Update on Performance of Democratic Institutions | April 2021

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This update is meant to identify key developments during the month on Performance of Democratic Institutions in Pakistan with selected high-profile international developments included occasionally.

In this Issue:

  1. Sixth Reshuffle in the Federal Cabinet
  2. CCI approves 2017 census
  3. Backchannel talks between India and Pakistan
  4. Cracks in the PDM
  5. Justice Qazi Faez Isa Case
  6. National Assembly Standing Committee on Interior approves draft bill penalising intentional disrespect of Armed Forces
  7. The Pro-Tareen Legislators Group
  8. Former DG LDA released from Jail
  9. The curious case of Mr. Shehbaz Sharif’s bail
  10. Former Chairman PEMRA shot
  11. The TLP Strikes again
  12. Pakistan slides down 3 places on Press Freedom Index
  13. SC Contempt Notice to Registrar IHC
  14. Senate Investigation Committee on installation of spy cameras
  15. SC Orders removal of 53 FIA employees
  16. Chief Justice Lahore High Court blames DHA for land grabbing
  17. Former FIA DG alleges PM for filing case against Justice Qazi Faez Isa and later contradicts his own statement
  18. Pakistan’s powerful groups enjoy economic privileges of over US $ 17 Billion: UNDP NHDR
  19. PM reviews progress on CPEC
  20. NCC announces Army to assist Police in enforcing SOPs
  21. Establishment Division refuses to disclose assets of civil servants
  22. Speaker National Assembly receives Foreign Dignitaries
  23. Chairman Senate receives Foreign Dignitaries
  24. COAS calls on PM to discuss security situation
  25. Pakistan understands the impact of civil war in Afghanistan: Zalmay Khalilzad
  26. 240th Corps Commander Conference
  27. FM visits to the Armed Forces Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine
  28. COAS receives Foreign Dignitaries
  29. US President warns Taliban for accountability on Afghanistan
  30. Premier-COAS Interactions
  31. Somalia’s President extends term by 2 years

Sixth Reshuffle in the Federal Cabinet

Mr. Hammad Azhar has been replaced by Mr. Shaukat Tareen as Finance minister

In yet another reshuffle of the federal cabinet by Prime Minister Mr. Imran Khan on April 15, Mr. Muhammad Hammad Azhar, MNA, who was Federal Minister for Industries and Production with additional Portfolio of Finance and Revenue given to him on March 29,[1] has been replaced by Mr. Shaukat Fayyaz Ahmed Tarin who has been appointed as Federal Minister for Finance and Revenue. Mr. Muhammad Hammad Azhar, MNA has been given the portfolio of Energy. [2]

Since assuming office of the Prime Minister on August 18, 2018, this is the sixth time Prime Minister Mr. Imran Khan has reshuffled his federal cabinet.

Many have referred to the constant cabinet reshuffle as a game of musical chairs being played by the Prime Minister with the most important constitutional body charged with exercising executive authority of the Federation.

Tweeting about the changes in the federal capital, the newly-appointed Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Mr. Fawad Ahmed, MNA, said that Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar, MNA who earlier held the portfolio of Economic Affairs Division has now been appointed as Federal Minister for Industries and Production. The portfolio of Information and Broadcasting, earlier held by Senator Syed Shibli Faraz is given by the Prime Minister to Mr. Fawad Ahmed, earlier Minister for Science and Technology while Senator Syed Shibli Faraz is given the portfolio of Science and Technology. the portfolio of Mr. Omar Ayub Khan, who was earlier Federal Minister for Power Division with the additional charge of Petroleum Division, has now been appointed as Federal Minister for Economic Affairs Division. [3]

Commenting on the recent cabinet reshuffle, Mr. Ahmed Bilal Mehboob wrote in Dawn that “Granted that the prime minister has the privilege to induct, fire or change the portfolio of any minister, some serious questions arise after these repeated and frequent reshufflings. For example, what useful purpose do these reshufflings serve? If it is the performance of a minister which leads to his or her transfer to another ministry, it hardly makes any sense. Bad performance should lead to showing the door to the minister, not a transfer to another ministry.” [4]

Announcing yet another change in the Federal Cabinet on April 28, Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting tweeted that the Prime Minister has appointed Mr. Farrukh Habib, MNA as Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting.[5] Mr. Habib took oath of office on April 29. [6]

In another notification by the cabinet division on April 29, Dr. Waqar Masood was redesignated as Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Revenue with the status of Minister of State.[7] On April 19, a cabinet division notification also announced that Prime Minister has appointed Mr. Jamshed Iqbal Cheema as Special Assistant on Food Security. [8]

CCI approves 2017 census

Mr. Asad Umar addressing a press conference

On April 12, the Council of Common Interest (CCI) approved the 2017 census with a majority except Sindh which opposed the approval. Addressing a press conference following the CCI meeting, Mr. Asad Umar, Federal Minister for Planning and Development, said that the CCI has decided to hold a new census by October 2021.[9]

The 6th Population & Housing Census 2017 was conducted from March 15, 2017 to May 24, 2017. According to a statement issued by the Ministry of Planning and Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, provisional results of the census at block level were approved by the CCI on November 13, 2017. On February 02, 2020, the federal cabinet constituted a Ministers Committee for detailed deliberations on 2017 census results. Since then, the committee conducted six meetings and based on its recommendations to approve the results of Census-2017 and to conduct next census earlier, [10] the federal cabinet approved the committee recommendations in its meeting held on December 12, 2020 [11] while the CCI, in its April 12 meeting approved the 2017 Census results.

