Posts Tagged ‘PML-N’

Pakistan: Candidate of Imran Khan’s party killed in bombing days before Pakistan election

July 22, 2018

A candidate from the party of Pakistan prime ministerial hopeful and former cricket star Imran Khan was killed on Sunday in a suicide attack that wounded four others, a police official said, days before Wednesday’s general elections.

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Rescue workers move the body of Ikramullah Gandapur, a candidate of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), or Pakistan Justice Movement, who was killed in a suicide attack in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, outside hospital morgue in Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan July 22, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

The attack in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa follows a series of bombings at political rallies before the election, the most devastating of which was a suicide attack this month that killed 149 people.

Sunday’s attack targeted the vehicle of Ikramullah Gandapur, a candidate of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), or Pakistan Justice Movement, for the provisional legislative assembly in the city of Dera Ismail Khan, after he was leaving a political meeting, two police officials told Reuters.

“Ikramullah Gandapur has been killed and we are conducting a post-mortem,” said police official Zahoor Afridi, adding that 10 kg (22 pounds) of explosives had been used in the attack.

Gandapur had been informed about serious threats to his life and been provided with 11 policemen, but he did not inform the police about his political meeting on Sunday, Afridi said.

Two policemen who were with Gandapur were among the injured.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, a spokesman for the militant group said.

Video images from the scene showed three bleeding and unconscious passengers inside a badly damaged black sports utility vehicle.

In 2013, Gandapur’s brother, Israrullah, who was then the provincial law minister, was killed in a suicide attack on his home.

There are two main contenders among the dozens of parties in the election fray: PTI and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, which aims to win a second term despite the jailing of its founder, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, for graft.

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Hardline Islamists push religion to center of Pakistan election — “Mainstreaming” armed Islamists and other extremists into politics

July 22, 2018

Pakistani cleric Hafiz Saeed is one of the United States’ most-wanted terrorist suspects, accused over the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people. At home, his charities are banned, as is a new Islamist political party launched by his followers.

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Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, chief of the Islamic charity organisation Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), cuts a ribbon to inaugurates an election office of the newly formed political party Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek, in Lahore Pakistan July 14, 2018. Picture taken July 14, 2018. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza

None of that has stopped Saeed from hitting the campaign trail for Pakistan’s July 25 general election, denouncing the outgoing government as “traitors” and whipping up support for the more than 200 candidates he backs.

“The politics of the American servants is coming to an end!” Saeed thundered at a rally this month in the eastern city of Lahore, where supporters showered him with rose petals.

The main race in Wednesday’s vote is between the party of now-jailed former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, which is seeking a second consecutive term despite its leader’s downfall on corruption charges, and the party of former cricket star Imran Khan, perceived as the favorite of the powerful military.

But a bumper crop of ultra-Islamist groups are also contesting the poll, with the potential to reshape the political landscape of the nuclear-armed Muslim country of 208 million people with anti-Western rhetoric and calls for ever-stricter interpretation of sharia, or Islamic law.

The proliferation of religious parties appears to be a fulfilment of a proposal made by Pakistan’s military to “mainstream” armed Islamists and other extremists into politics, though the parties and the army deny any links.

Even if, as expected, they win few seats, liberal and secular-minded Pakistanis say the sheer number of religious party candidates, combined with their ultra-conservative rhetoric, has already shifted the agenda in their direction.

With the new parties routinely accusing opponents of blasphemy or treason, mainstream parties have echoed their language in attacking Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

“The ostensible attempt to mainstream the religious right-wing is not making these parties take relatively moderate positions,” said Saroop Ijaz, a lawyer for Human Rights Watch. “But rather, it’s radicalizing the mainstream.”

VIOLENT RHETORIC

Religious parties – some new, others established – are fielding more than 1,500 candidates for national and provincial assemblies, compared with a few hundred in 2013.

While Pakistan has always had Islamist parties, the new entries are notable for their alleged links to militants and their rhetorical attacks on mainstream politicians’ piety or patriotism.

Pakistan’s three main parties all stress devotion to Islam, but the new religious parties portray them – especially the PML-N – as leading Pakistan down a Western-inspired path away from the country’s Islamic values.

One new party, Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan, campaigns under the rallying cry “death to blasphemers” and is fielding 566 candidates.

Its candidates rail against the PML-N as blasphemers for a small abortive change last year to election law, which was quickly reversed after nationwide protests in which at least seven people were killed.

The change was to the swearing-in oath for candidates – from a religious vow to a simple declaration – stating the Prophet Mohammad was God’s last messenger, a central tenet of Islam.

In May, a man police identified as a Labaik supporter shot and wounded then-Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal as he left a meeting. He told interrogators Iqbal had to die because he was a blasphemer.

Tehreek-e-Labaik leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi condemned Iqbal’s shooting. But this month, he said the party could not be held responsible.

“We didn’t instigate anyone. These are the emotions of the nation,” Rizvi told Reuters, adding. “In a way, it rightly happened.”

