Saturday, October 13, 2018
By Stoyan Zaimov
Asia Bibi, the Christian mother of five who's on death row in Pakistan for "blasphemy," has asked Christians worldwide to pray for her as her nine-year ordeal continues.
On Monday, Pakistan's Supreme Court decided to reserve judgment on her final appeal against execution on the charges of blasphemy.
Her husband, Ashiq Bibi, told Premier while traveling to the U.K. that she has a message for fellow Christians.
"She told [me] that the community must remember her in their prayers because this is an international country ... [I] need international pressure for the release of Asia Bib," the husband said through an interpreter.
"She always has said that Jesus is her life and she is living in the name of Jesus, and [trusting] that Jesus will help her," he added.
He said that the family is suffering without Bibi.
"As the husband, I am missing Asia and the daughters are also missing Asia," he attested.
Eisham, one of Bibi's daughters, also traveled with her father with the aim of raising international attention for her mother's case.
"[Eisham is] praying that her mother is with her as soon as possible and she is also requesting that you also pray for their family and especially for Asia," a translator relayed.
"The family of Asia Bibi is always under threat and when Asia Bibi would be [sic] released from the jail she will never, ever be living in Pakistan [again]."
Still, the family told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need that they are hopeful that an acquittal is not far away.
"Although the judges didn't give a judgement, this has happened in many cases of this kind in the past — and they still ended positively," Father Emmanuel Yousaf said on behalf of Ashiq Bibi.
"We will have to wait a few days but we are confident that things will go well."
Bibi was sentenced to death in 2010, but has been held since 2009 after she was accused of blaspheming the Islamic prophet Muhammad during an argument with Muslim farmworkers.
She has denied the charges, and her plight has drawn the attention of several human rights and persecution watchdog groups around the world.
Yousaf noted that uncertainty over the mother-of-five's fate remains, but also said that there is good reason to hope for good news.
"There is no decision — we are hanging in the air — but God willing it will soon be over and [Asia Bibi] will be back home with the family," he said.
"We have prayed 10 years now for our sister, Asia, and I am confident that our prayers will be heard, and the judgement will go in favor of Asia, her family and the entire Pakistani Christian community."
Asia Bibi, who has been on death row since 2010, is at the centre of the high-profile case that has divided Pakistan and drawn prayers from the Vatican.
The family of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother who faces becoming the first person to be executed for blasphemy in Pakistan, said they hoped the Supreme Court would free her.
But in any case they feared for their future living in Pakistan under the blasphemy laws, they told AFP.
Bibi, who has been on death row since 2010, is at the centre of the high-profile case that has divided Pakistan and drawn prayers from the Vatican.
On Monday the Supreme Court heard her last appeal and said it had reached a judgement, which it has yet to reveal.
"We are hopeful that whatever the court proceedings are it will come out as positive for us," her husband Ashiq Mesih told AFP.
Her daughter Eisham Ashiq added: "I will be very happy the day my mother will be released. I will hug her and will cry meeting her and will thank God that he has got her released."
Bibi's family are in London on a visit organised by Aid to the Church in Need, a charity which helps repressed and persecuted Christians.
Bibi, a labourer, was accused of blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed in 2009 by Muslim women she was working with in a field.
The charge is punishable by death under legislation that rights groups say is routinely abused to settle personal vendettas.
Her family said that if Bibi is released, it would be difficult to stay in her homeland.
"Pakistan is ours: we were born there, raised there," Mesih said.
"The only tension we have is the blasphemy law. It is imposed on Christians. When it is imposed on us our (Muslim) brothers should think that the Christians never say anything bad about the Koran," he said.
Asia Bibi, after her release, can't stay there in the presence of this law.
"Living in Pakistan for us is very difficult. We don't go out of our home and if we go, we come out very carefully."
Life in Pakistan "for us is very difficult".
