Dawn – Bitter foes PTI, PPP launch attack on Sharif

Sadia Qasim Shah & Gohar Ali Khan

Batkhela/Peshawar-Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 26 April 2017. The leaders of the country’s main opposition parties raised the “Go Nawaz go” slogan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, demanding that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif step down following the Supreme Court’s verdict in the Panama Papers case.

But plans for a grand opposition alliance seemed a distant dream on Tuesday, as Asif Ali Zardari and Imran Khan also took aim at each other’s parties in speeches that seemed more suited to the campaign trail than as precursors to a possible alliance.

Addressing a public gathering in Malakand, the former president and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) co-chairman dismissed the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief as “a fake Khan”, and dubbed Nawaz Sharif “a prodigy of General Zia-ul-Haq”.

Mr Zardari alleged that PM Sharif was a product of the establishment and accused him of still furthering the agenda of the former military dictator.

Mr Zardari blamed the philosophy of PM Sharif and his mentor, General Zia, for the brutal killing of Mashal Khan and regretted the blocking of Pakhtuns’ CNICs. Addressing PM Sharif, he said Pakhtuns should be given their due rights.

Imran, Zardari also lash out at each other in KP

He alleged that the Sharif family had looted the nation’s wealth with both hands and vowed to retrieve whatever they had made off with.

He reminded the people of KP about all that the PPP had done for them, giving the impression that he was there to garner votes as much as to assail the ruling parties in the province and at the Centre.

The PPP co-chairman lamented that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which was initiated by his government to end the sense of deprivation prevailing in KP and Balochistan, had been snatched by the ruling party and called on Pakhtuns to reclaim what was rightfully theirs.

He claimed credit for renaming the province and accused Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif of snatching morsels from the mouths of Pakhtuns by encroaching on their share in the National Finance Commission award.

He recalled how the writ of the government had been established in Swat and how the PPP government had looked after thousands of people displaced from the Malakand division during the conflict there.

Reminding the crowd that the late Benazir Bhutto had always raised her voice for the people of the tribal areas, he vowed that Fata would be merged with KP if the PPP came into power again.

PPP leader said that problems for overseas Pakistanis living abroad particularly in Middle East countries had increased there. He said that people of Malakand division and parts of the country are facing manifold problem in Arab countries but the rulers were enjoying their family relation with these ME countries.

Mr Zardari also lambasted the ruling PML-N for its silence over the use of the massive ‘Mother of All Bombs’ in neighbouring Afghanistan. He also expressed sympathies with the people of Malakand, whose loved ones were facing tough living conditions abroad, such as in the Middle East.

Imran Khan

Fresh from his diatribe against the PPP in Dadu on Saturday, where he accused the former president of “belittling” the party of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, on Tuesday, the PTI chief turned his sights back on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Reminding PM Sharif how he had demanded Yousuf Raza Gillani’s resignation when the Supreme Court had found the latter guilty of contempt, Mr Khan told a gathering of party leaders at the CM House in Peshawar that judges of the Supreme Court had rejected the Sharifs’ evidence, Qatari letter and all.

According to a handout issued on Tuesday, he claimed the verdict had vindicated his party’s stance and called on party workers to make PTI’s April 28 show in Islamabad a resounding success.

He alleged that the institutions tasked with probing the PM were subordinate to him, and questioned how a fair probe could be held while Nawaz Sharif remained in office.

Speaking to party lawmakers, the PTI chief accused Nawaz Sharif of offering him Rs 10 billion to “stay quiet”, adding that he could offer a lot more to other institutions to keep mum. He also stressed the need to maintain public pressure on the government.

Addressing another ceremony, held to mark the inauguration of the under-23 games at the Hayatababad Complex, he told an audience of youths: “Had I given up, I would not have been able to build Shaukat Khanum hospital or to set up the PTI.”

In a speech that seemed designed to inspire young people into action, he stressed the need to instil the sporting spirit among all players.

