Another Controversial Appointment?

Less than 9 months after he took over promising a Naya Pakistan, Imran Khan appears more like Purana Pakistan, aka Musharraf’s Pakistan. There is almost no difference between Imran Khan’s cabinet and that of Pervez Musharraf. As many experts have noted, this appears to be a policy of the deep state to control every aspect of Khan’s government and in this way seek to improve Pakistan’s ‘image’ in the global arena.

Pakistan’s top finance officials have also been changed: Imran’s blue-eyed boy Asad Umar has been replaced by known establishment sympathizer Abdul Hafeez Shaikh. As Bloomberg stated perceptively “Ex-Dictator’s Aide Named Pakistan Finance Chief Amid IMF Talks.” “Shaikh takes on the role of finance chief for a second time following an appointment in 2010 and was the minister in charge of privatizations in the early 2000s during the tenure of military dictator Pervez Musharraf.

The government also removed Tariq Bajwa, chief of the State Bank of Pakistan, and Mohammad Jehanzeb Khan, the head of the country’s tax authority. Shabbar Zaidi, a former provincial finance minister, was named the next chairman of Pakistan’s Federal Board of Revenue.

However, in 2018 Pakistan’s biggest audit firm A.F. Ferguson then headed by Zaidi was named in a mega sales tax scam for Maersk shipping line. According to a news report, the Center for Investigative Journalism (CJI) “appealed to the Supreme Court of Pakistan to take necessary legal action and start criminal proceedings against Maersk shipping line and audit firms including A.F. Ferguson and Co. The investigation agencies needed to probe if the company deliberately connived with M/s Maersk Pakistan (Pvt) Ltd in its sales tax fraud or unintentionally made a mistake by not conducting proper audit of the later which was evading tens of billions of rupees sales tax of services provided to local clients. According to information available online, A.F. Ferguson consists of 44 partners and 1700 staff members. The firm is currently headed by Syed Muhammad Shabbar Zaidi and is the oldest firm in Pakistan.”

Zaid’s name was also added to the Exit Control List (ECL) but Imran Khan had his name removed.

Why did someone accused of fraud in US have Pakistan President’s Phone No.?

Pakistan-born Arif Naqvi, the founder of Abraaj Group who faces fraud charges in the United States, was denied bail by a London court out of fear that Mr Naqvi would flee to Pakistan. He is known in Pakistan as owner of Karachi Electric and for being a major backer of PM Imran Khan’s PTI.

According to a Bloomberg report Mr Naqvi “is one of several Abraaj officials caught up in a U.S. probe of what was the Middle East’s biggest private equity fund. Naqvi is charged with inflating the value of the Dubai-based firm’s holdings and stealing hundreds of millions of dollars. He denies inflating valuations and says the idea he took money out for his own personal benefit is “ludicrous,” his lawyer Hugo Keith said in court Friday.”

The London court “denied Naqvi’s request after prosecutors said the 58-year-old wrote down the phone number of the Pakistani president when he was arrested earlier this month. Naqvi appeared at Westminster Magistrates Court for the latest stage of his extradition battle following his arrest this month on American charges of defrauding investors. “I’m concerned to see he had the president’s number on him,” Arbuthnot said because it was a sign he had friends in high places in Pakistan. “If he were to be granted bail, I’d be extremely concerned he would leave the country.”

Further, “The phone number of Arif Alvi was one of seven numbers Naqvi scribbled out during his arrest, prosecutor Rachel Kapila said at the hearing. When he was arrested at London’s Heathrow airport, Naqvi had an “Interpol passport,” and asked police, “is there not meant to be a red notice?” Kapila said. He had the passport — alongside two Pakistan passports and one from Saint Kitts and Nevis — as an honorary trustee of the Interpol Foundation, Keith said. “There is a strong concern he will flee to Pakistan” if granted bail, and he has been known to use a private jet, which may provide the means to do so, Kapila said. The U.S. doesn’t have an extradition treaty with Pakistan, she said. If he did flee to the country, it would be “extremely difficult to get him back.” Abraaj is headquartered in Dubai but has a satellite office in Manhattan, Kapila said.”