Almost two months after Imran Khan took office as Pakistan's PM, the reality is knocking hard on the doors of his government. Wracked by a raft of financial challenges, the country has become an economic basket case.
Pakistan's economy is a perpetual mess. It's not hard to come to this conclusion considering the fact that the country has gone begging to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) 14 times since 1980 seeking bailouts. The current Pakistani government, led by the newly elected Prime Minister Imran Khan, has once again gone cap in hand to the IMF requesting yet another rescue.
"An IMF team will visit Islamabad in the coming weeks to initiate discussions for a possible IMF-supported economic program," IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said on Thursday.
The South Asian nation, home to over 200 million people, is beset by a range of financial and structural challenges. Pakistan has long imported more than it exported. The result is a surging current account deficit — now estimated at over 5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) — and a looming balance-of-payments crisis.
For decades, Pakistan's real per capita income growth has underperformed many of its peers. Corruption and tax evasion remain rampant, resulting in reduced revenue for the state. Less than 1 percent of Pakistanis, for instance, pay income tax.
State resources are also often squandered. Defense spending takes a higher priority than allocating resources for more productive purposes like education and healthcare. That's a consequence of the Pakistani military's obsession with maintaining a military, political and diplomatic competition with neighboring India.
Furthermore, Pakistan faces a chronic energy crisis, resulting in regular power outages across the country. The economy is highly vulnerable to shifts in global crude prices, as 80 percent of its oil needs are met through imports. The recent rise in oil prices has aggravated the nation's already fragile financial situation.
Many state-run firms are loss-making and the government has failed to make enough headway when it comes to their privatization as well as cutting bureaucratic red tape and improving ease of doing business.
The problems have put heavy pressure on the nation's currency, with the Pakistani rupee falling by more than 20 percent in four big drops since December. Its foreign exchange reserves are also dropping rapidly. In September, they stood at $8.4 billion (€7.25 billion), barely enough to cover Pakistan's debt payments due through the end of the year.
IMF to the rescue — once again
When Pakistan has previously found itself in this situation, it has knocked on the doors of the IMF. But this time around, the nation's leaders appeared to be a bit reluctant to approach the global lender, as it is likely to impose tough conditions on government policy, limiting Prime Minister Imran Khan's vision of an Islamic welfare state.
"As the price for a deal with Pakistan, the IMF is likely to demand a further sharp tightening in fiscal and monetary policy as well as structural reforms aimed at raising more revenue and improving the business environment," Gareth Leather, Senior Asia Economist at Capital Economics, said in a research note.
Khan, whose new administration took office in August, said on Wednesday that his government will seek help from "friendly countries" alongside any assistance provided by the IMF.
Khan has also promised to recover funds stashed abroad by corrupt officials, and embarked on a series of populist austerity measures such as auctioning luxury cars owned by the prime minister's house and crowdfunding to build a dam in the country's north. He has also vowed to turn around loss-making state-run enterprises and reform tax collection.
"This prime minister and his team seem serious about focusing on Pakistan's economy, and moving beyond superficial economic management to deeper reforms, given that they have engaged some prominent Pakistani economists to help them out," Madiha Afzal, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland's School of Public Policy and a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution, told DW. "Some of their rhetoric and actions, however, are markedly superficial, which does not bolster confidence in their approach," she added.
To combat the economic woes, many Pakistanis seem to be expecting help from their ally China, often called an "all-weather friend" to Pakistan due to the two sides' close political, economic and military ties as well as aligning strategic interests. But it is unclear how generous Beijing will be in helping its strategic partner weather the current economic storm.
Many inside and outside Pakistan also partly blame China for the troubles afflicting the Pakistani economy. They argue that the deteriorating balance of payments is a result of higher import spending by Pakistan on materials from China for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project.
CPEC is a Chinese-led series of ambitious transport and energy projects to build infrastructure in Pakistan that some estimate at over $60 billion. It forms part of Beijing's wider Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
As part of CPEC, China provides loans to Pakistan, which imports equipment and services from China. This adds to Pakistan's debt and worsens the current account deficit.
