Pakistan News

KARACHI: In a bid to strengthen bilateral relations, Pakistan and India Saturday decided to allow greater trade through land route, signalling a thaw in relations after a year’s standoff over military tensions on the border.

They agreed to allow round-the-clock movement of trucks and containers through Wagah-Attari border, the main border crossing between the two South Asian neighbours.

Trade ministers of the two countries meeting in New Delhi also approved a liberalised visa policy for businessmen to help expand two-way trade, which was barely $2.5 billion in 2012/13fiscal year against a potential $10 billion.

Both sides hope closer integration of Pakistan with India's giant economy would help lay the ground for a lowering of political tensions between them.

“We have agreed that we will open Wagah-Attari border 24/7for trade,” Anand Sharma, India's trade minister told reporters.

The border gates at the moment are open only from dawn to dusk.

Pakistan also agreed to provide non-discriminatory market access to Indian companies.

Over the last year there was little movement on trade because of a series of incidents over military control of the line dividing Kashmir between the two countries.

Two years ago, the two countries set a goal of taking bilateral trade to $6 billion by 2014, which now seems difficult to attain.

Pakistan's Commerce Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan said the country's central bank had proposed its Indian counterpart grant banking licences to three Pakistani banks, a move which would be reciprocated by his side.

“In the banking sector we are hoping to have some progress, very rapid progress,” he said.

Both Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan's Nawaz Sharif who took power last year are keen to rebuild ties.

Pakistan's economy grew at 3.6 per cent in 2012/13 and the government was forced to borrow $6.7 billion from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to avert a default of payments.

Sharma said he will lead a business delegation to Pakistan next month.

ISLAMABAD: Allocated during the Musharraf era as an international goodwill gesture, financial assistance worth $300 million for reconstruction in Afghanistan has become the subject of intensive wrangling and investigations within various arms of the Pakistan government.

Interviews and documentary evidence suggest that the Accountant General of Pakistan Revenues (AGPR) has formally blamed the Ministry of Finance and the Planning & Development Department for the violation of public procurement rules, illegal change of contractors, over-payments and non-observance of audit and accounting procedures in the implementation of GOP-funded projects in Afghanistan.

In fact, the AGPR has filed a reference to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for launching investigations “to determine the extent and quantum of irregular/wrong/excess payments” and fix responsibility of “illegal/unlawful acts while effecting [the] recovery of the over-payments,” according to official records available with Dawn.

“The entire responsibility for over-payment/wrong payment/irregular payment lies with both the planning division and the finance division,” said Accountant General of Pakistan Revenue, Tahir Mahmud, who was removed twice by the government from the post and reinstated by the Islamabad High Court. He has alleged in court that he was being victimised for referring the case to NAB for investigation even though he did this on the orders of the Supreme Court.

But those in the finance and planning ministries contend that even if all these allegations were proved, the office of the AGPR was part and parcel of whatever might be considered wrong because it did not raise objections at the right time. It highlighted them at the last stage of project implementation and final payment.

Some senior officials even question the allocation of such a huge amount (about Rs32 billion at the current exchange rate) by the Musharraf administration between 2001 and 2007 to a neighbouring country without prior consultations between key stakeholders such as the ministries of foreign affairs, finance, defence and planning when millions of Pakistan’s own people lived in absolute poverty.

The AGPR has stated that the Frontier Works Programme (FWO) was appointed by the Planning Commission as the original contractor for the construction of a hostel for 1,000 students at Rehman Baba High School in Kabul, a 100-bed Naib Ameenullah Khan Logari Hospital at Logar, and a 200-bed Jinnah Hospital in Kabul under the $300m financial assistance scheme to Afghanistan through four separate announcements as part of international donor financing. The FWO engaged M/S Airrs Associates Limited as the sub-contractor.

