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Former Pakistan PM Khan appears in court as supporters clash with police

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(Last Updated On: May 12, 2023)

Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan arrived at an Islamabad court on Friday under heavy security cover as his supporters clashed with police elsewhere in the city, broadcaster Geo TV reported.

Television footage showed heavily armed paramilitary troops and police outside the Islamabad High Court as Khan was brought in a motorcade of nearly a dozen vehicles.

Khan, wearing dark glasses and dressed in a sky blue shalwar kameez, the loose shirt and trousers popular in Pakistan, walked into the court surrounded by lawyers and security forces, the broadcaster said.

Geo said supporters of Khan clashed with police elsewhere in the city as roads were cleared for his convoy. The Islamabad police have imposed an emergency order banning all gatherings in the city.

Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party said thousands of “peaceful Pakistanis” will gather in Islamabad in solidarity with their leader, who police said was allowed to meet 10 people on Thursday night in a police guesthouse.

His arrest earlier this week, which sparked deadly unrest in the nuclear-armed nation, was ruled “invalid and unlawful” by the Supreme Court on Thursday.

The top court ordered him to appear before the Islamabad High Court for a hearing on his petition challenging the anti-corruption action against him, Reuters reported.

Violence sparked by Khan’s arrest has aggravated instability in the country of 220 million people at a time of severe economic crisis, with record high inflation, anaemic growth and delayed IMF funding.

Nearly 2,000 people have been arrested for violence since Khan’s detention on Tuesday and at least eight have been killed, read the report.

Protesters have attacked military establishments, ransacked the house of a top army general in the eastern city of Lahore, and set ablaze state buildings and assets in other places.

Khan was arrested a day after the powerful military rebuked him for repeatedly accusing a senior officer of trying to engineer his assassination and the former armed forces chief of being behind his removal from power last year.

The army has warned Khan’s supporters that it will respond firmly if there are further attacks on its assets, saying in a statement on Wednesday that the violence at its installations was “pre-planned” and ordered by his party leadership.

Khan’s party has maintained it has only called for peaceful protests, Reuters reported.

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Pakistan ex-PM Imran Khan urges IMF to call election audit, his lawyer says

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(Last Updated On: February 23, 2024)

Pakistan’s jailed former prime minister Imran Khan will write to the IMF urging it to call for an independent audit of the country’s controversial Feb. 8 national elections before it continues talks with Islamabad, his lawyer said on Thursday.

Pakistan averted default last summer thanks to a short term International Monetary Fund bailout, but the programme expires next month and a new government will have to negotiate a long-term arrangement to keep the $350 billion economy stable, Reuters reported.

Khan and his party alleged that the polls, which did not return a majority for any party, were rigged. Candidates backed by Khan won the most seats, but an alliance of his rival parties has more seats and is in a position to form the next government.

“The letter from Imran Khan we will say clearly that if the IMF wants to talk to Pakistan, they should place conditions of an independent audit (of the polls),” Khan’s lawyer, Ali Zafar, told reporters outside the jail where the former premier and cricket hero is imprisoned.

Pakistan’s election commission denies widespread rigging and is hearing complaints by various applicants who allege irregularities, read the report.

Zafar said that multilateral agencies such as the IMF and international blocs such as the European Union can only give financial assistance on the condition that there is good governance and democracy, including free and fair elections.

The IMF met with political parties last year to seek assurances of their support of key objectives and policies under the bailout programme.

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Iran sends Russia hundreds of ballistic missiles

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(Last Updated On: February 22, 2024)

Iran has provided Russia with a large number of powerful surface-to-surface ballistic missiles, six sources told Reuters, deepening the military cooperation between the two U.S.-sanctioned countries, Reuters reported.

Iran’s provision of around 400 missiles includes many from the Fateh-110 family of short-range ballistic weapons, such as the Zolfaghar, three Iranian sources said. This road-mobile missile is capable of striking targets at a distance of between 300 and 700 km (186 and 435 miles), experts say.

Iran’s defence ministry and the Revolutionary Guards – an elite force that oversees Iran’s ballistic missile programme – declined to comment. Russia’s defence ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The shipments began in early January after a deal was finalised in meetings late last year between Iranian and Russian military and security officials that took place in Tehran and Moscow, one of the Iranian sources said.

An Iranian military official – who, like the other sources, asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the information – said there had been at least four shipments of missiles and there would be more in the coming weeks. He declined to provide further details.

Another senior Iranian official said some of the missiles were sent to Russia by ship via the Caspian Sea, while others were transported by plane, read the report.

“There will be more shipments,” the second Iranian official said. “There is no reason to hide it. We are allowed to export weapons to any country that we wish to.”

U.N. Security Council restrictions on Iran’s export of some missiles, drones and other technologies expired in October. However, the United States and European Union retained sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile programme amid concerns over exports of weapons to its proxies in the Middle East and to Russia.

A fourth source, familiar with the matter, confirmed that Russia had received a large number of missiles from Iran recently, without providing further details.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said in early January the United States was concerned that Russia was close to acquiring short-range ballistic weapons from Iran, in addition to missiles already sourced from North Korea.

A U.S. official told Reuters that Washington had seen evidence of talks actively advancing but no indication yet of deliveries having taken place.

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the missile deliveries.

Ukraine’s top prosecutor said on Friday the ballistic missiles supplied by North Korea to Russia had proven unreliable on the battlefield, with only two of 24 hitting their targets. Moscow and Pyongyang have both denied that North Korea has provided Russia with munitions used in Ukraine.

