Court in Pakistan-held Kashmir removes Imran Khan’s protégé

ISLAMABAD (AP) – In a blow to Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan, a top court in the Pakistani-administered section of Kashmir on Tuesday removed his protégé and head of the local government from office. The territory’s premier, Tanveer Ilyas, was charged and convicted of insulting judges in public remarks, officials and local media reported.

The development appeared to be a spillover of the political crisis roiling Pakistan, where the 70-year-old Khan, who was ousted in a no-confidence vote last April, has campaigned against his successor, Shahbaz Sharif. Khan claims his ouster was illegal and has been demanding early elections – which Sharif has rejected.

Ilyas, an outspoken business tycoon known for outburst against judges and bureaucrats, has also lashed out at Sharif, when the prime minister visited Kashmir last December.

Khan has backed Ilyas in the Pakistani-ruled part of Kashmir, where Khan’s Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf opposition party has a simple majority in the local parliament. The disputed Himalayan region is split between Pakistan and India but claimed by both in its entirety.

Ilyas appeared Tuesday before a judge in Muzaffarabad, the regional capital, and was symbolically convicted of the alleged offense and sentenced to time spent in the courtroom. Under Pakistani law, this automatically disqualifies him from public office.

Ilyas has for weeks criticizing judges in the Pakistan-held Kashmir, claiming the judiciary was encroaching upon his authority by reversing multiple decisions approved by him or his government. Although he apologized Tuesday over his remarks, the court rejected his apology.

Fawad Chaudhry, a senior leader from Khan’s party, denounced the ruling. “This country cannot be run by destroying the judicial system,” Chaudhry tweeted.

It was unclear whether Ilyas would appeal the ruling. The court also instructed the territory’s election oversight body to prepare for a vote to replace Ilyas.

The assembly in the Pakistani-run Kashmir is expected to chose the new leader of the house in the coming days. Khan’s party may face a tough contest as Sharif’s backers claim they are in a position to form the government.

Nuclear-armed neighbors Pakistan and India have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir since gaining independence from British colonial rule in 1947.

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