ISLAMABAD / LAHORE: The release of a list of Toshakhana beneficiaries since the year 2002 has raised various questions, including the under-assessment of the value of gifts and the unsaid policy of reciprocation, which officials say has yet to come under scrutiny.
Data released by the government over the weekend showed that it wasn’t just PTI chief Imran Khan who benefitted from the rules regarding the purchase of gifts from the official state registry; rather, nearly every prime minister from Shaukat Aziz to Shehbaz Sharif has purchased or retained items from the Toshakhana.
The list includes the usual suspects, such as politicians and bureaucrats, but the list of retentions and ‘their pettiness’ is astounding: shirts, handkerchiefs, sarees, clothes for shirts, watches, fruits, ornamental daggers and cufflinks etc.
For example, former president Asif Ali Zardari received at least 182 presents during his stint as the president and retained almost all of them after making some payments against these presents. Mr Zardari retained a Lexus and a BMW worth a little more than Rs107 million but paid Rs16.17m to retain these vehicles on Jan 26, 2009. These gifts are among the most expensive presents retained by a public office holder.
Imran Khan, who is also facing court proceedings, had retained gifts worth more than Rs100m by Sept 24, 2018, just weeks after coming to power, and paid Rs20.1m to keep them. Along with his wife, the former premier got more than 111 gifts and retained most of them, as per the released documents. On May 18, 2021, a separate gift received by the wife of the former PM was taken after paying Rs2.9m against a value of Rs5.8m.
Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his wife Kulsoom Nawaz received at least 65 presents. The former PM chose to keep most of these gifts that include expensive watches and a bulletproof vehicle. In Jan 2016, Mr Sharif received presents worth Rs38 million and paid Rs7.6 million to retain these gifts. In Feb 2016, Mr Sharif paid a little more than Rs3.2 million to retain presents worth over Rs16 million. Kulsoom Nawaz paid Rs10.8 million to acquire precious gifts worth more than Rs54 million on Jan 13, 2016.
Sameena Shahid, the wife of former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, retained a gift worth more than Rs99 million after she paid Rs19.9 million in Oct 2017 against a jewellery set. Mr Abbasi’s son Nadir Khaqan paid over Rs3m to retain a Rs17 million wristwatch on April 17, 2018. Similarly, his other son Abdullah Khaqan, on the same day, paid Rs1.09m against a watch worth Rs5.5 million.
On May 12 last year, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif received a Rolex watch worth Rs140m which he deposited in Toshakhana. As per the document, this watch was put on display at the Prime Minister’s House.
PML-N leader Khawaja Asif retained multiple gifts on Dec 5, 2017, which were worth at least Rs44 million. The minister, however, paid Rs8.8m to acquire these gifts.
The late military dictator Pervez Musharraf showed complete disregard for the Toshakhana rules. He along with his family received more than six dozen gifts. Most of them he retained – most free of cost and some after payments of a meagre amount. On April 22, 2006, he was gifted a Toyota Lexus whose value could not be assessed since the former president did declare the gift but failed to deposit it in the state repository.
His prime minister Shaukat Aziz did the same thing. He declared a Toyota Lexus on the same day but did not deposit the present, whereas a former Balochistan chief minister declared Toyota VXR but did not deposit the gift either.
Experts Dawn spoke to pointed out the undervaluation of the articles, whose assessed cost was kept significantly low, while the retention cost was even nominal for the undue benefit of the recipients.
They have also highlighted another anomaly, alleging foul play in omitting the exchange rate of the articles with the passage of time. Given the inflation rate in the country that has always been on the rise, the valuation in the current times should have been done after taking inflation and the exchange rate into account. The cost of ‘the gifts’, experts say, would have been shocking if these factors were taken into account.
Javed Hassan, an economist, interpreted the purchases and explained: “These gifts were retained at 20pc of the assessed value in 2009. Subsequently, the price was raised to 50pc. This 30pc becomes a huge difference. Add compound inflation for the last 13 years – because the list is revealed now – and the damages to the state exchequer get multiplied by three to four times.”
