Judicial commission completes APS massacre probe

PESHAWAR: A single-member judicial commission has completed probe into the 2014 Army Public School massacre and is likely to submit its report to the Supreme Court by the end of the current month.

“Peshawar High Court Justice Mohammad Ibrahim Khan of the judicial commission has recorded the statements of around 140 people, including injured students, parents of martyred students and the army and police officials, and examined the investigations conducted by the police and security agencies,” focal person of the commission Imranullah Khan told reporters here on Wednesday.

He said the commission was finalising the probe report and would submit it to the Supreme Court by the end of June.

During the in-camera proceedings here, some parents had also requested the commission to summon former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and former army chief General Raheel Sharif. However, the commission rejected the request declaring the appearance of the two before it is not necessary.

Report to be submitted to SC by end of month

The commission was formed by the Peshawar High Court on Oct 12, 2018, on the Supreme Court’s orders. It had become functional on Oct 19, 2018.

Among the key army officers, whose statements were recorded by the probe body, were former Peshawar corps commander Lt-General Hidayatur Rehman, then chairman of Army Public Educational Institutions (APEI) BoG Brigadier Mudassir Azam, officer of 102 Brigade, HQ-11 Corps, Brigadier Inayatullah, Major Dr Asim Shehzad of Army Medical Corps, and secretary of the BoG Colonel Hazrat Bilal.

The commission also recorded statements of some senior police officials, including former provincial police officers Salahuddin Mehsud and Nasir Durrani, former DIG of counterterrorism department Alam Shinwari, former home and tribal affairs secretary Syed Akhtar Ali Shah, former capital city police officer Ijaz Khan, former SP (cantonment) Faisal Shehzad and former SP (city) Mustafa Tanveer, and others.

Appearance of some army officers was delayed last year due to Indo-Pak border tensions.

The commission had sent a letter to the defence ministry on Feb 11, 2019, to ensure the appearance of eight army officers before it for recording statements in connection with the APS attacks, which killed 147 people, mostly students.

In Apr last year, it sent a reminder to the defence ministry seeking information about the dates on which those military officers will be available for the purpose.

The officers later turned up before the commission and recorded statements regarding the carnage.

The then Supreme Court chief justice, Mian Saqib Nisar, had taken notice of the matter in Apr 2018 during a visit to Peshawar when several parents of the APS students martyred by militants on campus had approached him with a request to address their grievances.

They had called for the fixing of the responsibility of negligence, which led to the massacre.

The parents questioned why proper security measures were not adopted after the National Counter Terrorism Authority had informed different provincial and federal authorities on Aug 28, 2014, that militants of the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan would carry out attacks against the Army Public School and College and other educational institutions run by the Pakistan Army.


Taliban shadow government prepares for takeover

UNITED NATIONS: The Taliban Leadership Council has established a range of commissions and bodies that replicate the offices and duties of a normal governmental organisation, says the latest UN report on the situation in Afgha­nistan.

The report, submitted recently to a UN Security Council committee, desc­ribes this arrangement as the Taliban shadow government, which seems to have a central structure as well as provincial and local administrative bodies.

The report also notes that the “Taliban are assessed to have close connections with Al Qaeda” and the group’s central leadership may face resistance from the lower ranks if it tries to uproot it, as promised in the US-Taliban agreement sign­ed in February this year.

The monitoring team, which prepared the report with the help of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and Afghan government Interlocutors, notes that the Taliban leaders have steered the movement through negotiations with the United States to conclude an agreement.ARTICLE

“The process has increased their political leverage” and throughout this process, “the Taliban have managed to stay unified, despite internal divergences of view,” the team adds.

The monitors maintain that “the great majority of Taliban” will follow orders from their leadership relating to the recently signed agreement with the United States, “whatever those orders or directives may be.”

The monitors believe that the Taliban leaders proved capable of maintaining the discipline of their fighters during the reduction in violence period and are likely to maintain the same discipline during any ramping-up of fighting in 2020, while seeking to gain political leverage.

According to the report, The Taliban have reshuffled their shadow government structure over the winter in preparation for the 2020 summer, which is also the fighting season. Taliban members gathered in February to discuss the reorganisation of the shadow governance and military structure in the appointments in Bada­khshan, Baghlan, Balkh, Bamyan, Kabul, Kapisa, Kunduz, Samangan and Takhar Provinces.

