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A tale of two by-elections

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"Sialkot district administration has joined hands with PML-N and pre-poll rigging is underway," blared a private news channel known for being pro-government.

Imran Yaqub Khan Profile Imran Yaqub Khan

When I saw this breaking news on the TV, I was startled. Then, when Firdous Aashiq Awan came on to the channel to confirm the news, I was astonished.

 

In my long journalistic career, I have not seen a representative of the government admit on television that district administration is not in their control. Who were Firdous Aashiq Awan's allegations directed at? The Chief Minister? The Chief Secretary and Secretary Interior her own government had appointed? The entire political and administrative leadership of the province? The news item made things clear even before polling had taken place. I became aware that law and order will be disrupted on the day of by-elections but even I could not have predicted that two lives would be lost to violence. I wonder who is responsible for destroying two families in the merciless game of thrones.

On polling day itself, videos surfaced on social media, showing motorcycle riders firing into the air indiscriminately in different areas of Wazirabad and Daska. Opposition was quick to allege that the miscreants were members of the ruling PTI. A few SHOs were named as being in cahoots with the miscreants. One video showed a few men firing into the air in the company of a PTI MPA, challenging their opponents.

There was more to come. When polling ended, Maryam Nawaz posted various videos on twitter, depicting alleged rigging. The bombshell clips showed opened bags full of votes. Is this the sanctity of the ballot? When PTI was in opposition, it cried afoul when ballots were torn, snatched or disappeared. What change has come about now that today they are in power?

Perhaps only this much change has materialized that they could allege 35 punctures without proof but today, there are videos of votes being stolen.

The icing on the cake arrived next morning when ECP released a letter about the situation in NA 75. Its contents are well known by now, a tale so incredulous that it is almost unbelievable. When I read the statement, I was forced to ask myself what remains to make us a complete banana republic.

If either the opposition or the government becomes this emotional about a single seat, then it is understood that they are fear something bigger. The opposition cannot do much with a seat or two but for the government, this panic denotes a deeper problem.

Whatever government ministers and representatives say on television, the situation on ground no longer suits them. Defeats in by-polls one after the other, the desperation for the federal senate seat and losing Nowshera after almost eight years of rule are no trifling inconveniences.

Nowshera was expected to be a tight race but perhaps even PML-N did not expect a win. It was confident of victory in both Daska and Wazirabad. In Balochistan, last week's by-election result was not unexpected but it did encourage PDM unlike any rally could.

Perhaps it is time for the government to assess how popular it is among the voters. If they acknowledge their waning support then their panic is not without reason. PDM has indeed achieved one of its targets.

Recent developments are cause for plenty of concern for everyone. Violence in elections is not a new phenomenon but the intensity of this week's polls are reason to be afraid of what the future will bring.

If the ruling elite does not reject such extremes and refuses to listen to each other, then instability cannot be avoided.

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Health

National polio vaccination drive set to reach over 45.8 mln children

The latest reports say that the children will also be given vitamin A supplements to boost their immunity.

Published by Hussnain Bhutta

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Islamabad: Reaffirming Pakistan’s resolve to protect all children from the disability-causing polio virus, the Health Ministry the second nationwide polio vaccination campaign of the year on Sunday.

More than 45.8 million children under five years of age will be vaccinated during this second campaign of 2024, which will be held across the country from February 26 to March 3 and in 33 districts of KP from March 2 to March 6.

Children will also be given vitamin A supplements to boost their immunity.

“Polio is a terrible disease that has no cure and can leave children paralyzed for life. Unfortunately, it continues to be a threat to our children as some people refuse to vaccinate children based on misconceptions and false information about the vaccine,” the Federal Secretary for Health, Iftikhar Ali Shallwani, said after administering polio drops to children.

Shallwani added that while the government remains strongly committed to ending polio in Pakistan and is making great progress, as decision-makers, parents and caregivers also have a huge responsibility to ensure their children’s well-being.

In a special message directed to parents and caregivers, the health secretary emphasized, “Polio vaccinators will be delivering this vital vaccine to your doorsteps next week. I implore you to recognize the threat posed by the poliovirus to your children and ensure that you open your doors to facilitate their vaccination.”

