A Year Of Political And Economic Turmoil Amid Terrorism's Return

Lets take a look at the major incidents and developments which took place during 2023

A Year Of Political And Economic Turmoil Amid Terrorism's Return

This outgoing year, Pakistan witnessed political and economic strife reach new heights as it saw the return of terrorist attacks by militant groups operating in the country.

Arguably, one of the biggest events of the year, which defined so much of what has happened since, was the incident of May 9 and 10, when hundreds, if not thousands, of Pakistanis, took to the streets as former prime minister and then-Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan was arrested by the paramilitary Rangers from the premises of the Islamabad High Court. The arrest, which came after a months-long standoff between Imran and the security forces, added an uneasy edge to the protests. As a result, protesters stormed security installations and government buildings across the country and prompted many to dub the incident as the 9/11 for the military. 

Below, let's look at some of the biggest incidents and developments this year. 

Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies dissolved

The year started with the political temperature continuing to rise with the PTI-led assemblies in Punjab, and then Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) was dissolved on the instructions of the then-PTI chairman Imran Khan.

The Punjab Assembly was dissolved on January 14, 2023. The KP Assembly was dissolved a few days later, on January 18.

Suicide blast at Peshawar mosque claims over 100 lives

With terrorism raising its head again in 2022, the attacks progressively grew worse in 2023. On January 30, the first major terror attack of the year took place in Peshawar.

A suicide bomber managed to infiltrate the Police Lines at the Peshawar Police Headquarters. He ducked into a crowded mosque during afternoon prayers and detonated his vest. The attack martyred over 100 people.

According to authorities, the explosion happened around 1 PM in the mosque's central hall and caused the roof of the mosque to collapse on worshippers, causing even greater damage.

The attack was claimed by the proscribed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

KPO attack

On February 17, three terrorists stormed the Karachi police headquarters, killing at least two people in a hail of gunfire and a series of loud explosions before security forces retook the building after several hours and killed the three militants, a government spokesperson said. 
A huge explosion was heard inside the station after a series of blasts when it was first attacked.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) took responsibility for the attack in a message sent by their spokesman to journalists.

The station houses offices of the city's most senior police. 

The attack jeopardised a match in the Pakistan Super League since foreign cricket players competing in the league were in Karachi practising when the attack happened. 
Legendary artist and orator Zia Mohyeddin passes away at 91

On February 17, Zia Mohyeddin, a legendary Pakistani artist and orator, breathed his last. He passed away on the same day Faiz Ahmad Faiz's birth anniversary was celebrated.

Mohyeddin had been feeling unwell and had to be rushed to the hospital, where he underwent surgery for an aneurysm. He reportedly told his surgeon, “Do what you have to do fast and patch me up; I have a lot of work.” 

He was due to travel to Lahore for the Faiz Festival, February 17–19, but he could never make it.

For over 30 years, Faiz’s poems were among the literary pieces Mohyeddin had recited yearly in Lahore at the annual ‘[Zia Mohyeddin ke saath aik sham]’ (an evening with Zia Mohyeddin). The tradition started in 1986 by his nephew Naveed ‘Bobby’ Riaz and was interrupted only by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019 and 2020.

A theatre graduate of RADA, London’s renowned Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, the suave Zia Mohyeddin had acted in several theatre productions, making his West End debut in 'A Passage to India' as Dr Aziz in 1960. He also played memorable roles in Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Merchant-Ivory’s Bombay Talkie (1970). He also starred in Jamil Dehlavi’s Immaculate Conception (1994) and the mini-series The Jewel in the Crown (1984).

For several years, he hosted The Zia Mohyeddin Show, a talk show-cum-variety programme for Pakistan Television from 1969–73, showcasing talent from across the country with his trademark sophistication and wit.

During most of Gen. Zia-ul-Haq’s military rule, Mohyeddin had lived in self-exile in Birmingham, UK, with his second wife, the iconic kathak dancer Nahid Siddiqui.  
Govt publishes Toshakhana gift records

The Toshakhana records were a major bone of contention between the PTI and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), with the former using it as a club to batter the latter. On March 13, the government decided to publish details of foreign gifts retained by public office holders, including present and past presidents, prime ministers, federal cabinet members, politicians, bureaucrats, generals, judges, and journalists, from 2002 to 2022.

