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Speculation swirls as Shahbaz in no hurry to meet Nawaz

LAHORE: PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif seems to be in no hurry to meet his imprisoned brother Nawaz Sharif, triggering speculation that he is angry over rejection of his opinion with regard to Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam’s (JUI-F) ‘Azadi March’ on Oct 31.

The leader of the opposition in the National Assembly skipped on Oct 10 ‘an all-important meeting’ with former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in Kot Lakhpat jail, citing his backache. Similarly, he did not press the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to allow his meeting with him (Nawaz) at its Thokar Niaz Baig headquarters on Thursday.

Nawaz has been in NAB Lahore’s custody in the Chaudhry Sugar Mills case since Friday.

A party insider told Dawn that since Nawaz had completely ignored his younger brother’s suggestions on the ‘Azadi March’ of JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Shahbaz appeared to be registering his protest by way of delaying his meeting with him (Nawaz).

Interestingly, despite his backache Shahbaz met his son Hamza Shahbaz at Kot Lakhpat jail a couple of days ago. Hamza has been on judicial remand in the Ramzan Sugar Mills and assets beyond means cases. Shahbaz also presided over several party meetings.

On Wednesday, the former Punjab chief minister skipped a court hearing in the Ashiyana Housing and Ramzan Sugar Mills cases on the ground of ‘severe pain in spine’.

Shahbaz is reportedly not in favour of joining the JUI-F’s protest as it is perceived to be against the powerful establishment which is said to be backing the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government fully. However, Nawaz rejected all the concerns expressed by Shahbaz and some other senior party leaders and directed him to make preparations to join the Maulana’s protest plan, whether it is a rally or a sit-in.

When a reason was sought from PML-N secretary general Ahsan Iqbal for Shahbaz’s act of ‘skipping’ meetings with Nawaz, he said: “Shahbaz Sharif on Wednesday wrote to NAB seeking permission to meet Nawaz Sharif.”

He said that in jail Thursday was fixed for meetings but a ‘special permission’ was required to see a prisoner under NAB custody.

Dispelling the impression that there were differences between the two brothers, Mr Iqbal said: “Both brothers are on the same page on the JUI-F’s march. Shahbaz Sharif’s suggestions were more or less the same as Nawaz Sharif’s.”

Maulana Fazlur Rehman is coming to Lahore on Friday (today) to see Shahbaz to discuss the strategy for the protest. Afterwards, they will address a press conference.

Meanwhile, a personal physician was not allowed to see PML-N vice-president Maryam Nawaz at Kot Lakhpat jail.

PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb said Maryam was not well and despite this Dr Adnan Khan was not allowed to meet her. “In case of any adverse effect of this action on Maryam’s health, Imran Khan will be responsible,” she warned.

Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2019

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Pakistan bars entry of Committee to Protect Journalists Asia coordinator citing 'stop list': statement

Pakistan’s immigration authorities barred entry of Committee to Protect Journalists' (CPJ) Asia Programme Coordinator Steven Butler, saying that his name had been placed on a 'stop list', a press statement issued by the body said on Thursday.

"Last [Wednesday] night, Pakistani immigration authorities denied entry to CPJ Asia Programme Coordinator Steven Butler, citing a blacklist managed by the Ministry of Interior," the CPJ statement said.

"A border officer at Allama Iqbal International Airport in Lahore told Butler that his journalist visa was valid, but it was voided because his name was 'on a stop list of the Interior Ministry'," it quoted Butler as saying.

According to the statement, Butler's passport was "confiscated" by airport authorities and he was forced to board a flight bound for Doha. When he arrived in Doha, authorities there placed him on a flight to Washington, DC, the statement read further.

While on the flight, Butler told the CPJ that the flight crew had seized his passport and boarding pass and that he was in "a kind of restrictive custody".

"Pakistani authorities’ move to block Steven Butler from entering the country is baffling and is a slap in the face to those concerned about press freedom in the country," the statement quoted CPJ’s executive director Joel Simon as saying.

"Pakistani authorities should give a full explanation of their decision to bar Butler from entering and correct this error. If the government is interested in demonstrating its commitment to a free press, it should conduct a swift and transparent investigation into this case."

Butler had landed in Lahore to participate in the Asma Jahangir Conference — Roadmap for Human Rights in Pakistan, said the statement.

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Provinces’ poor response spoils drive against benami properties

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government’s much trumpeted drive against benami asset holders has received a setback in the first three months of the current year due to lacklustre response from the provinces, Dawn has learnt from reliable sources.

The deadline for getting the information from the provinces was set at Sept 30, which was largely missed by all the four provinces.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has directed the provincial governments in a letter sent on Aug 28 to provide the data.

