Posts Tagged ‘Iran’

Pakistan, Iran vow to improve military ties

RAWALPINDI: Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa talks to Iranian Chief of General Staff Maj Gen Mohammad Bagheri, who called on him along with a delegation at GHQ on Monday.—INP

RAWALPINDI: Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa talks to Iranian Chief of General Staff Maj Gen Mohammad Bagheri, who called on him along with a delegation at GHQ on Monday.—INP

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and Iran on Monday pledged to further deepen their military cooperation.

This was the upshot of Iranian Chief of General Staff Maj Gen Mohammad Bagheri’s visit to Pakistan.

The top Iranian commander’s three-day trip is being attached great importance because bilateral military exchanges between Pakistan and Iran have been very rare due to their mutual mistrust that kept them divided till recently.

Gen Bagheri visited caretaker Foreign Minister Abdullah Hussain Haroon at the foreign ministry and then went to the General Headquarters (GHQ) for a meeting with army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa.

The public affairs division of Pakistan military said Gen Bajwa underscored the need for intensification of military-to-military cooperation and noted that such cooperation would have a “positive impact on peace and security in the region”.

In related development, Afghan president assures Islamabad of enhanced border security on election day

Reciprocating Gen Bajwa’s offer, the visiting Iranian commander “pled­ged to keep working for better relations between the two brotherly countries”, said the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR).

Gen Bajwa is believed to be the architect of improvement in Pakistan-Iran ties particularly the military relations. Last year he had made an unprecedented visit to Iran setting the stage for improved cooperation. Later, Chief of the General Staff Lt Gen Bilal Akbar visited the country in June.

As the improvement in military relations was predicated on the basis of border security cooperation, discussion on border management was also on top of agenda during Gen Bagheri’s meeting with Gen Bajwa. Another key issue on the agenda of their meeting was regional security.

The journey towards improvement in military ties had not been free of irritants and problems but both the countries worked together to overcome those challenges and prevented nascent cooperation from falling apart, a diplomatic source said.

Recently the Iranian spymaster was in Islamabad to attend a rare meeting of the spy chiefs of the regional countries that involved Pakistan, Russia and China. The meeting reportedly focused on the threat posed by the growing footprint of the militant Islamic State group in Afghanistan.

Mr Haroon during his meeting with the Iranian commander expressed Pak­istan’s desire for strengthening cooperation with Iran for the benefit of both countries and ensuring peace and stability in the region. He also appreciated the Iranian leadership’s strong and consistent support on the issue of Kashmir.

Ghani condoles deaths in terror attacks

Meanwhile, Afghan Pre­sident Ashraf Ghani assured Pakistan of heightened security along the Pak-Afghan border during the July 25 general elections.

President Ghani exten­ded the assurance during a telephonic conversation with Gen Bajwa on Monday.

He also called caretaker Prime Minister Nasirul Mulk to condole the deaths in recent attacks on election rallies in Peshawar, Bannu, and Mastung.

President Ghani “assured COAS of enhanced border security measures on Afghan side as assistance to Pak security forces during election period,” military spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor tweeted.

Gen Bajwa thanked Mr Ghani for his concern, according to the ISPR.

Pakistan has long alleged that terrorists having sanctuaries in Afghanistan have been carrying out terrorist attacks in Pakistan.

Although Mastung attack was claimed by the militant Islamic State, Daesh, and its local affiliate Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, other attacks are believed to have been carried out by Afghanistan-based TTP and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar. It is feared that the two terrorist groups were planning further attacks.

Earlier during the 2014 presidential elections in Afghanistan, Pakistan Army had also undertaken special border security arrangements for smooth conduct of polling process. On the elections day, Pakistan had increased patrols along the border areas, besides stepping up aerial surveillance.

In his conversation with caretaker PM Mulk, President Ghani “expressed deep sorrow and sympathy on the tragic loss of precious lives”, the PM Office said in a statement.

The two countries agreed to work together to defeat the common enemies for peace and security in the region, the statement added.

While talking to Mr Ghani, Mr Mulk reaffirmed caretaker government’s commitment to hold the general elections on time. He said the attacks by the enemies were aimed at derailing the democratic process in Pakistan. “Such actions would not deter government’s resolve,” he vowed.

Published in Dawn, July 17th , 2018

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Emirati prince flees to Qatar seeking asylum, criticises Abu Dhabi

An Emirati prince is seeking asylum in Qatar after fleeing the UAE saying he feared for his life because of a dispute with the rulers of oil-rich Abu Dhabi, ,The New York Times reported, on Sunday.

Sheikh Rashid bin Hamad al-Sharqi, 31, is the second son of the emir of Fujairah, one of the seven monarchies making up the United Arab Emirates. He arrived in Doha on May 16, the report said.

Sheikh Rashid bin Hamad Al Sharqi, right, in Fujairah in March. — Photo courtesy AFP via NYT

Sheikh Rashid bin Hamad Al Sharqi, right, in Fujairah in March. — Photo courtesy AFP via NYT

Abu Dhabi is the capital and richest emirate of the UAE.

Speaking to the The New York Times, Sheikh Rashid accused Emirati rulers of blackmail and money laundering but did not offer evidence to back up his claims.

He also spoke of tensions within Emirati elites over the UAE’s commitment of troops in the war in Yemen.

Sheikh Rashid said there had been more UAE war deaths than the 100 that have been reported publicly and said “there have been more deaths from Fujairah than anywhere else”.

An Emirati official contacted by AFP declined to comment, but UAE minister for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash made a veiled reference on Twitter to “conspiracy against this or that ruling family by those who lack courage and instead resort to leaks and interviews”.

Along with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates ,cut all ties with Qatar in June 2017,, accusing Doha of supporting Islamist groups and being too close to Gulf archrival Iran.

Qatar, the world’s largest exporter of liquified natural gas, denies the accusations.

The New York Times report said that Sheikh Rashid appeared to be the first time in the UAE’s nearly 47-year history that a member of one of its seven royal families had publicly criticised its rulers.

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Mohmand women to vote if separate polling stations set up

GHALANAI: Voters in Mohmand region say they will allow their women family members to vote in the general elections if separate polling stations are established for them.

Hairan Momand, a resident of Atto Khel area of Haleemzai tehsil, said that women had the right to vote, but it would also depend on the security situation of the area.

The women can only cast their votes if the government provides proper security to them, he added.

The Mohmand region has 96,679 registered women voters compared with 158,873 men.

They face many obstacles in casting their votes and becoming involved in political activities in the region.

The Election Commission of Pakistan has made it mandatory on the political parties to ensure 10 per cent of women vote to save the election from being declared invalid.

Gulono, 55, a resident of Haleemzai tehsil, said she would like to vote if separate women polling stations were set up for them.

“There is no restriction on women in our society,” she said, adding many women voted in the last elections in 2013.

Malik Saifullah, a tribal elder, said, “If a man can cast his vote, then why should we prevent our women from casting their votes.” In the coming election, he said, women would vote in Haleemzai, Ekkaghund, Pandiali and Prang Ghar tehsils because local people were well-educated and knew the importance of ballot.

Rozeena Bibi, another woman, said that she was aware about the importance of vote, and if the government provided a peaceful environment, then women would be able to exercise their right to franchise.

She added that tribal customs did not allow some women to vote, but for this election, local tribal and political leaders were on the same page that women should vote.

Published in Dawn, July 15th, 2018

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SC orders three-year audit of PSO pricing system

ISLAMABAD: The Sup­reme Court on Saturday ordered a complete audit of the Pakistan State Oil (PSO) — a state-owned oil marketing company — to verify the pricing structure for the last three years and determine the fairness of the price the consumers are charged for the import of motor oil, high speed diesel and furnace oil.

