Following Supreme Court order, Islamabad police register case in murder of journalist Arshad Sharif

The wooden coffin containing the body of Pakistani journalist Arshad Sharif, who was shot dead when police hunting car thieves opened fire on the vehicle he was traveling in as it drove through their roadblock without stopping, is loaded into a courtesy van at the Chiromo mortuary in Nairobi, Kenya, on October 24, 2022. (REUTERS)
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Updated 06 December 2022

Following Supreme Court order, Islamabad police register case in murder of journalist Arshad Sharif

  • Three people nominated as key suspects in the murder that took place in Kenya last month
  • Supreme Court takes suo motu notice of murder, orders government to register FIR by day end

ISLAMABAD: Following the orders of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, police in Islamabad on Tuesday registered a case in the murder of journalist Arshad Sharif in Kenya in October, nominating three people as key suspects in the crime.

Under Pakistani law, the police are required to respond to any complaint about a potential crime by registering a case, or a “first information report.” That report marks the beginning of an investigation.

The police complaint nominated three persons, Waqar Ahmed, Khurram Ahmed, and Tariq Ahmed Wasi. It cites sections 302 (murder) and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of a common intention) of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC).

The FIR added that according to the postmortem report, Sharif died due to the firing of ammunition.

“Arshad Sharif has been killed abroad in Nairobi [Kenya]. The involvement of Khurram Ahmed, CNIC number 42301-9410336-5, Waqar Ahmed CNIC number 42301-3062658-9, both sons of Afzal Ahmed, and Tariq Ahmed Wasi son of Muhammad Wasi CNIC number 42301-8003405-3 in this murder has been proved,” the FIR said. 

Earlier on Tuesday, the Supreme Court took suo motu notice of the murder and ordered the government to register an FIR by the end of the day.

Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial on Tuesday used Pakistan’s so-called “suo moto” provision — which allows him to take up cases on his own initiative — to set up a bench of five judges to supervise an investigation into the killing of the prominent television journalist in Kenya in October.

Sharif left Pakistan in August over threats to his life and after a slew of court cases related to charges of treason and others were registered against him. He was killed by Kenyan police on the outskirts of Nairobi on October 23, in what police said was a case of “mistaken identity” during the search for a car involved in a child abduction case.

But a two-member Pakistani fact-finding team that visited the East African state subsequently called the killing a “targeted assassination.”

The court said it had sought initial responses from the Pakistani foreign office, interior ministry, information secretary and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ).

“The journalist community and the public at large are deeply distressed and concerned about the death of the senior journalist and are seeking the court’s scrutiny of the matter,” the court said in a statement.

Sharif worked for many years as a prime-time television news show host for ARY News in Pakistan. In the last year of his life, he was known to be a harsh critic of the military and a supporter of ex-PM Imran Khan.

Khan has said Sharif had been murdered for his journalistic work and called for a judicial investigation.


Pakistan, IMF grapple for consensus to unlock critical funding

Updated 15 sec ago

Pakistan, IMF grapple for consensus to unlock critical funding

  • Finance ministry officials say deal expected by Feb. 9
  • Funds are needed to avoid defaulting on external debts

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and the visiting International Monetary Fund mission are struggling to arrive at a consensus on fiscal adjustment plans, sources said on Monday, in talks aimed at unlocking critical funds needed for the ailing South Asian economy.

The mission has been in Islamabad since Jan. 31 to sort out the differences over fiscal policy that has stalled the release of more than $1 billion from $6.5 billion bailout package signed in 2019.

The IMF funding is crucial for the $350-billion economy facing a balance-of-payments crisis with foreign exchange reserves dipping to less than three weeks of import cover.

The two sides disagree on their data on the fiscal gap, two finance ministry officials with knowledge of the talks told Reuters.

The IMF says the primary deficit is 0.9% of GDP, or around 840 billion Pakistani rupees ($3.06 billion), but according to Islamabad it stands at 0.45%, or around 450 billion rupees ($1.64 billion), said the officials, who declined to be named as the talks were confidential.