The government also established a dedicated Directorate General of Anti-Benami Initiative (ABI) on July 1 to deal with benami assets.

In compliance to the prime minister order, the provincial governments are supposed to ask deputy commissioners (DCs) for identification of benami properties in their jurisdiction. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, only two DCs have identified 29 properties — 27 in Peshawar and two in Tank.

Interestingly, the remaining DCs have submitted ‘nil’ reports. From Punjab, the response is even more pathetic as the province has sought extension in the deadline. The only DC from Punjab who has identified 25 benami properties is from Multan.

Similarly from Sindh, only three of the 29 DCs have provided ‘partial’ data while no response has been received from Balochistan.

In the case of Punjab, a new deadline of Oct 31 has been given to DCs.

PM Khan has directed the chief ministers of the provinces and chief commissioner of Islamabad Capital Territory to provide information on benami assets by Sept 30 but till date information is awaited from some quarters and the information received is also incomplete.

Moreover, the information received include the word “suspected benami property” which has been used by the authorities without providing grounds of suspicion, evidence and above all names of beneficial owners, which is the most critical information in benami cases.

To make the data relevant, these authorities have been requested to provide information on prescribed format.

It is feared that the lack of cooperation from the provinces may hamper the drive against benami assets holders.

Data seen by Dawn shows that in the first three months of the establishment of the DG ABI, only one reference has been filed before the adjudicating authority.

When contacted, DG ABI Dr Bashirullah Khan said that the directorate will make its own efforts to identify benami assets. He said that the Financial Monitoring Unit of State Bank of Pakistan has been approached to provide the records of the suspicious financial transactions from Feb 2017 onwards so that the beneficial owners of benami assets are investigated and taken to task.

According to an official source, there is some resistance against ABI establishment within NAB. The finance division has yet to release the required funds for strengthening the office to initiate with full swing crackdown against benami assets.

However, 15 new references are going to be filed by the end of the current month. These references involve mega cases like Omni group’s and benami land involving 7000 kanals, the source said, adding the worth of assets named in the proposed references is around Rs20 billion.

In Omni group case, there are 34 benamidars, but only one reference has been filed so far. Three to four references are expected to be filed by the end of this month, the source said.

According to the source, references against some politicians have also become mature after receiving information about their benami assets. Moreover, 7000 -8000 kanals land will be attached by the end of the current month.

The source said another 40,000 kanal of benami land is under investigation.

The Benami law provides the right of appeal at the level of adjudicating authorities, federal tribunals, high courts and Supreme Court of Pakistan.

According to a tax expert, the benami law is a new law and the most difficult aspect is the detection of benami property, names of benamidars, beneficial owners and evidence on linkage of property with beneficial owners. Such cases can only be built by following due process of law which involves a great deal of time, he said.

But the new DG Dr Bashirullah said he has a plan to make the project a success. “We will look into every aspect of the cases before filing any reference and with full evidences”, he said.

He said this initiative has been spotted across the board without any element of political victimisation or targeted approach as promised by the prime minister to the nation. He said his department has started showing results and in the case this continues, ABI may require more officers to carry on the function.

The DG said that due care has been taken to file the references so that to stand the test of appeal in appellate fora.

As part of the ABI, the FBR has also set up three benami zones. The Lahore zone is responsible for the entire Punjab except the Civil Rawalpindi division. The Karachi zone is responsible for Sindh and Balochistan and the Islamabad zone has been given the responsibilities of Islamabad, KP civil division of Rawalpindi. Role of these zones are to file references in the adjudicating authority.

Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2019

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Foreign private investment jumps 51pc

KARACHI: Foreign private investment increased by 51 per cent to $564.8 million in the first quarter of this fiscal year, up from $374m in same period of 2018.

Meanwhile, foreign direct investment (FDI) edged lower by 3.1pc to $542.1m during July-Sept, as compared to $559.4m in same quarter last year.

However, FDI in September clocked in at $385.3m, surging by 111.6pc over $182.1m in corresponding month last year.

If the September trend persists for the remaining fiscal year, the country could receive record high investment it received during the last five years but it depends upon the business environment and low cost of doing business.

Data reveals that the most significant chunk came from Norway, even beating China which has been the largest investor in the country for the last three years.

FDI from Norway stood at $263.7m, soaring by a whopping 1,600pc, over just $15.5m in the same quarter of FY19. Of this, $253.2m were invested in September.

On the other hand, inflows from China plunged 70.4pc to $103m during July-September versus $348m in corresponding months last year.

