Punjab inquiry committee blames Murree tragedy on administrative negligence — local media

Pakistani troops carry out rescue operation in Murree, some 28 miles north of Islamabad, Pakistan, on January 8, 2022. (Photo courtesy: ISPR)
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Updated 17 January 2022

Punjab inquiry committee blames Murree tragedy on administrative negligence — local media

  • The five-member committee probing the death of 23 snow-tourists in the popular mountainous resort completed its investigation on Sunday
  • A Pakistani court castigated the National Disaster Management Authority last week for not making adequate preparations to prevent the tragedy

ISLAMABAD: A five-member committee that was formed to probe the recent deaths of snow-tourists at a popular mountainous resort in Pakistan attributed the tragedy to administrative negligence after finishing its investigation on Sunday, local media reported.

The committee was set up by the provincial administration of Punjab last week after 23 people, including women and children, lost their lives after getting stuck in a snowstorm in Murree for several hours.

Most of the victims suffered hypothermia as temperatures fell to -8°C (17.6°F). Officials said some died of carbon monoxide poisoning from running their car heaters while their mufflers were choked by snow.

While the inquiry committee is yet to prepare its report which will be presented to Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar in the next few days, Geo News reported that it found the local administration responsible for not doing enough while the tragedy was unfolding in Murree.

"The probe has revealed that on the day of the incident, several snow ploughs were parked at the same place which led to road blockages, the administrative staff was absent from duty, while a blizzard warning from the metrological department was blatantly neglected, according to sources," the report said on Monday.

The committee recorded statements of several tourists along with officials of various administrative departments in Murree during its probe.

The Islamabad High Court also looked into the incident last week, blaming the country's National Disaster Management Authority for not making adequate preparations to deal with the situation which led to the death of so many tourists.


Pakistan says suspect in last week’s Karachi blast received instructions from Iran-based commander

Updated 6 sec ago

Pakistan says suspect in last week’s Karachi blast received instructions from Iran-based commander

  • Allah Dino, killed by police in a gunbattle on Wednesday, was trained in Iran, Counterterrorism Department says
  • Iran and Pakistan regularly accuse each other of harboring militants that launch attacks on the neighboring country

KARACHI: Counterterrorism authorities in Pakistan said on Thursday a suspect in an attack in the port city of Karachi last week had been trained in Iran and was receiving instructions from the Iran-based commander of a Pakistani separatist group.

One person was killed and several were injured in a bomb blast late on May 12 in the Saddar neighborhood of Karachi. The assault was claimed by the little-known Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army (SRA), a dissident faction fighting for independence in the province of Sindh.

The attack came two weeks after a female suicide bomber killed four people, including three Chinese nationals, in an attack on a minibus carrying staff from a Beijing cultural program at Karachi University.

In a press release on Thursday, the Counterterrorism Department for Sindh said special investigation teams formed by the CTD in the wake of the latest spate of attacks were able to identify a number of suspects through intelligence sources and the use of technology.

Based on the information, police on Wednesday traced three suspects in the Saddar attack as they traveled by motorcycle to transport explosives in Karachi on the instructions of what the CTD said was an Iran-based SRA commander called Asghar Shah. In a gunbattle with the three suspects, two identified as Allah Dino and Nawab Ali were killed while a third suspect fled the scene.

“The accused [Allah Dino] had been taking instructions from Asghar Shah, who operates his group [of the SRA] from Iran,” Syed Khurram Ali Shah, a senior CTD official, told reporters on Thursday.

“The eliminated terrorist Allah Dino was a master of bomb-making and he got his military training from neighboring country Iran,” the CTD press release said.

Iran and Pakistan regularly accuse each other of harboring militants that launch attacks on the neighboring country. Both nations deny state complicity in such attacks.


Pakistan seeks larger job quota in Saudi Arabia's NEOM business zone

Updated 15 min ago

Pakistan seeks larger job quota in Saudi Arabia's NEOM business zone

  • Pakistan hopes to benefit from Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 initiative
  • The kingdom is home to over two million Pakistani expatriates

ISLAMABAD: Minister for Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resources Sajid Hussain Turi met the Saudi envoy in Islamabad on Wednesday and discussed job opportunities for Pakistanis in the kingdom's NEOM City Project, a $500 billion flagship business zone aimed at diversifying the economy of the world’s largest oil exporter.

NEOM is part of Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 and aims to transform more than 26,500 sq. km in the kingdom’s northwestern Tabuk region. The zero-carbon city is expected to be ready to receive tourists and investors by 2024.

Saudi Arabia is home to over two million Pakistani expatriates and is the single largest remittance source to the South Asian nation.

“Federal Minister discussed issues and opportunities for creating jobs for Overseas Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia,” the ministry of overseas Pakistanis said in a statement. “Federal Minister emphasized ensuring the Pakistani quota in the workforce for the development of the futuristic NEOM City Project in Saudi Arabia.”

