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Pakistan Awaits Imran Khan

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Pakistan Awaits Imran KhanIn May this year, Imran Khan’s party — the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) decided to hold a dharna (sit-in) outside the Karachi port to block NATO supplies to Afghanistan on the grounds that Pakistan should stop supporting the US in the region. The dharna was a huge success as 7,000 persons turned up. What people did not realise is that most of those in attendance were from different religious parties — including the right-wing Sunni Tehreek which earlier this year supported the killing of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer and minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti.

The positive in this is that, although no NATO supply tankers were stopped or delayed, with the dharna staged successfully in terms of numbers of people attending, Imran Khan’s political future seems to have brightened. Post al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, things are looking bright for the former cricketer and playboy. His anti-American rhetoric coupled with his ambiguous stand on the Taliban has won him the support of the ultra-right, while at the same time, his unending tirade against corruption continues to gain him followers from the middle and lower income groups. What is interesting, say political observers, is that as relations between the army and mainstream political parties deteriorate, Khan appears have become more acceptable to the men in uniform. “Imran Khan is talking in a language that the army wants to hear. He is talking about the good Taliban and the bad Taliban. He is critical of the United States and is taking a stand on the drone attacks. He is attacking the main political parties. And he is flirting with the religious parties,” says Rana Sanaullah, a key figure in the PML-N party.

Political parties are increasingly becoming critical of the armed forces —  that too in public discourse. PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif has asked the army chief and the ISI head to step down as they have “no moral authority to heed the armed forces after the Bin Laden and Mehran base debacle.” Sharif is not alone in his criticism.  There is a rising demand for more accountability of the military and for political overview of the armed forces. President Asif Ali Zardari seems to be playing both sides. He accuses Sharif of inciting dissent in the armed forces and trying to promote extremist elements within the army. But he has successfully pushed for greater powers for the prime minister and supremacy of parliament. Last month, finance minister Dr Hafeez Shaikh promised more details of military spending in the coming budget and let out that it is “government policy to ensure there are more answers being given by the GHQ.” Till now, the army leadership has brushed aside civilian interference in its affairs.

Setting the mood in what can be seen as a policy shift, ISI chief General Ahmed Shuja Pasha gave a closed door briefing to parliament on the Abbottabad incident. This was followed by a fiery question and answer session in which Pasha exchanged hot words with opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. In many ways, the army seems on the defensive. On the other hand — as seen in the Saleem Shahzad killing — old habits die hard. But there are some who still defend the actions of the men in khaki. One of them is Imran Khan.

When asked, Khan suggested that the Shahzad killing may have been an attempt to tarnish “the good name of the military.” He called it a conspiracy at a time when all other political leaders demanded a commission of inquiry be constituted with a Supreme Court judge as its head. Journalist Shamimur Rehman says that the recent popularity of Khan’s dharna suggests that he is being backed in his political ambitions by a third force. “This is not new in Pakistan. Ironically, the army’s biggest critic, Sharif, also enjoyed military patronage in his early political career,” adds Rehman.

Some wonder what the next stage for Khan may be. The army’s relations with political parties continue to deteriorate. Zardari is trying to build bridges only because army backing is needed for him to continue to stay in power. There are complications here as well.  “This is a party that the army traditionally distrusts because of its secular credentials,” says Kamran Shafi, a political analyst and former military officer.

As a grand opposition alliance comes into being this month, there are expectations that the political temperature in the country will rise. On the one hand will be the ruling party and its reluctant ally, the PML-Q party, which owes its existence to General Musharraf. On the other would be the PML-N and the MQM, two major political forces which represent the urban centres in Punjab and Sindh provinces. As has been the case in the past, there is a likely scenario that the army would come to the rescue of the government if the situation becomes critical. Such a situation was seen in 2009 when a long march by the PML-N almost shut down Punjab province and forced Zardari to reinstate the chief justice. That deal was brokered at the prodding of the army chief, say insiders.

Such history may be repeated. Analysts say that Imran Khan is now being seen as the “reserve candidate” of the army high command. Acceptable to both right and left, Khan may be installed as a compromise prime minister if political forces are unable to reach a compromise. Ruling party figures say that such a possibility would be “unacceptable” to them. “The thought seems ludicrous,” says information minister Firdous Ashiq Awan. However, stranger things have happened in Pakistan’s political history. And with corruption becoming a national topic of debate, such a proposal seems to be gaining ground in many areas of Pakistan.

