Ex-Pakistan PM Khan, party say erased from election campaign in hometown constituency

Ex-Pakistan PM Khan, party say erased from election campaign in hometown constituency
In this picture taken on January 17, 2024, people make their way along a busy street with election campaign posters of different parties displayed in Mianwali, the native town of Pakistan’s jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan in Punjab Province. (AFP)
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Updated 28 January 2024
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Ex-Pakistan PM Khan, party say erased from election campaign in hometown constituency

Ex-Pakistan PM Khan, party say erased from election campaign in hometown constituency
  • Crackdown attributed to Pakistan’s military has seen Khan, his party almost erased from election campaign
  • Khan, widely believed to have been backed by the military, became emboldened during his stint as Pakistan PM 

MIANWALI, Pakistan: Pakistani cricketing legend turned world leader Imran Khan is wildly popular in his constituency and ancestral homeland of Mianwali, but the political posters that line the streets do not bear his face and flags do not fly his colors.

A relentless crackdown widely attributed to Pakistan’s powerful military has seen him and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party almost erased from the election campaign ahead of the vote.

“Our party workers are facing harassment, and I personally have received death threats,” says 61-year-old Jamal Ahsan Khan, who is standing for PTI in Mianwali in place of his leader.

“Throughout my life, I have never witnessed an election as intense and threatening as this one.”

Khan, currently in jail facing dozens of legal challenges, is barred from contesting elections on February 8 because of a graft conviction — cases he claims are politically motivated.

Across the country, PTI has been obstructed from holding rallies and the heavily censored media is restricted in its coverage of the opposition, pushing the party’s campaign almost entirely online.

Dozens of candidates nationwide have also had their nomination papers rejected by the electoral commission.

Like many other party candidates, loyalist Ahsan Khan has been in near hiding in the build-up to the election, unable to hold meetings or distribute leaflets.

“It feels disheartening that as a candidate of Pakistan’s leading political party, I am unable to conduct my campaign in a meaningful way,” he told AFP.

With two weeks until the vote, there is none of the fervor and excitement that usually marks an election in the country of more than 240 million people.

It was from Mianwali, a largely rural district in the central province of Punjab, that Khan built his political career and was elected three times as MP.

PTI’s national victory in 2018, driven by its promises to put an end to corruption and the family dynasties that have ruled the country for generations, propelled him to prime minister.

In Mianwali, where he notably built a hospital and a university, the 71-year-old “is not just a political figure, he is a hero,” Rana Amjad Iqbal, editor-in-chief of local newspaper Nawa-e-Sharar, or the Daily Spark, tells AFP.

“However, the primary and most significant reason for his enduring political relevance lies in his anti-establishment stance,” underlines the journalist.

Khan was widely believed to have been backed by the military in his rise to power, but became emboldened during his leadership and began to push against the control of the mighty generals.

Eventually, he lost their favor and was ousted in a parliamentary no-confidence vote in 2022 after dozens of his MPs defected.

His subsequent arrest in May 2023 brought supporters onto the streets who protested against military symbols — sparking the start of a widespread crackdown against PTI.

Thousands of supporters were arrested and around 100 — half from Mianwali — are awaiting trial before military courts, while senior party leaders were detained and forced underground before defecting in their dozens.

Khan “is still popular with the public, but he is unacceptable” to the army, retired schoolteacher Ijaz Khan said.

Earlier this month, PTI suffered a crucial blow when the Supreme Court banned it from contesting elections with its electoral symbol: the cricket bat.

In a country where millions of people cannot read or write, symbols are crucial for voters to identify their preferred party and candidate.

The election commission instead ordered Ahsan Khan to use a bottle, an emblem viewed with disdain in rural areas because it is associated with alcohol.

Khan’s rival in Mianwali, Obaid Ullah Khan, is indifferent to the punishment meted out to his rival political party.
“When would it be justified if not now?” he said of the crackdown.

Unlike PTI candidates, Ullah Khan, who is standing for Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), meets openly with villagers, whose leaders assure him of the support of the entire community, in the hope of future favors.

The PML-N is the party of another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, who was jailed ahead of the 2018 election and later forced into self-imposed exile.

As Khan has fallen, Sharif has risen, returning to his country and into the arms of the military, analysts say.
Despite being sidelined from the election campaign, voters have not lost their lust for Khan.