On April 14, Chief Minister Sindh, Syed Murad Ali Shah, said that the faulty census of 2017 had shown 47.8 million population of Sindh but a UNICEF survey suggested that the population of Sindh stood at 61.04 million adding if the population of the province is counted at 61.04 million, the share of the province in the national resources will go up from about 24 per cent to 29 per cent. He also said that earlier the CCI had decided that one per cent of census blocks would be verified. A similar suggestion had also been given from the Senate but the federal government in the CCI had vowed to verify five per cent of the census blocks. However, on May 27, 2018 the Statistics Division informed the CCI that they could not verify five per cent of the blocks. [12]

Backchannel talks between India and Pakistan

Picture Credit: The Quint.com

Quoting high-level sources, Mr. Fahd Husain, Resident Editor Islamabad, Dawn, reported on April 25 that backchannel talks have continued between the intelligence leaderships of Pakistan and India since December 2020 when India approached Pakistan with an offer to reduce tension and offered backchannel talks on all outstanding issues, including Jammu and Kashmir. Reportedly, New Delhi had preferred that these quiet negotiations take place at this level instead of through a political platform, and Islamabad had consented. “It is an opportune time for us to take a strategic pause,” Mr. Husain quoted the senior official who added that “We need a break from the cycle of violence and focus on domestic issues.” The Pakistani leadership has agreed to explore all options that can lead to lowering of tension, while Pakistan’s primary interest at this initial stage is that Occupied Kashmir gets back its statehood and India agrees not to bring about any demographic changes in the disputed territory. Mr. Husain, however, added that both governments have agreed not to involve any third party in this initiative for now. [13] However, earlier on April 14 Ambassador of UAE to the USA had reportedly claimed that the UAE is mediating between India and Pakistan.[14] On April 23, Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi, had categorically rejected the speculations of any “secret talks” between Pakistan and India through backdoor channels and also denied that any third party was involved in facilitating these talks.[15] However, on April 25, Foreign Minister Qureshi changed his stance by stating that “If India is willing to re-visit some of the decisions that it took on August 5, 2019, Pakistan will be more than happy to engage, sit and talk and resolve all outstanding issues.” He also said that “So, when they (Indian leaders) expressed an interest in recommitment, we welcomed it. Kashmiris have welcomed it. And that has, in my view, lowered tensions and has gone well on both sides. Sensible elements on this side and on that side have welcomed this new development.”[16]

The news of talks between Pakistan and India was also confirmed by many other journalists while reporting on an iftar dinner hosted for 30 journalists and media anchor persons where Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa engaged with them. [17]

Cracks in the PDM

Mr. Fazal ur Rehman while talking to journalists

Cracks have begun to appear in the PDM as the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Awami National Party (ANP) have announced to quit the opposition alliance. On April 12, the PPP announced to quit the PDM and demanded an ‘unconditional apology’ from PDM office-bearers for serving the PPP and the ANP with a show-cause notice. Earlier, on April 5, Mr. Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Senior Vice President PML-N, in his capacity as Secretary General PDM, had issued show-cause notices to Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Awami National Party (ANP) for nominating Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani as the opposition leader in the Senate. The two parties were asked to give their response within seven days of the receipt of the notice. [18] On April 06, the Awami National Party (ANP) had announced quitting the PDM, saying the opposition alliance had been ‘hijacked’ by some of its members for their own interests.

Mr. Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, PPP chairman, said that the PPP believes in politics with mutual respect and trust and the same ideology they follow within the alliance politics. He further said that the PPP CEC demands unconditional apology to the ANP and the PPP. The PPP’s decision to quit the PDM came after a two-day central executive committee meeting of the PPP. [19] A day earlier, on April 11, Mr. Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Chairman PPP reportedly tore apart the show-cause notice issued to it by the PDM. [20] On April 13, Maulana Fazal ur Rehman, Chief, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) asked the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Awami National Party (ANP) to “reconsider” their decision of quitting the PDM and said that the PDM will continue its struggle to achieve its objectives even if the two parties do not return to its fold.[21]

On April 2, the PDM parties represented in the Senate had decided to part ways with the PPP and the ANP, and form a new block of five opposition parties, namely the PML-N, the JUI-F, the PkMAP, the NP and the BNP-M who have 27 members in the Senate. The five parties said this was done owing to the concern that the PPP moved to get the slot of the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate with the support of the independent senators known to be affiliated with Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) – an ally of PTI . [22]

Justice Qazi Faez Isa Case

Justice Qazi Faez Isa

On April 26, in a short order, the Supreme Court, by a majority of six to four honourable judges, set aside the court’s earlier verdict of June 19, 2020 by accepting the review petitions against the verdict. The judgment also recalled the directive to the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to conduct an inquiry into three UK properties in the name of wife and children of Justice Qazi Faez Isa. The order stated that all the subsequent proceedings, actions, orders information and reports in pursuance of the directives issued through the June 19 verdict as well as the detailed reasons of that short order were declared to be illegal and without any legal effect. [23]

During the hearing, Justice Isa reportedly protested in the strongest term and accused Justice Bandial of violating the code of conduct and becoming a complainant against him by introducing the documents that concerned the FBR report before the bench hearing review cases. Likewise, his wife Sarina Isa also asked Justice Bandial and Justice Muneeb Akhtar to disclose their assets like her husband if they really believed in the accountability of judges. Justice Isa said no judge of the Supreme Court should ever go through the ordeal which he and his family endured.