According to news reports “Abraaj collapsed last year in the world’s biggest private-equity insolvency. Founded in 2002, it grew to become one of the world’s most influential emerging-market investors, with stakes in health care, clean energy, lending and real estate across Africa, Asia, Latin America and Turkey. Naqvi surrendered control in 2018. Abraaj, which managed almost $14 billion, was forced into liquidation in June after a group of investors, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, commissioned an audit to investigate the alleged mismanagement of money in its health-care fund.”

Naqvi “is alleged to have played the leading role in a multi-million dollar scheme to defraud investors,” she said, and if extradited and convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 45 years. “The exact scope of his personal benefit is still being determined,” Kapila said, though so far “at least millions” have been identified as having been diverted to Naqvi, either to his accounts or those of his family members and associates. Naqvi has known about the “high likelihood” of an American indictment for months, yet “he has continued to reside in London” without trying to flee, Keith said in court Friday as he applied for bail. He offered a 2 million-pound ($2.6 million) security for bail. “The idea he took money out for his personal benefit is ludicrous,” Keith said. “The personal benefit allegation is wrong.” Naqvi sold his jet in 2016, and doesn’t have access to a private plane, he said.”

Pakistan Deep State’s continued war on journalists

The deep state of Pakistan has targeted all forms of free speech, civil society activists, human rights organizations and the media: print, electronic and social media. We at New Pakistan have consistently spoken out against this ‘war’ against the media.

On Wednesday Friday April 24, many Pakistan-based journalists were subjected to online smear campaigns. According to a report in Dawn, “The first series of the malicious hashtag campaigns emerged as the top three Twitter trends in Pakistan on Wednesday. The trends accompanied by scurrilous trolling, misinformation and doctored images targeted Marvi Sirmed, Mubashir Zaidi and Umar Cheema. According to social network analysis of the trends, the campaign against Marvi Sirmed generated the most tweets (over 11,000) within a span of two hours.”

Forty-eight hours later, on Friday, April 26, “seven other journalists were subjected to abuse and defamatory content. They included Saleem Safi, Arshad Waheed Chaudhry and Fakhar Durrani, who were accused of being ‘paid’ or supported by opposition parties. Arshad Waheed Chaudhry, for instance, was criticised after someone accused him of asking a ‘planted’ question to Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari. Mr Chaudhry later responded via a tweet that such campaigns showed ‘how bothered they were’.”

According to the detailed reporting in Dawn, “users populated the hashtags using a structured network. Sharing multiple graphics showing how the network had trended the hashtags, Mr Rizwan [Saeed Rizwan, a social researcher] spotlighted four major Twitter accounts coordinating with a group of seemingly suspicious accounts. According to Twitter, the platform prohibits behaviour that encourages others to harass or target specific individuals or groups with abusive behaviour. “This includes, but is not limited to, calls to target people with abuse or harassment online and behavior that urges offline action such as physical harassment.” However, given the rising trends of abuse on Twitter, journalists and policy workers expressed disappointment over the platform’s inaction against accounts propagating abuse and hurling threats at critical voices.”

According to lawyer Waqqas Mir “the campaigns were a violation of Section 20 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (Peca) which criminalises, among other things, displaying, exhibiting or transmitting information which one knows to be false and intimidates or harms the reputation or privacy of another.”

Yet the PTI government appeared unwilling or unable to do anything. “When asked what the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government was doing to ensure journalist safety online, Prime Minister’s Focal Person on Digital Media Dr Arslan Khalid said such campaigns depicted failure of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and the interior ministry. “We strongly condemn the campaigns. Abusive and defamatory behaviour is punishable under the cybercrime law and this should be investigated,” he said. Mr Khalid, who was the PTI’s social media secretary before assuming office, refuted allegations that the accounts running the campaigns were associated with the PTI. “This is despicable and the party has zero tolerance for abuse,” he said.”

Were Pakistan-based jihadis behind Sri Lankan terror attacks?