He attributed his success to his sporting career, saying: “If a champion loses, he never gives up. He gets up, analyses his mistakes and goes to play again.”

When the audience began to chant “Go Nawaz Go”, he observed that this would be “done on Friday”.

He also praised Younis Khan, who hails from Mardan, on becoming the first Pakistani cricketer to achieve 10,000 runs.


The News – SC dismisses request for inclusion of section for Sikhs in census forms

Islamabad, 24 April 2017. The Chief Justice on Monday dismissed the Sindh and Peshawar high courts request of including an option for Sikhs in the religion section of the census form.

Chief Justice Saqib Nisar said that the first phase of census is completed in more than half of the districts of the country. It would now not be possible to print new forms, he said. The forms are in machine readable form therefore the section cannot even be made manually as the machine will not recognise them.

The court ruled that census cannot take place in areas where it has been completed.

The census form does not have a box for Sikhs to mark their religion though there is one for Hindus and Christians.

A Sikh community leader had filed a petition in the Sindh High Court demanding inclusion of Sikhism in the religion column in the census form.

The divisional bench in Sindh High Court heard the case on March 21 and sent notices to the chief census commissioner and provincial census commissioner to submit their response.


Dawn – Indian journalist raises tough questions about Kulbhushan Jadhav

Karachi, 22 April 2017. Simply but aptly titled “The mysterious Mr Jadhav”, well-known journalist Karan Thapar has written a hard-hitting article about the Indian spy who has been sentenced to death by a military tribunal in Pakistan.

Karan Thapar

The sub-head coined for the piece, published on Friday on the website of the Indian Express, was equally instructive in that it succinctly summed up what kind of an article it was. This stand-first said: “The case of the Indian sentenced in Pakistan offers more questions than answers.”

Mr Thapar said he was intrigued by Kulbhushan Jadhav’s story. So he began reading about it, but the more he read about it the more he became confused. “Alas, all I’ve ended up with is questions. The more I learn, the more they multiply”, he wrote.

The first thing that troubled the Indian journalist was why Jadhav had two passports, one in his own name and the other one in the name of Hussein Mubarak Patel.

“According to the Indian Express, the second passport was originally issued in 2003 and renewed in 2014. The passport numbers are E6934766 and L9630722,” he wrote.

When the journalist contacted the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), he was told that the answer could be obtained only if Indian officials managed to gain access to Jadhav. Mr Thapar responded to the suggestion by writing: “But why not check the records attached to the passport numbers? Surely they would tell a story?”

The Indian government claimed that Jadhav was kidnapped from Iran and forcibly brought to Balochistan. Mr Thapar said that New Delhi did pursue the matter with Iran. “But, as the MEA spokesperson admitted, they don’t seem to have responded or, perhaps, even conducted an investigation yet. We seem to have accepted that. Odd, wouldn’t you say?”

The Indian journalist went on to ask what was so special about Jadhav that only he was kidnapped by the Pakistani sleuths and not any other Indian living in Iran. “After all, there are 4,000 Indians in Iran — and no one else has been abducted.”

The Indian journalist quoted A S Dulat, a former chief of RAW, as saying unhesitatingly that Jadhav could be a spy. “As he put it, if he was the government, he would hardly admit it,” he wrote.

Turning to the disappearance of Lt Colonel Mohammad Habib in Nepal, the Indian journalist said: “Was Jadhav convicted and sentenced to pre-empt India from claiming it had caught a Pakistani spy? And now, is an exchange of ‘spies’ possible?”


Dawn – Tainted but intact

Abbas Nasir

Op-Ed, 22 April 2017. As the Saudi royal jet took off from Lahore airport carrying the former Pakistan army chief to his new assignment in Riyadh merely a day after a Supreme Court verdict in the Panama Papers scandal left the prime minister in office, nothing could have better symbolised the Sharif family’s palpable relief.

