Shehbaz Sharif becomes prime minister of Pakistan, nation politically divided and in economic crisis

Shehbaz Sharif becomes prime minister of Pakistan, nation politically divided and in economic crisis
In this handout photograph released by the Press Information Department (PID) on April 12, 2022, Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif reviews a guard of honor upon his arrival at the Prime Minister's House in Islamabad. (AFP/File)
Short Url
Updated 03 March 2024
Follow

Shehbaz Sharif becomes prime minister of Pakistan, nation politically divided and in economic crisis

Shehbaz Sharif becomes prime minister of Pakistan, nation politically divided and in economic crisis
  • New PM will have to tackle tough opposition, maintain relations with army and fix security and financial problems
  • Lowering political temperatures will be key challenge for Sharif as ex-PM Khan maintains mass support in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s newly elected lower house of parliament on Sunday elected Shehbaz Sharif as prime minister for a second time, putting him back in a role he had stepped down from ahead of general elections on Feb. 8. 

Sharif, the candidate for his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and coalition allies, secured a comfortable win over Omar Ayub Khan of the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) backed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of jailed former PM Imran Khan. 

Elections last month threw up a hung National Assembly and have been followed by weeks of protests by opposition parties over allegations of rigging and vote count fraud. 

In his first speech as PM, Sharif, 72, spoke of Pakistan’s burgeoning debt, saying it would be his government’s top priority to solve the economic struggles of the nation of 241 million people. 

“The parliament that we are sitting in, even the expenses of its proceedings are being paid through loans … Your salary and the salaries of all these people are being paid through loans,” the new PM said, as PML-N lawmekers cheered and opposition members chanted slogans against the leader of the house. 

“We will make Pakistan great and raise our heads high and move forward.”

Sharif, the younger brother of former three-time premier Nawaz Sharif, played a key role in keeping together a coalition of disparate parties for 16 months after parliament voted Imran Khan out of office in April 2022, and in securing a last gasp International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout deal in 2023. 

 

“CHALLENGES” 

Independent candidates backed by Khan gained the most seats, 93, after the elections, but the PML-N and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of the Bhutto dynasty agreed to an alliance to form a coalition government on Feb. 20. No single party won a majority.

The Sunni Ittehad Council backed by Khan alleges that the election was rigged against it and has called for an audit of the polls. Lowering political temperatures will thus be a key challenge for Sharif 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.

Sharif’s main role will also be to maintain ties with the military, which has directly or indirectly dominated Pakistan since independence. Unlike his elder brother, who has had a rocky relationship with the military in all his three terms, the younger Sharif is considered more acceptable and compliant by the generals, most independent analysts say.

For several years, the military has denied it interferes in politics. But it has in the past directly intervened to topple civilian governments three times, and no prime minister has finished a full five-year term since independence in 1947.

Sharif also takes over a time when the new government will need to take tough decisions to steer the country out of financial crisis, including negotiating a new bailout deal with the IMF. The current IMF program expires this month. 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. 

Inflation touched a high of 38 percent with record depreciation of the rupee currency under Sharif’s last government, mainly due to structural reforms necessitated by the IMF program. Pakistan continues to be enmeshed in economic crisis with inflation remaining high, hovering around 30 percent, and economic growth slowing to around 2 percent.

Other big moves by Sharif will include the privatization of loss-making state-owned enterprises such as the flagship carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA). The Sharifs have close ties with rulers in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which could help in securing investments in several projects Pakistan has lately showcased for sale.

Although defense and key foreign policy decisions are largely influenced by the military, Sharif will have to juggle relations with the US and China, both major allies. He is also faced with dealing with fraying ties with three of Pakistan’s four neighbors, India, Iran and Afghanistan.

Pakistan is also facing a troubling rise in militancy, which Sharif’s government will have to immediately tackle. 

“There are certainly difficulties but nothing is impossible if there is a will to do,” Sharif said in his maiden speech. 

“It is a long journey, thorny journey, full of hurdles but those nations who surmounted these huge obstacles, they became again, one of the most growing nations around the world.”