Leaders of the mainstream opposition parties all condemned the attack on Iqbal.

Still, Imran Khan has also invoked the blasphemy controversy in campaign speeches, defending such language in a recent interview with Reuters.

“You cannot be a Muslim if you don’t believe that the Prophet, our Prophet, is the last prophet,” Khan said. “So to reiterate and support it is just standing with your faith.”

BANNED GROUPS

While Tehreek-e-Labaik is a legally registered party, other movements fielding candidates are officially banned in Pakistan but have bypassed the legal restrictions.

Pakistan’s Election Commission this year rejected Saeed’s Islamic charity’s application to register a political party, the Milli Muslim League, but the group later registered candidates under the name of an existing party, Allahu Akbar Tehreek, which now campaigns with Saeed’s image on its posters.

Saeed is accused of masterminding the 2008 attacks on India’s financial capital. The United States offers a $10 million reward for his conviction over the attacks, in which several Americans were killed. Saeed denies any involvement.

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Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ)

Another party, the Sunni extremist Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), is also fielding dozens of candidates under a different name, even though it is banned as the political wing of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), which has killed hundreds of minority Shi’ite Muslims. The party denies links with LeJ.

Last month, ASWJ leader Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi’s name was removed by a caretaker government from Pakistan’s terrorism watchlist, cementing his own candidacy.

A spokesman for the Election Commission of Pakistan, Altaf Khan, asked about the banned groups’ candidates, said no illegal group had been registered.

“If some political party is registered with us, and it has come through the (legal) process, what’s wrong in it?,” Khan said.

He added that the commission was investigating complaints of banned parties campaigning under different names.

A military spokesman declined to comment on religious parties. The army denies interfering in politics.

However, the military did propose “mainstreaming” militant-linked groups into politics in a 2016 National Security meeting, military and government sources have told Reuters. The plan was pitched as a way to reduce violence and extremism under the model of the Northern Ireland peace process.

Critics say the real goal is for new ultra-religious parties to cut into the conservative base of Sharif’s party and confer legitimacy to Islamist militants the army has long been accused of nurturing as proxies in its rivalry with India.

“They have to be taken care of,” political commentator Raza Rumi said of such groups. “So this election is a test case as to how far the goal of mainstreaming these groups can be achieved.”

Analysts say even with the increase in candidates, Islamists are unlikely to win more than a dozen or so seats in parliament.

But that might not be the point. Pakistani author and analyst Ayesha Siddiqa, a longtime critic of the military, believes the army, tired of civilian governments challenging its grip on foreign policy and large chunks of the economy, is seeking to weaken mainstream parties.

“The military wants to alter, engineer the national discourse,” Siddiqa said. “They want to build a new nationalism. They want a new identity, and that is Islamic identity.”

Pakistan Election: Shahbaz Sharif calls Imran Khan’s recent public meetings ‘a total failure’ — Khan is only a ‘Facebook leader’

July 21, 2018

PESHAWAR: Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz president Shahbaz Sharif on Friday termed Imran Khan’s recent public meetings ‘a total failure’ and said PML-N workers were fully charged to run the election campaign of their candidates against all odds.

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Shahbaz Sharif

He said Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan was busy levelling baseless allegations and using derogatory language against other parties. People were no more willing to attend Mr Khan’s public meetings, said Mr Shahbaz while addressing a press conference after visiting Bilour House where he offered condolences to the Bilour family over the death of Awami National Party (ANP) candidate Haroon Bilour in a recent blast.

PTI will use any strategy to defeat PML-N, win the elections: Imran on ‘electables’, seat adjustments

The PML-N president said his rivals were eating cakes and pastries while his party candidates were being pressured to switch loyalties due to National Accountability Bureau (NAB) cases. He said PML-N leaders were attending courts as his party was being pushed to the wall while others were running election campaigns.

He alleged that the Punjab government was following instructions of the PTI. It mishandled peaceful PML-N workers on July 13, booked them in terrorism cases for holding rallies to welcome their leader Nawaz Sharif, he said.

The former chief minister of Punjab said Nawaz Sharif knew he would be sent behind bars yet he returned to Pakistan leaving his ailing wife in a serious condition in a London hospital. This proved he did not want to flee as he faced all the cases instituted against him, said Mr Shahbaz, claiming that the entire world also witnessed the ‘mammoth rally’ to welcome the former premier.

He alleged that TV channels under Pakistan Electro­nic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) pressure did not give proper coverage to the rally. While the PML-N supremo was not even allowed to meet his ailing mother, PML-N workers remained peaceful, he said. Yet they were booked in cases, he said, adding that the party wrote a letter to the Election Commission of Pakistan and the caretaker prime minister to take notice of the cases but they remained silent spectators.

Mr Shahbaz said in order to ensure free, fair elections, measures must be taken to bring all stakeholders on the same page and stop all tactics for pre-poll rigging.

