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Army dismayed as Musharraf gets death for high treason

ISLAMABAD: As a special court awarded death sentence to former military dictator Pervez Musharraf in absent on Tuesday for suspending the Constitution on Nov 3, 2007, the counsel for the convict and the armed forces media wing in separate statements strongly criticized the decision that they said was taken ‘in haste’.

The court, comprising judges of three high courts, awarded the sentence with a dissenting note from one judge who said that instead of capital punishment, the former military ruler should be awarded life imprisonment for imposing emergency and forcibly confining over 60 judges to their residences 12 years ago.

The special court, comprising Peshawar High Court Chief Justice Waqar Ahmed Seth, Justice Nazar Akbar of the Sindh High Court and Justice Shahid Karim of the Lahore High Court, will announce the detailed verdict in the high treason case within 48 hours of the pronouncement of the short order.

In a sharp and quick reaction to the ruling, the armed forces media wing said: “The decision given by special court about General Pervez Musharraf, retired, has been received with lot of pain and anguish by rank and file of Pakistan armed forces. An ex-army chief, chairman joint chief of staff committee and President of Pakistan, who has served the country for over 40 years, fought wars for the defence of the country can surely never be a traitor.”

The statement issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said: “The due legal process seems to have been ignored including constitution of the special court, denial of fundamental right of self-defence, undertaking individual-specific proceedings and concluding the case in haste.”

The ISPR said the armed forces expected that justice would be dispensed in line with the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

While addressing a press conference, Barrister Salman Safdar, the counsel for retired Gen Musharraf, who has been in Dubai since 2016, said the court decision was “unconstitutional”.

The lawyer termed this an irony of fate that the trial of the 77-year-old ex-president was concluded “in haste” and “without giving him right of audience” and it was in “violation of the right to fair trial”.

The counsel told the media that Gen Musharraf could file an appeal against the decision within 30 days after receipt of the detailed judgement.

Asked if the ex-military ruler, before filing an appeal, would surrender before the court, Barrister Safdar said the verdict was announced in the absence of Gen Musharraf, who was suffering from multiple diseases and was not in position to surrender due to his fragile health.

The All-Pakistan Muslim League (APML), the political party of Gen Musharraf, also criticised the verdict. However, the party said instead of street protests, it had decided to challenge the verdict at an appropriate forum.

Political adviser to Gen Musharraf, Chaudhry Sarfraz Anjum Kahlon, said: “The verdict delivered by the special court is fundamentally flawed, devoid of legal merit. The legal team is reviewing all available options to overturn the judgment.”

The special court was scheduled to announce a verdict in the high treason case on Nov 28. However, a three-member bench of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on identical petitions of the interior ministry and the counsel for Gen Musharraf on Nov 27 restrained the special court from announcing the verdict. The IHC also asked the federal government to notify the prosecutors and suggested the special court to hear the arguments of Barrister Safdar.

On Dec 5, the court expressed displeasure when the prosecution despite having clear directions of the court was not ready for the final arguments. The special court then had to put off the case for Dec 17.

On Tuesday, when the special court resumed proceedings, the prosecution filed three applications for amending the charge-sheet, appointment of commission for recording the statement of Gen Musharraf and the constitution of a medical board to evaluate his health condition.

The prosecution wanted that the charge-sheet be amended to also include former prime minister Shaukat Aziz, former chief justice Abdul Hameed Dogar and former law minister Zahid Hamid as co-accused in the high treason case.

The second application urged the court to constitute a commission to record statement of Gen Musharraf under Section 342 of the criminal procedure code, which was a pre-requisite in the criminal proceedings. The third application requested the court to constitute a medical board to evaluate the health of Gen Musharraf in order to ascertain the factual position as to whether ex-military ruler had not been absconding but was unable to attend the trial proceedings.

The court returned the applications observing that the Supreme Court had already decided these issues, which could not be entertained at this stage.

Erdogan threatens to open Europe gates for refugees

BUDAPEST: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on a visit to EU member Hungary repeated his threat Thursday to “open the gates” for millions of refugees eager to flee to Europe unless more international support was provided.

Erdogan held talks with Hungarian nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban — a rare EU ally — in Budapest where several hundred people demonstrated over Ankara’s deadly military offensive in Syria, with placards calling the Turkish leader a “genocidal dictator”.

Ankara launched the military operation last month to push Syrian Kurdish forces back from its border and create a “safe zone” to take in some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees currently in Turkey.

Erdogan has called on EU countries to provide more financial support for his plan to create the “safe zone”.

“Whether or not support comes, we will continue to host our guests, but only up to a point,” Erdogan said at a news conference alongside Orban.

