Pakistan Supreme Court orders new investigation team to probe journalist's assassination

In this picture taken on June 22, 2022, a top Pakistani news anchor Arshad Sharif speaks during an event on "Regime Change Conspiracy and Pakistan’s Destabilisation" in Islamabad. (AFP/File)
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Updated 07 December 2022

Pakistan Supreme Court orders new investigation team to probe journalist's assassination

  • Fact-finding report says Arshad Sharif was forced to leave Pakistan, UAE after his relations suffered with military
  • The document says role of transnational characters is suspected behind the journalist’s assassination in Kenya

KARACHI: Pakistan’s top court on Wednesday directed the federal government to constitute a new joint investigation team (JIT) to probe the assassination of journalist Arshad Sharif which, according to a fact-finding team (FFT), was the work of transnational individuals.

Sharif, a prominent Pakistani journalist who turned into a harsh critic of the incumbent government and the country’s military, was shot and killed by the police in the East African state of Kenya on October 23. The authorities in Nairobi described the incident as a case of “mistaken identity,” adding it took place when the journalist’s vehicle sped up and drove through a checkpoint.

The federal government constituted a five-member JIT to probe the murder a day after the first information report (FIR) was registered by the Islamabad police on the Supreme Court’s instructions on Tuesday. The FIR was lodged against three people, Waqar Ahmed, Khurram Ahmed and Tariq Wasi, who are suspected to have played a role in Sharif’s killing.

“The federal government should immediately constitute a new joint investigation team,” Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial said while hearing the suo moto case related to the matter. “The court wants an independent team to probe this case.”

Justice Bandial said the new team should include officials belonging to the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Intelligence Bureau (IB), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and police. He argued the court had not constituted a judicial commission as demanded by Sharif’s family since it was a criminal case.

The slain journalist’s mother, who attended the proceedings along with her daughter-in-law, told the court the fact-finding report had recorded how her son was forced to leave Pakistan and then pressured to move out of Dubai.
The court proceedings would resume tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the fact-finding team’s report seen by Arab News said the role of transnational characters in Kenya, Dubai and Pakistan could not be ruled out in the assassination.

“Both the members of the FFT have a considered understanding that it is a case of planned targeted assassination with transnational characters rather than a case of mistaken Identity,” the report said.

The team noted there were compelling reasons for Sharif to leave Pakistan, adding that criminal cases registered against him in different districts were most likely the reason why he was also asked to leave by the UAE authorities.

“The four GSU [General Service Unit] police officials [in Kenya] ... had been used as instruments in this case under any influence, either financial or some other compulsion,” the report said, adding that Waqar, who hosted Sharif, was connected to the National Intelligence Service (NIS) of Kenya and international intelligence agencies and police.

His brother, Khurram, was driving Sharif back to Nairobi when the shooting incident took place.

The fact-finding team said the role of Tariq Wasi was also dubious.

“Since he was the one who was directly linked with Waqar and who arranged for Arshad Sharif to be hosted by Waqar in Kenya, if indeed the case has a transnational angle, then Tariq Wasi would also become a key lynchpin for anybody wanting to murder Arshad Sharif,” the report added.

The document noted Sharif was widely considered throughout the journalistic community in Pakistan as a “pro-establishment journalist.” He was known to have a very positive relationship with the military and also developed a very close relationship with former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.

The report said the slain journalist became critical of “the military’s stance” following the no-trust motion against Khan which resulted in the change of government in the country.

“That criticism became sharper and sharper and, in some cases, came out in very personal terms against certain individuals,” it maintained. “This created a rift with the institution.”

The document further said Sharif was struggling to reconcile his previous closeness to the military with his new anti-establishment stance, adding he was conducting a dialogue “either internally or with someone else.”

Barrister Shoaib Razzaq, Sharif’s lawyer and friend, confirmed to the fact-finding team that 16 cases had been registered against the slain journalist who left Pakistan due to the fear of being arrested. He added that some of these cases were brought against Sharif on the behest of a serving brigadier since the two developed a bad relationship after the downfall of Khan’s administration.

Pakistan’s military has so far not responded to the claim.


Police chief confirms mosque attack that killed 95 in Peshawar was a suicide bombing 

Updated 9 sec ago

Police chief confirms mosque attack that killed 95 in Peshawar was a suicide bombing 

  • Suicide bomber entered police compound disguised as ‘guest’, inter-agency investigation team to trace facilitators 
  • Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan group says not behind attack, does not attack mosques and other sacred places 

ISLAMABAD: The provincial chief of police, Moazzam Jah Ansari, confirmed on Tuesday that a deadly attack on a mosque in the northwestern city of Peshawar a day earlier in which 95 people were killed was a suicide bombing.

