Joint investigation team arrests 23 in mob lynching case in Pakistan’s Swat valley

Police officers examine burnt vehicles which were torched by a Muslim mob in an attack, in Madyan in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on June 21, 2024. (AP)
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Updated 23 June 2024
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Joint investigation team arrests 23 in mob lynching case in Pakistan’s Swat valley

  • The incident happened when a local tourist was accused of desecrating the Holy Qur’an by people
  • Pakistan’s defense minister urges parliament to protect people and minorities against such violence

ISLAMABAD: A 10-member joint investigation team (JIT) has been formed by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police after a local tourist was lynched to death in Swat over an accusation of desecrating the Holy Qur’an, confirmed officials on Sunday, noting that 23 suspects have been arrested based on the incident’s CCTV footage.
The tourist, Muhammad Suleman, who belonged to Pakistan’s Sialkot city, was dragged from a local police facility by a mob on Thursday before being tortured, killed and set on fire on suspicion of burning the pages of the Islamic scripture.
According to a notification seen by Arab News, the JIT includes senior police officials along with members of the Counter Terrorism Department, Special Branch and Intelligence Bureau to uncover the facts of the incident and bring those involved to justice.
“The JIT has started systematically collecting evidence, working along modern scientific and technical lines, including performing forensic analysis of the CCTV footage,” Superintendent of Police Hazrat Khan, who is leading the team, told Arab News. “We have also recorded statements from eyewitnesses and are adopting other investigative means.”
Khan said the team was investigating the matter from all possible angles to ensure that the perpetrators of the crime do not evade justice.
Asked about the details of the incident, he said that as soon as the accused was brought to a local police station on the fateful day, a large number of people stormed the building and damaged property and vehicles.
He confirmed the mob took the accused, killed him and then burned his body.
“So far, 23 people have been arrested, and efforts are underway to arrest more of the individuals involved,” he added.
The suspects in the case are facing several charges, including premeditated murder, rioting, unlawful assembly, use of deadly weapons and obstructing public servants in the discharge of their duties.
Giving details of the damages to the police station caused by the enraged mob, the police spokesperson in Swat, Nasir Iqbal, said that two motorcycles, five personal vehicles and one police mobile were set on fire.
He informed the building had also been damaged and ransacked by people.
Iqbal said all arrested individuals were local residents, and no political leader had been found involved in the incident.
“In the police report, 49 people were named after being identified through CCTV footage, and over 2,000 others were listed as unknown suspects,” he added.
Asked about reports of police negligence while dealing with the situation, he said no inquiry had been initiated against the Station House Officer (SHO) of the police precinct that came under attack.
He also maintained that all details of the case would be mentioned in the JIT report which was still investigating the matter.
The incident also came up for discussion in the National Assembly of Pakistan where the defense minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, said on Sunday it was parliament’s responsibility to take a clear stance on the issue.
“It is the responsibility of this parliament to unanimously stand and protect the people and minorities against such violence,” he said during his speech.
The minister added that no one should exploit the incident for political purposes, adding that Islam prohibited the killing of innocent people in the name of religion.
“No evidence of blasphemy has been found against those who were killed across the country in different incidents by mobs and, in many cases, people leveled such allegations to settle personal scores,” he continued.
Speaking to Arab News, security expert Syed Kaleem Imam emphasized the need to build police capacity to handle such sensitive situations and to educate the community to prevent such incidents.
“There are standard operating procedures in place to handle such crimes, but unfortunately, the police often struggle to control the mob or secure the accused due to a lack of understanding of the situation,” Syed Kaleem Imam, former inspector general of police, said.
“There should be more mock exercises for community policing to help the law enforcers deal with such incidents at every level,” he continued, adding that police officials faced undue inquiries and feared for their jobs when they resorted to the use of force in such emergency situations.
Imam also noted the government should stop pandering to popular sentiment and take proper action against such crimes, committed in the name of religion.
“There should be no administrative leniency toward criminals,” he emphasized. “The government should also sensitize the community through mosques and tell them that if anyone commits such crime [of blasphemy], they should be dealt with by the police. The locals should be made to refrain from using loudspeakers at the mosques to spread messages in such sensitive situations.”