By contrast, Jeffrey Lewis, an expert with the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, said the Fateh-110 family of missiles and the Zolfaghar were precision weapons.

“They are used to point at things that are high value and need precise damage,” said Lewis, adding that 400 munitions could inflict considerable harm if used in Ukraine. He noted, however, that Russian bombardments were already “pretty brutal”.

A Ukrainian military source told Reuters that Kyiv had not registered any use of Iranian ballistic missiles by Russian forces in the conflict. The Ukrainian defence ministry did not immediately reply to Reuters’ request for comment.

Following the publication of this story, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s Air Force told national television that it had no official information on Russia obtaining such missiles. He said that ballistic missiles would pose a serious threat to Ukraine.

Former Ukrainian defence minister Andriy Zagorodnyuk said that Russia wanted to supplement its missile arsenal at a time when delays in approving a major package of U.S. military aid in Congress has left Ukraine short of ammunition and other material.

“The lack of U.S. support means shortages of ground-based air defence in Ukraine. So they want to accumulate a mass of rockets and break through Ukrainian air defence,” said Zagorodnyuk, who chairs the Kyiv-based Centre for Defence Strategies, a security think tank, and advises the government.

Kyiv has repeatedly asked Tehran to stop supplying Shahed drones to Russia, which have become a staple of Moscow’s long-range assaults on Ukrainian cities and infrastructure, alongside an array of missiles.

Ukraine’s air force said in December that Russia had launched 3,700 Shahed drones during the war, which can fly hundreds of kilometres and explode on impact. Ukrainians call them “mopeds” because of the distinctive sound of their engines; air defences down dozens of them each week.

Iran initially denied supplying drones to Russia but months later said it had provided a small number before Moscow launched the war on Ukraine in 2022.

“Those who accuse Iran of providing weapons to one of the sides in the Ukraine war are doing so for political purposes,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said on Monday, when asked about Tehran’s delivery of drones to Russia. “We have not given any drones to take part in that war.”

Rob Lee, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a Philadelphia-based think tank, said a supply of Fateh-100 and Zolfaghar missiles from Iran would hand Russia an even greater advantage on the battlefield.

“They could be used to strike military targets at operational depths, and ballistic missiles are more difficult for Ukrainian air defences to intercept,” Lee said.

Iran’s hardline clerical rulers have steadily sought to deepen ties with Russia and China, betting that would help Tehran to resist U.S. sanctions and to end its political isolation.

Defence cooperation between Iran and Russia has intensified since Moscow sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine in February 2022.

Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu met the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Aerospace Force, Amirali Hajizadeh, in Tehran in September, when Iran’s drones, missiles and air defence systems were displayed for him, Iranian state media reported.

And last month, Russia’s foreign ministry said it expected President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi to sign a broad new cooperation treaty soon, following talks in Moscow in December.

“This military partnership with Russia has shown the world Iran’s defence capabilities,” said the military official. “It does not mean we are taking sides with Russia in the Ukraine conflict.”

The stakes are high for Iran’s clerical rulers amid the war between Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas that erupted after Oct. 7. They also face growing dissent at home over economic woes and social restrictions.

While Tehran tries to avoid a direct confrontation with Israel that could draw in the United States, its Axis of Resistance allies – including Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen – have attacked Israeli and U.S. targets.

A Western diplomat briefed on the matter confirmed the delivery of Iranian ballistic missiles to Russia in the recent weeks, without providing more details, Reuters reported.

He said Western nations were concerned that Russia’s reciprocal transfer of weapons to Iran could strengthen its position in any possible conflict with the United States and Israel.

Iran said in November it had finalised arrangements for Russia to provide it with Su-35 fighter jets, Mi-28 attack helicopters and Yak-130 pilot training aircraft.

Analyst Gregory Brew at Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, said Russia is an ally of convenience for Iran.

“The relationship is transactional: in exchange for drones, Iran expects more security cooperation and advanced weaponry, particularly modern aircraft,” he said.

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Pakistan’s largest parties strike deal on coalition government

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(Last Updated On: February 21, 2024)

Two major Pakistan political parties said on Tuesday that they had reached a formal agreement to form a coalition government, ending ten days of intense negotiations after an inconclusive national election did not return a clear majority, Reuters reported.

The agreement between Bhutto Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of three-time Premier Nawaz Sharif ends days of uncertainty and negotiations after the Feb. 8 elections produced a hung national assembly.

Bhutto Zardari confirmed at a late night press conference in Islamabad that former premier Shehbaz Sharif, who was seated beside him, would be the coalition’s candidate for prime minister.

He added that his father Asif Ali Zardari will be the alliance’s candidate for the country’s president.

Shehbaz Sharif, the younger brother of Nawaz, said the two parties had the numbers to form government, and also had the support of other smaller parties.

PML-N is the largest party with 79 seats and PPP is second with 54. They, along with four other smaller parties, have a comfortable majority in the legislature of 264 seats.

The delay in forming a government in the nuclear-armed nation of 241 million has caused concern as Pakistan is grappling with an economic crisis amid slow growth and record inflation, rising militant violence, and needs a stable administration with the authority to take tough decisions.

Bhutto Zardari said the parties would push to form government as soon as possible.

According to the country’s constitution, a session of parliament has to be called by Feb. 29 after which a vote for a new prime minister will take place, read the report.

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