Pakistan to revive prisoner exchange program with UK

In this file photo, a Pakistani policeman closes the main gate of the Adiala Jail, in Rawalpindi, Nov. 17, 2006. (AFP)
Updated 10 November 2018

Pakistan to revive prisoner exchange program with UK

  • Formulated in 2007, the treaty was suspended by Islamabad eight years later
  • Move to ensure prisoners serve sentences in their respective home countries

ISLAMABAD: As part of the an intitiative to ensure justice and accountability, the federal cabinet on Thursday approved plans to renew a prisoner exchange program with the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.
The Prisoner Exchange Treaty (PET) was part of an understanding reached between the two parties in September this year.
"The UK-Pakistan prisoner transfer agreement will be important for both countries," Thomas Drew, British High Commissioner to Pakistan said on Friday, adding that the move would "allow prisoners of each country to serve their sentences in their home country”.
However, before the PET is implemented, it needs to be ratified by the British parliament first. The deal is a vital component of a greater initiative formulated to tackle issues pertaining to money laundering, theft of assets, and most-wanted criminals, through an adhoc extradition process agreed upon by the two main countries.
Eradication of corruption and ensuring accountability featured heavily on Prime Minister Imran Khan's post-election agenda and continues to be an integral part of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party's manifesto.
Clarifying what the treaty entails, former Pakistan High Commissioner to the UK, Ambassador Wajid Shamsul Hassan, told Arab News: “This prisoner exchange agreement does not mean (full) extradition treaty. Even during my time as HC, there was an understanding over exchange of prisoners."
A formal extradition treaty between Pakistan and UK does not exist despite Islamabad's tireless efforts in trying to persuade the British government -- which has signed treaties with more than a 100 countries, including India -- to ink a deal.
"Pakistan until now has not succeeded in signing that treaty. PM Khan’s government made fresh efforts to arrive at an understanding on the extradition treaty. And there was a sort of breakthrough when British Home Secretary Sajid Javed visited Pakistan and held talks with government officials. While extradition treaty remains an elusive dream, the two governments did reach an understanding over the transfer and exchange of prisoners," Hassan, Pakistan’s longest serving High Commissioner to London, said.
Terms and conditions for ratification of the previous treaty were exchanged on August 19, 2008, but the treaty was suspended by Pakistan in 2015 under the directives of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
This was after Britain lodged a complaint citing a violation of the treaty, whereby it stated that criminals repatriated from the UK had been released by Pakistan without completing their sentences. This forced Islamabad to suspend all similar treaties until the "formulation of a transparent policy”.
On it's own, the general principal of the treaty states that: “A person sentenced in the territory of the state of one party may be transferred to the territory of the state of the other party, in accordance with the provisions of this agreement, in order to serve the sentence imposed on him."
Despite the lack of an official policy, Pakistan last month extradited a fugitive from Rawalpindi to UK. Arrested in 2015, he was wanted for killing eight members of a family in 2002 and was the second person to be extradited to Britain.
According to the British Home Office, the UK is open to lodge an extradition request to Pakistan, or to any other territory with which it does not have an extradition treaty. It is for the territory concerned to decide whether or not it should act on such a request, according to its own domestic law, renowned British journalist Owen Bennet Jones said in his article on a Pakistani man charged with double murder and extradited to UK in 2016.
This arrangement, however, does not fulfill the federation or its corruption watchdog’s (National Accountability Bureau) exhaustive pursuit to bring back individuals residing in England in the absence of an extradition treaty.
Eradication of corruption and ensuring accountability featured heavily on Prime Minister Imran Khan's post-election agenda and continues to be an integral part of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party's manifesto.
Two of Sharif's sons and his loyalist Ishaq Dar, the former finance minister, have been declared absconders by Pakistan's court but are safely residing in England, as Pakistan has not been able to secure their apprehension or extradition from London.
Hassan reasons that the likelihood of UK agreeing to sign the treaty -- based on a commitment which PM Khan made to the nation to bring back absconders, former state officials and individuals charged or suspected of  embezzlement, corruption, and crime -- remains in limbo -- even as the former envoy highlighted the country’s checkered history and human rights track record.
"Public opinion in Britain and the members of parliament are wary of Pakistan’s human rights record. It is generally feared that the treaty would be abused to seek extradition of Pakistan’s political dissenters who often find safe refuge here from a revengeful government," Hassan said, citing the examples of former political leaders who took refuge in the UK and "carried on their political struggle".
"Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and currently Altaf Hussain, besides hundreds of others, including members of minority communities accused of blasphemy have taken refuge here," he said.

Pakistan ‘wants to play its role’ for peace in Middle East – FO

Updated 12 January 2020

Pakistan ‘wants to play its role’ for peace in Middle East – FO

  • Work on foreign minister’s visit to Saudi Arabia, Iran and the United States being done
  • Pakistan’s strong relations with regional countries has made it an important player

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterated on Thursday that the country was going to play its role in restoring peace in the Middle East by working with other international stakeholders in the region.

“Pakistan welcomes de-escalation and wants to play its role in ensuring peace and stability in the region. We have seen that indication in United States President [Donald] Trump’s speech and are evaluating its contours,” the country’s foreign office spokesperson, Aisha Farooqui, said in her weekly media briefing in Islamabad on Thursday.

She said that Pakistan’s geographical position, along with its strong relations with regional countries and the United States, had made it a significant player in the Middle East.

“Pakistan has maintained that war is not the solution to any issue and made it clear that it will not become part of any regional conflict,” she said.

The spokesperson noted that Islamabad had enhanced its efforts to defuse tensions in the region and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had contacted his counterparts in Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and many other important states in this connection.

“All the international players, including Saudi Arabia, have said that the region cannot afford another war and asked for restraint from both parties [the US and Iran]. It’s a collective objective of all countries to ensure peace and stability in the Middle East,” she said.

Commenting on the foreign minister’s upcoming visit to Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the US, she said that “work on these tours has already started and they will take place as soon as dates are finalized with the respective countries.”

“We are very mindful for our brotherly and friendly relations with Saudi Arabia, Iran, and other regional countries. Pakistan and the US also enjoy longstanding relations and have contacts with each other through multiple forums including political and military leadership,” Farooqui said, adding that the foreign office had established a task force to continuously monitor the situation in the Middle East and inform the government about it along with its suggestions on a daily basis.

The spokesperson expressed hope that recent developments in the Middle East would not affect the ongoing Afghan peace process.

“Pakistan hopes that progress made on Afghan peace process will not come to a halt and the world community will not lose its focus as a result of the ongoing tensions in the Middle East,” she said.

Asked about the safety of Pakistani nationals in Iraq, she said the country’s embassy in Baghdad was on the alert to deal with any emergency situation.

“We are concerned about the safety of Pakistani citizens in Iraq and have issued an advisory in this regard. We have also instructed our mission in Baghdad to remain vigilant to deal with any emergency,” Farooqui said.