Opposition comes together against govt.

Pakistan’s Opposition parties have finally come together and forged an alliance against the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government.

On Tuesday, Leader of the Opposition Shehbaz Sharif hosted a lunch in his chamber at Parliament House for other Opposition leaders. Interestingly, this luncheon meeting was attended by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leadership in full force. Former President Asif Ali Zardari and party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, after meeting Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Mr. Sharif, announced a joint political strategy.

Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry termed this alliance an ‘alliance for the restoration of corruption’. He was alluding to the corruption cases against the leadership of both parties. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was sent back to jail after another conviction last month, while the PPP leadership is facing cases related to money laundering and fake bank accounts.

“The PML-N and the PPP are two sides of the same coin.…

A new Charter of Democracy?

On January 15, Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted: “In a Parliament that costs taxpayers billions yearly, yet another walkout in NA by the Opposition shows that this is the only function they intend to perform. These are pressure tactics to seek an NRO & evade accountability for corruption in NAB cases not initiated by PTI.”

PM Khan’s tweet comes a day after the Opposition staged a walkout in the National Assembly when Federal Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda started to respond to Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif’s criticism of the Mohmand Dam contract.

In response to his tweet, many reminded PM Khan of his absence from parliament in the last few months. Others reminded him of his promise to have a Q&A session on a fortnightly basis in parliament, which has yet to materialise.

This is not the first time that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government and PM Khan have backtracked on their ‘promises’. No wonder, PM Khan feels that one cannot become a great lead…

Behind the release of Hamid Ansari

In November, a delegation of Indian journalists invited by the government of Pakistan to cover the Kartarpur Corridor groundbreaking ceremony met Prime Minister Imran Khan. Rajdeep Sardesai brought up the issue of Hamid Ansari, a young Indian who was jailed in Pakistan for illegally entering the country six years ago to meet a girl he befriended online. Mr. Khan responded that this was the first time he was hearing about this case. “Insha’Allah, we will do our best” was Prime Minister’s response.

Mr. Ansari was released on December 17. In December 2015, was been sentenced to three years in prison. After he completed his term, the Peshawar High Court gave the government one month to finish the formalities. The government acted quickly.

While Mr. Ansari was in Pakistani prisons, there were several people who helped him and fought for his release. Rukhshanda Naz, a lawyer and rights activist, was one of them.

In 2014, Ms. Naz went to Nepal for a conference where author Rita Manchanda tol…

Religious freedom in Pakistan

Earlier this month, a press statement by US Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo said that Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, have been designated as Countries of Particular Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated “systematic, ongoing, [and] egregious violations of religious freedom”.

Some analysts pointed out that this was only done because the US wants to exert pressure on Pakistan for various reasons, especially vis-à-vis Afghanistan. They think the US wants Pakistan to take action against militants based in Pakistan and also wants it to help in its negotiations with the Afghan Taliban. Pak-US relations have seen a fair share of ups and downs. The US mantra of ‘Do More’ has become a norm and is part and parcel of its ‘carrot and stick policy’. Putting Pakistan on a religious freedom list may be just a pressure tactic by the US. Others believe that this list i…

A step forward in the right direction

I first visited India back in 2007. When I returned, I wrote: “It had always been my dream to visit India one day because the country fascinates me. India’s rich culture and history and the fact that both India and Pakistan share a common history, including bittersweet memories, only added to my fascination.”

I have been to India many times since then; my passports are filled mostly with Indian visas. The last time I visited India was in July 2016 for a friend’s wedding. This is the longest stretch that I have gone without visiting India since my first trip. And it is not for want of trying. Unfortunately, Pakistanis are not being given Indian visas. And we may not get visas till the 2019 Indian elections. This is a result of the tumultuous relationship Pakistan shares with India. Due to the tense relations between the two nuclear-armed states, the people of both countries suffer. With the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor, I see a glimmer of hope.

In his victory speech after winning …

Aftermath of a verdict

On October 31, a three-judge special bench of the Pakistan Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Saqib Nisar acquitted Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman accused of blasphemy. She was on death row. Many people hailed the verdict and commended the judges who were brave enough to hear Aasia Bibi’s final appeal in a court of law. Justice had finally been served.

