• Says PML-N will split into three factions by 2023
• Cabinet to decide visas on arrival facility for 15 more countries
• Vows to expose culprits behind NZ cricket team’s tour cancellation soon

KARACHI: The federal government on Monday adopted a conciliatory approach in what appears to be its first attempt to calm the hostile environment created by a series of tirades against the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) by senior leaders of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), holding important portfolios, during repeated pressers in recent weeks.

While addressing a press conference, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said that hostile environment had improved and should be improved further. “The good news is that the government and the ECP are getting closer,” he said, adding that “better relations” are essential for holding of “fair elections”.

The interior minister told the presser that he did write a letter in support of Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, but explained that it was addressed to the federal ombudsman. The claim was made days after PTI’s senior vice president and minister Azam Swati, accompanied by PM’s aide Babar Awan, raised questions over the CEC’s appointment. Mr Swati said the government had to swallow a “bitter pill” on his appointment.

However, Mr Rashid during his news conference did not specify any reason as to why federal ministers Azam Swati and Fawad Chaudhry failed to submit their replies to the notices issued to them by the ECP within the stipulated time of a week. Mr Swati had blamed the commission for ‘taking bribes’, ‘always rigging’ the elections and remarked, “Such institutions should be set on fire”.

The ECP on Sept 16 issued notices to the two ministers seeking evidence of the serious allegations they had levelled against the commission.

Responding to the claim of opposition leader in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif about burying the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) politically in the 2023 elections, the interior minister said that the family ruling the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) was facing internal rifts for want of political inheritance. He said he had previously predicted that two factions ‘N’ and ‘M’ would emerge from the PML-N, but this time he could see the fissures within the party, which would split it into three factions.

In the same breath, however, he assured Mr Shehbaz that the next general election would be held in a free and transparent manner as that was the only guarantee the latter had sought. Prime Minister Imran Khan, too, had been raising this demand that elections should be held in a free and fair manner, he said. Political environment in the country would be altogether different after two years, he added.

The minister said the government would soon expose the elements behind the cancellation of the New Zealand cricket team tour to the country as investigation was in final stages in this regard. He said the government was in contact with Interpol over a Singapore-India link.

About the cause of four murders in two days, the interior minister said Banigala property and land prices had increased tremendously. He said Islamabad’s D-Chowk had been made Hyde Park. He said Islamabad being capital was sensitive and he had directed the authorities concerned to ensure that Islamabad should not be exploited by anyone for accomplishing political ambitions.

In reply to another question, Mr Rashid said: “In Pakistan, of course, threat from TTP, Al Qaeda, Daesh, Baitul Islam extremists exists.” He said the country still had threats from extremist groups but security agencies were vigilant to respond to any threat from enemies. Army, police security personnel laid down their lives and were at the moment more capable than ever to fight terrorism, he asserted.

Visa on arrival facility

At the outset, the minister told the media that the summary for approval of on-arrival visas to citizens of 15 countries including, the US, Canada, France and Iran, was being sent to the cabinet on Tuesday. Earlier, citizens of 50 countries were eligible to get on-arrival visas, he added.

Mr Rashid said the interior ministry had decided to start work on e-passport to avoid all issues related to passports. Those returning to Afghanistan were more than those arriving here, the interior minister said, adding that biometric system had already been installed at Torkham and Chaman borders to check illegal crossing.

All provincial governments had been provided with the service of civil armed forces on the occasion of Chehlum of Imam Hussain, he said, adding that the command and control system would function round the clock. Mobile phone services would be suspended in the areas specified by their respective administrations for security purposes, he said.

Nadra had issued Covid-19 vaccine certificates to 7.5 million people whereas 76.1 million doses had been administered till date across the country.

Published in Dawn, September 28th, 2021

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