Palpable relief because a several months-long cloud of doom and foreboding had finally lifted, leaving no immediate threat. Strained relations between Nawaz Sharif and his appointee Raheel Sharif, which were awkward at best, had degenerated to a near breakdown with the publication of Cyril Almeida’s story in this paper last year.

Side by side, the Panama Papers scandal, which turbocharged the opposition PTI and its leader Imran Khan into organising mass protests to seek the removal of the incumbent prime minister, eventually prompted the Supreme Court to take up the case.

Propriety is as rare in this breed of politicians as probity, whether financial or in terms of governance.

The chief justice’s decision may have defused a possible crisis as a result of street agitation, but once the proceedings started it became clear that the first family was often going to face extremely uncomfortable and embarrassing questions in court while trying to establish how it came to own expensive London real estate through offshore companies.

Towards the beginning of last year, the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung received from a whistleblower some 11.5 million documents held by the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca. The paper then shared the data with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

The leak demonstrated how the wealthy around the world use offshore companies to evade taxes, move funds around the world surreptitiously and even launder money. When the names of the prime minister’s sons were found in these documents, the ICIJ emailed them to seek their version before making the information public.

At this stage, rather than seek proper, top-drawer legal counsel or respond to the ICIJ, the Sharifs tried to be clever by half. First the prime minister’s son Hussain gave two TV interviews mainly to upstage the ICIJ release by ‘explaining’ how the family came to own the London real estate.

Then when the information was made public by the German paper and the ICIJ, and a storm started to brew in Pakistan with calls for the prime minister to explain the acquisition of prime London properties or resign, the PM responded twice.

First in a televised address, he offered himself up for accountability (but his request for a judicial inquiry was turned down by the then chief justice) even as he denied any impropriety in the purchase of the flats in the UK capital’s prohibitively expensive Mayfair district.

This was followed by a speech in the National Assembly where the prime minister seemed to offer a more elaborate explanation of how his family financed the purchase.

In this speech he also talked of how Z A Bhutto’s nationalisation in the early 1970s had made paupers of the Sharifs and how his father then rebuilt the family fortunes by starting industrial units abroad.

Nawaz Sharif’s address may have brought a lump to the throats of his most diehard supporters, but to the rest of us it was clear that the prime minister and his son on two different occasions each, and even his daughter Maryam during a TV interview, were not singing from the same hymn sheet.

Some of these contradictions figured in the dissenting notes written by the two seniormost judges of the five-member apex court bench hearing the case and prompted the two to say Nawaz Sharif stood disqualified from being a member of parliament (also from holding office); and hence should be de-notified by the Election Commission.

The majority, three judges, decided to leave the prime minister in office but called for a Joint Investigation Team to inquire into unanswered questions about the money trail and report back to an SC bench to be set up by the chief justice, at which point action against the prime minister was not ruled out.

Although the composition of the JIT reflected a compromise of the three judges with their two senior colleagues, as they included one member each from the ISI and MI to possibly give it ‘teeth’, the move could have been far more significant had it happened in General Raheel Sharif’s final months in office when he was seen as very hostile to the government.

Now with an army chief who seems committed to supporting the democratic order and focusing his attention mainly on professional matters, the role played by the members belonging to the services intelligence agencies may be no more than perfunctory.

Frankly, I have my doubts that the JIT will have the expertise and resources to do the job assigned to it in the given 60 days even when overseen by the SC. Here too let’s see who will head/be on the bench.

It would perhaps have been more advisable to authorise and fund the JIT to co-opt overseas forensic investigators from a firm similar to the one used by senator Saifur Rehman in the 1990s who found Asif Zardari’s $60m in a Swiss bank account.

Barring unforeseen dramatic developments, Nawaz Sharif seems to have survived twin challenges from an overbearing (former) army chief and a determined opposition leader who had sought the help of an increasingly headstrong and independent apex court to dislodge the prime minister.