A three-judge Supreme Court bench, headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, had taken up a case regarding exorbitant taxing, cess, duty and fees of petroleum products, and also ordered a thorough probe of heads of various government departments, including PSO Managing Director Sheikh Imranul Haq, and officials who got a hefty salary of over Rs1.5 million.

Take a look: ,CJP wants formula to reduce levies on petroleum products,

On July 1, the caretaker government raised the price of petrol by Rs7.54 to Rs99.50 per litre, and the price of diesel by Rs14 to Rs119.3. Similarly, the price of kerosene was raised by Rs3.36 to Rs87.7. The spike in prices had raised quite a furore among the general public.

But when the apex court took suo motu notice, the cabinet, in a late meeting on July 7, slashed the price of petrol by Rs4.26 per litre to Rs95.24 from an earlier Rs99.5. Similarly, the price of the most important component of the petroleum called high speed diesel, was reduced by Rs6.37 per litre to Rs112.94 from an earlier Rs119.31 per litre.

On Saturday, the apex court also approved the terms of reference for conducting the audit which, in addition to the auditor general Pakistan, will be conducted by a private tax and audit advisory firm called KPMG International.

At the last hearing on July 8, the apex court had expressed the intention of conducting a thorough analysis of petroleum import mechanism in Pakistan by examining the prices at which it reaches the end consumers are true and not doubtful due to the involvement of hidden commission and kickbacks.

The approved ToR asked the auditors to review the pricing structure for the motor oil, high speed diesel and furnace oil sold by the PSO to identify the cost components including the related basis and assumptions used for each cost component.

The ToR also asked the auditors to review the underlying process for import of petroleum products by the PSO, including the related procedures at public stakeholder offices including the Petroleum Division, Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA) and the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP). The auditors will also identify controllable and uncontrollable factors and comment on the transparency of the process.

The auditors are supposed to carry out procedures including a three-year review and audit of the petroleum products procured by PSO to conclude whether or not the price charged by the PSO was fair. The auditors can also carry out research of regional pricing structure and an analysis of international oil prices if, and when, required and broadly review processes followed by other OMCs to purchase petroleum products.

The court ordered that the petroleum division would ensure that all assistance was provided to the auditors by PSO and other stakeholders. The private firm will be paid Rs4.3m to conduct the audit and furnish its final report in five weeks.

During the proceedings, the court regretted that private companies had been created to dole out favours to near and dear ones.

Attorney General Khalid Jawed Khan requested the court to issue notices to oil refineries when the court asked about the quality of oil being imported in the country.

The court wondered whether the oil being imported in the country was “Ron-92” adding that a renowned car manufacturer had complained about the quality of petrol available in Pakistan.

There are allegations that the quality of oil smuggled from Iran was far better than the oil being imported in the country, the court regretted, adding that the quality of jet fuel being supplied to aircraft was also not up to the mark.

On a court query, the PSO’s MD explained that his department did not receive funding from the government, and added that the annual administrative cost of the PSO varied from Rs10bn to 12bn, whereas the total profit of the organisation was over Rs18bn. The total revenue generated by the PSO is Rs1.2 trillion per annum, the MD said.

The court then inquired about the massive salary package of Rs3.5m which was given to the PSO’s MD, and regretted that he had been awarded this prized post because of his association with an important personality in the previous government.

The court said that the MD had no prior experience in the oil sector and when inquired about who had appointed him, the MD responded that it was the former prime minister. But the court said he had been appointed by ex-premier Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, even though the MD had insisted that Nawaz Sharif had approved his appointment. The MD, however, said that Mr Abbasi had been the petroleum minister at that time.

Published in Dawn, July 15th, 2018

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Barbs fly in Senate over Imran’s remarks

ISLAMABAD: Lawma­kers of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) traded barbs in the Senate as members of various political parties continued to speak up against what they described as the denial of a level playing field for all candidates and the absence of adequate security for political leaders and candidates who faced threats to their lives.

Senator Saadia Abbasi, sister of former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, took strong exception to PTI chief ,Imran Khan’s remarks,: “those greeting Nawaz Sharif are donkeys”.

She said that she would be shortly leaving for Lahore to greet PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif, and added that 36 senators of the PML-N had already left for Lahore. “Are there 37 donkeys sitting in this House?” she asked, adding: “Is this the language of politicians?”

PTI’s parliamentary leader in the Senate Nauman Wazir retorted saying, what else should those greeting a convicted criminal be called. “Only corrupt people will support corrupt leaders,” he remarked.

He said it was inappropriate to glorify criminal behaviour in Pakistan. “This is what you are teaching to the young generations of Pakistan,” he remarked.

Mr Wazir also criticised Pakistan Peoples Party-Parliamentarians (PPP) chief Asif Ali Zardari for stating in a TV show that the National Accountability Bureau could not dare hold an inquiry against him. Insisting that NAB had evidence of money laundering against Mr Zardari, he asked the Supreme Court registrar to explain why the investigation process against him had been stopped.

He deplored the surge in terrorism ahead of general elections and said it would continue to happen unless a plan was chalked out and implemented. “For now apparently there is no plan,” he remarked.

He said members of proscribed organisations were contesting elections and noted that those who had cleared them should be taken to task.

Leader of the opposition in the Senate Sherry Rehman criticised both the PTI and PML-N, saying that one party abused parliament while the other belittled it. She, however, spoke up against the arrests of PML-N activists ahead of Mr Sharif’s return to Pakistan.

She said Najaf Mirza who had tortured Asif Ali Zardari in jail was heading a joint investigation team against him. She sought an apology from caretaker Information Minister Barrister Ali Zafar for his remarks that the Senate had no mandate to oversee the Election Commission. She insisted that the Senate had the powers to oversee elections, election processes and the ECP, and asked the minister to take back his words.

Chief of the National Party Mir Hasil Bizenjo in his speech alleged that the caretakers had come with an agenda to rig the elections. “They are part and parcel of the crime being committed,” he said.

He added that those who had refused to accept dictates had to face NAB, while a certain political party had been given a complete walkover. He said there was a plan to sideline the entire political leadership to pave the way for the creation of a government of their choice.

Barrister Saif of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, while referring to a series of terrorist attacks, said that such incidents took place prior to elections held in the country every time, and added that no lessons had been learnt from this history. He regretted that an institutional mechanism for agencies could not be developed.

Former Senate chairman Mian Raza Rabbani regretted that 500 activists of a party had been arrested overnight and 150 containers had been placed at various points, but nothing effective could be done to improve the security environment.

He said some 200 people belonging to banned outfits were contesting elections. He said these outlawed organisations had not changed their stance with regard to violence and preservation of democracy.

He also referred to reports of a meeting between intelligence chiefs of Pakistan, China, Russia and Iran reportedly held in Islamabad and said the foreign office had expressed its ignorance over the meeting. “Where is the civilian government,” he asked.

Published in Dawn, July 14th, 2018

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SC puts on hold FIA probe against Zardari, Faryal till polls

FORMER chairman of the Pakistan Stock Exchange Hussain Lawai being produced before apex court on Thursday.—Online

FORMER chairman of the Pakistan Stock Exchange Hussain Lawai being produced before apex court on Thursday.—Online

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Thursday restrained the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) from pursuing its investigation against PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur in the fake bank accounts case till the coming general elections are over.

“We do not want excuses that the July 25 elections are rigged,” observed Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar while hearing a suo motu case regarding the slow-paced investigation on part of the FIA in pending inquiries relating to fake accounts and suspicious transactions worth Rs35 billion. These accounts were allegedly used for transactions of heavy amounts obtained through receiving bribes and kickbacks.

The apex court also explained that its July 9 order had not asked for placing the names of the two leaders on the Exit Control List (ECL).

Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan, a member of the bench, cautioned FIA Director General Bashir Memon to ensure that no complaint of harassment was made during the investigation, suggesting that the agency should not summon anyone who was not related to the investigation.