Over 300 people have been killed and over 500 injured in one of the worst terror attacks in recent history that took place on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka. These terror attacks came after almost a decade of peace that returned to this island nation that had suffered over three decades of civil war and violence.

While a local jihadi organization – The National Thowheed Jamaat is suspected most analysts suspect links with external jihadi organizations, either ISIS or Al Qaeda. According to senior Sri Lankan officials “We do not believe these attacks were carried out by a group of people who were confined to this country. There was an international network without which these attacks could not have succeeded.”

There are many analysts who also suspect a link with Pakistan-based jihadi groups. Maldives, the island nation right next to Sri Lanka, has over the decades become deeply influenced by Saudi Wahhabi organizations and Pakistani jihadi groups especially Lashkar e Taiba.

The Pakistani security establishment has a long history of using Sri Lanka as a base for destabilizing India. In 2014 India alleged that a Pakistani official working at the Pakistan High Commission in Colombo “was playing a key role in planning terror strikes at the behest of ISI on the US and Israeli consulates in the southern part of India.  According to a news report “NIA had last month taken over the case which was earlier registered by Tamil Nadu Police in which a Sri Lanka national, Sakir Hussain, was arrested following a tip-off from the Intelligence Bureau (IB). Hussain was accused of having entered India with a mission to carry out reconnaissance of the US Consulate in Chennai and the Israeli Consulate in Bangalore.  The information under MLAT, which has been cleared for sending to Colombo through diplomatic channels, names Amir Zubair Consular (Visa) in the Pakistani Mission in Sri Lanka as the main conspirator who was involved in a conspiracy with some Lankan nationals for carrying out terror attacks on the two consulates, the sources said.”

The South Asian Against Terrorism and for Human Rights (SAATH) that comprises pro-democracy intellectuals and activists from Pakistan, “condemned the terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka and called for a region-wide effort to eliminate all terrorist groups.” The SAATH forum expressed “our deepest concern over the increasing violence in the region, which is exacerbated by the behaviour of some states in the region.” Further, they stated “We stand with Sri Lankan people in this hour of extreme human tragedy and urge all the regional governments to stick together and develop an effective framework to purge South Asian region of the scourge of terrorism and proxy war among the states.”

Pakistan army’s latest bloodless coup

Less than seven months after Prime Minister Imran Khan took over and amidst periodic claims of ‘military and civilians being on the same page’ the Pakistan army has ensured a bloodless coup by removing all of Khan’s men. Ten of Khan’s ministers, including Finance Minister Asad Umar, were replaced making the cabinet look even more like General Pervez Musharraf’s technocratic cabinet.

Umar was replaced Abdul Hafeez Shaikh “who served as finance minister from 2010-2013 under the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party.” Shaikh, “a U.S-educated economist who worked at Harvard University, also spent many years working for the World Bank and had also been the privatization minister during the government of former military dictator General Pervez Musharraf.”

Whatever arguments Mr Khan gave for replacing Mr Umar, as the Dawn editorialstated “it is the government’s turn to salvage its dignity. For seven years, Mr Khan presented the erstwhile finance minister as the answer to the country’s problems. His entire campaign seemed to have two planks only: eliminate corruption, and put Mr Asad in the finance seat. Eight months into his term, the fight against corruption has yet to yield any major victory, while Mr Asad has been eliminated. What does this say for the position the government is in? The prime minister now needs to explain his decision to remove Mr Asad from the finance ministry in more detail, especially considering that the latter failed massively to live up to expectations. The timing is also worrisome. The talks with the IMF are at an advanced stage and the budget is at hand. There is a brand new finance secretary in place, so it is not clear who will be providing the much needed continuity in the days ahead and the party appears ill-prepared with a replacement. In short, the removal of the finance minister at such a critical juncture has prolonged the period of uncertainty the economy has limped along with for more than a year now. The replacement will have to find his or her feet fast and hit the ground running. A gruelling set of policy decisions await — something Mr Asad hinted at in his press remarks — that will have a very negative impact on the government’s popularity. Indecision will only aggravate matters, something the government cannot afford at this moment.”