Pakistan PM mourns Sheila Jackson Lee’s death, praises her for strengthening bilateral ties

Updated 22 sec ago
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Pakistan PM mourns Sheila Jackson Lee’s death, praises her for strengthening bilateral ties

  • The US Congresswoman was suffering from pancreatic cancer and died on Friday at the age of 74
  • She was the founder of the Pakistan Caucus that was launched in 2004 to foster strong relations

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Saturday expressed grief over the death of American Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, saying she played a significant role to strengthen her country’s bilateral ties with Pakistan.
The US Congresswoman was suffering from pancreatic cancer and died in Houston on Friday night at the age of 74. She was the founder and co-chair of the Pakistan Caucus launched in 2004 within the United States House of Representatives.
The forum was established with the goal of fostering stronger US-Pakistan relations and addressing issues of mutual concern between the two countries.
“Deeply saddened to learn about the sad demise of @JacksonLeeTX18 Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee,” Sharif said in a social media post. “As Co-chair of the Pakistan Caucus in the US House of Representatives, she was a champion for stronger ties between Pakistan and the United States.”
“Her contributions will be remembered and missed for years to come,” he continued. “May her soul rest in peace. My heartfelt condolences to her family and her supporters.”
 


The Pakistan Caucus has been instrumental in facilitating high-level meetings and discussions between officials of the two countries, helping to address mutual concerns such as regional security and trade opportunities.


Ex-PM Khan’s party alleges ‘abduction’ of senior media manager amid government crackdown

Updated 7 min 10 sec ago
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Ex-PM Khan’s party alleges ‘abduction’ of senior media manager amid government crackdown

  • PTI’s international media coordinator was taken away from his residence by people in plain clothes at 4 AM
  • Ahmed Janjua’s wife filed an application in a local court for his recovery, requesting an immediate hearing

ISLAMABAD: Former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party announced on Saturday its senior media manager had been “abducted,” adding the development was part of an ongoing crackdown against the party which had deteriorated the human rights situation in the country.
PTI has been facing a crackdown for over a year after people carrying its flag indulged in violent protests and vandalized government buildings and military properties following Khan’s brief detention on corruption charges.
Since then, several of its top leaders, including the ex-premier himself, have been incarcerated in different parts of the country and tried in a number of legal cases against them.
The recent development took place when the party’s international media coordinator was taken away from his residence, making his wife file an application in a court for his recovery.
“My International Media Coordinator Ahmed Janjua and 3 other SM [social media] activists have been abducted early morning,” said Zulfi Bukhari, a senior PTI leader and close aide to the former prime minister, in a social media post. “In the past 2 weeks there has been a serious crackdown on PTI social media [team].”
Bukhari attributed it to the team’s international reporting of “all the atrocities” taking place in Pakistan.
“This continuous deterioration of basic human rights won’t be allowed to continue for long,” he added.

 Janjua’s wife, Farhana Barlas, filed an application in the Islamabad High Court, requesting an immediate hearing. However, the court is likely to take up the case on Monday since the incident took place over the weekend.
According to her application, 20 people in plain clothes forcibly entered the house at 4 AM on Saturday after breaking the door.
They took away Janjua’s laptop and cellphones before dragging him away.
The family tried to file a First Information Report (FIR) with the police, but it was not registered by the relevant officials.
Janjua’s wife said her husband had been taken away due to his affiliation with Khan’s political party.
She nominated the federal secretaries of the defense and interior ministries as the respondents, along with the inspector general of police and the station house officer of the local police precinct.

