By Manzoor Shaikh - Dr. Hafeez Shaikh’s induction in the government was to change many things for sure. But, at least the removal of Dr. Muhammad Jehanzeb Khan from the top position of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) was doomed. Reason? He was disinterested only, says an FBR officer. “Also, he was not connected with the field.” At a time where the federal government is striving to cobble up the pieces of the economy, ilk of Dr. Khan does not match with the scheme of things. Islamabad badly needs money which comes from the taxation effort that requires a person who must be proactive—a quality which the new finance minister Mr. Shaikh too must be looking for in the new FBR chief. FBR’s collection started crumbling after the federal government introduced cuts on imports besides raising duties on some imported items in order to reduce current account deficit. Moreover, taxes on POL have also been reduced since the time of Ishaq Dr and it also affected the collection of the bureau. An added factor which also left its influence was Justice Saqib Nisar’s decisions as regards cellular companies. ‘These factors were doomed to bring about an Rs.300-400 billion shortfall in the taxes,’ bureau’s officers say. Ironical enough is the fact that the federal government had nothing concrete to address the issues of money while it was moving on to the decisions which were doomed to affect revenue collection in the country where tax culture is already nonexistent. Two other factors such as political instability and accountability process have also left an inverse effect on the taxes. A country where taxation base is already limited, political instability does affect. Normal business and trade activity along with stock exchange become panicky. This time around, the so-called accountability process has also eclipsed tax collection effort as development-related departments of the federal and provincial governments have not performed well. In Sindh, financial releases have not taken place for two reasons. One that the federal government, as CM Sindh Syed Murad Ali claims has not released Rs.120 billion to the province and two, the engineering departments officers maintaining a hold on everything for the fear of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). Now that the FBR is waiting for the new man to steer the ship, names of Fazal Yazdani and Javed Ghani—both from Custom Service— are being tipped for the post. The former has Lahore connection while the latter is with KP connection. Whoever among them would sit on the chair may be Mr. Shaikh’s choice but at least Dr. Khan said to be floated by Azam Khan could not connect with his predecessors.
ICMD, May 1, 2019 WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was sentenced on Wednesday to 50 weeks in jail for breaching a British court order seven years ago, when he took refuge in Ecuador's London embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden. The Australian whistleblower, who was arrested on April 11 after Ecuador gave him up, will serve the nearly one-year sentence while fighting a separate attempt to transfer him to the United States. The 47-year-old, his shaggy beard neatly trimmed, raised his fist to supporters in the public gallery at London's Southwark Crown Court as he was taken down to the cells. They responded by raising theirs and shouting "Shame on you!" towards the court. Mr. Assange fled to Ecuador's embassy in 2012 after a British judge ordered his extradition to face Swedish allegations of sexual assault and rape, which he strongly denied. He claimed the allegations were a pretext to transfer him to the United States, where he feared prosecution over the release by WikiLeaks of millions of classified documents. At the sentencing hearing, his lawyer Mark Summers said Mr. Assange had been "gripped" by "reasonable fears" that he would face rendition to the US. "As threats rained down on him from America, they overshadowed everything as far as he was concerned," the lawyer said. In a letter read out on his behalf, Assange expressed regret, saying: "I did what I thought at the time was the best or perhaps the only thing that I could have done." There is no longer an active investigation in Sweden and the extradition request has lapsed. However, Mr. Assange is facing a US extradition request, which was only revealed following his dramatic arrest, when he was dragged shouting from the embassy by police. US hacking conspiracy charge Mr. Assange appeared in court within hours of his arrest, and a judge found him guilty of breaching his bail conditions. The biggest concern for his lawyers is the US extradition request. An initial hearing in the case has been scheduled for this Thursday. The U.S. indictment charges him with "conspiracy" for working with former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to crack a password stored on Department of Defence computers in March 2010. Ms. Manning passed hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, exposing US military wrongdoing in the Iraq war and diplomatic secrets about scores of countries around the world. Mr. Assange could face up to five years in jail if found guilty, although his team is fighting his extradition and the process could take years. The charge has raised serious concerns among organisations advocating free speech, including politicians such as British opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. WikiLeaks is also back in the news in the United States, over its alleged role in the leak of Hillary Clinton's emails in 2016 US presidential election. The Swedish claims against Mr. Assange date back to 2010, when he was at the centre of a global storm over WikiLeaks' exposures. The sexual assault claim expired in 2015, but while the rape claim was dropped in 2017, the alleged victim wants the case reopened. If Stockholm makes a formal extradition request, Britain must decide whether to consider it before or after that of the United States. A group of British lawmakers have urged the Swedish case to take precedence, saying the rights of the alleged victims must not be lost in the political row. -- Courtesy AFP