Prime Minister Imran Khan recently visited China to speed up the working on projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

Sector-wise investment indicates that telecommunications attracted highest amount of $246.4 million during the quarter. This represented a massive growth of 389.6pc over $54m recorded in July-September FY19.

Inflows in the oil and gas exploration, on the flip side, dipped by 54pc to $34.1m during the first quarter, compared to $74.1m in same period last fiscal year.

The sector is at the top of government’s priority list for attracting investments but the response during the latest quarter is disappointing.

The attraction for hydel power also declined as the investment fell to $27.3m, from $36m. Inflows in cars didn’t show much difference as they came in at $25.8m, down from $29.5m.

However, a big jump was noted in electrical machinery as it received $64.8m during the quarter, rising from 1QFY19 level of just $5.2m.

A major change was noted in portfolio investment which had been showing outflows for most of the time but in the latest quarter posted a net inflow at $22.7m, as opposed to a net outflow of $185.3m in corresponding months last year.

Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2019

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After PPP candidate's loss, Bilawal vows to challenge 'rigging' in PS-11 by-election

Pakistan Peoples Party Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Friday vowed to challenge what he believes was 'rigging' in the by-election for Sindh Assembly constituency PS-11 (Larkana-II).

Voters had headed to the polls on Thursday, with Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) candidate Moazzam Ali Abbasi emerging as the winner according to unofficial results.

By-elections in PS-11 had been announced by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) after the Supreme Court had de-seated Abbasi in August.

Polling was held in a peaceful environment and no untoward incident was reported anywhere in the constituency. Special security measures were put in place, including deployment of Rangers and the army in the constituency, in addition to the police. Polling had begun at 8am and continued till 5pm without break.

As per preliminary results from 138 polling stations that were set up for the by-election, Abbasi bagged 31,557 votes, while his rival Jamil Soomro of the PPP obtained 26,021 votes.

Following the voting process yesterday, Bilawal had said in a post shared on Twitter that: "We will challenge this rigging at every forum. The truth can’t be hidden. We will expose this selection. We will have a re-election and take back this seat."

In a series of posts shared on Twitter, the PPP leader said he was proud of PPP workers for "fighting an honorable election," which he claimed they did "despite immense pressure from the establishment. From pre-poll with NAB arresting & sending notices to PPP workers & their families".

"On polling day, Rangers took over the inside of polling stations. harassed our women voters, threw out our polling agents, and deliberately slowed polling. Women polling stations where PPP performs well were purposely started hours late," he alleged.

The PPP chairperson added that media had been reporting that women voters were threatened to vote for GDA.

"Despite our pleas, ECP did not take notice."

Further, Bilawal said that the PPP candidate wasn't allowed inside polling stations.

"We kept asking ECP to intervene but its malafide intent was apparent in its silence."

He also said that, "despite the political engineering", PPP had reduced the lead of other parties by 5,000 votes in less than a year and vowed to challenge the 'rigging' at every forum.

Separately, GDA supporters had raised objections over the visits of elected representatives of the PPP, including Bilawal, Khursheed Ahmed Junejo and Nadir Magsi, to various polling stations, pointing to election commission rules that place curbs on political activity near polling stations.

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India’s hegemonic aspirations a threat for Pakistan: Qureshi

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Thursday said India’s hegemonic aspirations were a threat for Pakistan and the region’s security whereas Pakistani moves to strengthen its defence were aimed at maintaining deterrence.

Speaking at Air University, the minister touched upon the foreign policy priorities and dwelt at length on Indian actions that were undermining regional peace and security.

Noting that peace in South Asia was being affected by “major power rivalries, regional tensions, unresolved disputes and hegemonic ambitions”, Mr Qureshi criticised India for pursuing offensive military doctrines, engaging in nuclear blackmail, rejecting proposals for strategic restraint and refusing to resolve outstanding disputes through dialogue.

India’s “hegemonic pretensions, coupled with a history of aggression against its neighbours, present a clear and present danger to regional stability, and to Pakistan’s security,” he maintained.

Says New Delhi is building up nuclear and conventional military forces

Mr Qureshi said India was building up its nuclear and conventional military forces and acquiring destabilising capabilities, including nuclearisation of the Indian Ocean and deployment of anti-ballistic missiles besides developing and testing debris-generating anti-satellite weapons.

On India’s repressive actions in held Kashmir, the minister said while those acts were causing immense sufferings to eight million Kashmiris, the unilateral moves also posed grave risks to peace and security.

He also pointed towards the lingering fear of a false flag operation by India for creating a pretext to attack Pakistan.