Ideally, the prime minister should have voluntarily stepped aside for the duration of the JIT inquiry so he appeared before it as a citizen rather than as the country’s chief executive, but propriety is as rare in this breed of politicians as probity, whether financial or in terms of governance.

So, for now Mr Sharif may have been tainted but remains firmly in the saddle. Will his voters or the electorate in general take into account allegations of corruption whenever the next elections are held? Who knows?

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.



Dawn – Senators call for amending blasphemy law

Iftikhar A Khan

Islamabad, 18 April 2017. Senators on Monday called for amending the blasphemy law to provide for punishments to those who concoct blasphemy accusations against others and deman­ded a campaign against those taking the law into their hands.

Condemning the lynching of Mashal Khan, a student of Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan, lawmakers stressed the need for effective steps to prevent misuse of the blasphemy law.

Talking about the blatant misuse of the law, PPP’s Farhatullah Babar said a religious scholar had proposed that accusers who levelled false accusations should suffer the same sentence as provided for a blasphemer.

He recalled how a Federal Shariat Court decision had prompted the maximum punishment for blasphemy to be increased from life imprisonment to death, reminding the house that Raja Zafarul Haq, the current leader of the house, was the chairman of law and justice committee at the time.

He said the committee had made some suggestions while approving the bill and called for that report to be made the basis of any further action.

“The assassination of Mashal Khan should make us think about concrete measures to prevent the misuse of the blasphemy law; we need to revisit this law”, he remarked.

When Senate Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani asked him how mob and street justice could be stopped, Senator Babar said that effective legislation would serve to deter such a mentality.

Retired General Abdul Qayyum of the PML-N also called for flaws in the blasphemy law to be addressed. He stressed that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance and prohibits any excesses, even against animals “This was not terrorism, but savagery,” he remarked on the lynching.

JI chief Siraj-ul-Haq said that the rule of law was what defined a civilized society and that even if someone was guilty of a crime, no individual or organisation had the right to punish that individual unilaterally. “This shows an imbalance and lack of tolerance in society”, he remarked.

He claimed that no civilised person would support such a ghastly act and called for more than “traditional investigations” in this matter, adding that all the facts surrounding the brutal lynching should be brought placed the people as soon as possible.

Winding up discussion, Minister of State for interior Baleeghur Rahman said there was clarity on the issue at a political level as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the heads of political parties had condemned the incident. However, he admitted that there was a need to check intolerance and revealed that work on a new curriculum was under way.

The House also passed two bills to amend some sections of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC).

Rabbani’s protest

Earlier, members from both sides of the aisle welcomed Chairman Raza Rabbani by thumping their desks when he entered the house. The chairman had wound up proceedings of the upper house in disgust on Friday after becoming infuriated with the government’s “non-serious” attitude towards the Senate.

Explaining the events since Friday, Mr Rabbani said his decision was the result of a series of incidents. It had become a practice that ministries did not answer questions and sometimes, ministers were not present in the house to answer queries, he said. Things had piled up, he said, and he continued to point out the government’s lapses.

On Friday, 11 questions were not answered and four ministers were also absent, he told the house, adding that his step had no relation to his person, nor was it a political drama and was only related to the respect and sanctity of the house and its members.


Dawn – Baisakhi festival concludes

Taxila-Panjab-Pakistan, 16 April 2017. On the last day of Baisakhi festival on Saturday Gurdwara Punja Sahib echoed with the Sikh religious chants of Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh and Jo bolay so nihal.

The devotees also performed Kirtan, Sikh devotional music, which was followed by Ardaas (Dua) where they sought divine forgiveness of their sins.

At the end, parsad, a traditional sweet served at Sikh religious ceremonies, was distributed. Much jubilation and enthusiasm was seen on the last and concluding day as the Gurdwara was jam packed with Sikh yatris wearing colourful dresses.

Men with yellow turbans and women with colorful dresses were seen roaming inside and outside of the Gurdwara with much enjoyment seen on their faces.