Police said up to 350 worshipers were gathered for afternoon prayers on Monday when the explosion occurred at a mosque located inside a compound that is home to the headquarters of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial police.

Ansari, KP’s inspector-general of police, told reporters there was “no central command” of KP police inside the compound and security checks were done at the entrance gate only.

“Over a time period, through whatever means, little by little, the [explosive] material was brought here, and after bringing it here, the suicide bomber, in the guise of someone’s guest [entered the compound],” Ansar said.

The militant then blew himself up inside the mosque, the top cop added.

Ansari said the suspect had managed to enter the compound because an estimated 1,500-2,000 people daily visited the area to register their complaints or meet family members as the offices of the Capital City Police Officer and the Senior Superintendent of Police were located inside and many police officers also resided there. 

“We are also probing the security lapse and I have formed a separate inquiry committee, headed by the CCPO Peshawar, which will conduct the investigation,” he said, adding that police would also investigate why security checking was only being done at the compound’s entrance.

He said an inter-agency joint investigation team, comprising police officers, members of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, and other investigative agencies, was being formed to conduct a probe into the matter. 

This team, he said, would be led by a senior Deputy Inspector General who would not be part of Peshawar police. 

Ansari said specimens of the suicide bomber’s “severed head” had been sent for DNA testing to ascertain his identity. 

“We will investigate and make it clear who the suicide bomber’s facilitators were,” he said. “We will also focus on where he came from, how he was able to bring explosives into the compound and all characters involved in it will be brought to book.”

In response to a question, the senior official said an estimated 10-12kg of explosives were used in the blast: 

“The explosive material did not cause the most damage ... The shockwaves from the explosion caused the roof [of the mosque] to collapse, which caused people to be trapped under the debris.” 

Ansari said the rescue operation had been completed, and all the injured were being treated. Some funeral prayers had been offered on Monday while more would be held today, Tuesday.

Ansar said while investigations were still ongoing, police suspected that some members of the militant outfit Jamaat-ul-Ahrar were involved, referring to a splinter faction of the Pakistani Taliban that operates in Afghanistan and Pakistan and has claimed responsibility for some of the deadliest attacks in Pakistan.

Separately, Azam Khan, KP’s caretaker chief minister, told reporters the death toll had surged to 95.

“Ninety-five people have been martyred while 221 people in total have been injured,” Khan said.

On Monday night, the Pakistani Taliban group said the militant group was not behind the explosion while one commander of the group said on Twitter the outfit was responsible for the latest assault.

“Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has nothing to do with this incident,” the group said in a statement shared with journalists. “Any action in mosques, madrasas, funeral homes and other sacred places is an impeachable crime.”

However, TTP commander Sarbakaf Mohmand claimed responsibility for the attack in a post on Twitter. His account has since been suspended.

While the TTP as a group denied responsibility for the bombing, it has recently carried out similar attacks, with assaults on the rise since last November when the outlawed outfit called off a cease-fire signed with the government in May.


Death toll from mosque blast surges to 93 as Pakistan Taliban deny responsibility

Updated 23 min 17 sec ago

Death toll from mosque blast surges to 93 as Pakistan Taliban deny responsibility

  • Explosion occurred Monday at Peshawar compound where headquarters of police are located
  • Pakistan Taliban say attacking mosques, madrasas, other sacred places ‘an impeachable crime’

PESHAWAR/KARACHI: The death toll from Monday’s bomb blast at a mosque in the northwestern city of Peshawar surged to 93 on Tuesday morning, said a senior government functionary, as conflicting accounts emerged from the Pakistani Taliban over a claim of responsibility.

Police said up to 350 worshipers were gathered for afternoon prayers when the explosion occurred at a mosque located inside a compound where the headquarters of the provincial police are located. Peshawar Commissioner Riaz Mehsud has said it was premature to call the attack a suicide bombing.

“Death toll into the mosque bombing has reached 93 now,” he told Arab News. “Rescue operation will be completed very soon, very soon, and it will be done today. We have to remove debris from the blast site very carefully because last night we pulled out an injured person from the wreckage.”

