Pakistani election to test democracy marred by violence, allegations of meddling

Update Pakistani election to test democracy marred by violence, allegations of meddling
Members of the polling staff set up a polling station for the parliamentary elections, in Karachi on Thursday morning. (AP)
Short Url
Updated 08 February 2024
Follow

Pakistani election to test democracy marred by violence, allegations of meddling

Pakistani election to test democracy marred by violence, allegations of meddling
  • Thousands of troops deployed across the country as voting started on Thursday morning
  • Pakistan also temporarily closed its borders with Iran and Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s government on Thursday cut mobile phone services across the country as millions voted in a closely watched general election amid multiple crises, including a surge in militancy, with at least nine people, including two children, killed in militant attacks on polling day.

Thousands of troops were deployed on the streets and at polling booths across the country as voting started on Thursday morning. Pakistan also temporarily closed its borders with Iran and Afghanistan.

“As a result of the recent incidents of terrorism in the country, precious lives have been lost, [so] security measures are essential to maintain the law and order situation and deal with possible threats,” the Pakistani interior ministry said, barely minutes before voting opened at 8 a.m.

“Hence the decision has been made to temporarily suspend mobile services across the country.”

On Thursday afternoon, five policemen were killed in a bomb blast and firing on a patrol in the Kulachi area of Dera Ismail Khan district in the northwest, authorities said. Another person died in firing on a security forces vehicle in Tank, about 40 km (25 miles) to the north.

In Balochistan, a soldier from a civilian paramilitary force was killed and 10 others injured in over a dozen blasts caused by grenades or improvised explosive devices, Reuters reported, while two children died in a blast outside a women’s polling station.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the assaults though attacks by religiously motivated militant groups like the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and ethno-nationalist Baloch insurgents have surged in the run-up to the elections in the nuclear-armed South Asian nation of 241 million.

A day before the polls opened, at least 28 people were killed and over 40 were injured in violence in the southern regions of Pakistan, including two separate blasts targeting election candidate offices in the Balochistan province.

Interior minister Dr. Gohar Ejaz said the polling process had gone “smoothly” with few security complaints except in the Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces.

“We have concerns about them but our police, levies and security forces are performing their duties there very actively,” he told reporters.

Some analysts in Pakistan see the communication shut down as an attempt to keep opposition voters from getting information or coordinating activities.

“There is a terror wave in the country so if there is any such decision [to shut mobile networks], please see it in that context,” Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar told reporters.

Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, the chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), one of Pakistan’s three largest political parties, called for an “immediate restoration” of cellular networks.

PPP Senator Sherry Rehman later said a petition had been filed with the election commission against the mobile phone service suspension and the party would approach the Islamabad High Court also.

“Our major cities are not classified as sensitive,” Rehman told reporters, saying there was no justification for shutting mobile services across the country.

‘PATTERN IS NOT NEW’

The mobile phone network suspension comes as widespread allegations of manipulation and pre-poll rigging have cast a shadow over the general election, a historic event that will mark only the country’s third ever democratic transition of power.

Tensions between civilian politicians, particularly from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan, and the powerful military, which has ruled for over three decades of Pakistan’s history since independence in 1947, are running high as millions of Pakistanis went out to vote. The military strongly denies interfering in politics.

Khan was ousted from the PM’s office by a parliamentary vote of no-confidence in April 2022 and has been in jail since August last year, which has angered his millions of supporters. He is also disqualified from running for public office for ten years and faces dozens of legal challenges, including one case in which he is accused of ordering violent attacks on military installations on May 9, 2023, which could entail the death sentence. Last week, he received three back-to-back jail sentences that could see him spend the next three decades in jail.

In the run-up to the polls, Khan’s PTI also complained of a widening crackdown against the party, including not being allowed to campaign freely, and questions surround the legitimacy of an election that Khan, the main opposition leader and arguably the country’s most popular politician, cannot contest.

Khan’s key challenge is expected to come from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party of three-time former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who returned to Pakistan last year from self-imposed exile to lead the party ahead of national elections.

In the last election in 2018, it was Sharif’s PML-N that widely complained of rigging and manipulation. A year earlier, Sharif had been ousted by the Supreme Court as prime minister and disqualified for life from running for public office. He later left for the United Kingdom after being granted medical bail and declined to return.