Later, on April 28, the Supreme Judicial Council also decided not to proceed further against Justice Qazi Faez Isa in the light of the SC judgement. [24]

According to seniority, Justice Qazi Faez Isa is due to assume the office of the Chief Justice of Pakistan in September 2023 to October 2024 for a little over a year. The period is considered crucial as the next general election in Pakistan is due to be held after the expiry of the term of the 15th National Assembly in August 2023. It is largely understood that the government decided to target Justice Isa and look for something to pin against him after his critical judgment about the apparent facilitation of the TLP dharna by the ISI in 2017. During the proceedings on April 15, Justice Qazi Faez Isa claimed that the government wants him removed from the apex court over his Faizabad verdict. In Faizabad dharna case verdict, Justice Isa had warned the security apparatus and intelligence agencies for acting in excess of their mandate and also raising the point that ISI in their report submitted did not disclose the “source of livelihood, place of work, address, funding of their organisations, et cetera” of the TLP leadership.[25]

In May 2019, a presidential reference was filed against Justice Qazi Faez Isa that alleged that he had acquired three properties in London on lease in the name of his wife and children between 2011 and 2015 but did not disclose those in his wealth returns. Justice Isa contested the allegation, saying he was not a beneficial owner of the flats — either directly or indirectly. The reference was quashed by the Supreme Court on June 19, 2020 and the act of the President was unanimously declared mala fide by ten judges of the Honourable Supreme Court. However, seven of the ten judges, issued a judicial direction to the FBR to conduct an ad-hoc inquiry into Mrs Isa’s acquisition of foreign properties and to place a report before the Supreme Judicial Council for further action, if necessary. In effect, this meant that spirit of the reference was retained in investigating Justice Isa’s wife and children. This direction by seven out of ten judges that was challenged in review and has now been set aside on April 26. In going forward, concerns still remain on what further attempts might be made against Justice Isa in this regard.

National Assembly Standing Committee on Interior approves draft bill penalising intentional disrespect of Armed Forces

On April 07, the National Assembly (NA) Standing Committee on Interior approved amendments to a private member bill seeking up to two years imprisonment or a fine of Rs. 5 lakhs, or both, to anyone who intentionally ridicules, brings into disrepute or defames the Armed Forces of Pakistan. The Private Member Bill, titled the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, 2020 [26] was introduced in the National Assembly by Mr. Amjid Ali Khan, MNA, (NA-96 Mianwali-II, Punjab; PTI) also the Chairman, National Assembly Standing Committee on Defence, on September 15, 2020. According to the Statement of Objects and Reasons on the bill, the purpose of the amendment is to “prevent hatred and disrespectful behavior against the Armed Forces.”

The Standing Committee on Interior is chaired by Raja Khurram Shahzad Nawaz, MNA (NA-52 ICT-I, PTI). According to the press release by the Standing Committee on Interior, the “bill titled The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2020 (Section 500 A) was considered by the Committee, [and] after detailed discussion the Committee recommended that the bill may be passed by the National Assembly.” [27] With Raja Khurram Shahzad Nawaz, PTI MNA in the chair, the meeting was attended by PTI committee members including Mr. Sher Akbar Khan, Mr. Rahat Aman Ullah Bhatti, Malik Karamat Ali Khokhar and Ms. Nafeesa Inayatullah Khan Khattak, the PML-N committee members including Mr. Mohammad Pervaiz Malik, Mr. Nadeem Abbas, and Ms. Maryam Aurangzeb, and the PPPP member Syed Agha Rafiullah.

Reportedly, the bill saw opposition from the PPPP lone attending member Syed Agha Rafiullah and PML-N member Ms. Maryam Aurangzeb. A PTI member Mr. Sher Akbar Khan also requested the mover, Mr. Mr. Amjid Ali Khan, MNA, who was also in attendance as a mover of the bill, to withdraw the bill, though he later voted for the bill. The bill was passed with five against four votes as the committee chair voted in favour of the recommendation that the bill may be passed by the National Assembly.

A working paper from the Ministry of Interior presented to the Standing Committee on Interior stated that the draft bill was referred to Army’s General Headquarters, Islamabad Capital Territory administration, and Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for views/comments. While the response was still awaited from all relevant stakeholders, the KP Home department did not endorse the bill stating that its promulgation would create conflict among the existing constitutional and statutory provisions and its misuse could not be overruled. Moreover, the KP government also believed the bill would create discrimination with other law enforcement agencies and public offices, which was against the provision of the Constitution. The ICT administration endorsed the draft bill. The Ministry of Interior endorsed the draft bill stating that “incidents of defaming the Armed Forces have increased in the country and some disruptive element, for furtherance of their political objectives, engage in this undesirable practice which is very defamatory and demoralizing for the Armed Forces of Pakistan.” [28] It must be noted that Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad heads Ministry of Interior as Federal Minister while Mirza Shahzad Akbar is Adviser to Prime Minister on Accountability and Interior.