The details of Toshakhana were published on the Cabinet Division website for the public to review.

Prominent personalities who benefited from the Toshakhana gifts included President Dr Arif Alvi, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, former prime minister Imran Khan, ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif, ex-president Asif Ali Zardari, late military dictator Pervez Musharraf, former premier Shaukat Aziz, ex-PM Yousuf Raza Gilani, ex-PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, ex-PM Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, ex-PM Zafarullah Khan Jamali, Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, Khursheed Kasuri, Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, Jehangir Tareen, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, and Dr Attaur Rehman, among others.
Imran Khan's arrest and May 9 attacks

In May, the most defining incident of the year took place.

First, the paramilitary Rangers aggressively arrested Imran Khan from the premises of the Islamabad High Court (IHC). With Imran warning his supporters for months that he would be arrested or worse when he was finally led into the back of a Rangers' van, it triggered his supporters to pour into the streets in their hundreds and target military and government installations - the quarters they blamed most for Imran's arrest. 

In unprecedented acts of vandalism, PTI supporters attacked the army's General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, the Corps Commander's house in Lahore, the military headquarters in Peshawar, military installations in Mianwali, Sialkot, Faisalabad, Gujranwala and other places apart from targetting state installations such as the Radio Pakistan offices in Peshawar.

The demonstrators encountered no resistance from security forces nor the police, who were nowhere to be seen during the incidents, raising concerns about the security of such vital buildings.

Before storming the Lahore Corps Commander's residence, hundreds of demonstrators ghosted past military-manned security checkpoints in Lahore's Cantonment. PTI activists also set fire to many vehicles at Cantt Chowk, apart from smashing and breaking the surveillance cameras stationed at checkpoints.

The police, who came late, used tear gas shells to disperse demonstrators gathered outside the corps commander's residence. Despite the shelling, a large number of PTI supporters managed to infiltrate the premises and vandalise the building before setting it on fire and letting it burn down. 

More than 300 Pakistanis perish in Mediterranean migrant boat disaster

On June 19, more than 300 Pakistani nationals perished when an overloaded fishing ship sank off the coast of Greece.

In a statement, Senate Chairman Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani revealed the figures while offering condolences to the bereaved families of the deceased.

The packed boat was carrying around 750 men, women, and children when it capsized.
Tens of thousands of migrants escaping conflict, persecution, climate change, and poverty take perilous journeys to Europe each year.

Skyrocketing inflation and widespread unemployment have caused a massive brain drain in the country, with over three-quarters of a million people emigrating abroad legally. Still, many more are believed to have travelled illegally on trafficking routes.

IMF approves emergency $3b bailout for Pakistan

On July 12, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a long-awaited $3 billion standby arrangement for Pakistan. The arrangement was a last-ditch lifeline to keep them from defaulting on its debt obligations.

The IMF said  its executive board approved the nine-month standby agreement "to support the authorities' economic stabilisation programme."

Before the year's end, the government successfully secured a staff-level agreement with the IMF for an immediate payout of around $1.2 billion.

As the country embarked on a journey of economic course correction, it saw the interest rates rise to their highest-ever levels. First, it raised them to 20% in March, and then it kept raising it up to 22%, which initially slowed the economy and increased inflation. 

A corresponding devaluation crisis saw the price of a single dollar rise as high as Rs307. Domestically, the country saw the price of a single litre of petrol rise to as high as Rs330 in September. The fuel and power prices hike caused inflation in Pakistan to rise to a record high of 47% by the end of the year.

Imran Khan convicted in Toshakhana case, disqualified for five years

On August 8, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) denotified former prime minister and PTI founder Imran Khan as a member of the country's National Assembly and barred him from holding any public office for the next five years.

The notice was issued days after Imran was convicted of corrupt activities and for concealing from the ECP proceeds of the sale of presents retained from the Toshakhana. 

The Additional Sessions Judge Islamabad (West) ruled in the case "District Election Commissioner Islamabad versus Imran Khan Niazi" that Imran had been convicted and sentenced to serve three years in prison.
Parliament dissolved to pave way for elections

On August 10, the president of Pakistan dissolved the national assembly on the advice of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, just three days prior to the culmination of its natural tenure. 

