Interfaith delegations to Israel not part of Pakistan’s foreign policy — FM

Pakistani delegation pose for a group photo with Israel's President Isaac Herzog in Israel on Sep 23, 2022. (@sharakango/Twitter)
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Updated 24 September 2022

Interfaith delegations to Israel not part of Pakistan’s foreign policy — FM

  • Group visiting Israel this week included Pakistani journalists, former minister
  • Foreign office says trip organized by foreign NGO, didn’t represent Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said on Friday a recent delegation of Pakistani nationals to Israel had nothing to do with the government in Islamabad as the country’s position on Palestine was “clear.”

The delegation, which visited Israel this week, included Pakistani journalists and former development minister Nasim Ashraf, who also served as chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board.

It was a second such group of Pakistanis traveling on a trip organized by US-based NGO Sharaka, which was founded in the wake of the Abraham Accords brokered by the Trump administration to help normalize relations between Israel and other Middle Eastern states.

A similar delegation in May sparked speculation that Pakistan might be turning the page on Israel.

“Let me reiterate: Absolutely not,” Bhutto-Zardari told Arab News' Ephrem Kossaify in New York, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

“Pakistan’s position on the question of Palestine is clear and always has been.” 

Pakistan does not recognize the state of Israel and has repeatedly called for an independent Palestinian state based on “internationally agreed parameters” and the pre-1967 borders with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital. 

The foreign minister said the recent delegations to Israel have “nothing to do” with the government in Islamabad. 

“As far as these delegations are concerned, I believe that there’s some sort of international nongovernmental organizations that are sending people between countries or civilizations,” he said. “Each time some of these NGOs set up these interfaith or interconnected events it just so happens, because either some of the people going are dual citizens of Pakistan or have some sort of connection in Pakistan, it’s hyped up in social media as a component of our foreign policy, which it absolutely isn’t.” 

On Thursday, Pakistan’s foreign office also dismissed media reports that a delegation representing the country was visiting Israel.

“Responding to media queries, the Spokesperson categorically rejected the notion of any delegation from Pakistan visiting Israel,” it said in a statement.

“The reported visit in question was organized by a foreign NGO which is not based in Pakistan. Pakistan’s position on the Palestinian issue is clear and unambiguous. There is no change whatsoever in our policy on which there is complete national consensus.”
 


‘She threw us into hell’: Pakistani victims of $1.9 million Ponzi scheme narrate their ordeal

Updated 10 December 2022

‘She threw us into hell’: Pakistani victims of $1.9 million Ponzi scheme narrate their ordeal

  • Victims, mostly women, say they deposited money as part of over 100 BCs run by Sidra Humaid
  • Humaid has requested a Karachi court to provide her security after declaring herself bankrupt

KARACHI: Anila Khan, a 33-year working woman living in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi, is scheduled to undergo surgery in March but her plans to go under the knife were shattered, when she came to know that she has been a victim of a multimillion ballot committee (BC) scam and has lost her deposit of Rs150,000 ($672), instead of receiving Rs600,000 ($2,688) for her surgery.

Khan is one of hundreds of victims of the Ponzi scheme, which has so far not been officially reported to the authorities.

The BC is an ages-old traditional method of saving outside of banking systems in which individuals pool money, often without any written record. Under the mechanism based on mutual trust, an individual receives the amount on their turn every month and it goes on until all the people involved are paid off their due sums.

Khan, who had been a regular depositor since September, didn’t know that her plans would fall apart until she came across a “public apology” on the Facebook account of Sidra Humaid, the woman behind the now-famous Ponzi scheme, which has swindled hundreds of people, mostly women, of approximately Rs430 million ($1.93 million) as per the victims’ estimations.

“She deceived me. She threw us into hell,” Khan told Arab News this week. “I am distraught and feel like being backstabbed.”

She said she was not even sure of getting back the amount she had deposited in the last three months, let alone a sum of Rs600,000 she was supposed to get on her turn.

In a Facebook post on November 27, Humaid informed her depositors she had “messed up” her committees and was now “practically bankrupt” with no means to pay the amount owed to them.

“To solve the monthly payments issue I had to start more committees and that eventually resulted in a rolling loop that had no end,” she wrote.