"There is a clear difference in data," said one of them. They said Islamabad is expecting a deal by Feb. 9.

Observers say the funds are needed to avoid defaulting on external payment obligations, while the lender's green signal is vital for any other external funding.

The finance ministry and the IMF country representative did not respond to Reuters request for comments.

STUMBLING BLOCK

Pakistan's 2022-23 budget in June estimated the primacy deficit to be 0.2% of GDP and fiscal deficit 4.9% of GDP.

The country has already shifted back to a market-based exchange rate and hiked fuel prices - measures demanded by IMF. But analysts say the steps will increase crippling inflation, which is already up 27.5% year-on-year in January.

The big pile of energy sector debt - over 4 trillion Pakistani rupees ($14.55 billion), including 1.6 trillion in the gas sector- is another stumbling block in the talks, officials said.

They said Pakistan has submitted a plan to cut the debt in phases though price hikes and dividends from gas companies, but the IMF is demanding a clearer path forward.

Over 900 billion rupees in gas sector subsidies for FY2022-23 are also on the chopping block, they said, adding that Pakistan has agreed to withdraw export sector subsidies.

If issues are resolved, Pakistan will introduce a finance bill in parliament to generate revenue, like a one-off flood levy on luxury imports, windfall levy on banks and duties on cigarettes and carbonated drinks, as well as to cut expenditures and development funds.


Women, rights activists protest 'extremely shocking, traumatic' rape at Islamabad's largest park

Updated 8 min 2 sec ago

Women, rights activists protest 'extremely shocking, traumatic' rape at Islamabad's largest park

  • Two men allegedly gang-raped woman at Islamabad's Fatima Jinnah Park on February 2
  • Protestors demand greater security, accountability for crimes against women in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Members of Pakistan's civil society, rights activists, and women on Monday gathered at Islamabad's Fatima Jinnah Park or F-9 park to protest against the alleged gang rape of a woman at the same venue last week, demanding the immediate arrest of the culprits and safer public spaces for women.

According to a police report, two armed men took turns raping a woman at Islamabad's F-9 park. The victim, who filed a first information report (FIR) under Section 376 (punishment for rape) at the Margalla Police Station, said the incident took place on February 2.

As per a copy of the FIR seen by Arab News, the complainant says she was walking in the park with her colleague when two armed men took them at gunpoint to a nearby forest. There, they beat the woman and took turns raping her. Before leaving, the suspects threatened to call more of their friends to sexually assault her if she spoke of the incident, the report said.

Citizens and activists protest on February 6, 2023, in Islamabad's F-9 Park where a woman was allegedly raped on gunpoint on February 2. (AN photo)

The episode triggered widespread anger on social media when the incident came to light a few days ago. Rights activists, members of the civil society, and women from different walks of life attended the protest arranged by the Women Democratic Front (WDF), a socialist-feminist movement.

Participants walked in solidarity with the victim, demanding the police take swift action against the culprits.

Nageen Hayat, a filmmaker and member of the Women's Action Forum (WAF), a Pakistani women's rights organization, said women were feeling helpless as the capital did not feel safe for them anymore.

“It is an extremely shocking and traumatic incident,” she told Arab News, adding that Islamabad used to be a safe city once but recently, cases of violence against women and children had increased in the city.

Human rights activist Farzani Bari called for the rapists to be caught as soon as possible, adding that when police and authorities want to arrest criminals, they do so "right away."

She said it was unfortunate that in the cases where women were involved, police did not work efficiently. “The conviction rate is also very low in cases of sexual violence against women,” Bari added.

She said the Capital Development Authority (CDA) and the city's local administration were responsible for making public spaces safer for women.

“Normally women come out for a walk at night after work, so there should be proper lighting, surveillance cameras, and guards all around the park,” she added.

Citizens and activists protest on February 6, 2023, in Islamabad's F-9 Park where a woman was allegedly raped on gunpoint on February 2. (AN photo)

Islamabad Police Spokesperson Jawad Taqi said police, along with the district administration, was improving security arrangements of the capital's parks.

