Noor Mukadam murder to OIC summit: Pakistan’s top news moments for 2021

The combination of photos shows Pakistan’s top news moments for 2021. (AFP/Social media photos)
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Updated 01 January 2022
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Noor Mukadam murder to OIC summit: Pakistan’s top news moments for 2021

  • South Asian nation remained one of the most talked-about countries on news forums in 2021
  • Shocking murders and assaults to major diplomatic developments kept people glued to screens

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan remained one of the most talked-about countries on international news forums in 2021 for all the right and wrong reasons. From gruesome murders to assault of women, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit to cricket, all kept people glued to their television and computer screens. 
As we inch toward the year-end, let’s have a look back at what were the top news moments in Pakistan in 2021. 

The grisly murder of Noor Mukadam 

On July 20, just when the Muslim-majority Pakistani nation was celebrating Eid, Noor Mukadam, the 27-year-old daughter of a former Pakistani diplomat was found beheaded in an upscale neighborhood in Islamabad that shook the nation. The victim was the daughter of Shaukat Mukadam, a former Pakistani diplomat. 
The prime suspect, Zahir Jaffer, was arrested at the crime scene on the day of the murder. The horrifying details of the murder drew furor on the Internet and social media, with #JuticeforNoor, #NoorMukadam and #ZahirJaffer trending on top. 
The murder trial that began in October is one of the most closely watched in Pakistan’s recent history. At his indictment hearing in October, Jaffer admitted he had committed the “crime.” 
Others charged in the case include Jaffer’s parents, Zakir Jaffer and Asmat Adamjee, three of their household staff, Iftikhar, Jan Muhammad and Jameel, and six workers from Therapy Works, a counseling center from where Jaffer had received certification to become a therapist and where he had been receiving treatment in the weeks leading up to the murder. 

Sialkot lynching of Sri Lankan national 

Priyantha Kumara, who worked as a manager at a factory in the city of Sialkot, was attacked and killed by a Muslim mob on December 3. 
The crowd also publicly burned his body over what police have said are accusations he desecrated religious posters. 
Blasphemy is considered a deeply sensitive issue in Pakistan and carries the death penalty. International and domestic rights groups say accusations of blasphemy have often been used to intimidate religious minorities and settle personal scores. 

OIC Summit in Islamabad 

Pakistan on December 19 hosted the 17th Extraordinary Session of OIC’s Council of Foreign Ministers on Afghanistan, called by Saudi Arabia, in Islamabad. The purpose of the summit was to rally Muslims and other countries and international institutions to the aid of Afghanistan. 
Around 70 delegations from OIC member states, non-members and regional and international organizations attended the summit. Nearly 20 delegations were led by foreign ministers and 10 by deputies or ministers of state. The foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Tukey, Azerbaijan, Iran, Oman, Kuwait, Indonesia and Malaysia were present at the Parliament House for the summit. 
The OIC agreed to establish a “humanitarian trust fund” to channel assistance to Afghanistan, appoint a special envoy on Afghanistan and work together with the UN in Afghanistan. 

Minar-e-Pakistan assault of woman 

On August 14, when Pakistanis were celebrating the Independence Day, a young woman TikToker, Ayesha Akram, was assaulted by a mob comprising hundreds of men at the Minar-e-Pakistan monument in Lahore and caused a major public outcry. 
Videos circulating on social media showed people tearing the clothes of the woman who was there to shoot a TikTok video. Police initially registered a case against 400 men and about 104 suspects were arrested. 
The incident took a number of dramatic turns when Akram’s audio message with her friend, Amir Sohail also known as Rambo, surfaced on the Internet about the apparent extortion of money from the suspects. 

Gwadar protests 

In Pakistan’s Gwadar port city hundreds of people staged a month-long protest against the government for not doing enough to prevent “illegal trawling” in the Arabian Sea, while pointing out the practice was depriving local residents of a major livelihood source. 
According to the protesters, over 2,000 trawlers from the neighboring province of Sindh have been regularly operating near the Gwadar seashore, though the provincial administration has not done enough to stop the practice. 
Gwadar has been central to the multi-billion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that promises to secure the economic well-being of the people by enhancing regional trade and connectivity. 
The protesters later called off the sit-in in December after Balochistan Chief Minister Abdul Quddus Bizenjo visited the protest site and signed an agreement that acknowledged the government’s willingness to meet their demands. 

Pakistan broke World Cup jinx against India 

One of the most awaited moments in every Pakistani’s life was to watch Pakistan win against India in a cricket World Cup. 
On October 24, Pakistani skipper Babar Azam and wicketkeeper Mohammad Rizwan smashed unbeaten half-centuries as Pakistan crushed India by 10 wickets to register their first World Cup win over the archrivals in the high-voltage Twenty20 World Cup match in Dubai.  

