Issuing notices to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for dragging feet on polls in Punjab, the Supreme Court of Pakistan Monday sought guarantees from the government and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) to bury the hatchet for free, fair, and transparent elections.
These developments came to the fore during the hearing of the plea regarding the date for general elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa today (Monday).
A five-member larger bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial, heard the plea. The court also issued notices to governors of two provinces through the chief secretary.
“The court only needs assurance from both sides. The elections should be peaceful, transparent, and fair. If the government and PTI want elections, they have to give assurances,” Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial said.
He added the parties would decide what those assurances would be like not the court.
“The parties should evaluate what is and what isn’t good for the public. Pakistan’s Constitution was not made for only setting up or toppling the governments,” he remarked suggesting it was more than that.
The SC’s top judge said that the Constitution was interpreted while keeping the life and happiness of people in mind.
“The current situation is alarming. Elections can only be held when the conditions are favourable,” he said and insisted that one could not run away from the facts.
The chief justice maintained that the country’s atmosphere had turned poisonous due to political intolerance. “The present political situation is terrible. Politicians are at each other’s throats,” he said.
Justice Bandial asked both the government and the Imran Khan-led party to decide what is best for Pakistan.
Sharing his remarks regarding the ECP, the top judge said that it was merely an institution. “The election commission requires facilitation and support for [conducting] polls.”
Apart from sending notices to all parties mentioned in the PTI’s plea, the apex court has also sent a notice to the governors of both provinces through chief secretaries.
The chief justice remarked that polls were essential for the functioning of the country’s governance system. “The election process should be transparent and peaceful. Article 218 calls for transparency of elections.”
Justice Bandial also questioned the performance of leaders in the country. “What have our leaders done so far?”
PTI’s counsel Barrister Ali Zafar, during his arguments, said that the objective of the caretaker government was to hold elections within 90 days. “The polls cannot be delayed for five months after the deadline.”
Apart from the CJP, the bench included Justice Ijaz ul Ahsan, Justice Munib Akhtar, Justice Amin-Ud-Din Khan and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail.
The PTI moved the apex court following the ECP decision to postpone the Punjab polls from April 30 to October 8 after financial and security authorities expressed their inability to support the electoral process.
In light of the Supreme Court’s split ruling last month, President Arif Alvi announced the date for the Punjab polls after consulting with the ECP.
Weighing in, Justice Ijazul Hassan said the ECP first said it was unable to fix a date for elections and later it postponed the date (given by the president) in total contradiction to its earlier position.
Justice Munib Akhtar said the Supreme Court’s decision was undersigned by all five judges. “It is not like that there are two Supreme Court decisions. Dissenting notes in judgements are not out of ordinary.”
Meanwhile, the additional attorney-general of Pakistan requested the court to adjourn the case for two to three days. However, the request was rejected by the court.
The additional attorney-general said that attorney-general Barrister Shehzad Elahi had resigned from the post. He pleaded with the court to adjourn the case until the appointment of a new attorney-general.
Responding to this, the Chief Justice said that the nominated attorney-general had visited him earlier today and would join by tomorrow.
Justice Bandial also spoke about the ECP seeking Article 254’s support for postponing the elections. “Can Article 254 be invoked in such a scenario? The Article 254 does not allow violation of the Constitution,” he remarked.
The top judge added that the court was determined to “dispose of this case as soon as possible”.
“The Election Commission should answer the questions raised in PTI’s petition,” he said while addressing the electoral authority.
Following the ECP’s announcement, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Haji Ghulam Ali also urged the electoral body to also hold the general elections on the same date (October 8) as the Punjab polls given the growing security threats from terror groups operating from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border regions.
At the outset of the hearing, PTI’s lawyer Barrister Ali Zafar said that contempt of court has been committed thrice.
“When was the election schedule issued?” questioned CJP Bandial.
The PTI’s counsel replied that the schedule was issued on March 8. “The Election Commission did not have the authority to give a date for the elections,” he added.
Barrister Zafar said that the KP governor failed to give a date for the polls in the province despite the Supreme Court’s orders.
He added that the president, after consultation with the ECP, gave April 30 as the date for polls.
Barrister Zafar said that the apex court had ordered the ECP to fix the earliest date for elections after the completion of the 90-day period.
“Fixing a date for the polls far later after the 90-day deadline was also contempt of court,” he said, adding that the ECP has either changed or suspended the Constitution.