Explains that no order has been issued to put names of two leaders on ECL

The complaints of corruption should always be probed, the court said but clarified that the present hearing was not aimed at damaging the credibility or harming the integrity of any individual named as accused in the case.

“We will hear the case of those who have been put on the ECL and decide the case after hearing them while remaining within the confines of the law,” the chief justice said.

The case revolves around a 2015 inquiry into the suspicious transactions when 29 ‘benami’ accounts were identified of which 16 were opened in the Summit bank, eight in the Sindh Bank and five in the United Bank Limited. Seven individuals were involved in suspiciously transacting Rs35bn through these accounts.

Removed chairman of the Pakistan Stock Exchange Hussain Lawai, said to be a close aide to former president Asif Ali Zardari, and co-accused Taha Raza, corporate unit head of the Summit Bank, have been ,arrested by the FIA, in the case.

Earlier, the ,Supreme Court had ordered the interior ministry, to immediately place the names of a number of individuals identified as accused by the FIA on the ECL so that they might not leave the country until the investigation was concluded or till further orders.

The individuals are: Anwer Majeed, Abdul Ghani Majeed, Aslam Masood, Arif Khan, Noreen Sultan, Kiran Aman, Summit Bank Chairman Naseer Abdullah Lootah, Muhammad Iqbal Khan Noori, Muhammad Ashraf, Muhammad Iqbal Araen, Muhammad Umair, Adnan Jawed, Qasim Ali and Azam Wazir Khan.

On Thursday the chief justice wondered how an impression was created in the media that the apex court had ordered placing the names of Asif Zardari and Faryal Talpur on the ECL when ,nothing of the sort had been stated,.

“We did not even summon Asif Zardari and Faryal Talpur in person before the court,” the chief justice explained.

Pointing to senior PPP leader Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, the chief justice observed that he should have removed vagueness if he had any about the orders before briefing his party after attending a meeting on the subject. If he felt any ambiguity, he should have moved an application to seek clarity on the order.

Farooq H. Naek, another PPP leader and lawyer, regretted that the FIA had hurled allegations that Mr Zardari had received Rs15 million in his accounts when he was not a director of the Zardari Group Pvt Ltd.

Moreover, the FIA had appointed Najaf Mirza head of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) it had constituted to investigate the matter, he said, recalling that Mr Mirza as the then superintendent of Karachi jail had been accused of inflicting a wound on the tongue of Mr Zardari during an investigation in 2005. His name had been mentioned in the FIR registered on behalf of Mr Zardari.

The court, however, observed that no official could be removed unless he had been heard by the court, adding that Mr Naek should file an application to raise the apprehensions he had expressed.

The court, however, asked the FIA not to summon Mr Zardari and Ms Talpur or any one contesting elections until the polls were over, emphasising again that the elections would be held in a fair and impartial manner.

The court regretted the role of the State Bank of Pakistan which it said had taken three days to open the Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand Dams Fund and even avoided to take up the call of the apex court’s registrar.

Senior counsel Raza Kazim told the court that he was representing 76-year-old Anwar Majeed who was a heart patient. The court said that the case was in preliminary stage and Mr Majeed would be summoned whenever needed.

On a query, the FIA DG told the court that the banks had started cooperating with the agency but the court said that the FIA would need the assistance of experts, offering to appoint a JIT of experts with clean background.

Published in Dawn, July 13th, 2018

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FO says not aware of quadrilateral meeting of spy chiefs

ISLAMABAD: The Foreign Office on Thursday expressed ignorance about a reported meeting of spy chiefs of Russia, Iran, China and Pakistan in Islamabad over the growing threat to the region from the militant Islamic State in Afghanistan.

Officials, however, privately confirmed to Dawn that the unprecedented meeting took place on Tuesday, which could besides dealing with IS provide a basis for greater regional cooperation for peace in Afghanistan.

The meeting, which was supposed to be secret, was ,first reported by Russian newswire TASS,. The Voice of America (VoA) also ,carried a report, on the meeting.

TASS had quoted spokesman of Russian Foreign Intelligence Service Sergei Ivanov as saying that heads of intelligence services of Russia, Iran, China and Pakistan met in Islamabad to discuss measures against assembling of IS terrorists returning from Iraq and Syria in Afghanistan.

TASS had said that the director of the Foreign Intelligence Service, Sergei Naryshkin, represented Russia at the meeting.

“The discussions focused on the dangers arising from a build-up of the Islamic State on the Afghan territory,” Ivanov said.

Russia has been extremely worried about IS threat emanating from the war-ravaged Afghanistan. Its officials held a number of meetings with Pakistani officials before the latest quadrilateral event.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had in February raised the issue of IS expanding its footprint in Afghanistan during the visit of the then Pakistani foreign minister Khawaja Asif to Moscow.

“This trend of spread of ISIS is extremely worrying and the US and Nato tried to obfuscate and neglect the facts and presented information that did not correspond with the reality. ISIS presence is serious. …It boosts the risk of terrorists infiltrating into Central Asian countries from where they can enter the Russian Federation,” Lavrov had said and criticised US and Nato for failing to provide explanations about flight of unmarked helicopters to areas having IS presence.

Pakistan and Russia had later at the 7th meeting of their Joint Working Group on Counter-Terrorism in March also reiterated this concern.

Pakistan, it is said, had also been discussing the matter with China and Iran. In those meetings Pakistan had expressed alarm over relocation of IS terrorists from Syria and Iraq to Afghanistan, particularly its north-eastern parts.

The meeting of spymasters of the four countries, nevertheless, took many, particularly US, by surprise. The US, it is said, is particularly concerned over the emerging regional cooperation because it sees it as a potential challenge to its role in Afghanistan.

Russia and Iran have played a major role in the defeat of IS both in Syria and Iraq.

FO spokesman Dr Muhammad Faisal, speaking at the weekly media briefing, renewed the call for Taliban to renounce kinetic options and join the peace and reconciliation process to end the conflict in Afghanistan.

He recalled that Pakistan and Afghanistan were discussing the Taliban issue under the newly-instituted bilateral mechanism — the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity.

Indian spy

Dr Faisal said that Pakistan on July 17 would be filing the second counter-rejoinder in International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the case of Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav, adds APP.

“Our team has prepared a comprehensive reply to Indian rejoinder, which will be filed on July 17,” the FO spokesman said.

Published in Dawn, July 13th, 2018

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Asif Zardari, Faryal Talpur skip FIA hearing in fake accounts case

PPP supremo Asif Ali Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur on Wednesday skipped ,a Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) hearing, pertaining to a probe into 29 ‘benami’ accounts ,allegedly used to channel illicit funds.,

A day after the Supreme Court ordered the names of all those connected to the accounts to be placed on the Exit Control List (ECL), the FIA constituted a Joint Investigation Team (JIT), headed by FIA Sindh chief Munir Ahmed Shaikh, to investigate the matter. The FIA had directed the duo to appear before the team today to record their statements and explain their position on the accounts and transactions.

Two junior lawyers appeared before the FIA authorities on behalf of Zardari and Talpur and submitted a written response seeking more time to provide information about the suspected transactions. it also said that neither of the siblings has a record of transactions made in 2014.

Read more: ,FIA probe finds Zardari Group’s link in money laundering case,

The lawyers argued that both siblings are contesting the upcoming polls and are busy electioneering. The two will be able to reply to your questions after July 25, the lawyers said.

The lawyers pointed out that the duo had been summoned in 2018 for a case related to happenings in 2014. They added that forcing the two to engage in the case would be a violation of Articles 14 and 17 of the Constitution, as it would affect their election campaigns with the polls just two weeks away.

Since 2015, the FIA has been probing suspicious transactions made through 29 ‘benami’ accounts — 16 of which were held in Summit Bank, eight in Sindh Bank and five in UBL.