Further “Influential Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry has been moved to the science and technology ministry, while retired Brigadier Ijaz Ahmed Shah has been appointed as Interior Minister. Energy expert Nadeem Babar has been appointed to lead the petroleum ministry.”

Newly appointed I & B Ministers, Firdous Ashiq Awan “was a PPP stalwart before she joined the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) in May 2017. Awan, along with her husband, was a staunch supporter of the PPP until party co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari consolidated his control over the party.”

Petroleum Adviser, Nadeem Babar is “a former chief executive of Orient Power and Saba Power Company, had been operating in the power sector since the induction of private power producers under the 1994 power policy. In September 2018, upon the prime minister’s desire, he was appointed the head of an eight-member task force on energy sector reforms.”

Dr Zafarullah Mirza, head of health services, “is a former director of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Division of Health System Development. He joined the WHO in 2004 and served in different capacities during his more than a decade-long association with the UN special agency.”

The most serious and worrying appointment was that of Brig (retd) Ejaz Shah as interior minister. “In an unprecedented move, former intelligence chief of Pakistan Brigadier (retired) Ejaz Shah has been appointed as the new Minister of Interior of the country on Thursday. Shah’s appointment has raised many an eyebrow as he is considered as one of the most controversial Director General of Intelligence Bureau (IB) of Pakistan, with allegations of political victimisation during the tenure of former President General Pervez Musharraf. Earlier, he had also served in Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency-ISI. Ejaz Shah had served as IB Chief from 2004 to 2008 after being appointed by the then president General Musharraf.”

It is alleged that Shah helped harbor Osama Bin Laden. According to former ISI chief Ziauddin Butt “Brigadier Shah harboured the world’s most wanted criminal for years, at the same time that other arms of the Pakistani military and the US were hunting him. “The most important and all-powerful person in [the] Musharraf regime was Brigadier Ijaz Shah, then Intelligence Bureau chief,” General Butt said in a television interview. “I fully believe that Ijaz Shah had kept this man [Osama bin Laden, in Abbottabad] with the full knowledge of Pervez Musharraf.” In a separate interview, General Butt said the Abbottabad compound was built to bin Laden’s specifications on Brigadier Shah’s orders.”

Further, “He was the military’s “handler” of Kashmiri terrorist Omar Saeed Sheikh. In 2002, Sheikh kidnapped Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl and handed the US-Israeli citizen over to other militants, who beheaded him. Days later, Sheikh handed himself into Brigadier Shah, who held him for a week in a safehouse before finally handing him over to authorities, allegedly to give Pearl’s murderers a chance to escape. Before her own assassination, former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto alleged Brigadier Shah was conspiring with terrorists to assassinate her, naming him in a letter as someone who should be investigated if she died.”

According to The News the reasons for the shuffle were: “Asad Umar was not able to satisfy Prime Minister Imran Khan, when the latter expressed his displeasure over the policies which he thought have created difficulties for the masses. Citing unnamed sources, Geo News reported that the bad performance, secret reports and public opinion led to the reshuffling. The sources said Asad Umar had faced  criticism by cabinet members during the last few meetings. Commenting on Ghulam Sarwar Khan’s removal from Petroleum Ministry, the sources told the TV channel that an investigation report into surge in gas prices put the minister into defensive. Ghulam Sarwar Khan tried to convince Prime Minister Imran Khan that he can handle the situation but the premier didn’t agree. As for Fawad Chaudhry’s ministry, the sources said the firebrand politician from Jhelum faced the wrath of leadership for criticizing senior PTI leaders and his tussle over PTV MD Arshad Khan. He was also found to have been involved in protest against the   management of  state-owned TV. The sources said the decision to give the information ministry to Firdous Ashiq Awan was taken a month ago. The prime minister had criticized Amir Kayani, the health minister, for increasing medicine prices.  Shehryar Afridi also failed to satisfy the party leadership regarding  his performance. The sources said Afridi failed to fulfill the expectations of the party leadership despite being given powers.”