Month: July 2014
LAHORE (Nation): A passing out ceremony of women cadets including fire rescuers, emergency medical technicians, and rescue and safety officer (RSO) of Gilgit Baltistan was held at the Punjab Emergency Services Academy in Lahore on Friday.
Punjab Rescue DG Dr Rizwan Naseer and DG Rescue-1122 Gilgit Baltistan Dr Sher Aziz witnessed the ceremony besides other senior officials. The rescuers pledged that they would leave no stone unturned to serve humanity.
Dr Rizwan Naseer in his welcome address congratulated Chief Ministers of Punjab and Gilgit Baltistan and Punjab Governor for establishing Rescue-1122 Emergency Services in the hilly region of Gilgit Baltistan. He also congratulated the women rescuers stating that that it was important for them to remember what they learnt at the Emergency Services Academy.
Dr Rizwan further said that the emergency service which had been launched in Lahore was being expanded to other provinces as Rescue-1122 service had already been launched in Peshawar, Mardan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Gilgit, Sakardu, Balochistan and Sindh.
Dr Rizwan informed that on the formal request of Gilgit Baltistan government, the first batch comprising 186 rescuers of Gilgit Baltistan was imparted training at Emergency Services Academy in 2012. This year, the second batch comprising 18 women rescuers has completed the training.
“We will continue providing technical assistance to other provinces for replication of this emergency model in their respective areas,” he added. He said that Prime Minister of Pakistan had tasked Punjab Governor to expand this life saving force – Rescue 1122 – in other provinces including Sindh and Balochistan. Speaking on this occasion, DG Rescue Gilgit–Baltistan Dr Sher Aziz said that the selection of rescuers for Gilgit Baltistan was made purely on merit. We are thankful to Dr Rizwan Naseer for providing professional training to the recruits in the Punjab. Now this is the responsibility of the trained rescuers to maintain same standards of service in their respective provinces, he added.
He also thanked Shahbaz Sharif and Ch Sarwar and people of Punjab for this kind gesture of brotherhood for giving opportunity to replicate international standard emergency services in other provinces of Pakistan.
He also acknowledged the services of Dr Rizwan as founder of the Pakistan’s first trained emergency medical, rescue and fire services. “The experience, achievements and skills of the Punjab Emergency Service team will be of great benefit for us in Gilgit Baltistan,” he added.
Earlier, the passed out women cadets demonstrated their professional skills of emergency management of victims in cardio pulmonary resuscitation; splinting, bandaging and use of state-of-the-art highly equipped cardiac ambulances. They also demonstrated skills of firefighting and rescue from height at this occasion. Dr Farhan Khalid, Deputy Director (Training) also spoke on the occasion.
By Arif Mehmood
Relatively few people seem to be aware that every year in Pakistan, an epic polo festival is held at an altitude of over 12,000 feet, at a location befittingly known as the ‘roof of the world’. Visitors — local and international — flock to the Shandur Top in thousands to experience the sport in its purest, traditional form.
As the highest polo ground in the world, it is set against a backdrop of sweeping mountains, crystal clear lakes, and blanketing blue skies. Visitors typically start trickling in a week before the three-day festivities begin in July each year. Shandur’s raw beauty is enough to leave anyyone awe-struck.
The scenic beauty compells us to visit Shandur at least once in our lives. Full marks to Abbrar, whose dedication toward promoting Pakistan’s beauty and culture is unmatched. His work continues to inspire audiences across the world.
Polo is an equestrian sport with a history tracing back to Central Asia 6th century BC. Originally, the game was intended to serve as a training exercise for elite troops and was viewed as a miniature battle. Here, the tradition of mountain polo first evolved in 1936, when Major Cobb grew fond of playing polo at night and called the ground the Moony Polo Ground. Till today, the contests are always fierce, with force, skill and emotions coming together to create a highly-charged atmosphere up in the mountains. “The game of kings and the king of games,” reads the sign at the entrance to Shandur.
Free style mountain polo is undoubtedly the purest form of polo that exists today. This unique form is devoid of any umpires and formalised rules and regulations. Riders dangling from their saddles duel for control of the ball as swinging mallets come head-to-head and horses whiz past each other in scenes that often go by in a blur. The treacherous journey to Shandur Top seems no cost at all to those keen for witnessing history and culture like this in live action.