Sharing an analysis on the bill passed, PILDAT President Mr. Ahmed Bilal Mehboob tweeted that apparently at the time of consideration of the draft bill by Standing Committee on Interior, only 5 out of 10 opposition members were present which made it easy for the government to pass the bill from the committee and it was disappointing that in serious legislative business, opposition’s performance is quite bad.[29]

Tweeting on the approval of the bill by the Standing committee, PTI MNA and Federal Minister for Science and Technology, Mr. Fawad Ahmed said that it was an “absolutely ridiculous idea to criminalise criticism (and) respect is earned, (it) cannot be imposed on people, I strongly feel instead of new such laws Contempt of Court laws should be repealed.” [30] Another PTI MNA and Federal Minister for Human Rights, Dr. Shireen M. Mazari also endorsed the tweet by Mr. Fawad Ahmed saying that she totally agrees and cannot state it strongly enough. [31] Responding to another tweet, Mr. Fawad Ahmed said that “seriously doubt if Armed forces demanded such law, Army in Pakistan is loved and respected by every Pakistani with a soul.” [32]

The Pro-Tareen Legislators Group

Mr. Jehangir Tareen with PTI legislators

A group of PTI legislators in the National Assembly and the Provincial Assembly of the Punjab has emerged what is widely referred to as the Pro-Jehangir Tarin Group. Reportedly, there are nine MNAs among 30-strong group while the rest are MPAs from the Punjab Assembly. [33]

The pro-Tareen group support first became visible on April 7 when Mr. Jehangir Tareen spoke to media after appearing before a special court for banking offences for the extension of his pre-arrest bail in two of the FIRs lodged by the FIA in its probe into the sugar scandal. Several MNAs and MPAs of PTI accompanied Mr. Tareen to the court to express solidarity with him. Mr. Jehangir Tareen said his loyalty to the PTI was being tested despite his year long silence over the inquiry and asked his fellow members why is he being forced to become enemy of the PTI. He also criticised the freezing of his and his son’s bank accounts at the initial stage of the case. However, he said that he cannot even think of parting ways with PTI and rejected rumours about his plan to meet former President Mr. Asif Ali Zardari. Responding to Mr. Tareen’s comments, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Accountability and Interior, Mr. Shahzad Akbar said that the inquiry against Mr. Tareen and his family explains that accountability is being done across the board. He also said that Mr. Tareen’s group held 20 per cent stakes in the sugar market, with his JDW mills involved in Rs. 8 billion scam. [34]

Later, on April 22, Mr. Jahangir Tareen, before his appearance in the session court hearing, said some people in Islamabad had assured him and his entire group of PTI lawmakers supporting him of a meeting with the Prime Minister. These legislators demanded a meeting with PM to persuade him that Mr. Tareen is being unfairly targeted. At first the government took a tough line.[35]

On April 23, these legislators called on Punjab Governor, Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar where the Governor assured them of a meeting with Prime Minister to have their reservations redressed.[36]

On April 27, a meeting took place between ‘pro Tareen legislators’ and Prime Minister, Mr. Imran Khan where Governor Punjab was also present. While the Prime Minister has reported to have said that he would not influence the FIA to give relief to Mr. Tareen though he promised to personally look into the matter to avoid any political victimization in the case. PM has also formed a one-man committee comprising Senator Syed Ali Zafar to ascertain whether the delegation’s concerns that some people in the government and the PTI were politically victimising Mr. Jahangir Tareen were genuine. [37]

Ahead of the meeting, the media reported that the Federal government removed the FIA officer heading investigation against Mr Tareen and his son in the sugar scam on April 26. [38] The report was later partly contradicted.

Former DG LDA released from Jail

Mr. Ahad Cheema released on bail

On April 13, Mr. Ahad Khan Cheema, Former Director General, Lahore Development Authority (LDA) was released from jail on orders of the Lahore High Court after a pre-conviction imprisonment spanning over three years in three references filed against him by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). [39]

Earlier, on April 07, the Lahore High Court had allowed his second petition for post-arrest bail in a reference of accumulation of illegal assets filed by the NAB. Mr. Cheema was the first high profile arrest in Punjab by the NAB before the general elections of 2018. The NAB had arrested him on February 21, 2018 when he appeared before its investigation team in an inquiry about Ashyana-i-Iqbal Housing Scheme. In his bail petition, Mr. Cheema had denied the allegations as baseless and without any evidence. [40]

Allowing bail to Mr. Cheema the Lahore High Court bench, comprising Justice Sardar Muhammad Sarfraz Dogar and Justice Asjad Javed Ghural, observed that Mr. Cheema could not be left at the mercy of the prosecution to rot in jail for an indefinite period. The bench noted in its decision that a total of 66 adjournments were made on different grounds up to March 18, 2021, out of which eight adjournments were sought by the defence and 24 by the prosecution. Similarly, on 12 occasions, the case was adjourned on account of lawyers’ strike or bar elections while 16 adjournments were given due to unavailability of the presiding judge of the trial court. Mr. Cheema was also not produced from the jail before the court on six hearings due to circumstances relating to the Covid-19. The bench also referred to a report of the trial court filed before the Supreme Court, which states that so far 40 out of a total 150 prosecution witnesses had testified. However, the NAB filed its supplementary reference in the case on December 21, 2020 after 34 months of imprisonment of Mr. Cheema. After the supplementary reference, 60 more prosecution witnesses were added, taking the total number to 210. [41]

Following Mr. Cheema’s release, renewed criticism was levelled against the NAB’s flawed accountability process. Former Editor Dawn Mr. Abbas Nasir, tweeted that the NAB and its infamous chairman took three years out of Mr. Cheema’s life, kept him in jail, proved zero in courts and punished him for the crime of not implicating elected politicians in false cases. [42]

