No confession by suspect yet in Noor Mukadam murder case — victim’s lawyer

Women rights activists hold placards during a demonstration in Lahore, Pakistan, on July 24, 2021, against the brutal killing of Noor Mukadam. (AFP)
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Updated 28 July 2021

No confession by suspect yet in Noor Mukadam murder case — victim’s lawyer

  • Noor Mukadam, daughter of a former Pakistani diplomat, was brutally killed and beheaded in Islamabad on July 20
  • US embassy says its staff recently met the main suspect in the case since he is a dual Pakistani and American national

ISLAMABAD: The main suspect in the killing of the 27-year-old daughter of a former Pakistani diplomat has not confessed to the crime in police custody, said a lawyer involved in the case, adding that the victim’s family was waiting for a courtroom hearing.
Noor Mukadam, daughter of Ambassador Shaukat Mukadam, was brutally murdered and beheaded in an upscale neighborhood of Pakistan’s federal capital on July 20.
The police sprang into action and registered a criminal case on the same day against one of her acquaintances, Zahir Zakir Jaffer, after arresting him from the crime scene.
Jaffer has since been in police custody on a physical remand.
“The confession [of a crime] is done before a magistrate,” Shah Khawar, Mukadam’s lawyer, told Arab News while rebutting some recent news reports. “There is no such thing yet.”
Khawar added that the victim’s legal team was hoping for a quick police investigation into the case since they wanted the trial to begin soon.
“A majority of the evidence in the case has already been collected,” he continued. “Some forensic evidence is awaited, but we hope the police will present the challan in the court next week. We will plead the case in the court on the basis of the evidence and try to get maximum punishment for the accused.”
Local media also reported that officials of the United States embassy in Islamabad held a meeting with Jaffer, a dual Pakistani and US national, on Monday, causing some uproar on social media.
However, the American diplomatic mission in Pakistan clarified in a Twitter post on Tuesday that US citizens were subject to local laws while being in a foreign country, adding that the embassy could “check on their well-being and provide a list of lawyers” if they were arrested abroad.

Meanwhile, Jaffer’s parents, who are treated as his accomplices, moved their bail petition in a district and sessions court in Islamabad against their detention on Tuesday, said their lawyer while claiming they were not involved in Mukadam’s gruesome murder.
The court accepted the petition and is scheduled to hear the application on July 30.
The Islamabad police last Saturday arrested the accused’s parents and their two domestic workers for “hiding evidence and being complicit in the crime.”
A sessions court in Islamabad earlier in the day sent Jaffer’s parents and their household staff on a 14-day judicial remand to jail.
“We have filed for the bail of Jaffer’s parents as they are not involved in the case. They are innocents,” Rizwan Abbasi, a lawyer who is representing them in the courts, told Arab News.
“Jaffer’s parents were in Karachi on the day of the unfortunate incident, and they have no enmity with the victim and her family,” he continued.
Abbasi added the police had arrested the domestic staff, thinking they had failed to alert the police at the time of the incident, though “they were not aware of the crime.”
“The police should prosecute the principal accused in the case,” he said while hoping that his clients would soon be released on bail.
While Mukadam’s lawyer hoped for an early conclusion of the investigation, the police said they would seek further physical remand of the accused since their probe was not complete yet.
“The accused will be completing seven days of his physical remand tomorrow [Wednesday], and under the law the police can seek his further remand for at least eight days before presenting a challan in the court,” Ziaul Qamar, a police spokesperson, told Arab News.
However, he declined to comment on Jaffer’s reported confession.
“We will present all the evidence in the case to the court and cannot reveal details to the media at this stage,” he added.


Security forces kill TTP commander in northwestern Pakistan

Updated 9 sec ago

Security forces kill TTP commander in northwestern Pakistan

  • Military said the suspect was also involved in past attacks on Pakistani security forces and construction engineers 
  • Militants in Pakistan in general have in recent months stepped up attacks in North Waziristan 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani security forces said they killed in an operation on Monday a notorious Pakistani Taliban commander suspected of involvement in the killing of four women teachers in a former militant stronghold in the country’s northwest.
A military statement said Saif Ullah was involved in the February attack in the town of Mir Ali in North Waziristan province, which borders Afghanistan, when the four teachers were gunned down while traveling in a car.
The military said the suspect was also involved in past attacks on Pakistani security forces, construction engineers and kidnappings for ransom in the region.
The Pakistani Taliban, who are a separate militant group from the Afghan Taliban, have for years waged war against the government in Islamabad. They were also behind the 2012 attack that wounded Malala Yousafzai, who in 2014 became Pakistan’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate for her work as an advocate for young women’s education. Malala is the youngest person to be awarded the Nobel prize.
There are concerns that the Pakistani Taliban are becoming emboldened after the Afghan Taliban last month took power in Afghanistan as US and NATO forces were in the final stages of their pullout from the country.
Militants in Pakistan in general have in recent months stepped up attacks in North Waziristan, raising fears they are regrouping in the area, a former Taliban stronghold.