“As we are a developing country so the criteria for Pakistanis should be more open towards skilled and unskilled labour to accommodate more and more Pakistanis in diverse jobs in the multi-billion project,” the statement read.

Pakistan is hoping to benefit from Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 initiative — am ambitious economic reform program expected to create millions of jobs in the Kingdom — by building its workforce’s professional skills.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, on his first foreign trip since assuming the top political office of his country last month, visited Saudi Arabia from April 27 to 29 and discussed enhancing the kingdom's $3 billion deposit in Pakistan’s central bank “through term extension or otherwise.”

Saudi Arabia last year deposited $3 billion in Pakistan’s central bank to help support its foreign reserves.


Baloch militants actively recruiting women attackers — provincial government spokeswoman

Updated 19 May 2022

Baloch militants actively recruiting women attackers — provincial government spokeswoman

  • Two women arrested this week in Balochistan, one described as would-be bomber planning to target Chinese
  • Two weeks ago woman bomber blew herself up on university campus in Karachi, killing three Chinese teachers

ISLAMABAD: Farah Azeem Shah, a spokesperson for the provincial government in Balochistan, on Wednesday confirmed the arrest of a suspected woman suicide bomber from Turbat, a city in the southwestern province, saying the separatist Balochistan Liberation Army was now actively recruiting female attackers.

Shah’s statement comes days after the arrest of two women in Balochistan, one of whom security officials described as a would-be suicide bomber who was planning to target Chinese citizens.

The arrests came two weeks after a woman suicide bomber blew herself up on a university campus in the southern port city of Karachi, killing three Chinese teachers. The woman belonged to the militant separatist group the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), which has waged a violent secessionist insurgency in Balochistan, and targeted Chinese interests in the region.

“The arrested woman has made revelations regarding the BLA activities and the wife of one Aslam alias Uccho was training women to become terrorists,” Shah told reporters. “Aslam alias Uccho has already been killed and now his wife Yasmeen is training women to become terrorists.”

Shah said a suicide vest, a Kalashnikov, nine kilograms (kgs) of explosive material and six grenades were recovered from the female suspect who was arrested in a raid carried out on May 16. The suspect had confessed during interrogation that she was being financed from “abroad,” Shah added.

She said the names of another three women suspects had surfaced during the investigation.

“Those who care for the cause of Balochistan should return home to truly serve the people here,” Shah said. “Real Baloch cannot use their women for terror attacks.”

Demonstrators this week blocked a highway in Hoshab in Balochistan to protest the arrests of the two local women. The highway links Quetta with Gwadar port and was built under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor initiative.

China, a close Pakistan ally, plans to invest over $65 billion in Pakistan under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor - a part of Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative to seek road and sea trade routes to connect with the rest of the world.

Beijing is also developing the Gwadar deep-water port and other projects in Balochistan.

Rights activists and locals have long accused security forces of extrajudicial abductions and killings in Balochistan. Security officials deny the charges.


Pakistan top court opens case on 'apprehensions' top officials meddling in criminal justice system

Updated 19 May 2022

Pakistan top court opens case on 'apprehensions' top officials meddling in criminal justice system

  • Court’s action comes after reports FIA was withdrawing high-profile money laundering case against PM Shehbaz Sharif
  • Supreme court has for years relied on “suo motu” provisions in law that allow court to open cases on its own initiative

ISLAMABAD: Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial late on Wednesday night took "suo motu" notice over perceived fears "persons in authority" could undermine the criminal justice system, days after media reports suggested a high-profile money laundering case against the prime minister would be dropped by a federal investigation agency.

Hearings in the case will commence today, Thursday.

Pakistan’s supreme court has for years relied on “suo motu” provisions in Pakistani law that allow the court to open cases on its own initiative to set its stamp on wide swathes of public life and denounce the failure of public institutions. It has ordered inquiries into issues ranging from payments to farmers by powerful sugar mills to milk prices, city water supplies and corruption allegations against managers of the railways and national airline PIA.

In a press release, the top court said the CJP had taken notice of perceived interference in the “independence of the prosecution branch in the performance of its powers and duties for the investigation and prosecution of pending criminal matters involving persons in authority in the government.”

The CJP had taken suo motu notice on the recommendations of a judge of the Supreme Court, the statement said.

The court said “perceived interferences” could influence the prosecution of cases and lead to the tampering with or disappearance of evidence in courts or in the possession of prosecuting agencies, as well as the transfer and postings of officers on key posts.

"Such actions, along with media reports to modify accountability laws, are likely to undermine the functioning of the criminal justice system in the country and that tantamounts to violation of fundamental rights affecting the society as a whole and eroding the confidence of the people in the rule of law and constitutionalism in the country," the statement said.