The Ministry of Interior and Defence refused to provide security personnel, he added.
Zafar said that the Constitution does not allow the postponement of elections on the basis of the administration’s non-cooperation.
“What guarantee is there that the situation will be better in October?” he questioned,
“What do you want from Supreme Court?” Justice Mandokhail asked the PTI lawyer.
At this, the PTI’s counsel said that the top court should ensure the implementation of the Constitution and its order.
Justice Mandokhail remarked it was the high court’s job to ensure the implementation of the orders.
“Elections will never be held if the reason for lack of funds is accepted,” said Zafar, adding that the matter was just not confined to the execution of the court orders.
“One high court cannot hear the matter of elections in two provinces,” said Barrister Zafar.
He added that the Supreme Court had announced its decision using its authority, which still prevailed.
“ECP’s decision became a hurdle in the way of the Supreme Court ruling.”
The PTI’s counsel said that only Supreme Court could decide better whether the orders were violated or not. “It is a matter of fundamental rights of the people of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” he added.
US Fulbright scholarship prgramme opens for Pakistani students
ISLAMABAD: The United States Educational Foundation in Pakistan (USEFP) has invited students to apply for the prestigious Fulbright Student Programme 2024.
The Fulbright Program in Pakistan is funded by the United States Government and is the world’s largest in terms of financial contribution, said a press release on Thursday.
Applications are welcome from all disciplines, including energy, water, agriculture, health, education, environmental science, and climate change. While clinical medicine is not included in the Fulbright Program, non-clinical public health applications are encouraged.
Interested applicants can apply at www.usefp.org before the deadline on February 28, 2024. The premier academic exchange program covers graduate studies, tuition, maintenance, insurance, and air travel.
All applicants are required to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and must have a minimum score of 145 in both the verbal and quantitative sections of the exam. Shortlisted candidates will be required to take the Duolingo English Test.
On the impact of the Fulbright Program in Pakistan, US Ambassador Donald Blome said: “Pakistani Fulbrighters have solved social problems, written new laws, advanced policies to ensure equal access and voices to all, and so much more. They do this all for one purpose: to create a better, safer, and more prosperous Pakistan. In this goal, the United States and Pakistan are united.”
Under the Fulbright Programme, nearly 3,000 Pakistani students have received fully funded scholarships to study for graduate study since 2005. These awardees have completed their studies and research and are now making significant contributions to the public and private sectors with their knowledge and expertise.
In a message to potential applicants, USEFP Executive Director Rita Akhtar encourages talented students and working professionals to consider applying.
“We especially want to encourage applicants from public universities and under-served areas. Fulbright is a merit-based program, but in defining merit, the program considers the obstacles and challenges applicants have faced as well as their achievements.
“One of the goals of the program is to build human capacity in Pakistan, so successful applicants will plan to return to Pakistan on completion of their degrees and use their new skills and knowledge for the benefit of the country.”
FDE announces winter vacations for schools
ISLAMABAD: The government has announced the winter vacations for educational institutes functioning under the federal administration.
The winter break in the federal educational institutes will officially start from December 25 to December 29, a notification issued by the Federal Directorate of Education read.
However, Federal Directorate of Education officials said that the institutes will close on December 22, which falls on Friday, and reopen on January 1, 2024, (Monday).
Earlier in the month, Punjab and Sindh governments also announced the winter vacation schedule for the year.
In Punjab, the winter break for school children will commence from December 18, 2023, and continue till January 1, 2024.
“Winter vacations for children will commence from Dec 18 , 2023 to Jan 1, 2024,” Punjab caretaker Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi had announced.
Meanwhile, the Sindh schools will have the vacations from December 22 to 31.
After the winter break, the educational institutions will reopen on Monday (January 1, 2024).
“In pursuance of decisions taken in the steering committee meeting, all public and private educational institutions under the administrative control of School Education and Literacy Department Government of Sindh shall remain closed w.e.f 22-12,023 to 31-12,023 for Winter Vacation,” a statement by the provincial government read.
Meanwhile, the new academic year in the public and private schools across Sindh will commence on April 15, 2024, and August 1, 2024, in the colleges.
The matriculation and intermediate exams will be started in the last week of May 2024, while the results will be announced on July 31 and the second week of August, respectively.
Pakistan to ‘ascertain facts’ on Afghan minister using its passport
- Haqqani possessed a Pakistani passport until recently: report.
- FO says the answer will come only after facts are ascertained.