Pakistan launches third anti-polio drive to immunize over 40 million children

Updated 20 September 2021

Pakistan launches third anti-polio drive to immunize over 40 million children

  • Health chief reports ‘significant gains’ in initiative with zero cases in seven months
  • Pakistan remains one of only two countries in the world with circulating wild poliovirus

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan launched a week-long national anti-polio immunization drive on Monday, its third this year, to vaccinate over 40 million children under five years of age after making “significant gains” against the crippling disease in the past seven months, officials said.
The South Asian nation of over 220 million people had resumed its anti-polio drive in June, months after halting it due to the COVID-19 outbreak, which had overwhelmed the country’s health system, and amid threats to the campaign by militants who often target polio teams, alleging that the initiative is a Western conspiracy to sterilize children.
Pakistan remains one of only two countries in the world, besides Afghanistan, with circulating wild poliovirus, which has been eradicated elsewhere, attesting to the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.
“The program has made significant gains with not a single case being reported for seven months, giving us a unique opportunity to achieve polio eradication,” Dr. Faisal Sultan, Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Health, said in a statement on Monday.
In the latest chapter, nearly 2,90,000 polio workers will visit people’s homes while adhering to strict COVID-19 health protocols, the Pakistan Polio Eradication Program (PPEP) said.
Along with being inoculated with the polio vaccine, the children will also receive an extra dose of Vitamin A.
Dr. Shahzad Baig, a PPEP coordinator, said that the “campaign is vital for Pakistan’s ability to achieve polio eradication” after only one case was reported this year compared to 75 last year.
The PPEP statement added that the significant reduction in cases was also due to “a decrease in positive environmental samples from 55 percent to 12 percent,” highlighting that poliovirus is “less active” in the country.
“This is one of the lowest levels of detected wild poliovirus in the history of the country. It is vital that this opportunity to finally eradicate polio from Pakistan is seized,” the statement said.
Polio is a highly infectious disease mainly affecting children under five years of age. It invades the nervous system and can cause paralysis or even death. While there is no cure for polio, vaccination is the most effective way to protect children from the disease.


Pakistani envoy seeks flights resumption in talks with Saudi civil aviation head 

Updated 20 September 2021

Pakistani envoy seeks flights resumption in talks with Saudi civil aviation head 

  • Lt-Gen Akbar briefs Al-Duailej on Pakistan’s anti-virus vaccination measures, progress in curbing COVID-19 outbreak 
  • Officials also discussed prioritization of flights for separated families, teachers and students stranded in Pakistan 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia held talks with the head of the Kingdom’s civil aviation authority on Sunday to apprise him of progress in the COVID-19 situation across the South Asian nation and its readiness to resume direct flights between the two countries.
Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Bilal Akbar also briefed Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al-Duailej, president of Saudi’s General Authority for Civil Aviation (GACA), of the “robust and successful” vaccination program to limit the outbreak, Pakistan’s Embassy in Saudi Arabia said in a Twitter post on Sunday.
Hundreds of thousands of Pakistani workers in Saudi Arabia remain stranded at home due to travel and flight restrictions imposed by the Kingdom since last year.
In August, Saudi Arabia lifted an entry ban on expatriates from 20 countries, including Pakistan, with its Foreign Ministry saying the decision only applied to those individuals who had been fully vaccinated in Saudi Arabia before leaving for their home country.
“[The officials spoke about] resumption of direct flights for people vaccinated with first Covid-19 dose in the Kingdom and second in Pakistan with Saudi approved vaccines,” the Embassy said.
The officials also discussed prioritizing flights for separated families, teachers and students stranded in Pakistan.

 


Al-Duailej, for his part, assured ambassador Akbar that “the proposals will be considered favorably” after consultation with health authorities in the Kingdom, and a solution will be “worked out” to address the plight of Pakistanis stranded in Saudi.

 

 


It follows a meeting in July between the foreign ministers of the two countries who discussed how to ease COVID-19 travel curbs.
Pakistan’s Shah Mahmood Qureshi took up the issue with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, who was on a one-day visit to Pakistan.
The Kingdom’s direct entry ban was imposed after a global surge in cases linked to variants detected in England, South Africa and Brazil and fears that vaccines being rolled out worldwide might be less effective against them.
Those seeking to return to the Kingdom must undergo all health measures to ensure they are free from infection.
“Approval for PIA’s [Pakistan International Airline] arrangements for institutional quarantine in KSA to help facilitate direct flights for individuals vaccinated with Sinovac & Sinopharm,” the Embassy said.
Thousands of Pakistanis visit Saudi Arabia annually, mainly for the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimage to Makkah and Madinah.
The Kingdom is home to over 2.5 Pakistanis who make the largest contribution to the country’s foreign remittances each year.