But as he came back to Pakistan in October last year, corruption convictions against him evaporated and the bar to contest polls was lifted. The three-time former premier is now widely seen as the frontrunner in elections, with an edge over rivals due to the backing of the military.

Sharif has denied the generals have thrown their weight behind him.

Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja rejected there were any favorites and said elections were being conducted “fairly.”

“Voters will be able to vote freely for their candidates of choice,” he said on Thursday morning.

‘MY PRINCE’

But many observers believe the results are predetermined.

“Each time, one party or another has been targeted as the party that must be kept out of power and this time that party is PTI,” Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States and currently a scholar at Washington’s Hudson Institute, told Arab News. “The military usually proceeds by defining an enemy and that enemy right now is Imran Khan.”

“The pattern is not new nor are the [security] establishment’s tactics,” he said, adding that the PTI’s vast social media presence and the celebrity status of its leader were amplifying the controversy more than in the past.

“Pakistan seems stuck with the hybrid model of partial democracy and military intervention. That will not change with this election. The only issue is whether Imran Khan’s popularity will dent the next hybrid regime’s ability to function effectively,” Haqqani added.

Sarwar Bari, National Coordinator at the not-for-profit Pattan Development Organization, said the 2024 election was peculiar in the “very transparent” nature of the manipulation and intimidation taking place.

“In the past, it used to be very subtle,” he told Arab News. “But this is unprecedented, at this level, so intense and widespread rigging, Pakistan’s establishment has broken its record.”

“I have been saying that this election is neither free nor fair,” Bari added, “but it is an absolutely transparent election because whatever is happening is happening in the clear light of day.”

At a polling station in Islamabad, an elderly woman, who declined to be named, said she was voting for “Khan and only Khan.”

“I am voting for the one who is being suppressed,” she told Arab News. “He is my prince, my son.”

But Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, who is in Pakistan to head the Commonwealth Observers mission, said he was “pleased” with election arrangements, and had observed calm at the polling stations he visited.

“I believe that by the end of the day the people of Pakistan will be happy,” he told reporters. “On Sunday we will give a comprehensive report on this election.”

* With additional inputs from Aamir Saeed in Islamabad


Pakistan’s election body to enforce top court’s reserved seats verdict, may seek further legal guidance

Pakistan’s election body to enforce top court’s reserved seats verdict, may seek further legal guidance
Updated 19 July 2024
Follow

Pakistan’s election body to enforce top court’s reserved seats verdict, may seek further legal guidance

Pakistan’s election body to enforce top court’s reserved seats verdict, may seek further legal guidance
  • The court said earlier this month ex-PM Khan’s PTI was eligible for reserved seats for women and minorities
  • ECP dismissed PTI’s criticism asking its top official to step down while accusing him of bias against the party

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s election regulatory body said on Friday it would enforce the Supreme Court’s verdict in a case involving the reserved seats for women and minorities in national and provincial legislatures, adding it had asked its lawyers to determine if there were areas where it needed the court’s further guidance.
The country’s top court delivered a major decision in favor of former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, saying it was eligible for reserved seats in national and provincial assemblies, even as it put pressure on the fragile coalition currently ruling the federation.
PTI candidates were forced to contest the February 8 general polls as independents after the party was stripped of its election symbol of the cricket bat by the top court for not holding proper intra-party elections. While these candidates won the most general seats, the ECP ruled they were not entitled to the reserved seats since they were meant for political parties.
Subsequently, these seats were allocated to other political factions, mostly from those in Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s ruling coalition. But the Supreme Court reversed the decision while criticizing the ECP for misconstruing its decision related to the election symbol by depriving PTI of its reserved seats.
“The election commission has decided to implement the Supreme Court’s decision,” the ECP said after holding a meeting to discuss the verdict. “However, the election commission has instructed its legal team to immediately identify any points of the Supreme Court decision that pose implementation challenges so that further guidance can be sought from the court.”
It also responded to PTI’s criticism, which called for the top ECP official to step down following the Supreme Court’s verdict, accusing him of harboring a bias against the party.
“The election commission did not validate PTI’s intra-party elections, which PTI contested on various forums, and the election commission’s decision was upheld,” it said.
It pointed out that PTI lost its election symbol for the same reason.
“Therefore, any accusations against the election commission are highly inappropriate,” it added.
Pakistan’s ruling coalition criticized the Supreme Court’s decision, with some of its members pointing out the court gave relief to PTI, though it had not originally filed the case.
However, the Supreme Court said in its decision that “PTI was and is a party,” despite its earlier verdict depriving it of election emblem right ahead of the general polls.


