Pakistan pledges ‘maximum security’ for general election amid threats

Pakistan pledges ‘maximum security’ for general election amid threats
Pakistan's caretaker Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti speaks during a press conference in Islamabad, Pakistan, on October 26, 2023. (AP/File)
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Updated 09 December 2023
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Pakistan pledges ‘maximum security’ for general election amid threats

Pakistan pledges ‘maximum security’ for general election amid threats
  • The statement comes amid surge in militant attacks across Pakistan’s western regions bordering Afghanistan
  • Pakistan is scheduled to hold national elections on February 8 after months of delay and political uncertainty

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Caretaker Interior Minister Sarfaraz Bugti on Friday pledged “maximum security” for the upcoming general election, scheduled for February 8, acknowledging that there were threats to politicians and public rallies. 

The development comes amid a surge in militant attacks across in Pakistan’s western regions bordering Afghanistan ever since a fragile truce between Islamabad and the Pakistani Taliban broke down in November 2022. 

Recently, the Jamiat Ulama-e-Islam Pakistan (JUI-F), a prominent religious party, urged the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to delay the polls till the security situation in the country improves and the cold in Pakistan’s northern areas dissipates. 

Speaking at a press conference in Islamabad, Bugti said the caretaker government would fulfil all requirements of the election regulator for a peaceful conduct of the elections. 

“Whatever requirement the election commission would have with regard to paramilitary forces, we will provide that,” he said. “We will try providing maximum security.” 

The interior minister agreed there was a “general threat” to public rallies in the country, but no specific threat to a political leader, except for the JUI-F chief. 

“Definitely, there are threats to the political leadership,” he said. “There is definitely a general threat to public rallies.” 

The interior minister said the caretaker government had the “capacity and will” for the conduct of a peaceful election. 

He, however, said the deployment of army was a domain of the country’s defense ministry. 

Bugti’s statement came days after a senior ECP official requested the government for the deployment of armed forces at polling stations during the February 8 elections to ensure foolproof security arrangements. 

“Keeping in view, the deficiency of Police personnel indicated by the Provinces and the Federal Capital, the Election Commission of Pakistan has decided that in view of the clear shortfall of 277,558 personnel, the services of Pakistan Army and Civil Armed Forces (CAFs) shall have to be requisitioned in static mode in terms of Article 220 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan at the Polling Stations to ensure smooth elections,” ECP Secretary Omar Hamid Khan wrote to the interior ministry. 

“This is all the more relevant in the context of fragile security cum law-and-order situation prevalent in country.” 

Khan said as per reports from inspector generals of police (IGPs) of all four provinces and Islamabad, there was a shortfall of around 4,500 police personnel in the capital city, 169,110 in Punjab, 56,717 in KP, 33,462 in Sindh, and 13,769 in Balochistan. 

The regulator said as per Article 220 of Pakistan’s constitution, all executive authorities of the administration and the provinces were bound to assist the ECP in its task of holding free, fair and transparent elections. 


Opposition parties in Sindh announce ‘black day’ following clashes during provincial lawmakers’ oath ceremony

Opposition parties in Sindh announce ‘black day’ following clashes during provincial lawmakers’ oath ceremony
Updated 17 min 40 sec ago
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Opposition parties in Sindh announce ‘black day’ following clashes during provincial lawmakers’ oath ceremony

Opposition parties in Sindh announce ‘black day’ following clashes during provincial lawmakers’ oath ceremony
  • Political workers of different parties staged hours-long blockade of a central thoroughfare despite tear gas shelling
  • Jamaat-e-Islami, Grand Democratic Alliance and Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Islam raised rigging allegations after Feb. 8 polls

