the right of free speech and information guaranteed under Article 19 and 19-A of the Constitution.

“It is, accordingly, an issue of public importance involving the enforcement of fundamental rights,” the petitioner submitted, arguing that the right to punish (or show forbearance in respect of) speech that scandalized the court or brought the court or a judge into hatred, ridicule or contempt vested exclusively with the apex court under Article 204 of the Constitution and the executive could not be allowed to usurp that discretion, as it infringed the doctrine of separation of powers. It said the power to punish the charge of scandalizing a judge or the judiciary, which the court itself so sparingly exercised, could not be handed over to the FIA to be used as and when it deemed fit.

A total of 65 notices had been issued to various persons, including more than 30 journalists, in at least 115 inquiries by the JIT in Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur, Multan, Faisalabad, Lahore, Gujranwala, Rawalpindi, Gilgit, Islamabad, Peshawar, Abbottabad, Dera Ismail Khan, Quetta and Gwadar. 

Pakistani anchorman Imran Riaz Khan was arrested from his house in Lahore last week over accusations he had participated in an anti-judiciary social media campaign. Another reporter Asad Ali Toor was also arrested on charges of orchestrating a campaign against the state and its officials, with the “objective to coerce, intimidate, and incite violence” against them through his social media platforms. In recent months, several of Toor’s posts and videos have been critical of government agencies, Pakistan’s military establishment and the Supreme Court.

Pakistan’s PM criticizes Imran Khan’s ‘irresponsible’ demand for election audit in IMF bailout letter

Pakistan’s PM criticizes Imran Khan’s ‘irresponsible’ demand for election audit in IMF bailout letter
Updated 29 February 2024

Pakistan’s PM criticizes Imran Khan’s ‘irresponsible’ demand for election audit in IMF bailout letter

Pakistan’s PM criticizes Imran Khan’s ‘irresponsible’ demand for election audit in IMF bailout letter
  • Prime Minister Kakar says there are proper forums in the country for the redressal of any election grievances
  • He says the letter has contradicted PTI’s own narrative that maintains Pakistan should not ‘surrender’ to the West

ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar on Wednesday described Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party’s decision to send a letter to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), asking it to ensure election audit before any discussion on financial bailouts for the country, as “highly irresponsible” and in contradiction to its overall political narrative.

Last week, a group of lawyers representing the PTI founding leader, Imran Khan, said he wanted to send a letter to the IMF after raising the allegations of rigging in the recent general elections in the country earlier this month.

The party revealed on Wednesday it had dispatched the letter to the international lending organization, asking it to link any financing for Pakistan to “good governance” and the audit of at least 30 national and provincial assembly seats.

Kakar expressed his displeasure over the development during an interview with a local news channel.

“This is highly irresponsible,” he told Samaa TV. “And I am making a very mild statement. Otherwise, one can use much harsher words in response to this.”

“In the caretaker government, the biggest challenge we faced was not only conducting elections but also to the revival of the economy, improvement in financial indicators and achieving our revenue targets,” he continued. “To an extent, we have met [all these objectives]. As a result, the IMF is negotiating with Pakistan positively.”

He said the country was now expecting a $6 billion deal with the international lender and could also get $2 billion more in climate finance deal.

The prime minister noted this was vital for the country’s economic health, adding that the financial plans of the future government also depended heavily on this.

“Whatever your views are regarding the electoral process, there are proper forums to express them,” he continued. “They are not the IMF.”

Kakar said the PTI leadership’s letter had also contradicted its own narrative which required the country not to “surrender” to Western power.

He maintained that Khan’s party had gone against that by seeking external intervention in the country.

However, predicted the letter would not have any major impact on Pakistan, though it would have a political cost for the PTI.

The IMF already refused to comment on the “ongoing political developments” in the country, saying it was willing to work with the new government.