Cabinet of Pakistan PM sworn in, Khawaja Asif becomes FM

Islamabad : Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on Friday unveiled his Cabinet with Khawaja Asif appointed as the country’s first full-time foreign minister since 2013.

President Mamnoon Hussain administered the oath to 28 federal ministers and 18 state ministers at a ceremony at the President House in Islamabad, Dawn newspaper reported.

The new Cabinet largely retained old faces but some new leaders were included as ministers and ministers of state. The cabinet members and their portfolios were finalised by Abbasi after six-hour-long consultations with his predecessor Nawaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif in the resort town of Murree on Thursday.

Asif, earlier the defence minister in the Sharif government, will serve as the country’s new foreign minister. The country remained without a foreign minister after 2013 when the PML-N came into power. The last foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, was appointed by the Pakistan People’s Party.

Ahsan Iqbal, former minister for planning, will take charge of the key interior ministry. Ishaq Dar will continue as finance minister whereas Pervez Malik will be the new minister for commerce in place of Khurram Dastagir Khan, who took charge of the defence ministry.

Dar retained the finance ministry portfolio despite Supreme Court orders to register corruption cases against him. Marriyum Aurangzeb has retained the portfolio of State Information Minister.

However, the powerful former interior minister Nisar Ali Khan has been excluded from the new Cabinet as he refused to join due to differences with the party leadership. Two days ago, Prime Minister Abbasi had delayed the formation of the Cabinet after meeting Sharif.

Sharif has been staying in Murree since he vacated the official residence earlier this week after the Supreme Court disqualified him in connection with the Panama Papers scandal. The transition to the new Cabinet has taken exactly seven days since Sharif’s ouster on July 28.

Human remains found on Mont Blanc may belong to Air India victims

Grenoble, Body parts that could belong to passengers killed in one or other of two Air India plane crashes more than years ago have been found on Mont Blanc in the French Alps, sources have said. Daniel Roche, who is fascinated by air plane accidents and has spent years combing the Bossons Glacier looking for remains, made the discovery on Thursday.

“I had never found any significant human remains before,” he told AFP yesterday. This time however he had found a hand and the upper part of a leg. In January 1966, an Air India Boeing 707 from Bombay to New York crashed near Mont Blanc’s summit, killing all 117 people on board.

Another Air India flight crashed on the mountain in 1950, killing 48 people. Roche said the remains he had found could be of a female passenger from the 1966 Boeing 707 flight, as he also discovered one of the plane’s four jet engines. Roche contacted local emergency services in the Chamonix valley who took the remains down the mountain by helicopter and they were due to be examined by experts. “These remains are probably not from the same person,” said Stephane Bozon of the local gendarmerie.

“They are probably from passengers, but between the two aircrafts, it’s difficult to say”. Just 10 days ago, two bodies were found lying near each other, preserved in a receding glacier in the Diablerets massif in the Swiss Alps. A DNA search identified the couple as Marcelin Dumoulin, a 40-year-old shoemaker at the time, and his wife Francine, a schoolteacher aged 37, who had disappeared in the Alps 75 years before.

Panamagate verdict won’t change Pakistan’s approach to India

New Delhi: Friday’s landmark verdict by Pakistan’s Supreme Court to disqualify Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from holding office and finding him guilty for accumulating assets beyond his known sources of income, may have a resounding impact on that country’s political landscape, but by no stretch of imagination, can we expect Pakistan’s foreign or defence policy towards India undergoing any change.

No change either should be expected whatsoever in the status or standing of the Pakistan Army or its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency vis-à-vis policy towards India. As such, the quad erat demonstrandum can only be expected to be business as usual. India, needless to stress, must maintain its guard and keep its powder dry in the wake of the changes taking place across the border.

No matter who replaces Sharif, there will be no change with regard to dealing with various terrorist organizations operating from Pakistan’s soil and their leaders. Pakistan’s policies towards Afghanistan and Bangladesh, where its terror is being exported, will also very likely be status quo. And, as far as China is concerned, the latter will ensure that its interests in Pakistan are not affected.