KARACHI: Several Pakistani parties on Saturday announced they would observe February 27 as “black day” in response to Sindh police firing tear gas at political workers protesting suspected rigging in the general elections earlier this month, as the newly elected lawmakers joined the inaugural session of the provincial legislature.
The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) bagged the highest 84 seats in the southern Sindh province, followed by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) which secured 28 seats, while 14 seats went to independents. The Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) religious party and the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) won two seats each.
Supporters of the JI, GDA, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), and other nationalist parties gathered near the provincial assembly in Karachi’s South zone to protest the alleged manipulation of the Feb. 8 election, which was marred by a mobile network outage and delays in the release of constituency results.
Hundreds of police personnel were deployed to prevent opposition supporters from advancing toward the Sindh Assembly building. The GDA and JUI-F were en route to the Karachi Press Club when clashes broke out between their workers and the police, resulting in stone-pelting and tear gas shelling.
“I strongly condemn the police shelling over the JUI-F workers,” Hafiz Naeem-ur-Rehman, the JI chief, said at a joint protest with the GDA. “We will observe February 27 as black day against election rigging and police torture on political workers.”
Rashid Soomro, a JUI-F leader, also confirmed development.
“Our peaceful workers were beaten and subjected to shelling as we attempted to reach the press club,” he said.
Political workers belonging to the protesting parties also blocked a main thoroughfare, Shahrah-e-Faisal, for several hours during the day.
Earlier, the outgoing speaker of the Sindh Assembly, Agha Siraj Durrani, administered oath to the newly elected lawmakers amid heavy security around the building.
“I do solemnly swear that I will bear true faith and allegiance to Pakistan, that as a member of the provincial assembly of Sindh, I will perform my functions honestly, to the best of my ability, faithfully, in accordance with the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the law and the rules of the assembly, and always in the interest of sovereignty, integrity and solidarity, well-being and prosperity of Pakistan,” Durrani said as he read out the oath to the lawmakers.
“May Allah Almighty help me and guide me.”
In view of the protest calls, the Sindh caretaker government on Friday imposed a ban under Section 144 on public assembly, gatherings, protests, processions, and demonstrations in Karachi’s South zone, where the provincial legislature is located, for a period of 30 days, according to the provincial home department.
Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) empowers the administration to issue orders in public interest and place a ban on any activity for a specific period of time.
The oath-taking ceremony came a day after the PPP nominated Murad Ali Shah, former Sindh chief minister, for the top provincial office once again, Syed Owais Shah for the role of speaker, and Anthony Naveed for the post of deputy speaker of the Sindh provincial assembly.
“We will not only compete with the governments of other provinces but also with the Center in performance,” Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, a former foreign minister and the PPP chairman, said at a meeting of newly elected party lawmakers in Karachi.
The PPP chairman announced that his party would forge a working relationship with all opposition parties in Sindh and address their legitimate grievances, according to a PPP statement. He urged the newly elected lawmakers to play their role in resolving the people’s problems in their respective constituencies.
“Be my eyes and ears,” Bhutto-Zardari was quoted as saying. “You play the role of a bridge between the people of your constituency and me; you are my ambassador to the people.”


Ex-PM Khan’s party presents ‘consolidated rigging evidence’ through website, questions election integrity

Ex-PM Khan’s party presents ‘consolidated rigging evidence’ through website, questions election integrity
Updated 24 February 2024
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Ex-PM Khan’s party presents ‘consolidated rigging evidence’ through website, questions election integrity

Ex-PM Khan’s party presents ‘consolidated rigging evidence’ through website, questions election integrity
  • PTI claims it won 179 national seats on the basis of evidence available on the online portal, though ECP only notified 92
  • It mentions huge discrepancies between Forms 45 and 47 results, saying 87 of its national seats continue to remain disputed