“If we see that this does not work, just like I said before, we will have no option left but to open the gates. If we open the gates, it is obvious where they will go,” Erdogan added.

Orban, an anti-immigration figurehead for nationalists in Europe and beyond, said Hungary stood ready to help Turkey however it could to create the “safe zone”.

“Without Turkey, you cannot stop migration headed for Europe… As a consequence of this, Hungary is a strategic partner of Turkey in security and migration questions,” he said.

“We have to do everything to avoid masses of migrants arriving at Hungary’s southern border, and for that we need Turkey’s help.”

‘Berlin-Moscow-Istanbul triangle’

Erdogan’s visit comes just a week after Orban hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin, stoking concerns in the European Union that the self-styled “illiberal” Hungarian is cosying up to autocrats.

Speaking alongside Putin, also a regular visitor to the EU and NATO member state, Orban defended his foreign policy of “eastern opening”, saying Hungary was in a “Berlin-Moscow-Istanbul triangle”.

Accusing his Western critics of turning a blind eye to their own countries’ trade and political engagements with eastern countries, Orban has repeatedly defended Ankara.

Hungary delayed an EU resolution condemning Turkey’s action, with Orban insisting that the offensive was in “Hungary’s national interest” because it would help stop refugees coming to the EU.

At a meeting in Kazakhstan last month, Erdogan personally thanked Orban for his “support” for Ankara’s Syrian operation.

Orban was also one of the few European leaders to attend Erdogan’s July 2018 inauguration ceremony for his second term in office, while the Turkish leader visited Hungary in October last year.

“(Orban’s) Turkey policy fits in with his strategy toward the east, trying to give political favours for economic ones,” Daniel Bartha, director of the think tank Centre for Euro-Atlantic Integration and Democracy, told AFP.

Orban said Thursday that Hungary would be able to get natural gas from the TurkStream pipeline — which will supply Russian gas to Turkey via the Black Sea — by the end of 2021.

Hungary’s partly state-owned energy giant MOL also bought last week a stake in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline that transports crude oil to the Mediterranean through Turkey.

The Hungarian army also plans to buy Turkish armoured vehicles, according to media reports, while a Budapest-based Turkish business magnate is close to both Orban’s family and to Erdogan.

“The Hungarian government appears to perceive Turkey as an emerging, key geopolitical player, not only in Syria but also in southeastern Europe and the broader Middle East,” said Daniel Hegedus, an analyst with the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

“It seems ready to accept significant conflicts within the EU to please Ankara, and acts according to the interests of Turkey and Russia rather than the Western alliances Budapest belongs to,” Hegedus told AFP.

Passport requirement waived for Sikh pilgrims visiting Kartarpur: FO

Islamabad on Thursday clarified that Pakistan has waived the passport requirement for Sikh pilgrims entering the country on the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak.

Kartarpur coridor

During the weekly press briefing, FO Spokesperson Dr Muhammad Faisal said the government has waived off three requirements for Sikh pilgrims coming to Kartarpur on Baba Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary.

The pilgrims will no longer have to carry their passports or convey their information to the government and register 10 days in advance.

The FO further said that the $20 service charge per pilgrim per visit on November 9 and 12 will also be waived, adding that this information has been formally conveyed to the Indian government.

However, DG ISPR Major General Asif Ghafoor on Wednesday had said pilgrims would require a ‘permit-based entry’ to the Kartarpur Corridor and no compromise would be made on the security of the region.

Earlier this month, the premier had said members of the Sikh community coming to Kartapur from India will not need a passport. “They will be able to travel with a valid identity card.”

The FO spokesperson further said that the Kartarpur Corridor was solely Pakistan’s initiative.

“Not to rub it in, but this was solely Pakistan’s initiative. This was Prime Minister Imran Khan’s initiative which India then agreed to,” he said.

Referring to a terrorism report issued by the US State Department, the spokesperson reiterated that Islamabad is ‘disappointed’ that the sacrifices and contributions made over the last two decades were overlooked.

“It completely overlooks factual information and contribution made by Pakistan over the last two decades. We hope Pakistan’s contributions and sacrifices will be fully recognized,” he said.

Fazlur Rehman demand PM resignation

Fazulur Rehman

Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman came out all guns blazing against Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday, saying there is no need for talks with the government’s negotiating team if the demand of the prime minister’s resignation is off the table.

A fiery address by Fazlur Rehman to the participants of the ‘Azadi March’ in the federal capital appeared to pour cold water on the optimism about a deal with the JUI-F chief, which surfaced after PML-Q leader Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi met Fazlur Rehman at his residence.

“I have already said that we are optimistic,” Pervaiz Elahi, also a member of the government’s negotiating team, told reporters after meeting Fazlur Rehman.

