Pakistan News

The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered an end to all commercial activities on military lands in Karachi while ordering Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah to summon a cabinet meeting and determine how the city will be restored to the form envisioned in its original master plan.

A two-member bench comprising Justice Gulzar Ahmed and Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, which is hearing a case pertaining to illegal constructions in the city, at the outset expressed severe displeasure at the absence of Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) and cantonment board officials during today's proceedings.

Only Sindh Chief Secretary Syed Mumtaz Ali Shah, Commissioner Karachi Iftikhar Shalwani and Advocate General for Sindh Salman Talibuddin were present in court.

The apex court directed all concerned secretaries to take part in the cabinet meeting and ordered them to come up a comprehensive report about how the city will be restored to its planned shape to be submitted in two weeks.

Later, while ordering an end to commercial activities on military land, Justice Gulzar wondered why the armed forces and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) were running wedding halls and cinemas.

He inquired if it was their job to do so.

Taking aim at the CAA, he noted that a wedding hall was being operated near the Karachi airport, which had been the target of a terrorist attack in the past.

Then, turning to the armed forces, he asked what a wedding hall was doing operating so close to the Central Ordnance Depot, meant for stockpiling active ammunition and weapons.

"Have some fear of God!" he thundered.

He also asked why walls were being erected along main thoroughfares based on the wishes of an armed forces officer, who, judge said, wishes to use them (the walls) to generate revenue from billboards.

"And, behind these walls, big buildings are being constructed," he noted. "If they [the people involved] had their way, they would be constructing buildings on the streets."

Rejecting a report presented by the Sindh government and Karachi Development Authority officials, Justice Gulzar lambasted provincial officials for "singing lullabies" for the court.

"This report of yours is of no use," Justice Gulzar thundered. "If we passed an order on the basis of this report, your entire government will be sent reeling."

"Don't tell us bedtime stories," Justice Gulzar censured the Sindh advocate general. "You do know AG sahab, what it means to sing someone lullabies? It means, 'Listen to this lullaby and go to sleep'."

"We are not here to be sung to sleep," Justice Gulzar said.

"You have a good secretary in Mumtaz Ali Shah, and yet you have been able to achieve nothing," he complained.

The court ordered that the Sindh government's report be submitted along with formal architectural plans and suggestions.

"Let me make it clear: This city will be restored to its original master plan," Justice Gulzar asserted.

"Look at at what the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) has done to the coastal strip," he remarked.

"They have encroached so far into the sea that if they had their way, they would build another city on the sea itself.

"The owners of DHA will [then] encroach on the entire sea all the way to America and plant their flags there," the judge commented.

"They are currently wondering how they can make inroads into India as well," he added.

Court orders public park to be made on TP-II, Askari Park to be handed over to civil authorities

The apex court also ordered the occupation of the Sewerage Treatment Plant-II (TP-II) to be dealt with.

Justice Gulzar asked the managing director of the Water Board if the land had been emptied yet, to which the director said the issue had been handed over to the KMC as per the court's orders.

The court subsequently ordered the land to be turned into a public park. Similarly, the court ordered that Askari Park, which was made on the land of the old 'Sabzi Mandi', be handed over to civil authorities.

The much-awaited inauguration ceremony of the Mohmand Dam has been postponed again this month, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Shaukat Yousafzai told DawnNewsTV. A new date for the ceremony has yet to be announced.

The ceremony for the dam was to be held on January 2 but was rescheduled due to a controversy that emerged following the award of the contract of the hydropower project.

The chief justice had last week taken offence over not being informed about the rescheduling of the ceremony and had said he may not attend.

Justice Nisar has paid close attention to the issue of water scarcity and had ordered the creation of the Dam Fund in July last year ─ a fund that appeals to the general public and overseas Pakistanis for donations for the construction of the Mohmand Dam and the Diamer-Bhasha Dam.

The top judge's initiative was later joined by the prime minister. Within a span of five months, a total of Rs8.46bn was deposited in The Supreme Court of Pakistan and the Prime Minister of Pakistan Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand Dams Fund, according to State Bank of Pakistan data in December 2018.

Justice Nisar and Prime Minister Imran Khan were to be the chief guests of today's event.

Mohmand Dam contract controversy

The dam contract was awarded on a single-bid basis to a consortium of three companies led by Descon, a company previously by Adviser to the Prime Minister on Commerce Abdul Razak Dawood, in which he and his family members currently hold ownership stakes.