Hanzala bin Shakeel, a 23-year-old computer science student, will vote for the first time and is making no secret of his choice.

“I will vote for (Imran Khan) because he is the only one who really cares about this country; the others prioritize their personal interests.”


Beijing reiterates calls for Pakistan to create ‘safe’ environment for Chinese workers and projects

Beijing reiterates calls for Pakistan to create ‘safe’ environment for Chinese workers and projects
Updated 29 sec ago
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Beijing reiterates calls for Pakistan to create ‘safe’ environment for Chinese workers and projects

Beijing reiterates calls for Pakistan to create ‘safe’ environment for Chinese workers and projects
  • China is a major ally and investor in Pakistan but militants have attacked Chinese projects and workers over recent years
  • Five Chinese workers were killed in a suicide bombing in March in the third major attack on Chinese interests in a week

ISLAMABAD: Beijing has reiterated its calls for Islamabad to create a “safe, stable and predictable” environment for Chinese workers, projects and institutions operating inside Pakistan and crack down on militant groups working against Chinese interests in the South Asian nation, Beijing’s ambassador said on Sunday. 

China is a major ally and investor in Pakistan but both separatist and religiously motivated militants have attacked Chinese projects over recent years, killing Chinese personnel. In the most high-profile recent attack, five Chinese workers were killed in a suicide bombing in March. It was the third major attack on Chinese interests in Pakistan in a week.

In an interview to state-run Pakistani news agency APP, Chinese ambassador to Pakistan Jiang Zaidong said President Xi Jinping had discussed security challenges with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif when he visited China in June. 

“President Xi Jinping made it clear that China supports Pakistan in firmly combating terrorism and hopes that Pakistan will continue to create a safe, stable and predictable business environment and effectively protect the safety of Chinese nationals, projects and institutions in Pakistan,” the envoy said.

Sharif had “promised” that Pakistan would “resolutely crack down on and severely punish the terrorists involved” in recent attacks and take all measures necessary to ensure the safety of Chinese personnel, projects and institutions in Pakistan, Jiang added. 

Speaking about Sharif’s visit, the envoy said its focus was on strategic and security cooperation and materializing an upgraded version of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in line with China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Under CPEC, Beijing has pledged over $65 billion in investment in road, infrastructure and development projects in Pakistan as part of the Belt and Road scheme.

“Through Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s visit, the leaders of the two countries have drawn a blueprint, pointed out the path, and determined measures for the development of China-Pakistan relations in the new era,” he said, adding that the two leaders had agreed on cooperation in various sectors including mining, development of offshore oil and gas resources, clean energy, artificial intelligence, science and technology, finance and space cooperation. 

Consensus had been reached, the envoy said, on accelerating the Main Line-1 railways and Karakoram Highway projects, the year-round operation of the Khunjerab Pass, development of Gwadar Port and supporting Chinese companies to invest and operate in Special Economic Zones.

“At present, China-Pakistan cooperation is facing important opportunities for quality improvement and upgrading, ” Jiang said, “but also under the realistic pressure of climbing over obstacles.”


Imran Khan, wife file high court appeal against new graft case by Pakistan accountability bureau

Imran Khan, wife file high court appeal against new graft case by Pakistan accountability bureau
Updated 49 min 54 sec ago
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Imran Khan, wife file high court appeal against new graft case by Pakistan accountability bureau

Imran Khan, wife file high court appeal against new graft case by Pakistan accountability bureau
  • Hours after acquittal in ‘illegal’ marriage case on Saturday, new corruption referenced filed against couple by NAB
  • Reference relates to alleged “misuse of power” in acquiring gifts from a state repository called the toshakhana 

ISLAMABAD: Former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his wife Bushra Khan have filed an appeal in the Islamabad High Court against a fresh corruption case registered against them hours after they were acquitted on Saturday on charges of marrying unlawfully, the ex-premier’s party said on Monday. 

The couple were sentenced to seven years in February this year in what has come to be called the Iddat case in which a lower court found them guilty of breaking Islamic law by failing to observe the required interval, or Iddat, between the divorce from a previous marriage of Bushra and her marriage to Khan. They had filed an appeal against their convictions and were acquitted on Saturday.

