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ATC acquits two accused in SP Chaudhry Aslam’s murder case for want of evidence
Wed, 26 Feb 2020 21:14:08 +0500
Chaudhry Aslam
An antiterrorism court in Karachi on Wednesday exonerated two detained accused in a case pertaining to the murder of a senior police officer due to lack of evidence.

The accused — Zafar Ali alias Saeen and Obaid alias Aabi — were acquitted of charges of their alleged involvement in the suicide attack on the motorcade of Superintendent of Police Mohammed Aslam Khan, better known as Chaudhry Aslam. The attack took place on the Lyari Expressway in Karachi in January 2014 and had resulted in the deaths of the SP and his two police guards.

The then chief of the proscribed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, Mullah Fazlullah, was declared a proclaimed offender in the case after the police had declared him untraceable prior to his death in a drone attack in the Kunar province of Afghanistan in June 2018.

On Wednesday, the matter was fixed before the ATC-XIII judge, who conducted the trial in the judicial complex inside the central prison.

Both the accused, Ali and Obaid, were produced from the prison.

The judge, who had earlier reserved his verdict after recording the evidence and final arguments from both sides, announced the verdict.

The judge noted that the prosecution had failed to prove the charges against the accused beyond any reasonable shadow of doubt.

Therefore, the judge acquitted them of the charges of murder, attempted murder, common intent and possession of explosives allegedly used in the suicide attack on the police officer’s convoy on Jan 9, 2014, due to lack of evidence.

The court also directed the prison superintendent to release them forthwith if their custody was not required in any other case.

On February 13, the judge had reserved his verdict after the state prosecutor and the defence counsel advanced their final arguments in the case.

Earlier, the accused men had denied the charges and claimed their innocence in the case.

According to the prosecution, the attack was carried out at the behest of the then TTP leadership and the suicide bomber was identified as Naeemullah, a resident of Pirabad and student of a local seminary who had lived in Afghanistan for many years.

In February 2017, the court had indicted the accused after the investigating officer filed a final investigation report, formally charging them with committing the alleged offence.

In the investigation report, the IO had also shown then TTP chief Fazlullah as absconder in the case, leading to the court declaring him a proclaimed offender.

Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Ahsan Iqbal released from Adiala Jail
Wed, 26 Feb 2020 20:58:39 +0500
Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Ahsan Iqbal
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leaders Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Ahsan Iqbal walked out of Adiala Jail early evening on Wednesday, hours after the Islamabad High Court issued their release orders.

A day earlier, the IHC had approved Abbasi and Iqbal's bail in corruption cases against the two. The PML-N leaders were granted bails against bonds worth Rs10 million each in the cases against them.

Former prime minister Abbasi had secured bail in the LNG terminal case, while Iqbal had been granted bail in the Narowal Sports City case.

The two leaders had been incarcerated at Adiala Jail.

On July 18, 2019, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had arrested Abbasi in an alleged case of corruption while awarding a multi-billion rupee import contract for LNG in 2013, when he was the minister for petroleum and natural resources.

According to the NAB arrest warrant, Abbasi was accused of commission of the offence of corruption and corrupt practices under Section 9 (a) of National Accountability Ordinance, 1999.

On December 23, 2019, NAB had arrested Iqbal as he appeared before it in relation to the corruption case.

NAB had begun investigating the complex in July 2018. It was built at the staggering cost of over Rs3,000 million. The accountability bureau’s investigation team also visited the Narowal Sports City project in November to secure records.

The mega venture was one of the primary projects developed under Iqbal during the PML-N's tenure

Pakistan set to mark first anniversary of downing of Indian aircraft
Wed, 26 Feb 2020 20:55:05 +0500
Pakistan set to mark first anniversary of downing of Indian aircraft
Pakistan will on Thursday mark the one-year anniversary of a tense standoff with India which saw two Indian jets shot down over Kashmir after the Pakistan Air Force's successful counteraction to Indian provocation in Balakot a day earlier.

A small ceremony has been organised on the occasion at the Prime Minister's Office to celebrate the operational preparedness of the armed forces. According to government sources, Prime Minister Imran Khan will issue a policy statement on the occasion.

The premier will also laud the continuing contributions of armed forces personnel for the defense of the nation.

Commemorating Operation Swift Retort, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) briefed an international media team at the site where an Indian aircraft was shot down.

"The Army briefed an international media team at Horan village near the site where an Indian Mig-21 fighter aircraft flown by pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was shot down," the ISPR said.

"The plane was shot down during a dogfight between Pakistani and Indian air forces in February last year," the statement read.