Nawaz Sharif quits as Prime Minister after Pakistan SC unseats him in Panamagate
The Panama Papers were an unprecedented leak of 11.5million files in 2016, from the database of the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca. The records were obtained from an anonymous source by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which in turn shared them with a large network of international partners.

The documents reveal how in various ways the rich and powerful can exploit secretive offshore tax regimes. Twelve national leaders are among 143 politicians, their families and close associates from around the world, who are known to have been using offshore tax havens. Among national leaders with offshore wealth was Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The high-profile scandal is about alleged money laundering by Sharif in 1990s, during his two tenures as prime minister. He used the money accumulated to purchase assets in the United Kingdom, which included four expensive flats in Park Lane, London. Information about the assets surfaced through the leak of the Panama Papers last year. It was revealed that several offshore companies were owned by three of Sharif’s children.

Following petitions filed by the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Awami Muslim League and Jamaat-e-Islami, in October 2016, a six-member Joint Investigation Team was set up by Pakistan’s Supreme Court in May 2017, with the mandate to probe the Sharif family for allegedly failing to provide the trail of money used to buy properties in London in 1990s.

Investigating the charges against Sharif and his family, the JIT submitted its report to the court stating that the lifestyles of Sharif and his children were beyond their known sources of income, and recommended filing of a new corruption case against them. Sharif dismissed the report as a “bundle of baseless allegations” and refused to quit, despite demands to do so from several quarters, including opposition political parties.

The apex court, which concluded hearing the case on July 21, reserved its verdict for July 28, and now, we all know what the outcome is.

Donald Trump ousts Reince Priebus as his chief of staff, appoints John Kelly

Washington: US President Donald Trump has abruptly fired his chief of staff Reince Priebus and replaced him with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly after the continuing feud among senior White House staffers came out in the open.

Priebus is the fifth top Trump administration official to be either sacked or to have resigned in the past six months. Trump has previously lost a deputy chief of staff, national security adviser, communications director and press secretary.

Priebus’s exit comes nearly a week after press secretary Sean Spicer quit the White House, apparently unhappy over the appointment of Anthony Scaramucci as communications director. An ongoing public fighting between Scaramucci and Priebus had dominated the headlines in recent days. Scaramucci had described Priebus as a “paranoid schizophrenic”. Priebus previously served as the chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Trump tweeted the change after he returned to Washington from New York yesterday.

Scaramucci vs Priebus: White House infighting turns ugly
“I am pleased to inform you that I have just named General/Secretary John F Kelly as White House Chief of Staff,” he said. “He is a Great American and a Great Leader. John has also done a spectacular job at Homeland Security. He has been a true star of my Administration.”

Donald J. Trump ✔ @realDonaldTrump
I am pleased to inform you that I have just named General/Secretary John F Kelly as White House Chief of Staff. He is a Great American....
2:19 AM - Jul 29, 2017
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Kelly previously served as the Commander of the US Southern Command and was the commanding general of the Multi- National Force—West in Iraq for an year from February 2008. As Secretary of Homeland Security, Kelly has played a key role in the border security of the Trump administration.

Over the past a few weeks, Trump expressed frustration over leaks coming out of his White House. With a retired general in charge, he hopes to bring in discipline and end the chaos inside the White House.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement that Kelly would begin his new role on Monday.

“General John Kelly is one of the true stars of the administration. He has helped seal the border and reduced illegal immigration by 70 per cent,” she said.

“He is respected by everyone, especially the people at the Department of Homeland Security. The entire administration loves him and no one is comparable,” Sanders said.

Trump also thanked Priebus for his service.

“We accomplished a lot together and I am proud of him!” he tweeted.

Donald J. Trump ✔ @realDonaldTrump
I would like to thank Reince Priebus for his service and dedication to his country. We accomplished a lot together and I am proud of him!
2:30 AM - Jul 29, 2017
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Priebus said in a statement that it was one of the greatest honours of his life to serve the US president and the country.

“I will continue to serve as a strong supporter of the president’s agenda and policies,” he said. “I can’t think of a better person than Gen John Kelly to succeed me and I wish him God’s blessings and great success.”

Sanders told reporters that Trump began the process of appointing a new chief of staff some two weeks back. But Congressman Peter King, who accompanied Trump aboard the Air Force One to New York and back, told reporters that he saw no indication of Priebus’ exit during the flight.