“CAN DO ADMINISTRATOR” 

Sharif, born in the eastern city of Lahore, belongs to a wealthy Kashmiri-origin family that was in the steel business. He started his political career as the chief minister of Punjab in 1997 with a signature “can-do” administrative style. Cabinet members and bureaucrats who have worked closely with him call him a workaholic.

As chief minister, the younger Sharif planned and executed a number of ambitious infrastructure mega-projects, including Pakistan’s first modern mass transport system in Lahore.

He was caught up in the national political upheaval when his brother was ousted from the premiership by a military coup in 1999 and he went into exile in Saudi Arabia.

Sharif entered the national political scene again when he became the chief of the PML-N after the elder Sharif was found guilty in 2017 on charges of concealing assets related to the Panama Papers revelations. The Sharifs have been emboriled in multiple corruption cases over the decades, which they say are politically motivated. 

Married twice, Shehbaz Sharif has two sons and two daughters from his first marriage. Only one of his sons, Hamza, is in politics and was briefly CM of Punjab in 2023.

With inputs from Reuters


French court gives man suspended sentence for Iran consulate intrusion

French court gives man suspended sentence for Iran consulate intrusion
Updated 29 sec ago
Follow

French court gives man suspended sentence for Iran consulate intrusion

French court gives man suspended sentence for Iran consulate intrusion
PARIS: A French court this week handed an Iran-born man a suspended 10-month sentence for entering the Iranian consulate in Paris with fake grenades in what he said was “revenge” for a crackdown at home that targeted his family.
The 61-year-old, a long-time resident of France who regularly attends Iranian opposition demonstrations, told the court he acted on Friday after learning the previous day that his sister had been arrested.
He said he had not wanted to “threaten anyone” but rather “take revenge” on the Iranian authorities, who he described as “terrorist.”
The court, in a ruling late on Monday, also banned him from carrying a weapon or approaching the consulate again.
Soldiers and police descended en masse on the neighborhood around the consulate on Friday after the mission reported an intruder entering with a grenade or explosive belt.
But police found no explosives on him or inside after arresting him.
A police source, who did not wish to be named, said the suspect had been wearing a vest with large pockets containing three fake grenades.
The judge said witnesses recounted the man “tearing down flags” and saying he “wanted to die.” Police negotiators managed to convince him to exit the building without his jacket.
A psychiatric expert found the man was of sound mind.
During his trial, the accused embarked on long tirades about the political situation in Iran, prompting the judge to remind him to “stick to the facts.”
The man had already been convicted for setting fire to tires in front of the entrance of the Iranian embassy in Paris in 2023, prosecutors said.
Citizens in the Islamic republic have endured increased repression since nationwide protests began in September 2022.
The demonstrations were sparked by the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested for allegedly flouting the mandatory dress rules for women.
Executions — which activists say are a way to instil fear into Iranian society — have also continued apace.
At least 110 people have been executed this year alone, according to the Norway-based Iran Human Rights group.

At least five migrants died during attempt to cross English Channel - La Voix du Nord

At least five migrants died during attempt to cross English Channel - La Voix du Nord
Updated 27 min 33 sec ago
Follow

At least five migrants died during attempt to cross English Channel - La Voix du Nord

At least five migrants died during attempt to cross English Channel - La Voix du Nord
  • People smugglers typically overload rickety dinghies, leaving them barely afloat and at risk of being lashed by the waves

PARIS: At least five migrants died in an attempt to cross the English Channel from an area near the town of Wimereux, local newspaper La Voix du Nord said on Tuesday.
The French coast guard confirmed there was a failed attempt to cross the Channel and said police were operating at a beach following the incident on Tuesday morning, adding there were several ‘lifeless bodies’.
Local police did not immediately reply to a Reuters request for comment.
The coast guard spokesperson said its agents were still operating at sea on Tuesday morning after what the official called a ‘busy’ morning, with several crossing attempts.
The Channel between France and Britain is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and currents are strong, making the crossing on small boats dangerous.
People smugglers typically overload rickety dinghies, leaving them barely afloat and at risk of being lashed by the waves as they try to reach British shores.