The curious case of Mr. Shehbaz Sharif’s bail

Mr. Shehbaz Sharif with his lawyers

In a curious case, the Lahore High Court (LHC) announced granting bail to Mr. Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif, MNA and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly on April 13, [43] but he was only released from the Kot Lakhpat Jail ten (10) days later on April 23. [44]

Mr. Shahbaz Sharif’s bail was apparently delayed on account of a missing signature by one of the judges of the two-member bench. Mr. Sharif was taken in custody on September 28, 2020. On April 14 the Lahore High Court bench comprising Justice Sardar Mohammad Sarfraz Dogar and Justice Asjad Javed Ghural had risen after telling the parties that they would be informed about its decision shortly and about 15 minutes later a court staff member came out of the judges’ retiring room and said that the petition had been allowed subject to bail bonds of Rs 5 million. While the LHC website showed the result of Mr. Sharif’s petition as “allowed” the bail was further delayed and Mr. Sharif was not released by jail authorities on bail on account of no written order issued by the Lahore High Court. One of the two judges, whose signature was missing on the bail order, later informed that he did not accept the bail and differed with the other judge. The Chief Justice of Lahore High Court appointed a three-member referee bench to adjudicate the bail request.

On April 21, hearing the bail case, a three-member bench of the Lahore High Court, headed by Justice Ali Baqar Najafi, and comprising Justice Aalia Neelum and Justice Shahbaz Rizvi said that no guess should be made on a verdict till a written order is issued. [45] Earlier, a statement issued by the LHC spokesman advised media to avoid speculations about the order before its release and the order, once signed by the judges, would be released to media.[46]

On April 17, Judges of a Lahore High Court (LHC) 2-member bench had come up with a split decision on the post-arrest bail petition sending the matter to the chief justice for the nomination of a referee judge. Justice Sardar Mohammad Sarfraz Dogar, who headed the bench, allowed the petition while its other member Justice Asjad Javed Ghural dismissed the same on merits. In his disagreeing order, Justice Ghural also accused the senior judge of issuing the bail granting short order ‘unilaterally’, which is against the ground reality. Mr. Ghural further said after hearing the parties, when Justice Dogar sought my consent for allowing the petition, he refused in the court whereupon the announcement was deferred for consultation in the chamber where he again straightaway refused but surprisingly, Justice Dogar unilaterally announced his decision through his naib qasid (Junior messenger) granting bail to the petitioner. Mr. Ghural added that it’s a very unfortunate and rare example in the judicial history, which could not be expected from a senior member (Justice Dogar) heading the division bench. [47]

Former Chairman PEMRA shot

Mr. Absar Alam shot in Islamabad

On April 20, senior journalist and former chairman of Pakistan Electronic Media Authority (PEMRA), Mr. Absar Alam, was shot in Islamabad. In a video shared by journalist Mr. Asad Ali Toor, Mr. Alam can be heard saying he was shot in the ribs while walking outside his home. [48] On April 24, a CCTV footage was also released by Mr. Toor capturing attack on Mr. Alam. [49]

On April 18, Mr. Absar Alam had tweeted that in November 2017 when he was serving as Chairman PEMRA and ordered channel 92 to go off-air for violating the National Action Plan by promoting the TLP Faizabad dharna, the DG ISI Faiz Hameed had called and asked him to either allow streaming of Channel 92 or stop live-streaming of all other TV channels also. [50] A news story published by New York times said that Mr. Absar Alam was critical of the “country’s powerful military establishment” and that Pakistan media has been suffering under pressure from the military and its allies in the ruling PTI. [51]

On April 27, Mr. Absar Alam addressed Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa in a series of tweets questioning why the COAS has been commenting on the attack on him [Absar Alam] when he [Absar Alam] himself has not held anyone responsible for the attack.

The TLP Strikes again

Glimpses from the TLP protest

From April 11 to April 20, the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) once again held the country hostage by holding country-wide protest resulting in the violent killing of two policemen and injuring various citizens.

On April 11, the TLP chief released a video message asking the TLP activists to launch protests across Pakistan if the government did not expel the French ambassador from the country by April 20. He was arrested in Lahore on April 12 which unleashed wave of violence and riots including two police officers beaten to death by the TLP in Lahore. Even though a ban on the TLP was announced on April 15, [52] the government continued to engage in negotiations with the TLP on its four demands of the expulsion of the French ambassador from Pakistan, release of Saad Rizvi, removal of the ban on the party and the release and revoking of FIRS against the TLP activists. On April 20, the Interior Minister announced said that the TLP agreed to call off protests across the country but cleared that talks with the party were continuing. [53]

Earlier, on April 16, the Ministry of Interior directed the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to temporarily block access to social media platforms for a brief period as a necessary step for maintaining public order and safety.[54]

On April 17, while urging the TLP not to harm peace and economy of the country through violent protest over the issue of blasphemous caricatures, Prime Minister Mr. Imran Khan, in an address to the nation, said that like the TLP, the government too wanted that there was no blasphemy against the Holy Prophet in any country and “only our methods are different.” Prime Minister said that he would launch an international campaign with the help of heads of all Muslim states to make the western counties and European Union realise that the West must discourage Islamophobia and blasphemy of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) in the name of freedom of speech because it hurts the sentiments of Muslims across the world.[55]

On April 20, the government tabled a resolution in the National Assembly in line with an agreement with the banned TLP and the Speaker National Assembly created a Special Committee to take up the resolution. While the PML-N and the JUI-F protested at tabling of the resolution without prior consultation with them, the PPP boycotted the sitting. Addressing the House, Minister for Religious Affairs, Mr. Noor ul Haq Qadri criticised the PML-N for making “controversial changes in the election laws, killing 22 TLP activists during a similar protest by the group and hanging Mumtaz Qadri” during its government. The minister also mentioned the Model Town tragedy in his speech while hitting out at the PML-N and declared the prime minister a “true lover” of the Prophet, saying that “no moulvi or pir” could match Mr Khan in this regard. [56] Later, however, PML-N, JUI-F and the PPP opposed the idea of creation of a committee and instead called for a full-fledged debate in the National Assembly on the Namoos-i-Risalat issue. [57]

Meanwhile, the French embassy in Islamabad sent a recommendation to its citizens to leave Pakistan.