Pakistan deploys advanced warship for regional maritime security, port protection

Pakistan deploys advanced warship for regional maritime security, port protection
Updated 19 July 2024
Follow

Pakistan deploys advanced warship for regional maritime security, port protection

Pakistan deploys advanced warship for regional maritime security, port protection
  • PNS Yarmook is equipped with latest weapons and equipment, capable of dealing with multifaceted threats
  • It will also be used for ‘naval diplomacy’ during its deployment period and visit various ports around the region

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has deployed a warship for regional maritime security and to protect commercial vessels arriving at its ports, according to a statement released by the military’s media wing, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), on Friday.
The development comes as the country plans to upgrade its southern port facilities to strengthen its economy by bolstering trade with countries worldwide.
Pakistan has also offered the landlocked Central Asian states access to its harbor in Karachi while aiming to increase its capacity for handling incoming and outgoing cargo.
“The Pakistan Navy has deployed the warship PNS Yarmook on a regional maritime security patrol in the Indian Ocean,” the ISPR said in a statement. “Equipped with modern helicopters, PNS Yarmook will ensure the safety of commercial vessels arriving at and departing from Pakistani ports.”
The statement said the warship would participate in joint operations and exercises with friendly countries in addition to its own operations.
PNS Yarmook will also be part of “naval diplomacy” and visit various regional ports during its deployment.
“This ship is equipped with the latest weapons and equipment, capable of dealing with multifaceted threats and conducting extensive maritime operations,” the ISPR continued.
“Pakistan Navy warships regularly perform duties on regional maritime security patrols,” it added.


Pakistan announces $250 million investment by Abu Dhabi Ports over 10 years in Karachi

Pakistan announces $250 million investment by Abu Dhabi Ports over 10 years in Karachi
Updated 19 July 2024
Follow

Pakistan announces $250 million investment by Abu Dhabi Ports over 10 years in Karachi

Pakistan announces $250 million investment by Abu Dhabi Ports over 10 years in Karachi
  • Senior company delegation briefs PM Sharif on plans to upgrade the container terminal facility
  • The improved infrastructure will help the docking of ships carrying up to 120,000 tons of cargo

ISLAMABAD: Abu Dhabi Ports Pakistan will invest $250 million in the country over a period of ten years, an official statement announced Friday, as it plans to build an advanced port facility in the country’s seaside metropolis of Karachi.
Last year in May, the leading maritime and logistics provider based in the United Arab Emirates, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Karachi Port Trust to construct a premier transshipment hub in the city.
The Pakistani officials expressed hope at the time that the UAE company would help transform Karachi Port into a world-class maritime facility.
“Abu Dhabi Ports Pakistan will invest $250 million in Karachi Port over the next ten years,” said an official statement released after a high-level delegation of the company called upon Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.
“A state-of-the-art, fully-equipped multipurpose terminal, being constructed with an investment of $130 million, will be completed in the next two years,” it added while quoting from a briefing given by the delegation members.
The statement said the company wanted to improve container terminal facilities at the Karachi Port by installing automated gates, an additional 200 meters of berth extension and crane rail tracks.
“The construction of new infrastructure at the terminal will allow the docking of ships carrying up to 120,000 tons of cargo, thereby increasing economic activities at the port,” it continued.
The prime minister hoped digital technology and modern machinery would improve the management of goods and containers at the port.
He also directed the authorities to improve the container system to minimize the clearance time.
“The agreement with Abu Dhabi Ports aims at transparency, increased efficiency, and improved port operations,” he was quoted as saying.
He assured the UAE company of his government’s full support regarding the implementation of Pakistan’s agreement with it to maximize its benefits.
The prime minister also instructed railway officials to provide freight wagons and necessary rolling stock to make the project operational and enhance cargo transportation from the terminal.