The dissolution of the national assembly laid the scene for general elections in the country amid political and economic turmoil.

Anwaar Kakar sworn in as Pakistan’s 8th caretaker prime minister

On August 14, Anwaarul Haq Kakar was sworn in as Pakistan's eighth interim prime minister at the presidency. President Arif Alvi administered the oath to Kakar. During the swearing-in ceremony, PM Kakar was honoured with a guard of honour at the Prime Minister's House.

Mobs attack churches, Christian homes in Jaranwala

On August 16, a charged mob of around 7,000 people stormed a Christian colony in the Jaranwala Tehsil of Faisalabad district, where they ransacked several buildings and set multiple churches on fire over blasphemy allegations, locals and police said.

The situation became tense in Jaranwala when crowds gathered, and announcements were made from mosques that some pages of religious scripture had been desecrated. Soon after, a large mob gathered near the Christian colony at Cinema Chowk, accusing two local Christians of desecrating the Holy Quran.

The gathering mob raised hateful slogans, causing fear and panic to spread through the area, with the local markets shut down while hundreds of residents of the Christian colony were forced to flee to safety. Locals said some 500 families living in three Christian settlements had fled the area.

Armed mobs meandered through the streets to the lane where the desecrated pages were allegedly spotted by a woman earlier and attacked a local church and adjoining residential buildings.

The mob ransacked and torched at least eight churches in the vicinity, including a Salvation Army Church, which is one of the oldest churches in the area, apart from two other Salvation Army churches, one belonging to the FGA, and some Presbyterian churches as well.

Furniture from inside buildings in the colony was piled into the street and set ablaze. Some Christian activists stated that some homes in the colony were also set ablaze, while several copies of the Holy Bible were also desecrated.

Pakistan ranked as top ODI team in the world

On August 26, after a brief stint at the top in May, a series of wins against Afghanistan helped Pakistan reclaim the top spot in the Men's ODI Rankings.

Pakistan leads the series 2-0 going into the third game. They had won the opening ODI by 142 runs thanks to an outstanding bowling performance. The second game was a nail-biting thriller, with the Men in Green winning in the last over with one wicket in hand. 

Pakistan won the third ODI against Afghanistan by 59 runs thanks to a strong second half of the innings with the bat. 
Despite a wobble in the middle with the bat, Pakistan ended strong on a sluggish surface, hitting 268 with half-centuries from Mohammad Rizwan and Babar Azam. In response, Faheem Ashraf took two early wickets before the spinners struck at regular intervals to hold Afghanistan at bay. Mujeeb ur Rahman responded with a 26-ball half-century, but Pakistan had too much on the board for Afghanistan to win.
As Pakistan completed a sweep, Shadab ended with three wickets.
Justice Qazi Faiz Isa takes oath as CJP

On September 16, Justice Qazi Faez Isa was sworn in as Pakistan's Chief Justice. On June 21, President Dr Arif Alvi confirmed Justice Isa's nomination as Pakistan's next Chief Justice.

Outgoing Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, who served for more than 19 months, conveyed his best wishes to his successor as he exited the top court with a blemished legacy.

Justice Isa will remain the chief justice for over a year until October 25, 2024. 

It is worth noting that, on the advice of the then-PTI-led government, President Arif Alvi had filed a misconduct reference against Justice Isa in the Supreme Judicial Council in May 2019.
Namira Salim becomes first Pakistani astronaut to fly into Space

On October 7, Namira Salim became the first Pakistani female astronaut to complete a journey into Space.

Salim flew into Space aboard Virgin Galactic's commercial space flight.

The two-stage flight saw a conventional takeoff from an airstrip in New Mexico, USA, with the Virgin Mother Ship (VMS) Eve carrying the space shuttle, Virgin Space Shuttle (VSS) Unity. The flight took off at 1540 (GMT) with three passengers and five crew.

Chief Astronaut Instructor Beth Moses piloted VMS Eve. Commander Nicola Pecile and pilot Jameel Janjua. Janjua is a Pakistani-Canadian pilot. Commander Kelly Latimer and Pilot CJ Sturckow piloted VSS Unity.

After completing the hour-long journey, the craft landed back on Earth at Spaceport America in New Mexico at 1643 GMT.
In a post, Salim simply noted, From Space back to Earth.

