WASHINGTON: A large number of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf supporters in the United States, calling themselves as PTI US, on Sunday urged the Biden administration to impose visa bans on Pakistani officials.

The request came as pro and anti-PTI activists vie for favours in Washington.

PTI has introduced another player — Shahbaz Gill — registering him as the party’s foreign agent with the US Department of Justice this week.

The former chief of staff to party chairman faces sedition charges in Pakistan, and was allowed to travel abroad by the court on March 29 for a month. But he filed a new plea seeking an extension of his stay.

In Houston, the PTI chief’s adviser for Overseas Pakistanis, Atif Khan sought visa bans on everyone involved in the alleged human rights violations and attempts to derail democracy in Pakistan.

The pro-PTI forces, who have been campaigning since their government’s ouster in April 2022, are working on two fronts: the US Congress and the administration.

“Challenges and obstacles are basic requirements for achieving bigger goals,” said Dr Asif Mahmood, a California Democrat of Pakistani origin, who is leading the pro-PTI campaign.

However, an anti-PTI group that entered the game late, is trying to catch up.

Hussain Haqqani, a former ambassador to the United States, dispelled the impression that the entire Pakistani community in the US was standing with PTI.

Mr Haqqani also shared a statement by a Washington-based group called Non-Resident Pakistanis (NRP), which has launched its own campaign to counter the pro-PTI lobby.

The statement noted that a section of Pakistani expatriates in the US has launched a ‘propaganda campaign,’ alleging human rights violations in Pakistan. To dispel this false impression, NRP plans a series of online community town hall meetings, starting this week.

The camp’s biggest achievement so far has been persuading almost 70 US lawmakers to sign a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, urging him to help stop crackdown on PTI and persuade Islamabad to hold free and fair elections.

“The government in Islamabad appears quite upset with this development,” a diplomatic source told Dawn, while another insider confided that Islamabad wants at least some of those lawmakers to publicly disassociate themselves from the letter.

Subsequently this week, Tahir Javed, a Pakistani-American Democrat who also maintains a close relationship with the Pakistan embassy, met some lawmakers who later said their letter to Mr Blinken was for the sake of human rights and democracy, not in support of any politician.

Protest in Scotland

In Scotland, PTI supporters held a demonstration outside the Scottish Parliament on Sunday, urging the lawmakers to take notice of the crackdown launched by the government on their party.

Protest organiser Zahra Hussain expressed satisfaction at the turnout but expressed disappointment at the silence of First Minister Hamza Yousaf, a Scottish-Pakistani.

“We are quite disappointed by Hamza Yousaf’s silence on this matter. We invited him to take notice of the human rights situation in Pakistan, but are quite saddened by the lack of response from Mr Yousaf,” said Ms Hussain, a former information secretary of PTI Edinburgh.

Ms Hussain told Dawn that for the first time, even overseas Pakistanis were afraid of holding and participating in protests for PTI and some insisted on covering their faces.

Atika Rehman in London also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, June 5th, 2023

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