US calls for media safety following journalist’s killing in Pakistan’s northwest

US calls for media safety following journalist’s killing in Pakistan’s northwest
Updated 19 July 2024
Follow

US calls for media safety following journalist’s killing in Pakistan’s northwest

US calls for media safety following journalist’s killing in Pakistan’s northwest
  • Malik Hassan Zaib was fatally shot by unknown gunmen on motorbike in KP’s Nowshera city
  • State Department says journalists should be allowed to carry out their duties worldwide

ISLAMABAD: The US State Department on Thursday emphasized the importance of journalist safety worldwide while commenting on the killing of a Pakistani reporter in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province by unidentified gunmen last week.
Malik Hassan Zaib, who was fatally shot by unknown people on a motorbike in KP’s Nowshera city, was the eighth journalist to be killed in Pakistan in the ongoing year.
His assassination was condemned by press freedom organizations that maintained it highlighted the increasing dangers faced by journalists in the South Asian state.
Asked about the development during the State Department media briefing, the principal deputy spokesperson, Vedant Patel, said it was vital for journalists to be able to carry out their responsibilities anywhere in the world.
“Journalists need to be protected and they need to be allowed to do their jobs, whether that be the United States, whether that be Pakistan, whether that be in the Gaza Strip,” he said. “That is something that we feel strongly, and it’s something that is deeply personal to the Secretary [Antony Blinken].”
“It’s obviously personal to us and this team having – spending most of our days engaging with you all,” he continued. “But simply put, journalists need to be protected and need to be able to do their jobs.”
The Pakistani correspondent’s death also prompted New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists to urge the Pakistani authorities to deal with the “horrifying wave of violence” against the media.
It also asked the government to bring the perpetrators of the crime to justice.
“The continued impunity for those who attack journalists is creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation in Pakistan, which prevents the practice of free and independent journalism,” it added.


Pakistan forms committee to identify businesses supporting Israel as religious party calls off sit-in

Pakistan forms committee to identify businesses supporting Israel as religious party calls off sit-in
Updated 19 July 2024
Follow

Pakistan forms committee to identify businesses supporting Israel as religious party calls off sit-in

Pakistan forms committee to identify businesses supporting Israel as religious party calls off sit-in
  • TLP supporters staged a pro-Palestine sit-in at Faizabad Interchange connecting Rawalpindi and Islamabad last Saturday
  • They asked the government to declare Israeli PM ‘a terrorist’ and send more food and medical supplies to Gaza Strip

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan government has announced the formation of a committee to identify companies financially supporting Israel’s war in Gaza and recommend banning their products, according to a close aide to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Friday.
Rana Sanaullah, the PM’s political adviser, shared the decision after negotiating an end to a sit-in by the religious group Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), which was demanding an official ban on such products and increased food and medical assistance to Palestinians.
The TLP, which also asked the government to declare Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “a terrorist,” called off its week-long sit-in after reaching an agreement with the government, as shared by the information ministry.
“Israel has emerged as a terrorist state and Netanyahu has committed war crimes,” Sanaullah said in a news conference in Islamabad after the TLP agreement. “Pakistan’s prime minister has condemned this in strong words during the Shanghai conference and Pakistan government will continue to condemn this on every forum, using all the possible steps to help Palestinian Muslims.”
“We have also agreed on and will follow it with details that not just Israel, but all the products related to them or those companies who, in any way, directly or indirectly, are involved in this cruelty or assisting that country [Israel] and its forces in any form, will be boycotted and use of their products will be banned,” he continued. “We have formed a committee in this regard, and we will go in detail to find out the companies that might be linked to Israel and if we may be using their products and because of that these forces who are involved in this cruelty are being helped financially.”
Many people in Pakistan have called for a boycott of foreign companies suspected of supporting Israel since the beginning of the war in Gaza.
Social media campaigns and public figures have also voiced support for such a boycott, urging consumers to choose alternative products.
Israel’s has so far claimed at least 39,000 lives, many of them women and children. The casualties have sparked anger and protests worldwide, including in Pakistan, where the country’s civil society and political factions have consistently led pro-Palestine rallies.
The TLP set up its protest camp last Saturday at a busy traffic juncture, the Faizabad Interchange, connecting Rawalpindi and Islamabad.
Known for its hard-line stance on blasphemy laws, the party also staged similar sit-ins at the same spot in the past, significantly disrupting the flow of traffic between the two cities.