ISLAMABAD: Former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party has created an online portal to consolidate “rigging evidence” from the February 8 polls by compiling election documents from polling stations across the country to highlight discrepancies between the number of votes polled and the final results announced.
Pakistan’s general elections this month were marred by a nationwide outage of cellphone networks, delays in vote counting and result announcements.
The situation led to widespread perceptions of election manipulation, prompting Khan’s PTI and other parties to protest against the alleged rigging, which they claim favored their opponents.
However, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has denied these allegations.
“It swiftly became public knowledge that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) was making significant gains in the election,” Khan’s party wrote on the portal, referring to the unofficial results from various polling stations which started pouring in shortly after the voting concluded.
“However, concerns arose when the security apparatus, entrusted with safeguarding the electoral process, began exerting undue influence over the ROs [returning officers] and their premises,” it added. “Candidates were abruptly removed from RO offices, signaling the beginning of coercive measures to dictate election outcomes.”
The PTI said this was done before the preparation of the Form 47 document that details the result of the whole constituency, naming all the candidates while specifying their parties and mentioning the total number of votes cast in their favor.
The Form 47 is compiled with the help of another document, Form 45, which is prepared by presiding officers of polling stations in the same format.
The final result of a constituency is compiled by using the information in Forms 45 arriving from hundreds of polling stations.
The PTI said the “interference” by the security apparatus forced many ROs to issue Form 47 documents “that bore no resemblance to the original Form 45 submissions from the field.”
“In response to these troubling developments, we have compiled the submitted forms from various candidates for public and media scrutiny,” it added. “A comparative analysis reveals significant disparities between the vote counts recorded on ‘Form 45’ and the figures eventually endorsed by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). Discrepancies range from a few thousand to over seventy thousand votes in many instances, underscoring the urgent need for transparency and accountability in the electoral process.”
The party said there were a few forms still missing which it could not get hold of.
Additionally, it specified that it had mentioned only those constituencies where 90 percent or more of these forms were available.
The PTI claimed it had won 179 national seats on the basis of the evidence the portal contained.
However, the ECP only notified the triumph of its candidates from 92 constituencies. The party also noted that 87 of its seats remained disputed.


Karachi Kings opt to bowl, reigniting famed rivalry with Lahore Qalandars in PSL clash

Karachi Kings opt to bowl, reigniting famed rivalry with Lahore Qalandars in PSL clash
Updated 36 min 26 sec ago
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Karachi Kings opt to bowl, reigniting famed rivalry with Lahore Qalandars in PSL clash

Karachi Kings opt to bowl, reigniting famed rivalry with Lahore Qalandars in PSL clash
  • Both sides have had a poor outing so far this season and need to step up their game
  • The match, known as ‘El Classico’ of Pakistan Super League began at 7pm Pakistan time

ISLAMABAD: The storied rivalry between Karachi Kings and Lahore Qalandars was reignited in the 9th edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) at Qaddafi Stadium, Lahore, after the Kings won the toss and chose to bowl first, priming the stage for an electrifying showdown in what’s hailed as the “El Classico” of the Twenty20 league.
Both sides have had a poor outing so far this season and need to step up their game, though Karachi will be coming in on the back of their victory against Peshawar on Wednesday.
The match began at 7pm Pakistan time.
“Ready for our 3rd showdown as #KingsSquad gears up to clash against Lahore Qalandars,” Karachi Kings wrote on X before the contest began.
Karachi boast a strong bowling line-up, with Mir Hamza and Hassan Ali taking three wickets each.
Lahore, on the other hand, have had a three-match losing streak and are yet to get a victory in the current season.
Their bowling unit has also not been able to perform in crucial moments for the side, with Shaheen Afridi and Fakhar Zaman managing to two wickets each so far.


US spaceship lying sideways after dramatic Moon touchdown

US spaceship lying sideways after dramatic Moon touchdown
Updated 24 February 2024
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US spaceship lying sideways after dramatic Moon touchdown

US spaceship lying sideways after dramatic Moon touchdown
  • The Odysseus spacecraft landed near the lunar south pole Thursday at 6:23 p.m. Eastern Time
  • The firm behind landing initially posted on social media that its hexagonal spaceship was upright

WASHINGTON: The first American spaceship to the Moon since the Apollo era is probably lying sideways following its dramatic landing, the company that built it said Friday, even as ground controllers work to download data and surface photos from the uncrewed robot.

The Odysseus spacecraft landed near the lunar south pole Thursday at 6:23 p.m. Eastern Time (2323 GMT), after a nail-biting final descent when ground teams had to switch to a backup guidance system and took several minutes to establish radio contact after the lander came to rest.

Intuitive Machines, the company behind this first-ever lunar landing by a private company, initially posted on social media that its hexagonal spaceship was upright, but CEO Steve Altemus told reporters on Friday that statement was based on misinterpreted data.

Instead, it appears that it caught a foot on the surface and tipped over, coming to rest horizontally with its top perched on a small rock — taking some shine off an accomplishment widely hailed as a historic achievement.