He said India had developed its institutions yet it was afraid of Pakistan because of its nuclear capability. He said if voted to power again, the PML-N would initiate mega development schemes on the pattern of Malaysia and Turkey to overcome poverty and unemployment.

He said that his party would win the elections and make Pakistan a ‘real’ welfare Islamic state. Paying tribute to the people in general and law enforcers in particular for rendering matchless sacrifices in the fight against terrorism, he pledged that his party would continue the efforts for durable peace and development.

Mr Shahbaz said Mr Khan, who had been condemning the PML-N government’s projects, later attempted to replicate them in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but failed.

Imran dubbed as Facebook leader

Later addressing a public meeting in connection with his election campaign in NA-3 (Swat-II) constituency, Mr Shahbaz said Mr Khan took Rs300 billion foreign loans but failed to spend it on Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s development, adds Our Correspondent from Swat.

Mr Shahbaz said the PTI government embezzled the funds in the name of Billion Trees Tsunami and other projects such as the construction of 350 dams.

The PML-N provincial president Amir Muqam dubbed Mr Khan as ‘Facebook leader’.

Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2018

For more live updates, follow Dawn.com’s official news Instagram account@dawn.today

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Imran Khan near victory in Pakistan election — But has he “rigged” the election?

July 21, 2018

Former cricket star galvanises support for PTI party with pledge to end corruption

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 Imran Khan gives a speech during a political campaign rally outside Lahore. Photograph: Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images

On a stage high above a hockey stadium to the north of Lahore, a compere shrieks into the microphone. Supporters of Imran Khan clamber onto rows of chairs. Then the 65-year-old cricket legend steps forward.

With a general election due to be held on Wednesday, the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is just a bat swing away from a victory he has pursued relentlessly since relinquishing a glamorous London lifestyle of celebrity and nightclubs more than 20 years ago.

“This is an opportunity to change Pakistan,” he tells an 8,000-strong crowd in the poor suburb of Shahdara, as moths collide with high-powered floodlights. “You will not have it again and again.”

Merchants inside the stadium cash in on Khan’s celebrity with T-shirts, phone covers and flags decorated with the craggily handsome features of the “Captain” who led Pakistan to victory at the 1992 cricket World Cup. But it is his promise to end corruption that has transformed the party he founded in 1996, and which held only one seat in parliament until 2013, into the probable leaders of the next government.

Claiming that $10bn (£7.6bn) is laundered out of Pakistan each year, the populist, socially conservative leader hits out at the “traitors who have made this country poor”.

Khan’s political fortunes have risen steadily in the year since he successfully petitioned Pakistan’s supreme court to disqualify the former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, on corruption charges. Earlier this month, Sharif was imprisoned on a 10-year sentence: from the stage, a PTI official claims that that a jailer switches on Sharif’s television during Khan’s rallies, forcing him to watch his tormentor-in-chief.

“Have you seen Avenfield House?” Mohammed Asif asks outside the rally. “Those are my flats,” says the 33-year-old Khan supporter, referring to four properties in Park Lane, London, which lie at the heart of Sharif’s corruption case. “They belong to the people of Pakistan.”

Khan supporters at the rally.
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 Khan supporters at the rally. Photograph: Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images

But Khan is a deeply polarising figure and his poison-tongued campaign inflamed political tensions. After he called supporters of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) “donkeys”, an animal charity reported that PTI aficionados had beaten one of the animals close to death.

Khan implied in a tweet following the deaths of 149 people an Isis-claimed suicide attack on 13 July in the eastern province of Balochistan that the PML-N was behind the attack as a way to distract attention from Sharif’s legal woes. “Beginning to wonder why whenever Nawaz Sharif is in trouble, there is increasing tension along Pakistan’s borders and a rise in terrorist acts? Is it a mere coincidence?” he asked.

More damaging to his claims to represent a break with the status quo is the accusation that Khan is taking advantage of the support of Pakistan’s powerful military establishment, which has ruled the country for nearly half of its coup-studded 71-year history. Polls show the two parties neck-a-neck but PML-N leaders appear so downcast as to have practically conceded.

“Sharif is just crying about the election as this is the first time he hasn’t been able to use his own umpire,” Khan said at the Shahdara rally.

In political terms, Khan has plenty of incentive to seek out shortcuts, according to analysts . The PML-N has had a broadly positive record in government over the last five years, in which the party has notably reduced power blackouts. According to political commentator Fasi Zaka, this means “it would not have been his election” without a military-backed campaign against the party in which supportive media channels have been taken off air, politicians have been pressured to defect, and the courts selectively targeted its leaders.

In a recent interview with Dawn newspaper, Khan lamented that “this is not Europe, you cannot just tell people what you stand for and they will vote for you”. This is a lesson he appears to have learned from the election of 2013, when he worked himself into the ground – eventually falling off stage and being hospitalised.

