Month: August 2014

Gilgit-Baltistan: Top Commanders Meet Amid Political Turmoil in the Country

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ISLAMABAD (ET): Top military commanders will meet in Rawalpindi amid rising political tensions over Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s scheduled long march on Independence Day. The corps commanders’ conference will be chaired by Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif, said the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) in a statement. The military’s media wing did not say what will be discussed in the meeting that comes just days before PTI’s Azadi march which seeks the ouster of the incumbent government and fresh elections.

A senior military official sought to downplay the timing of the meeting, insisting that it was a routine monthly gathering where the top brass will review the overall security situation and discuss professional matters. However, insiders disclosed that the prevailing political situation would be one of the key agenda items during the conference. With Imran Khan’s party adamant to go ahead with its scheduled rally, political commentators believe the role of the security establishment would become crucial if the standoff continues.

Sources said the federal government is likely to give the PTI a ‘freehand’ to hold the march on August 14. The decision was taken after the government was advised to let Imran hold his protest in the capital. “Any move to stop PTI supporters from holding the march may lead to violence,” said one source familiar with consultations between the civil and military authorities on the issue.

The corps commanders would also review progress so far achieved in Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan Agency. The military commanders would also be briefed about the recently held conference on national security, where the army chief informed participants that most of the targets in operation had already been achieved.

It was also reported that the military was considering allowing internally displaced persons to return to their homes in areas where security forces had now taken full control.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Silk Route Festival to Start in September, 39 Countries Invited

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GILGIT (ET): The Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) government has invited 39 countries to participate in the Silk Route Festival starting in September in the region.
The concept of the Silk Route Festival was conceived by former chief secretary Younus Dagha in 2013 when terrorists attacked and killed 10 foreign tourists at the foot of Nanga Parbat in 2013. At least 16 countries took part in the activities.
“This will be a mega event; we have sent invitations to 39 countries,” Secretary Tourism Akhtar Rizvi informed participants of a meeting chaired by G-B Chief Secretary Sikandar Sultan Raja. The meeting which was attended by department heads and other relevant officials reviewed measures needed to make the event a success.
Raja urged law enforcement agencies to ensure foolproof security for the festival which will culminate on September 15.
So far 16 countries have confirmed their participation. The five-day event will start from September 10—an inaugural ceremony has been scheduled for Islamabad where foreign dignitaries will be briefed.
On the second day, programmes will be organised in Skardu to highlight local art, culture and heritage. Foreign dignitaries will be hosted in Shigar Fort, which has won several awards after it was renovated by the Aga Khan Cultural Support Programme.
Activities on day three will take place in Gilgit while the fourth and fifth days’ events will take place in Hunza and Nagar valleys respectively.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Azadi March to be Held as Planned from Lahore to Islamabad, Imran Khan

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LAHORE / ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chairman’s year-long accusations against the government for rigging last year’s elections gained momentum this month, with Imran Khan calling for an ‘Azadi’ march on August 14 from Lahore to Islamabad. Political temperatures have risen drastically over the last few weeks, with the government urging the PTI to call off its protest rally and other political forces attempting to broker an understanding between the two.

On its part, the government also implemented Article 245 — thereby calling in the Pakistan Army for its support in securing Islamabad, where as Section 144 was also declared in the capital.
However, the PTI has remained steadfast that the march will happen, and have said they will come up with a list of demands once the march reaches the capital. With the PTI’s campaign gaining momentum, one of Imran Khan’s demands thus far has been fresh elections.

PTI central information secretary Shireen Mazari said the government should immediately remove barriers from the Islamabad-Lahore motorway.  

Further, Mazari said that the party core committee has decided that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will have to step down as PM. Echoing PTI chairperson Imran Khan’s earlier statement, Mazari said if democracy is derailed during the ‘Azadi’ march, it will be the government’s doing and not theirs.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Qadri Announces Revolution March on August 14,2014

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Lahore (Dawn): Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) chief Dr Tahirul Qadri announced on Sunday that August 14 will be the day of his ‘revolution march’ to topple the government. He said he would join PTI from Lahore and will proceed to Islamabad together. on the other hand PTI Chairman Imran Khan has welcomed the announcement of PAT Chief.

He made the announcement at the end of a speech to thousands of supporters who had gathered in Model Town to observe ‘Martyr’s Day’— a demonstration to protest against deadly clashes that took between his supporters and the Punjab police in June.

Qadri has condemned the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) government as corrupt and called for the overthrow of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Saturday was another day full of violence as aggressive PAT workers resisted police officials manning pickets in parts of Punjab.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Government Should Resign if Cant Resolve Challenges Facing the Country, Pervez Musharraf

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ISLAMABAD (Dawn): Former president Pervez Musharraf on Sunday said he didn’t need to ‘flee’ the country as all cases registered against him are baseless and politically motivated.

