the government detains a former minister of Imran Khan

Fawad Chaudhry was taken from his home and brought before the court for criticizing the president of the Electoral Commission. In provinces where local assemblies have been dissolved, preparations for the elections remain at a standstill. According to commentators, the government’s reaction was excessive. Foreign exchange and fuel reserves continue to decline.

Islamabad ( / Agencies) – The government headed by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif arrested Fawad Chaudhry, vice president of former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. He is accused of undermining the security of the president of the Electoral Commission and other government officials.

This is actually a new episode in the country’s political saga, which began in April last year when Parliament withdrew confidence from Khan, the opposition leader, who has now spent months criticizing Sharif’s government and calling for early elections.

Chaudhry was arrested before dawn yesterday. Police showed up at his home in Lahore, Punjab and handcuffed him and took him straight to court, his wife told reporters.

Throughout the day hundreds of PTI supporters blocked a road in Chaudhry’s hometown of Jhelum, demanding that he be released, and dozens of people in the courthouse pelted him with rose petals as police led him away.

Police said Chaudhry, the Khan government’s Information Minister, had been charged with threatening the Election Commission Chairman Sikandar Sultan Raja and other officials, inciting violence against them and preventing them from doing their jobs.

On January 24, Chaundhry had criticized the election watchdog for appointing journalist Mohsin Naqvi as interim Prime Minister of Punjab, following the dissolution of the Provincial Assembly earlier in the month.

Khan first organized protest marches (which ended in November after an attacker shot him in the leg) and then continued to pressure the Islamabad government, leading to the dissolution of the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Provincial Assemblies, where the PTI had the most. According to the country’s laws, local elections must be held within the next three months, but they are generally not separated from the national ones, scheduled for October.

The decision of the Electoral Commission to appoint an interim government, once again eliminating the possibility of holding early elections, provoked adverse reactions from the PTI: “The Electoral Commission behaves like an employee” commented, among other things, Chaudhry. “Someone from the government calls the Electoral Commission and puts down an order, and the president, as if he were an employee, just signs the order and transmits it.”

Several commentators believe that with the arrest of the former minister, Islamabad has given the PTI the ideal excuse to continue to wield the narrative that the central government is persecuting him. “Arresting Chaudhry like that and then charging him with sedition seems like an overreaction. If this is how those in power believe stability can be achieved, while the social fabric of the country is fraying under the weight of all the crises it faces, then they are sorely mistaken,” said Dawn, the leading daily in Pakistan English language.

Against the backdrop of political events, the economic crisis is also worsening. In recent days there have been power cuts across the country and the government stated that the blackout was caused by a technical problem, but some local officials claim that the problem lies, among other things, in the fact that fuel reserves are running out. In a letter sent to the Finance Ministry on January 13, the Consultative Council of Oil Companies – which brings together companies that operate refineries and oil pipelines – expressed concern about the difficulties it has had in importing oil. Due to a shortage of foreign exchange reserves (which have dwindled to $4.6 billion), the Central Bank of Pakistan is holding back on issuing letters of credit, which slows down imports and consequently industrial activity.

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