People watch a 2013 television interview with Imran Khan in intensive care after he sustained an injury falling.
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 People watch a 2013 television interview with Imran Khan in intensive care after he sustained an injury falling. Photograph: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

Since then, his campaign has evolved from promises of a “New Pakistan” – better schools, better hospitals, an end to pilfering from the state – into something more traditional. Around one third of his party’s candidates are recently recruited “electables”, long-in-the-tooth politicians who bring with them vote banks and, often, corruption scandals. These characters, many believe, will help the PTI crack the crucial province of Punjab, which returns more than half the 272 directly elected seats in the National Assembly.

But former allies told the Guardian that many believe that the party has shifted away from its anti-corruption platform. “There are cuckoos in the PTI nest,” Brigadier Samson Sharif, the party’s ex-shadow defence secretary, said. Khan “now has so many albatrosses hanging around his neck … he is a pied piper leading the people nowhere”.

Born in Lahore in 1952, the Oxford-educated cricketer has also undergone what appears to be significant a personal transformation. While he used to party with Mick Jagger, today he defends Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws and criticises “Westoxified” Pakistani liberals.

In 2017, the provincial government his party has run for the past five years in the northern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa granted $3m to the Haqqania madrassa, a fount of Taliban fighters, drawing sighs of “Taliban Khan” from the coffee shops frequented by Islamabad’s liberals. Others note the arc of his marriages: first came Jemima Khan, a glamorous British heiress. Earlier this year Khan secretly wed his spiritual adviser, Bushra Maneka.

Still, the spectre of an electorally poisonous playboy past was revived with the publication this month of a kiss-and-tell memoir by his second wife, Reham Khan, a former news anchor, PDF copies of which were shared far and wide on Pakistani WhatsApp. She alleges he used “six grams” of cocaine a night, has several love-children and sexts women in his party. “She is just a porn star,” says supporter Zulfikar Ali Khan, repeating the argument of PTI insiders that the book’s publication was co-ordinated with the PML-N.

If the book was a ploy, it seems unlikely to pay off. According to Credit Suisse, the PTI stands a 75% chance of forming a coalition government under Khan. Some supporters even celebrate the army’s alleged tilting of the field as proof that the institution is doing its job. “If they are involved, they are in favour of Pakistan,” says Umair Iqbal, 25. “Even if you put down a vote for PML-N,” adds Shehzar, 19, “it will go to PTI. The PML-N has no chance of forming a government as it has no supporting hands.” In reference to the army, he said: “They know how to bowl you out.”

That appears a blessing to Khan for now. But with a looming economic crisis, political instability and an assertive military establishment to handle, Pakistan’s probable next “Captain” will have to zealously guard his own stumps.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jul/21/imran-khan-near-victory-in-pakistan-election-but-some-ask-if-he-is-playing-fair

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Pakistan’s Military Wields More Influence Ahead of National Election

July 21, 2018

LAHORE, Pakistan—This nation’s military is working behind the scenes to manipulate this month’s election to try to produce a government it can better control, politicians and human-rights groups said.

The military’s intelligence arm is carrying out a campaign of persuasion, intimidation and threats, politicians who have experienced it said, in an effort to get them to change parties and to pressure key local voting blocs to switch allegiance.

The drive particularly targets the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who military officers have privately said is too soft on traditional foe India, and looks to help the avowedly pro-military party of former cricket star Imran Khan. To achieve this, the military is working closely with police, local officials and the anticorruption watchdog—all institutions over which they have considerable sway, these politicians said.

Mr. Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party was expected to put up a strong challenge in the July 25 election, but in a closely fought battle with Mr. Sharif’s party, the military’s role could make the difference, some experts said. A contested result risks future instability for this country of 200 million, politicians warn. The military denies trying to influence the election.

Head to HeadSupport for former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N crumbled in recent weeksahead of the July 25 election, as the pro-military Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party of former cricketer ImranKhan continued its ascent.

Mr. Khan’s party must make huge inroads in the province of Punjab, Mr. Sharif’s stronghold, which carries more than half the seats in Parliament.

“This is an engineered election,” said Riazul Haq, who is running for re-election in Okara, in central Punjab, from Mr. Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N party. “Every tool is being used to divide Nawaz Sharif’s party and break his vote bank.”

Image result for Rawalpindi, Pakistan, on July 16, FAROOQ NAEEM, photo

Pakistan’s army chief General Bajwa

Mr. Haq said that two months ago, he was called to a meeting by officials he wouldn’t name and told to join Mr. Khan’s party, with the promise of being its candidate in the election. He declined.

“Then my trial began,” he said.

Later in May, the country’s anticorruption agency, the National Accountability Bureau, said it is investigating him for embezzling public money meant for local road construction. He said he has no role in the spending of these funds.

“Our supporters are being forced to withdraw backing for us and some of them have done it out of fear,” Mr. Haq said.

Pakistan’s army spokesman, Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, says ‘people should come out and vote for whoever they want.’
Pakistan’s army spokesman, Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, says ‘people should come out and vote for whoever they want.’PHOTO: XINHUA /ZUMA PRESS

The military has staged coups in the past, but since democracy was restored in 2008, it has sought to determine policy without formally taking over. Mr. Sharif, whose party was in office until these elections, had resisted, calling for an end to the nuclear-armed standoff with India and for action against jihadist groups in Pakistan. This month, Mr. Sharif was imprisoned for 10 years for corruption, in a case his party says is politically motivated.