Seven individuals, including Zardari and Talpur, were said to be involved in using those accounts for suspicious transactions which totalled Rs35 billion. The accounts were allegedly used to channel funds received through kickbacks.

Explore: ,The timing of the case against Zardari fuels conspiracy theories of election manipulation,

Zardari’s close friend and Pakistan Stock Exchange Chairman Hussain Lawai, along with Summit Bank’s corporate unit head Taha Raza, have been taken into FIA custody in connection with the case.

29 ‘benami’ accounts

The FIA chief earlier said that the inquiry into the suspicious transactions was initiated in 2015 on a source report and, as a result, 29 ‘benami’ accounts were identified.

Of these, 16 were in Summit Bank, eight in Sindh Bank and five in UBL. Seven individuals were involved in suspicious transactions of Rs35bn, he added.

The investigation had revealed that Kiran Aman, the then operations manager of Summit Bank, had admitted and verified forged signatures of an account holder as genuine with mala fide intention.

Noreen Sultan, the then relations manager of the bank, had also admitted the forged signature of an account holder on an annexure for change of signature from the one found on the account holder’s CNIC.

Adeel Shah Rashidi, the then branch manager of the bank, had also admitted to deliberately signing documents to approve the account, even though the bank’s record showed that the account had, in fact, belonged to the allegedly Zardari-linked Omni Group.

Rashidi had later disclosed that the documents had been sent to the corporate department of the bank for approval and Taha Raza, the corporate unit head of the Summit Bank, had sent back the documents with remarks “referred by Hussain Lawai” with a directive to open the account.

Hence, it was established that the bankers had fraudulently opened fake/forged accounts fulfilling the codal formalities, the FIA DG had told the apex court during a hearing of the case.

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Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by PAK NEWS - July 11, 2018 at 3:25 pm

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Iran-Pakistan gas project to be pursued: Mandviwalla

ISLAMABAD: Acting Chairman of the Senate ,Saleem Mandviwalla, said on Tuesday that Pakistan was keen to see rapid progress on the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project and the government would pursue the project as it was in the interest of the country.

He expressed the hope that the project would soon see the light of day. Talking to Ambassador of Iran Mehdi Hunardost at the Parliament House, Mr Mandviwalla underscored the need for increasing volume of trade and investment between the two countries.

He also stressed the need for reactivating the Pakistan-Iran Investment Company as it was in the interest of both countries to have a proper channel for bilateral trade and investment.

In a meeting with neighbouring country’s envoy, acting chairman of Senate calls for reactivating Pakistan-Iran Investment Company

Mr Mandviwalla said that Pakistan and Iran shared identical views on regional and international issues and there was a huge scope of expanding bilateral ties.

He also emphasised the need for activating Pakistan-Iran parliamentary friendship group to enhance cooperation at parliamentary level through frequent exchanges. He said that both countries were intertwined in cultural, religious and regional commonalities besides sharing a vision for regional growth and prosperity.

The two sides, he said, could achieve a lot through frequent interactions at different levels for mutual benefit.

The Iranian envoy agreed with the views of Mr Mandviwalla, saying that Iran and Pakistan could achieve a lot through enhanced interactions and bilateral cooperation.

He said that bilateral trade and investment was in the interest of both countries and would open up new avenues of bilateral cooperation.

Published in Dawn, July 11th, 2018

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Attorney general confirms SC order for placement of Zardari, Faryal Talpur’s names on ECL

The Supreme Court has directed the interior ministry to place the names of former president Asif Ali Zardari and PPP leader Faryal Talpur on the Exit Control List (ECL), DawnNewsTV reported on Monday quoting Attorney General Khalid Javed.

The directives were issued by the apex court in connection with an ongoing suo motu case concerning an investigation into fake accounts and fictitious transactions worth billions conducted through several mainstream banks. The fake accounts were allegedly used for channeling funds received through heavy bribes and kickbacks.

On Monday, Dawn ,had reported, that the SC had ordered the names of presidents and chief executive officers of three banks allegedly involved in the suspicious transactions — reported to be to the tune of Rs35 billion — placed on the ECL.

It emerged today that the apex court had also ordered the interior ministry to place the names of all beneficiaries and accused persons identified in the case on the ECL, “so that they may not leave the country until the investigation in the matter is concluded or till further orders passed by this court”.

According to an ongoing Federal Investigation Agency investigation, the beneficiaries include PPP leader Zardari and his sister, Faryal Talpur.

Talking to DawnNewsTV on Monday evening, Attorney General Javed confirmed the development.

But though the AG confirmed that directives to this effect had been received, some confusion persisted till late evening over whether the interior ministry had actually taken the decision to place the two on the ECL.

Geo News and The Express Tribune had ,earlier in the day, quoted interior ministry officials denying the reports.

Geo had quoted the interior secretary as saying that: “We have not issued any instructions to bar Zardari and Talpur from leaving the country.”

“We will look into the matter after orders from the court,” Geo had quoted him as saying.

However, a later report ,quoted unnamed sources, as saying that the brother-sister duo had been barred from leaving the country for thirty days after being placed on the Provisional National Identification List.

Well-planned conspiracy

The FIA chief had earlier told the court that the inquiry into the suspicious transactions was initiated in 2015 on a source report and, as a result, 29 ‘benami’ accounts were identified. Of these, 16 were in Summit Bank, eight in Sindh Bank and five in UBL. Seven individuals were involved in suspicious transactions of Rs35bn, he added.

The FIA chief had also complained that the bankers were not providing required records to the agency.

According to the FIA DG, the investigation had revealed that Kiran Aman, the then operations manager of Summit Bank, had admitted and verified forged signatures of an account holder as genuine with mala fide intention.

Noreen Sultan, the then relations manager of the bank, had also admitted the forged signature of an account holder on an annexure for change of signature from the one found on the account holder’s CNIC.

Adeel Shah Rashidi, the then branch manager of the bank, had also admitted to deliberately signing documents to approve the account, even though the bank’s record showed that the account had, in fact, belonged to the allegedly Zardari-linked Omni Group.

Rashidi had later disclosed that the documents had been sent to the corporate department of the bank for approval and Taha Raza, the corporate unit head of the Summit Bank, had sent back the documents with remarks “referred by Hussain Lawai” with a directive to open the account.

Hence, it was established that the bankers had fraudulently opened fake/forged accounts fulfilling the codal formalities, the FIA DG said.

Lawai, a close aide to Mr Zardari and Pakistan Stock Exchange chairman, and Raza have already been arrested by the FIA.

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First A380 flight to Pakistan welcomed with pomp and style at Islamabad airport

The Dubai-based Emirates Airlines on Sunday operated the world’s largest passenger airplane — the double-decker A380 — to the new Islamabad International Airport (IIA).

It was the first time an A380, nicknamed Superjumbo, landed at a Pakistani airport.

The one-off A380 flight EK-2524 departed from Dubai at 8:45am and arrived at the IIA at 12:20pm.

The special flight was welcomed with a customary water cannon salute at the airport, as its two captains — UAE national Capt Abbas Shaban and Pakistan-origin First Officer Qadir Moin — waved the flags of Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates upon landing.

Our ,@Airbus, A380 has touched down in Islamabad International Airport today for a historic one-off service, marking the first time ever that the iconic double-decker aircraft has landed in Pakistan. ,https://t.co/vjIb3dp2Vm, ,pic.twitter.com/FWQbGZRcSt,

— Emirates Airline (@emirates) ,July 8, 2018,

After a welcoming ceremony, government officials, VIPs, media and officials from the travel industry were given a guided tour of the A380 by Emirates cabin crew.

“The landing demonstrated the airport’s readiness to accommodate the A380, the world’s largest commercial passenger jet,” the airlines ,said in a press release,.

