Pakistan News

A National Accountability Bureau (NAB) prosecutor on Monday lashed out former premier Nawaz Sharif's counsel Khawaja Harris for "needlessly questioning" the prosecution witness regarding non-admissible documents.

"Mr Khawaja is basing his questions on documents that we [the prosecution] are not relying upon," NAB prosecutor Sardar Muzaffar claimed during the Avenfield corruption reference hearing, adding that the cross-examination must be limited to "relevant facts".

The argument between the two lawyers occurred when Harris was cross-questioning the star prosecution witness Wajid Zia, who had been the head of the joint investigation team (JIT) which had collected evidence in the Panama Papers case on Supreme Court's orders.

Harris had questioned Zia about the international law firm Guernica, that was hired by the JIT during the investigation of Panama Papers case and had provided Nawaz's iqama as well as Capital FZE's trading license.

However, the communication with the law firm had not been included in the JIT report, neither had it been exhibited in court as evidence since it was classified as a source document.

Objecting to Harris' questioning, the NAB prosecutor during today's hearing, said that it was not legally allowed for the defence to refer to source documents during cross-questioning. He further said that Nawaz had already admitted that he had been an employee in an earlier Supreme Court hearing. The court upheld Muzaffar's argument and forbade Harris to question Zia about source documents any further.

Muzaffar further said that Harris had asked "similar questions 15 times", to which the latter replied that he had to ask the same thing in different ways "to reach the truth".

"It has been 11 days yet his [defence counsel's] cross-questioning has not come to an end," Muzaffar railed. "He does not want to get to the truth, he wants to intimidate [the witness]."

NAB references

A five-member bench of the Supreme Court on July 28 had directed NAB to file references against Nawaz and his children in six weeks in the accountability court and directed the trial court to decide the references within six months.

The Supreme Court also assigned Justice Ijazul Ahsan a supervisory role to monitor the progress of the accountability court proceedings.

The former premier and his sons, Hassan and Hussain, have been named in all three NAB references, while Maryam and husband Safdar have been named only in the Avenfield reference.

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Saturday accused India of harassing its diplomats and their families in the country and threatened to pull out the families if the intimidation did not stop.

A demarche was made to the Indian High Commission in Islamabad and external affairs ministry in Delhi, a diplomatic source revealed.

“It is becoming difficult for the Pakistani diplomats posted in India to keep their families with them due to increase in harassment incidents,” the source said.

It has become difficult for Pakistan embassy staff to keep their families there, reads a demarche made to Indian high commission

Harassment of families would not be tolerated at all, he maintained.

He pointed to the incidents over the past three days in which the children of Pakistan’s deputy high commissioner were stopped and harassed on their way to school. In another incident a senior diplomat was harassed while moving in Delhi.

The source said diplomatic vehicles were being stopped on different pretexts and searched. Members of diplomatic staff are also abused in public and a number of accidents of vehicles have happened.

Indian employees of the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi, he said, were also being stopped from coming to work.

Relations between Pakistan and India have historically been tense, and the tensions aggravated under the BJP government.

Frequent ceasefire violations have been reported on the Line of Control and Working Boundary by India; in fact the highest number of breaches took place last year since the 2003 ceasefire accord took effect leaving 87 people dead.

Meanwhile, former president and co-chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party Asif Ali Zardari in a statement condemned harassment of Pakistani diplomats and declared it a serious violation of diplomatic norms.

Published in Dawn, March 11th, 2018

ISLAMABAD: The Natio­nal Security Commit­tee (NSC) on Tuesday endorsed ‘recalibration of foreign policy’ for making it more regionally focused and said the fight against terrorism would be dictated by national interests.

“The committee agreed on the importance of recalibrating the foreign policy framework to bring more focus on countries of the region,” said a statement issued by PM Office following the meeting that was held to review international and regional situation.

The meeting took place after a US-led move — which also involved Britain, France and Germany — got Pakistan included in the Financial Action Task Force’s grey list, although the decision would take effect from June. During this period Pakistan and the FATF would negotiate the action plan that the former would pursue after being put on grey list.

National interests to dictate fight against terrorism

Presided over by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, the NSC meeting was attended by Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance Miftah Ismail, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Gen Zubair Hayat and the three services chiefs.