Before being jailed, Mr. Sharif said “irreparable damage” had been done to the election process and alleged that the push to “force” politicians to leave his party is being run by a deputy chief of the military’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, Maj. Gen. Faiz Hameed.

The military denies the charge and said Maj. Gen. Hameed’s job is counterterrorism.

“We have no political alignment,” the military’s spokesman, Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, said at a press conference this month. “People should come out and vote for whoever they want.”

It isn’t unusual to change parties here, but doing so under pressure is alarming, some politicians said. At least 21 of Mr. Sharif’s 126 lawmakers in Punjab defected to Mr. Khan’s party, while others went independent, hemorrhaging particularly in the south of the province.

Politicians from around Pakistan said they were approached by intelligence officials and promised spots on Mr. Khan’s ticket and in some cases even ministries in a Khan-led government.

Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, a spokesman for Mr. Khan’s party, said the ticket allegation is “without substance.” He said Mr. Sharif’s party “knows it’s losing the race so they are trying to create the perception of rigging.”

Supporters of Shahbaz Sharif, the younger brother of ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the head of Pakistan Muslim League-N, chant slogans at a campaign rally in Pindi Gheb, in the district of Attock, in the Punjab province, on July 19.
Supporters of Shahbaz Sharif, the younger brother of ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the head of Pakistan Muslim League-N, chant slogans at a campaign rally in Pindi Gheb, in the district of Attock, in the Punjab province, on July 19. PHOTO: AAMIR QURESHI/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Yet, complaints of military interference have come from politicians from all four Pakistani provinces, human-rights groups and political parties said. Pressure has also been put on the media, which has muted reporting and opinion critical of the military, undermining scrutiny of this election process.

The military’s aim has been to skew the electoral landscape in the weeks before the vote, some experts say, with the hope of producing a weak coalition government. Polls point to such a government, which could be led by Mr. Khan’s party, after a crumbling of support for Mr. Sharif’s party in recent weeks.

“This is the dirtiest election in our history. It is also the most micromanaged,” said I.A. Rehman, of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, an independent watchdog organization.

The other long-established major party, the Pakistan Peoples Party, said its candidates are also being bullied by military officials to switch to Mr. Khan’s party or stand as independent candidates.

The party has publicly named military officers it says are harassing its candidates in three constituencies. It said it has given the names of four military officials to the Election Commission, the official body that oversees the election.

Imran Khan, sitting at center, a former Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician and head of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf party, attends a campaign rally in Islamabad on June 30.
Imran Khan, sitting at center, a former Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician and head of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf party, attends a campaign rally in Islamabad on June 30. PHOTO: AAMIR QURESHI/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

On Election Day, 371,000 soldiers will be deployed at polling stations, including soldiers inside each one—five times the deployment during the previous election. Military officers will be given judicial powers, enabling them to jail people on the spot, an authority granted by the Election Commission.

Nadeem Qasim, an Election Commission spokesman, said the soldiers were there to provide security for voters. He said the names of military officers provided by the PPP had been forwarded to the Defense Ministry “for necessary action after inquiry.”

Punjab’s interior minister, Shaukat Javed, said no allegations of election meddling by police officers have been made to him.

In another constituency in Punjab, a candidate for Mr. Sharif’s party estimated that around a quarter of its support base had been lost to intimidation, in an operation run by a major who located to the area for the election period.

“The result is hard to predict. People are scared, but they have also started to think for themselves,” the candidate said.

Write to Saeed Shah at saeed.shah@wsj.com

Appeared in the July 21, 2018, print edition as ‘Pakistan Military Said to Influence Vote.’

https://www.wsj.com/articles/pakistans-military-wields-more-influence-ahead-of-national-election-1532088001

Pakistan Election: Imran Khan says he’s not getting fair coverage by the media

July 19, 2018

MANSEHRA: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan has said he is not getting good news regarding the July 25 general elections, but people should come forward to participate in the polls and foil conspiracies being hat­ched against the elections.

“I have not been getting positive news regarding the general elections, but people should get out of their homes to vote on July 25,” Mr Khan told a public gathering in the tourist resort of Nathiagali on Wednesday.

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He said time was not far when former chief minister Shahbaz Sharif would also land in Adiala jail for corruption and misdeeds he allegedly committed as chief executive of Punjab.

“Shahbaz, you will also face the same consequences as your brother and disqualified prime minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter and son-in-law Mohammad Safdar,” said Mr Khan.

The PTI chief said the PML-N leader had registered 32 fake cases against him to punish him for the firm stance he adopted against their corrupt and anti-state polices but he remained committed.

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He said caretaker chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Dost Mohammad was biased against the PTI, saying, “I am optimistic that the caretaker prime minister would maintain his neutrality till the elections.”