Chairman of the Senate’s Functional Committee on Human Rights, Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, said: “Aasia Bibi is free because justice was dispensed wisely and without any fear. This should be the practice in all such cases. Innocent people should not suffer incarcerations due to a fear of backlash.”

A woman who had spent almost a decade in jail due to false charges of blasphemy was finally free. It was heartbreaking to read an AFP report in which Aasia asked the reporter in disbelief if she was actually free and whether they would finally let her out. Her disbelief wasn’t misplaced.

Within hours of the verdict, we saw violent protests erupt…

War and peace

India and Pakistan share both history and geography yet they are constantly in a state of war – not always literally, but figuratively speaking. People on both sides of the border have suffered a great deal due to the tense relations between the two sides. States always have their own reasons to behave a certain way but at the end of the day, it’s the people who suffer. Apart from the general public, journalists in India and Pakistan have also suffered – if relations between the two sides are bad, they will not get visas. This also leads to more negativity on the media. If people-to-people contact is encouraged, it will only bring normalcy to a region that is still battling the ghosts of a bloody partition.

Thus it was quite heartening to see 22 Indian journalists cross the Wagah border to cover the groundbreaking ceremony of the Kartarpur Corridor. They were invited and hosted by the government of Pakistan. On the first night of their visit, Chief Minister Punjab Usman Buzdar hosted …

Writ of the state

It was shocking to hear the news of SP Tahir Dawar’s martyrdom. Dawar was kidnapped from Islamabad on October 26 and his dead body found in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province. The government did not make much noise about it, which is unbelievable given that a valiant police officer was kidnapped from the capital city. Not only did the government not make any noise but as per Iftikhar Durrani, Special Assistant to Prime Minister of Pakistan on Media, he was given information by the police that SP Dawar was back in Peshawar on October 28. Mr Durrani gave a beeper to VoA on October 28 and claimed that SP Dawar was safe and sound. If it is indeed true and the police had misinformed the government, action must be taken against those who filed this fake report.

How was a serving police officer kidnapped from the capital and then his kidnappers managed to cross the border into Afghanistan without being noticed? Did the government investigate properly why he was kidnapped? How come the governme…

Muzzling the media

Free media is a prerequisite for any democratic country but the media in Pakistan is facing the worst kind of censorship. I joined journalism back in 2005. There was censorship back then as well, which got worse during emergency but even then we could fight back to a certain extent. But now there is another sort of pressure on the media. Journalists may not be ‘killed’ anymore but they are either ‘picked up’ and given a ‘message’ or the same message is given by beating up journalists or threatening them.

Just last month, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) published a damning report on the state of the media in Pakistan. It said that journalists “painted a picture of a media under siege”. The report further said: “The military has quietly, but effectively, set restrictions on reporting: from barring access to regions … to encouraging self-censorship through direct and indirect methods of intimidation, including calling editors to complain about coverage and even allegedly insti…

When Imran Khan went to China

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s maiden visit to China has come under scrutiny for many reasons — primarily because he left the country at a time when violent protests had erupted in the aftermath of the Asia Bibi verdict. Another reason is that the details of a much-awaited financial package from China are not yet out.

Before the visit, Prime Minister Khan and Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry had said that China would give the same financial package as the one announced by Saudi Arabia to help Pakistan ease its balance of payments crisis.

Saudi Arabia had earlier announced a $6-billion package — $3 billion in foreign currency support and $3 billion in loan. “But since the visit, we haven’t been clearly told how much money has been given,” said senior journalist Shahzad Iqbal.

“Finance Minister Asad Umar has given us some indications but has maintained that they cannot share the exact details with us. Mr. Umar quoted an incident where President Xi (Jinping of China) assured the…

Blasphemy case: Pakistan Supreme Court overturns Asia Bibi's death sentence

The Christian woman was facing death for ‘insulting Islam’; SC says prosecution failed to prove charges

The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Wednesday acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian woman on death row for alleged blasphemy. This was her final legal appeal before execution.