“We need to deal with the very law that allows this kind of windfall for the ruling elite. They should not be auctioned, except for those things that lose value with the passage of time (like vehicles). The rest should go to the state, for a respectable display at appropriate places,” Hassan says.
Former finance minister Miftah Ismail saw it as yet another reflection of ‘elite capture’. At different stages, different rates (15, 20 and 50pc) were applied for retention, but all of them benefitted the ruling elite. “Under-assessment has been another issue. The solution to it all is ‘simply plug it’; the law should be enacted to stop individuals from retaining these gifts. Do whatever you want to do with them – retain them for exhibition halls, auction them to the public and give money to the state but stop individual purchases by the state functionaries,” he suggests.
But educationist and former caretaker chief minister Hassan Askari Rizvi thinks the law covers such purchases, in his view the issue is one of ethics of such buys.
“There should be a cut-off line (price wise) beyond which all gifts should go to the state. No one should be allowed to retain them, or, if one has to, he should pay 100pc price,” he said.
Calling for the release of data from years prior to 2002, noted journalist and TV host Talat Hussain asked whether politicians or bureaucrats alone were the recipients of this state largesse.
“Have army men, judges or chief minister also benefitted? If yes, where is their list?”
Thirdly, he asked, what has been the valuation process. “How much was it rigged? What has been the expertise to evaluate custom-made or non-branded gifts?”
But while everyone is busy poring over who got what, an angle that has hitherto been ignored is that whenever an official delegation receives a gift, in many cases it needs to be reciprocated as well.
The costs of these counter-gifts, which sources claim are purchased on the state’s dime, also run into the millions of rupees.
“When a president, prime minister, federal minister or federal secretary receive a gift, they also gave gifts to the other side and these presents are purchased by the state or the relevant ministry,” a highly placed source told Dawn on Monday.
These items can include swords, carpets, leather items, woolen shawls, paintings, show-pieces, souvenirs, ornaments, gold jewellery and jewellery boxes etc.
But while there is a record of most gifts received by state functionaries, there was no record of gifts given by these public office holders in return and how much was spent on those items.
No laws broken
Former PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who emerged as one of the people who had availed themselves of Toshakhana gifts, told Geo News on Monday night that the receiver of the foreign gift became its sole owner and he/she had the right to sell it onwards after paying the 20 per cent cost, fixed by the Toshakhana.
Speaking to Shahzeb Khanzada, he claimed these gifts were given to individuals and not to the public office they occupied. “These gifts are the property of individuals and not the posts,” he added.
Mr Abbasi also revealed that he had re-gifted several of the items he retained from the Toshakhana, saying that he had distributed them among his relatives and friends.
But when asked if selling foreign gifts was no crime, why was PTI chief Imran Khan in the dock, Mr Abbasi replied that Mr Khan’s “crime” was selling the items before he had paid 20pc of their price to the Toshakhana.
Irfan Aslam in Lahore also contributed to this report
ISLAMABAD/KARACHI: As part of continuous relief assistance on government directions to quake-affected people of Turkiye and Syria, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) on Saturday sailed off another ship PNS Moawin with 550 tonnes of relief goods from Karachi.
NDMA Chairman Lt Gen Inam Haider Malik, Turkish Consul General Jamal Sangu and Pakistan Fleet Commander Rear Admiral Faisal Abbasi witnessed the departure ceremony of the ship.
The Turkish consul general conveyed gratitude to the government and people of Pakistan for extending humanitarian support in the aftermath of the deadly earthquake.
The ship carried a 367-tonne consignment of 2,625 family-sized fire-resistant winterised tents and 38,370 blankets for quake-affected Turkiye and another 179-tonne consignment of 22,000 blankets and 144 tonnes of essential items of daily use for Syria.
The NDMA coordinated ship carrying aid for the two countries, which departed from Karachi would reach Mersin port of Turkiye on March 23 and Lattakia port of Syria on March 31.
PNS Moawin likely to reach Turkish port on 23rd, Syrian port on 31st
Earlier on Feb 28, the NDMA sailed off the first sea cargo of 1,000 tonnes for both countries through PNS Nasr that would be received at destination in Syria on March 13, and March 20, in Turkiye.