Asia hit hardest by climate, weather disasters in 2023— UN 

Asia hit hardest by climate, weather disasters in 2023— UN 
Updated 30 min 45 sec ago
Follow

Asia hit hardest by climate, weather disasters in 2023— UN 

Asia hit hardest by climate, weather disasters in 2023— UN 
  • Climate change exacerbated severity of weather disasters last year, sauys World Meteorological Organization
  • 79 disasters, mostly floods and storms, associated with water-related weather hazards were reported in Asia in 2023

Geneva: Asia was the world’s most disaster-hit region from climate and weather hazards in 2023, the United Nations said Tuesday, with floods and storms the chief cause of casualties and economic losses.

Global temperatures hit record highs last year, and the UN’s weather and climate agency said Asia was warming at a particularly rapid pace.

The World Meteorological Organization said the impact of heatwaves in Asia was becoming more severe, with melting glaciers threatening the region’s future water security.

The WMO said Asia was warming faster than the global average, with temperatures last year nearly two degrees Celsius above the 1961 to 1990 average.

“The report’s conclusions are sobering,” WMO chief Celeste Saulo said in a statement.

“Many countries in the region experienced their hottest year on record in 2023, along with a barrage of extreme conditions, from droughts and heatwaves to floods and storms.

“Climate change exacerbated the frequency and severity of such events, profoundly impacting societies, economies, and, most importantly, human lives and the environment that we live in.”

The State of the Climate in Asia 2023 report highlighted the accelerating rate of key climate change indicators such as surface temperature, glacier retreat and sea level rise, saying they would have serious repercussions for societies, economies and ecosystems in the region.

“Asia remained the world’s most disaster-hit region from weather, climate and water-related hazards in 2023,” the WMO said.

The annual mean near-surface temperature over Asia in 2023 was the second highest on record, at 0.91 degrees Celsius above the 1991-2020 average, and 1.87 C above the 1961-1990 average.

Particularly high average temperatures were recorded from western Siberia to central Asia, and from eastern China to Japan, the report said, with Japan having its hottest summer on record.

As for precipitation, it was below normal in the Himalayas and in the Hindu Kush mountain range in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile southwest China suffered from a drought, with below-normal precipitation levels in nearly every month of the year.

The High-Mountain Asia region, centered on the Tibetan Plateau, contains the largest volume of ice outside of the polar regions.

Over the last several decades, most of these glaciers have been retreating, and at an accelerating rate, the WMO said, with 20 out of 22 monitored glaciers in the region showing continued mass loss last year.

The report said 2023 sea-surface temperatures in the northwest Pacific Ocean were the highest on record.

Last year, 79 disasters associated with water-related weather hazards were reported in Asia. Of those, more than 80 percent were floods and storms, with more than 2,000 deaths and nine million people directly affected.

“Floods were the leading cause of death in reported events in 2023 by a substantial margin,” the WMO said, noting the continuing high level of vulnerability of Asia to natural hazard events.

Hong Kong recorded 158.1 millimeters of rainfall in one hour on September 7 — the highest since records began in 1884, as a result of a typhoon.

The WMO said there was an urgent need for national weather services across the region to improve tailored information to officials working on reducing disaster risks.

“It is imperative that our actions and strategies mirror the urgency of these times,” said Saulo.

“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the evolving climate is not merely an option, but a fundamental necessity.”