A second contestant for the bid, a consortium comprising the Frontier Works Organisation, Andritz Hydro and Power China was technically disqualified and its financial bid was not considered, some top-ranking national contractors cited by Dawn said earlier.

The award of the bid to the Descon-led consortium raised questions about a possible conflict of interest and the process of the award.

Federal Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda claimed the controversy around the award of the dam's contract has been created "on the agenda of international powers".

He said that Dawood had already resigned from the company before the bidding was held on July 18 ─ before the new government came to power. He added that the PM's adviser had nothing to do with the contract and had no way to influence the bidding process.

Descon only holds 30pc of shares in the consortium and the bids were evaluated by technical experts comprising Nespak, an Australian company, and another foreign firm, according to Vawda.

Wapda Chairman Hussain said that it was coincidental that the single bidder's price was also almost the same as estimated by the government and insisted there was no conflict of interest in the award of the contract to a company having links with a sitting cabinet member.

Although Hussain agreed that Descon was linked to Dawood, he maintained it had nothing to do with the bidding conducted by Wapda and dismissed the notion that he or the body was facing pressure over the groundbreaking of the project.

Abdul Razak Dawood in a statement also explained that he had founded and headed Descon like several other business ventures, but had disclosed all his business associations in writing to the prime minister and resigned from these positions before joining the government to ensure transparency and avoid conflict of interest.

The Mohmand Dam project

The construction of the Rs309 billion Mohmand dam ─ which will be situated on the Swat river in the Manda area ─ is said to be imperative to resolve the problems of water scarcity and electricity shortfall in the country.

A sum of Rs2bn has been allocated for the project in the Public Sector Development Programme 2018-19.

Work on the dam will begin this month and is expected to be complete within five years. It will have the capacity to store 0.676 MAF of water and generate 800 megawatts of electricity. It will also irrigate 16,000 acres of land and increase agricultural production in the area.

The completion of the project will require 8,668 acres of land mostly in Mohmand tribal district and some parts of Bajaur and Malakand.

WASHINGTON: Exploring the possibility of an Imran-Trump meeting will be one of the priorities of Pakistan’s new envoy who arrives in Washington on Monday to take charge of the effort to renew once close relationship between the United States and Pakistan.

Dr Asad Majeed, until recently Pakistan’s ambassador in Tokyo, replaces Ali Jehangir Siddiqui who was sent by the PML-N government days before its departure but stayed here for more than seven months from May 9 to Dec 25, 2018.

On Jan 2, US President Donald Trump expressed his desire to meet Prime Minister Imran Khan for talks on US-led efforts to jump-start the Afghan peace process. “I look forward to meeting the folks from the new leadership in Pakis­tan [and] we will be doing that in not-too-distant future,” he said.

This week, reports in the US, Pakistani and Indian media claimed that both Washington and Islamabad are exploring the possibility of bringing Mr Khan to Washington for a White House meeting with President Trump.

Diplomatic sources in Washington, however, say that such a meeting can only materialise if there’s a tangible progress in US-Taliban talks.

The two sides have already held several meetings but the next round, scheduled in Saudi Arabia later this month, is still being finalised.

Ambassador Majeed, who was Pakistan’s deputy ambassador in Washington till 2015, is expected to focus on this proposal as a trade partnership would be more durable.

Also important for him is to revive Pakistanis lobbies on the Hill that once played an effective role in promoting bilateral ties but have become ineffective due to internal disputes and lack of interest. Ambassador Siddiqui did make some efforts to revive this tradition but he could only do so much in his brief tenure.

The new envoy’s efforts to re-engage with the Pakistani-Ameri­can community will be restricted by a US ban that prohibits Pakis­tani diplomats from travelling outside of a 25-mile radius around Washington without approval.

Published in Dawn, January 8th, 2019

KARACHI: In its take on Pakistan’s peace overtures to India, the army on Saturday showed its support to resolve all issues with the neighbouring country on the table, seeing new government’s utmost sincerity in taking the initiative that it said should not be taken as its weakness.

The resolve came from the top military command as Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa during his address to a passing-out parade also called for “fight against hunger, disease and illiteracy, then to fight against each other”.