 


Key coalition ally of Pakistan government opposes ban on ex-PM Khan’s political party

Updated 20 July 2024
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Key coalition ally of Pakistan government opposes ban on ex-PM Khan’s political party

  • PPP says it will not become part of any ‘undemocratic move,’ though the matter will be decided by top leaders
  • The government announced its plan to impose a ban on PTI for alleged involvement in anti-state activities

ISLAMABAD: A key coalition ally of the Pakistan government on Saturday distanced itself from the decision to ban jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party for its alleged involvement in anti-state activities, saying it would not become part of such an “undemocratic move.”
Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Attaullah Tarar announced the government’s plan earlier this week to ban Khan’s party, just days after the Supreme Court handed PTI a major legal victory by declaring it eligible for reserved seats for women and minorities in the national and provincial assemblies.
Tarar justified the decision on the basis of “available evidence,” saying the ex-PM’s party was guilty of inciting violent protests last year, which made its followers set government buildings on fire, along with publicizing state secrets.
Shortly after his announcement, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s coalition partners, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), said they had not been taken into confidence.
Subsequently, government representatives, including Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar, held a meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari, the PPP co-chairman, on Friday and told him about the decision to file treason charges against Khan and two senior PTI leaders, former President Arif Alvi and ex-Deputy National Assembly Speaker Qasim Suri.
“We have clearly told Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s representatives our party would not become part of any undemocratic move like banning the PTI,” Sehar Kamran, a PPP lawmaker, told Arab News. “We are the government’s key coalition partners but we were not consulted on its decision to slap a ban on Imran Khan’s party.”
Kamran said the PPP would take the matter to its Central Executive Committee (CEC) meeting for a final decision, though “one thing is for sure that we are not going to be part of any undemocratic, unconstitutional and illegal action of the government.”
She said it was not clear yet as to when her party’s CEC meeting would be called as the party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari was out of the country.
“The government should try to find out democratic and constitutional solutions to its problems,” she added.
Sharif’s another key coalition partner, MQM-P, also said they were not taken on board before the announcement of the government’s decision to ban PTI and file treason charges against Khan and other leaders.
“Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s party has not contacted us yet for consultation on their decision to ban PTI and file treason charges against the party’s leadership,” an MQM-P media cell official told Arab News on condition of anonymity.
“We will discuss the matter in our party before making the final decision whether we should stand by the government or not,” he continued. “It is too early to say anything about it. Let’s wait for the government to share its plans with us first.”
Arab News reached out to the information minister for comment but did not receive a response.


PM Sharif meets Pakistan’s leading female mountaineer, commends women’s contributions in all fields

Updated 20 July 2024
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PM Sharif meets Pakistan’s leading female mountaineer, commends women’s contributions in all fields

  • Naila Kiani highlights lack of training facilities for high-altitude climbers, calling for a mountaineering school
  • Kiani says foreign mountaineers prefer to bring Sherpas from Nepal instead of taking local porters with them

KHAPLU, Gilgit-Baltistan: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Saturday appreciated Pakistani women for providing valuable services in every field while holding a meeting with the globally acclaimed high-altitude climber Naila Kiani, who highlighted a lack of training facilities for mountaineers in the country.
Kiani, who garnered attention for being one of the few Pakistani women to scale some of the world’s highest peaks, met the prime minister at his official residence in Islamabad.
Among her notable accomplishments, she has successfully summited Mount Everest and K2, the world’s highest and second-highest mountains, respectively. Her accomplishments have made her a significant figure in the mountaineering community, inspiring many with her determination and resilience.
“The prime minister said providing facilities to the women in various sectors including information technology, education, professional training, sports and other sectors was part of the government’s top priorities,” said an official statement released by the PM Office after the meeting.
“The prime minister congratulated Naila on becoming the first Pakistani woman to conquer 11 peaks, above 8,000 meters, calling it a proud moment for Pakistan,” it added.
Speaking to Arab News after the meeting, Kiani said she had presented proposals for specialized training and vocational education in the mountaineering sector.
“I spoke to the PM about lack of any training facilities for mountaineers,” she said. “Pakistan doesn’t have a single internationally qualified mountaineer due to a lack of state-of-the-art mountaineering training institute.”
“The PM instructed his team to set up a committee immediately and start working on the establishment of a mountaineering school,” she continued. “I am also chairing a sub-committee, and the team will visit Skardu next week for official meetings and to visit the potential site for the school.”
Kiani said the proposed training facility would also help facilitate high-altitude climbers from abroad.
“The lack of training leads to so many issues for western climbers who take Pakistani high porters,” she informed. “They prefer Sherpas [from Nepal] instead. Establishing this school will not only enhance skills of all high-altitude workers and climbers but also help flourish the region economically. We can attract a lot more foreign adventure tourists if we are more skilled.”
Home to some of the tallest peaks and stunning landscapes, Pakistan attracts foreign climbers and tourists from around the world in every mountaineering season, making it a premier destination for adventure enthusiasts.