What happened in February 2019?

On February 26 last year, Indian fighter jets had entered into Pakistani territory with the intention to bomb a madrassah in Balakot, but had retreated in haste after the Pakistan Air Force scrambled its own jets in response.

The Indian jets had dropped their payload in sovereign Pakistani territory near the old madrassah, but failed to inflict any material damage apart from ruining a few trees.

The next day, Pakistan had responded to the provocation by sending fighter jets across the Line of Control in a tit-for-tat response. The jets locked on to Indian military positions, then returned after issuing 'warning' shots to them.

When India again sent fighter jets to chase the Pakistani jets down, the Pakistan Air Force had launched a successful 'surprise' attack, taking down two Indian fighter aircraft in an aerial dogfight.

"PAF shot down two Indian aircraft inside Pakistani airspace," then military spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor had tweeted on February 27, adding that one aircraft had fallen in Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

The pilot of one of the downed aircraft was arrested when he landed in Pakistani territory. The pilot, identified as Wg Cmdr Abhinandan Varthaman, was subsequently released as a gesture of goodwill by Prime Minister Imran Khan.

In August last year, the two pilots who brought down the Indian planes earlier in February were conferred military awards by President Arif Alvi.

Wg Cmdr Noman Ali Khan was conferred with Sitara-i-Jur’at (Star of Valour), while Grp Capt Faheem Ahmad Khan and Sq Ldr Hassan Mahmood Siddiqui were granted the Tamgha-i-Jur’at (Medal of Valour).

In an address to the nation after the incident, Prime Minister Imran Khan had offered Indian PM Narendra Modi the chance to sit down for a dialogue over Kashmir. However, Modi had not responded positively to the offer, instead annexing occupied Kashmir in August later in the year.

The move, which prompted strong reactions from Pakistan and around the world, was seen as part of a campaign to provoke Pakistan into another conflict. Modi imposed a communications blockade on the valley, which remains in force to this day, after the annexation and imprisoned thousands of innocent Kashmiris.

Pakistan's response to India's Feb 26 aggression showed nation's maturity: PM Imran
Wed, 26 Feb 2020 19:08:22 +0500
Prime Minister Imran Khan
Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday said that the manner in which Pakistan had responded to Indian aggression in February 2019 was indicative of the nation's maturity.

Addressing a ceremony in Islamabad held to commemorate 'Pakistan’s Responsible and Resolute Response to Indian Aggression' of Feb 26 last year, the premier said the country was prepared for India's violations. In attendance at the ceremony were Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan, ministers and other officials.

"I was very proud of how the Pakistani people dealt with the crisis," the prime minister said. "The fact that the crisis did not aggravate and the situation didn't worsen only shows the maturity of the Pakistani nation."

On Feb 26, 2019, Indian planes violated Pakistani airspace and conducted air strikes inside Pakistani territory. In retaliation the next day, the Pakistan Air Force shot down two Indian fighter jets and captured Indian pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. Prime Minister Imran later decided that Pakistan would release the pilot as a peace gesture.

Prime Minister Imran said Pakistan was aware through intelligence reports that India planned to show some form of belligerence following the Pulwama attack in Indian-occupied Kashmir. "We were ready," he said, adding that Pakistan's entire response to Indian bombing within its territory was that of a mature country.

The premier said that the Pakistan armed forces had acted "with restraint" in response to India's moves while the Pakistani media displayed maturity. In contrast, he said, the Indian media and politicians were beating the drums of war.

"We could have panicked ... and responded to the Indian bombing on the spot. But we waited, realised the next day that there had been no casualties and then responded accordingly," he recalled.

He also lauded the political parties in the National Assembly for coming onto one page in the wake of the Pakistan-India tensions despite their differences.

Prime Minister Imran said India today has set out on a "very dangerous path" from where it is very difficult to return.

"History shows that only bloodshed follows the kind of racist, totalitarian and fascist RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) ideology adopted by [India]," he remarked.

Corona-virus outbreak: Quetta-Taftan railway track closed for passengers
Wed, 26 Feb 2020 11:04:31 +0500
Quetta-Taftan railway track closed for passengers
Federal Minister for Railways Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed on Wednesday announced the closure of Quetta-Taftan railway track following the coronavirus outbreak in Iran, which claimed 15 lives so far.

All four trains running between Quetta-Taftan will remain suspended until the closure of Quetta-Taftan border, said Rasheed in a statement.

The railways’ minister has asked passengers to cancel their all luggage bookings.

