Pakistan’s Supreme Court starts hearings to decide PM’s future

The daughter of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz (C), is escorted by security as she arrives to appear before an anti-corruption commission at the Federal Judicial Academy in Islamabad on July 5, 2017. Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his children are accused of graft in an ongoing case which has captivated Pakistan and threatened to topple the prime minister after the Panama Papers leak last year linked the family to offshore businesses. The Supreme Court issued a split ruling calling for a joint investigation team of anti-corruption officials along with the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence to probe the claims and issue a report within 60 days. (AFP)
Updated 17 July 2017
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Pakistan’s Supreme Court starts hearings to decide PM’s future

PAKISTAN: Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Monday began hearings that will decide the future of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is fighting for his job and contesting a damning corruption report by an investigative panel.
The Supreme Court is expected to either put Sharif on trial on corruption charges, or even disqualify him, but few expect the judges to dismiss the case after the panel tabled a damaging 254-page report into his family wealth.
Sharif has denied any wrongdoing after the report alleged his family’s vast wealth was beyond their means, and accused his children, including presumed heir Maryam, of signing forged documents to obscure ownership of posh London flats.
Sharif, 67, has rejected demands by opposition parties to resign, warning his ouster would destabilize the country and imperil hard-won economic gains since his poll victory in 2013.
“It hurts that despite of our hard work, attempts are afoot once again to push the country back,” Sharif told a meeting of his ruling PML-N parliamentary party over the weekend.
Sharif in April narrowly escaped disqualification after the Supreme Court ruled there was insufficient evidence to remove him — by a 2-3 split — over documents released by the Panama Papers leak into off-shore wealth.
But it ordered further investigations, and the formation of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) panel.
Sharif has talked of a conspiracy against him, but has not named anyone. His allies, however, privately claim that elements of Pakistan’s powerful military and the judiciary are bent on toppling him.
The army spokesman brushed aside questions about claims the military’s hidden hand was the driving force behind the JIT probe, saying “the Pakistan army is not directly connected.”
The six-person JIT panel included one member from the military intelligence agency and another from the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, the country’s top spy agency.
Sharif, son of an industrialist serving his third term in power, has had a fractious relationship with the army.
He was originally nurtured by the military as a civilian politician who would protect their interests, and he served as prime minister twice in the 1990s.
But relations soured and his second stint as prime minister ended when he was ousted in a 1999 coup leading to a decade of exile. Relations with the military during the current term have also been tense at times.
Sharif’s legal team and the opposition will be given a chance to contest the JIT findings and Sharif is also expected to be summoned to appear before the court in coming days or weeks.
Opposition politicians say Sharif is concocting claims of conspiracy to save his skin and argue that if he really wanted to protect democracy he should step down.
Imran Khan, the opposition leader who pushed the hardest for Sharif to be investigated, said the premier would end up in jail, and vowed protests if he was not ousted by the court.
“Either we will celebrate in Islamabad or otherwise we will hit the streets to save our democracy and to make sure we send this mafia to Adiyala jail,” Khan told supporters.


After Afghan cease-fire gamble, prospects rise for US-Taliban talks

Updated 4 min 21 sec ago
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After Afghan cease-fire gamble, prospects rise for US-Taliban talks

  • US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared ready to tweak the policy when he welcomed Ghani’s 10-day extension of a cease-fire that is currently due to end on Wednesday
  • While Washington has long resisted direct talks with Taliban, the official said that recent developments indicate “the US now seems less and less averse to it”

KABUL/WASHINGTON: Prospects have risen for negotiations between the Taliban and the United States after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani called a cease-fire and allowed militants to roam into cities in a gamble to encourage peace talks.
The Taliban, ousted from power in 2001 by US-led troops, insist that any negotiations with what it calls the “puppet” Afghan government on a peace plan can begin only after talks with the United States about withdrawing foreign forces.
Analysts and Western diplomats said Ghani’s offer to hold unconditional peace talks had set the stage for US officials to open backchannel negotiations with the Taliban, despite Washington’s policy that peace talks be Afghan-led.
“Ghani has done his bit,” said Thomas Ruttig, co-director of Afghanistan Analysts Network, an independent think tank.
“It is now for the US to cut through this blockade,” he said, although that would be a departure from US policy that talks to end the 17-year-old war must be wholly Afghan-led.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared ready to tweak the policy when he welcomed Ghani’s 10-day extension of a cease-fire that is currently due to end on Wednesday. The Taliban said its cease-fire ended on Sunday.
“As President Ghani emphasised in his statement to the Afghan people, peace talks by necessity would include a discussion of the role of international actors and forces,” Pompeo said. “The United States is prepared to support, facilitate, and participate in these discussions.”
Richard Olson, former US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, described the statement as significant “in that it signals that the US is prepared to ultimately discuss the issue that is paramount to the Taliban, which is the withdrawal of foreign forces.”
A senior US official, speaking on the condition of anonymity before the start of the cease-fire, however said there were a number of issues that made direct talks between the Taliban and the United States unlikely in the short-term.
The official said there was a substantial gap in knowledge about the Taliban — for instance as to who had the authority to negotiate on the their behalf. “There is not enough intelligence or resources on this issue,” the official said.
A second official said there was still a question of what would happen with hard-line elements of the Taliban. “There are Taliban that won’t come to the table,” the official said.
Taliban call
The Taliban, in a statement marking the end of their cease-fire on Sunday, said the organization was unified and called on “the invading American party” to “sit directly for dialogue with the Islamic Emirate to find a solution for the ongoing imbroglio.”
A senior diplomat with knowledge of the negotiations leading to the cease-fire estimated the chances of eventual talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government at “50-50.”
“The Taliban want to talk to the US directly on withdrawal (of foreign forces) because they do not want to share the credit of withdrawal with the government,” the official said.
And while Washington has long resisted direct talks with Taliban, the official said that recent developments indicate “the US now seems less and less averse to it.”
In August, US President Donald Trump unveiled a more hawkish military approach to Afghanistan, including a surge in air strikes. Afghan security forces say the impact has been significant, but the Taliban roam huge areas of the country and, with foreign troop levels of about 15,600, down from 140,000 in 2014, there appears little hope of outright victory.
Ghani, never widely popular, met his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, on Sunday to secure support for peace talks. He visited a restaurant in Kabul where he met diners and took selfies with children, trying to capitalize on the unprecedented party atmosphere created by the cease-fire to mark last weekend’s Eid Al-Fitr festival.
But Amrullah Saleh, the former head of intelligence and head of a political party, said Ghani had committed a blunder by allowing insurgents to pour into government-controlled areas.
“Thousands of Taliban fighters were allowed to enter with guns and some of them could be hiding in civilian areas, planning attacks,” Saleh told Reuters.
Ghani has also come in for praise.
“Now we can say that our president is making an absolute honest attempt” for peace, said Anwar-ul-Haq Ahadi, the chairman of the outspoken New National Front of Afghanistan.