Khan was convicted in four cases ahead of a February national election and has been in jail since August last year, but all of the sentences against him, the last of them in the marriage case, have since been overturned or suspended. On Saturday, however, hours after being acquitted in the Iddat case, a fresh corruption reference was filed against the pair by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

“The petitions of Imran Khan and Bushra Bibi have been filed to Justice Aamer Farooq’s court to annul the summons notices in NAB’s new toshakhana [state treasury] inquiry and to stop NAB from proceedings,” Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf ​party said on X on Monday, referring to the chief justice of the Islamabad High Court.

On Saturday, a team of the anti-corruption watchdog arrested the couple from Adiala Jail where they have been imprisoned for months in the new reference related to the alleged “misuse of power in acquiring Toshakhana gifts.”

Khan was given jail sentences — one of 14 years and the other three years — in two cases pertaining to acquiring and selling state gifts. Both sentences have been suspended by high courts while his appeals are heard. 

Khan and his wife are charged in the Toshakhana case with selling gifts worth more than 140 million rupees ($501,000) in state possession, which he received during his 2018-2022 premiership. The gifts included diamond jewelry and seven watches, six of them Rolexes — the most expensive being valued at 85 million rupees ($305,000).

Pakistani media widely reported on Sunday that an accountability court had approved an eight-day physical remand each for Khan and Bushra in the new NAB reference. 

“The accountability court today [Sunday] has directed the NAB to interrogate the two suspects in Adiala jail and also ordered to produce the couple before the court on July 22,” Geo News reported. 

Khan is still facing trial on anti-terrorism charges in connection with violence against the military and other state installations that erupted following his brief arrest in May 2023. 

A court last week canceled Khan’s bail in the case, creating a new ground to keep him behind bars following his acquittal on the unlawful marriage charges.


Another journalist shot dead in Pakistan’s restive northwest within a month

Another journalist shot dead in Pakistan’s restive northwest within a month
Updated 14 July 2024
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Another journalist shot dead in Pakistan’s restive northwest within a month

Another journalist shot dead in Pakistan’s restive northwest within a month
  • Hassan Zeb was gunned down in Nowshera district of Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province
  • KP has been the scene of several attacks on police, security forces and anti-polio vaccinators in recent weeks

PESHAWAR: Unidentified gunmen on Sunday shot dead a Pakistani journalist in the country’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, police said.
Hassan Zeb, who was affiliated with a local newspaper, was gunned down in Akbarpura Bazaar of KP’s Nowshera district, according to police.
This is the second such killing in the province, which borders Afghanistan and has been the scene of a number of militant attacks, in less than a month.
On June 19, unidentified assailants had shot dead Khalil Jibran, a former president of the Landi Kotal Press Club, in KP’s Khyber tribal district, according to police.
“Two unidentified bike riders opened fire on the journalist, leaving him dead on the spot,” Hameed khan, a police officer at the Akbarpura police station, told Arab News. “Initial investigation suggests that the slain journalist had no personal enmity.”
No group claimed responsibility for the killing.
In a statement, KP Chief Minister Ali Amin Gandapur extended his sympathies to Zeb’s family and directed police do the needful for the arrest of the perpetrators.
Pakistan witnessed a spike in militant violence in its two western provinces, KP and Balochistan, since the Pakistani Taliban called off their fragile truce with the government in November 2022. The group has intensified its attacks in recent months.
Earlier this week, an army captain and two militants were killed in separate gunfights in North and South Waziristan districts of the KP province, the Pakistani military said.
Islamabad has blamed the surge in violence on militants operating out of neighboring Afghanistan. Kabul denies the allegation and says rising violence in Pakistan is a domestic issue of Islamabad.