While addressing the passing-out parade of 110th Midshipmen and 19th Short Service Course at Naval Academy, the COAS touched upon key issues related to the country’s defence and modern technology transforming the nature of warfare and warned that the “unannounced war against us” was yet to be over.

“Pakistan is a peace-loving country and believes in peace within and peace without,” the army chief said.

COAS tells newly inducted navy men to be ready to respond in case of surgical strike in battlefield, cognitive domain, media or cyberspace

“Wars bring death, destruction and misery for the people. Ultimately, all issues are resolved on the table through negotiations that is why we are trying very hard to help bring a lasting peace in Afghanistan by supporting Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace plan. Similarly, our new government has extended a hand of peace and friendship towards India with utmost sincerity but it should not be taken as our weakness. Peace benefits everybody. It is time to fight against hunger, disease and illiteracy, then to fight against each other.”

Before sharing his thoughts about relations with the neighbouring countries, Gen Bajwa narrated the armed forces’ sacrifices to restore peace to the country and warned the young naval personnel about the challenges ahead. “Please remember, we are yet to get out from terrorism or sabotage phase of an unannounced war against us that the subversion phase has also started,” he said.

“Like the terrorists before, the protagonists of the new threats are, at times, our own people. Mostly misguided by ambitions, blinded by hate, ethnicity or religion or simply overawed by social media onslaught, some of our own boys and girls readily fall victim to such dangerous or hostile narratives.”

The response to such onslaughts or threats could not always be kinetic in nature, he said, suggesting the armed forces to deal with them in cognitive domain by producing or propagating a superior narrative. “But this can only happen if you have developed the ability to handle unwarranted criticism with patience and possess better intellectual skills to respond to such threats with logic and reasoning. You will be required to lead your troops, who rank amongst the finest in the world, into the battlefield with full zeal and confidence,” he said.

The COAS highlighted the need for adopting technologies amid growing advancement in science and technology, fast-changing faces of war threats and long-lasting impact of modernisation. “Modern technology has transformed the nature of warfare and has tilted the balance squarely, in favour of those nations that have embraced the change readily,” he said.

Gen Bajwa told the young navy men to keep themselves “abreast with the latest developments in the field of science, technology and warfare. But frankly speaking, even that will not be sufficient as the ever-increasing threat of hybrid war, to which we are subjected to, will need a totally new approach and change of traditional mindset.

“Therefore, you have to prepare and enable yourself to read the environment, gauge the enemies’ latest moves and be ready to respond, even when a surgical strike exists only in cognitive domain or media or even when the attack comes, not in the battlefield but in cyber space, or against country’s ideological frontiers.”

Published in Dawn, December 23rd, 2018

The United Arab Emirates has announced its intention to deposit US$3 billion (equivalent to AED11 billion) in the State Bank of Pakistan "to support the financial and monetary policy of the country", reported WAM, the official news agency of the Emirates.

The Abu Dhabi Fund for Development said, in a statement today, that it will deposit the said amount in the coming days to enhance liquidity and monetary reserves of foreign currency at the bank.

The country's support for Pakistan's fiscal policy is based on the historical ties between the two people, said WAM, and the two friendly countries and the desire to further develop the bilateral cooperation in all fields.

Read: Pak, UAE agree to forge ‘strategic economic’ ties

Following the announcement, Prime Minister Imran Khan took to Twitter to thank the UAE government for "supporting Pakistan so generously in our testing times".

"This reflects our commitment and friendship that has remained steadfast over the years," said the prime minister.

 

The Abu Dhabi Fund for Development has financed eight development projects in Pakistan with a total value of AED1.5 billion, including AED931 million in grants, added WAM. The funds covered projects in sectors such as energy, health, education and roads.

Pak-UAE ties

The PTI-led government, which completed its 100 days in power on November 26, counted "resetting relations with key partners including Saudi Arabia and the UAE" among its accomplishments in its performance report.

Since assuming office in August, the premier has visited the UAE twice.

The first visit took place in September when Khan visited Saudi Arabia and then the UAE. He was received by Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and the two countries had agreed to strengthen economic, trade and investment relations.

The next month, a UAE delegation — comprising CEOs/senior officials of major companies including Mubadala Petroleum, ADIA (Sovereign Wealth Funds), Etisalat, DP World, Dubai Investment Authority, Emaar Properties, Aldahra Agriculture and Abu Dhabi Fund for Development — arrived in Pakistan.

