Over 300 lawyers urge Pakistan’s top court to take notice of spy agency’s alleged coercion

Paramilitary soldiers cordon off the Supreme Court after arrival of Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan in Islamabad on May 11, 2023. (AFP/File)
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Updated 01 April 2024

Over 300 lawyers urge Pakistan’s top court to take notice of spy agency’s alleged coercion

  • Lawyers from various bar associations say government-led commission would be bereft of powers to hold a transparent inquiry 
  • Six judges of Pakistan’s Islamabad High Court last week accused the country’s national spy agency of interfering in judicial matters

ISLAMABAD: Over 300 lawyers from various bar associations across the country urged Pakistan’s top court on Sunday to take notice of alleged coercion of the judiciary by the nation’s intelligence agency, run by the powerful military, warning that a government-led commission would be bereft of powers to conduct a transparent and independent inquiry. 

Six judges of Pakistan’s Islamabad High Court last week accused the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) of intimidating and coercing them over “politically consequential” cases in a letter addressed to the Supreme Judicial Council. 

The judges provided various examples of alleged interference, including a case concerning Pakistan’s imprisoned former prime minister Imran Khan. The judges also mentioned incidents where their relatives were abducted and tortured and their homes were secretly surveilled, aiming to coerce them into delivering favorable judgments in specific cases.

Following the development, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif met Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa on Thursday to discuss the crisis. The government announced on Saturday that an inquiry commission led by former chief justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani would probe the matter. 

In a letter signed by prominent lawyers Imaan Zainab Mazari-Hazir, Zainab Janjua, Abdul Moiz Jaferii, Salman Akram Raja, Taimur Malik and ex-chief justice Jillani’s son, Saqib Jillani, over 300 lawyers urged the top court to take notice of the matter under Pakistan’s Article 184 (3). 

“We further call upon the Supreme Court of Pakistan to take cognizance of the matter in its jurisdiction under Article 184(3) of the Constitution as this issue eminently relates to public interest and to the enforcement of fundamental rights,” a copy of the letter seen by Arab News states. 

Article 184(3) of Pakistan’s constitution defines the top court’s jurisdiction and empowers it to assume jurisdiction in matters involving “public importance” when it comes to enforcing the citizens’ fundamental rights. 

The letter urged the Supreme Court to constitute a bench comprising all judges to hear the matter and for the proceedings to be telecast live. 

It noted a “glaringly obvious conflict of interest” in the formation of the government-led commission, considering that the spy agency, an executive arm of the state itself, has been accused of coercion. 

The letter pointed out that the commission is required to conduct the inquiry and perform its functions according to the Terms of Reference (TORs) which would be notified by the government. 

It further noted that the time frame within which the inquiry is to be concluded and whether or not the commission’s report would be allowed to be made public is also “within the control of the Federal Government.”

“In view of such powers conferred upon the Federal Government, the Inquiry Commission, would be bereft of necessary independence and powers to conduct a transparent, impartial and meaningful inquiry to restore the public confidence in the independence of judiciary,” the letter said. 

It said that any inquiry under the government’s purview would violate the very principles such an inquiry aims to uphold and protect. 

“We note that any such Inquiry Commission and its proceedings would be entirely wanting in credibility,” the letter said. 

Pakistan’s powerful military has directly ruled the nation for roughly half of its 76-year history and continues to wield substantial power behind the scenes.

The military, however, denies allegations it interferes in political matters. It has so far refrained from commenting on the judges’ allegations. 

Pakistani charities say donations for Palestine have surpassed local causes since Oct. 7

Updated 10 sec ago

Pakistani charities say donations for Palestine have surpassed local causes since Oct. 7

  • Al-Khidmat Foundation says donations for Palestine have increased by about 60 percent
  • Baitussalam Welfare Trust also confirms its donations were now more for Palestinians 

KARACHI: Major Pakistani charities have said this week they have received more donations for humanitarian aid to Palestine than for charitable causes at home since the beginning of Israel’s war on Gaza on Oct. 7.