Former PM Nawaz Sharif returns home

On October 21, three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif returned to Pakistan after completing four years in self-exile in the United Kingdom, hoping to run in the upcoming general elections.

The 73-year-old veteran politician landed aboard a chartered aeroplane in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad. He then continued his journey to Lahore, where he addressed a massive rally at Minar-e-Pakistan.

Sharif had not returned to Pakistan since departing for London to undergo medical treatment while serving a 14-year prison sentence for corruption in 2019.

Pakistan starts expelling illegal Afghan migrants

Pakistan decided to expel all illegal and undocumented migrants in the country, particularly illegal Afghans.

In the month-long deadline given to people, over 200,000 illegal migrants were deported to their home countries.

However, Pakistan continued a crackdown on Afghan refugees who were either undocumented, had bogus local documents or whose documents had expired, forcing some 500,000 Afghans to leave Pakistan.
Supreme Court orders govt to hold general elections on Feb 8

On November 3, the Supreme Court ordered the election commission to issue a decisive date for the next general elections in consultation with President Dr Arif Alvi. Subsequently, after deliberations with Alvi, the ECP informed the court that elections would be held on February 8, 2024.

Heading a three-member bench hearing petitions seeking elections in the country, Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa observed that the people of Pakistan have a right to general elections, warning media outlets against creating any ambiguity about it.

“The election issue has been resolved with the consent of all parties. The general election date of February 8 has been agreed upon. Let there be no misunderstanding, as we have now given the date of the elections,” the chief justice remarked.
“God willing, elections will be held on Thursday, February 8,” Chief Justice Isa said. “If anyone raises any doubt, then the court will deal with it.”

Mianwali base attack

At least 23 soldiers were killed when nine militants stormed an air base in central Pakistan on November 4.

Military officials initially said that three non-operational aircraft were damaged in the attack. However, satellite imagery later showed that the number of aircraft affected could be greater. 

The military said nine militants had been killed in the attack on the Pakistan Air Force Training Airbase Mianwali.
Under-age driver kills six of a family in DHA, Lahore

On November 12, six members of a family, including two children, were killed by a teenage boy in Lahore's Defence Phase 7.

Afnan, the young driver, was said to have fought with the victims and threatened them before crashing his car into theirs at high speed. Afnan spent a long time following the women in a car from Y Block. Hasnain, the victims' driver, increased the vehicle's speed numerous times for Afnan to abandon the pursuit, but the accused refused to give up the pursuit and continued harassing the women.

Hasnain then came to a halt and chastised Afnan. Hasnain's father, who was in another car, also stopped Afnan from pestering the women, but he crashed his car into the victim's car at 160 km/h at McDonald Chowk. Hasnain's car was thrown 70 feet from the road after the collision, and all of the occupants were killed.

According to the family, it was not a traffic accident but rather a targeted killing.
10 martyred In Chilas bus attack

On December 3, at least ten people were martyred, and 25 others were injured when unidentified men opened fire on a passenger bus on the Karakoram Highway in Chilas town, Diamer district, Gilgit-Baltistan.
The sad tragedy occurred in Chilas' Hudur district when the bus came under fire and collided with an oncoming vehicle.

The majority of those killed in the incident were from throughout the country, including Kohistan, Peshawar, Ghizer, Chilas, Roundu, Skardu, Mansehra, Swabi, and  Sindh.

Among those killed in the incident were two Pakistan Army troops.

Chilas is located in the mountainous area of Gilgit-Baltistan, close to the province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, where assaults have increased in recent months, some of which have been claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Baloch protesters march to Islamabad against enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings
On December 20, Baloch protesters reached Islamabad from Turbat near the Southwestern edge of Balochistan after a 14-day march to demonstrate against the extrajudicial killing of a Baloch youngster by CTD personnel.

However, their arrival in the federal capital was met with severe force by the Islamabad police to disperse and imprison the protestors, with over 200 taken into custody from various locations across the federal capital.

Human rights groups, lawmakers, the Islamabad High Court (IHC), President Dr Arif Alvi, interim Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar, and analysts all publicly denounced the move.

Later, on December 24, the Islamabad police said that all detained Baloch protestors were being released after their bail was approved.