“We didn’t even know it. We were sitting right across from him and he kept a poker face,” King said, referring to Priebus.

King said Trump told him about the change as they were about to get off the flight. Asked what Priebus said during the flight, King repeated: “Good poker face, showed nothing”.

In a statement, Kelly said he was honoured to be asked to serve as the chief of staff. “To the tremendous men and women of DHS (Department of Homeland Security), I thank you for the opportunity to serve as your secretary,” he said.

“You accomplish great things every day defending our nation and I know your exceptional work will continue,” Kelly said.

Nawaz Sharif quits: What is Panama scam all about?

Nawaz Sharif on Friday resigned as Pakistan Prime Minister after the Supreme Court disqualified him from holding public office and ruled that graft cases be filed against the beleaguered leader and his children over the Panama Papers scandal. Nawaz’s younger brother Shehbaz Sharif, now the Chief Minister of the prosperous Punjab province, will be the new PM of Pakistan.

This is the third time 67-year-old Nawaz Sharif’s term as premier has been cut short. The much-awaited verdict plunged Pakistan into a political crisis at a time when the country is facing a brittle economy and a surge in militancy. As the unanimous verdict by the five-judge Bench was read out by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan inside Supreme Court, a large number of Opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf workers celebrated outside.

The court disqualified Sharif under Article 62 and 63 of the Constitution. The articles state that a member of Parliament should be truthful and righteous. “He is disqualified as a member of the Parliament so he has ceased to be holding the office of Prime Minister,” Justice Khan said. The court ordered the Election Commission to issue a notification for Sharif’s disqualification.

What is the Panama scam?

The leak of 11 million documents held by the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca identified links between many political and business leaders around the world and offshore companies and accounts. Among them was the Pakistani Prime Minister's family

The leaks in April 2016 revealed that three of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's children owned offshore companies and assets not shown on his family's wealth statement

The companies identified so far include three British Virgin Islands-based companies Nescoll Ltd, Nielsen Enterprises Ltd and Hangon Property Holdings Ltd, incorporated in 1993, 1994 and 2007 respectively.

These firms have been used to channel funds to acquire foreign assets, including some apartments along Park Lane in London's Mayfair area.

The insinuation that the companies were meant to hide or launder ill-gotten wealth or to avoid taxes called Sharif's credentials into question.

Till Friday, Sharif and his family denied any wrongdoing. In November, they told the Supreme Court that their London property was bought through investments in companies owned by the Qatari ruling family.

The prime minister has called the leaks the work of people ‘targeting me and my family for their political aims’. In an address to the nation on April 5, 2016, he said those ‘who use ill-gotten wealth don't keep assets in their own names’.

Initially, however, the leaks appeared to trigger panic in the top circles of the ruling PML-N party. The pressure was believed to be the reason behind Mr Sharif's unscheduled departure for London on 13 April 2016 to keep a rare appointment with his doctors.

Venezuela opposition urges boycott of vote to overhaul constitution

Caracas: Venezuela’s angry opposition called for a boycott of an upcoming vote that it dismisses as a ploy by President Nicolas Maduro to cling to power.

Ahead of next Sunday’s election for a 500-plus member assembly to rewrite the constitution and give the president more power, the opposition also plans a general strike — the second in weeks — on Wednesday and Thursday and a big protest march on Friday.

It all makes for a dramatic week in the opposition’s dogged drive to unseat the socialist Maduro, whom it blames for an acute economic crisis marked by shortages of food, medicine and such basics as soap and toilet paper. Four months of almost daily street protests in this oil- rich OPEC member have left 103 people dead.

“Let them lock us all up. The fight must move forward,” said Freddy Guevara, the deputy speaker of the opposition- controlled congress.

“The people of Venezuela must fuel the general strike. They must come to Caracas and help us prepare for the civic boycott,” Guevara told a news conference. He insisted his supporters will not resort to violence.

Next Sunday’s vote is supposed to be for a 545-seat constituent assembly that will draw its members not from political parties but rather social sectors that the opposition sees as loyal to Maduro, a former bus driver who was the handpicked successor of late socialist firebrand Hugo Chavez. Maduro yesterday urged the opposition to refrain from violence, respect the voting and let those who wish to cast ballots do so.