Malala Yousafzai’s wedding 

Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai on December 9 announced her marriage to Asser Malik, making her followers flood her with congratulatory messages. 
Yousafzai, who survived an attempt on her life in 2012 by a Taliban gunman in her native town of Swat, shared the pictures of the event across her official social media accounts. Her announcement on Twitter and Instagram collectively amassed over 650,000 likes, with many celebrities and notable names sending her best wishes on her big day. 
“Congratulations, Malala and Asser,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote under Yousafzai’s announcement. “Sophie and I hope you enjoyed your special day – we’re wishing you a lifetime of happiness together.” 


Imran Khan’s party asks IMF to consider Pakistan’s political stability in bailout talks, sources say

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Imran Khan’s party asks IMF to consider Pakistan’s political stability in bailout talks, sources say

  • Cash-strapped Pakistan secured a $3 billion bailout from the IMF last summer
  • A new Pakistani government may need to seek more funds from the global lender

ISLAMABAD: The party of Pakistan’s former prime minister, Imran Khan, has asked the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to factor in the country’s political stability in any further bailout talks, two people familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.
Khan’s party has sent a letter to the IMF detailing its position, two senior sources in Khan’s party with knowledge of the letter said.
Pakistan’s cash-strapped economy is struggling to recover from an economic crisis and secured a $3 billion bailout from the IMF last summer. Analysts say that a new government — which Khan’s opponents are expected to form after this month’s national election — may need to seek more funds from the global lender.


After 11-day blockade, Pakistani users report being able to use X without VPN

Updated 28 February 2024
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After 11-day blockade, Pakistani users report being able to use X without VPN

  • X first went down on Feb. 17 when a government official confessed to manipulating votes in Feb. 8 elections
  • X’s prolonged disruption has raised widespread concerns about state of democratic freedoms

ISLAMABAD: After being inaccessible for millions of Pakistanis for 11 consecutive days, many users reported they were able to use the social media platform X without enabling a Virtual Private Network (VPN) on Wednesday morning. 

X first went down on Feb. 17 when a government official confessed to manipulating votes in Pakistan’s Feb. 8 general election. The admission came as former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and other political parties staged protests countrywide, alleging the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had rigged elections, which it denies. Mobile phone services were also shut down on polling day over security threats. 

X’s prolonged disruption has raised widespread concerns about the state of democratic freedoms in the country, with the United States and several international organizations urging Pakistan to provide unhindered Internet access and leading digital rights activists calling the blockade a “blatant violation” of civil liberties. 

On Wednesday afternoon, multiple Arab News staffers were able to access X without a VPN, which can mask the identity and location of users to help access websites and services that may be blocked in a certain region. 

VPNs have become increasingly popular in the days since access to X was cut off for much of the country but software application Surfshark reported this week the Pakistan government was working to restrict VPN as well, which the company’s engineers were working to bypass. 

“Twitter (X) is working without VPN in #Pakistan,” journalist Shiraz Hassan said on X. 

A day earlier on Tuesday, Internet observatory group Netblocks said metrics showed X had remained restricted in Pakistan into a tenth day, “as the nation joins an exclusive set of countries that have imposed extended or permanent bans on international social media platforms.” 

Before the latest blockade, Pakistan experienced multiple Internet disruptions in recent weeks that made social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, X and Instagram inaccessible. Recent occurrences were on Jan. 20, Jan. 7 and Dec. 17, when Khan’s PTI party was holding virtual events. The government had blamed those disruptions on “technical glitches.” 

Such shutdowns have previously had a devastating impact on Pakistan’s economy. The day after Khan’s arrest in May last year, Reuters reported that point-of-sale transactions routed through Pakistan’s main digital payment systems fell by around 50 percent according to the region’s two largest payments system operators, 1LINK and Habib Bank Limited.

According to the Internet Society’s monitor Pulse, it is becoming an increasingly common tactic for governments to shut down the Internet on a national or sub-national level to either control civil unrest, stem the flow of misinformation, sway the results of general elections or to gain strategic advantages in territories with ongoing wars.
 


PM denies state responsibility for Baloch missing persons during Islamabad court appearance 

Updated 28 February 2024
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PM denies state responsibility for Baloch missing persons during Islamabad court appearance 

  • Pakistan’s army, intelligence agencies deny carrying out enforced disappearances
  • Balochistan province is the site of a decades long low-level separatist insurgency 

ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar said on Wednesday the Pakistani state was not responsible for enforced disappearances, a recurring problem that is often blamed on security agencies in the country’s impoverished southwestern Balochistan province.

The prime minister issued the statement during an appearance before the Islamabad High Court in connection with a case regarding Baloch missing students.

Balochistan has long been plagued by enforced disappearances, with families saying men are picked up by security forces, disappear often for years, and are sometimes found dead, with no official explanation. Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies deny they carry out enforced disappearances.