Abdul Aziz Abbasin, a senior member of the Haqqani Network and brother of Taliban deputy Sirajuddin Haqqani, ordered increased supplies of ammunition and explosive materials for Taliban forces in Ghazni, Wardak, Paktiya and Parwan Provinces.

One notable appointment in mid-February was the transfer of Mullah Abdul Rehman, better known by his alias of Pir Agha, from his position as shadow governor for Nangarhar to the role of shadow governor for Zabul. Agha leads the Taliban’s rapid reaction forces, known as the red units. He had been appointed shadow governor for Nangarhar to deal with the threat posed by the militant Islamic State group in Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan (ISIL-K).

The previous shadow governor for Zabul, Mullah Mohammad Essa, has replaced Pir Agha in Nangarhar. The monitors believe that the “appointment of Pir Agha to Zabul signals aggressive Taliban intent for the 2020 fighting season.”

The report notes that continued internal disagreements within the Taliban leadership grew more pronounced as a result of ongoing talks with the United States. However, the “Taliban leadership has been able to maintain the unity and discipline of its rank and file.”

Several Taliban factions emerged in the aftermath of the announcement of the death of Mullah Mohammad Omar. Some members of the they, however, point out that despite the public appearance of greater Taliban unity, existing fault lines have deepened as a consequence of the negotiations with the United States and aspects of the agreement.

There are also reported divisions within the Taliban’s Political Office, particularly between those aligned with Abdul Ghani Baradar and a more hard-line group close to Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai.

Those at the Political Office in Doha understood the need for the Taliban to interact with the international community and show moderation, while rank-and-file fighters were reported not to share that view.

UN monitors and their Afghan interlocutors believe that the Taliban leadership had not fully disclosed the details of the agreement, particularly any commitment to cut ties with Al Qaeda and foreign terrorist fighters, for fear of a backlash — a matter that had surfaced repeatedly as a topic of acrimonious internal debate.

Officials begin to take notice as petrol shortage worsens

ISLAMABAD: With shortage of major petroleum products aggravating with none of more than 80 oil companies maintaining the mandatory stocks, the authorities — both in the petroleum division and petroleum regulator — appeared waking up to the situation as complaints started to reach the prime minister’s desk.

The director general of oil wrote to the Oil & Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) that product shortage was expected in July. Ogra wrote back to the DG of Oil to align oil imports to domestic demand. The regulator also issued show-cause notices to six of the leading oil companies for violating petroleum rules that required at least 20 days of sales cover.

Oil industry sources said that certain import orders were missed by Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs) in May and some others were rearranged by authorities over the past few weeks as shortages built up.

Ogra issues show-cause notices to six OMCs for violating stock rules

The CNG industry jumped to the situation and called upon the government to reduce gas prices to encourage motorists to use CNG while petrol pumps were facing shortages. Motorists suffered the most amid rationing by OMCs.

Ogra on Wednesday conceded in various communications the grave situation of unavailability of petrol and diesel while industry experts noted it could take 10 to 15 days for the supply chain to return to normal as import orders are lined up and dispatches from local refineries reach all parts of the country. Dry outs were reported in many areas of Punjab, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan while some difficulties were also reported in Sindh.

“Ogra has also issued show-cause notices to three OMCs – Shell Pakistan, Attock Petroleum and Total Parco Pakistan – where major dry-outs have been reported,” said Ogra spokesman Imran Ghaznavi.

He said that replies had been sought within 24 hours. He said that Ogra had also responded to citizen complaints on Prime Minister’s Citizen Portal on fuel shortage at retail outlets and three more show-cause notices had been issued to OMCs namely Gas and Oil, Puma and Hascol.

“In the wake of the grave situation of un-availability of petrol/diesel and to protect consumers’ interest for provision of uninterrupted supplies, you are hereby advised to show cause in writing…to explain as to why action against the company may not be proceeded under rules 66 and 69 of the Pakistan Oil (Refining, Blending, Transportation, Storage and Marketing) Rules, 2019,” said Ogra notices sent to six companies.

Separately, it issued directives to 32 other companies to remind that physical verification through HDIP proved that several retail outlets were running dry or short of products, effecting product availability to consumers. These OMCs were asked “to ensure the availability of petroleum products on most immediate basis and in timely manner at their retail outlets keeping in view the demand to avoid any inconvenience to commuters”.

Officials said the prime minister had also taken serious notice of the petroleum shortages and expressed displeasure over the role of authorities concerned for the fact that the benefit of reduction in petroleum prices announced by the government had not reached the consumers and rather led to their difficulties.