Pakistan slides down 3 places on Press Freedom Index

Pakistan slides on press freedom index

On April 20, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontiers – RSF) released the 2020 World Press Freedom index, indicating that Pakistan has slid down another three places to reach 145th position out of 180 countries.

Norway scored on top while North Korea was at the bottom. The Indian position dropped to 142 from 140 in 2019, Iran stood at 173 while Afghanistan was gauged at 122nd position.[58]

SC Contempt Notice to Registrar IHC

Supreme Court of Pakistan

On April 13, a two member Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Mr. Gulzar Ahmed issued a contempt of court notice to the registrar of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) over his ‘casual’ attitude to comply with the direction of removing the structures of the courts illegally built on a private land in F-8 Markaz, Islamabad. The Chief Justice also remarked that the Registrar IHC did not take the direction of demolishing the illegal structures of the courts seriously and left this matter to the junior officers and failed to implement the apex court’s direction in a timely manner. [59]

The bench was hearing the petition of President Islamabad High Court Bar Association seeking review of the court’s direction to the Capital Development Authority (CDA) for removal of illegal chambers from the Football Ground of Sector F-8. Earlier, the IHC registrar had submitted the compliance report to the Supreme Court and accused the CDA of misleading the Supreme Court about the illegal construction of courts on the premises for the session courts of Islamabad.

Senate Investigation Committee on installation of spy cameras

Opposition had alleged about hidden cameras being placed prior to the election of deputy and chairman senate elections

On April 08, Senator Sadiq Sanjrani, Chairman, Senate of Pakistan, constituted a seven member committee to investigate the installation of spy cameras inside the Senate hall and the polling booth that had been set up for election of the chairman and the deputy chairman on March 12, 2021. The Senate Investigation Committee has been given a month, until May 08, to submit its report. [60]

The committee members include Senator Dr. Sikandar Mandhro (PPPP), Senator Rana Maqbool Ahmed (PML-N), Senator Talha Mehmood (JUI-F), Senator Sarfaraz Bugti (JWP) Senator Hidayatullah Khan, (Independent), Senator Azam Swati, Federal Minister for Railways, and Mr. Muhammad Anwar, Executive Director, Pakistan Institute for Parliamentary Services (PIPS).

SC Orders removal of 53 FIA employees

On April 27, a three-member Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Gulzar Ahmed, Chief Justice of Pakistan, ordered immediate removal of 53 FIA employees inducted during the PPP tenure of 1989-90. [61]

While the federal cabinet on December 8, 1990 had ordered the termination of services of these employees, the employees had secured stay orders from the Lahore High Court (LHC). Their services were terminated again in 1996 but they continued to serve in their posts on the basis of status quo obtained through the Sindh High Court. On February 7, 2001, the LHC dismissed 53 different petitions on the ground that the FPSC should take necessary action to regularize the ad-hoc appointments of assistant directors and inspectors in BS-16 to -17 by holding tests and interviews as may be deemed fit. However, the ad-hoc employees did not avail the opportunity on the grounds of awaiting settlement of the writ petitions before the court despite the SC orders of February 21, 2001 directing the employees to appear before the FPSC without specifying their ranks.

Chief Justice Lahore High Court blames DHA for land grabbing

Lahore High Court

Hearing petitions of three citizens seeking an order against the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) Lahore to not disturb their lawful possession of the land, Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court, Justice Mohammad Qasim Khan, criticised the DHA for its involvement in “illegal” occupation of lands.

Reportedly, the LHC Chief Justice regretted that the army seems to have become the “biggest land grabber” in the country and had also grabbed a piece of land measuring 50-kanal owned by the high court. He directed the DHA’s counsel to make the DHA administrator appear before the court immediately while asking a provincial law officer to ensure the appearance of CCPO Lahore before the court. After a break, while the CCPO Lahore Mr. Ghulam Mahmood Dogar appeared before the court, the DHA’s counsel informed that DHA Administrator Brig Satti was in Islamabad for his appearance before the Supreme Court. Reportedly, the LHC Chief Justice also asked the CCPO to leave the job if he could not take any action against the illegal occupations by the DHA and ordered the police officer to lodge an FIR if he received any application against the DHA. [62]

Former FIA DG alleges PM for filing case against Justice Qazi Faez Isa and later contradicts his own statement

Mr. Bashir Memon alleges PM for filing case against Justice Qazi Faez Isa

In a series of media appearances, former Director General FIA, Mr. Bashir Memon has alleged that Prime Minister Mr. Imran Khan’s Advisor on Accountability, Mirza Shahzad Akbar, and Law Minister, Senator Farogh Naseem, wanted him to make a money laundering case against Justice Qazi Faez Isa but he refused to do so because it was not the FIA’s mandate to investigate a supreme court judge. Mr. Memon also claimed that Prime Minister wanted him [Memon] to make a terrorism case against PML-N leader Ms. Maryam Nawaz Sharif after she played a video of former judge Mr. Arshad Malik in her 2019 press conference in Lahore. [63]

