Prosecution to present final arguments in closely-watched Noor Mukadam murder trial today

Family members of Noor Mukadam sit in front of a poster with her photo during a vigil in Islamabad, Pakistan on September 22, 2021. (AN photo)
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Updated 21 February 2022
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Prosecution to present final arguments in closely-watched Noor Mukadam murder trial today

  • Trial now in concluding stage at Islamabad’s district court where additional sessions judge Atta Rabbani has been conducting hearings
  • At Monday’s hearing, defense counsels for Therapy Works employees and Asmat Adamjee completed their arguments, seeking exoneration

ISLAMABAD: The lawyers for the family of 27-year-old Noor Mukadam, who was murdered last July in a case that has gripped the nation, is all set to present its final arguments today, Tuesday, in one of the most-closely watched trials in recent Pakistani history.

Mukadam, the daughter of a former Pakistani diplomat, was found beheaded in Islamabad’s upscale F-7/4 neighborhood in July last year. The murder sparked public outrage and grabbed media attention unlike any other recent crime against women. The key suspect in the murder, Zahir Jaffer, was arrested from the crime scene, his residence, on the day of the murder and has since been in custody.

Others charged in the case include Jaffer’s parents, Zakir Jaffer and Asmat Adamjee, their three household staff, Iftikhar, Jan Muhammad and Jameel, and six employees of 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. Police say a team from the counseling center was already at the crime scene when they arrived on July 20, having been summoned by Jaffer’s parents.

The trial for the case is now in the concluding stage at Islamabad’s district court, where additional sessions judge Atta Rabbani has been conducting hearings.

At Monday’s hearing, the defense counsels for Therapy Works employees and Asmat Adamjee completed their final arguments, seeking exoneration for their clients.

“Hopefully, we will complete our arguments tomorrow, after which the honorable court will reserve the judgment and fix a date to announce it,” the Mukadam family’s counsel, Shah Khawar, told reporters after the court hearing.

At an earlier hearing, Jaffer, who initially confessed to the crime before police and the court, pleaded not guilty to the killing, saying he was innocent and wrongly implicated in the case. His lawyers also told the court that Mukadam had arranged a “drug party” at Jaffer’s residence on July 20 as his parents were away in Karachi, saying Jaffer fell unconscious from “overuse” of drugs and Mukadam was killed by someone else who had attended the party. At another hearing, the defense also asked the court to consider the possibility that Mukadam had been “honour killed” by her brother.

In his final arguments, Khawar rejected the defense counsel's charge of a “drug party” and the possibility of an honor killing: “The defense has concocted this story as there is no evidence of it.”

The counsel reminded the court that Jaffer had himself conceded the murder took place at his home and CCTV showed Mukadam had jumped from the first floor of the chief accused’s house but was prevented by staff from leaving the premises.

“Zahir Jaffer jumped from the terrace and locked Noor Mukadam inside the security guard's cabin,” the counsel said, adding that Jaffer’s photogrammetry test was also positive.

Khawar will complete his final arguments in the case today, Tuesday.

Earlier, Shahzad Qureshi, the counsel for five Therapy Works employees, rejected the allegations his clients had tried to erase evidence from the crime scene and pleaded the court to exonerate them.

He said police had seized a pistol, knife and other material from the crime scene, so there was no question of erasing evidence.

Therapy Works CEO Tahir Zahoor's counsel advocate Akram Qureshi said the prosecution had implicated his client in the case because he had been in contact with Zahir Jaffer's parents over the phone but this did not prove he was in any way involved in the murder, or its cover up.

“Our job is medical intervention and that’s why we were there,” he said. “There is no basis for the prosecution's allegation of tampering with the evidence.”

Advocate Qureshi said the prosecution had failed to present any evidence against his client except a call data record (CDR) report which was not admissible evidence in the absence of a voice record.

“They [Therapy Works employees] helped the police by tying up Zahir Jaffer [with a rope before the police arrived at the crime scene],” he said, adding that it was the Therapy Works employees who called the police.

He said the prosecution had failed to present any solid evidence against the Therapy Works CEO and employees, and sought the “benefit of doubt” for his clients.

Asmat Adamjee's counsel Asad Jamal said the prosecution’s whole case was based on “ill-intention.”

“We are accused of not informing the police about the murder, but the prosecution gave no evidence that we knew a murder was going to take place at our residence,” he said. “There is no basis of any case against Asmat Adamjee and Zakir Jaffer, therefore they should be released.”

The court will resume hearing the case today, Tuesday.