The ongoing Israeli air strikes and ground offensive have killed more than 33,000 Palestinians with tens of thousands more wounded, and many feared still trapped under the rubble of destroyed buildings and infrastructure. The majority of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have been displaced and international aid agencies and concerned nations have warned famine is imminent.

As the human toll of the war continues to rise, Pakistani charities say people in Pakistan have “overwhelmingly” supported their efforts to provide aid to Gazans. 

“The people are now contributing more for Palestine than the local cause as the flow of donations has increased by about 55-60 percent for the people of Palestine,” Syed Waqas Jafri, secretary-general of the Al-Khidmat Foundation Pakistan, one of Pakistan’s largest charities, told Arab News.

The Al-Khidmat Foundation Pakistan, which has an international footprint, distributes food stamps, runs orphanages, and does rehabilitation work during natural disasters in Pakistan.

Since Oct. 7, the organization, which was already working in Palestine through local and international partners, has expedited its efforts to collect donations and send humanitarian aid for the people of Palestine, Jafri said.

“As soon as we came to know that there is a humanitarian crisis on a large scale and the space we had in a given situation was only for food and medicine, so we worked with Pakistan’s NDMA (National Disaster Management Authority) and Pakistan Air Force to send aid,” Jafri said.

“There have been five chartered flights and the sixth one is via a vessel which has 20 containers containing 300 tons of goods. So these six consignments have gone from Pakistan. The value of the goods sent to Palestine is about Rs1.6 billion ($5.7 million).”

The picture shared on February 6, 2024, shows Pakistani authorities loading boxes of humanitarian aid onto a plane in Islamabad, Pakistan, for the people of Palestine. (NDMA)

The organization has rented warehouses in Cairo and is now purchasing goods from the local market for delivery to the besieged Palestinian territory, Jafri said, adding that the need for tents had multiplied as roughly 90 percent of Gaza had been rendered inhabitable by the Israeli military actions.

The Baitussalam Welfare Trust (BWT), another non-profit organization working to provide relief to Palestinian refugees, confirmed donation inflows to the charity were now more for Palestine.

“The flow of donation is about 50-60 percent for Palestine while the number of donors has also increased in recent months,” Huzaifa Rafique, a BWT spokesman, told Arab News on Monday.

The BWT is operating in Palestine in coordination with Turkish government organizations and providing health care, education and emergency relief, Rafique said. 

“The Baitussalam Welfare Trust is operating bread plants, taking care of orphans, and providing ready food to the people in affected areas,” Rafique said.

BWT also distributed cash among Palestinian children during the Eid Al-Fitr holiday last week.

Saylani Welfare International, another large Pakistani charity, also said donations were coming in for Palestine, while people were also supporting local projects.

“The flow of funds for Palestine is about 5-10 percent, while the rest of the donations are coming for local projects,” Muhammad Ghazzal, SWI chief operating officer, told Arab News, adding that his organization had so far dispatched goods worth Rs200 million for the people of Palestine.

Ghazzal said the SWI was working with Turkish and Pakistani government entities, including the NDMA, to dispatch aid via Egypt and Turkiye.

“The goods dispatched to Palestine included food, medicine and tents,” he added.

Pakistan and IMF discussing new multi-billion-dollar program, finance minister says

Updated 16 April 2024

Pakistan and IMF discussing new multi-billion-dollar program, finance minister says

  • Muhammad Aurangzeb says Pakistan will at least be requesting for a three year program to help execute structural reform agenda
  • Government of PM Shehbaz Sharif tasked with engineering economic turnaround by implementing unpopular belt-tightening measures

Washington: Pakistan has initiated discussions with the IMF over a new multi-billion dollar loan agreement to support its economic reform program, its new finance minister told AFP on Monday.

The South Asian nation is nearing the end of a nine-month, $3 billion loan program with the International Monetary Fund designed to tackle a balance-of-payments crisis which brought it to the brink of default last summer.

