Doctors declare Zahir Jaffer fit to stand trial in Noor Mukadam murder case

Policemen escort Zahir Jaffer (2L), a Pakistani-American man who went on trial accused of raping and beheading his girlfriend, the daughter of a former ambassador, after his court hearing in Islamabad on October 20, 2021. (AFP/File)
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Updated 21 January 2022

Doctors declare Zahir Jaffer fit to stand trial in Noor Mukadam murder case

  • Police brought the prime suspect in the case to the courtroom on a stretcher, handcuffed and in a shabby condition
  • Investigation officer told the court during cross-examination the victim was in touch with her mother on the day of the murder

ISLAMABAD: A team of doctors at Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi on Thursday declared Zahir Jaffer, a prime suspect in the murder of 27-year-old Noor Mukadam in July last year, mentally and physically fit to stand trial.

The key suspect was arrested from the crime scene on the day of the murder and has since been incarcerated.

The police on Thursday presented him before the trial court on a stretcher. Jaffer was also handcuffed and in a shabby condition.

“Zahir Jaffer is mentally and physically fit [to stand trial],” the doctors said in a report submitted to additional sessions judge Ata Rabbani who is hearing the case.

During the previous hearing on Monday, the police brought the accused to the court in a plastic chair, making his lawyer demand his client’s medical treatment.

“His mental health has deteriorated seriously,” Jaffer’s lawyer maintained.

The suspect was examined by a team of doctors at the prison facility in Rawalpindi following the judge’s instruction which later submitted its report in the court.

“The accused has undergone medical checkups numerous times,” the doctors said. “A psychiatrist has also declared him healthy after a complete checkup.”

The case is now said to be entering its final stage wherein defense counsels are cross-examining witnesses.

Last week, the court was informed that Jaffer was facing “some medical issues” in the prison and was not able to walk, stand and move for the last ten days.

“The accused Zahir is on wheelchair but prison authorities are not providing him proper medical treatment and playing with the life of a prisoner whose custody is under the control of this court,” said an application submitted by the father of the prime suspect on Saturday.

Earlier in January, the court rejected an application seeking the constitution of a medical board to determine Jaffer’s mental health after he was expelled from the courtroom twice for disrupting the trial hearings.

Islamabad police also registered a criminal case against Jaffer for using “abusive language” and attempting suicide on the court premises.

On Thursday, when Jaffer was presented in the court on a stretcher, advocate Sajjad Bhatti pleaded the court to send him back to the lockup, saying that the suspect was unwell.

The judge remarked that he did not want to summon the accused due to “humanitarian” reasons, but the prosecution insisted on his presence.

Jaffer was later sent back to the judicial lockup after a brief attendance in the court.

During the cross-examination by defense lawyers, the investigative officer of the case Inspector Abdul Sattar said the victim was in touch with her mother over the phone on the ill-fated day according to a call detail record.

“On July 20 at 1:53, the plaintiff [Noor’s father] and Zakir Jaffer spoke for 668 seconds over phone,” he continued, adding the plaintiff never revealed this information to him during the interrogation.

The police officer said the victim was continuously in touch with a specific number on July 19 and 20, but this person was not made part of the investigation.

He did not provide any further details.

The court will now resume the hearing on January 24.

‘Hostile elements’ will not be allowed to spoil China-Pakistan relations — interior minister

Updated 18 May 2022

‘Hostile elements’ will not be allowed to spoil China-Pakistan relations — interior minister

  • Three Chinese teachers and their local driver were killed in a suicide attack in Karachi last month
  • China will continue to provide financial and technical assistance to Pakistan, says Chinese security official

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s interior minister Rana Sanaullah said on Wednesday “hostile elements” will not be allowed to spoil relations between Pakistan and China while reiterating that the government would ensure safety of Chinese nationals working in the country.

The interior minister made the statement after meeting Wang Daxue, the top official of China’s department of external security affairs, in Islamabad wherein the two sides discussed measures to ensure the safety of Chinese citizens in Pakistan.

The meeting followed the killing of three Chinese nationals among four people in a deadly suicide bombing near the entrance of Confucius Institute, a Chinese language center, at a university in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi on April 26.

The Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), an outlawed group that frequently conducts attacks on Pakistani security forces, claimed responsibility for the attack.
“Hostile elements will never be allowed to succeed in their nefarious design to spoil bilateral relations [between Pakistan and China],” Sanaullah was quoted in an official statement circulated by the interior ministry.

He informed the visiting Chinese official a special desk had been set up at the ministry to ensure the security of foreign nationals, especially Chinese citizens, in the country.

The interior minister vowed to bring the perpetrators of the Karachi bombing to justice, adding that bilateral relations between the two allies would not be affected by such “incidents of terrorism.”

“China will continue to provide financial and technical assistance to Pakistan in the ongoing development projects,” the statement quoted Wang Daxue as saying.