Emirates currently has 104 wide-body double-deck airplanes A380s in service and 58 pending delivery, more than any airline globally, a press release by the airlines said, adding that it also recently announced a $16 billion deal for 36 additional Airbus A380 aircraft.

“We are proud to have operated this special A380 flight to Islamabad, the first time ever that our flagship aircraft has landed in Pakistan. The Emirates A380 is fundamental to our overall strategy, and bringing this popular aircraft to Islamabad represents a significant milestone in our operations to Pakistan, a country we flew our first ever flight to in 1985. We are very keen to now launch a scheduled A380 service to Pakistan and will continue to work with authorities to make these plans a reality,” said Sheikh Majid Al Mualla.

A VIP delegation travelled to the capital on the special flight — which returned to Dubai in the afternoon — led by Emirates’ Divisional Senior Vice President Commercial Operations Centre Sheikh Majid Al Mualla and Adil Al Ghaith, the airlines’ Senior Vice President Commercial Operations, GMEI (Gulf, Middle East and Iran). They were joined by Hamad Obaid Ibrahim Salem Al Zaabi, the UAE Ambassador to Pakistan and Moazzam Ahmad Khan, Pakistan Ambassador to the UAE.

The airlines had invited two Pakistani members of its first-ever team as special guests on the flight: Captain Fazle Ghani, Emirates’ first chief pilot and team lead for inaugural operations and Captain Ejazul Haq, one of the pilots who operated the first-ever Emirates flights from Dubai 33 years ago.

The Emirates A380 aircraft on this one-off service was set in a two-class configuration offering seats in economy class and fully flatbed seats in business class as well as Emirates’ on-board lounge.

Emirates and Pakistan have a shared history tracing back to over 30 years when the airlines’ flight landed in Karachi on October 25, 1985.

The Islamabad International Airport, which was ,made operational on May 3,, has upgraded facilities to accommodate wide-body double-deck jet airliners with two special parking bays and latest jet bridges.

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SC bars three bank chiefs from leaving country

ISLAMABAD: The Sup­reme Court on Sunday ordered placing of names on the Exit Control List (ECL) of presidents and chief executive officers of three banks allegedly involved in Rs35 billion suspicious transactions used in money laundering.

A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, also summoned the CEOs and presidents of the Summit Bank, Sindh Bank and United Bank Limited (UBL) and others mentioned in the FIR registered by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) over money laundering charges even if they are in custody of the agency.

The names of the bankers would be placed on the ECL by the interior ministry so that they might not flee the country until the investigations were complete, the court ordered.

The FIA investigation has also revealed names of the beneficiaries of ,suspicious transactions,, including those of former president Asif Ali Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur as members of the Zardari Pvt Ltd.

The court has taken suo motu notice of slowness and slackness on part of the FIA in conducting the investigation into fake accounts and fictitious transactions worth billions. These accounts were allegedly used for transactions of funds received through heavy bribes and kickbacks.

Zardari, Faryal among beneficiaries of Rs35bn suspicious transactions

Pakistan Stock Exchange chairman Hussain Lawai, a close aide to Mr Zardari, and co-accused Taha Raza, the corporate unit head of the Summit Bank, have already been ,arrested by the FIA,.

The Supreme Court also asked senior officials of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) to cooperate with the FIA and directed the inspector general of Sindh police to ensure the presence of the presidents and the CEOs of the banks and others who had been summoned in the court.

On a request by FIA director general Bashir Memon, the court ordered freezing of Rs7 billion deposited by the Summit Bank as its equity in the SBP.

The FIA chief told the court that the inquiry into the suspicious transactions was initiated in 2015 on a source report and, as a result 29 ‘benami’ accounts were identified. Of these 16 were in the Summit bank, eight in the Sindh Bank and five in the UBL. Seven individuals were involved in suspicious transactions of Rs35bn, he added.

The chief justice said that when he was in Karachi recently, he got a clue that the Summit Bank was being merged with the Sindh Bank and he had to intervene by asking the SBP governor to stop the process.

The FIA DG regretted that the bankers were not providing required records to the agency.

Referring to the account of A-One International, Mr Memon said from this account Rs4.4bn was credited and routed during a short span of 10 months from March 6, 2015, to Jan 12, 2016.

According to the FIA investigation, the names of the creditors include M/s Bahria Town Karachi project and Zain Malik, Sujawal Agro Farms Pvt Ltd, Tando Allahyar Sugar Mills Pvt Ltd, Omni Pvt Ltd, Agro Farms Thatta Pvt Ltd, Alfa Zulu Company Pvt Ltd, Haji Mureed Akbar, Sher Muhammad Mugheri and Co, Sardar Muhammad Asharf D. Baloch Pvt Ltd, A-One International Pvt Ltd, Lucky International, Logistic Trading, Iqbal Metals, Royal International and Umair Associates.

According to FIA DG, the inquiry also revealed that funds were transferred to different business entities from this account. The name of the beneficiaries include Summit Chairman Bank Nasser Abdullah Lootah, Zardari Group Pvt Ltd (Asif Zardari and Faryal Talpur etc), Ansari Sugar Mills Pvt Ltd (Anwar Majeed, Ali Kamal Majeed), Omni Polymer Packages Pvt Ltd (Abdul Ghani Majeed, Ali Kamal Majeed), Pak Ethanol Pvt Ltd (Mustafa Zulqarnain Majeed, Abdul Ghani Majeed), Chambar Sugar Mills Pvt Ltd (Anwar Majeed, Nimr Majeed), Agro Farms Thatta Pvt Ltd (Anwar Majeed, Nazli Majeed), Parthenon Pvt Ltd (Iqbal Khan Noori), A-One International, Lucky International, Logistic Trading, Royal International and Umair Associates.

The inquiry suggested that the one of the 29 accounts in the title of A-One International Pvt Ltd was opened in the name of Tariq Sultan by using his computerised national identity card. The account was used to park illegitimate funds for money laundering.

However, Tariq Sultan denied before FIA having opened the account.

According to the FIA DG, the investigation further revealed that Kiran Aman, the then operations manager of the Summit Bank, had admitted and verified forged signatures of the account holder as genuine with mala fide intention. Whereas Noreen Sultan, the then relations manager of the bank, had admitted the forged signature of the account holder on annexure for change of signature from the one found on the CNIC and Adeel Shah Rashidi, the then branch manager of the bank, had deliberately signed documents for approval of account opening though the bank record showed that the account belongs to Omni Group.

Mr Rashidi later disclosed that the documents had been sent to the corporate department of the bank for approval and Taha Raza sent back the documents with remarks “referred by Hussain Lawai” with a directive to open the account.

Hence, it was established that the bankers had fraudulently opened fake/forged accounts fulfilling the codal formalities, the FIA DG said. The investigations are still ongoing.

The case will again be taken up by the Supreme Court on July 12.

Published in Dawn, July 9th, 2018

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Iran calls for EU help as shipping giant pulls out for fear of US sanctions

AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France/LON­DON: One of the world’s biggest cargo shippers announced on Saturday it was pulling out of Iran for fear of becoming entangled in US sanctions, and President Hassan Rouhani demanded that European countries to do more to offset the US measures.

The announcement by France’s CMA CGM that it was quitting Iran deals a blow to Tehran’s efforts to persuade European countries to offer economic benefits to offset the new US sanctions.

Iran says it needs more help from Europe to keep alive an agreement with world powers to curb its nuclear programme. US President Donald Trump abandoned the agreement in May and has announced new sanctions on Tehran. Washington has ordered all countries to stop buying Iranian oil by November and foreign firms to stop doing business there or face US blacklists.

European powers which still support the nuclear deal say they will do more to encourage their businesses to remain engaged with Iran. But the prospect of being banned in the United States appears to be enough to persuade European companies to keep out.