“I am optimistic you would observe your neutrality till elections as KP’s caretaker Chief Minister Dost Mohammad is siding with Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Akram Khan Durrani. But I hope he will mend his ways,” he said. Mr Khan said that after coming to power, his party would develop four new tourist resorts every year.

Published in Dawn, July 19th, 2018

For more live updates, follow Dawn.com’s official news Instagram account@dawn.today

https://www.dawn.com/news/1420988

Pakistan: Abbasi picks up key support for election

July 18, 2018

Islamabad chapter of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) has announced to support former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in the general elections, scheduled for July 25.

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Announcement came after the PML-N leader visited outfit’s office, requesting electoral support. PHOTO: TWITTER (@ASWJPak)

Abbasi is contesting for a National Assembly seat for Islamabad against Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan.

The decision was made after the former premier visited the Islamabad office of the extremist sectarian group, formerly known as Sipah-e-Sahaba on July 10 and requested the party to support him in the elections.

PTI joins hands with cleric on US terror list

The ASWJ leaders had told Abbasi that they would consider his request and consult their higher leadership on the matter. On Monday, ASWJ Islamabad announced its electoral support to Abbsi in NA-53 constituency.

“Yes, we have announced our support for Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. He had sought our support and visited us on July 10 and again today,” an ASWJ spokesperson told The Express Tribune. The spokesperson said the former prime minister had assured them of working for legislation on the issue of ‘Namoos-e-Sahaba’ (sanctity and honour of the companions of the Prophet PBUH).

Govt lifts ban on ASWJ, unfreezes assets of its chief Ahmed Ludhianvi

The party, however, clarified that the support was only for Abbasi and limited to NA-53 constituency only. “It doesn’t mean we would support them on other seats in Islamabad or elsewhere too,” the spokesperson added.

Last month, the government had ordered to unfreeze assets of Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi and removed a ban on his ASWJ movement. A notification by the National Counter-Terrorism Authority (NACTA) was issued on June 276 on the recommendations of the Punjab home department in this regard.

Despite the ban being lifted, many of its leaders are contesting the elections either as independent candidates or under the banner of other parties.

https://tribune.com.pk/story/1760513/1-aswj-announces-support-ex-pm-abbasi-july-25-elections/

Pakistan heads for dirtiest election in years — widespread interference by army and intelligence services

July 18, 2018

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Emotions running high: the security of the election process has been thrown into doubt

By Kiran Stacey and Farhan Bokhari in Islamabad

Pakistan is heading for one of its dirtiest elections in many years, observers and political campaigners have warned, with candidates alleging widespread interference by the country’s powerful army.

With days to go until next Wednesday’s vote, members of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz say they have been targeted by members of the intelligence services, as tensions run high between the party’s ruling Sharif family and the country’s influential military.

Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, the country’s former prime minister and a senior PML-N member, told the FT: “There has been coercion on members of our party to switch sides, with many of them being threatened with corruption cases.”

Referring to the 2002 election, during which Pervez Musharraf, the military dictator, was accused of blocking his two major opponents, Mr Abbasi added: “This is shaping up to be the worst election since 2002 — people have begun treating it as a joke.”

Hostility between the PML-N and the army has been high since last year, when Nawaz Sharif was ousted as prime minister and party leader on corruption charges which his allies say were orchestrated by the military. The PML-N government remained in power until parliament was dissolved in May in preparation for the election under a caretaker government.

Last week Mr Sharif was jailed for 10 years in a judgment that could see him unable to campaign during the election.

This is shaping up to be the worst election since 2002 — people have begun treating it as a joke

Meanwhile many members of his party say they have been called by people they believe to be working for the army and urged to switch allegiances.

Some say their movements have been monitored and occasionally obstructed, while others allege they have been hounded through the courts. Mr Abbasi’s own nomination papers were challenged in the Supreme Court, which eventually ruled in his favour.

The army has denied political interference, with Major General Asif Ghafoor, its spokesman, saying it would play its role in a “non-political and impartial manner”.

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Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa

The PML-N is engaged in a two-way fight with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the anti-corruption party led by Imran Khan, Pakistan’s former cricket captain. Mr Khan has denied allegations that he is being backed by the country’s powerful generals, and has condemned any harassment of election candidates.

Presuming the vote goes ahead as planned, it will be only the second time Pakistan has made a transition from one civilian government to another. But the security of the election process has been thrown into doubt by a string of attacks on election rallies, including one in Mastung which killed 149 people.

Some accuse the army of not doing enough to provide security for political candidates, while others accuse it of outright harassment.

Concerns about the treatment of the PTI’s main opponents, including the Pakistan People’s Party and the Awami National Party, have prompted Pakistan’s human rights commission to issue a damning report into the election process.

The commission said this week it was “gravely concerned over what it sees as blatant, aggressive and unabashed attempts to manipulate the outcome of the upcoming elections”.