“We will thwart every conspiracy of miscreants to spoil the China-Pakistan relations,” he continued.

The Chinese embassy in Pakistan has already said all Confucius Institutes would remain operational in the country and none had been shut down, two weeks after a woman suicide bomber blew herself, killing three Chinese teachers.

Last week, the Karachi University, which houses the Confucius Institute, said all the remaining 12 Chinese teachers at the center had left Pakistan with the remains of colleagues killed in the attack. The university did not confirm if the teachers would return but said the institute had not been shut down.

“All teaching activities at various Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms in Pakistan would be carried out through online or offline ways by the Chinese and Pakistani teachers and the partnering universities of China,” a spokesperson of the Chinese embassy in Islamabad said, according to the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan.

The spokesperson confirmed some Chinese teachers had returned to their country for summer vacations following discussions with concerned departments in Pakistan, adding that they would return to Pakistan “at an appropriate time.”

In the meantime, he said, China “plans to provide more quality teaching resources to meet the needs of the Pakistani students to learn the Chinese language.”

Chinese nationals have frequently been targeted in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province, where Beijing has heavily invested in the Belt and Road Initiative.

The Karachi blast was the first major attack on Chinese nationals in Pakistan since last year when a suicide bomber blew up a passenger bus in July, killing 13 people, including nine Chinese workers employed at the Dasu Hydropower Project in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Despite resumption of IMF talks, Pakistani rupee touches Rs198.39 against US dollar

Updated 12 min ago

Despite resumption of IMF talks, Pakistani rupee touches Rs198.39 against US dollar

  • Pakistan’s national currency has depreciated by 20.59 percent during the current fiscal year
  • Economists urge the government to take tough decisions, say it will be less politically costly

KARACHI: The Pakistani rupee continued its downward journey on Wednesday, hitting another historic low of Rs198.39 against the US dollar despite resumption of talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the revival of a loan facility amounting to $6 billion.

The rupee continued its losing streak against the greenback and depreciated by 1.34 percent, or Rs2.65 in the interbank market, during the day as uncertainty surrounding the outcome of the IMF talks built pressure on the national currency amid rising imports and depleting foreign exchange reserves.

“The recent freefall of rupee against the dollar is due to the high demand of dollar for import payments mainly for oil as both quantity and prices of oil products are rising in international market,” Abdul Azeem, head of research at Spectrum Securities, told Arab News.

The Pak rupee has been consistently on a decline since the last 10 trading sessions, losing its value by 6.65 percent against the greenback. The currency has lost its value by 11.03 percent since the start of the current calendar year while it has devalued by 20.59 percent during the current fiscal year which began in last July.

The currency depreciation continued despite the resumption of talks between the IMF and Pakistani authorities in Doha, Qatar, for the completion of seventh review of the $6 billion Extended Fund Facility.

“The market expectation regarding the outcome of talks between the fund and Pakistan authorities was not positive,” Azeem said.

Pakistani officials started negotiating with the IMF on Wednesday, with finance minister Miftah Ismail, minister of state for finance Dr. Aisha Ghous Pasha, acting governor of the State Bank Dr. Murtaza Syed, finance secretary Hamed Yaqoob Shaikh, chairman Federal Board of Revenue Asim Ahmad and senior officials joining the talks virtually.

According to an official statement, the finance minister reaffirmed the government’s commitment to undertake the reforms envisaged under the loan facility and meet the required structural benchmarks. IMF mission chief Nathan Porter also shared his assessment of the challenges facing the economy, saying that Pakistan needed both immediate and long-term measures to stabilize itself financially.

Islamabad has so far received $3 billion from the IMF under the loan program which the country secured back in 2019 to stabilize its wobbly economy. Pakistan is currently seeking an extension to the program until June 2023 with an additional loan amount of $2 billion.

A major sticking point between the IMF and Pakistan is likely to be an economic relief package worth about $1.7 billion that includes costly subsidies on fuel and electricity, announced by former prime minister Imran Khan earlier this year.

While the incumbent administration of Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif is reluctant to remove energy subsidies fearing public backlash, economists suggest the government should take the tough decision since any further delay would entail greater political cost.

“It is the right decision to remove, in a staggered manner, the subsidies on energy, both on petroleum products as well as electricity,” Dr. Khaqan Najeeb, senior economist and former adviser to the finance ministry, told Arab News. “It would have been easier for the new government to have done this on April 15 [after it came into power].”

“The other action along with it like going to the IMF earlier would have ensured stability in the dollar-rupee parity,” he added.

The finance ministry quoted Miftah Ismail in its statement on the IMF talks released on Wednesday that the government understood the country’s economic woes and would need to take tough decisions while mitigating the effects of inflation on the middle to low-income groups.