In message to vigilantes, Pakistani army chief lauds cop for saving woman from blasphemy mob

Updated 11 sec ago
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In message to vigilantes, Pakistani army chief lauds cop for saving woman from blasphemy mob

  • Shehrbano Naqvi saved a woman surrounded in Lahore restaurant by men who wrongly claimed her shirt was adorned with verses from Holy Qur’an
  • Army chief General Syed Asim Munir meets Naqvi, lauds her for “selfless devotion to duty and professionalism” in diffusing a volatile situation 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s army chief General Syed Asim Munir on Wednesday lauded a policewoman for risking her life to save a citizen from a blasphemy mob last week, stressing the importance of rule of law in the country and advising citizens against taking the law into their hands. 
Senior woman police officer, Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Shehrbano Naqvi, was praised by politicians, senior police officials and the general public after a video of her emerged on social media this week in which she can be seen rescuing a woman from a charged crowd.
The woman, who has not been named by authorities for security reasons, was surrounded by men in a restaurant in the eastern city of Lahore for wearing an Arabic-inscribed dress. The crowd claimed the shirt was adorned with verses from the Holy Qur’an. Naqvi later clarified that the dress had the word ‘Halwa,’ meaning dessert, written on it in the Arabic script.
According to the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) or the army’s media wing, Naqvi called on Munir at the army’s headquarters in Rawalpindi on Wednesday. 
“COAS [chief of army staff] lauded ASP Shehrbano for her selfless devotion to duty and professionalism in diffusing a volatile situation,” the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said. He said Pakistani women are an inalienable part of the country’s society, noting that their respect is enshrined in the country’s religion and social ethos. 
Blasphemy is an incendiary charge in deeply conservative, Muslim-majority Pakistan, where even unproven allegations of insulting Islam and its noted personalities can provoke death at the hands of vigilantes. Politicians have been assassinated, lawyers murdered and students lynched over such accusations.
In 2011, the governor of Punjab was killed by his bodyguard after calling for reforms to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
Munir highlighted the importance of social harmony and the need for consensus on curbing intolerance, the ISPR said. 
“He emphasized upon the rule of law and advised against taking the law in one’s hands when legal avenues are available for addressing concerns and grievances,” the army’s media wing said. 
“COAS appreciated the sacrifices rendered by the law enforcement agencies to ensure the safety and security of the citizens of Pakistan.”


‘Highly controversial’ elections, weak coalition pose economic challenges to Pakistan — Moody’s

Updated 7 min 9 sec ago
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‘Highly controversial’ elections, weak coalition pose economic challenges to Pakistan — Moody’s

  • The upcoming coalition government’s electoral mandate may not be sufficiently strong to pursue difficult reforms
  • The credit rating agency warns that the rating would be downgraded if Pakistan were to default on its debt obligations

KARACHI: Moody’s Investors Service on Tuesday warned of political risks following “highly controversial” general elections in Pakistan that could lead to insufficient mandate for the next government to pursue difficult economic reforms needed at this stage.
The international agency maintained Pakistan’s ratings, including its Caa3 long-term issuer rating, with a stable outlook unchanged after completing a periodic review of the country’s ratings.
“Pakistan’s credit profile reflects the government’s very high liquidity and external vulnerability risks as the very low levels of foreign exchange reserves remain well below what is required to meet its very high external financing needs over the near to medium term,” Moody’s said in the review report.
The agency did not announce a credit rating action but highlighted the “country’s very weak fiscal strength and elevated political risks” that may also constrain the credit profile.
The South Asian nation is in the process of forming a government after key political parties, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), agreed on a power-sharing formula last week.
The general elections were marred by allegations of rigging and manipulation.
“Political risks are high, following a highly controversial general elections held on 8 February 2024,” the agency said.
Although a coalition government looks set to be formed, the report said there was high uncertainty around the newly elected government’s willingness and ability to quickly negotiate a new International Monetary Fund program soon after the current $3 billion short-term loan expires next month.
Moody’s said Pakistan’s ability to secure loans from other bilateral and multilateral partners would be severely constrained until the new IMF financing was reached.
Its assessment comes only a year after it downgraded the country’s rating to Caa3 from Caa1, following deadlock in talks with the IMF amid depletion of foreign exchange reserves.
The large amount of external financing required over the medium term along with Pakistan’s very low reserves position imply material default risks if there were funding delays from the IMF and other partners.
“Social pressures and weaknesses in governance may also raise challenges in meeting criteria for future IMF funding,” the agency said.
The agency warned that the rating would likely be downgraded if Pakistan were to default on its debt obligations to private-sector creditors and the expected losses to creditors as a result of any restructuring were larger than consistent with a Caa3 rating.


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

Updated 48 min 32 sec ago
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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.