With the final $1.1 billion tranche of that deal likely to be approved later this month, Pakistan has begun negotiations for a new multi-year IMF loan program worth “billions” of dollars, Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb said during an interview in Washington.

“The market confidence, the market sentiment is in much, much better shape this fiscal year,” said Aurangzeb, a former banker who took up his post last month.

“It’s really for that purpose that, during the course of this week, we have initiated the discussion with the Fund to get into a larger and an extended program,” he added.

An IMF spokesperson told AFP that the Fund is “currently focused on the completion of the current Stand-by Agreement program,” referring to the ongoing nine-month program scheduled for completion shortly.

“The new government has expressed interest in a new program, and Fund staff stands ready to engage in initial discussions on a successor program,” the spokesperson added.

During his visit to Washington, Aurangzeb will also attend the spring meetings organized by the IMF and World Bank, which kick off in earnest Tuesday, with two clear objectives: to help countries combat climate change, and to assist the world’s most indebted nations.

The meetings — which bring central bankers together with finance and development ministers, academics, and representatives from the private sector and civil society to discuss the state of the global economy — will kick off with the IMF’s publication of its updated World Economic Outlook.

Pakistan held elections in February this year which were marred by allegations of rigging, with opposition leader Imran Khan jailed and barred from running, and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party subject to a crackdown.

The shaky coalition that emerged, led by Shehbaz Sharif, is now tasked with engineering an economic turnaround by implementing a raft of unpopular belt-tightening measures.

“I do think that we will at least be requesting for a three year program,” Aurangzeb said. “Because that’s what we need, as I see it, to help execute the structural reform agenda.”

“By the time we get to the second or third week of May, I do think we’ll start getting into the contours of that discussion,” he added.

Pakistan has close economic ties to both the United States and China, which has put it in a tricky position as the two countries have embarked upon a costly trade war.

“From our perspective it has to be an and-and discussion,” Aurangzeb said when asked how the Sharif government plans to conduct its trading relationships with the world’s two largest economies.

“[The] US is our largest trading partner, and it has always supported us, always helped us in terms of the investments,” he said. “So that is always going to be a very, very critical relationship for Pakistan.”

“On the other side, a lot of investment, especially in infrastructure, came through CPEC,” he said, referring to the roughly 1,860-mile long China-Pakistan Economic Corridor designed to give China access to the Arabian Sea.

Aurangzeb said there was an “very good opportunity” for Pakistan to play a similar role in the trade war as countries like Vietnam, which has been able to dramatically boost its exports to the US following the imposition of tariffs on some Chinese goods.

“We have already a few examples of that already working,” he said. “But what we need to do is to really scale it up.”

As part of the structural reform program agreed to by the previous government, Pakistan is in the middle of a privatization drive to sell off its poorly-performing state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

The first SOE on the list is Pakistan International Airlines, the country’s flag carrier.

“We will get to know in the next month or so with respect to interest from prospective bidders,” Aurangzeb said.

“Our desire is to go through with that privatization and take it through the finishing line by the end of June,” he added.

If the PIA privatization goes well for the government, other companies could soon follow.

“We’re creating an entire pipeline,” he said, adding: “Over the next couple of years we want to really accelerate that.”

Cop who thrashed woman on train in viral video cleared of mysterious death — Pakistan Railways

Updated 16 April 2024

Cop who thrashed woman on train in viral video cleared of mysterious death — Pakistan Railways

  • Beautician Maryam Bibi was traveling home to Punjab when she was allegedly beaten by a cop
  • Two days later, the woman’s body was discovered near the Chani Goth railway station in Punjab

KARACHI: A policeman, who was allegedly seen beating a woman on a train last week in videos that have since gone viral, has been cleared of her mysterious death, a Pakistan Railways spokesperson said on Monday about the latest incident in what rights activists say is a long series of episodes of police brutality in Pakistan. 