According to Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the one-day visit of the delegation — headed by Dr Sultan Aljaber, minister of state and CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company — was a follow-up to the prime minister’s maiden visit to Abu Dhabi.

In November, the premier embarked on his second trip to the UAE amid reports that the gulf state was ready to extend financial assistance to Pakistan. Khan was received by the Abu Dhabi crown prince in the UAE capital and was accorded a reception at the presidential palace, which was followed by delegation-level talks.

He was accompanied by a high-level delegation comprising Foreign Minister Qureshi, Finance Minister Asad Umar, Petroleum Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan, Power Minister Omar Ayub Khan, PM’s Adviser on Commerce Abdul Razak Dawood, PM’s Adviser on Accountability Shahzad Akbar and Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, among others.

During his day-long trip, the prime minister had also met Sheikh Muhammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the vice president and prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai.

Finance Minister Asad Umar on Tuesday rejected the notion that the country is facing an economic crisis, saying the "financing gap for the current fiscal year has been met", Radio Pakistan reported.

He said "those spreading rumours about the economy are not doing any favour to the country".

The minister's comments come a day after stocks suffered the worst single-day decline in 16 months as the KSE-100 index tumbled 1,335.43 points (3.30 per cent) and closed at 39,160.60.

While speaking at the 11th South Asia Economic Summit in Islamabad, Umar said that "all the fundamental economic indicators are improving as a result of effective policies of the present government".

He also pointed out that exports are increasing while imports and current account deficit are witnessing downward trend, Radio Pakistan reported.

Talking about the record rise of the US dollar against the Pakistani rupee in the interbank market, the finance minister pointed out the rupee has been witnessing depreciation since last year. He, however, said that the situation is now improving.

Umar, according to Radio Pakistan, also made it clear that no compromise will be made on the independence of State Bank of Pakistan (SBP).

A day earlier, during a meeting with TV anchors at PM House, Prime Minister Imran Khan had revealed that he was unaware of the SBP move [on Friday] to decrease the value of the currency against the US dollar and came to know about rupee depreciation through the media.

The prime minister said the SBP was compelled to depreciate the rupee in order to preserve the country’s foreign currency accounts, as the government inherited a $19bn trade deficit from the last PML-N government.

The premier said although the SBP was an autonomous body, he had asked the authorities that no such decision be taken without taking the government into confidence first.

Later at night, Minister of State for Finance Hammad Azhar told a private TV channel that the prime minister did not intend to roll back his commitment to an independent central bank, but only meant that he wanted greater “information sharing” between the bank and the government.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian woman condemned to death on blasphemy charges after accepting her 2015 appeal against her sentence.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel had reserved its ruling on Asia Bibi's final legal appeal against execution (Asia Bibi v. The State, etc) on October 8.

The appeal challenged the Lahore High Court’s October 2014 verdict upholding a trial court’s November 2010 decision sentencing Bibi to death for committing blasphemy in 2009.

"The appeal is allowed. She has been acquitted. The judgement of high court as well as trial court is reversed. Her conviction is set aside," said Justice Nisar in the ruling.

"Her conviction is set aside and she is to be relieved forthwith if not required in other charges," he added.

The 56-page detailed judgement has been authored by CJP Nisar, with a separate concurrent opinion note from Justice Khosa.

"It is a well settled principle of law that one who makes an assertion has to prove it. Thus, the onus rests on the prosecution to prove guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt throughout the trial," noted the top judge in the order. "Presumption of innocence remains throughout the case until such time the prosecution on the evidence satisfies the court beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty of the offence alleged against him.

"[...] The expression 'proof beyond reasonable doubt' is of fundamental importance to the criminal justice: it is one of the principles which seeks to ensure that no innocent person is convicted.

"Keeping in mind the evidence produced by the prosecution against the alleged blasphemy committed by the appellant, the prosecution has categorically failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt," concluded the chief justice.

The court also noted that "it is not for the individuals, or a gathering (mob), to decide as to whether any act falling within the purview of Section 295-C has been committed or not, because as stated earlier, it is the mandate of the court to make such decision after conducting a fully qualified trial and on the basis of credible evidence brought before it".

The CJP ended the judgement with a hadith of the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) on the rights of minorities.

Bibi's lawyer Saiful Mulook told AFP: "The verdict has shown that the poor, the minorities and the lowest segments of society can get justice in this country despite its shortcomings. This is the biggest and happiest day of my life."