UN officials urge UK to reconsider plan to transfer asylum seekers to Rwanda

UN officials urge UK to reconsider plan to transfer asylum seekers to Rwanda
Updated 21 min 38 sec ago
Follow

UN officials urge UK to reconsider plan to transfer asylum seekers to Rwanda

UN officials urge UK to reconsider plan to transfer asylum seekers to Rwanda
  • UN called on the UK to instead take practical measures to address irregular flows of migrants and refugees

GENEVA: Two United Nations top officials on Tuesday called on the UK to reconsider its plan to transfer asylum seekers to Rwanda, warning the move would have a harmful impact on human rights and refugee protection.
In a joint statement, Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and Volker Turk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, called on the UK to instead take practical measures to address irregular flows of migrants and refugees.
“The new legislation marks a further step away from the UK’s long tradition of providing refuge to those in need, in breach of the Refugee Convention,” said Grandi.
Turk, who has criticized the plan before, said that the legislation “seriously hinders the rule of law in the UK and sets a perilous precedent globally.”
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak promised on Monday to start sending asylum seekers to Rwanda within 10 to 12 weeks as the upper house of parliament passed legislation that had been delayed for weeks by attempts to alter the plan.
Other countries are considering tough measures to stem illegal migration, with Italy planning to build reception camps in Albania for thousands of migrants arriving by sea.


Asia hit hardest by climate, weather disasters in 2023:UN

Asia hit hardest by climate, weather disasters in 2023:UN
Updated 23 April 2024
Follow

Asia hit hardest by climate, weather disasters in 2023:UN

Asia hit hardest by climate, weather disasters in 2023:UN
  • UN’s weather and climate agency said Asia was warming at a particularly rapid pace

GENEVA: Asia was the world’s most disaster-hit region from climate and weather hazards in 2023, the United Nations said Tuesday, with floods and storms the chief cause of casualties and economic losses.
Global temperatures hit record highs last year, and the UN’s weather and climate agency said Asia was warming at a particularly rapid pace.
The World Meteorological Organization said the impact of heatwaves in Asia was becoming more severe, with melting glaciers threatening the region’s future water security.
The WMO said Asia was warming faster than the global average, with temperatures last year nearly two degrees Celsius above the 1961 to 1990 average.
“The report’s conclusions are sobering,” WMO chief Celeste Saulo said in a statement.
“Many countries in the region experienced their hottest year on record in 2023, along with a barrage of extreme conditions, from droughts and heatwaves to floods and storms.
“Climate change exacerbated the frequency and severity of such events, profoundly impacting societies, economies, and, most importantly, human lives and the environment that we live in.”
The State of the Climate in Asia 2023 report highlighted the accelerating rate of key climate change indicators such as surface temperature, glacier retreat and sea level rise, saying they would have serious repercussions for societies, economies and ecosystems in the region.
“Asia remained the world’s most disaster-hit region from weather, climate and water-related hazards in 2023,” the WMO said.
Ranging disasters
The annual mean near-surface temperature over Asia in 2023 was the second highest on record, at 0.91 degrees Celsius above the 1991-2020 average, and 1.87 C above the 1961-1990 average.
Particularly high average temperatures were recorded from western Siberia to central Asia, and from eastern China to Japan, the report said, with Japan having its hottest summer on record.
As for precipitation, it was below normal in the Himalayas and in the Hindu Kush mountain range in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Meanwhile southwest China suffered from a drought, with below-normal precipitation levels in nearly every month of the year.
The High-Mountain Asia region, centered on the Tibetan Plateau, contains the largest volume of ice outside of the polar regions.
Over the last several decades, most of these glaciers have been retreating, and at an accelerating rate, the WMO said, with 20 out of 22 monitored glaciers in the region showing continued mass loss last year.
The report said 2023 sea-surface temperatures in the northwest Pacific Ocean were the highest on record.
Water-related hazards
Last year, 79 disasters associated with water-related weather hazards were reported in Asia. Of those, more than 80 percent were floods and storms, with more than 2,000 deaths and nine million people directly affected.
“Floods were the leading cause of death in reported events in 2023 by a substantial margin,” the WMO said, noting the continuing high level of vulnerability of Asia to natural hazard events.
Hong Kong recorded 158.1 millimeters of rainfall in one hour on September 7 — the highest since records began in 1884, as a result of a typhoon.
The WMO said there was an urgent need for national weather services across the region to improve tailored information to officials working on reducing disaster risks.
“It is imperative that our actions and strategies mirror the urgency of these times,” said Saulo.
“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the evolving climate is not merely an option, but a fundamental necessity.”