Foreign ministers from the five remaining signatory countries to the nuclear deal — Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia — offered a package of economic measures to Iran on Friday to compensate for US sanctions that begin taking effect in August, but Tehran said the package did not go far enough.

“European countries have the political will to maintain economic ties with Iran based on the JCPOA (the nuclear deal), but they need to take practical measures within the time limit,” Rouhani said on Saturday on his official website.

CMA CGM, which according to the United Nations operates the world’s third largest container shipping fleet with more than 11 per cent of global capacity, said it would halt service for Iran as it did not want to fall foul of the rules given its large presence in the United States.

“Due to the Trump administration, we have decided to end our service for Iran,” CMA CGM chief Rodolphe Saade said during an economic conference in the southern French city of Aix-en-Provence.

“Our Chinese competitors are hesitating a little, so maybe they have a different relationship with Trump, but we apply the rules,” Saade said.

The shipping market leader, A.P. Moller-Maersk of Denmark, already announced in May it was pulling out of Iran.

In June, French carmaker PSA Group suspended its joint venture activities in Iran, and French oil major Total said it held little hope of receiving a US waiver to continue with a multi-billion-dollar gas project in the country.

Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh called the tension between Tehran and Washington a “trade war”. He said it had not led to changes in Iranian oil production and exports.

He also echoed Rouhani’s remarks that the European package did not meet all economic demands of Iran.

“I have not seen the package personally, but our colleagues in the foreign ministry who have seen it were not happy with its details,” Zanganeh was quoted as saying by Tasnim news agency.

Some Iranian officials have threatened to block oil exports from the Gulf in retaliation for US efforts to reduce Iranian oil sales to zero.

Rouhani himself made a veiled threat along those lines in recent days, saying there could be no oil exports from the region if Iran’s were shut.

Zanganeh said Iran’s stance on this issue was clear.

Published in Dawn, July 8th, 2018

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‘#AvenfieldReference’ takes over Twitter as users dissect court’s verdict

@Arsalanet tweeted this photograph allegedly taken outside a bathroom window for updates on the hearing. Another reporter, however, told Dawn this was not the bathroom, but the clerk’s office which is next to it.—Twitter

@Arsalanet tweeted this photograph allegedly taken outside a bathroom window for updates on the hearing. Another reporter, however, told Dawn this was not the bathroom, but the clerk’s office which is next to it.—Twitter

For the past nine months all eyes have been on the National Accountability Bureau’s reference against the Sharif family in the Avenfield property case. The ,accountability court’s decision on Friday, — which was announced after a four-hour delay — to convict ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam and her husband Capt Safdar had Twitterati on fire with ,people sharing memes, videos and gifs,.

Twitter users also made fun of the court’s delay to announce the decision.

@ImGreenGuru tweeted: “Dayum I just slept for a [few] hours and the world turns upside down for the political future of #NawazSharif, daughter @MaryamNSharif & son and law Capt Safdar. Who are all found guilty in the corruption references, wow I am like what’s next what’s next?”

@fasi_zaka tweeted: “It shouldn’t take this long for the judgement to reach the judge.”

I wonder if it's because they are having difficulty finding the right Wikipedia references

— Fasi Zaka (@fasi_zaka) ,July 6, 2018,

He also tried to help the judge with an opening statement, “Potential Judgement Opening Lines: ‘Hosta La Vista Baby’ (T2, 1991) ‘Here’s looking at you, kid’ (Casablanca, 1942) ‘If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it.’ (Taken, 2008) ‘They call it a Royale with cheese.’ (Pulp Fiction, 1994).”

Giving his two cents, Alif Ailaan’s Mosharraf Zaidi tweeted: “Ruet e #AvenfieldReference Committee still deliberating.”

Ruet e ,#AvenfieldReference, Committee still deliberating ,pic.twitter.com/y7ihBLhRsa,

— Mosharraf Zaidi (@mosharrafzaidi) ,July 6, 2018,

@Shobz said: “The judge finally made his way to the room. Come on, announce it already. #AvenfieldReference.”

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan’s ex-wife Rehan Khan also jumped in and said: “Is the court inspired by PIA flights? Kubhi tu time pey ho.”

Journalist Salman Masood tweeted: “Verdict against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif delayed twice today; will be announced in the afternoon. Party workers and political opponents both feel a conviction is a foregone conclusion but the accountability court judge managed to keep the suspense last a little longer.”

@KazmiWajahat, another journalist, tweeted: “The Accountability Court has once again delayed the verdict on #AvenfieldReference for the third time. The verdict will now hopefully be announced at 3 PM – Looks like the judiciary is enjoying all the thrill and media-hype!”

,#AvenfieldReference, verdict postponed for the fifth time for another 30 minutes. Something is definitely wrong!

— Wajahat Kazmi (@KazmiWajahat) ,July 6, 2018,

Another Twitter user said: “Clearly the accountability court needs a better photocopy machine and someone who can do better copies and compile them. Why this whole process was not sorted out before? Why the judgment was not printed and copied in advance?”

As #AvenfieldReference quickly became a top trend, academic Nida Kirmani said: “Does anyone remember that crappy book that came out a few years ago, ‘He’s Just Not that into You’? Does anyone have a spare copy we could lend to Imran to prepare him for things to come? #AvenfieldReference” and “For anyone surprised by the #AvenfieldReference verdict, can I have some of what you’re smoking? Need it now more than ever!”

Another reporter on the scene tweeted a photo of his colleagues standing outside a window and said: “The window of the washroom from where all the updates from inside the accountability court are coming out. Reporters inside pass out the info to those waiting outside where it is carried by the media.”

With the elections less than three weeks away, many people also wondered how this would impact the upcoming polls.

Popular Twitter account user @BajiPlease said: “Imran Khan is literally the ‘Man of the Series’ of the Panama Cup.”

Maryam Nawaz given an additional one-year sentence for forgery and Calibri font. There is a lesson for children in it. Don't try to be oversmart, you can't dupe daddy.

— Baji Please (@BajiPlease) ,July 6, 2018,

@ismatshahjehan tweeted: “We are all for accountability but this for sure is pre-poll rigging. Widespread corruption is a systemic issue, which can never be addressed through selective accountability. The entire state apparatus needs to be democratized. #NawazSharif #MaryamNawaz #AvenfieldReference.”

Soon after the verdict, Maryam Nawaz took to Twitter to share this message: “This is a very small punishment for firmly standing in front of unseen forces. The morale to fight against oppression has increased today.”

She later tweeted in Urdu: “Nawaz Sharif is coming. That is why they are trying their hardest to stop him. Today was their last attempt. Inshallah, like before they will not be successful.”

PTI chairman’s friend and businessman Zulfiqar Bukhari (@sayedzbukhari) also tweeted regarding the reference and said: “Today is a historic day! Justice has been served. Congratulations #Pakistan #AbSirfImranKhan #AvenfieldReference.”

Party leader Naeemul Haque shared a photo with the PTI chief watching the NAB judgement and drinking tea in Swat with a hint of a smile on his face.

IK watching NAB decision . ,pic.twitter.com/Hg0zVO3qV4,

— Naeem ul Haque (@naeemul_haque) ,July 6, 2018,

Hassan Niazi (HniaziISF), a lawyer and PTI supporter, posted a photo standing outside the Sharif property in London: “Outside Pakistan’s tax payers property – more funding for the DAMs coming home #AvenfieldCase #AvenfieldReference.”

He added that the Sharifs had no choice but to come back. “They have 10 days to file appeal. They need to surrender to file an appeal. So I’m sure they are looking at the Skyscanner for the options. Can’t be stupid enough to not come back. #CertifiedChor #AvenfiedReference.”

After the verdict was announced, the former prime minister’s ,brother held a press conference,. Later, Shehbaz Sharif tweeted: “Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) strongly rejects the verdict of the Accountability Court in the Avenfield case. History will remember this verdict in black words. The decision is flawed, politically motivated & has glaring loopholes.”