Ms. Bibi was falsely accused of committing blasphemy in 2009. In 2010, a trial court sentenced her to death. In 2014, the Lahore High Court upheld the trial court’s verdict.

A three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel finally overturned the conviction. yesterday The ruling said: “Keeping in mind the evidence produced by the prosecution against the alleged blasphemy committed by the appellant, the prosecution has categorically failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt.”

Imran’s warning

Prime Minister Imran Khan took a clear and unequivocal stand on the verdict by addressing the nation in a televised speech on Wednesday evening. He w…

A reality check for Prime Minister Khan

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) lost three National Assembly (NA) seats in the October 14 byelections, two of which were won by Mr. Khan in the July general election and vacated later, in what is widely seen as a reality check for the Prime Minister. Byelections took place for 11 NA and 24 Provincial Assembly seats. Both the PTI and and the Opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) won four NA seats each.

While the PTI should be worried after the results and the PML-N was celebrating, the real winner of these elections was the Results Transmission System (RTS), which did not crash this time around. The Election Commission and all political parties can never forget the disaster that was the RTS during the July general election. Opposition parties allege that the RTS crash was a ploy to rig the polls. But over the byelections, there were hardly any such allegations.

Journalist Imtiaz Alam said the results were the first indicator of the downturn of the p…

Targeting the voices of dissent

The media in Pakistan is facing a tough time. Last week, the Lahore High Court issued non-bailable arrest warrants against Dawn Assistant Editor Cyril Almeida. The court also ordered the authorities to put Mr. Almeida’s name on the Exit Control List for not appearing before the court. This happened during the hearing of a petition that sought registration of treason cases against former Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi for an interview Mr. Sharif had given to to Mr Almeida earlier this year. The interview became controversial because Mr. Sharif said the 2008 Mumbai attacks “were carried out by people from Pakistan”.

In an Editor’s note, Dawn stated: “Mr. Almeida has no immediate plan to travel abroad, and will attend the proceedings of the case whenever desired by the honourable court.” There was widespread condemnation of the charges. Senior journalist Imtiaz Alam said the case shows how the media is being intimidated in Pakistan. “And without media freedom, ther…

Court suspends Sharif’s sentence

Islamabad High Court says NAB could not bring evidence against the Sharifs in corruption case

Members of Nawaz Sharif’s party celebrated his release on Wednesday after the Islamabad High Court suspended the jail sentences handed to the former Prime Minister, his daughter Maryam and son-in-law Captain Muhammad Safdar (retd.).

National Accountability Bureau (NAB) prosecutors have been criticised for presenting a weak case in the High Court. As reported in Dawn newspaper, Justice Athar Minallah remarked that “the NAB, after conducting thorough investigation, couldn’t bring any evidence of Nawaz Sharif’s ownership of the Avenfield apartments (in London), but you want us to admit his ownership on mere presumption”.

The High Court order comes a week after Mr. Sharif’s wife Kulsoom passed away. Mr. Sharif, Ms. Maryam and Captain Safdar were granted parole for five days to attend her funeral. They were sent back to Adiala Jail on Monday.

Supreme Court lawyer Faisal Chaudhry said the court has…

Imran Khan’s ‘New Pakistan’

Imran Khan’s dream has finally been fulfilled 22 years in to his political career: a career that started with idealism and came to be marked by pragmatism. His real political career has just begun.

We all knew the outcome of these elections but what did surprise a lot of us was the way it was pulled off a few hours after polling ended on July 25. The results of the elections in Pakistan were pre-determined. But what happened before the final results were announced left many of us shocked at how the powers-that-be did not even want to hide how much they were influencing the results. Even in a country where manipulating elections is nothing new, this brazenness was something new altogether.

I have been in the media for more than a decade now and have seen/covered the previous two elections, but have never witnessed the kind of censorship that we faced this time around. It was as if we just couldn’t tell the truth. We had to talk in a roundabout way to say that these elections were rigge…