“Subsequently, the FWO — the main contractor — withdrew and the Planning Commission, instead of re-tendering under the PPRA Rules 2002, awarded the sub-contractor the whole quantum of work in violation of the PPRA rules while also changing the terms and conditions of the contract to the benefit of the sub-contractee,” the AGPR said in the reference.

Moreover, the Planning Division continued preparing “loose bills without documentation and verification” by the consultant — Nespak — and submitted them to the pre-audit counter of the AGPR without fulfilling codal formalities. “In this backdrop, the contractor has been overpaid millions of rupees,” which was pointed out to the director-general of the Planning Division along with a number of pre-audit observations to address concerns.

Under the law, original running bills (IPCs) duly verified by the consultant Nespak were required to be submitted to the AGPR for pre-audit and payment along with all documents such as the contract agreement, amendments and foreign exchange certificate, etc, to determine the authenticity of the contractor’s claims.

“Unfortunately, the Planning Division in collaboration with the Ministry of Finance has been preparing loose bills while retaining the original copies of the IPCs with them,” thus making the AGPR release the payment on the desire of the Planning Division.

The allegation is that a part recovery of overpayment was made in a recent bill “while releasing 75 per cent of the bill amount” ahead of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Afghanistan.

Deputy accountant-general Afnan Malik is reported to have observed in writing that “it transpired that heavy overpayments were made to the contractor from the public exchequer” and that he had asked the Planning Division to conduct a “thorough probe to determine the extent and quantum of over-payments” and provide evidence to the AGPR to scrutinise the claims in the light of laid-down procedures and applicable laws. The office of the AGPR had earlier pointed out that in one instance a payment of Rs239.43m was effected through a post-bid change in contract and hence it was unauthorised and irregular payment. In another case, the project cost was converted from the rupee to the dollar amount with the approval of the prime minister but an amount of Rs239.45m “was found invalid, being contrary to the summary approved” by the prime minister.

In yet another instance, an amount of Rs220m was paid to the contractor through a post-bid change in contract and hence declared unauthorised by the AGPR.

Planning Secretary Hassan Nawaz Tarar and AGPR Tahir Mahmud did not return calls made by Dawn to speak on the issue. The director-general of the Planning Division, Jamil Ahmad, who heads the relevant section said he had recently joined the office but PPRA rules had been set aside under “special circumstances” in the past because common contractors were not available to do the job in Afghanistan; the government had the power to give the contract to the FWO as a public-sector entity and the rules also allowed a contract with a premium in special circumstances.

He said all the audit observations were not entirely misplaced but it would not be appropriate to comment on the issue currently under various stages of investigation and audit. “What we are trying to ensure is that whoever is responsible should be taken to task but this should not affect the continuity of the programme,” he said. “So we are working to put in place a system that is transparent.”

The spokesman and adviser to the Ministry of Finance, Rana Assad Amin, strongly refuted the AGPR’s allegations but declined to comment officially in detail. A source close to him said the contractor had filed a complaint against the AGPR before NAB.

KARACHI: Police in Karachi have nominated Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) chief Mullah Fazlullah in the FIR for the bombing that killed senior police officer SP CID Chaudhry Aslam Khan and his two guards earlier this week.

The FIR was registered at the PIB Colony police station nominating both the TTP chief and spokesman Shahidullah Shahid for the alleged killing.

The banned militant organisation had accepted responsibility for killing the senior police officer, touted by some as “the bravest anti-terror cop” in the country.

Police authorities investigating the Thursday bomb attack concluded that a suicide bomber had rammed his explosives-laden pickup into the slain police officer’s bulletproof SUV when his motorcade was passing through the Lyari Expressway.

The police had earlier believed that it was a remote-controlled blast. However, the investigators found human remains at the scene of crime and a hospital examination showed that the pieces were of some unidentified person, suspected to be the suicide bomber.

Since the suspected bomber’s both hands were intact, he was identified through his fingerprints by Nadra records as 36-year-old Naeemullah, son of Rafiullah and a resident of the Pirabad area. Police said Naimullah’s father Rafiullah was the caretaker of a local madressa (Islamic seminary).