Bibi appeared to be in state of disbelief after hearing the decision from her lawyer.

"I can't believe what I am hearing, will I go out now? Will they let me out, really?" Bibi told AFP by phone from prison after the ruling. "I just don't know what to say, I am very happy, I can't believe it."

Bibi's husband also hailed the verdict. "I am very happy. My children are very happy. We are grateful to God. We are grateful to the judges for giving us justice. We knew that she is innocent," said Ashiq Masih.

Shortly after the ruling, hundreds blocked a key road linking Rawalpindi with Islamabad. People are also gathering for protests in Karachi and Peshawar. Similar rallies are being held elsewhere as police urge demonstrators to disperse peacefully.

High security

The decision to take stringent security measures in the capital was made after a number of meetings held to thrash out a strategy to deal with any unforeseen situation after the verdict.

On Oct 13 this year, the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan, a religio-political party headed by Khadim Hussain Rizvi, threatened to “paralyse the country within hours if the Supreme Court sets Asia Bibi free”.

Islamabad was put on high alert on Tuesday night. Extra contingents of police and law enforcement agencies have been deployed in the capital.

About 300 police personnel, along with paramilitary units, are guarding the SC building, adjacent to Parliament House on Constitution Avenue.

Sources in the administration told Dawn that Rangers and Frontier Constabulary had been called as part of measures to step up security in Islamabad. Security of the Judges Enclave and the Diplomatic Enclave has been handed over to Rangers.

The sources said security personnel had been asked to guard the Red Zone as it houses sensitive installations, including the Supreme Court.

According to the sources, when some senior police officers met officials of the apex court, the law enforcers were asked to adopt security measures for the Supreme Court and other key points.

Allegations against Asia Bibi

Asia Bibi was convicted for blasphemy under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code for allegedly defaming Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him). The offence carries the mandatory death penalty under Pakistani law.

The allegations against Bibi were that she made three “defamatory and sarcastic” statements about the Holy Prophet on June 14, 2009 during an argument with three Muslim women while the four of them were picking fruit in a field in Sheikhupura.

She was asked to fetch water, but the Muslim women objected, saying that as a non-Muslim she was unfit to touch the water bowl.

The women later went to a local cleric and accused Bibi of blasphemy against the Holy Prophet, a charge punishable by death under legislation that rights groups say is routinely abused to settle personal vendettas.

Arguments on appeal

During the hearing of Bibi's appeal on Oct 8, the prosecution side, represented by Additional Prosecutor for Punjab Chaudhry Zubair, and Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry from the complainant side had supported each other by arguing that the accused had not denied committing blasphemy or presence of the accused as well as the witnesses at the place of occurrence. Besides, they said, the allegation of a quarrel before the incident in which Bibi was first insulted for being a Christian had also not been proved.

Advocate Saiful Malook, appearing on behalf of Bibi, had argued that the prosecution’s case was replete with infirmities and subsequent improvements and, therefore, the benefit of the doubt should be given to the accused and the entire investigation be declared illegal and unwarranted.

Meanwhile, CJP Nisar had observed that committing blasphemy was the most appalling and spiteful offence, and not only “our laws but the fundamentals of our religion also place strict standards of proof to prove the crime”.

Case history

The prosecution had claimed that Bibi “admitted” making the blasphemous statements at a “public gathering” on June 19, 2009 "while asking for forgiveness".

A trial court convicted Bibi for blasphemy in November 2010 and sentenced her to death. The Lahore High Court (LHC) had upheld her conviction and confirmed her death sentence in October 2014.

She had then challenged the LHC verdict in the Supreme Court, which stayed her execution in July 2015 and admitted her appeal for hearing.

The top court had first taken up the appeal in October 2016, but had to adjourn the matter without hearing after one of the judges recused himself from the SC bench. Two years later, the appeal was heard earlier this month and the CJP Nisar-led bench reserved its verdict.

Bibi's supporters maintain her innocence and insist it was a personal dispute, and the Vatican has called for her release.

In 2011, former Punjab governor Salman Taseer, who spoke out in support of Bibi, was gunned down in broad daylight in Islamabad. His assassin Mumtaz Qadri was executed in 2016 after the court found him guilty of murder.

Additional reporting by Nasir Iqbal.

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