ICMD, April 28, 2019 COLOMBO: The father and two brothers of the suspected mastermind of Sri Lanka's Easter Sunday bombings were killed when security forces stormed their safe house two days ago, police sources and a relative of the suicide bombers told Reuters on Sunday. Zainee Hashim, Rilwan Hashim and their father Mohamed Hashim, who were seen in a video circulating on social media calling for all-out war against non believers, were among 15 killed in a fierce gun battle with the military on the east coast on Friday, four police sources said. Niyaz Sharif, the brother-in-law of Zahran Hashim, the suspected ringleader of the wave of Easter Sunday bombings that killed over 250 people in churches and hotels across the island nation, told Reuters the video showed Zahran Hashim's two brothers and father. Three of the 15 people killed were the same people who were seen in the undated video on social media, in which they discus martyrdom and urge their followers to kill all non believers, police sources said. Sri Lanka has been on high alert since the attacks on Easter Sunday, with nearly 10,000 soldiers deployed across the island to carry out searches and hunt down members of two local Islamist groups believed to have carried out the attack. -- Courtesy Reuters
ICMD, April 25, 2019 Sri Lankan authorities swept up more people, including foreigners, for questioning on Thursday as they probed deeper into the Easter Sunday bombings, which killed 359 people in potentially the deadliest operation claimed by the militant Islamic State. Police said an Egyptian and several Pakistanis were among those detained overnight, although there was no immediate suggestion they had direct links to the attacks on three churches and four hotels that also wounded about 500 people. More people detained Police on Thursday said 16 more people were detained for questioning overnight, taking the number detained since Sunday to at least 76. That number includes a Syrian national. A police statement said one of those detained overnight was linked to a "terrorist organization" but gave no other details. It said another was taken into custody after they investigated posts on the individual's Facebook page and found what they described as "hate speech". "It was related to the spreading and preaching of terrorism," a police spokesman said. Others have also been caught up in the broader crackdown. Police said they detained an Egyptian who was found not to have a valid visa or passport. The man taught Arabic in a school about 70 km (45 miles) from the capital, Colombo, and had been living in Sri Lanka for more than seven years. A police spokesman also said that a group of Pakistanis had been detained among an unspecified number of foreign nationals for overstaying their visas. The bombings shattered the relative calm that has existed in Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka since a civil war against mostly Hindu, ethnic Tamil separatists ended 10 years ago, and raised fears of a return to sectarian violence. President Maithripala Sirisena will meet representatives of different faiths later on Thursday to address concerns of a sectarian backlash. Sri Lanka's 22 million people include minority Christians, Muslims and Hindus. Until now, Christians had largely managed to avoid the worst of the island's conflict and communal tensions. Hundreds of Muslims have fled the Negombo region on Sri Lanka's west coast since scores of worshippers were killed in the bombing of the St. Sebastian church there on Sunday. Communal tensions have since flared. Hundreds of Pakistanis fled the port city on Wednesday, crammed into buses organised by community leaders after threats of revenge. "Because of the bomb blasts and explosions that have taken place here, the local Sri Lankan people have attacked our houses," Adnan Ali, a Pakistani, told Reuters as he prepared to board a bus. Sri Lankan officials have said they believed the bombings were carried out in retaliation for the March 15 attacks by a lone gunman on two mosques in New Zealand that killed 50 people. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said she has seen no evidence to support that claim. Most of the Easter Sunday victims were Sri Lankans, although authorities have confirmed at least 38 foreigners were also killed. These included British, US, Australian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nationals. FO rejects 'irresponsible comments' by section of Indian media In a press release issued on Wednesday, the Foreign Office (FO) rejected "irresponsible comments" in a section of the Indian media about the detention of some Pakistanis in Sri Lanka. As per the press release, the spokesperson had characterised the attempts of a section of the Indian media to link the detention of some Pakistani's in Sri Lanka with the recent events there as "completely irresponsible". The spokesperson had added that as per the information shared by Sri Lankan officials, seven Pakistanis were recently detained by law enforcement authorities on account of overstaying their visas. "This is a purely consular matter and projecting it in any other manner is patently mischievous," the spokesperson was quoted in the FO press release. According to the press release, the spokesperson had added that "such attempts by elements in the Indian media were reflective of a particular, though familiar, mindset bent on twisting facts to malign Pakistan on any pretext." Additionally, he drew attention to the Sri Lankan leadership's call to avoid propagating unverified reports and speculation.