Local polo titans from Chitral and Gilgit gather each year in early July to engage in an epic polo battle. Celebrities and guests have participated in the past few years allowing Pakistan to reemerge as a tourist destination. Famous actor, Michael Palin highlighted the Shandur Festival in a BBC film entitled, “Himalayas with Michael Palin”. But the Shandur Polo Festival has more to offer its visitors than just polo. Traditional dancing, paragliding, trout fishing and rafting in the Shandur Lake beckon to tourists from all over.
A colorful village of tents is erected to host thousands of people. Tourists typically start arriving a week before the three-day festivities begin in early July each year. Shandur’s raw beauty undoubtedly leaves its visitors ‘star-struck’
Arif Mahmood is currently a medical doctor residing in the US with varied interests in South East Asian art, classical music, photography, and literature. courtesy Dawn
LAHORE (ET): Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairperson Imran Khan will be among many politicians who will be invited to the government’s Independence Day rally at D-Chowk in Islamabad on August 14, announced Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid on Saturday.
Speaking to the media in Lahore, Rashid said that the PTI chief, the head of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) ameer Sirajul Haq, senior vice president of the National Party (NP) Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai, Awami National Party (ANP) chief Asfandyar Wali Khan and Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman are among the politicians who will be invited to the rally.
It is important to mention here that PTI is also planning to hold a ‘Azadi March’ against alleged rigging in the May 11 general elections last year at the same venue on the same day. The information minister remarked that organising a rally, where the prime minister, ministers as well as the civil society sing the national anthem together, at D-Chowk has been a tradition of the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N).
When PML-N came into power last year, the government made the decision to start this tradition again, which will be implemented, Rashid said.
“This was a proud and beautiful occasion that we used to keep on our most important national day,” he added.
Only one flag will be raised on August 14 – Pakistan’s flag – as this day is for Pakistanis not for a particular political party, Rashid commented.
Criticising the two political threats to PML-N, the information minister said that both Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) chief Tahirul Qadri and the PTI chief are “experts of somersaults”, adding that the PML-N government has seen both faces of the two political leaders.
‘Govt will support army’
Speaking about the government’s support for the army to eliminate terrorism in the country, Rashid said that the government will provide all the necessary tools required to the army, adding that it was the government’s responsibility to do so. “Providing a legal umbrella to the army is also the government’s responsibility,” he added.
The information minister also remarked that people who look for faults in this or take a different meaning to this do not want the army to be successful. “They don’t want Pakistan’s mission to succeed,” he stated. He also said that people who were creating doubts against the army will not be successful.
Karachi (P.Today): Former president General (r) Pervez Musharraf has said that the current political system is not helping the country out. Speaking in an interview, the retired general said, “People have tried and tested the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) which failed to deliver and now the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) isn’t faring any better.”
Musharraf did not have much hope from Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader Imran Khan either. He said that no matter how many elections you have in Pakistan “we will eventually end up having the same people getting elected”. He believed that country desperately needs some form of an interim setup for an extended period of time, with a solid backing of the military. He said that the days of military coup in Pakistan are now over. He nodded his approval on the Tahirul Qadri’s movement.
He expressed the belief that the war on terror cannot be won till madrassas are incorporated in the modern schooling system. He proudly mentioned some of the strict steps he had taken against madrassas by amending their curriculum and making them more mainstream.
SRI LANKA NEW VISA POLICY SHOCKS MUSHARRAF: Musharraf was shocked after hearing the news that Sri Lanka was withdrawn on-arrival visa facility from Pakistanis. Narrating an incident of the Sri Lankan civil war, Musharraf said Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga had called him to help the Sri Lankan soldiers who were trapped somewhere near the Jaffna peninsula and were under attack from the Tamil Tigers. He said Pakistan had promptly sent all possible help in the form of arms, ammunition and technical expertise to help the Sri Lankans.