Government is now focusing on socio-economic growth, Says PM Imran
Wed, 26 Feb 2020 08:51:00 +0500
Government is now focusing on socio-economic growth, Says PM Imran
Prime Minister Imran Khan says after achieving economic stabilization, the government is now focusing on socio-economic growth.

He was talking to a delegation of foreign investors which called on him in Islamabad. The delegation was led by Matthew Vogel, Head of Strategist FIM Partners. 

The Prime Minister said on the economic front, Pakistan has now been acknowledged by the international investment community as an attractive destination for business and long-term investment.

He said that Pakistan is a land of unlimited opportunities with significant youth bulge, and offers ideal opportunities in various sectors.

The members of the delegation expressed keen interest in long term fiscal investment in Pakistan.

They appreciated the investor-friendly policies of the government that have enhanced the confidence of foreign investors for investing in diverse sectors of Pakistan’s economy.

Meanwhile, presiding over a meeting in Islamabad about cotton production and its challenges, the Prime Minister has said Pakistan is an agricultural country and the promotion of research in this sector is the need of hour.

He said the revival of cotton will benefit the growers and textile sector, which in turn will bring in economic improvement in the country.

The meeting decided to give autonomy to the Pakistan Central Cotton Committee through its restructuring and effective private sector representation.

It also approved the strategy to control the insecticides which hurt the cotton crop.

The meeting gave its nod to a mechanism for fast and easy approval of seed varieties and approved essential measures regarding the Cotton Season 2020.

Qatar invites Pakistan to attend signing of US-Taliban peace deal
Wed, 26 Feb 2020 00:02:58 +0500
Qatar invites Pakistan to attend signing of US-Taliban peace deal
Qatar has invited Pakistan to the signing of the US-Taliban peace deal set to take place on February 29.

Last week, the US and the Taliban announced they were set to sign a historic agreement in Doha, Qatar, on Saturday, that would pave the way to ending America’s longest war.

During a meeting today, Qatar's ambassador to Pakistan Saqr bin Mubarak Al-Mansouri, on behalf of the Qatari government, extended an invitation to Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Radio Pakistan reported.

Qureshi said Pakistan and Qatar had both played a "pivotal role" in the Afghan reconciliation process.

He welcomed the peace deal and said Pakistan had always held the view that there was no military solution to the Afghan conflict, adding that now the world was accepting this stance.

According to Radio Pakistan, Qureshi expressed confidence that the peace deal would lead to intra-Afghan dialogue.

The foreign minister had on Saturday said Pakistan played its role and "fulfilled all promises" with America after reports of the US-Taliban deal emerged.

Qureshi went on to say now it was the responsibility of the Afghan government to take the peace process forward.

He said Pakistan wanted to see the formation of an inclusive delegation for advancing towards intra-Afghan dialogue.

"My experience shows that the people of Afghanistan want peace. It is now up to their elite whether they take forward the peace efforts or waste it by indulging in power games. All responsibility will be on them [the Afghan government] and not on Pakistan," the foreign minister had said.

The US and the Taliban are set to sign a historic agreement that would pave the way to ending Ame­rica’s longest war, the bitter foes announced on Fri­day, hours after Kabul said a week-long partial truce across Afghanistan would kick off over the weekend.

If the so-called "reduction in violence" holds, it would mark a major turning point in the gruelling conflict and set the conditions for a deal that could, ultimately, pull US troops out after more than 18 years and launch Afghanistan into an uncertain future.

Both US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Taliban issued statements saying they had agreed to sign the accord on Feb 29 in Doha, following the one-week partial truce.

“Upon a successful implementation of this understanding, signing of the US-Taliban agreement is expected to move forward,” Pompeo said, adding that negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government would “start soon thereafter”.

Foreign investors call on PM Imran Khan
Tue, 25 Feb 2020 23:57:17 +0500
Foreign investors call on PM Imran Khan
A delegation of foreign investors called on Prime Minister Imran Khan and expressed interests in long-term investment plans.

The meeting was also attended by finance adviser, governor of State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and commerce adviser.

The delegation members have praised investment-friendly policies adopted by the present government and expressed their willingness to engage in long-term investment plans. The delegation added that Pakistan has increased confidence of foreign investors through its effective policies and they are expecting major opportunities in the country.

They said that the country has grabbed major achievement to attract foreign investment by establishing the platform of Digital Pakistan initiative.

PM Imran Khan said Pakistan has been put on path of economic and social development after getting stability as compared to the challenging environment following fiscal deficit prevailed in the last year.