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The committee, which is the highest civil-military coordination forum, agreed to launch new initiatives to enhance economic partnerships with ‘friendly countries in the region and beyond’ for win-win cooperation. No specifics were given about the economic partnerships that Pakistan wants to develop.

Meanwhile, the US has continued to put pressure on Pakistan to act against the alleged Haqqani network sanctuaries and address the shortcomings in its counter-illicit financing regime.

Senior US official Lisa Curtis repeated this message during her two-day trip that ended on Tuesday.

It was decided at the NSC meeting that the counter-terrorism and counter-extremism actions would continue. “Our policies will continue to be formulated and implemented in light of our national interests,” it added.

“Consistent and continued engagement with Afghanistan,” was underscored at the meeting as the participants reiterated the contours of the strategy to deal with issues emanating from Afghanistan such as effective border management and early repatriation of Afghan refugees.

The NSC only reaffirmed commitment to strengthen China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project noting that it was contributing to the development of Pakistan, the region and beyond.

The members were particularly encouraged by Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif’s recent visit to Moscow. During his visit last week, Pakistan and Russia announced setting up of a commission for promoting military cooperation and expressed alarm over Daesh’s growing footprint in Afghanistan and the indifference of US-led Nato forces to the problem.

Published in Dawn, February 28th, 2018

AN air of stultifying inaction has descended over the issue of enforced disappearances, even as people continue to go ‘missing’. In fact, a three-judge Supreme Court bench hearing the missing persons’ cases admitted as much on Monday when it noted the government’s failure in locating the individuals and asked the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances to submit a report on its “perceptible progress” in the matter. According to the statement made in court by a CoIoED representative, it has disposed of 3,000 cases and 1,577 are still pending before it. The Supreme Court bench, while asserting its intention to continue hearing the cases of missing people, asked the government to consider providing a subsistence allowance to some of the affected families facing hardship on account of the misfortune that had befallen them.

Form without substance — that, more or less, defines the efforts thus far against the vile tactic of enforced disappearances. Umpteenth court hearings and multiple meetings of the commission have achieved virtually nothing, and thousands of families continue to exist in limbo, not knowing whether their loved ones are alive or dead. On the contrary, the abductions have become more brazen. From the backwaters of Fata and the provinces, and the dark of night, they are now taking place even in broad daylight in major urban centres. The increasing audacity makes the response by the government and the justice system seem doubly pathetic; that in turn further emboldens the perpetrators. First, it was suspected anti-state militants, Baloch insurgents and their sympathisers who were targeted; when the pushback was not unequivocal enough, the net expanded to include bloggers, journalists and civil society activists. Matters have come to such a pass that now, anyone, anywhere can be picked up if they express, or are suspected of harbouring, a point of view that is secular and/or questions the national security policy.

The message from the establishment, or at least some elements of it, is clear: it is above the law, even the law that underpins the state itself. Eyewitness testimony does not matter, nor does the fact that the commission has recommended — to no avail — that criminal cases be filed against 117 law-enforcement officials. There never seems to be enough evidence to actually hold anyone accountable for a gross human rights violation, the absence of which distinguishes civilised countries from those where the law of the jungle prevails. Enough is enough. It is time to throw down the gauntlet; prevarication, empty gestures and toothless inquiry commissions cannot suffice. The former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s aggressive approach — at least for a brief period — towards enforced disappearances is instructive, even though it did not have lasting results. For it proved that only when hard questions are asked of those who have the answers, will there be any hope of bringing enforced disappearances to an end.

Published in Dawn, February 28th, 2018

NEW DELHI: Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale will come face to face with his Pakistani counterpart, Tehmina Janjua, in Kabul this week for the Kabul conference, the Hindustan Times said on Tuesday.

Mr Gokhale will attend the conference on Wednesday in which 25 countries will be participating.

Though an official one-to-one meeting between the foreign secretaries hasn’t been confirmed by either of the two countries, if it takes place, the paper said, it would be the first such meeting between India and Pakistan since National Security Adviser Ajit Doval met his Pakistan counterpart in December 2017 in Bangkok.

The speculated meeting of the top diplomats at the Kabul conference comes in the backdrop of recent attacks on an army camp in Jammu and Kashmir’s Sunjwan, which India blames on Pakistan. The attack claimed the lives of five soldiers and one civilian, India claims.