The Supreme Court’s action comes a week after Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) denied media reports it was withdrawing a high-profile money laundering case against Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

According to news reports based on court documents, the country’s top investigation agency had said last week it did not want to pursue a Rs16 billion money laundering case against Sharif and his two sons three days before a special court in Lahore was scheduled to frame charges against them.

Sharif, who became prime minister last month after Imran Khan was ousted in a no-confidence vote in parliament, is the president of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party.

Sharif, his sons Hamza, who is the chief minister of Punjab province, and Suleman, who resides in London, were booked by FIA in November 2020 under various sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act and Anti Money Laundering Act.

According to a written application submitted in court on April 11, the FIA director general (DG), via the investigating officer, told Special Prosecutor Sikander Zulqarnain Saleem not to appear in court as the “accused in the case are going to be elected the prime minister of Pakistan and chief minister of Punjab.”

“A fake news is circulating in media regarding withdrawal of the case against political leaders of a party in Lahore,” the FIA said in a statement. “The case has not been withdrawn. Proceedings are continuing in the Court.”

The statement said the prosecutor of the case submitted his “opinion-based application” in the court after he was instructed not to appear on behalf of the prosecution.

“It was not a withdrawal application,” the FIA said, adding that the document was submitted on April 11 when the new prime minister had not even taken oath.

The Sharifs have always said the cases against them are politically motivated and driven by now ex-PM Khan who won power in 2018 vowing to root out corruption among what he cast as a venal political elite.

While few dispute the need to clean up Pakistani politics, the anti-graft campaign by Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in the last three and a half years has become a topic of fierce political debate, with many saying its focus was just on the government’s political foes.

The Khan government denied targeting political opponents.

This week, PM Sharif's cabinet approved setting up a committee to amend NAB laws.


‘Encouraging sign,’ Pakistani foreign minister says as Afghan Taliban broker ceasefire with local militants

Updated 19 May 2022

‘Encouraging sign,’ Pakistani foreign minister says as Afghan Taliban broker ceasefire with local militants

  • Pakistan has in the past said local Taliban commanders operate from safe havens in Afghanistan
  • Taliban government in Kabul has repeatedly said it would not let militant groups use its soil

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari has said it was an “encouraging sign” that the Taliban government in Afghanistan had mediated a ceasefire deal between Islamabad and Pakistan’s local Taliban outfit, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), saying he hoped Kabul would live up to its promise not to allow Afghan soil to be used to launch terror attacks against other nations.

The TTP, which are a separate movement from the Afghan Taliban, have fought for years to overthrow the government in Islamabad and rule with their own brand of Islamic law. In December 2021, the group declared an end to a month-long cease-fire, accusing the Pakistani government of breaching terms, including a prisoner release agreement and the formation of negotiating committees.

Following the breakdown of talks between the two sides, the Pakistan Army resumed operations against the banned outfit early this year, after which the TTP announced the launch of its Al-Badar operation on March 30 to target law enforcement agencies. There has since been a surge in militant attacks, particularly in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, bordering Afghanistan.

Pakistan has in the past said local Taliban commanders were operating out of safe havens in Afghanistan. The new Taliban government in Kabul has repeatedly said, however, that it would not let any group use its soil for militancy.

On Wednesday, Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Kabul had mediated talks between the government of Pakistan and the Taliban movement in Pakistan and they had agreed on a ceasefire until May 30.

“Pakistan has been worried about the increase in terrorist activity and we are looking to the regime in Afghanistan to play their role in discouraging increase of terrorist activity,” Bhutto-Zardari said in an interview with CNN, broadcast on Wednesday night.

“And this is indeed an encouraging sign,” he said about the Afghan Taliban mediating talks with the TTP. “We continue to not only monitor this situation, but work on our side to ensure that we can try to tackle the threat of terrorism and hope that the regime in Afghanistan lives up to their international commitment to not allow their soil to be used for terrorism.”

When asked what it would take for Pakistan to recognize the new government in Kabul, the foreign minister said Islamabad would take that decision “in line with the international community.”

“At the same time, we continue to advocate for engagement, and particularly in light of the humanitarian crisis developing in Afghanistan …So we're emphasizing increased humanitarian efforts and also underscoring the importance of ensuring that there isn't a complete collapse of the Afghan economy,” Bhutto-Zardari said.

“Simultaneously,  we, in the international community, are emphasizing the importance to the new regime in Afghanistan, that they live up to international commitments, be it vis-à-vis  terrorism, or, more specifically, their commitments to women's education and the education of girls in Afghanistan and we feel if they live up to international commitments, it would be easier for us and others to fight the case for increased support for humanitarian efforts and stabilization of the Afghan economy.”