Security agencies have taken both the suspected suicide bombers father and brother under arrest.

Police said the elder brother of the alleged suicide bomber was murdered in Karachi after he returned from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, also to carry out a failed suicide bombing.

Authorities are still carrying out further investigation.

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Privatisation Commission on Wednesday gave the go-ahead to the privatisation of three state-owned entities, including the national flag carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).

A meeting of the board of directors of the commission was held in the federal capital today to discuss the sale of the Heavy Electrical Complex (HEC), the National Power Construction Company (NPCC), and the divestment of a minimum of 26 per cent shares of PIA to a strategic partner.

The meeting was chaired by Minister of State, Privatisation Commission, Mohammad Zubair.

The board resolved to divest a minimum 26 per cent shares to a private investor and approved initiation process for the selection of a financial adviser for the purpose.

According to a press release, the board also resolved that “the employees’ interests shall be protected in the process.”

The commission’s board also approved the strategic sale of the Heavy Electrical Complex and the National Power Construction Company, and gave its nod to initiate the process for both the entities.

The board's decisions will now be placed before the parliament for a final approval.

The privatisation of the national flag carrier has been a contentious issue fiercely resisted by opposition parties and worker unions in Pakistan.

A Senate committee on privatisation was informed by Finance Secretary Dr Waqar Masood Khan that the government was required to appoint a financial adviser for the privatisation by March-end under an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The finance secretary said the company had accumulated losses over Rs180 billion and, as part of a $6.64 billion IMF bailout package, the government was also required to privatise 26 per cent shares of the company by December this year.

However, Privatisation Secretary Amjad Ali Khan said the report of the financial adviser would determine if the privatisation could be carried out in 2014 or would be delayed for two years.

According to official documents presented to the IMF, the government has hired one financial adviser and will hire two more by March to offer minority shares in three companies in domestic or international markets by the end of June 2014 subject to investor interest and global market conditions.

ISLAMABAD: At least 12 passengers were killed and over 30 sustained injuries when two buses plunged into a ravine after colliding with each other near mountainous valley of Murree in northern Pakistan Wednesday.

Initial reports suggested deaths of more than 15 passengers. However, officials of Rescue 1122 have now confirmed that 12 dead bodies were recovered from the 50 meters deep ravine at Salgran. The officials said reckless driving and slippery road conditions amid rain and snow in the evening caused the accident.

A rescue operation was launched immediately after the deadly accident. Pakistan Army soldiers also helped rescue teams as they were facing difficulties due to extreme cold and darkness.

The dead and injured were shifted to Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS), Poly Clinic and private hospitals in Islamabad.

An emergency has been imposed in the hospitals and additional doctors and other medical staff have been called in to look after the injured.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took notice of the unfortunate accident and directed the DCO and CPO Rawalpindi to immediately launch the rescue operation there and supervise all these efforts personally.

The premier also noted with concern that there was absence of standard operating procedures for traffic regulation during bad weather conditions, which he added was not acceptable.

Sharif said that divisional administration and police must devise a strategy in this regard by Thursday afternoon and start its implementation.

QUETTA: Chief Minister Balochistan, Dr Abdul Malik Baloch has said coordination and understanding between his government, frontier corps and intelligence agencies has improved in terms of maintaining law and order in the restive province.

Dr Baloch visited the residence of his advisor and member Balochistan Assembly, Mir Majid Abro and inquired about his condition on Sunday evening.

Abro was injured in a blast on Saturday when his vehicle was targeted through a remote controlled device in Quetta's Western Bypass area.

"Better coordination between elected government and security agencies have resulted in improvement of law and order," Dr Baloch said.

Dr Baloch's predecessor Nawab Aslam Raisani, the former chief minister Balochistan, had repeatedly stated that frontier corps had established a parallel government in the province.