It said it was also concerned by the army’s plan to put 370,000 troops on the streets on polling day, compares with just 70,000 at the previous general election in 2013.

Journalists say they are also coming under increased pressure to toe the army’s line, with those who fail to comply facing problems with distributing their news. In March, cable television services in certain areas of the country began blocking the transmission of the television station Geo, while the English-language Dawn newspaper says its sales networks have been disrupted.

Meanwhile election observers from international organisations say their visas and government accreditations have been delayed for weeks, giving them only a few days on the ground before polling day next Wednesday.

“We have never had a situation like this in any of our 150-plus missions,” said Dmitra Ioannou, the deputy chief observer for the EU observation mission. “Usually our long-term observers would spend five to six weeks on the ground. This time, because of all the delays with our paperwork, they will get just one to two weeks, if that.”

https://www.ft.com/content/4572d7f4-89c1-11e8-bf9e-8771d5404543

Pakistan’s economic crisis deepens in an election year

July 15, 2018

Pakistan desperately needs to borrow to stave off a major economic crisis. But the IMF says it is in no position to service existing debts

he Pakistan government to be formed after July 25 elections will inherit a record high-trade deficit of $37.7 billion, a plunging stock market that hit this year’s lowest at 39,288 points on Monday and a currency that has been devalued by over 15% in the past seven months.

The outgoing Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government has been criticized for its economic policies, which have left the country with a balance of payments crisis, and a record debt, with the rupee being devalued three times since December 2017.

A recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) report on Pakistan says “risks to Pakistan’s medium-term capacity to repay have increased significantly… due to mounting external and fiscal financing needs and declining reserves.”

The report says, Pakistan’s external financing needs are expected to rise from $21.5 billion (7.1% of GDP) in 2017 to $45 billion by 2023 (9% of GDP). The figures suggest that the next government will have few options but to seek another IMF loan to reduce the current account deficit.

Finance Ministry sources told Asia Times that a recent $1 billion loan from China was agreed to in May this year. It will provide a much needed respite to the foreign currency reserves. Pakistan has received an additional $3 billion worth of loans from Chinese commercial banks in recent months in connection with the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Finance Ministry officials, however, say Chinese loans are a short-term fix and Islamabad will need a longer-term solution. “Pakistan has borrowed up to $7 billion from China over the past two years, but an IMF bailout has become a necessity. And it is the new government that will carry it out,” said Waqar Masood Khan, a former federal secretary at the Ministry of Finance.

“It was almost as if the previous government had sworn not to go to the IMF, even though they could’ve done so in January to stabilize the economy. They practiced a lot of fiscal indiscipline and are leaving behind a record deficit of 70.1% [of the GDP],” he said, adding that fixing the broken macroeconomic framework would be the biggest challenge for the next government.

While the PML-N government continued to deny it was looking for an IMF bailout during the last few months of its tenure, the then finance minister, Miftah Ismail, had talks with World Bank and IMF officials during his trip to Washington in April this year.

Diplomatic sources confirm that a major purpose of the US visit was to discuss terms of a bailout package for after the elections, which the PML-N expects to win.

A Foreign Ministry official confirmed that Islamabad has been in talks with Washington over the need for financing, maintaining that economic deterioration in the country could allow militant elements to exploit the situation.

Miftah Ismail told Asia Times that he did not meet the US over a potential bailout loan, maintaining that help from the IMF wasn’t needed right now.

“It’s for the next government to decide, but it is too soon [to ask for an IMF bailout],” he said. Even so, the former finance minister conceded that some policies during the previous five years were flawed.

“Exports [have gone] down for three years in a row, suggesting that we should have devalued the rupee [earlier]. By keeping the rupee at a nominally high rate we hurt our exports, increased our imports and we drained our reserves. We also had to borrow money resulting in the State Bank having to intervene,” he said.

However, Ismail believes that with the latest devaluation, the rupee has regained competitiveness and should help export growth. “Also, I think we’ve now reached the accurate rupee value now,” he says. Ismail also says the current debt numbers are being viewed out of context.

“When our tenure started the debt was around 64% [of the GDP], now it is around 70.7 %. When we started the foreign debt to GDP was 21.4%, now it’s 23.5% – so it’s not that much [of an increase]. We shouldn’t look at absolutely numbers, and instead should focus on the relative numbers,” he said.

“Just for context, Japan’s debt to GDP is 228%, Italy has 123%, Singapore 111%, Sri Lanka 78% and India 68%. The debt has definitely gone up in 2018 as compared to 2013, but it’s not out of the norm in terms of how things are among international countries. “And let’s not forget we’ve spent the money on building a network of motorways, highways and power plants, so obviously that has to be done by debt – that’s all.”

The outgoing finance minister added that curtailing the budget deficit would be the biggest challenge for the next government. “In terms of the current account deficit the things that we’ve done are actually enough.”

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Ousted Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif arrested on return, as bomber kills scores

July 14, 2018

Ousted Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam, both facing lengthy prison terms, were arrested minutes after landing in the country on Friday as they returned seeking to revitalize their flagging party ahead of a July 25 election.