-HT

 

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SOUTH ASIA

Pakistani Anti-graft body wants travel ban on Nawaz Sharif, kin

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Pakistan’s anti-corruption watchdog has asked authorities to place ousted premier Nawaz Sharif, his daughter and son-in-law on the Exit Control List to prevent them from leaving the country.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) sent a formal request to the ministry of interior. The interior ministry officials confirmed that the NAB wrote that names of Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Capt (retd) Muhammad Safdar should be put on the Exit Control List (ECL), which listed individuals not allowed to leave Pakistan.

The NAB argued that as the trial of the three nears its conclusion, it is feared that they would leave the country.

Earlier, a similar request to place name of finance minister Ishaq Dar on ECL was not accepted, allowing him to go to London and never return.

Sharif, 68, and his family this week filed an application with the accountability court seeking a fortnight’s exemption from personal appearance from February 19 onwards to let them go to London to see Sharif’s ailing wife. Three cases were filed against Sharif and his family last year, including Avenfield properties, Azizia & Hill Metal Establishment, and Flagship Investments.

Maryam and Safdar are accused only in Avenfield properties case. The NAB had filed two supplementary references against Sharif, his sons Hasan and Hussain regarding Al-Azizia Steel Mills & Hill Metal Establishment and Flagship Investment cases.

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Pakistan “breaches obligations’ on nuclear arms reduction, UN court told

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The Hague: Pakistan is violating its “obligations” to the international community by failing to reduce its nuclear arsenal, the Marshall Islands told the UN’s highest court on Tuesday.

The small Pacific Island nation is this week launching three unusual cases against India, Pakistan and Britain before the International Court of Justice.

Majuro wants to put a new spotlight on the global nuclear threat, its lawyers said yesterday, by using its own experience with massive US-led nuclear tests in the 1940s and 1950s.

“Pakistan is in breach of its obligations owed to the international community as a whole,” when it comes to reducing its nuclear stockpile, said Nicholas Grief, one of the island nation’s lawyers.

Islamabad and its nuclear-armed neighbour India “continue to engage in a quantitative build-up and a qualitative improvement” of their atomic stockpiles, added Tony deBrum, a Marshallese government minister.

DeBrum warned that even a “limited nuclear war” involving the two countries would “threaten the existence” of his island nation people.

Pakistan and India have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.

In 1998, the rival neighbours both demonstrated nuclear weapons capability.

The ICJ’s judges are holding hearings for the next week and a half to decide whether it is competent to hear the lawsuits brought against India and Pakistan — neither of which have signed the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

A third hearing against Britain — which has signed the NPT — scheduled to start on Wednesday will be devoted to “preliminary objections” raised by London.

The Marshalls initially sought to bring a case against nine countries it said possessed nuclear arms: Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia and the United States.
Israel has never admitted to having nuclear weapons.

But the Hague-based ICJ, set up in 1945 to rule in disputes between states, has only admitted three cases against Britain, India and Pakistan, because they have accepted the ICJ’s compulsory jurisdiction.

Pakistan’s lawyers did not attend Tuesday’s hearings.

It did however file a counter-claim against Majuro’s allegations saying “the court has no jurisdiction to deal with the application” and insisting that the case is “not admissible”, said ICJ President Ronny Abraham.

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Bangladesh to drop Islam as official religion following attacks on Hindus

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Bangladesh to drop Islam as official religion following attacks on Hindus

New Delhi: Bangladesh is likely to drop Islam as its official religion following a series of attacks on people from other faiths in the country. The country’s Supreme Court is hearing a plea challenging the status of the official religion of the country to Islam.

Bangladesh, which was declared a secular country after its formation in 1971, was declared an Islamic country following a constitutional amendment in 1988.

According to a report in the Daily Mail, the plea has challenged the declaration of Islam as the national religion of the country.

The move is being supported by leaders from the minority communities like Hindus, Christians and Muslim minority Shiites.

Bangladesh has 90 per cent of Muslims, 8 per cent Hindus and remaining constitutes Christians and Muslim minority Shiites.

In last month, a Hindu priest was hacked to death following an attack on a temple in Panchgarh district. Two others were seriously injured in the attack. There have been several lethal attacks on writers and bloggers.

According to a report in the Independent, Islamist groups Jumatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh and Ansarullah Bangla Team are believed to have carried out at least seven attacks on foreign and minority people in Bangladesh in the past year.

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