Pakistan PM orders early completion of inquiry into Neelum-Jhelum power plant closure

Pakistan PM orders early completion of inquiry into Neelum-Jhelum power plant closure
Updated 14 July 2024
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Pakistan PM orders early completion of inquiry into Neelum-Jhelum power plant closure

Pakistan PM orders early completion of inquiry into Neelum-Jhelum power plant closure
  • Power generation at Neelum-Jhelum project was suspended in May this year due to a technical fault
  • Located on River Neelum in Azad Kashmir, the project generates 5.15 billion units of power annually

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has ordered early competition of an inquiry into closure of the 969-megawatt Neelum-Jhelum hydropower plant in Azad Kashmir and asked authorities to make it functional again, Sharif’s office said on Sunday.
Located on River Neelum in Azad Kashmir, the project generates 5.15 billion units of power annually but has faced several problems in recent years.
The project first shut down in 2021 due to a fault in its head race tunnel but was later restored. The same problem was detected in April 2024 and power generation was suspended in May.
Presiding over a meeting in Islamabad, Sharif directed officials to immediately complete the investigation report regarding the recent shutdown.
“The Prime Minister issued directives to identify those responsible for the defects in the Neelum-Jhelum Hydropower Project and take strict action against them,” Sharif’s office said.
“The Prime Minister directed to urgently form a committee regarding reactivation of Neelum-Jhelum Hydropower Project.”
The participants of the meeting were informed that the closure of the project was causing a huge loss to the national exchequer.
Geophysical and seismic factors were ignored in the construction of the Neelum-Jhelum hydropower project and adequate concrete lining of head race tunnel was not done, according to officials.
A third-party validation of project was not done well in time and the place where the current fault occurred is the rock burst zone.
Sharif said “criminal negligence” was committed by not doing third party validation of the project.
In May, Sharif had lamented that $5 billion was spent on the project despite its initial cost being estimated at $40 million, saying it was “unfortunate” that the project was still facing technical issues.
The prime minister had described the Neelum-Jhelum project as one of “national significance” in the power sector and saying it must remain functional.


Ex-PM Khan party activist Sanam Javed arrested in Islamabad after brief release — lawyer

Ex-PM Khan party activist Sanam Javed arrested in Islamabad after brief release — lawyer
Updated 14 July 2024
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Ex-PM Khan party activist Sanam Javed arrested in Islamabad after brief release — lawyer

Ex-PM Khan party activist Sanam Javed arrested in Islamabad after brief release — lawyer
  • Javed has been in jail on charges of inciting people to violence over Khan’s brief arrest in May 2023
  • Khan’s party says it has been facing mass arrest of members for standing by Khan, authorities deny it

ISLAMABAD: Sanam Javed, a member of former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, was arrested in Islamabad after her brief release in a case relating to street violence in Pakistan over Khan’s arrest in May last year, her party and lawyer said on Sunday.
Khan’s arrest in a graft case on May 9, 2023 saw hundreds of his supporters allegedly pour into the streets across the country, ransacking military and other properties.
Thousands, including Javed, were arrested in the aftermath and some were tried by military courts after the authorities promised to bring the perpetrators of the violence to justice.
Javed’s lawyer, Ali Ashfaq, said on X that she was once again arrested by the Islamabad police after being released on Sunday in a case relating to May 9 violence.
“We handed her over to police without resistance,” Ashfaq said. “This should be the way of law-abiding people and this is what we did.”

Javed was earlier released by an Islamabad court in a case registered against her by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) for allegedly inciting people to violence on May 9, 2023.
The PTI woman activist has faced a number of cases based on similar charges in Lahore, Gujranwala and other cities.
On July 11, the Lahore High Court discharged her in a case relating to May 9 riots registered against her in Gujranwala. However, she was rearrested by the Islamabad police as soon as she stepped out of the Central Jail of Gujranwala on Saturday.
Khan’s PTI party says it has been facing a crackdown and mass arrest of its members for standing by Khan, who has been in jail since August last year. Pakistani authorities deny the allegations.
On Saturday, Khan and his wife Bushra Khan were arrested by Pakistani authorities in a case involving illegal sale of state gifts, after a court accepted their appeals against a ruling that they had violated the country’s marriage law and ordered their immediate release.
Khan and his wife were sentenced to seven years in prison and fined in February by a court that ruled their 2018 marriage broke the law. Bushra was accused of not completing the waiting period mandated by Islam, called “Iddat,” after divorcing her previous husband and marrying Khan.
The ex-premier has been in jail after being convicted in four cases since last August. Two of the cases have since been suspended and he was acquitted in a third, so the Iddat case was the only one keeping him in prison.
Arguably Pakistan’s most popular politician, Khan says the cases against him are “politically motivated,” aimed at keeping him from returning to power. Pakistani authorities deny this.