On April 29, Prime Minister Mr. Imran Khan termed Mr. Memon’s allegations against him and his cabinet members as baseless, claiming he never asked Memon to make a case against Supreme Court’s Justice Qazi Faez Isa nor he ever asked Mr. Memon to make terrorism case against Ms. Maryam Nawaz Sharif. Prime Minister maintained that Mr. Memon used to brief him on the developments in cases against the Omni group. Mr. Imran Khan, however, said that he had asked Mr. Memon to look into the matter of former defence minister Khawaja Asif’s work permit but the decision to initiate investigation against Mr. Asif was taken in the cabinet meeting.[64] Later, in another TV appearance, Mr. Memon said that the PM never asked him to lodge a case against a particular judge.

Pakistan’s powerful groups enjoy economic privileges of over US $ 17 Billion: UNDP NHDR

Prime Minister chairing the launch of Pakistan Human Development Report on April 06, 2021

Listing state-owned enterprises, feudal class, corporate sector, exporters, large scale traders, military establishment and high net worth individuals in a list of Pakistan’s most powerful groups, the UNDP National Human Development Report, 2020 has concluded that these powerful groups enjoy economic privileges of over US $ 17 billion (PKR 2,660 billion) which is equivalent to 7% of Pakistan’s GDP. These privileges include favourable pricing, lower taxation, and preferential access to infrastructure. [65]

UNDP’s Pakistan National Human Development Report (NHDR) The three Ps of inequality: Power, People, and Policy was launched on April 6, 2021 which was chaired by the Prime Minister, Mr. Imran Khan. The report is written by renowned economist Dr Hafiz A. Pasha and carries a special message of Mr. Asad Umar, Federal Minister for Planning, Development & Special Initiatives, who has also been part of the Advisory Council for the Pakistan NHDR 2020. Speaking on the launch, Prime Minister Mr. Imran Khan said that “Inequality alleviation is the cornerstone of a prosperous Pakistan. We are committed to ensure equal opportunities for all citizens in all fields and regions, which is why the NHDR 2020 is especially meaningful for us.” [66]

PM reviews progress on CPEC

Prime Minister Mr. Imran Khan

On April 30, Prime Minister Mr. Imran Khan chaired what PMO termed as a ‘high-level meeting’ to review progress on CPEC. Chief of Army Staff was part of the meeting alongside Chairman CPEC Authority and Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Energy, Finance, Industries, Planning, and Advisor to Prime Minister on Commerce and Investment and Special Assistant to Prime Minister on National Security Division and Strategic Policy Planning. [67]

According to the PMO, Prime Minister was informed that under the tenure of current government, on-going projects started by the previous government have been completed and in addition, a large number of significant projects have also been completed. The meeting was informed that “regardless of who started any project most of the projects have been completed by the current Govt. Special Economic Zones including Rashakai, Dhabeji, Allama Iqbal Industrial City and Gawadar Industrial Zones are attracting Foreign and local Investors. It was also told that Chinese are expanding cooperation in Agriculture Sector and livestock.” [68]

NCC announces Army to assist Police in enforcing SOPs

Prime Minister chairing NCC Meeting

Chairing a meeting of the National Coordination Committee for COVID-19 (NCC) on April 23, Prime Minister Mr. Imran Khan announced that Pakistan Army would assist Police across the country in enforcing standard operating procedures (SOPs) against COVID-19. “I am appealing to you to follow SOPs so that we do not have to take steps which India is taking, like imposing lockdowns,” said the Prime Minister. [69] The meeting was attended by Chief of the Army Staff and DG ISI, alongside key federal ministers. [70]

Establishment Division refuses to disclose assets of civil servants

Pakistan Information Commission

On April 18, the Establishment Division challenged the order of the Pakistan Information Commission (PIC) in a petition filed in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) and refused to make public details of assets owned by civil servants, stating this is a laborious and time-consuming task which does not fall within division’s purview and disclosure of their assets will jeopardise interests of civil servants.

In March 2021, Pakistan Information Commission had directed the Establishment Division’s public information officer to provide within 10 days to the applicant the information sought including details of assets declarations, list of officers, their designations and current postings, the names of officers whose promotion was halted due to non-submission of asset details, and the list of officers, with their designations and current posting data, who had never submitted their assets declaration during their service tenure. The PIC, comprising Chief Information Commissioner Mr. Mohammad Azam and Information Commissioners Mr. Zahid Abdullah and Mr. Fawad Malik, issued a notice to the Establishment Division which did not respond to it. Subsequently, the commission passed an ex-parte order. The commission maintained that public interest outweighed any harm to privacy of the civil servants who had failed to fulfil their obligation of submitting details of their assets. [71]

Speaker National Assembly receives Foreign Dignitaries

Speaker National Assembly with foreign dignitaries

Speaker National Assembly of Pakistan, Mr. Asad Qaiser received a number of foreign dignitaries during April. On April 1, Ambassador of Afghanistan to Pakistan, Mr. Najibullah Ali Khel, called on the Speaker. [72] On April 27, Ambassador of Belarus to Pakistan, Mr. Andrei Metelitsa, called on the Speaker National Assembly. [73]