However, former Senator Aitzaz Ahsan, responded to this and said: “Crocodile Tears of Shehbaz Sharif. The truth is that he is Jumping with Joy inside!”

Singer Bilal Khan also tweeted: “as Bob Dylan correctly said – the times they are a-changin’ #AvenfieldReference”

One of the most popular memes doing the rounds was a photoshopped poster of Rajkumar Hirani’s Ranbir Kapoor starrer Sanju, a biopic on superstar Sanjay Dutt, as Ganju starring the former prime minister. @TubeATweets said: “One Man…Many Lives. An #ImranKhan film #AvenfieldReference #Ganju”

One Man… Many Lives. An ,#ImranKhan, film 🎥 ,#AvenfieldReference, ,#Ganju, ,pic.twitter.com/pCaTi2nnTq,

— SYEDA TUBA ANWAR (@TubaAtweets) ,July 6, 2018,

Published in Dawn, July 7th, 2018

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Election 2018 campaigns — a subdued affair

Wearing a black armband he goes door-to-door in the Dharampura area of Lahore, leading a group of around a dozen people. One of them rings the doorbell or knocks at the door, if there is no bell. He talks briefly to whoever responds and hands them some pamphlets, then walks over to the next house in the neighbourhood.

The group, at first glance, might as well be a new version of the Tableeghi Jamaat visiting households, bringing the word of God to the faithful. But it’s not. They belong to the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and are led by Rana Shabbir, the party’s nominee for PP-157, who is running his election campaign.

The black armband raises eyebrows, as it gives the impression that the party is taking part in the polls as a protest. “We’re wearing the black armband only for one day to mark July 5, when a military dictator ousted the first democratically elected government back in 1977,” says Shabbir. With elections scheduled for the last week of this month, the party had decided to mark the day in a novel way: by wearing black armbands during the election campaign on Thursday.

What is conspicuous about the activities ahead of the July 25 polls is perhaps a lack of enthusiasm, energy and anticipation surrounding the campaigns launched by various political parties. Save a few main traffic arteries in the city, most areas of Lahore are yet to wake up to a criss-cross of banners, posters and election material that traditionally adorn their streets during the election season. Election offices which once used to serve as a site for workers to mobilise and for visitors to get tea and perhaps free meals round-the-clock, are few and mostly inconspicuous.

Hamza Akhtar, an office-bearer of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) youth wing, opens the party’s office in UC-110 Faisal Town, every morning at around 10am.

Be it the local body or general elections, the people are most concerned about their civic problems… they do not buy slogans like ‘give respect to the ballot’ in which a message of the Sharif family’s fight with the establishment is hidden. A PML-N candidate

After around 40 to 50 workers gather at the office, they sit and chalk out a plan for the day’s corner meetings for party candidates contesting national and provincial assembly seats in that constituency. “We arrange corner meetings for Khwaja Hassaan (NA-130) and Mian Nauman (PP-159) primarily in our union council and also ensure our presence in adjoining UCs. A corner meeting is usually attended by voters from nearly 200 households at the ward level, so rival candidates vie to address them, seeking closer interaction,” Akhtar tells Dawn, adding that PML-N candidates have to address at least three meetings in as many wards a day.

In the absence of a vibrant campaign by the PML-N’s candidates so far, it is the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) candidates who have moved quickly and put up their flags, posters, flexes and banners in many constituencies. Cavalcades of large SUV vehicles, painted with pictures of PTI leaders, vroom across the city, taking candidates to their corner meetings and public gatherings, where they make promises to address people’s long-standing problems.

As the sun sets, the PTI’s election campaign picks up in all 14 national assembly constituencies and runs throughout the night. Slogans like “we want change” form a significant part of their campaign.

Similarly, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which held sway in Lahore until the emergence of the Sharifs, is yet to kick-start its electioneering in the provincial metropolis, considered the political hub of the country. PPP leader Osman Malik explains: “Nominees of all three major parties were decided only on June 30, after they sailed through all kinds of scrutiny and objections by rival candidates.”

Taking advantage of the lull in activity, the PTI stepped up its campaign. PTI worker Farrukh Moon says with its aggressive campaign strategy, the party is eyeing to sway some 15pc to 20pc neutral voters in its favour.

In comparison, the PML-N — laid low by the accountability court verdict against the Sharifs on Friday — is taking it slow. At their election offices, Arif Lohar’s anthem for the party ‘Mian de naaray wajnay vi wajnay nay’ blares on the speakers to whip up the energy of party workers preparing for a day of canvassing. An early lunch is served, after which workers leave for corner meetings, while mostly women party workers go door-to-door in groups urging people to vote for ‘sher’ (lion), the PML-N’s election symbol.

The election rituals of putting up flexes and banners and hoardings are yet to begin even in NA-124 and NA-127, from where Hamza Shahbaz and Maryam Nawaz – both central leaders of the PML-N – are contesting the polls. (After the Friday verdict, Maryam stood disqualified to take part in an election at least for five years.) Perhaps this is telling of how the PTI picked its candidates based on who could afford ‘expensive election campaigns’. However, the PML-N says that in the coming days, it will match the PTI on this front.

Candidates fielded by the former ruling party tend to focus on elaborating on what their government did for their constituencies over the last five years. The party’s slogan of ‘Vote ko izzat doh’ features rarely in their rhetoric, because party candidates say that voters are more concerned about a lack of civic amenities.

“Be it the local body or general elections, the people are most concerned about their civic problems… they do not buy slogans like ‘give respect to the ballot’ in which a message of the Sharif family’s fight with the establishment is hidden,” says a PML-N candidate contesting on a provincial assembly seat in Lahore. “When we go to voters they ask what we or our government has done for their area during the last five years. We tell them what work we did for the area (constituency) and promise to address their civic-related problems,” he says.

It is the lack of basic civic amenities, especially lack of safe drinking water, in many areas of Lahore that the PTI candidates are using to discredit their opponents. They assert that the PTI is their champion because it will work on human development instead of doling out funds for infrastructure development. “The PML-N in its decades-long rule failed to do anything worthwhile to improve human development index (HDI) as even Lahorites are complaining about it,” a PTI candidate says.

Yet despite their upbeat campaign, the PTI has been busy pacifying party workers who were displeased with the candidates who were issued tickets to contest the polls. Some of the more belligerent ones have been sent show-cause notices for violating party discipline and opposing its decisions. Many of the dissenting PTI supporters and workers share that Imran Khan’s decision [to allot tickets to electables] had left the party’s diehard ideological workers shocked and unable to swallow the uncalled-for situation.

The central, west and south Punjab zones saw many outbursts from diehard workers who claimed their struggle and sacrifices had been ignored and their tickets given to “electables”. A worker laments, “Even those new-comers were given PTI tickets who were involved in torturing party workers and implicating them in different cases.”

A disgruntled ticket aspirant from Faisalabad says, “We did the party’s membership campaigns, registered a large number of party members, spent time and money. The party leadership forgot everything in a minute and gave party tickets to newcomers.” Another party worker chided the PTI leadership for promoting dynastic politics, in the case of Sahis in Faisalabad and the Wattoos in Okara.

This is a grouse even some PML-N workers had. Sikandar Butt, a resident of Mozang, says many party workers were unhappy over the PML-N’s choice of candidates it had issued tickets to, but adds now that the election fever is mounting, “we cannot sit at home”. Butt shares that he visits the party camp in his locality daily and joins a group of other diehard workers who walk around in various streets shouting party slogans. “Seeing groups of young people walking in the streets shouting ‘sher’ and other party slogans lifts the spirits of our supporters and demoralises our opponents,” he says.