“I demand this of all the opposition leaders,” Maduro told state TV.

On Saturday night he issued a warning about the vote and how the opposition behaves next weekend: “We will be relentless if they try to generate a process of violence in order to stop that which cannot be stopped.”

Maduro also said Sunday on his weekly TV program that 33 judges whom the opposition-controlled congress designated Friday as a sort of shadow Supreme Court will be arrested. One of them was already arrested Saturday.

The opposition says the current high court is packed with hardcore Maduro loyalists. Many of its justices were in fact hastily appointed shortly before Maduro’s ruling party lost its majority in congress in 2015 legislative elections.

The Supreme Court said that in swearing in shadow judges, congress overstepped its bounds and committed treason. Of the 33 shadow justices, Maduro said: “One by one, one after another, they will all be arrested. All of them will have their assets and accounts frozen, all of it. And no one is going to defend them.”

Nawaz Sharif was employee of UAE-based firm, says counsel

Islamabad : Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has admitted before the Supreme Court that he had worked for a UAE-based company till 2013 and also had a work permit (Iqama) for it at the time.

In a written reply submitted in the apex court through his counsels Khawaja Haris, Amjad Pervaiz and Saad Hashmi, Sharif rejected the allegation that he had concealed his employment as claimed by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) that probed the ruling family’s offshore assets.

“The Iqama and Respondent No 1 (Prime minister)’s employment with Capital FZE is reflected in the copies of his passport annexed with the nomination forms submitted for the General Elections 2013,” reads the reply submitted on Saturday – just a day after the top court reserved its judgment in the Panamagate case, Dawn reported.

On Friday, Khawaja Haris requested a three-judge bench of the top court to allow them to submit a written response to the JIT findings.

Earlier, instead of responding to the JIT’s damning report with regard to his and his family’s alleged graft, Sharif had raised legal objections to the JIT report and its members. However, in his fresh reply, the Prime Minister told the apex court that his son, Hassan Nawaz, was “owner, director & secretary and the authorised signatory” of Capital FZE.

“Respondent No 1 was neither a shareholder in, nor a director or a secretary of Capital FZE. Nor was he ever an authorised signatory of the company,” it adds.

Giving an explanation regarding his designation as Capital FZE’s “Chairman of the Board”, the Prime Minister told the bench that this was only a ceremonial office acquired in 2007 when he was in exile, and had nothing to do with the running of the company or supervising its affairs.

Moscow-Delhi talks on buying new generation MiG-35 fighters

Moscow : As the new generation Mig-35 fighter, touted as being superior to the US F-35, made its public debut at the MAKS Aerospace Exhibition, its Russian makers say talks are on with India for buying the jet. In the partially cloudy sky at the Zhukovsky airport, the 4++ generation jet roared through its routine, keenly wathched for the first time by hundreds of spectators.

Ilya S. Tarasenko, Director General of JSC Russian Aircraft Corporation “MiG” (JSC RAC “MiG”) said on the sidelines of the airshow that the new jet is “better” than the 5th generation Lockheed-Martin F-35 which made its public debut at the recent Paris Airshow, adding it could easily take on its rival in a dogfight.

To a question on whether India has expressed interest in the jet, he said: “Of course they have.”

“After having presented the MiG-35 in January we began to actively promote it in India and in the world. We are proposing supply of the aircraft for tenders in India and we will actively work with the air force in order to win the tender,” Tarasenko said.

“We are in the negotiation stage on technical and technological specifications that MiG can present to India and the requirements that India has for this aircraft. Since this is a very new plane, it will still take some time to negotiate on exactly what India needs and adjust the product to it,” he added.

That, however, would be easier said than done, given the torturous manner in which the Indian Air Force (IAF) has been searching for a medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) to replace its ageing fleet of Soviet-era MiG-21 jets that were first inducted in the 1960s. After floating a tender for 120 planes in 2007, evaluating six different aircraft and short-listing two, the process was abruptly cancelled and India ordered 36 Rafale jets in 2015, with the final document only recently being inked.

