01/26/2023, 12.00
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Political clash in Islamabad: government arrests a former minister of Imran Khan

Fawad Chaudhry was taken from his home and brought to court for criticising the head of the Election Commission. In the provinces where local assemblies have been dissolved, preparations for the elections are still stalled. According to commentators, the government's reaction was excessive. Meanwhile, foreign currency and fuel reserves continue to fall.

Islamabad (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The government led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif arrested Fawad Chaudhry, deputy chairman of former premier Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Pti) party. He is accused of undermining the security of the head of the Election Commission and other government officials.

This is the latest episode in the country's political saga that began in April last year after parliament voted no confidence in Khan, the opposition leader who has been criticising Sharif's government for months and calling for early elections. 

Chaudhry's arrest took place before dawn yesterday: the police showed up at his home in Lahore (Punjab) and after handcuffing him took him straight to court, his wife told reporters. 

In the course of the day, hundreds of Pti supporters blocked a highway in Chaudhry's hometown Jehlum, demanding his release, and dozens more people, who were present at the court, threw rose petals at him as the police took him away. 

Police said that Chaudhry, Minister of Information in the Khan administration, was charged with threatening the head of the Election Commission, Sikandar Sultan Raja, and other officials, inciting violence against them and preventing them from doing their jobs. 

On 24 January, Chaundhry had criticised the election supervisory body for appointing journalist Mohsin Naqvi as interim Punjab Chief Minister after the dissolution of the provincial assembly earlier this month.

Khan, after having tried the route of protest marches (which ended in November after he was shot in the leg by an attacker), continued to put pressure on the government in Islamabad by provoking the dissolution of the provincial assemblies of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the PRI had a majority.

According to the country's laws, the local elections must be held within the next three months, but they are not usually separated from the national elections, which are instead scheduled for October.

The Election Commission's decision to appoint an interim government, once again blurring the possibility of early elections, provoked adverse reactions from the Pti: 'The Election Commission is behaving like a clerk,' Chaudhry had commented, among others. 'Somebody from the government calls ECP and passes an order, and ECP commissioner, like a clerk, just signs the order and passes it on'.

According to several commentators, with the arrest of the former minister, Islamabad has provided the Pti with the ideal cue to continue with the narrative of being persecuted by the central government.

"To arrest Mr Chaudhry in the manner in which he was and then charge him with sedition, of all things, seems to be a gross overreaction. If this is how those in power believe stability is to be attained while the country’s social fabric frays under the weight of the many crises it faces, they are gravely mistaken,' commented Dawn, Pakistan's leading English-language daily. 

In the background of the political events, the economic crisis remains: in recent days, there has been a power outage throughout the country: the government has claimed that the blackout was caused by a technical problem, but in reality, according to some local officials, the problem is to be found, among other things, in the fuel stocks that are running out.

In a letter sent to the Ministry of Finance on 13 January by the Advisory Council of Oil Companies - which brings together the companies that operate refineries and pipelines - the group expresses concern about the difficulties in importing oil. Due to very low foreign exchange reserves (down to USD 4.6 billion), the Central Bank of Pakistan is curbing the issuance of letters of credit, slowing down imports and consequently industrial activity.

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