A senior PPP leader endorses the campaign strategy of door-to-door canvassing. This is how election campaigns usually start, he says, adding that with a ban on holding rallies, the trend of going door-to-door has picked up. “Electioneering almost always picks up from door-to-door visits of candidates, and culminates at corner meetings,” says PPP’s Naveed Chaudhry. “The ECP’s restriction on rallies under the new code of conduct has only strengthened this trend and the election fervour will definitely pick after July 10.”

The acting general secretary of PPP’s Punjab chapter says: “We’re going to focus for the next eight days on building our campaign. This will be an important phase for us, like it is for other political parties. If we succeed in mobilising our activists, who have been, so far, indifferent to the election affairs during this phase, and make them come out to join corner meetings, then you will see the momentum gain pace daily.”

Published in Dawn, July 7th, 2018

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UAE halts attack on Yemen port city to help UN negotiator

ABU DHABI: The United Arab Emirates on Sunday announced it had halted the offensive it was backing against Houthi rebels in Yemen’s port city of Hodeida to give a chance to UN diplomatic efforts.

In a series of tweets, UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash said the pause was aimed at pursuing negotiations for an unconditional rebel withdrawal from the port but warned that full military action could resume.

The weeks-long ,offensive on Hodeida, — Yemen’s main port — has raised fears of further suffering and deprivation in a country already deeply shaken by years of war between the Iran-backed Houthis and President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi’s Gulf-backed government.

Pointing to a renewed push for a negotiated settlement by UN envoy Martin Griffiths, Mr Gargash said: “We have paused our campaign to allow enough time for this option to be fully explored. We hope he will succeed.”

He said the pause had been in effect since June 23 and while there was continued “pressure on the parameter”, pro-government forces were awaiting the results of an upcoming visit by Mr Griffiths to the rebel-held capital Sanaa.

Mr Griffiths met Mr Hadi in the southern city of Aden on Wednesday and is reported to be pushing for the Houthis to cede control of Hodeida to the United Nations.

In a speech published by the state-run Saba news agency, Hadi on Sunday hailed the military for its “great victories” in the face of “the most dangerous project of Iranian expansion” Yemen faced.

The rebels, Shia tribes with ties to Iran, have said they may be willing to share control of Hodeida’s port with the UN but say their forces must remain in the docks and the rest of the Red Sea city.

The Houthis have controlled Hodeida and its port since 2014, when they also drove the Hadi government out of the capital and seized large swathes of northern Yemen. On June 13, the UAE and its allies, including Saudi Arabia, launched a massive military operation — dubbed “Golden Victory” — to drive the rebels out of the port.

Pro-government forces managed to seize control of Hodeida’s airport in mid-June after days of heavy fighting but did not immediately push forward into the city, home to some 600,000 people and about 150 kilometres west of Sanaa.

The fighting has claimed 429 lives, according to military and medical sources.

There are no confirmations of civilian casualties, although the UN has documented thousands of residents fleeing combat zones.

Mr Gargash said the operation had succeeded in “forcing the Houthis to make concessions”, but it remained to be seen “whether the Houthis are engaging seriously with this process or using it as a tactic to buy time”.

“Failing these patient efforts we believe that continued military pressure will ultimately bring the liberation of Hodeida and force the Houthis to engage seriously in negotiations.”

Analysts have ruled out major concessions by the rebels in Hodeida without talks on the rest of Yemen’s territory. “The Houthis will not make concessions unless they are guaranteed the upper hand in central and northern Yemen,” said Yemeni analyst Najib Ghallab.

The regional pro-government alliance on Sunday accused the Houthis of “holding hostage” ships docked in the Hodeida port.

Riyadh and its allies earlier imposed a major blockade on the port after a series of rebel missiles were fired from Yemen into Saudi Arabia.

The coalition accuses Iran of smuggling weapons to the Houthis through Hodeida port, a charge Tehran denies.

Oman talks

Mr Griffiths was in the Gulf sultanate of Oman on Thursday, where he met top rebel negotiator Mohammed Abdulsalam, UN radio reported.

Mr Griffiths spoke of progress on the radio and said a proposal to grant the UN a major role in managing the Hodeida port was being studied.

Both the UAE and the Hadi government have held firm to their refusal of anything short of a full withdrawal of the Houthi rebels from Hodeida.

The UN has not publicly commented on Mr Griffiths’ talks on the Hodeida conflict.

A source close to the Yemeni president said Mr Griffiths was expected to return to Aden, where the Hadi government is temporarily based, for another round of talks.

Some 70 per cent of imports to Yemen, where eight million people face imminent famine, flow through the port of Hodeida.

Nearly 10,000 people have died in the Yemen war since 2015, when Saudi Arabia and its allies joined the government’s fight against the Houthis.

The United Nations has called Yemen the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

Published in Dawn, July 2nd, 2018

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US President Trump says Saudi king agrees to ramp up oil production

US President Donald Trump said on Saturday that Saudi Arabia’s King Salman had agreed to his request to ramp up oil production, a week after OPEC already announced an output rise.

The official Saudi Press Agency confirmed a phone call between the two leaders about oil, but mentioned no specifics.

“Just spoke to King Salman of Saudi Arabia and explained to him that, because of the turmoil and dysfunction in Iran and Venezuela, I am asking that Saudi Arabia increase oil production, maybe up to 2,000,000 barrels, to make up the difference,” Trump announced in an early morning tweet.

“Prices too high! He has agreed!” The Saudi Press Agency said Trump had called Salman and the two highlighted “the necessity of doing efforts in order to preserve the stability of the oil market and the global economic growth.” They also discussed “efforts of the producing countries to cover any possible shortage in supplies,” the agency said in its brief report.

Saudi Arabia is the world’s biggest oil exporter and has usually kept at least 1.5 million to two million barrels per day of spare capacity, according to the United States Energy Information Administration.

‘Simply not doable’

But oil officials cited by The Wall Street Journal said it is debatable whether the kingdom would be able to raise output by the amount Trump suggested.

“This is just simply not doable,” said one senior Saudi oil official cited by the Journal.

Trump has repeatedly lashed out at OPEC on Twitter in recent months, piling pressure on Riyadh, a major ally, to boost output as he hopes for lower pump prices before midterm congressional elections in November.

His latest comments come a week after ministers from the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries — of which Saudi Arabia is the major member — had agreed to raise output from July.

Non-OPEC member Russia on June 23 also backed the effort, capping a week of tense diplomacy for the grouping that averted a damaging rift between arch-foes Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The ministers announced they would ramp up oil production by around one million barrels a day from July.
“I think it will contribute significantly to meet the extra demand that we see coming in the second half,” Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Faleh told reporters at the time.

A face-saving deal

The talks had centred on whether to amend an 18-month-old supply-cut deal between OPEC members and allied countries, including Russia, that has cleared a global oil glut and lifted crude prices.

The unprecedented supply-cut pact has lifted crude prices from below $30 a barrel in early 2016 to around
$70.

Saudi Arabia, backed by non-member Russia, had argued strongly in favour of increasing production as grumbles in major consumer countries like the United States, India and China have grown about higher prices.

Iran opposed any changes to the original production-cut deal at a time when its oil industry is facing renewed sanctions over Trump’s decision to quit the international nuclear deal with Tehran.

In the end, both sides were able to save face.

The current production curb pact calls for participating countries to trim output by 1.8 million barrels a day.
But production constraints and geopolitical factors have seen several nations exceed their restriction quotas, keeping about 2.8 million barrels off the market, according to OPEC.

By agreeing to collectively raise output by a million barrels, member countries are simply committing to comply fully with the deal struck in late 2016.

Iran has accused Trump of trying to politicise OPEC and said it was US sanctions on Iran and Venezuela that had helped push up prices.

Saudi Arabia was producing around 10 million barrels of crude a day in May, according to OPEC.

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