So far, Pakistan through the NDMA had dispatched 2,812 tonnes of relief assistance to both countries containing winterised family tents, blankets, ration packs and other essential items.
The NDMA was spearheading massive relief operations by using every possible available means of transportation to maximise the assistance for the victims of the affected countries.
Sindh assured of technological help
Also, the NDMA chairman on Saturday met Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah at CM House where they agreed to strengthen coordination between the NDMA and provincial disaster management authority so that proper planning could be made to mitigate the impact of the natural disaster.
They also agreed that modern technology would be adopted for disaster management.
The NDMA chairman said his organisation had developed a close coordination with international agencies working to forecast weather and its related impacts and added that the authority was installing weather-related latest equipment and gadgets to assess weather and patterns of the disasters during the last few decades.
He told the chief minister that the provincial disaster management authorities would also be connected with their systems along with sharing daily reports and forecast warnings so that they could make their plans and necessary preparedness, accordingly.
LAHORE: The Lahore High Court registrar office on Wednesday refused to fix hearing of three petitions of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan for protective bail in as many criminal cases without the personal appearance of the petitioner.
Khan sought protective bail in two FIRs registered with Ramna police station, Islamabad, and one with Bijli Road, Quetta.
The legal team of the former prime minster requested the registrar office to fix an immediate hearing of the petitions.
However, the office turned down the request asking the lawyers to ensure personal appearance of the petitioner first.
“All the judges have gone home now. Will they come back to the court to hear your petitions?” an additional registrar asked the lawyers.
The official reminded the lawyers that the office previously fixed the hearing of a petition of Khan and he failed to appear before the court.
“Bring the petitioner to the court. We will fix the petition for hearing,” the official assured the lawyers.
The lawyers said Khan could not reach the court since section 144 had been imposed in the city and his Zaman Park residence had been cordoned off by the police.
The lawyers later filed a petition on behalf of PTI leader Hammad Azhar challenging the imposition of section 144 in the city.
The office fixed the hearing of the petition before Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh for Thursday (today).
Azhar pleads that the government illegally and unlawfully issued an order for the imposition of section 144 and restricted him to hold the rally in connection with his election campaign.
Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Asim Munir said on Thursday that a “handful of misguided elements” cannot shake the resolve of the people of Balochistan and the armed forces were committed to ensuring peace and prosperity in the province.
According to a press release issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the army chief made the remarks during a visit to Gwadar.
Balochistan Chief Minister Mir Abdul Quddus Bizenjo and Quetta Corps Commander Lt Gen Asif Ghafoor were present during the army chief’s visit.
The ISPR statement said Gen Munir was briefed on the prevailing security situation in the province, the formation’s operational preparedness for the security of the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and efforts for ensuring a peaceful and secure environment.
During the meeting, the army chief appreciated the efforts of all ranks and urged them to continue working with professional commitment for the good of the people of Balochistan, the military’s media wing said.
“While interacting with troops, the COAS emphasised that a handful of misguided elements cannot shake the resolve of the people of Balochistan and the Armed Forces [are] committed towards ensuring peace and prosperity,” the ISPR quoted Gen Munir as saying.
He also laid particular emphasis on the socio-economic development of the area and announced welfare projects related to education, installation of solar systems, fisheries, water, health, sports and livelihood in the province.
Over the past few months, the law and order situation in the country has worsened, with terrorist groups executing attacks with near impunity across the country.
Insurgents in Balochistan have also stepped up their violent activities and formalised a nexus with the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
According to statistics released by the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies, an Islamabad-based think-tank, January 2023 remained one of the deadliest months since July 2018, as 134 people lost their lives — a 139 per cent spike — and 254 received injuries in at least 44 militant attacks across the country.
ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: Former spy chief retired Lt-Gen Faiz Hamid is being investigated for alleged corruption, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah revealed, while his party leader Maryam Nawaz Sharif called for the retired general’s court martial over his alleged role in bringing down her father’s government and implicating both her and Nawaz Sharif in NAB cases.
Meanwhile, Gen Hamid also seemed to break his silence over the fresh wave of allegations being levelled against him — by the PML-N in general and Ms Sharif in particular — when he told a journalist that it is the army chief who calls the shots in the military.