 


Record food, energy imports pose challenge to Pakistan’s balance of payments

Updated 20 September 2021

Record food, energy imports pose challenge to Pakistan’s balance of payments

  • Pakistan’s energy and food import bills increased by 102 percent and 50 percent respectively in July-August 
  • Analysts forecast CAD will exceed 3 percent of Pakistan’s GDP by the end of current fiscal year 

KARACHI: Swelling energy and food import bills are posing a challenge to Pakistan’s balance of payments, experts say, as the country’s current account deficit may reach unsustainable levels by the end of the ongoing fiscal year.

Pakistan’s imports in the first two months of the current fiscal year 2021-22 grew by 74 percent to $12.2 billion, compared with the same period last year. The main contributors to the growth were energy and food, whose import bills have increased by 102 percent and 50 percent respectively. 
During July-August, the South Asian nation imported petroleum goods worth $3 billion and food worth $1.5 billion, mainly wheat and sugar.
The growth in imports has widened the country’s current account deficit during July-August to $2.29 billion, as compared with $838 million in the same period last year. 

“Tt shows that the economy is consuming more than producing,” Samiullah Tariq, head of research at Pakistan Kuwait Investment (PKI), told Arab News on Sunday. “The CAD more than 3 percent of GDP will not be sustainable.”

While the central bank attributes the rise in CAD to increasing global commodity prices and Pakistan’s economic recovery, analysts forecast it will cross the 3 percent mark by the end of the current fiscal year.
“We expect CAD to clock-in at $10 billion to $11 billion in FY22,” Tahir Abbas, head of research at Arif Habib Limited, said. “Any further uptick in the overall food and energy import will only put further pressure on the external account.”

To arrest the rise in CAD, Tariq added, Pakistan should increase production.

“Pakistan needs to increase production from agriculture and industrial sectors, substitute imports and curtail non-essential consumption/imports like automobiles etc.,” he said.

But Arif Nadeem, chief executive of Pakistan Agriculture Coalition (PAC), a body that works for the transformation of the agriculture sector, says agricultural production is already high.

“Pakistan has produced bumper wheat crop, highest ever, this year and there is no shortage of the sugar as well in the country,” he told Arab News. “Pakistan is also beefing up stocks of the commodities as other countries did in wake of lockdowns imposed after the coronavirus pandemic to avoid inflation.”

He said rising commodity prices in the international market were responsible for the high food import bills and to address the country’s food security farmers should be offered better prices for their produce.

“If international prices are given to our farmers they will work more,” Nadeem said, “(they will) use good quality fertilizers and seeds, resultantly produce more wheat, oil seeds, sugarcane, and cotton.”


Pakistan government says election body derailing electoral reform

Updated 20 September 2021

Pakistan government says election body derailing electoral reform

  • Government wants to introduce electronic voting in the next general elections in October 2023
  • Election Commission of Pakistan says use of electronic voting machines could jeopardize the polls

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani ministers on Sunday accused the country’s election body of derailing electoral reform by trying to prevent the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in the next general elections.

Electoral reform has become a hot-button issue in Pakistan where political parties frequently raise rigging allegations against their rivals.

The government says it wants to address the problem by allowing electronic voting in the next general elections in October 2023, though the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and opposition parties say technology alone cannot ensure free, fair and transparent polls in the country.

“A campaign has been launched to discredit the EVMs," Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said while addressing a press conference alongside Science and Technology Minister Shibli Faraz in Islamabad.

"That is against the spirit of reforms the government wants to introduce."

Earlier this month, the ECP submitted to the Pakistani Senate a list of 37 objections, warning that a hasty use of EVMs could jeopardize the upcoming polls.

The ECP said a largescale deployment of these devices was not possible in a short span of time, especially when they had not been properly tested and provided no ballot secrecy, voter anonymity and necessary transparency at various levels.

“It seems as if the chief election commissioner is speaking the opposition’s language,” Chaudhry said, as he accused the election body of excluding from its report data that is in favor of EVMs.

As following the ECP's report Pakistan's Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs voted against the Election Act Amendment Bill that would introduce the use of voting machines, Chaudhry said it "will be passed through a joint sitting of the parliament" if the government and the opposition do not find a common stand on the issue.