A NASA probe called the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter should be able to photograph Odysseus over the weekend, helping pinpoint its exact location.

Altemus said that while solar arrays were on the top-facing side, the team’s ability to download data from the science experiments on board was being hampered because of antennas facing downward that “are unusable for transmission back to Earth — and so that really is a limiter in our ability to communicate and get the right data down so we get everything we need for the mission.”

Because of complications associated with the landing, a decision was taken not to shoot out an external camera to capture the descent as it happened, according to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, which built the “EagleCam” device.

But the team will still attempt to deploy it from the ground to try to obtain an outside image of Odysseus.

Odysseus is still considered the first success for a new fleet of NASA-funded lunar landers designed to carry out science experiments that will pave the way for the return of American astronauts to the Moon later this decade, under the Artemis program.

A moonshot by another American company last month ended in failure, raising the stakes to demonstrate that private industry has what it takes to repeat a feat last achieved by US space agency NASA during its manned Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

Underlining the technical challenges, Intuitive Machines’ own navigation technology failed and ground engineers were forced to jury-rig a solution, hastily writing a software patch to switch to an experimental NASA laser guidance system that was intended to run only as a technology demonstration.

Altemus later revealed Odysseus’ own laser system failed to turn on because someone had forgotten to flip a safety switch before takeoff, which he described as “an oversight on our part.”

Confirmation of landing was supposed to come seconds after the milestone, but instead around 15 minutes passed before a faint signal was detected, enough to declare the spaceship was in one piece and had met its goal.

NASA paid Intuitive Machines $118 million to ship six experiments under an initiative which delegates cargo services to the private sector in a bid to achieve savings and stimulate a wider lunar economy.

Odysseus also carries cargo for private customers, including a reflective heat wrapping developed by Columbia Sportswear and used to protect the spaceship’s cryogenic propulsion tank.

The United States, along with international partners, want to develop long-term habitats on the south pole, harvesting ice there for drinking water — and for rocket fuel for eventual onward voyages to Mars.

The first crewed landing under NASA’s Artemis program is set to take place no sooner than 2026. China meanwhile plans to put its first crew on the Moon in 2030, opening a new era of space competition.

The mission was the fourth attempt at soft lunar touchdown by the private sector. Intuitive Machines joins the national space agencies of the Soviet Union, United States, China, India and Japan in an exclusive club of landing on the Moon.


X disrupted in Pakistan for seventh day as Internet monitor reports VPN restrictions

X disrupted in Pakistan for seventh day as Internet monitor reports VPN restrictions
Updated 24 February 2024
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X disrupted in Pakistan for seventh day as Internet monitor reports VPN restrictions

X disrupted in Pakistan for seventh day as Internet monitor reports VPN restrictions
  • The platform was downed on the night of Feb. 17 amid protests by political parties over alleged vote-rigging
  • Pakistan’s national election this month was marred by a mobile network outage, delays in release of polls results

ISLAMABAD: Social media platform X was disrupted across Pakistan for a seventh consecutive day on Saturday after a general election marred by allegations of rigging, with an Internet monitor reporting restrictions on virtual private network (VPN) services.

The platform was downed on the night of Feb. 17 amid protests by political parties over alleged rigging of Feb. 8 national election in the South Asian country.

The disruption came hours after a senior bureaucrat said he helped rig the polls and accused the country’s chief justice and top election official of rigging polls.

Digital rights activists have attributed the disruption of X to its widespread use by public and political parties to organize demonstrations.

“Live metrics show #Pakistan’s X/Twitter restriction is ongoing into a seventh day,” NetBlocks, a London-based Internet monitor, said late Friday.

“With VPN services also widely restricted, users face increasing difficultly getting online amid heightened concerns over vote rigging after elections conducted under a telecoms shutdown.”

The Feb. 8 election was marred by a nationwide outage of mobile phone networks, with the caretaker government citing security reasons behind the suspension.

The blackout was followed by delays in the release of constituency results, giving rise to allegations of vote-rigging.

Several political parties, including jailed former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), have since been protesting alleged manipulation of election results in the country.