“We will give you the good news, when all is agreed. There are many proposals under consideration,” he added.

But later, Fazlur Rehman adopted a different tone, telling the government not to “bother with negotiations” if the prime minister’s resignation demand was off the table. “Then there is no need to come to us. Next time when you come, bring the resignation of the prime minister with you.”

Fazlur Rehman fired a broadside at the prime minister and the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), saying that the prime minister’s amnesty scheme earlier this year was meant for his sister Aleema Khan. He alleged that Imran’s sister owned assets worth billions of rupees in Dubai.

He charged that Prime Minister Imran hid the money laundering committed by his sister through the amnesty scheme and now he speaks of an NRO – the Musharraf-era National Reconciliation Ordinance. “The opposition leaders do not want NRO from Imran Khan, instead they will not give him one,” he said.

“When the entire party is a gang of robbers, why it is being allowed to continue,” he asked. He then directly addressed the prime minister, saying: “You are at a dead end now. Now you must decide whether you want to continue to remain there or come out and give back the people their right.”

Fazlur Rehman also came down hard on the “delaying tactics” adopted by the PTI in the foreign funding case, which was pending with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for the past five years. “Why has the Election Commission not been able to decide the matter?” he asked.

“Your own [PTI’s] senior leadership has gone to the commission and said that funding came from India, Europe and many other places. You submitted 60 petitions in the court to delay the case. Though every petition of the government has been rejected.”

The JUI-F chief repeated the allegations that the 2018 general election was “rigged to favour” the PTI. “When the whole nation is witness to this theft, you don’t need any investigation. Answer to that theft is the resignation [of the prime minister],” he added.

He praised the participants of the march, saying that they had removed misconceptions about the religious segment. “Our workers have displayed discipline, and respected the rule of law, which are acknowledged by the western media as well,” he added.

He accused the government of placing containers in the capital, which caused losses of millions of rupees. “No citizen is disturbed by this Azadi March,” he said. “They [government] must be held accountable for this.”

Fazl welcomed the recent statement of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor that the army was an impartial institution. “I want to say this to state institutions that consider them [JUI-F workers] your own people and they will always be with you,” he said.

Thousands of protesters have converged on the federal capital under the banner of the ‘Azadi March’, seeking the removal of Prime Minister Imran. The march set off from Sindh on October 27, left Lahore on October 30 and reached Islamabad on October 31.

On Friday, the opposition gave the prime minister a 48-hour ultimatum to resign. The deadline was later extended after the JUI-F chief said the opposition’s Rahbar Committee would decide after talks with the government’s negotiating committee.

Before Fazl’s address on Thursday, the Rahbar Committee of the joint opposition decided to continue putting pressure on the government, announcing that the ‘Azadi March’ would continue despite an inclement weather in Islamabad.

Rahbar Committee convener Akram Durrani told reporters that the decision to continue ‘Azadi March’ sit-in was unanimous. “The next plan will be announced after the 12th of Rabiul Awwal Sunday,” he said. The (JUI-F) workers are determined to stay here for months.”

Durrani’s press conference came after Elahi’s meeting with Fazlur Rehman. Talking to the reporters after the talks, the Punjab Assembly speaker said that their efforts for a political solution would continue.

When prodded if there was agreement on any points, he said that he would not give any good news in bits and pieces.

“We will give you the good news when all the issues are settled. We are optimistic. Things are moving in the right direction,” he added

To a question about the demand for the prime minister’s resignation, Fazlur Rehman said, “We will give you good news soon.”

When asked if the JUI-F chief would agree to holding investigation into the rigging allegations, he said: “Whatever Maulana agrees to, will be done.”

Meanwhile, Defence Minister Pervez Khattak said that Elahi was holding talks with the opposition, however, the final decision would be taken by the government’s negotiating committee.

Khattak, who heads the government’s committee, said that they had established contacts with other opposition leaders. “Our committee members are in contact with Shehbaz Sharif [President of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)] and others,” he said.

“Talks had not been snapped,” he told reporters outside the Parliament House. “There is a deadlock only on the issues of the prime minister’s resignation and investigation into the rigging allegations.

“It seems that Maulana Fazlur Rehman is here until 12th Rabiul Awwal. We are in contact with the heads of other parties and there will be a positive outcome of the meetings.”

He demanded of the opposition to provide proofs of rigging in the 2018 elections. “You cannot say anything without proof.”

The defence minister said if the prime minister resigned on opposition’s demand it would set a bad precedent as everyone tomorrow would stand up, asking the prime minister to resign. However, he added that the opposition might bring no-confidence motion against Imran and “we are ready for that”.