One month on, family awaits recovery of sons abducted by Baloch separatists in southwestern Pakistan

Updated 46 min 36 sec ago
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One month on, family awaits recovery of sons abducted by Baloch separatists in southwestern Pakistan

  • Baloch Liberation Army kidnapped seven ethnic Punjabi tourists from a picnic spot in Balochistan on June 19
  • BLA offered to release the abductees in exchange for its fighters, but the government refused the proposal

QUETTA: Shan Raza, 58, was devastated last month upon learning that a separatist group had abducted his three sons, Rehan, Farhan and Hassan, along with two other relatives, in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province.
Since then, Raza has been trying hard to bring a smile on the faces of his grandchildren, whom he finds wearing a dismal look since their fathers were taken away from Shaban, a tourist spot some 35 kilometers away from the provincial capital of Quetta.
Pakistan’s most impoverished Balochistan province shares its border with Iran and Afghanistan and has been the scene of a low-level insurgency for the last two decades. The separatists demand independence from Pakistan and seek control over provincial resources like gold and copper.
These groups have often targeted Pakistani forces and people from the Punjab province, the heartland of Pakistani military and political elite, in the restive southwestern region over what they say are enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings of Baloch men. Pakistan denies it.
Raza’s sons, his nephew and a relative had gone to Shaban for picnic on June 19. They were among seven people abducted from the spot by the outlawed Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA).
“My entire house is empty now, my family keeps asking me about the release of my abducted sons, but now we are in very gloomy conditions for the last thirty days,” Raza told Arab News this week.
“The tears in the eyes of my wife and daughters-in-law are dried, they want nothing from me but the safe return of my sons.”

This combination of handout photos shows abducted family members, including three sons, of Shan Raza. All five members were abducted by Baloch separatist group from a picnic spot in Balochistan on June 19, 2024. (AN Photo/Supplied)

Recalling the day when his sons left home for Shaban, the 58-year-old said they had initially planned to go to Peer Ghaib, another picnic spot in Balochistan’s mountainous Bolan district, but he didn’t allow them due to security concerns.
“Then they told me that they were going to Shaban, but I didn’t know this place was not safe either,” Raza added.
Shortly after their abduction, the BLA offered the government to negotiate their release in exchange for BLA fighters incarcerated in Pakistani jails.
The group this month announced it would “implement punishments of the arrested suspects” after the government refused to negotiate their release, but there has since been no news of the hostages. The separatists accuse ethnic Punjabi settlers in Balochistan of spying for state agencies, though they have rarely offered any evidence to support their claim.
But Raza was hopeful that the government might be making efforts to secure the release of his sons and others. “I want nothing from them [Pakistani officials], but a safe recovery of my sons,” he said.
Shahid Rind, a spokesman for the Balochistan government, said the government and Pakistani security forces were making joint efforts to recover the abductees.
“The chief minister met with the despondent families and apprised them of government efforts,” Rind told Arab News. “[But] the demand to release detained terrorists for a swap of Shaban abductees is unacceptable for the government of Balochistan.”

Shan Raza, 58, gestures with his grandchildren during an interview with Arab News in Quetta on July 19, 2024. Raza's five family members, including three sons, were abducted by a Baloch separatist group on June 19 from a tourist spot in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province. (AN Photo)

Rihan, the son of Raza’s abducted nephew Muhammad Raza, said his family was praying day and night for the release of his father. “My mother, sister and grandmother are very much depressed since my father was kidnapped,” the 13-year-old said.
Raza said the wait for his sons and other abductees has been “excruciating.”
“We run toward the door on every single knock and get alerted on every single call on our cell phones with hopes that my sons will return home,” the dejected father said, with teary eyes.