Ogra also wrote to the chief secretaries of Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, KP, GB and AJK and commissioner of Islamabad to ensure availability of oil stocks at retail outlets of OMCs but without saying supplies could be ensured without sufficient storages at any of the OMCs or refineries.

Industry experts said shortage situation was building overtime as evident from minutes of the regular product review meetings and daily availability of product sales and stocks position to all but petroleum division and Ogra were found wanting in taking action against delinquent OMCs owing to conflict of interest. They said the government should immediately purge its ranks of officials having relatives working in oil companies.

Ogra also wrote to the petroleum secretary to remind that daily stocks and supplies position (DSSP) of the oil industry was submitted by Oil Companies Advisory Council on the basis of Product Review Meetings (PRM) under Directorate General (Oil), Ministry of Energy.

The Ogra said the PRM discussed the product situation and decided in the light of local refinery production as well as planning for imports, to cater the demand of petroleum products and ensure adequate stocks build-up of OMCs. It confirmed that Hydrocarbon Development Institute of Pakistan (HDIP) was tasked to physically verify the product availability at refineries storages, OMCs depots and retail outlets randomly.

The preliminary report of the HDIP showed slight/minimal variations between product availability against the position as reported in DSSP by OCAC.

Prices of essential items must fall after petrol price cut: PM

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan has taken a serious note of rising prices of essential commodities and directed the federal and provincial governments to take immediate steps to ensure an adequate supply of such items at affordable prices.

In a statement issued by the Prime Minister Office (PMO) on Wednesday, Imran Khan expressed displeasure over the unrelenting price rise even after petroleum prices were slashed.

“The prime minister has taken a very serious view of the fact that while the federal government has reduced POL prices drastically in the past few months, there is no corresponding reduction in the prices of essential commodities. Rather these are showing an upward trend,” said an official press release of the PMO.

Federal, provincial governments told to take action

Prime Minister Khan also expressed concern over the hike in wheat flour prices. “There is no logic that flour prices should increase when harvesting of the wheat crop has recently ended.”ARTICLE CONTINUES AFTER AD

The prime minister asked the chief ministers and the provincial chief secretaries to look into the matter and make an effort to ensure that the impact of reduction of fuel prices is reflected in the prices of essential commodities.

“The provincial governments shall monitor the prices of essential commodities on a daily basis and make every effort to pass on the benefits of fuel price reduction to the common man,” the prime minister said.

He directed that the National Price Monitoring Committee to monitor the prices of essential commodities, on a weekly basis, and devise a mechanism to bring down the prices.

The prices of petroleum have been drastically reduced in keeping with the sharp decline in the international market. The prime minister announced a cut in prices to give some relief to the nation in these hard times.

Pentagon-Trump clash breaks open over military and protests

President Donald Trump’s Pentagon chief shot down his idea of using troops to quell protests across the United States on Wednesday, then reversed course on pulling part of the 82nd Airborne Division off standby in an extraordinary clash between the US military and its commander in chief.

Both Trump and Defence Secretary Mark Esper also drew stinging, rare public criticism from Trump’s first defence secretary, Jim Mattis, in the most public pushback of Trump’s presidency from the men he put at the helm of the world’s most powerful military.

Mattis’ rebuke followed Trump’s threats to use the military to “dominate” the streets where Americans are demonstrating following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died when a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes. The president had urged governors to call out the National Guard to contain protests that turned violent and warned that he could send in active duty military forces if they did not.

Esper angered Trump early on Wednesday when he said he opposed using military troops for law enforcement, seemingly taking the teeth out of the president’s threat to use the Insurrection Act. Esper said the 1807 law should be invoked in the United States “only in the most urgent and dire of situations.” He added, “We are not in one of those situations now.

After his subsequent visit to the White House, the Pentagon abruptly overturned an earlier decision to send a couple hundred active-duty soldiers home from the Washington, D.C, region, a public sign of the growing tensions with the White House amid mounting criticism that the Pentagon was being politicised in response to the protests.

Former Secretary Mattis, a retired Marine general, lambasted both Trump and Esper in an essay in The Atlantic Wednesday for their consideration of using the active-duty military in law enforcement — and for the use of the National Guard in clearing out a largely peaceful protest near the White House on Monday evening.