ICMD, April 24, 2019 PARIS: Up to one million species face extinction due to human influence, according to a draft UN report obtained by AFP that painstakingly catalogues how humanity has undermined the natural resources upon which its very survival depends. The accelerating loss of clean air, drinkable water, CO2-absorbing forests, pollinating insects, protein-rich fish and storm-blocking mangroves — to name but a few of the dwindling services rendered by Nature — poses no less of a threat than climate change, says the report, set to be unveiled on May 6. Indeed, biodiversity loss and global warming are closely linked, according to the 44-page Summary for Policy Makers, which distills a 1,800-page UN assessment of scientific literature on the state of Nature. Delegates from 130 nations meeting in Paris from April 29 will vet the executive summary line-by-line. Wording may change, but figures lifted from the underlying report cannot be altered. “We need to recognise that climate change and loss of Nature are equally important, not just for the environment, but as development and economic issues as well,” Robert Watson, chair of the UN-mandated body that compiled the report, told AFP, without divulging its findings. “The way we produce our food and energy is undermining the regulating services that we get from Nature,” he said, adding that only “transformative change” can stem the damage. Deforestation and agriculture, including livestock production, account for about a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions, and have wreaked havoc on natural ecosystems as well. 'Mass extinction event' The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report warns of “an imminent rapid acceleration in the global rate of species extinction.” The pace of loss “is already tens to hundreds of times higher than it has been, on average, over the last 10 million years,” it notes. “Half-a-million to a million species are projected to be threatened with extinction, many within decades.” Many experts think a so-called “mass extinction event” — only the sixth in the last half-billion years — is already under way. The most recent event saw the end of the Cretaceous period some 66 million years ago, when a 10-kilometre-wide asteroid strike wiped out most life forms. Scientists estimate that Earth is today home to some eight million distinct species, a majority of them insects. A quarter of catalogued animal and plant species are already being crowded, eaten or poisoned out of existence. The drop in sheer numbers is even more dramatic, with wild mammal biomass — their collective weight — down by 82 per cent. Humans and livestock account for more than 95 per cent of mammal biomass. Population growth “If we’re going to have a sustainable planet that provides services to communities around the world, we need to change this trajectory in the next 10 years, just as we need to do that with climate,” noted WWF chief scientist Rebecca Shaw, formerly a member of the UN scientific bodies for both climate and biodiversity. The direct causes of species loss, in order of importance, are shrinking habitat and land-use change, hunting for food or illicit trade in body parts, climate change, pollution, and alien species such as rats, mosquitoes and snakes that hitch rides on ships or planes, the report finds. “There are also two big indirect drivers of biodiversity loss and climate change — the number of people in the world and their growing ability to consume,” said Watson. Once seen as primarily a future threat to animal and plant life, the disruptive impact of global warming has accelerated. Shifts in the distribution of species, for example, will likely double if average temperature go up a notch from 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) to 2C. So far, the global thermometer has risen 1C compared with mid-19th century levels. The 2015 Paris Agreement enjoins nations to cap the rise to “well below” 2C. But a landmark UN climate report in October said that would still be enough to boost the intensity and frequency of deadly heatwaves, droughts, floods and storms. -- Courtesy AFP
ICMD, April 22, 2019 Sri Lanka said on Monday it was invoking emergency powers in the aftermath of devastating bomb attacks on hotels and churches, blamed on militants with foreign links, in which 290 people were killed and nearly 500 wounded. The emergency law, which gives police and the military extensive powers to detain and interrogate suspects without court orders, will go into effect at midnight on Monday, the president’s office said. Colombo, the seaside capital of the Indian Ocean island, was jittery on Monday. Police said 87 bomb detonators were found at the city’s main bus station, while an explosive went off near a church where scores were killed on Sunday when bomb squad officials were trying to defuse it. A night curfew will go into effect at 8 p.m., the government announced. There was no claim of responsibility for the attack but suspicion was focusing on Islamist militants in the Buddhist-majority country. Investigators said seven suicide bombers took part in the attacks while a government spokesman said an international network was involved. Police had received a tip-off of a possible attack on churches by a little-known domestic Islamist group some 10 days ago, according to a document seen by Reuters. The intelligence report, dated April 11 and seen by Reuters, said a foreign intelligence agency had warned authorities of possible attacks on churches by the leader of the group, the National Thawheed Jama’ut. It was not immediately clear what action, if any, was taken on the tip-off. Police said 24 people had been arrested, all of whom were Sri Lankan, but they gave no more details. International anti-terrorism experts said even if a local group had carried out the attacks, it was likely that al Qaeda or Islamic State were involved, given the level of sophistication. Two of the suicide bombers blew themselves up at the luxury Shangri-La Hotel on Colombo’s seafront, said Ariyananda Welianga, a senior official at the government’s forensic division. The others targeted three churches and two other hotels. A fourth hotel and a house in a suburb of the capital Colombo were also hit, but it was not immediately clear how those attacks were carried out. “Still the investigations are going on,” Welianga said. Most of the attacks came during Easter services and when hotel guests were sitting down for breakfast buffets. “Guests who had come for breakfast were lying on the floor, blood all over,” an employee at Kingsbury Hotel told Reuters. Cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said an international network was involved, but did not elaborate. “We do not believe these attacks were carried out by a group of people who were confined to this country,” Senaratne said. “There was an international network without which these attacks could not have succeeded.” The president, Maithripala Sirisena, said in a statement the government would seek foreign assistance to track the overseas links. Sri Lanka was at war for decades with ethnic minority Tamil separatists, most of them Hindu, but violence had largely ended since the government victory in the civil war, 10 years ago. Sri Lanka’s 22 million people include minority Christians, Muslims and Hindus. – Courtesy Reuters