“I am not afraid and don’t need to flee the country,” said the former military ruler, while addressing an All Pakistan Muslim League convention in Islamabad. “My health is getting better but I need to go abroad for medical tests,” he said, adding that he would return to the country to defend himself in all cases registered against him in the court of law.

Further, Musharraf said the country’s economy has worsened and corruption has risen since the end of Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid’s rule. He also condemned the Model Town clashes on June 17 and August 8. “The masses have been living under difficult conditions for the past six years; there are no jobs and poverty is increasing.”

Earlier today, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Raja Zafarul Haq claimed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is under pressure to allow the former military dictator safe passage out of the country. Indirectly referring to the ongoing agitation against the government, Haq reportedly said the “whole drama” in the country was taking place in order to get the former president released.
Cases levelled against Musharraf

Five charges have been levelled against Musharraf. He is accused of issuing “an unconstitutional and unlawful Proclamation of Emergency Order, 2007” on November 3 of that year, where he subverted the Constitution. Musharraf is also charged with issuing the Provisional Constitution Order No 1 of 2007 that empowered the president to amend the 1973 Constitution from time to time and he also suspended the Fundamental Rights enshrined in Articles 9, 10, 15, 16, 17, 19 and 25 of the Constitution.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Amir Mehdi Desired to be the First Pakistani to Climb K-2, But Instead Forgotten and Left Out to Freeze

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Islamabad (BBC): Amir Mehdi wanted to be the first Pakistani to scale the country’s highest peak, K2, and as one of the strongest climbers in the first team to conquer the summit, 60 years ago, he nearly did. Instead he was betrayed by his Italian companions, left to spend a night on the ice without shelter, and was lucky to survive.

In the picturesque Hunza Valley, off the Karakoram Highway that connects north Pakistan with the Chinese province of Xinjiang, lies the village of Hasanabad. I travelled to this remote place after discovering it had been the home of one of Pakistan’s pioneering high altitude porters, Amir Mehdi – also known as Hunza Mehdi.

The Hunza porters, equivalent of the Sherpas in Nepal, are still in great demand for expeditions to Pakistan’s highest peaks, such as K2, Nanga Parbat, Broad Peak and Gasherbrum I and II – five of the world’s 14 mountains more than 8,000m high. But Amir Mehdi, a member of the Italian expedition that triumphed on K2 in 1954, is today a forgotten man. “My father wanted to be the first Pakistani to put his country’s flag on top of K2,” says Amir Mehdi’s son Sultan Ali, aged 62. “But in 1954 he was let down by the people he was trying to help.”

Amir Mehdi in later years, wearing medals awarded by the Italian government. A year earlier, in 1953, Mehdi had proved his strength on Nanga Parbat (8,126m) assisting the Austrian mountaineer, Hermann Buhl. Buhl, the first person to reach the summit, had been forced to spend a night alone standing on a narrow ledge as he descended, and had later needed help to reach the base of the mountain. Mehdi and another local porter took turns carrying him on their backs.

So, when the Italians approached the Mir of Hunza, Jamal Khan, asking for men to help with the K2 ascent, Mehdi was among those picked from the hundreds of aspirants who packed the royal court. He went on to make a huge contribution to the success of the expedition, which turned two climbers – Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli – into Italian national heroes.

A day before their summit bid, Mehdi had been persuaded to help an up-and-coming Italian climber, Walter Bonatti, to carry oxygen cylinders up to a height of about 8,000m, where they were to meet Compagnoni and Lacedelli. Compagnoni fell out with fellow climbers Lacedelli and Bonatti before his death in 2009

“Other high altitude porters refused. My father agreed to the mission because he was offered a chance to get to the top,” says his son, Sultan Ali. But when they got to the designated spot, late in the evening, the tent was nowhere to be seen. Eventually, as they searched for their Compagnoni and Lacedelli, and continued to climb, one of Bonatti’s shouts was answered. The camp had been moved to a point now beyond their reach. A voice shouted to them to leave the oxygen and go back down, but the darkness made this impossible.

Mehdi and Bonatti were forced to spend the night huddled together on an ice ledge enduring temperatures of -50C (-58F). Both were ready to die, but somehow they survived what was, at the time, the highest ever open bivouac, at an altitude of some 8,100m (26,570ft). It would later be revealed that Compagnoni had deliberately moved the camp because he wanted to prevent Bonatti and Mehdi from joining the summit bid. Compagnoni apparently feared that Bonatti, who was younger and fitter, would steal the limelight. The next morning, leaving the oxygen cylinders there, Mehdi and Bonatti descended. Compagnoni and Lacedelli then picked up the oxygen and went on to claim the summit.

Unlike his Italian colleagues, Mehdi hadn’t been given proper high-altitude snow boots. He was wearing regular army boots – according to some reports, they were two sizes too small for him. Inevitably, he suffered severe frostbite, and by the time he reached base camp he was unable to walk. He had to be carried on a stretcher to a hospital in the town of Skardu, where he was given first aid, and transferred from there to a military hospital in Rawalpindi.