“Now I have to pay so much money that I cannot even calculate.”

Her post dropped like a bombshell on members of over 120 committees she was running, with each member pitching in from Rs5,000 to Rs400,000.

Humaid said if she was supported in her handcraft and home-cooked food businesses, she would be able to earn and pay off the amount.

“If my Croise and Daily Bites are allowed to continue and my customers, friends and loved ones still support my businesses, then I would be able to earn and pay off my loans,” she stated in the post.

But the treasurer did not have a plan or offer a timeframe to pay back people she had taken the huge sums of money from.

Humaid also said she or her family had no properties, and they wouldn’t run away, but the victims said they came to know of her travel history, including a few trips abroad, and later found out she had vacated her home in Karachi as well.

Humaid first began inviting people to join her BCs via Facebook some four years ago, according to victims. Members would deposit their amount into her bank account every month and each one of them would monthly receive a consolidated sum of BCs from the rest in their respective accounts on their turn.

Humaid would also create a WhatsApp account of members for coordination after the launch of a BC. All this continued without any complaints from members until August this year, when Humaid started failing to keep her commitments.

On December 6, she again took to Facebook and informed depositors she had requested a Karachi court to provide her security against what she called “continuous threatening calls, continuous visits of gunda (goon) sorts of people” at her place.

Humaid’s counsel, Kamran Alam, told the court that his client was being accused of doing an online financial fraud even though she neither sold any product nor used any advertisement on online platforms.

To pursue their case, the victims said they created a WhatsApp group where people shared their distressing stories.

The WhatsApp group has now turned into a “mourning meetup” group, with voice notes of women crying and desperately asking for help.

“Sidra deceived us only after building trust for many years,” said Saima Gul, another victim of the Ponzi scheme.

“I had several successful BCs over the last three years, which prompted me to start a committee of Rs30,000 ($133) for myself and another wherein my brother would deposit Rs300,000 ($1,335).”

Gul said she was saving up money to perform Umrah, while her brother joined the BC to pay off the loan he had obtained for the construction of his home.

“Not only do our problems remain unsolved, but we also practically lost Rs1.1 million ($4,896) of our hard-earned money,” she said.

Another victim, Sonia Rashid, who contributed to a committee her share of Rs15,000 for two months, said when she listens to the stories of other victims, it makes her forget her own ordeal.

“There is a woman being kicked out by her husband. Another lady said she was contemplating suicide,” Rashid told Arab News.

“A working lady started BC of Rs50,000 ($222) per month for her marriage next November, she cries at night after disclosing it to her brother. You can’t imagine our pain. This lady has robbed us of our dreams.”

Arab News tried reaching Humaid on her mobile phone, but it remained switched off on Thursday and Friday.

Victims say Humaid occasionally comes online on WhatsApp groups to assure them of returning their money. Many of them are not even sure if they will get back their money in the absence of a written agreement.

But Omar Memon, a noted lawyer in Karachi, said a formal agreement was not necessary for every financial matter.

“As per the law, there can be a verbal agreement. All one needs is circumstantial evidence of the financial relationship,” he told Arab News.

Memon suggested that the victims should immediately approach the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), whose cybercrime and financial crimes wings deal with such issues.

“The victims should also approach the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), which may check the bank accounts [of Humaid] and freeze them,” he said.

“The central bank will see if she has laundered any amount abroad and will also check the possibility of funding any proscribed organization.”

When contacted, Shehzad Haider, a deputy director at the FIA cybercrime wing, said the agency had not received any complaint regarding the matter.

Abid Qamar, an SBP spokesman, said such saving schemes prevail outside of the banking systems only due to a lack of knowledge on people’s part.

“People should utilize the presence of the banking sector which offers various instruments for saving purposes,” he said.

Editor’s note: The names of the victims have been changed after they requested not to be named.


Pakistan launches 'Governance Innovation Lab' to ensure transparency, improve service delivery

Updated 10 December 2022

Pakistan launches 'Governance Innovation Lab' to ensure transparency, improve service delivery

  • The lab will help provide innovative solutions to improve transparency through structural solutions
  • Ahsan Iqbal says a hotline and an ombudsperson at the lab will help address complaints from citizens 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal on Friday inaugurated a "Governance Innovation Lab" in Islamabad to ensure transparency and improve service delivery in the South Asian country, the planning ministry said. 