THE GENERAL-JUSTICE CONNECTION: Musharraf joked about the appointment of Arsalan Iftikhar as Balochistan Board of Interest (BBOI) vice chairman, saying that a national treasure like Reqo Diq was placed at Arsalan’s disposal for exploitation.
His regretted that exports worth many millions of dollars were stopped in 2012 and Tythian Gold and Antofagasta were not allowed to carry out their job. He said that he met Tythian Gold president in London after the annulment of the deal by former chief justice of Pakistan Justice (r) Iftikhar Chaudhry, adding that the company president was “disappointed” on what was going on in Pakistan.
The general shed some light on the Pakistan Steel deal and shared the plan of what al Tawarqi (the winning party) was supposed to do with Pak Steel in terms of further investment and exports.
When asked if there was any discussion between the then judiciary and himself before the announcement of the decision, Musharraf smiled and said the details (which he will not share) were shocking on ground of how much aligned Musharraf, Iftikhar Chaudhary and the Attorney General were on the pro-privatisation judgement which was supposed to come. However, the ultimate judgement was totally the opposite. Musharraf said he would share the reason for this in the sequel of his book “In the Line of Fire”.
He said the text of the sequel would be completed once the judgement of the ongoing trails especially the Article 6 case, is out.
GILGIT (ET): The GB Metals, Minerals & Gems Association has expressed reservations over the proposed Mining Concession Rules 2014, describing it an attempt to deprive people of their wealth. The Mining Concession Rules 2014 were reportedly formulated by the GB Council, a body chaired by the prime minister, to regulate mining of minerals. The rules are to be tabled in the council for approval once finalised and vetted by experts.
“The mining concession rules are anti-people and will fuel an uprising against the colonial policies of the Ministry of Kashmir and GB Affairs,” said the association’s chairman, Shehbaz Khan. “We’ve discussed the proposed rules in the general body meeting and have rejected them as the rules make a mockery of the federal government’s claim that the people of GB have been given autonomy under the Empowerment & Self Governance Order, 2009,” Khan told The Express Tribune on Thursday.
He said the UN and its Universal Declaration (Agenda 21: Chapter 26) has called on governments to recognize that the lands of indigenous people and their communities be protected from activities considered to be socially and culturally inappropriate.
As a signatory to this declaration, Pakistan has the moral responsibility to uphold the ownership rights prevailing in the customary laws of GB to protect the rights of indigenous people, said Khan.
Terming it a draconian law, Khan said the power given to the GB Council to sign mining agreements to fetch ‘Substantial Foreign Investment’ is the same method used by the rulers of African and Latin American states. Their unwise decisions drained the mineral resources in a few years as they opened them for multinational companies, he added. “The proposed rules are no different and may prove disastrous for GB if approved.”
The rugged mountainous landscape in GB is a treasure trove of gem stones and precious mineral resources. The most prominent ones among them are ruby, emerald, aquamarine, sapphire and tourmaline.
GILGIT (ET): The Pakistan Army launched a search operation in the mountains of Diamer Valley on Tuesday in a bid to arrest terrorists who ransacked a police station in Darel recently.
In a brazen attack on July 4, at least two dozen armed masked men, dressed in army uniforms, stormed a police station in Darel Valley of Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) and took away arms, ammunition and police uniforms. They tied up the policemen on duty and told them to abandon government service or face the consequences.
The search operation on Tuesday took place in the Muspar Forest – a thick woodland located between Batogah Nullah and Thak Nullah. Intelligence reports suggest the presence of terrorists there, said a police official requesting anonymity. “There are reports that about five dozen army personnel are taking part in the search,” he said. Terrorists hiding in the forest could also be among those who killed foreign tourists and their investigators last year, he speculated.
Residents of Chilas told The ET that they saw at least five army helicopters hovering in the sky for a long time. “There is a continuous flight of helicopters above the town; I can count five helicopters,” said Faizullah. GB home secretary Attaur Rahman confirmed a military operation was taking place in the mountains. “It’s against terrorists and we can’t give a time frame as to when it will end,” he told reporters.
In another operation launched simultaneously, Superintendent Jhangir Khan led a police contingent to raid houses in Darel Valley. “It was a routine exercise to weed out criminals,” Khan told The Express Tribune when he returned to his office after the raid. However, according to another source, several suspects were held during the raid to be questioned later.