- US officials are set to visit Pakistan to discuss several matters.
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan said Thursday it will first ascertain facts before issuing a comment on a report that claims that Afghanistan’s acting Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani possessed a Pakistani passport until recently.
In her weekly press briefing, Foreign Office (FO) spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said: “I have seen the report on the use of a Pakistani passport by the Afghan minister. The matter will be answered after [ascertaining] the facts.”
A report published in The News today revealed that Haqqani was issued a Pakistani passport for five years which he used to travel abroad, particularly to Qatar for negotiations with the United States for the signing of the Doha Agreement that resulted in the latter’s exit from Afghanistan.
The publication, via the interior ministry officials, learnt that these passports were issued from different cities of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, and Sindh.
Meanwhile, two passport officials involved in issuing Haqqani’s passport have been arrested, one of whom had retired from service by the time the action was initiated against him.
The issue around the minister using the Pakistani passport comes at a time when Pakistan continues to repatriate illegal foreigners, most of whom are undocumented Afghan migrants.
Baloch also briefed the presser about top officials from the United States visiting Pakistan this week.
“The focus of these visits is not only Afghanistan. These visits are related to the multifaceted aspects of Pakistan-US relations,” she said, adding that Pakistan has decided to talk to America.
Pakistan and the US will conduct consultations over several issues including the situation in Afghanistan, the FO said last week.
In the meetings between Pakistan and US officials, reservations of both sides will be discussed. “We will also discuss the issues on which we have objections.”
Updated list of Afghans from US
The spokesperson further shared that Pakistan has received an updated list from the American authorities regarding the transfer of Afghan nationals to the US.
Last month, a coalition comprising former high-ranking United States (US) officials and resettlement organisations issued an urgent appeal to Pakistan, urging it to not deport Afghan individuals applying to seek refuge in and visas for the US.
The appeal came weeks after Pakistan announced November 1 as the deadline for all undocumented migrants — a substantial number of whom are Afghans — residing in the country to either leave on their own or face expulsion once the ultimatum ends.
The population of the aforementioned migrants includes roughly 20,000 or potentially more Afghans, who escaped their homeland following the Taliban’s return to power in 2021. Many of these migrants in Pakistan are awaiting their applications for the US Special Immigration Visas (SIVs) or refugee resettlement in the United States to be processed.
Commenting on regular skirmishes at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, the spokesperson said: “There are often misunderstandings between the border authorities. These misunderstandings are cleared through communication channels.”
She added that the Torkham border was opened for all kinds of traffic yesterday.
Israels’ ‘barbaric attacks’
The FO yet again condemned the continuous Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip, stating that the situation in the Strip is rapidly deteriorating.
“No place in Gaza is safe for the public,” Baloch said.
The UN Security Council must perform its primary responsibility under the Charter, impose an immediate and unconditional ceasefire and protect the people of Gaza from an impending genocide, the FO spokesperson said.
“We call on Israel’s backers to urge Israel to end its barbaric attacks and inhumane siege against Gaza,” she added.
The spokesperson further stated that Pakistan calls for an international conference for long-term peace on the Palestinian question.
“Durable peace in the region will emerge from the internationally agreed two-state solution and from the creation of a secure, viable, contiguous, and sovereign state of Palestine on the basis of the pre-June 1967 borders, with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital,” she said.
Baloch also spoke about the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s efforts for Palestinians.
The head of the UN warned that he expects “public order to completely break down soon due to the desperate conditions” in Gaza, currently under relentless Israeli bombardment and invoked Article 99 of the UN Charter for the first time in his tenure owing to the gravity of the humanitarian crisis in the Strip.
‘Pakistani citizens welfare top priority’
During the presser, Baloch commented on the recent revelations regarding Dr Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist jailed in the United States for over a decade.
According to her lawyer, the Pakistani doctor has been sexually assaulted at least two times during her incarceration.
“The statements related to Aafia Siddiqui are serious,” the spokesperson said.
She further added that Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar has instructed that the matter should be taken up with the US Department of State and investigations should be conducted.
“The welfare of Pakistani citizens is among our priorities,” Baloch reiterated.
She also spoke about the acid attack on former special assistant to the prime minister Shahzad Akbar last week.
“Shahzad Akbar did not seek help from the Pakistani High Commission in this regard,” she said.
The FO strongly rejected the allegations of involvement of Pakistani agencies in the incident. “Pakistan has faith in the British authorities’ investigation.”