Indian Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said at the time that Pakistan will “pay for the misadventure”. According to NDTV, Ms Sitharaman had alleged that three militants of the Jaish-e-Mohammad, who atta­cked the army camp, were controlled by handlers in Pakistan.

Pakistan is “expanding the arch of terror to areas south of Pir Panjal ranges and resorting to ceasefire violations to assist infiltration”, she said.

The “Kabul Process” meeting is an Afghan government-led initiative with stakeholders to find lasting peace in the war-torn country, including the contours of engaging with Taliban outfit. This is the second such meeting of the Kabul Process and is taking place amid stepped up prospects that the elusive TAPI gas pipeline connecting Turkmenis­tan and India through Afghan­istan and Pakistan could be taking shape.

Earlier, in the first stand-alone trip by the India’s foreign secretary to China after last year’s tense standoff in Doklam, Mr Gokhale quietly paid a visit to Beijing last week.

Indian Express reported both sides agreeing on a roadmap for the coming year, including discussions on visits by respective foreign ministers and other officials.

It quoted sources as saying that the brief for Mr Gokhale, a fluent Mandarin speaker who had played a key role in the disengagement at Doklam, was to lay the ground for normalising India-China ties, which have been strained recently, ahead of Prime Minister Narendra

Modi’s likely visit to Qingdao in China in June this year for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisa­tion Summit.

Mr Gokhale was in Beijing on the day China lifted its objections to grey-listing of Pakistan with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) over terror financing, in what the paper saw as a major achievement for Delhi.

It said the FATF was on the table in the talks Mr Gokhale held in Beijing, apart from other contentious issues such as Maldives, Masood Azhar and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), and scheduling of working level meetings.

Published in Dawn, February 28th, 2018

WASHINGTON: Seventeen US intelligence agencies have warned Congress that Pakistan will continue to slip out of America’s influence and into China’s orbit in 2019, and will become a threat to Washington’s interests in the South Asian region.

The review is part of an annual report that Director of US National Intelligence Daniel R. Coats presented to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, underlining worldwide threat assessment of the American intelligence community.

The 17 agencies that jointly produced this report include Central Intelligence Agency, Defence Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation and National Security Agency.

In their report on Pakistan, the agencies warned that the country will continue to threaten US interests by “deploying new nuclear weapons capabilities, maintaining its ties to militants, restricting counterterrorism cooperation, and drawing closer to China”.

The report claimed that Islamabad-backed militant groups will continue to take advantage of their alleged safe haven in Pakistan to “plan and conduct attacks in India and Afghanistan, including against US interests”.

The agencies also warned Pakistan’s perception of its “eroding position relative to India, reinforced by endemic economic weakness and domestic security issues, almost certainly will exacerbate long-held fears of isolation and drive Islamabad’s pursuit of actions that run counter to US goals for the region”.

In a brief assessment of Islamabad’s nuclear programme, US intelligence agencies informed Congress that Pakistan continues to produce nuclear weapons and develop new types, including short-range tactical weapons, sea-based cruise missiles, air-launched cruise missiles, and longer-range ballistic missiles.

“These new types of nuclear weapons will introduce new risks for escalation dynamics and security in the region,” the report added.

India-Pakistan Tension

US agencies also expect relations between India and Pakistan to remain tense, with continued violence on the Line of Control and “the risk of escalation if there is another high-profile terrorist attack in India or an uptick in violence on the Line of Control”.

India-China Tension

The agencies informed Congress that in 2019, relations between India and China will remain tense and will possibly deteriorate further, despite the negotiated settlement to their three-month border standoff in August.

This “elevates the risk of unintentional escalation”, the report added.

Afghanistan

The US intelligence community expects the overall situation in Afghanistan to “deteriorate modestly” this year in the face of persistent political instability, sustained attacks by the Taliban-led insurgency, unsteady Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) performance, and chronic financial shortfalls.

The agencies warned that the National Unity government in Kabul “probably will struggle” to hold long-delayed parliamentary elections, currently scheduled for July 2018, and to prepare for a presidential election in 2019.

“The ANSF probably will maintain control of most major population centres with coalition force support, but the intensity and geographic scope of Taliban activities will put those centres under continued strain,” the agencies assessed.

The agencies believe that Afghanistan’s economic growth will stagnate at around 2.5 per cent per year, and Kabul will remain reliant on international donors for the great majority of its funding well beyond 2018.

