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Supreme Court sends notice to ECP over delay in Punjab polls

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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.

Hearing

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.

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government contests Imran Khan and Qureshi’s exoneration in the cipher case

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On Thursday, the federal government led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court contesting the exoneration of former Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and former Prime Minister Imran Khan in the well-known cipher case.

Citing procedural and jurisdictional issues, the Ministry of Interior has appealed the Islamabad High Court’s (IHC) ruling.

In hearing the cipher case, the High Court allegedly overreached its power, arguing that judges cannot change laws where Parliament has not expressly passed legislation.

Despite receiving government-funded legal representation, the petition emphasized Imran Khan and Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s lack of cooperation during the trial, submitting 65 separate motions and neglecting to cross-examine witnesses.

The petition contended that in order for a retrial to satisfy legal standards, the High Court should have ignored important evidence that was given during the trial. It requests that the appeals contesting the IHC’s June 3 acquittal be given a hearing date by the Supreme Court.

Case history

The cipher issue concerns a supposed diplomatic document that disappeared from Imran Khan’s custody. The cipher allegedly contained threats from the US to remove Khan from office, according to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. Shah Mehmood Qureshi and several aides, including Asad Umar, are named in the First Information Report (FIR) submitted by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in accordance with Section 34 of the Pakistan Penal Code and Sections 5 and 9 of the Official Secrets Act.

The then-foreign secretary received a diplomatic cipher from Washington on March 7, 2022, according to the FIR. The lawsuit claims that by manipulating the data for their own benefit, Khan and Qureshi put the safety of the country at risk. It alleges that on March 28, 2022, Khan secretly met at his Bani Gala home and gave his Principal Secretary, Muhammad Azam Khan, instructions to change the content of the cipher to his advantage, jeopardizing national security.

The document asserts that Khan still has custody of the cipher, jeopardizing Pakistan’s encrypted messaging systems and possibly helping foreign forces, which would be detrimental to the nation. A complaint has been filed by the FIA’s Anti-Terrorism Wing against Khan, Qureshi, and other individuals for improper use of state secrets and unapproved possession of the cipher.

Acquittal by the Islamabad High Court

In the cipher case, on June 3, the IHC cleared Khan and Qureshi when Justice Aamir Farooq issued a succinct ruling in their favor. Their sentences were appealed in the case, which has since been a source of political and legal controversy, leading to their acquittal.

This acquittal and the ongoing legal and political struggles surrounding the cipher case are highlighted by the government’s subsequent move to contest it.

With potentially huge ramifications for the parties involved and the larger political scene, the Supreme Court’s decision over whether to hear the appeal will be keenly scrutinized.

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Shahid Khaqan Abbasi urges political stability in order to accelerate economic expansion.

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Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, the former prime minister, emphasized on Thursday how important political stability is to Pakistan’s economic development and how the nation cannot prosper without it.

His concern was that export growth had not progressed, and he emphasized that stability in the current climate is vital to draw investments and carry out the necessary reforms.

In his criticism of the tax system, Abbasi brought up the erratic nature of tax laws and the transient nature of the most recent tax slab implementation. Insisting that difficult choices are unavoidable for economic recovery, he emphasized the necessity of designing a tax system that is equitable and does not burden the people.

Furthermore, arguing that the effectiveness of organizations like the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and National Accountability Bureau (NAB) is essential for economic governance and transparency, Abbasi urged for changes within these and other organizations.

Abbasi, in his discussion of more comprehensive fiscal plans, suggested that the National Finance Commission (NFC) award be reviewed again and that power distribution companies (DISCOs) be decentralized to the provinces.

In order to reduce inefficiencies and corruption at the provincial level, he recommended looking into ways to share the cost of defense spending and decentralize the management of energy resources.

In closing, Abbasi emphasized that Pakistan’s economic trajectory will stay stagnant unless comprehensive changes are implemented immediately. To move the nation towards sustainable progress, he urged policymakers to give stability and structural reforms first priority.

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Through in-app QR payments, Zindigi and SBP streamline transactions involving sacrificial animals.

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With its in-app QR code payment system based on Raast, Zindigi—powered by JS Bank—has elevated the convenience of cashless payments for the procurement of sacrificial animals to a whole new level for Eid ul Adha.

This program uses QR code payments to streamline transactions for sacrificed animals for the general public and traders. It is a component of the State Bank of Pakistan’s Raast quick payment service.

This feature enables users of Zindigi and users of any digital banking apps or wallets to safely and easily make payments at certain cattle markets throughout Pakistan using Zindigi QR. The consumer must scan the QR code of the livestock merchant and pay the transaction amount in order to complete the payment.

In order to further financial inclusion and digital innovation in Pakistan’s developing economy, Zindigi and the State Bank of Pakistan have partnered. Both organizations are committed to improving the efficiency and accessibility of financial services, especially on holidays such as Eid ul Adha, by utilizing the most recent developments in fintech.

One of the most important steps toward promoting financial inclusion and economic empowerment at the local level is the integration of livestock markets into the digital economy. Farmers and retailers may take charge of their financial operations and help realize the larger goal of an inclusive digital Pakistan by adopting digital payments.

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