Separatist groups like the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), the most prominent of several separatist groups operating Balochistan, have been fighting a decades long insurgency for independence for mountainous and mineral-rich Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province by territory but the smallest in terms of population. Rights activists, political leaders and families say the insurgency has been used as a pretext to pick up innocent civilians, which the state denies. 

“It is not correct to consider the entire state guilty [for enforced disappearances in Balochistan],” Kakar was widely quoted by local media as telling the court, castigating state critics for not holding separatists and militants responsible when they killed innocent civilians and security officials. 

Balochistan borders Afghanistan to the north, Iran to the west and has a long coastline on the Arabian Sea. It has Pakistan’s largest natural gas field and is believed to hold many more undiscovered reserves. It is also rich in precious metals including gold, the production of which has grown over recent years.

Balochistan is a key location in China’s huge multi-billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), part of President Xi Jinping’s massive Belt and Road infrastructure initiative. Though separatists mostly target Pakistani security forces and state installations in Balochistan, they have also attacked Chinese workers and projects. 

In a rare statement on the issue in 2019, the military sympathized with families of missing Balochs but said some may have joined militant groups and “not every person missing is attributable to the state.”

Pakistan has repeatedly blamed India for fanning militancy in Balochistan, a charge New Delhi denies. 


Ex-PM Khan calls for nationwide election protests over alleged vote counting fraud on Saturday

Updated 28 February 2024
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Ex-PM Khan calls for nationwide election protests over alleged vote counting fraud on Saturday

  • Khan’s PTI party claims it won from 179 national constituencies, though it was deprived of nearly 85 seats
  • The party has asked its followers and supporters to take to the streets in large number to protect its mandate

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party issued a protest call to its supporters on Tuesday, urging them to take to the streets and demonstrate against the alleged election manipulation following the February 8 polls.

Pakistan’s national polls were marred by a countrywide outage of cellphone networks and delays in the announcement of results by election authorities, leading to widespread suspicions of fraud during the vote counting process.

Several political parties, including the PTI, have been protesting against election irregularities, claiming the results were altered in favor of their opponents.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) denies these allegations.

“Imran Khan has given a message to all of Pakistan today from jail that there will be a protest against the theft of our mandate between 11 and 12am on Saturday,” PTI leader Sher Afzal Marwat said during a news conference.

“I have been assigned the responsibility of the protest in Islamabad,” he added. “We will start the demonstration from F9 Park and it will conclude at the Press Club. We will remain completely peaceful.”

Marwat maintained people had come out to vote for his party at a time when its candidates were not even allowed to run their campaign.

He said it was now everyone’s responsibility to protect that mandate by taking to the streets in large numbers.

The PTI leader claimed the politicians who were taking over power in Punjab and at the National Assembly had not even been elected on their seats.

Independent candidates supported by Khan’s party won over 90 seats and emerged as the single largest bloc in the National Assembly.

It says it can prove its victory from 179 national constituencies, though it was deprived of nearly 85 seats during the vote counting process.


On anniversary of shooting down Indian warplane, Pakistan says will ‘forcefully respond to aggression’

Updated 28 February 2024
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On anniversary of shooting down Indian warplane, Pakistan says will ‘forcefully respond to aggression’

  • Pakistan downed Indian MiG-21 aircraft and captured its pilot after New Delhi ordered airstrikes in Balakot in 2019
  • Caretaker PM Kakar says his country is capable of protecting its territorial integrity against external aggression

ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar praised the armed forces of Pakistan on the fifth anniversary of the downing of an Indian fighter jet in Kashmir on Tuesday, saying the incident demonstrated that his country was capable of protecting its territorial integrity in the face of any external aggression.

“Operation Swift Retort” was a military operation conducted by the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) on February 27, 2019, in response to the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) airstrike in Balakot a day earlier.

The Indian attack was said to be in response to an attack in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir, on February 14 which killed 40 of its paramilitary personnel.

The Indian authorities blamed the attack on its soldiers on a Pakistan-based militant group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, leading to heightened tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbors and the attack in Balakot.

“Today marks the completion of five years of ‘Operation Swift Retort,’” the PM office circulated Kakar’s message. “We pay tribute to the professional skill and determination of the Armed Forces of Pakistan, who on this day debunked India’s claims, falsely and wrongly, by practically demonstrating their operational superiority.”

“There should be no doubt that Pakistan is a peace-loving country, committed to protecting its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he added. “We will robustly respond to any aggression.”

During the operation, the PAF conducted airstrikes across the Line of Control (LoC) in the disputed Kashmir region, targeting non-military sites to demonstrate its capability and resolve while avoiding human loss and escalation to a full-scale war.

The operation included an aerial engagement between Indian and Pakistani fighter jets, resulting in the downing of an Indian MiG-21 aircraft and the capture of its pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, by Pakistani forces.

The pilot was later released as a gesture of peace by the administration in Islamabad.