Akbar Khan, an official working for the social welfare organization Edhi Center in Peshawar said its volunteers and those from other charities such as Rescue-1122, Chippa and Al-Khidmat were still carrying out rescue work:

“Hopefully, the rescue operation will be completed today.”

Wounded policemen get treated at a military hospital a day after the mosque blast inside the police headquarters in Peshawar on January 31, 2023. (AFP)

Funeral prayers for the policemen who died in the blast were held on Monday night, police in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province said on Twitter.

On Monday night, the Pakistani Taliban group said the militant group was not behind the explosion while one commander of the group said on Twitter the outfit was responsible for the latest assault.

“Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has nothing to do with this incident,” the group said in a statement shared with journalists. “Any action in mosques, madrasas, funeral homes and other sacred places is an impeachable crime.”

However, TTP commander Sarbakaf Mohmand claimed responsibility for the attack in a post on Twitter. His account has since been suspended.

While the TTP as a group denied responsibility for the bombing, it has recently carried out similar attacks, with assaults on the rise since last November when the outlawed outfit called off a cease-fire signed with the government in May.


Pakistan and IMF team review economic and fiscal policies to unlock much-needed funding

Updated 40 min 33 sec ago

Pakistan and IMF team review economic and fiscal policies to unlock much-needed funding

  • More than $1 billion funding has been delayed since November last year over fiscal consolidation issues
  • Unlocking the funding is key for Pakistan as its forex reserves have dropped to cover just three weeks of imports

KARACHI: Pakistan and a visiting International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission held discussions on Tuesday on the South Asian nation’s economic and fiscal policies and reforms agenda to complete a 9th review of a stalled loan program, the finance ministry said.

The IMF mission headed by Nathan Porter is in Islamabad till February 9, 2023, to continue discussions for the revival of a $7 billion loan program that was signed in 2019. The mission will focus on policies to restore domestic and external sustainability, including to strengthen Pakistan’s fiscal position with durable and high quality measures while supporting Pakistanis affected by last summer’s record-breaking floods.

Talks for the pending ninth review were originally scheduled for October but were delayed mainly due to government’s reluctance to take ‘unpopular decisions’ being pushed by the IMF.

On Tuesday, Federal Minister for Finance Ishaq Dar held a meeting with the IMF review mission led by Porter at the Finance Division.

“The meeting discussed and reviewed the economic and fiscal policies and reforms agenda to accomplish the 9th review under the Extended Fund Facility,” a statement issued by the finance ministry said.

Dar briefed the Mission on fiscal and economic reforms and measures being taken by the government in different sectors, including bridging the fiscal gap and bringing exchange rate stability and reforms in the energy sector:

“He apprised that reforms are being introduced in power sector and a high level committee has been formed for devising modalities to offset the menace of circular debt in gas sector.” 

The finance ministry statement said Porter “expressed his confidence that the government will meet the IMF requirements for the completion of the 9th review.”

Pakistan has already met two key demands of the IMF ahead of the Mission’s Islamabad visit, including adjusting the Pakistani rupee according to market-based demand and supply, and a Rs35 per litter hike in petroleum prices.

“It is good that the talks have started,” Tahir Abbas, head of Research at Arif Habib Limited, said. “It is now likely that the mini-budget would be presented after development consensus on the measures to be taken.” 

Pakistani analysts said the country now had to convince the IMF team to go easy on Rs300 billion tax revenue measures and expected electricity and gas tariffs. 

Pakistan’s highest economic decision making body, the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of cabinet, is scheduled to meet today, Tuesday, to discuss issues in the power sector, including a circular debt management plan, fuel charges adjustment, and a waiver of electricity bills in flood affected areas. 

“The ECC is going to take up the matter of tariff rationalization and clearance of accumulation of arrears under the circular debt management plan. This is another step to accommodate IMF demands,” Abbas said. 

As the IMF and authorities resumed talks in Islamabad, Pakistan’s national currency showed some resistance against the United State dollar and was trading at Rs267 during the afternoon trade in the interbank market, as compared to Rs269.63 of Monday’s close. 

Pakistan’s national currency is under pressure as the country faces fast depleting foreign exchange reserves that have dropped to just $3.7 billion, not even enough to cover import payments for a single month. Pakistan on average has imported goods valued at $5 billion per month during the last six months.

The successful conclusion of talks between authorities and IMF team will lead to the disbursement of $1.1 billion but analysts expect the implementation of key measures under the IMF program will push inflation to over 30 percent in upcoming months. 


