All eyes on Noor Mukadam murder case today as Islamabad court to announce verdict

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 24 February 2022
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All eyes on Noor Mukadam murder case today as Islamabad court to announce verdict

  • Mukadam was found beheaded at the home of Zahir Jaffer in Islamabad last July in a case that has gripped the nation
  • The months-long trial was one of the most closely watched in recent Pakistani history, Jaffer has pleaded not guilty 

ISLAMABAD: A sessions court in Islamabad will announce the verdict today, Thursday, in the Noor Mukadam murder case after all sides concluded arguments earlier in this week, bringing to a close a saga that has gripped the nation and whose trial has been one of the most-closely watched 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. He was indicted last October.
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 charges against Jaffer’s parents and the counselling team range from evidence tampering to abetment.
The trial for the case, which began in October, was conducted at Islamabad’s district court, and heard by additional sessions judge Atta Rabbani.
Talking to the media after the last hearing in the trial on Tuesday, Shaukat Mukadam, the father of the victim, said he had sought “maximum punishment” for the accused. He reposed his confidence in Judge Rabbani, saying he had “conducted a fair and transparent trial.” He added that he was “completely satisfied” with the investigation despite “some ups and downs.”
He also commended the police for operating “under pressure.”
“It was a difficult time but I have full faith in my daughter,” Shaukat said. “Noor Mukadam was a good girl and she was not involved in anything wrong.”
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 said 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 “honor killed” by her brother.
The Mukadam family’s counsel, advocate Shah Khawar, has argued that all evidence, including DNA samples, call data records (CDR), digital video record (DVR) and forensics, collected using scientific methods, pointed toward Jaffer’s guilt.
“The court should grant maximum punishment to all the accused,” he prayed before the court.


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.