According to Tarasenko, the MiG-35 is 20 to 25 per cent cheaper than its competitors, and for India, which already has experience of flying various various variants of MiG fighters and with its support and maintenance facilities, it would be easy to adapt to the new plane.

“MiG aircraft have been used by India for almost 50 years. We propose our new products to India among the first and intend to continue supplying India with our most modern aircraft,” he said. “I would like to note that we propose not just the aircraft, but also training as well as after-sales service for 40 years. I can say that in comparison to our competitors, we are 20-25 per cent cheaper,” he said.

Tarasenko said the technical specifications of the aircraft are “close” to that of a fifth generation jet.

Leader of Afghan Islamic State branch killed in US raid: Pentagon

Washington: US forces killed the leader of the Islamic State group’s Afghanistan branch in a raid earlier this week in the northeastern province of Kunar, the Pentagon said today. “US forces killed Abu Sayed, the emir of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria — Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) — in a strike on the group’s headquarters in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, July 11,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said in a statement.

“The raid also killed other ISIS-K members and will significantly disrupt the terror group’s plans to expand its presence in Afghanistan.” First emerging in 2015, ISIS-K overran large parts of Nangarhar and Kunar provinces, near the Pakistan border, but their part in the Afghan conflict had been largely overshadowed by the operations against the Taliban.

Afghan and US forces had killed Abu Sayed’s two predecessors atop the group’s Afghan branch — Hafiz Saeed in July 2016 and Abdul Hasib in late April of this year, the Pentagon said. Hasib and other top militant commanders were killed in a joint raid by US Army Rangers and Afghan special forces.

At the time, the US military had said Hasib’s death would “help reach our goal of destroying them in 2017.” The compound used by Hasib in Nangarhar province was not far from the spot where on April 13, the US military dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb it has ever used in combat, hitting IS positions. The deployment of the so-called Mother Of All Bombs (MOAB) killed at least 95 jihadists, according to the Afghan defense ministry, but fighting in the area has continued.

Eight people attended Russia meeting with Donald Trump Jr

Washington: A June 2016 meeting involving Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer who allegedly had compromising information about former presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, was attending by at least eight people, the media reported.

The revelation came after Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist who once served in the Soviet army, confirmed on Friday to The Washington Post that he was present at the meeting on June 9, 2016.   So far acknowledged in attendance: Donald Trump Jr.; the President’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner; former campaign chairman Paul.J. Manafort; Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya; Akhmetshin; and publicist Rob Goldstone, who helped set up the meeting.

A source familiar with the circumstances told CNN there were at least two other people in the room as well, a translator and a representative of the Russian family who had asked Goldstone to set up the meeting. The source did not provide the names.  On Friday, Akhmetshin told The Washington Post  that he was on his own in New York when he got a phone call from Veselnitskaya.


The two then met for lunch at restaurant near Trump Tower.  Akhmetshin, who holds dual US-Russian citizenship, said that the lawyer initially sought his advice on what to say at the meeting before finally asking him to join her for the discussion with the oldest son of then-candidate Donald Trump.  “I was literally the only person wearing jeans and T-shirt” at the meeting, Akhmetshin told the daily.  Regarding the substance, Akhmetshin said that in the course of her work for clients, Veselnitskaya had discovered that a US hedge fund which “seemed linked to the (Democratic National Committee)” was operating in violation of Russian tax and securities law.

He adds that Veselnitskaya “left a document behind” after the meeting with Donald Trump Jr.  Akhmetshin assured that his only connection with government service was the two years he spent in the Soviet army as a young conscript in a unit whose responsibilities included counterintelligence  “I never worked for the Russian government. I served as a soldier, for two years, like tens of millions of Russian young men who were drafted. I am proud of my military service. At no time have I ever worked for Russian government or any of its agencies. I was not an intelligence officer. Never,” he told The Washington Post.

On Tuesday, Donald Trump Jr. released an email chain relating to the conversation he had with Veselnitskaya.  The emails show that Trump Jr. agreed to meet with someone who was a “Russian government attorney” about “very high level and sensitive information” that would “incriminate” Clinton, reports CNN.  Veselnitskaya has denied she had provided any such information.

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