Chairman Senate receives Foreign Dignitaries

Chairman Senate with Foreign Dignitaries

Senator Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani, Chairman Senate of Pakistan received a few foreign dignitaries also during April. On April 04, Mr. Nawaf-bin Saeed Al-Maliki, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to Pakistan, called on the Chairman Senate. [74] On April 05, Mr. Kuninoro Matsuda, Ambassador of Japan to Pakistan, called on Senate Chairman.[75] On April 22, Mr. Ali Alizada, Ambassador of Azerbaijan to Pakistan, called on the Chairman Senate. [76]

COAS calls on PM to discuss security situation

COAS with PM (file photo)

According to media reports, Chief of Army staff, alongside DG ISI, called on Prime Minister Mr. Imran Khan on April 13 to discuss the security and law and order situation of the country. [77]

Interestingly, however, neither the PMO, which issues press releases about Prime Minister’s daily engagements, nor the ISPR which issues press releases on the engagements of the Army Chief, have issued any media releases about the meeting.

Pakistan understands the impact of civil war in Afghanistan: Zalmay Khalilzad

Mr. Zalmay Khalilzad, US special Envoy for Afghanistan

Speaking at a public hearing of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Zalmay Khalilzad, US Special Envoy for Afghanistan, said that Pakistan understands the impact of civil war in Afghanistan. He also said that Pakistan’s leaders have emphasized publicly and to US officials that they do not support a military takeover by the Taliban in Afghanistan and that Pakistan understands that not only Afghanistan, but Pakistan too will face grave consequences in the event of a return of a wider civil war in Afghanistan.

Mr. Khalilzad emphasized that keeping US forces in Afghanistan did not make sense as the conflict could not be solved by continued fighting.[78]

240th Corps Commander Conference

240th Corps Commanders Conference

Chaired by the COAS, the 240th Corps Commanders’ Conference was held at the GHQ on April 08. In discussing the environment post cease fire understanding 2021 between the DGMOs of Pakistan and India, the forum “reaffirmed complete solidarity with Kashmiri brethren in their struggle for right to self-determination.” [79]

Reportedly the Corps Commander Conference also “undertook a detailed review of security situation in Newly Merged Districts of KP” and “reiterated the importance of energizing early induction of civil administration and other Law Enforcement Agencies along with speedy implementation of development plan within these districts for their ultimate transition to civil administration in an earlier timeframe.” [80]

FM visits to the Armed Forces Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine

Foreign Minister at the AFIRM

According to the ISPR, Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi, visited the Armed Forces Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine (AFIRM), in Rawalpindi on April 09. Pakistan Army’s Surgeon General, Lt. Gen. Nigar Johar was also present on the occasion.

While at the AFIRM, Mr. Qureshi said that “the whole nation takes pride in our Armed Forces and acknowledges their achievements and sacrifices may it be during war, internal security duties or nation building projects across the length and breadth of the country.” [81]

COAS receives Foreign Dignitaries

General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Chief of the Army Staff

A number of foreign dignitaries called on Chief of the Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa during April while some foreign dignitaries held telephonic conversations with the COAS.

On April 01, Mr. Piotr A. Opalinski, Ambassador of Poland to Pakistan, called on the COAS. [82] On April 07, Mr. Sergey Lavrov, Foreign Minister of Russia, called on General Qamar Javed Bajwa.[83] On April 14, Mr. Kuninori Matsuda, Japanese Ambassador to Pakistan, called on the COAS. [84] On April 15, Chief of Army Staff received the US Charge d’ Affairs to Pakistan, Ms. Angela Ageler, at the GHQ. [85] On April 22, the Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan, Mr. Najibullah Ali Khil, called on the COAS at the GHQ.[86] On April 29, Mr. Suh Sangpyo, Korean Ambassador to Pakistan, called on the Chief of Army Staff.[87]

Two telephone calls were made to the Chief of Army Staff during April by US officials. On April 13, US Secretary of State, Antony J. Blinken called Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa.[88] On April 28, US Secretary of State Mr. Lloyd Austin called the Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa.[89]

US President warns Taliban for accountability on Afghanistan

US President warns Taliban for accountability on Afghanistan

On April 14, Joe Biden, US President (while announcing the complete pull out of US Troops from Afghanistan before September 11, 2021) said US will hold Taliban accountable for its commitment not to allow any terrorists to threaten the US or its allies from Afghan soil and will ask other countries in the region to support Afghanistan, especially Pakistan, as well as Russia, China, India and Turkey. [90]

Premier-COAS Interactions

PM with COAS (file photo)

During April 2021, Prime Minister and Chief of Army Staff have met and interacted thrice. These include their one-on-one meeting on April 13, the NCC meeting held on April 23 and the high-level meeting to review CPEC progress on April 30, 2021.

Somalia’s President extends term by 2 years

Somalian President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed

On April 09, Somalia’s President Mr. Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed extended his own term in office by two years. He signed the law two days after it was approved by Somalia’s Parliament amid accusations that the president’s office had engineered the vote.

The election process has been deadlocked since fall 2020, when the leaders of Puntland and Jubaland, two of Somalia’s five semi-autonomous federal states, first accused Mr. Mohamed of using the national intelligence agency to rig the voting system. [91]

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  83. ISPR (2021) His Excellency Mr Sergey Lavrov, Foreign Minister of Russia called on General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Chief of Army Staff (COAS) at GHQ, today. Available at https://ispr.gov.pk/press-release-detail.php?id=6124. (Accessed 07 April 2021).
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