The special lab has been established at the Pakistani ministry of science and technology and was inaugurated on the occasion of International Anti-Corruption Day. 

The key objectives of the lab will be to enhance transparency and resolve problems faced by various government departments.  

“The lab will focus on connecting knowledge with action and act as an agent of change within the public sector,” Iqbal said at the launch.     

“Our commitment is not merely based on slogans or deception, rather to take practical steps to eliminate corruption, as developments from 2013-18 demonstrates.” 

Pakistan's planning minister Ahsan Iqbal, left, speaks at the inauguration ceremony of "Governance Innovation Lab" in Islamabad on December 9, 2022. (Photo courtesy: @PlanComPakistan/Twitter)

He announced that the planning ministry would establish a hotline and appoint an ombudsperson to address complaints received from citizens and whistle-blowers on instances of corruption in public sector development projects. 

The Governance Innovation Lab will help provide innovative solutions to improve transparency through structural solutions to end the menace of corruption, according to the minster.  

“There is a dire need to give confidence to government officials so that they can take decisions based on merit while ensuring transparency without fear of persecution,” he added. 

Dr Adnan Rafiq, a senior official at the Planning Commission, said the government took this initiative to create a collaborative community of multi-disciplinary experts to drive public sector reforms.  

“The Governance Innovation Lab will focus on key governance challenges which include taxation reforms, increasing exports, enhancing ease of doing business, justice system reforms, effective coordination between federal, provincial and local governments and to improve impact of PSDP while reducing leakages,” Dr Rafiq explained. 


Police, judiciary among top most corrupt institutions in Pakistan — Transparency International

Updated 09 December 2022

Police, judiciary among top most corrupt institutions in Pakistan — Transparency International

  • The findings are part of National Corruption Perception Survey (NCPS) of Transparency's Pakistan chapter
  • A majority of Pakistanis believes that anti-corruption institutions have failed to eliminate corruption

ISLAMABAD: Police in Pakistan remain the top most corrupt institution, followed by tendering & contracting, judiciary and education, local media reported on Friday, citing a survey by the Transparency International's Pakistan chapter. 

The findings were part of the National Corruption Perception Survey (NCPS) 2022 of the Pakistan chapter of the Berlin-based international civil society organization, which was released on Friday. 

In Sindh, education remained the most corrupt sector, police was seen as the second most corrupt, while tendering and contracting was the third most corrupt institution. In Punjab, police remained the most corrupt sector, followed by tendering and contracting and judiciary, according to the survey. 

The judiciary remained the most corrupt sector in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) this year, followed by tendering and contracting and police. In Balochistan, tendering and contracting topped the list of corrupt institutions, followed by police and the judiciary on second and third slots. 

The report said a majority of Pakistanis believed that anti-corruption institutions had failed to curb corruption in the South Asian country. 

"At the national level, the majority of 45% of people considered anti-corruption institutions’ role as ‘ineffective’ in curbing corruption in Pakistan," Pakistan's Geo News channel reported. 

"The three most important causes of corruption, according to NCPS 2022, are delayed decisions in corruption cases (31%), use of state institutions by governments for their gain (26%) and incompetence of the government (19%)." 

Pakistanis continued to believe that corruption in public service delivery was high.  

According to the participants, the three most corrupt public services for which people had to bribe officials were contracts of roads (40%), access to uninterrupted electricity (28%) and access to clean drinking water (17%). 

Around 33% of Pakistanis said corruption should be punishable by life imprisonment, while 28% said all government officials, including politicians, military officers and judges, should disclose their assets to the public.  

Of the participants, 25% recommended that anti-corruption courts should hear corruption cases on a daily basis and decide them in six months. 