Maryam Bibi, who worked as a beautician in Karachi, left the southern port city to spend last week’s Eid holiday with her family in Jaranwala in the Punjab province via Millat Express on April 7. During the journey, the woman was subjected to torture by Constable Mir Hasan near Hyderabad, according to a video of the incident and media reports. Two days later, her body was discovered near the Chani Goth railway station in Punjab.

She was subsequently buried by her family who initially thought she died after falling off the train in an accident, but the video of her torture forced railways authorities to set up a fact-finding committee to investigate the death.

The committee concluded that Constable Mir Hasan was present in Hyderabad at the time of the incident and not involved in the murder, according to Pakistan Railways spokesperson Babar Raza.

An earlier press release by Railways said the police constable got involved after Maryam started scattering the belongings of other passengers and that the policeman was forced to move her to another compartment. Railways said he was on duty on the train from Karachi to Hyderabad, in Sindh province, while the woman’s body was later found in Punjab. The press release said she had jumped from the moving train near Channigoth station. 

“The call record, station attendance, and witnesses’ testimony confirmed that the constable was in Hyderabad when the woman fell or jumped from the train, and her body was found in the Multan division,” Raza told Arab News. 

The Railways’ earlier press release said the policeman was arrested once the video of him allegedly beating up the woman was posted online. He has been suspended from duty and was out on bail in the Hyderabad area.

On Monday, Pakistani media widely reported the victim’s nephew as saying the constable had objected to the woman reciting verses from the Holy Qur’an out aloud and subsequently beat her. The nephew alleged that the constable forcibly took the woman with him and pushed her from the train at the next station.

Amnesty International’s National Corruption Impact Assessment Report released last year said the police department was among the most corrupt in Pakistan, with a staggering 30 percent corruption rate. Rights bodies over the years have documented hundreds of cases of police brutality, especially police heavy handedness against political and civil rights protesters. 

Saudi FM in Islamabad, expected to meet top Pakistani officials today in investment push 

Updated 16 April 2024

Saudi FM in Islamabad, expected to meet top Pakistani officials today in investment push 

  • Saudi foreign minister’s visit comes a little over a week after Saudi crown prince met Pakistani PM in Makkah
  • Crown prince has reaffirmed commitment to expedite investment package worth $5 billion that was previously discussed

ISLAMABAD: Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan is expected to meet top Pakistani officials today, Tuesday, after arriving in Islamabad a day earlier on a two-day visit aimed at enhancing bilateral economic cooperation and pushing forward previously agreed investment deals. 

The Saudi foreign minister’s visit comes a little over a week after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in Makkah and reaffirmed the Kingdom’s commitment to expedite an investment package worth $5 billion that was previously discussed.

The Pakistani foreign office has said the Saudi delegation is expected to hold meetings with the Pakistani president, the prime minister, the foreign minister and other ministers, as well as the army chief and members of the apex committee of Pakistan’s Special Investment Facilitation Council, set up last year to oversee all foreign funding.

“A week after Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s visit to Saudi Arabia (April 6-8), a high-level delegation of Saudi Arabia is coming to Pakistan,” the Pakistani information ministry said in a statement shared with journalists ahead of the FM’s arrival at the Noor Khan air base in the garrison town of Rawalpindi.

“The Saudi delegation will consult on the next stages of investment and implementation issues,” the statement added, saying Saudi Arabia’s planned investment in the Reko Diq gold and copper mining project would also be discussed during the visit.

On Sunday, Pakistani state media reported Saudi Arabia was likely to invest $1 billion in the mine project in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province, one of the world’s largest underdeveloped copper-gold areas.

Riyadh was also interested in investing in agriculture, trade, energy, minerals, IT, transport and other sectors in Pakistan, the statement said.

“As a result of this visit, Pakistan’s export capacity will increase, joint ventures will be launched and new opportunities will be paved.”