“Visitors to the park during evening hours are requested to limit themselves to [well-lit] areas and in case of any emergency, immediately call 15 for assistance,” he told Arab News.

He said the incident is being investigated by the Special Gender Protection Unit under the supervision of CPO Operations Sohail Zafar Chatta. Taqi said people who were present in the park at the time as well as its management were being questioned.

“The police has also issued a sketch of one of the suspects which was prepared with the help of the details provided by the victim," Taqi said. He said the sketch would be matched with the CCTV footage of the park premises, adding that police were investigating the incident on a scientific basis.

“The DNA of the suspects in the incident is also being taken and evidence is being collected based on [help from] cameras and intelligence,” he said, adding that the culprits would be brought to book soon.

WDF President, Ismat Raza Shahjahan, who was also the chief organizer of the event, said the state had failed to provide peace and security to the people.

“This state is only taking from the public and failed to provide security and peace,” she told Arab News. “The patriarchy is promoted by the state as it is a strategic asset for them and this is the reason that every other man puts a gun on women,” Shahjahan added.

Muhammad Anwaar, a member of the left-wing socialist Awami Workers Party, said he came to the protest to support women and demand a safe environment for them.

“I am here to protest and support women, and if this can happen with this woman, tomorrow it can happen with my sister [too]," Anwaar added.


Pakistan's PM orders restoration of Wikipedia 'with immediate effect'

Updated 06 February 2023

Pakistan's PM orders restoration of Wikipedia 'with immediate effect'

  • Pakistan blocked Wikipedia last week on grounds it failed to remove "blasphemous content" from its platform
  • "Unintended consequences" of blanket ban on Wikipedia outweigh its benefits, says committee formed by PM Sharif

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Monday ordered the restoration of online encyclopedia Wikipedia "with immediate effect", a couple of days after it was banned for uploading "blasphemous" content on its platform. 

Pakistan last week banned Wikipedia across the country, accusing the platform of deliberately not removing blasphemous content. Pakistan's telecommunication regulator said it provided the platform multiple chances to present its stance in a hearing but it failed to do so. 

Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in Muslim-majority Pakistan, and social media giants Facebook and YouTube have previously been banned for publishing content deemed sacrilegious.

The move drew flak from digital rights activists and proponents of free speech, who pointed out how the move would deprive millions across the country of free knowledge and research material. 

According to a statement by the Prime Minister's House (PMO), the premier constituted a three-member ministerial committee comprising the ministers of law, information and economic affairs to deliberate on the matter. 

The committee said Wikipedia is a "useful" website that supports the dissemination of knowledge and information for the general public. "Blocking the site in its entirety was not a suitable measure to restrict access to some objectionable contents / sacrilegious matter on it," the committee said. 

The committee said further that the "unintended consequences" of the blanket ban outweigh its benefits.

"Based on the above recommendation, the Prime Minister is pleased to direct that the website (Wikipedia) may be restored with immediate effect," the PMO stated.

The statement said that the prime minister had constituted a separate cabinet committee comprising the ministers of IT, law, information, commerce and communications that may "co-opt any expert members or seek opinion from expert individuals/organizations to reach its findings."

The committee would review the suitability of the PTA's action of blocking Wikipedia to restrict access to blasphemous content. It would also explore and recommend alternative measures to remove or block blasphemous material on Wikipedia and other online sites and provide any other recommendations to control unlawful online content "in a balanced manner."

In September 2020, Pakistan blocked Tinder, Grindr and three other dating apps for not adhering to local laws, with the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) saying it had taken the decision to curb the “negative effects of immoral/indecent content streaming.”


'Unsustainable' to manufacture, ensure medicine supply beyond seven days — Pakistan pharma association

Updated 06 February 2023

'Unsustainable' to manufacture, ensure medicine supply beyond seven days — Pakistan pharma association

  • Pakistani pharmaceutical manufacturers say rising cost of medicinal raw materials, depreciating rupee increasing cost of production
  • Government, drug regulatory authority failed to take measures to remedy ongoing situation, say Pakistani pharmaceutical manufacturers

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's pharmaceutical industry on Monday warned it would be unable to manufacture and ensure the availability of medicines beyond seven days if the government does not take measures to being down the increasing cost of production for medicines.  