After the concluding ceremony, around 1,500 Indian pilgrims left for Nankana Sahib through special trains.

They will also go to Gurdwara Sacha Sauda Farooqabad, Gurdwara Dera Sahib Lahore, Rohri Sahib Amanabad, Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur at Narowal. They will leave for India on April 21.


The Hindu – Kulbhushan Jadhav kin may file mercy petition

Kallol Bhattacherjee

New Delhi, 16 April 2017. A day after Pakistan asked India to conduct more “active diplomacy” regarding the case of arrested former Navy officer Kulbhushan Jadhav, officials stated that the next step could include the process of appeal and mercy petitions by his family.

High level officials dealing with the case indicated that the logical next step would be for the Jadhav family to reach out to the Pakistani authorities and lodge a petition against the death sentence delivered by a military court of Pakistan.

Officials said that under the circumstances, the Pakistan High Commission in Delhi could play a facilitating role. The mercy petition is “one option, among several,” said a diplomatic source.

The discussion on the appeal and mercy petitions was held in the backdrop of Pakistan’s silence over India’s 14th request for consular access to Mr Jadhav made by High Commissioner Gautam Bambawale on Friday. The Indian envoy also sought the charge sheet and a copy of the judgement at his meeting with Pakistan Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua.

Sources hinted that India would follow up with the options of appeal and mercy petitions only after Pakistan gives an official response to Mr Bambawale’s requests.

In the meanwhile, bilateral official engagement between India and Pakistan took a hit with reports confirming that India has cancelled the meeting between the coastal security agencies which was to be held on 17 April.

“Indian Coast Guard and Pakistan Maritime Security Agency high level meeting scheduled on 17 April stands cancelled,” a coast guard source told the media on Saturday.

On Friday, Pakistan Prime Minister’s adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz had said Mr Jadhav was free to appeal within 40 days to an Appellate Court. He had also pointed out that Mr Jadhav would also have the option of appealing to the Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan within 60 days of the decision by the appellate court.

“He may lodge a mercy petition to the president of Pakistan within 90 days after the decision of COAS on the mercy petition,” said Mr Aziz explaining the ultimate option available to him.


Dawn – Imran Khan (PTI) condemns lynching of Mardan student: ‘law of the jungle cannot prevail’

Mardan (مردان)-Khyber Pakhtunkhwa-Pakistan, 15 April 2017. Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chief Imran Khan on Friday condemned the lynching of a 23-year-old student of Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan by an enraged mob a day earlier.

Khan, in a tweet, said: “I am in touch with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Inspector General since last night on condemnable lynching of student in Mardan.”

The PTI chief noted, “Law of the jungle can’t prevail,” and said that firm action is necessary.

Condemning the act, PTI MNA Asad Umer also tweeted:

“Mardan lynching yet another example of how increasing intolerance is destroying the fabric of society”

Khan and Umer were among only a handful of prominent politicians who issued a strong statement in the Abdul Wali Khan University attack.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari condemns the ‘cold-blooded murder’

PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari expressed grave concern “over the cold-blooded murder of Mashal Khan”, read a statement issued by PPP.

The PPP Chairman demanded immediate arrest of the culprits involved in the condemnable mob act. Bilawal said such incidents in the universities were a big threat to our educational institutions and government should take adequate steps to check such incidents in future.

He also expressed sympathies with the parents and the family of the victim.

On April 13, Mashal Khan and another student of the university, Abdullah, were attacked by a vigilante mob for allegedly “publishing blasphemous content online”, local police had said.

Mashal was first shot, then beaten up with wooden planks by an enraged mob of university students.

The incident occurred within the university premises. The campus was shut down following the incident until further notice and its hostels vacated to avoid a further escalation of violence.

No case had been filed against the two students prior to the incident and police had not been investigating the two on blasphemy charges.

The mob instead seems to have been incited by rumours circulating among the university’s student body.

A First Information Report was lodged on Friday against 20 suspects, eight of whom have been arrested, police said.