The Pakistani foreign office said last week the Saudi delegation would comprise the foreign minister, minister of water and agriculture, minister of industry and mineral resources and deputy minister of investment as well as senior officials from the Saudi energy ministry and the Saudi Fund for General Investments.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy strong trade, defense and cultural ties. The Kingdom is home to over 2.7 million Pakistani expatriates and the top source of remittances to the cash-strapped South Asian country.

Former diplomats and analysts said the latest visit showed a deepening of relations between the two brotherly countries.

“This is a high-powered Saudi delegation led by the foreign minister and it is purely focused on investments in Pakistan,” Javed Hafeez, a former Pakistani diplomat, told Arab News, pointing to a recent indication by Saudi Arabia that it would expedite a $5 billion investment package for Pakistan.

“This delegation will also be exploring different fields and options during the visit to materialize the investment pledges as quickly as possible.”

Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Pakistan’s former foreign secretary, termed the visit “very significant,” saying the potential Saudi investment in Pakistan was a “welcoming step” in the Saudi-Pakistan friendship.

“The Saudi’s investments under the banner of the SIFC will be safe and secure, and this will help further deepen the ties between the two countries,” Chaudhry told Arab News.

Cash-strapped Pakistan desperately needs to shore up its foreign reserves and signal to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that it can continue to meet requirements for foreign financing that has been a key demand in previous bailout packages. Pakistan’s finance minister, Muhammad Aurangzeb, is currently in Washington to participate in spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank and discuss a new bailout program. The last loan deal expires this month.

Saudi Arabia has often come to cash-strapped Pakistan’s aid in the past, regularly providing it oil on deferred payments and offering direct financial support to help stabilize its economy and shore up its forex reserves.

Last year, however, Saudi Arabia’s finance minister said the Kingdom was changing the way it provides assistance to allies, shifting from previously giving direct grants and deposits unconditionally.

“We used to give direct grants and deposits without strings attached and we are changing that. We are working with multilateral institutions to actually say we need to see reforms,” Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan said at the World Economic Forum in Davos last January.

“We are taxing our people, we are expecting also others to do the same, to do their efforts. We want to help but we want you also to do your part.”

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states like the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have increasingly moved toward investing rather than extending direct financial aid.

Pakistan raises petroleum prices citing ‘increasing trend’ in international market

Updated 16 April 2024

Pakistan raises petroleum prices citing ‘increasing trend’ in international market

  • Pakistan has increased the prices of petrol by 4.53 rupees ($0.016) to 293.94 rupees
  • Government also increases price of high speed diesel by 8.14 rupees to 290.38 rupees

KARACHI: Pakistan has increased the price of petrol by 4.53 rupees ($0.016) to 293.94 rupees with effect from today, Tuesday, the finance ministry said in a statement, citing rising petroleum prices internationally. 

The government also increased the price of high speed diesel by 8.14 rupees to 290.38 rupees, the post said.

The price hikes come as Pakistan has initiated discussions with the IMF over a new multi-billion-dollar loan agreement as its current nine-month, $3 billion loan program expires with the disbursement of a final $1.1 billion tranche likely to be approved later this month.

Reforms linked to that bailout, including an easing of import restrictions and a demand that subsidies be removed, fueled record inflation, with the rupee hitting all-time lows. Authorities also raised petrol and diesel prices to record highs to meet conditionalities. 

“The prices of Petroleum products have seen an increasing trend in the international market during the last fortnight,” the finance ministry said as it announced the new prices. 

“The Oil & Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA) has worked out the consumer prices, based on the price variations in the international market.”

Under the last IMF bailout, Pakistan was told to prevent further accumulation of circular debt in its power sector, arising from subsidies and unpaid bills. For a new program, the South Asian nation will need to implement reforms to reduce costs by improving electricity transmission and distribution, moving captive power into the grid, improving governance, and combating theft. 

It will also have to maintain power and gas tariffs at levels that ensure cost recovery, with adjustments made to safeguard the financially vulnerable, through existing progressive tariff structures.

In a report released in January, the IMF noted Pakistan missed its target for power sector arrears, largely due to lower-than-expected recoveries and tariffs.