Pakistan has repeatedly sought financial assistance from the IMF and other international donors to support its economy due to crippling national debt, burgeoning inflation and weakening currency.

Article 63-A: Legal experts rule out political implications of top court’s verdict for government

Updated 18 May 2022

Article 63-A: Legal experts rule out political implications of top court’s verdict for government

  • Experts say the judgment in response to the presidential reference cannot be applied retrospectively
  • Election of Punjab CM can be held again if election commission disqualifies PTI dissidents for voting

ISLAMABAD: Legal experts in Pakistan on Wednesday ruled out any immediate political implications for the new federal and Punjab governments after the Supreme Court issued a verdict on a presidential reference, saying that votes of dissident lawmakers would not be counted in case of defection from their respective political parties.

Last month, an opposition alliance succeeded in toppling Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) administration after moving a no-confidence motion in the National Assembly, making the former prime minister’s key coalition partners and over two dozen PTI lawmakers abandon him.

The opposition candidate, Shehbaz Sharif, became the new premier without requiring votes of dissident PTI legislators. However, his son, Hamza Shehbaz, had to rely on votes of 25 PTI dissident lawmakers for his election as Punjab chief minister.

President Dr. Arif Alvi, a close aide of ex-PM Khan, filed a reference in the Supreme Court in March, seeking interpretation of Article 63-A which sets down rules for the disqualification of lawmakers in the case of defection and violation of party policy. The top court said in its judgment on Tuesday the vote of any member of a parliamentary party in a house that is cast contrary to any direction issued by the party “cannot be counted and must be disregarded.”

Asked about its implication for the election of the prime minister and Punjab chief minister, Muhammad Ahsan Bhoon, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, said the judgment would not have any immediate repercussions for the federal and Punjab governments since it would only be applicable to such matters in the future.

“The elections of prime minister and chief minister Punjab are now past and closed transactions,” he told Arab News.

Bhoon said another round of election for chief minister Punjab could be held if the Election Commission of Pakistan decided to de-seat the 25 PTI legislators who voted for Hamza Shehbaz by going against their party policy.

“If the Punjab governor asks the chief minister to take a vote of confidence, then obviously another round of election will be held and a candidate who gets majority vote will be declared the chief minister,” he said.

Barrister Ahmed Pansota said the Supreme Court judgment was binding, but there was a confusion if its application would be done retrospectively.
“We believe the judges will state clearly in the detailed verdict if its application is retrospective,” he told Arab News.

Pansota ruled out any immediate implication of the judgment for federal government where Shehbaz Sharif was elected prime minister by taking votes of legislators belonging to PTI’s allied parties.

“The fate of chief minister Punjab Hamza Shehbaz may be on the line as he was elected through votes of PTI dissidents,” he said, adding the situation would become clear after the election commission’s verdict in the next couple of days.

“One thing is for sure that this is an unending constitutional crisis, and ultimately a fresh election will be called to get out of it,” he said.

Irfan Qadir, a former attorney-general of Pakistan, also ruled out any immediate political implications for the federal and Punjab governments, saying it was a “controversial opinion” of the Supreme Court on the presidential reference which would not have much legal significance.

“Even if the election commission de-seats PTI dissidents, the matter will then again go to the supreme court for adjudication,” he told Arab News.

“The number game in national and Punjab assemblies is a totally different thing and whoever commands majority will be elected prime minister and chief minister,” he said.

Qadir said it was also not clear at the moment if the court’s opinion was binding which needed to be implemented in letter and spirit. “There are so many ambiguities in this opinion which need to be sorted out before its implementation,” he added.

Other legal experts were also critical of the verdict, saying that it raised plenty of questions.

“SC [Supreme Court] interpretation means even in oppressive constitutional amendments like the 21st amendment establishing military courts, MNAs [Members of the National Assembly] will be bound to vote in their [party’s] favor or resign from their seats,” said Reema Omer in a string of Twitter posts. “How is such party dictatorship a victory for parliamentary democracy?”

Calling the apex court’s majority opinion “legally unsound” in her opinion, she maintained the text of Article 63-A was clear.

“Parliament, rightly or wrongly, did not say [the dissident lawmakers’] votes will be discarded,” Omer pointed out. “SC cannot re-write the Constitution.”



Political instability, state capacity gaps helping separatists increase attacks in Sindh — experts

Updated 18 May 2022

Political instability, state capacity gaps helping separatists increase attacks in Sindh — experts

  • Police say Baloch, Sindhi nationalists behind latest attacks in country’s Karachi port city
  • Analysts say separatists capitalizing on political weakness, lack of will to curb violence

KARACHI: The chief minister of Pakistan’s Sindh province this week blamed an “enemy state” for a recent spate of attacks in the port city of Karachi but independent experts said political weakness and uncertainty as well as “gaps” in the state’s capacity to govern the megacity had allowed militants to step up bombings.