India, he said, was attempting to mislead the world by portraying “normalcy” in the valley through sham actions of so-called restoration of cellphone service.

He believed that the intention behind annexation of the valley on Aug 5 and the subsequent actions was to “alter the internationally-recognised disputed status of occupied J&K and to change its demographic structure and identity.”

Pakistan, he said, desires peace and strategic stability in order to focus on its socioeconomic development agenda.

“Our conduct continues to be defined by restraint and responsibility, and the avoidance of an arms race. Pakistan, however, cannot remain oblivious to the evolving security dynamics in its immediate neighbourhood,” he added.

Mr Qureshi said Pakistan’s quest for its security was not a zero-sum game.

“We believe in win-win outcomes, maximising the dividends for all. We hope our constructive approach will be reciprocated by others and there will be a new momentum for peace, progress and prosperity,” he added.

US-Taliban talks

The foreign minister hoped that the US and Taliban would soon resume their talks which would then lead to an intra-Afghan process.

Pakistan had earlier this month hosted US and Taliban delegations for the first direct contact since their negotiation process broke down in September after an attack in Kabul in which an American soldier was killed.

The two sides held behind the scenes talks during their stay in Islamabad. The meetings reportedly ended on a positive note.

Mr Qureshi said Pakistan remained committed to supporting all efforts aimed at peace in Afghanistan, extending development assistance and assisting in creation of conditions that would allow the repatriation of over three million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2019

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Trump says Turkey and Kurds needed to fight 'like two kids'

US President Donald Trump said on Thursday that he allowed Turkish and Kurdish forces to clash in deadly battle because the two sides were like children who needed to fight each other.

"It was unconventional what I did. I said they're going to have to fight a little while," Trump told a rally of supporters in Texas.

"Like two kids in a lot, you have got to let them fight and then you pull them apart.

"They fought for a few days and it was pretty vicious."

Trump triggered the week-long Turkish offensive against the Kurds by withdrawing US troops from northeast Syria.

More than 500 people have been killed including dozens of civilians, mostly on the Kurdish side, and 300,000 civilians have been displaced within Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.

Trump stressed that "not one drop of American blood" was shed.

On Thursday, Turkey — after talks with US Vice President Mike Pence — agreed to suspend its offensive and to end the assault if Kurdish-led forces withdraw from a safe zone along the border.

"We went there and we said we want a pause, and the Kurds have been terrific. They're going to move back a little bit," Trump said.

"We are going to keep ISIS (the Islamic State group) nice and locked up. We are going to find more of them, and Turkey is all set."

Trump has faced accusations even from usually loyal supporters that his withdrawal of 1,000 US troops betrayed Kurdish militants who bore the brunt of the fight against militant Islamic State in recent years.

Brett McGurk, former presidential special envoy for the anti-IS coalition, described Trump's remarks about "two kids" fighting as "obscene and ignorant".

"200k innocent people displaced. Hundreds dead. Credible reports of war crimes. ISIS prisoners escaping. US evacuating and bombing its own positions or handing them to Russia. Two kids in a lot?" he said on Twitter.

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GDA’s Abbasi wins by-election to Sindh Assembly
LARKANA: Security personnel stand guard at a polling station during by-election in the PS-11 constituency.—PPI
LARKANA: Security personnel stand guard at a polling station during by-election in the PS-11 constituency.—PPI

LARKANA: Grand Dem­o­cratic Alliance’s (GDA) candidate Moazzam Ali Abb­asi won the by-election held for the Sindh Assembly’s constituency PS-11 (Larkana-II) on Thursday, according to unofficial results.

While Mr Abbasi bagged 31,557 votes, his rival Jamil Soomro of the Pakistan Peoples Party could get 26,021 votes, according to the unofficial results received from all the 138 polling stations that were set up for the by-election.

Polling was held in a peaceful environment and no untoward incident was reported anywhere in the constituency.

Special security measures were put in place, including deployment of Rangers and the army in the constituency, in addition to the police.

Polling began at 8am and continued till 5pm without break.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had announced the re-election after the Supreme Court unseated Mr Abbasi, who had won the seat in the 2018 general election.

The total number of registered voters in the constituency is 152,614 — 83,016 men and 69,598 women.

Mr Soomro, who is political secretary of PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, cast his vote in a polling station established at the public health engineering office while Mr Abbasi cast his at a polling station in a government-run primary school.

Both Mr Soomro and Mr Abbasi talked to reporters after casting their votes and also visited some other polling stations in the constituency.

The voting process was quite fast in the morning, but later its pace slowed down.

GDA supporters raised objections over the visits of elected representatives of PPP, including Mr Bhutto-Zardari, Khursheed Ahmed Junejo, Nadir Magsi, to various polling stations.