G-B urged to tighten security for Chinese engineers
Intelligence agencies have asked the G-B government to tighten security for Chinese engineers working in the area. It was revealed in a letter written by the National Counter Terrorism Authority that, after a recently held meeting in Afghanistan, terrorists are plotting to attack Chinese engineers supervising work on projects in G-B, including the Karakoram Highway that connects Pakistan and China.
The Karakoram Security Force, which has been raised exclusively for Chinese security, is on duty around the clock. However, the letter still calls for more stringent safety measures. The threat has come a week after terrorists clad in army uniforms attacked a police station in Darel Valley, tied police up with ropes and took away arms and ammunition. The incident rang alarm bells over the possible infiltration of terrorists from North Waziristan Agency, where a full-scale military operation has forced militants to flee.
The massacre of 10 foreign climbers at Nanga Parbat a year ago also came reportedly after a failed attempt to capture a Chinese-American national to use him as a high-value bargaining chip.
GILGIT (Dawn): The local importers and exporters association has challenged in the Gilgit-Baltistan Chief Court the imposition of income tax in the region by the GB Council.
Supreme Appellate Court Bar Association president Ehsan Ali filed a writ petition in the chief court on behalf of the importers and exporters body.
The petitioner stated that imposition of income tax in the region was illegal as it violated the rules of Income Tax Ordinance, 2001, and the United Nation’s resolutions on the status of the region.
Talking to Dawn on Monday, Ehsan Ali said that GB was not the constitutional part of Pakistan, and imposing income tax in the region was against constitution of Pakistan and international laws.The GB council had decided to levy income tax in the region in 2012, and its implementation started from March, this year.
Mr Ali said the federal government couldn’t impose tax on GB unless the region was given representation at the parliament.
Gilgit-Baltistan: Protests over Poor Public Services have Escalated Challenges for Islamabad’s Rule in GB
Gilgit (Aljazeera): Escalating protests in villages perched on the “Roof of the World” – a mountainous territory disputed between Pakistan and India – have exposed deep animosity towards Islamabad. After 67 years of control by the Pakistani government, many local people want the country to either accept them as a new province – or grant them independence. Pakistan’s authorities have responded to the unrest – sparked by poor public services and anger at corruption – with a brutal crackdown.
“The problem is in the system – it’s a colonial system. The laws come from Islamabad and we have to live under them,” Nazir Ahmed, a local lawyer who helped organise the protests, told Al Jazeera.
The two hundred thousand residents of Ghizer district now have an ambulance, a crucial service in a region where the nearest hospital is a precarious five hour drive along narrow roads hugging cliff faces thousands of feet above fast-moving rivers. Two weeks ago, hundreds of residents converged to besiege government offices, demanding that officials provide an ambulance and basic medical facilities.
Ghizer has no surgeon or gynaecologist, and just one female health worker. Similar unrest has erupted in villages across Gilgit-Baltistan in protests that began with calls for an end to government corruption. “There is massive corruption, and no one here is answerable,” said Ahmed, who adds that the struggle for better medical facilities is just the beginning. The protests have been met with a brutal crackdown by authorities, who are using special courts to prosecute ‘terrorists’ and who have jailed hundreds on charges of sedition and ‘terrorism’.
In April, hundreds of thousands of protesters held an 11-day sit-in in Gilgit’s legislative assembly after Islamabad threatened to end a wheat subsidy established in 1972 to match a similar package in India-administered Kashmir. The protesters won back the subsidy but their other demands, including self-rule for Gilgit-Baltistan, have yet to be met.
“Pakistan is seeking that the United Nations solve the Kashmir dispute, and is unwilling to officially integrate Gilgit-Baltistan into its political system,” said Ahsan Ali, the head of the Gilgit-Baltistan High Court Bar Association, and an expert on constitutional law in the region.
The Roof of the World (GB) is claimed by Pakistan and India and home to the only land route to the Indian Ocean for Pakistan’s closest ally in the region, China. The territory is home to 12 of the 30 highest peaks on Earth, and its massive glaciers are the source of water for most of the Indian subcontinent. Since independence from Britain in 1947, Pakistan and India have fought several wars over the status of Gilgit-Baltistan – part of the Pakistan-administered Kashmir – and the rest of disputed Kashmir to its east.