In a press conference on Wednesday, the interior minister said that a probe was underway against the ex-Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) boss and his brother over alleged corruption and accumulating assets beyond means. However, he said it would be premature to say anything further at this stage.
When it was pointed out that any probe into assets beyond means would fall in the domain of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), the law minister said an investigation was already under way.
Maryam demands court martial of retired Lt Gen Faiz Hamid; former spy chief claims COAS was ‘calling the shots’, not him
“When something surfaces, you will be informed,” he told the questioner.
Separately, in an interview with a newly-launched digital news outlet, Ms Sharif demanded strong action against the former ISI DG for his role in getting her and her father convicted in NAB corruption references in 2017.
Unlike her arch-rival Imran Khan, who is demanding the court martial of the previous army chief, Ms Sharif stopped short of seeking any major punitive action against retired Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, saying that as of now, she wanted to make an example of Gen Hamid.
“I had spoken against Gen Hamid in court when he was the sitting ISI chief for his alleged involvement in getting me and Nawaz Sharif punished. I had evidence against him,” she said, referring to former Islamabad High Court judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui’s claims that the spy agency tried to prevail on him to issue a verdict of their liking.
When asked to comment on the PML-N leader’s demand for Gen Hamid’s court martial for his alleged unconstitutional acts, Rana Sanaullah said that this was a matter for GHQ to decide.
“Politicians make demands and express their viewpoint,” he said, explaining that a court martial of a former military officer does not fall within the jurisdiction of civil authorities.
Later, senior journalist Kamran Khan claimed in a tweet that the former ISI chief had reached out to him and provided a response to the allegations being levelled by Ms Sharif.
According to the journalist, Gen Hamid argued that in 2017-18, he was simply a major general in the army and asked whether, under military discipline, a lone officer could topple the government.
He was also quoted by Mr Khan as saying that it is the chief of army staff who has the final say, and that all the major decisions — seemingly a reference to Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification and subsequent imprisonment — were taken by the courts.
Unhappy with uncle Shehbaz?
During the interview, Ms Nawaz also opened up about the episode of her arrest from Lahore airport in 2018, saying that she still had regrets over the fact that a rally led by her uncle, incumbent PM Shehbaz Sharif, could not reach the airport in time, before she and her father were arrested.
When asked who would be her party’s pick for the slots of prime minister and finance minister if they win the next general elections, Ms Sharif smiled but refrained from answering.
This is not the first time Ms Sharif has been critical of her uncle and his government.
In February, she openly distanced herself from the ‘mini-budget’ introduced by the PML-N-led government at the Centre, saying that: “This coalition government of nine parties is not our government.”
The United States government on Tuesday announced 500 new scholarships for Pakistani university students from flood-affected districts to “assist them in completing their degrees”.
The calamitous Pakistan floods of 2022 were the tenth most expensive climate disaster to have buffeted a nation over the last decade. The floods inflicted an estimated loss of $3 billion on the country, caused over 1,700 deaths and displaced eight million people.
In January, international donors met in Geneva and committed over $9bn to help Pakistan recover from the flood but the United Nations said a day ago that so far donors have fulfilled only 40 per cent of the pledges they made.
A press release issued from the US embassy in Islamabad said US Ambassador Donald Blome announced the scholarships at an event “celebrating the achievements of female scholars in honour of International Women’s Day” at the Higher Education Commission (HEC).
Present at the event were Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal, HEC Chairman Dr Mukhtar Ahmed, National Disaster Management Authority Chairman Lieutenant General Inam Haider Malik, HEC Executive Director Dr Shaista Sohail, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Mission Director Reed Aeschliman, university vice chancellors, students and alumni.
“The United States, through USAID, has supported scholarships for meritorious yet financially disadvantaged students to pursue higher education at top Pakistani universities,” the press release reads.
It added that in partnership with the HEC, the US government has awarded over 6,000 scholarships through the Merit and Needs Based Scholarship Programme.
“Sixty per cent of those scholarships have been awarded to women as part of the US government’s support for women’s higher education,” the press release stated.