If investments are sound, CPEC has the potential to boost the Pakistani economy. But observers say the terms and conditions of much of the Chinese lending are opaque, and interest rates on some loans may be higher than Pakistan can afford.
Acknowledging that Pakistan needs more infrastructure development, the IMF's chief economist Maurice Obstfeld recently cautioned: "It is important that the design of the projects... be solid and excessive debts which cannot be repaid are avoided."
One implication of Islamabad approaching the IMF now is that Pakistan will likely have to be far more transparent about the lending terms of its CPEC projects than it has been so far. "This transparency may have positive implications in terms of generating public support for renegotiating some CPEC deals which are not necessarily beneficial for Pakistan," said Afzal.
Difficult reforms await
Regardless of CPEC, there are a number of difficult measures Khan's administration will have to take to pull Pakistan out of its economic malaise. Economists say the government needs to tackle tax evasion and broaden the tax base by removing tax loopholes and exemptions.
It has to privatize some loss-making and inefficient state-owned firms, which are acting as a major drag on the economy.
Reforming the product and labor markets, particularly the energy and agricultural sectors, will also have to be high on the agenda. Also, the Pakistani rupee, experts say, has to be fairly valued, flexible and market-determined.
If Khan's administration manages to push through at least some of these measures, it could significantly improve Pakistan's growth trajectory. "While a sharp slowdown in growth looks inevitable over the coming year, Pakistan's longer-term prospects should improve if the IMF deal leads to a sharp fall in the country's external vulnerabilities and an improvement in its business environment," said Capital Economics' expert Leather.
Accusing Prime Minister Imran Khan of behaving like a dictator, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has said the PPP will resist any move by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government to start political victimisation in the name of accountability.
“We also support the accountability process; but political victimisation under its garb is not tolerable. Khan sahib is behaving as if he is still in opposition,” Bilawal said while speaking to media after co-chairing a party meeting along with the PPP supremo Asif Ali Zardari.
The meeting, which was convened at the residence of PPP MNA Naveed Qamar, was attended by senior party leaders, including Khursheed Shah, Yousaf Raza Gilani, Nayyar Bukhari, Sherry Rehman, Farooq H Naek, Murad Ali Shah, Faryal Talpur, Chaudhry Manzoor and Nisar Khuhro.
“What can we say when the prime minister is threatening the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to take action merely for victimising opponents,” the PPP chief added.Bilawal said even though Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) President Shehbaz Sharif had not used reasonable words for the PPP in the past, his October 5 arrest by NAB in connection with a housing scam “is a condemnable act”.
Replying to a question about possible arrest of PPP leaders, he said, “We have been hearing this since the PTI has come to power and political leaders are being victimised.”
However, a source privy to the meeting said the moot was convened in view of rumours that the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) may arrest Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur by October 13.
“The recent actions of NAB and the FIA have set the alarm bells ringing in the party. The arrest of the PPP leaders who are facing money laundering and corruption charges and an inquiry into the 10-year record of the Sindh government were the main agenda of the meeting,” a source said.
He said sensitivity of the meeting could be gauged from the selection of its venue, where not a single political activity has taken place for the past decade. The sources said various legal and political options were discussed and party leaders also suggested joining hands with the PML-N on various issues.
NFC and Thar
Bilawal announced that the PPP would protest if provincial share in the National Finance Commission (NFC) award was slashed. “We will be a stumbling block if anyone tries to repeal the 18th Amendment and reduce the provincial autonomy. We will launch a campaign for the rights of provinces,” he said.
To a question about a hearing in the Supreme Court on plight of Thar, he said, “One should also look at the development (work undertaken the PPP provincial government) in Thar.” He criticised the PTI government’s policies said the country had suffered a loss of billions of rupees in a short span of time.