According to binding resolutions from the UN, a plebiscite is to be held to determine whether the region is to join India or Pakistan, or become an independent state, but this has yet to happen, leaving millions in legal limbo. Pakistan has not constitutionally integrated Gilgit-Baltistan into its political system because it believes the area could one day prejudice the plebiscite vote to settle the Kashmir dispute with India.
This legislative assembly…we feel is powerless. All the power is in Islamabad. Until this [Advisory] Council in Islamabad, which has all the power… until their power is transferred to the [Legislative] Assembly here, we feel the problems here cannot be solved.
No taxation without representation
Ghizer district is an unlikely place to find such animosity towards Islamabad as it is the home to 12,000 soldiers in an elite division that specialises in high-altitude warfare. Islamabad has also spent billions of dollars building infrastructure in the area like the Karakoram highway, which links remote mountain communities and provides a reliable land route to China.
Yet locals receive no revenue from customs duties with China, or the sales tax collected by Pakistan, which generates up to $550m in annual revenue and is destined entirely for Islamabad. The Awami Action Committee (AAC), a coalition of 23 religious and political groups behind the current protests, is demanding that there be “no taxation without representation”.
Stretching 28,000 square miles, and home to 2 million people, the region is not even mentioned in Pakistan’s constitution, a fact that irks young activists like Sajjid Rana, 19, who says textbooks only refer to it as “the land of glaciers”. If Gilgit-Baltistan gained self-rule, Rana would like to see it become a crossroads for trade between India and Central Asia, as it was for thousands of years before its western and eastern borders were closed under Islamabad’s foreign policy priorities. “A lot of people care about the region, but no one cares about the people,” Shabbir Hakimi, a Shia-cleric who helped mobilise thousands for the April sit-ins, told Al Jazeera.
“As Muslims, we care about Kashmir, but give us our rights, make us like Kashmir, or let us go altogether.” Unlike the rest of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, which has its own constitution, democratically-elected legislature, and independent judiciary, Gilgit-Baltistan was long governed by a federally-appointed civil servant who could impose collective punishment on local tribes. In 2009, Islamabad granted the territory largely symbolic autonomy under a Legislative Assembly whose members are elected, and an Advisory Council, most of whose members are selected by the federal government.
“Islamabad is basically running the show,” said Nawaz Khan Naji, an elected member of the 33-seat Legislative Assembly. “We have stacks of resolutions we have passed that have not been acted upon.” In 2012, the Legislative Assembly passed a resolution asking for Gilgit-Baltistan to be turned into a province, but the Advisory Council, headed by the Pakistani prime minister, ignored it. Likewise key powers over trade, tourism and natural resources remain effectively under Islamabad’s control and judges in Gilgit-Baltistan are appointed and dismissed at the discretion of a federal minister.
“We call it a 21st-century colony,” said Israr-ud-Din Israr of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. “All powers are with Pakistan, and we cannot make laws ourselves, for our own interests.” “This legislative assembly…we feel is powerless,” Senator Afrasiab Khan Khattak, who heads a Senatorial committee on Human Rights, told reporters after a fact-finding trip to Gilgit-Baltistan in April. “All the power is in Islamabad. Until this [Advisory] Council in Islamabad, which has all the power… until their power is transferred to the [Legislative] Assembly here, we feel the problems here cannot be solved.”
The narrow roads throughout Gilgit-Baltistan are littered with checkpoints, manned by paramilitary soldiers and police who question all travellers. In April, police climbed the cliffs overlooking the narrow highway near the village of Sikandarabad to drop giant boulders on to the roadway in an unsuccessful attempt to keep protesters from reaching the Gilgit sit in. But blocked roads are not the only obstacle protesters face, with special courts set up to prosecute ‘terrorism’ suspects now being used against political activists.
More than 250 people have been tried in the anti-terrorism courts, alongside the 300 or so political cases that have been held in conventional criminal courts. Iftikhar Hussain, 34, has been in a Gilgit city prison awaiting trial in an anti-terrorism court for nearly three years, even though the special courts are required to sentence convicts within 90 days of an arrest.