“International Women’s Day not only serves as a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements made by our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, and daughters. It is also a call to action to accelerate gender parity and to dismantle gender stereotypes,” the press release quoted Ambassador Blome as saying.
HEC Chairman Dr Mukhtar Ahmed remarked that the US government’s support to strategic sectors in Pakistan, especially the higher education sector, was “commendable”.
“Not only have these scholarships helped secure university education for many underprivileged students, lifting themselves and their families out of poverty, they have helped supply Pakistan with crucial skills and knowledge sets to drive the economy,” he added.
“Pakistan has suffered from catastrophic floods where millions of people lost their homes and livelihoods. The humanitarian response by the United States and other donors is commendable. We welcome US support for flood-affected students,” the press release quoted the planning minister as saying.
Jennifer Andleeb, a scholarship alumna, shared the challenges she faced in attaining higher education and how her scholarship “transformed the trajectory of her life”.
“She emphasised that positive changes in society could only happen by investing in education, and that empowered, educated women are critical to ensuring a brighter future for Pakistan,” the press release reads.
The Karachi University (KU) on Tuesday denied reports of violence against students celebrating the Hindu festival of Holi.
The statement by the KU spokesperson came after a video surfaced on social media earlier today wherein a female student claimed that several of them were not allowed to celebrate the festival at the varsity. She alleged that students belonging to the Islami Jamiat Tulba (IJT) prevented them from holding the event and also physically assaulted them.
It is pertinent to mention that IJT activists on Monday allegedly attacked a gathering of students at Punjab University’s new campus when they were celebrating Holi with the permission of the administration.
Responding to the claims made in the video, a statement issued by the KU spokesperson said that “no permission was sought from the varsity administration for celebrating Holi inside its premises”.
The spokesperson said that “no incidents of violence against students celebrating Holi were reported to the security office or to the hospital”. He added that there were no reports of any such incident from law enforcement agencies either.
He added that the Youm-i-Mustafa Conference was under way in the varsity with the administration’s permission and questioned how Holi could be celebrated without similar approval.
Meanwhile, East Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Zubair Nazeer Shaikh told Dawn.com that the varsity administration had “not reported such an incident to the police”.
“However, I have moved my lower command to the site of the incident,” he added. “This kind of behaviour will not be tolerated,” the senior officer said.
Later in the day, SSP Shaikh told Dawn.com that the police visited the KU administration and were informed by officials that two events were taking place simultaneously, one pertaining to the life of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) while a few students had arranged a programme to celebrate Holi.
The SSP said that as per the KU administration, an “exchange of hot words” had taken place but no violence occurred. The administration intervened and “resolved” the issue, he said, adding that the police stayed there for a while to deal with any eventuality.
Minister orders inquiry
Ismail Raho, the Sindh minister for universities and boards, also took notice of the alleged incident and directed the KU vice chancellor to conduct an inquiry and submit a detailed report in this regard.
“Hindu students can celebrate Holi and no one can prevent them,” the minister said, adding that Islam and the law called for respecting all religions, and minorities had the complete freedom to celebrate their religious festivities.
Gianchand Israni, Sindh minister for minority affairs, said that people of all faiths enjoyed the freedom to celebrate their religious festivals in Sindh.
“There is complete harmony among Hindus, Christians, Sikhs and Muslims who participate in each other’s respective religious programmes as well,” said the minister.
Israni said that an inquiry was initiated regarding the alleged incident.
“I have spoken to both minister for higher education Ismail Raho and Sindh Inspector General of Police (IGP) Ghulam Nabi Memon,” said the minister, adding that they were waiting for the findings of the inquiry.
Israni said that if any miscreant was found involved in the incident then action as per law would be taken.
He added that PPP C Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari had given special instructions to the Sindh government regarding the protection of minorities.
PML-N MNA Kheel Das Kohistani also condemned the incident.
“Quaid-i-Azam’s Pakistan gives complete freedom to all religions to celebrate their religious festivals,” he said, adding that a “handful” of some elements wanted to “tarnish the country’s image”.
Kohistani said he was in touch with Sindh Inspector General Ghulam Nabi Memon, adding that action would be taken and the affected students would be provided protection.