PPP secretary general Farhatullah Babar in a letter to the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) pointed to delay in the start of polling at some polling stations for women due to late arrival of women police personnel.

In-charge of PPP’s central election cell Taj Haider in a letter to the CEC drew his attention towards complaints by Mr Bhutto-Zardari, who had accused Rangers of interfering in the political process, checking voter slips and harassing polling agents and candidates.

Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2019

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NAB forms cell to combat money laundering, terror financing

ISLAMABAD: While money laundering and terror financing are already in schedule offences of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has set up a cell at its headquarters for combating money laundering and terror financing.

The cell has been tasked to maintain coordination with the national Financial Action Task Force secretariat and other stakeholders, besides monitoring analysis to help strengthen the ongoing efforts to eradicate money laundering and combating terror financing, says an official press release.

The cell is headed by NAB Director General Operations Zahir Shah while Director Monitoring Zafar Iqbal, Additional Director Mufti Abdul Haq, banking experts Jahanzab Fareed, Sohail Ahmed and senior legal consultant (prosecution) Nasir Mehmood Mughal are among its members.

Bureau lacks jurisdiction to probe these offences, FIA officials raise objection

However, the FIA doesn’t seem to be happy with the national graft watchdog’s new mandate. A senior official of the agency said it is an overstep as there are already specialised departments in the FIA to investigate money laundering and terrorism financing.

Former director legal of the FIA Mohammad Azam, who has also served in NAB, said that the Anti Money Laundering Act has empowered the FIA, NAB, FBR, Anti- Narcotics Force, Financial Management Unit and Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan to investigate money laundering. However, terror financing probe is the sole domain of the FIA as it can only be investigated under the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997, which is a schedule offence of the FIA.

He said that since NAB operates under the National Accountability Ordinance 1999, which does not cover terrorism financing, the bureau lacks jurisdiction to probe it. When contacted, NAB’s spokesman Nawazish Ali Asim that the bureau being the focal organisation of the United Nations in Pakistan that fights against corruption has established an anti-money laundering cell. He said that the bureau’s cell on terrorism financing will work with other stakeholders, including the FIA.

Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2019

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Turkey, US agree ceasefire in northeast Syria: Pence

US Vice President Mike Pence said on Thursday he had reached a deal with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan for a ceasefire in northern Syria to end an eight-day-old Turkish offensive against Kurdish-led forces.

Speaking after crisis talks with Erdogan in Ankara, Pence said that under the deal all military operations would be paused to allow a pullback of Kurdish YPG militia over a 120-hour period. The Turkish military operation would end once that withdrawal was complete, Pence told a news conference.

“Today the United States and Turkey have agreed to a ceasefire in Syria,” Pence told the news conference after more than four hours of talks at the presidential palace in Ankara.

“The Turkish side will pause Operation Peace Spring in order to allow for the withdrawal of YPG forces from the safe zone for 120 hours,” Pence said. “All military operations under Operation Peace Spring will be paused, and Operation Peace Spring will be halted entirely on completion of the withdrawal.”

Pence said US forces in the region had already begun to facilitate a safe disengagement of YPG units.

The deal struck with Erdogan also provided for Turkey not to engage in military operations in the flashpoint Syrian border town of Kobani.

Pence said the US and Turkey had committed to a peaceful resolution of Ankara's demand for a “safe zone” in northern Syria near Turkey's border, one of the objectives of the Turkish offensive.

Pence added that he had spoken to US President Donald Trump after the talks and that Trump had expressed his gratitude for the ceasefire accord.

The deal was a major contribution to relations between Nato allies Turkey and the US, which have become strained in recent months.

After Pence and Erdogan met at the presidential palace, talks between Turkish and US delegations continued for over four hours — well past their expected duration.

Pence's mission was to persuade Erdogan to halt the internationally condemned offensive, but Turkish officials had said before the meeting began that the action would continue regardless.

The Turkish assault has created a new humanitarian crisis in Syria with 200,000 civilians taking flight, a security alert over thousands of militant Islamic State (IS) group fighters abandoned in Kurdish jails, and a political maelstrom at home for President Trump.

Trump has been accused of abandoning Kurdish-led fighters, Washington's main partners in the battle to dismantle IS's self-declared caliphate in Syria, by withdrawing troops from the border as Ankara launched its offensive on October 9.

Trump had defended his move on Wednesday as “strategically brilliant”. He said he thought Pence and Erdogan would have a successful meeting, but warned of sanctions and tariffs that “will be devastating to Turkey's economy” otherwise.

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