This is the second consecutive nationwide campaign of the year after poliovirus was detected in sewage samples from 19 districts in January and in 126 sewage samples in 2023.

The first campaign of 2024 was held from January 8 to January 14, during which over 43 million children were vaccinated.

On this occasion, the National Coordinator for Pakistan’s Polio Programme, Dr Shahzad Baig, said that the Pakistan Polio Programme has devised a comprehensive mass vaccination and health services delivery plan for the year and will be working with a laser focus on reaching missed children, reducing refusals, and increasing community engagement to build trust and goodwill for polio eradication efforts.

“The wellbeing of all Pakistani children is our top priority, and we will continue to take all measures possible to ensure quality healthcare delivery to end this disease in the country.

This is a critical campaign because poliovirus was found in multiple environmental samples in January, which means children are persistently at risk from this disease,” said Dr Baig.

“Viruses do not discriminate; they will find vulnerable children and target them anywhere; therefore, it is vital for parents to ensure that their children are vaccinated multiple times throughout the year to ensure that they remain protected,” he said.

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Pakistan

Munir Akram is listed among 14 influential UN diplomats, officials by a media website

Apart from the Pakistani envoy, other ambassadors named on the ‘Power List’ are Adonis Ayebare of Uganda, Lana Nusseibeh of UAE and Christian Wenaweser of Liechtenstein– a total of only four from the 193 ambassadors serving at the UN.

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Islamabad: Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Munir Akram, is among 14 influential diplomats and officials at the U.N. who are featured in the “Power List” published by a noted news & analysis website, calling the Pakistani envoy a “heavy hitter.”

The website called “International Intrigue” was founded in 2020 by two former Australian diplomats — Helen Zhang and John Fowler — who are now based in the United States.

The news outlet regularly publishes articles on international and regional issues. In introducing Ambassador Akram, the website said he is one of Pakistan’s “influential” diplomats who is currently serving his second term at the U.N. in New York, after an earlier posting from 2002 to 2008. He also served for seven years as a permanent representative to the UN in Geneva.

It also referred to his stints as Pakistan’s ambassador to the EU and Japan, chairman of the Group of 77 (developing countries), plus a term as president of the UN’s key Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), “using the time to press his concept of a new international system for development finance.”

Noting that his first stint as ambassador in New York (2002-08) coincided with Pakistan’s term on the Security Council, the website pointed out that Pakistan is now running unopposed for another term on the 15-member body (2025-26). “So,” it added, “assuming he’s still in the role, Akram will again represent Pakistan at what is arguably the world’s most important (and dysfunctional) table”.

Ambassador Akram’s introduction concluded with the remark: “He’s a heavy hitter who plays the system well, so you can bet the Council’s permanent members (Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S.) will know he’s there.”

Apart from the Pakistani envoy, other ambassadors named on the ‘Power List’ are Adonis Ayebare of Uganda, Lana Nusseibeh of UAE and Christian Wenaweser of Liechtenstein– a total of only four from the 193 ambassadors serving at the UN.

The rest are senior UN officials, an indication that one has to know the inside workings of the Organization to wield influence in it. Among the UN officials listed are: Deputy Secretary-GeneralAmina Mohammed, a Nigerian national, Earle Courtenay Rattray, chef de cabinet to the UN secretary-general, and Rosemary DiCarlo, under-secretary-general for political affairs.

 

 

 

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Pakistan

Speaker empowered to call session if president delays: Dar

The former finance minister highlights that Feb 29 marked the ultimate deadline as per the constitution's stipulated 21-day timeframe.

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Lahore: Senator Ishaq Dar emphasized on Sunday that should President Dr. Arif Alvi fail to schedule a session on Feb 29, the National Assembly speaker possesses the constitutional prerogative to convene a session independently.

Dar said that Constitution explicitly outlined that if a session is not called post-elections in the country, the speaker retains the authority to convene a session on the 21st day.

Dar further asserted that under such circumstances, it would be impractical to deliberate on how the economy could improve on the floor of the House.      

The former finance minister highlighted that Feb 29 marked the ultimate deadline as per the constitution's stipulated 21-day timeframe. He remarked that the same principle would also be applicable in the provinces if the governor did not convene a session

 

 

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