Six people have been killed since last month in Karachi, including three Chinese nationals in a suicide bomb blast in April. Last week, a roadside bombing targeted a van carrying Pakistani security forces in Karachi on Thursday, killing a passerby and wounding 13 people. Both attacks were claimed by the Balochistan Liberation Army, a separatist group.

This week, a woman was killed and nearly a dozen others were wounded in a bomb blast in Karachi’s densely populated Kharadar area that had appeared to target a police patrol. The attack was claimed by the Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army (SRA), a proscribed outfit operating in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province, which in July 2020 announced it had formed a joint front with Balochistan’s separatist organizations.

Blaming an “enemy country” for plotting attacks against Pakistan, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah said on Tuesday only a few of the 220 terror attacks in Pakistan between January 1 to May 16 had occurred in Sindh province. He did not name the enemy state and said the law and order situation in the province had improved in recent years.

In Sindh, he said, seven people had been killed in 11 acts of terrorism as opposed to 144 in 104 attacks in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

“Karachi was the seventh-most dangerous city in the world,” Shah told reporters. “Now, it stands at 125.”

Mazhar Abbas, a Karachi-based security and political analyst, said the latest spate of attacks was due to the lax attitude of law enforcement officials.

“These blasts should be alarming for Rangers and police, who had completely failed in curbing crimes and stopping acts of terrorism,” Abbas said.

Dr. Asfandyar Mir, an analyst on South Asia’s security issues, said the security situation was deteriorating across Pakistan and the reasons, he said, were “state capacity gaps and political weakness.”

“Anti-Pakistan militants – be they Islamists or ethnic separatists – are watching political weaknesses and spotting state capacity gaps, and therefore pouncing [on the opportunity],” Mir said, adding that “distracted leaders” had not paid attention to those who were driving violence in the country.

In July 2020, weeks after a deadly attack at the stock exchange in Karachi claimed by the BLA and three attacks in different parts of Sindh, including one in Liaquatabad Karachi, by SRA, the Baloch Raj Aajoi Sangar (BRAS), an umbrella group of the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF), Baloch Republican Army (BRA) and Baloch Republican Guards (BRG), and Sindh Revolutionary Army (SRA), announced a joint front.

Authorities had then said that the front could pose a threat to the city’s peace as the militant alliance could strengthen Sindhi separatists who have carried out low-intensity attacks in the past, including blowing up train tracks. Their armed resistance has been less violent than that of separatists in Balochistan, who have attacked a Chinese consulate, a major hotel chain and on many occasions killed security officials patrolling a coastal highway.

“There is also plenty of emulation across armed groups, perhaps even sharing of resources,” Mir said, “but I haven’t seen strong evidence on the Baloch-Sindhi nexus.”

Kabul mediates between Pakistani Taliban and Islamabad, cease-fire announced until May 30

Updated 18 May 2022

Kabul mediates between Pakistani Taliban and Islamabad, cease-fire announced until May 30

  • Last cease-fire between militants and government ended in December 2021
  • Pakistani Taliban have fought for years to overthrow government in Islamabad

PESHAWAR: Pakistan’s local Taliban outfit, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), on Wednesday announced a cease-fire agreement with the government until May 30 after Kabul mediated talks, the Afghan Taliban government said.

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 in tribal districts and southern regions of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, bordering Afghanistan.

“Talks were held in Kabul between the government of Pakistan and the Taliban Movement of Pakistan with the mediation of the Islamic Emirate [Afghan Taliban government],” Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a tweet on Wednesday, adding that “in addition to making significant progress on related issues during the talks, a temporary cease-fire was also agreed upon.”

In a separate post, Mujahid said the Kabul government “strives for the goodwill of the negotiating process and wishes both sides tolerance and flexibility.”

Separately, the TTP said in a statement a 32-member committee of Mehsud tribesmen and another 16-member committee of elders from the Malakand division had held meetings with the TTP’s peace committee on the directives of the government of Pakistan.

“Facilitated by the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, talks are being held between the committees of the government of Pakistan and the Tehrik-e-Taliban,” the statement read.

The two committees recommended in the meetings that both sides declare a cease-fire as long as peace talks were taking place. 

“Keeping in view their demand, both sides agreed to a cease-fire till May 30,” the banned outfit stated.

Hassan Khan, a senior journalist and analyst, told Arab News the modus operandi of latest peace talks was “totally different” from past negotiations due to the involvement of the tribal elders and the government’s committee.

“This time there is a lot of pressure on the TTP, both from the Afghan government and the involvement of the tribal jirgas. I think peace talks between Pakistan and the TTP will yield some results this time around if both sides keep following up on their negotiations,” Khan added.

On Tuesday, security forces killed two TTP commanders in a shootout in North Waziristan, a district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.