He said the country succeeded to gain the confidence of global investors and it is now been considered as an attractive place for long-term investments. The premier said Pakistan improved its ranking up to 28 points in the World Bank (WB) report.

He added Pakistan is the land of unlimited opportunities especially for the youth, whereas, the federal government launched a biggest-ever project for providing employment to the young generation under Kamyab Jawan programme.

He was of the view that Hunarmand Pakistan programme will also assist the government to alleviate poverty. PM Khan said the government has expanded its poverty-alleviation Ehsaas programme to provide relief to the unprivileged segments of the society.

The premier has also ensured provision of maximum assistance and facilities to the foreign investors in the country.

NAB to move SC against bail of ex-PM Abbasi, Ahsan Iqbal
Tue, 25 Feb 2020 23:49:49 +0500
ex-PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Ahsan Iqbal
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has decided to approach the Supreme Court against the Islamabad High Court’s (IHC) verdict of granting post-arrest bail to PML-N leaders Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Ahsan Iqbal.

The decision was made during a high-level meeting presided over by NAB chief Justice retired Javed Iqbal at the bureau’s Islamabad headquarters.

The anti-graft watchdog’s deputy chairman, the prosecutor general and the NAB Operations director general were in attendance in the meeting.

The meeting decided to move the Supreme Court against the IHC’s ruling of granting bail to the PML-N leaders.

Earlier today, a two-member bench of the IHC headed by Justice Athar Minallah approved the bail for former premier Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in the LNG case. The bench ordered the former minister to submit a Rs10 million surety bond to secure the bail.

The PML-N leader earlier this month filed a post-arrest bail petition in Islamabad High Court.

Separately, the two-member bench of the IHC also approved bail for Ahsan Iqbal in Narowal Sports City case.

The bench ordered former planning minister to submit Rs10 million surety bond for bail.

Last month, PML-N lawmaker Ahsan Iqbal had moved the Islamabad High Court (IHC) to seek bail in the Narowal Sports City corruption case.

KP Assembly opposition members stand on seats to register protest
Tue, 25 Feb 2020 23:44:37 +0500
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Provincial Assembly
As the protest in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Provincial Assembly entered its fifth day on Tuesday, opposition lawmakers registered their protests by standing up on their seats.

The opposition was protesting against what they referred to as KP Assembly Speaker Mushtaq Ahmad Ghani's "partial and indifferent attitude".

They stood up on their seats in the assembly, chanted slogans, and banged their hands on desks while the PPP's Nighat Orakzai whistled to record her protest, despite Ghani asking her not to do so. Amid the chaos and tension, security staff surrounded the speaker's dais.

In spite of the ongoing tensions, the assembly approved some of the proposed bills as opposition lawmakers continued slamming their desks.

On the first day of the protest, opposition parties had called out Ghani's "partial and indifferent attitude" while the treasury benches continued their assembly business and introduced several important bills and motions.

On the second day, as the opposition continued the protest and some lawmakers were involved in a scuffle and exchanging harsh words, the Speaker passed the Land Acquisition Act for the newly-merged districts — tabled by Law Minister Sultan Muhammad Khan during the ear-deafening shouting from both sides of the House.

On the third day, just after recitation of the Holy Quran, members from the joint opposition turned to the podium but the security staff surrounded the speaker’s dais to prevent any untoward incident. The protesting lawmakers chanted slogans of "atta chor, cheeni chor [flour thief, sugar thief!"].

Regardless, the speaker continued the proceedings according to the agenda and announced the lapse of the questions, as well as the adjournment and privilege motions. The call attention notices were disposed of amid the opposition's shouting.

On the fourth day, the opposition entered the House and turned to the podium when the last bill was put to a vote and started shouting "No, no". They circled the speaker’s dais and chanted slogans against him but he continued the proceedings amid the shouting and noise.

Some of the opposition members started whistling.

A security officer tried to snatch the mic but the protesting opposition legislators refused to hand it over to him. The speaker said such gadgets should not be allowed and the security staff must ensure such tools were not brought to the building.

The treasury benches responded in the same coin and accused the opposition of deliberately disturbing the assembly proceedings.

Both the government and opposition blamed each other for demonstrating a non-serious attitude about running the assembly affairs and holding serious negotiations. Concluding the agenda, however, the speaker adjourned the sitting for Tuesday at 2PM.

Later, Sardar Hussain Babak told media that they wanted to hold talks with the government and had accepted an offer of negotiation from Shaukat Yousufzai and Qalandar Lodhi. "Instead of holding serious talks, they dodged the opposition and passed the bills taking advantage of our absence," he claimed.