He is one of 36 men charged with ‘terrorism’ and ‘sedition’ stemming from a 2011 protest by locals demanding compensation promised to them by Pakistan after a massive landslide had destroyed their villages. When police trying to clear the protest killed two men, riots erupted across the entire region and locals destroyed more than 17 government buildings including police stations.
Hussain, who says he was not involved in the riots, was one of more than 100 people arrested. Most of the other suspects arrested with Hussain have been released. He says that for nearly a month he was tortured by investigators who included officers from Pakistan’s intelligence agencies.
“We always raised our voices over local problems in our areas, simple things,” says Hussain, who is a member of the Karakoram National Movement, a party advocating for self-rule. “They don’t like this, so they call it sedition.” As always authorities deny having tortured Hussain. “[Hussain] is accused of serious violent crimes, ” a senior Gilgit District police officer, who declined to be named, told Al Jazeera when asked about the allegations. “He was not tortured,” he stated.
GILGIT (Dawn): Over three dozen suspected terrorists wearing Pak army uniform stormed a police station in Diamer district on Friday morning, tied the policemen with ropes and took away weapons, uniform, wireless sets, and other valuables from the cops. The Dodishal police station is situated a kilometer from the Karakuram Highway at the border of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan regions.
Police sources told Dawn that 36 to 40 unidentified armed men wearing army uniform stormed the police station at about 1:30am on Friday. The sources said that only six police personnel were present at duty when the police station was attacked, adding that the assailants tied the personnel with ropes and thrashed some over resistance. The attackers took away 10 guns, three pistols, thousands of rounds, wireless telephone sets, police uniforms and other belongings of the police personnel.
The sources said that the attackers were speaking Urdu, Pashto and Shina languages and also accused the policemen of being the puppets of America. They said that other police stations of Diamer district were informed after three hours of the incident. GB home secretary, Attaul Rahman, told Dawn that additional police force had been sent to Diamer district from Gilgit for catching the culprits and investigating the incident. He said that Inspector General of Police, Saleem Bathi, was leading a search operation in Diamer district and adjoining areas to nab the outlaws.
Dawn tried to contact the police officials at the scene, but to no avail as the area is remote and has no communication facilities. The region’s home secretary informed that GB had requested the KP government and the security forces to help arrest the terrorists. Security at the Karakuram Highway has also been enhanced to provide protection to the travelers, he said. Mr Rehman said that all the information would be made public once the investigation into the case completed. This is the fourth attack to have been carried out by terrorists wearing Pakistan army uniform. A case against unknown attackers was registered at the Dodishal police station.
Skardu (PT): New brand Computers and UPS items worth millions of rupees were distributed among head teachers in different schools of the Skardu and Ghanche Districts, in Gilgit-Baltistan.
The Aga Khan University – Professional Development Centre North has been playing a pivotal role in improving the quality of education through promotion of teaching best practices, capacity building of schools and teachers in the Gilgit-Baltistan region since its inception almost 16 years ago.
Since 2010, AKU-PDCN is implementing a project Educational Development and Improvement Program (EDIP) in Gilgit-Baltistan with generous funding from Aus-Aid. The project adapted the Whole School Improvement Program (WSIP) model and focuses on improving the quality of teaching and learning, developing leadership and management skills, curriculum enrichment and staff development, building and resources management, students social, moral development and health education, and community participation in the schools.
In continuity of its activity, in the second episode, PDCN has provided twenty (24) news brad computers and UPS to its 12 project feeding schools in district of Skardu and Ghangche. In the first episode, PDCN already provided computers, printer, UPS and internet facilities to the focus schools, LRSs, in Gilgit-Baltistan region.
Dr. Maula Dad Shafa, Head PDCN, has hand over these computers and UPS to school head teachers in the presence of Director Education Baltistan regions, district level educational leaders, teachers and school management committee members.
The Community members and district educational leadership appreciated the effort of AKU-PDCN and Aus-Aid in promotion of education in the region. They also assured the head PDCN about their support in the future.