“We must reject any thinking of our cities as a ‘battlespace’ that our uniformed military is called upon to ‘dominate,’” Mattis wrote, referencing quotes by Esper and Trump respectively. “Militarising our response, as we witnessed in Washington, D.C., sets up a conflict — a false conflict — between the military and civilian society. ”

Trump responded on Twitter by calling Mattis “the world’s most overrated General,” adding: “I didn’t like his ‘leadership’ style or much else about him, and many others agree, Glad he is gone!”

Days ago, Esper had ordered about 1,300 Army personnel to military bases just outside the nation’s capital as Trump weighed whether to invoke the Insurrection Act and send active-duty troops into the city, the scene of large protests that devolved into violence and looting over the weekend. But after a night of calm enforced by a large deployment of National Guard troops and heavily armed federal law enforcement agents, defence officials said the troops would begin returning to their home base.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told The Associated Press that the decision was reversed after Esper’s visit to the White House. The White House didn’t respond to request for comment on whether Trump ordered the change.

The shift added to confusion over the president’s threat to invoke the Insurrection Act for protests following Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. White House officials had indicated even before Esper’s comments that Trump was backing away from invoking the act, though officials said Trump was upset that Esper’s statement conveyed “weakness.”

Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the president was still willing to deploy federal troops despite Esper’s comments.

“If needed, he will use it,” she told reporters. “But at this time he’s relying on surging the streets with National Guard. It’s worked with great effect.”

Meanwhile, the president was taking credit for the deployment of federal and other law enforcement officers to the nation’s capital, saying it offered a model to states on how to stop violence accompanying some protests nationwide.

On Wednesday evening, troops and others were out in force in Washington. A Defence official said at least 2,200 National Guard members would be on the streets.

Helmeted forces formed a ring around Lafayette Park across from the White House. Military vehicles were parked at intersections, also blocking access.

Trump argued that the massive show of force was responsible for protests in Washington and other cities turning more calm in recent days and repeated his criticism of governors who have not deployed their National Guard to the fullest.

“You have to have a dominant force,” Trump told Fox News Radio on Wednesday. “We need law and order.”

Asked repeatedly if Trump still had confidence in his Pentagon chief, McEnany said, “As of right now, Secretary Esper is still Secretary Esper, and should the president lose faith we will all learn about that in the future.”

Esper, in his Pentagon remarks, also strongly criticised the actions of the Minneapolis police for the incident last week that ignited the protests. He called the death of Floyd “murder” and “a horrible crime.”

The defence secretary himself has come under fire from critics, including retired senior military officers, for having walked from the White House on Monday evening with Trump and others for a presidential photo opportunity in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, which had previously sustained damage from protesters.

Esper said that while he was aware they were heading to St John’s, he did not know what would happen there.

“I was not aware a photo op was happening,” he said, adding that he also did not know that police had forcibly moved peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square to clear the way for Trump and his entourage.

Mattis, in his essay, called the scene an “abuse of executive authority.” The retired general quit the Trump administration in December 2018 after months of conflict with the president as Trump announced he was unilaterally withdrawing American troops from Syria.

The White House laid responsibility for Monday’s events in Lafayette Park on Attorney General William Barr, saying he gave the order for law enforcement to clear out the protest before Trump’s walk to the church ahead of Washington’s 7 p.m. curfew. McEnany said the decision was made earlier Monday but had not been executed by the time Barr arrived in the park to survey the scene. He gave the order at that time.

McEnany said law enforcement conducted the operation with appropriate force, which included pepper spray and other chemical agents, and officers on horseback and batons clearing a crowd made up almost entirely of peaceful protesters.

Trump put a political spin on his criticism of states that have seen violence. He said: “You notice that all of these places that have problems, they’re not run by Republicans. They’re run by liberal Democrats.”

Though the crackdown on the Washington demonstrations was praised by some Trump supporters Tuesday, a handful of Republicans expressed concern that law enforcement officers risked violating the protesters’ First Amendment rights.

The situation in Washington had escalated Monday, becoming a potent symbol of Trump’s policing tactics and a physical manifestation of the rhetorical culture war he has stoked since before he was elected.

The clampdown followed a weekend of demonstrations outside the White House. Trump had been furious about images juxtaposing fires set in the park outside the executive mansion with a darkened White House in the background, according to current and former campaign and administration officials. He was also angry about the news coverage revealing he had gone to the secure White House bunker during Friday’s protests.

Trump on Wednesday acknowledged he visited the bunker Friday but claimed he was only conducting an inspection as protests raged outside the White House gates.

Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division remain on standby at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland and Fort Belvoir in Virginia outside Washington.