He however dispelled the impression regarding backdoor negotiations with armed militant groups operating in the province for the sake of peace.

"No back-door diplomacy is underway," the chief minister explained.

He expressed the determination that all out efforts would be made to give peace for the future generation of the troubled province.

When asked about political parties' proposed sit-in outside the parliament, Dr Baloch said a delegation of political parties was scheduled to meet the Governor Balochistan prior to leaving for Islamabad.

He moreover stated that the proposed All Parties Conference regarding Balochistan would be discussed in the assembly session on January 9.

"We strive to sort out issues through political means," he added.

The chief minister said past mistakes would not be repeated since all coalition partners in his government stand for a peaceful and developed Balochistan.

In response to a question, he said the country was faced with multiple issues as a result of repeated violations of the constitution along with military dictators' intervention in political affairs of the country.

"If I am removed no matter, we must defend democracy," he stated.

Dr Baloch said all political parties must put their heads together to promote democratic institutions in the country.

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's former military ruler Pervez Musharraf on Sunday denounced treason charges against him as a “vendetta”, and said he had the backing of the country's powerful army.

The 70-year-old told reporters the “whole army” was upset with the treason allegations, in his first comments to international media since he was put under house arrest in April.

The treason claims are the latest and potentially most serious in a flurry of criminal cases relating to Musharraf's nine-year rule that he has faced since returning to Pakistan in March.

The case puts the government on a possible collision course with the all-powerful army, which is seen as being reluctant to witness its former chief suffer the indignity of being tried by a civilian court.

“I would say the whole army is upset. I have led the army from the front,” Musharraf told reporters.

“I have no doubt with the feedback that I received that the whole army is... Totally with me on this issue.”

The military, which has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 66-year history and still wields great influence, has not made any clear public comment on Musharraf's legal woes.

The treason charges relate to Musharraf's imposition of emergency rule in November 2007, and if found guilty he could face the death penalty or life imprisonment.

An initial hearing in the case, being heard by a special tribunal, was halted on December 24 after explosives were found along the route Musharraf was to take to court.

The case is due to resume on January 1, but Musharraf said he had not yet decided whether or not he would attend.

“The way this tribunal was formed, which involved the prime minister and the ex-chief justice, this itself smacks a little bit of a vendetta,” he said Sunday.

Musharraf's lawyers have dismissed the charges as an attempt by the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who Musharraf ousted in a coup in 1999, to settle old scores through the courts. Legal barrage

Musharraf returned to Pakistan to run in May's general election -- won by Sharif -- but his homecoming proved to be disastrous.

He was barred from running for office almost immediately and then hit with a series of serious criminal allegations dating back to his time in power, which ended in 2008.

These include murder charges over the assassination in late 2007 of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, as well as the death of Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Bugti, a deadly military raid on a radical mosque and the detention of judges.

Musharraf's tribulations represent a dramatic change in fortunes for the man who led Pakistan into its alliance with Washington's “war on terror” and was a staunch ally of then-US president George W. Bush.

To add to the former commando's humiliation, in April he was placed under house arrest -- an unprecedented move against a former army chief in Pakistan.

He has now been granted bail in all of the cases against him and is technically a free man, but threats to his life mean he lives under heavy guard in his farmhouse on the edge of Islamabad.

The cases have ground through the country’s notoriously slow legal system, moving from adjournment to adjournment with little clear progress made apart from the granting of bail.

There have been persistent rumours that a deal would be struck to let him leave the country before facing the courts to avoid a clash between the army and government.

But no deal has been forthcoming and last week, speaking publicly for the first time since his house arrest began, Musharraf vowed to stay and fight to clear his name.

As the treason case has drawn closer, Musharraf's team have stepped up their media campaign in an effort to enlist international support.

At a press conference in London last week, his British lawyers said they had written to urge the UN to intervene in what they called a “stage-managed show trial”.

They also urged London and Washington to support Musharraf to “repay their debt” for his support in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.


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