Pakistan, whose foreign exchange reserves have dwindled to a little over $3 billion, is desperately seeking external financing to avoid default. Its currency, the rupee, has declined to historic lows against the US dollar over the past couple of weeks, driving fears the country's import-dependent economy would see more inflation in the coming days.

Several factories have announced temporary closures across the country, largely owing to the increasing cost of raw materials. On Monday, the Pakistan Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association (PPMA) chairman, Qazi Mansoor Dilawar, wrote a letter to the health minister, the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP), and the health ministry to take remedial measures to bring down the cost of production.

He added that the depreciating rupee had increased the cost of imports, which had in turn, increased the cost of production of medicines.  

"In view of the foregoing and being compelled and constrained by the circumstances beyond the control of the pharmaceutical industry, it has become completely unsustainable to manufacture medicines and ensure their availability beyond the next 7 days," Dilawar wrote. 

He said the PPMA had repeatedly asked the government and DRAP to allow inflationary adjustments in the maximum retail prices of medicines, adding that failure to do so would result in the "inevitable collapse of the local pharmaceutical industry."

"The Federal Government and the DRAP have failed to take any measures whatsoever to protect the public en masse and remedy the ongoing situation," he wrote. 

Dilawar added that impediments in the pharma industry's growth would result in the denial of safe, potent and effective drugs to the masses.

Health Minister Abdul Qadir Patel and DRAP CEO Asim Rauf did not respond to requests by Arab News for comments. 


Pakistan PM's All Parties Conference on 'terrorism' postponed to Feb.9

Updated 10 min 32 sec ago

Pakistan PM's All Parties Conference on 'terrorism' postponed to Feb.9

  • Information minister says politicians to form consensus on "terrorism", other challenges
  • Last week, at least 80 people were killed in a suicide attack in northwestern Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif's All Parties Conference focusing on "terrorism" would be held on February 9,  Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said on Monday, adding that the political leadership would aim to form a consensus on militancy and other challenges.

Last week, the prime minister announced holding the APC on Tuesday, February 7 to discuss Pakistan's "national challenges." Amid political tensions, the premier invited his predecessor, Imran Khan, to attend the conference as well. However, Khan's aide Asad Umar said Khan had declined the invitation and would not be part of the APC. 

Sharif's invitation to all political parties' representatives to attend the APC came at the backdrop of rising militant attacks in Pakistan. The South Asian country also faces a host of economic problems, as its reserves decline to a nine-year low of $3 billion, barely enough to cover three weeks of imports. 

Experts warn Pakistan's depreciating rupee and energy requirements could exacerbate import inflation in the country and result in social unrest. Political tensions, meanwhile, remain high in the country as Khan—ousted via a parliamentary vote in April last year—accuses the government of colluding with Washington to remove him from power. Both Sharif and Washington have rejected the allegations. 

Last week, over 80 people were killed while over 100 were injured in a suicide attack that targeted a mosque in Pakistan's northwestern Peshawar city. A senior Taliban commander claimed responsibility for the attack, which was later denied by the group. 

"Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif's All Parties Conference on the issue of terrorism will be held on Thursday, February 9 in Islamabad instead of on February 7," Aurangzeb wrote on Twitter. 

 

She said Pakistan's political leadership would aim to create a joint strategy to combat militancy, economic challenges and would also review the National Action Plan. 

Last week, over 80 people were killed while more than 100 were injured in a suicide attack that targeted a mosque in Pakistan's northwestern Peshawar city. A senior Taliban commander claimed responsibility for the attack, which was later denied by the group. 

Following the Army Public School massacre in 2014, when over 100 schoolchildren were gunned down by the Pakistani Taliban, the government came up with an action plan to counter militancy in the country and prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.

A 20-point action plan, known as the National Action Plan, was drafted by Pakistan's interior ministry which was approved by all relevant stakeholders in December 2014. However, critics argue that successive governments have not acted upon the action plan.