Sindh police arrest ex-PM aide Swati hours after Balochistan court orders his release — party leaders

Updated 09 December 2022

Sindh police arrest ex-PM aide Swati hours after Balochistan court orders his release — party leaders

  • The Federal Investigation Agency arrested Swati in Islamabad on Nov 27 for remarks critical of military officials
  • The senator was later nominated in multiple complaints filed with police in Balochistan and Sindh provinces

ISLAMABAD: The Sindh police on Friday arrested Azam Swati, a close aide of former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan, hours after the Balochistan High Court (BHC) ordered his release in a case registered against him for tweets critical of top military officials, party leaders said. 

Swati was arrested by the Federal Investigation Agency in Islamabad on November 27 for the second time in less than two months for his remarks at a rally and strongly worded tweets about military officials, including former army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa.  

The senator was booked under Section 20 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016, which deals with offences against the dignity of a person, according to Pakistan's Dawn newspaper. Separately, he was nominated in multiple complaints filed with police in Balochistan and Sindh provinces for using “derogatory language” and “provoking the people against the army.” 

On Friday, BHC's Justice Hashim Khan Kakar directed police to quash all five FIRs against Swati and release him, but party leaders said the senator was again arrested by the Sindh police. 

"Azam Swati released from Balochistan and arrested in Sindh on the same charge," Asad Umar, a senior member of Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, said on Twitter. 

 

Shireen Mazari, another Khan aide and former human rights minister, criticized the way Swati was being sent "from province to province in police custody." 

"The way Senator Swati is being tortured through dozens of FIRs & being sent from province to province in police custody via special planes it would seem he & his use of a few intemperate words are the greatest threat to Pakistan's security & not terrorism or Indian mly ambitions," she said. 

 

Following his release on bail after being arrested for the first time, Swati had alleged he was stripped naked and tortured in custody. The senator had accused two Pakistani intelligence officials of being behind his custodial torture.  

The opposition senator had also told reporters at a news conference in November that his wife had received an obscene video which featured him and her, but had refused to divulge further details. 


Ruling party starts preparations to welcome self-exiled Nawaz Sharif to Pakistan ahead of election

Updated 09 December 2022

Ruling party starts preparations to welcome self-exiled Nawaz Sharif to Pakistan ahead of election

  • Nawaz Sharif, the elder brother of incumbent Pakistan prime minister, has been living in London since 2019
  • The three-time ex-premier left Pakistan on medical bail after being disqualified for life from public office

ISLAMABAD: The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party has kicked off preparations to welcome its self-exiled supremo Nawaz Sharif, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said on Friday, adding the three-time former prime minister would return to Pakistan the day election schedule is announced to lead the party’s election campaign. 

Sharif, who is the elder brother of sitting Pakistan PM Shehbaz Sharif, was restricted for life from holding any political office by Pakistan's top court in April 2018, followed by his conviction in a corruption case the same year. Sharif says the cases against him were politically motivated. 

The three-time former premier left Pakistan for London in November 2019 after securing bail on medical grounds and has since not returned to the country, but often meets party leaders in the UK to share his input on party and national affairs. 

Sanaullah, who is a senior figure in Sharif's PML-N party, told reporters on Friday that he would return to the country once a date for the next general election is announced. The next general election is scheduled to be held in the latter half of 2023.

"Today, we have started preparations to welcome Mian Nawaz Sharif," the interior minister said at a press conference in Lahore. 

"Our workers from every union council will reach Lahore to welcome Nawaz Sharif. God willing, that welcome will also decide the election." 

Responding to the UK's Daily Mail newspaper's apology to PM Shehbaz for its report on embezzlement of funds for earthquake victims, the minister criticized former premier Imran Khan and his aides and said they handed over "fabricated" documents to the British daily’s correspondent, David Rose. 

The British newspaper said in its July 14 article that PM Shehbaz had embezzled funds provided by UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) for rehabilitation and reconstruction work after a devastating 2005 earthquake.  

On Thursday, the British paper apologized to Shehbaz in response to a lawsuit filed by him against the tabloid in January 2020. 

"Their correspondent, David Rose, was invited to Pakistan and Khan himself held a meeting with him and handed him fabricated documents," Sanaullah said. 

"[Khan’s accountability czar] Shahzad Akbar formally facilitated his meetings with people in jail." 

Sanaullah said the former government had "tricked" Rose into publishing the story against PM Shehbaz.