Pakistan court to indict ex-PM Khan on Feb. 7 in case involving sale of state gifts

Updated 31 January 2023

Pakistan court to indict ex-PM Khan on Feb. 7 in case involving sale of state gifts

  • Khan faces the charge of making ‘incorrect declarations’ of earnings to the country’s top election body
  • ECP disqualified him last October while referring the case to the judiciary for further proceedings

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani court on Tuesday announced to indict former prime minister Imran Khan on February 7 in a case that led to his disqualification by the country’s top election body last year which found him guilty of making “false statements and incorrect declarations” after receiving gifts from various international leaders.

The Toshakhana – or state repository for gifts – reference against Khan gained momentum after the downfall of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) administration in a parliamentary no-confidence vote last April.

Members of the current government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif urged the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to expedite the proceedings before Khan was disqualified under Article 63 of the Constitution.

According to local media reports, an additional sessions court in Islamabad announced to frame charges against the former prime minister in the coming week after his lawyer and the ECP counsel appeared before it and presented their arguments.

“District and Sessions Judge Zafar Iqbal heard the case and fixed February 7 (Tuesday) as the indictment date,” The Express Tribune said. “The former premier was also ordered to pay a bond of Rs20,000.”

The case involves accusations against Khan for misusing his position as prime minister to purchase and sell gifts received during state visits abroad that were worth over Rs140 million – or $5.4 million.

A major charge was that he had also failed to declare some of the earnings in his annual statements of assets submitted before the election commission.

Khan’s disqualification was followed by protests in different parts of the country, though the situation did not deter some local media outlets to continue their investigation into the issue.

Pakistan’s private news channel Geo TV interviewed a Dubai-based businessman Umar Farooq Zahoor who said he had paid Khan $2 million to buy a watch the ex-premier had received after he went to Saudi Arabia on an official trip in 2018.

The account presented by the channel contradicted the ex-premier’s narrative who has consistently claimed innocence in the case while pointing out that all receipts and records regarding the gifts and their sales were already present in the Toshakhana.

Khan subsequently filed a defamation case against the media house and the UAE-based businessman. However, the reference against him has been taken up by the court after the ECP referred the matter to the judiciary in its ruling last October.


Pakistan’s currency to weaken further, exacerbate inflationary pressure – Fitch Ratings

Updated 31 January 2023

Pakistan’s currency to weaken further, exacerbate inflationary pressure – Fitch Ratings

  • Pakistan’s rupee plummeted to 24-year low last week after markets removed cap on exchange rate
  • Fitch says rupee devaluation ‘positive’ for long-term outlook, helping unlock future IMF disbursements

ISLAMABAD: An international credit rating agency on Tuesday forecast that Pakistan’s national currency would depreciate further, exacerbating the imported inflationary pressure across the country in the days to come.

In its bid to revive a stalled $7 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan program, Pakistan agreed to remove artificial controls from its exchange market. The rupee plummeted to a record 24-year low last week after foreign exchange companies removed the cap on the exchange rate. 

The removal of the currency cap has been one of the principal demands of the IMF. Pakistan, with a staggering $3.6 billion in reserves barely enough to cover three weeks of imports, is actively seeking an IMF bailout program to avoid a balance-of-payments crisis. 

In its latest forecast for Pakistan, Fitch Ratings said its earlier forecast of the dollar rising to Rs248 is “now looking out of date.”

“We believe that the rupee’s weakness still has further to run, particularly with Pakistan’s balance of payments position likely to remain weak for several more months,” Fitch said. 

The rating agency said currently there is “a considerable amount of uncertainty” at this juncture, adding that it is difficult to gauge the extent to which the latest rupee devaluation has caused investor confidence to dip. 

It said a weakening rupee would also have broader economic implications in the near future. “In the near term, it could exacerbate imported inflationary pressure, and may eventually result in steeper policy rate hikes from the SOP,” Fitch added. 

While it said that Pakistan’s economy was expected to contract by 0.3 percent in FY2022/23, the rupee’s devaluation would help Pakistan secure further disbursements from the IMF. Fitch said it would be “a positive for the longer-term outlook,” helping Islamabad ease its balance of payments strains. 

An IMF mission is currently in Islamabad till February 9, 2023, to discuss the loan revival. The mission will examine Pakistan’s policies to restore domestic and external sustainability, including strengthening the country’s fiscal position with durable measures while supporting those affected by devastating floods last year.