 

Nawaz Sharif gestures as he boards a Lahore-bound flight in Abu Dhabi. Photo: 13 July 2018
Nawaz Sharif has been arrested after flying home from the UK. Reuters photo

Underscoring the tensions gripping Pakistan in the run-up to the poll, a suicide bomber had killed more than 100 people at an election rally a few hours earlier, in the deadliest such attack in the country in more than three years.

A Pakistani mourns over a dead body of his family member who is killed in a bomb attack, at a mortuary in Quetta, Pakistan, Friday, July 13, 2018.
AP Photo/Arshad Butt

“I’m aware of the fact that I’ll be jailed, but it’s a very small price to pay for the great mission to save the sanctity of the vote in Pakistan,” Sharif told Reuters on board the plane minutes before touching down in the central city of Lahore.

Uniformed men escorted the Sharifs, who were sentenced in absentia on corruption charges last week, off the commercial flight, and a spokesman for their Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party confirmed they were arrested soon afterwards.

Their return represents a high-stakes gamble, but could shake up an election race riven by accusations Pakistan’s powerful military is working behind the scenes to skew the contest in favor of ex-cricket hero Imran Khan. He describes Sharif as a “criminal” who deserves no support.

Clashes broke out on Friday evening at the main highway entry point to Lahore between pro-Sharif protesters and police who had been deployed in their thousands, a Reuters witness said. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

The security situation has improved in recent years in nuclear-armed Pakistan, but the substantial threat still posed by militants was starkly illustrated by the attack on an election rally of a regional party in Baluchistan province, in southwestern Pakistan, that killed 128 people.

The bombing was the third incident of election-related violence this week.

THOUSANDS ON STREETS

After their arrest at the airport in Lahore, Sharif and his daughter were immediately put on another plane and flown to the capital Islamabad, PML-N media coordinator Muhammad Mehdi said. Local media said they were then taken to Adiala jail in the nearby garrison town of Rawalpindi.

Their swift departure prevented PML-N workers staging a hero’s welcome on the streets of Lahore, where Sharif’s brother, Shehbaz, led between 10,000 and 20,000 party supporters on a march in defiance off a citywide ban on public gatherings ordered by the caretaker government that took over in June, as Pakistan’s constitution requires in the lead-in to an election.

Pakistan’s third major political movement, the Pakistan Peoples Party, joined the criticism of the crackdown, with its prime ministerial candidate Bilawal Bhutto Zardari questioning why Sharif’s supporters would be prevented from gathering.

“Why is Lahore under siege? Right to peaceful protest is fundamental for democracy,” tweeted Bhutto Zardari, the son of two-time prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated at a political rally in 2007.

The country’s media regulator warned local news channels to abstain from airing statements “by political leadership containing defamatory and derogatory content targeting various state institutions specifically judiciary and armed forces”, the regulator said in a statement.

DISCORD WITH MILITARY

Sharif returned from Britain after an anti-corruption court handed him a 10-year jail term and sentenced his daughter and political heir to seven years in prison over the purchase of luxury flats in London in the 1990s.

Sharif alleges the military is aiding a “judicial witch-hunt” against him and the PML-N. The party’s past five years in power has been punctuated by the civil-military discord that has plagued Pakistan since its inception.

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Pakistan’s Army General Bajwa

“Democracy, and a democratic government has to be respected,” Sharif told Reuters. “There can’t be two parallel systems and two parallel governments running in a country. If that starts happening, it is catastrophic.”

The military, which has ruled Pakistan for about half its history since 1947, has denied interfering in modern-day politics. It plans to place 371,000 soldiers around polling stations so there can a “free and fair” elections, an army spokesman said this week.

Sharif’s return from London, where his wife Kulsoom is critically ill and undergoing cancer treatment, comes at a time of dwindling fortunes for his party, which a year ago was considered a run-away favorite to retain power.

Recent opinion polls suggest PML-N is losing its lead nationally to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of arch-rival Khan, whose anti-corruption message has resonated with many Pakistanis.

Sharif was ordered jailed in a case stemming from 2016 Panama Papers revelations that showed they owned the apartments through off-shore companies. Maryam was convicted for concealing ownership of the apartments. They both deny wrongdoing.

After the Supreme Court ousted Sharif as prime minister last July, the courts barred him from heading the party he founded. His brother Shehbaz became PML-N’s president, but Sharif remains the power behind the throne.

Since then, a host of his allies have been either disqualified by the courts, or face corruption cases. Many PML-N lawmakers have also defected to Khan’s party.

PML-N has also been shaken by internal divisions. Sections of the party oppose Sharif’s combative approach against the army and fear it will turn off voters in a deeply conservative and patriotic Muslim nation of 208 million people.

Additional reporting by Saad Sayeed in Islamabad, Asif Shahzad in Lahore and Syed Raza Hassan in Karachi; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Alex Richardson