Russia

US intelligence agencies see Russia as bringing pressure on Central Asia’s leaders to reduce engagement with Washington and support Russian-led economic and security initiatives, and believe that “concerns about [the militant Islamic State group] in Afghanistan will push Moscow to strengthen its security posture in the region”.

Published in Dawn, February 15th, 2018

LAHORE: Expressing his firm belief in democracy, Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar said on Sunday the judiciary would ensure free and fair general elections in the country.

“You will have free and fair election. I am making this announcement on behalf of my brother judges and the entire judiciary,” the chief justice told Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif thrice during the hearing of a suo motu case regarding provision of clean drinking water and disposal of untreated waste water and hospital waste.

Mr Shahbaz appeared before a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court in compliance with an order issued the other day after the chief justice was informed that 540 million gallons of waste water of Lahore city was being discharged daily into the Ravi without being treated.

At the outset of the hearing, Chief Justice Nisar told the chief minister that the court realised that the Punjab government’s performance was better than of other provinces, but still there were many areas which needed attention.

Chief justice, Shahbaz in witty exchange about who might be next PM

He said the disposal of untreated domestic and industrial waste in River Ravi was very alarming, but it seemed that the matter had never been a priority of the provincial government during its 10-year unbroken stint.

“We do not want to go into the past, but tell us what your government has planned to deal with the issue,” the chief justice asked the chief minister.

Before responding to the CJP’s query, Mr Shahbaz expressed his regard and honour for the courts and said an independent judiciary was vital to democracy. He also mentioned his participation in the lawyers’ movement for the restoration of democracy and independence of judiciary.

At this point an interesting dialogue took place between the chief minister and the chief justice.

When the chief minister said he had always advocated harmony between all state institutions, the CJP, on a lighter note, suggested to Mr Sharif to have the same discourse with other leaders of his party as well.

The courtroom resounded with laughter when CJP Nisar said: “If your party comes to power it will seriously consider making you the next prime minister.”

Mr Shahbaz responded: “You too are after my job.” The CJP retorted: “Not we, you are yourself after you job.”

Reverting to serious business, the chief justice said the court was not happy with outsourcing of different projects of the Punjab government, including the disposal of hospital infectious waste. He also showed concern over transparency in awarding the contracts.

Mr Shahbaz replied: “Transparency is something which is nearest to my heart.” He told the court that his government had saved billions of dollars of the nation by strictly observing transparency in all fields. He claimed that the government had established coal and gas based power projects to produce cheap electricity.

The level of smoke emission from the chimneys of coal power plants had been kept below the international minimum standard, he said when Justice Ijazul Ahsan referred to environmental hazards of coal power projects.

Chief Justice Nisar observed that the standard of emergency wards in public hospitals was not up to the mark. He referred to criticism from some leaders of the PML-N on his visit to a hospital in Lahore but said he did not mind that.

“I also have no objection. You can visit any hospital any time,” the chief minister responded. However, Mr Shahbaz, with a smiling face, sought some time when the chief justice offered him to go on a joint and surprise visit to a public hospital in Lahore right now.

The chief justice observed that the provision of good health facility was a fundamental right and to ensure this right was the responsibility of all institutions.

“I am not here (in the court) to project my government’s performance,” the chief minister said and added, “We have tried our best to serve this province.”

Shahbaz Sharif termed it politicking when the chief justice showed him a bottle containing tap water presented to him by PPP leader Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan the previous day. At this, the chief justice pointed out that arsenic was also found in water supplied to his chamber.

Mr Shahbaz sought three weeks to present a comprehensive plan to address the issues of waste water and incinerators and also expressed his willingness to appear in every hearing, if asked by the court.

The chief justice granted the time sought and asked the chief minister to submit a presentation on the Saaf Pani Project. Before leaving the rostrum, Mr Sharif recited some English verses to show his commitment to serve the people.

CLARIFICATION: The Supreme Court registrar’s office has rejected a statement of Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan that CJP Nisar desired that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz form the next government as well.

“It is clarified that the statement is totally false and concocted,” said a press release issued by the registrar office.

Several members of Mr Shahbaz’s cabinet, including Rana Sanaullah and Education Minister Rana Mashhood Ahmad Khan and the provincial government spokesmen Malik Muhammad Ahmad, also attended Sunday’s proceedings.

Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2018

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