Doctors had no choice but to amputate all his toes to prevent gangrene from spreading. He was only released from hospital eight months later. When he finally returned home to his village in Hunza, Mehdi put away his ice axe and told his family he never wanted to see it again. “It reminded him of his suffering and how he was left out in the cold to die,” recalls his son, Sultan Ali.

While his Italian colleagues went on to build careers, write books and make money, Mehdi never climbed a mountain again. Mehdi’s frostbite was a diplomatic embarrassment – for Italy, as well as Pakistan, where the press responded with fury. The Italians were accused of tricking Mehdi and leaving him mutilated. Officials from the two governments went into overdrive to put a lid on the controversy. Italian officialdom at the time was keen to protect Campagnoni’s legacy. And to do so, they needed someone else to take the heat for Mehdi’s suffering. Bonatti was turned into the fall guy – in Italy and in Pakistan – accused of reckless risk-taking and scheming to claim the summit himself before the others.

Mehdi was asked to offer his official testimony. He obliged, travelled to the city of Gilgit and spent three days narrating his ordeal before a Pakistani official. Sultan Ali, maintains that his father broadly supported Bonatti’s version of events of how the two of them were tricked at K2. But he says he can’t be sure if Pakistani officials tampered with his father’s evidence or made him sign false testimony, to wrongly blame Bonatti for his suffering – which is how most people interpreted his statement. “My father was a simple man. He knew how to climb mountains, but he didn’t know how to read or write. It’s possible that his testimony was used to discredit Bonatti,” says Sultan Ali.

Amir Mehdi would spend the next five decades of his life scarred by his ordeal. For some years, he was unable to move or find work, and struggled to feed his wife and children. Gradually, he learned to walk on his stumps. The Italian government sent him a certificate in the post, informing him that the president had awarded him the rank of cavaliere. From time to time, he received letters and books from Italy. But Mehdi couldn’t read them and they did nothing to address his financial difficulties.

Occasionally, foreign mountaineers who had heard about his open bivouac at 8,100m would come to meet him. “Sometimes, his eyes welled up with tears,” recalls his son who helped translate the conversations. “He would tell them he had risked his life for the honour of his country, but he was treated unjustly.” For the most part, though, Mehdi kept his pain to himself. In 1994, he met up with Compagnoni and Lacedelli in Islamabad to mark the 40th celebrations of the first ascent.

Sultan, who accompanied his father to the event, recalls it as a highly emotional reunion. “They didn’t understand each other’s language. But the three of them cried like babies when they hugged each other.” All along, Mehdi didn’t ask for an apology. And none was offered.

The official Italian narrative, which effectively concealed the truth about the expedition, remained unchanged for decades – although Bonatti did his best to challenge it. Only the publication of reminiscences by Lacedelli in 2004 prompted an investigation, which led in 2007, to formal recognition by the Italian Alpine Club of the essential role Mehdi and Bonatti played in K2’s conquest.

But that was too late for Mehdi. He died in December 1999 at the age of 86. After the Italian expedition, 23 years were to pass before the next successful ascent of what mountaineers consider one of the most treacherous of the world’s highest mountains. One member of that Japanese-led expedition was the Pakistani climber Ashraf Amman, also from Hunza, who claimed the title Mehdi had longed for – that of the first Pakistani to climb the world’s second highest mountain.

But it took much longer for a fully homegrown Pakistani expedition to scale K2. That finally happened on 26 July this year, just a few days short of the 60th anniversary of Amir Mehdi’s frozen night at 8,100m. Amid all the celebrations, Amir Mehdi’s name has rarely been heard, either in Pakistan or anywhere else.

Gilgit-Baltistan: CM Invites Business Community of China for Investment in GB

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GILGIT (ET): GB Chief Minister Mehdi Shah has promised foolproof security and a conducive environment for investment if Chinese businessmen turn to G-B.

“I invite the business community of China to visit G-B, which has immense potential, and explore avenues for investment,” Mehdi Shah told an official Chinese delegation in Kashgar, China, according to a statement issued from the CM’s Secretariat.
Shah, accompanied by several other members of his cabinet, is on an official visit to China to explore business opportunities for G-B.
This is Shah’s fourth visit to China since he assumed office in 2010. “The Pak-China friendship is exemplary but we need to further expand it,” said Shah, referring to the proposed railway track that will pass through G-B to connect China with Gwadar.
The statement said Shah also proposed revising the two-day weekend to a one-day weekend for customs and other government offices to further the interest of traders in Pakistan.
In response to Shah’s propositions, a delegation of Chinese businessmen will visit G-B this year, it added.
While the CM’s visit attracted fierce criticism from opposition parties—more so after clashes between two groups of Nurbakhshiyas led to dozens injured and arrested in Baltistan—the trip was termed a success by Minister for Minerals Muhammad Naseer. “I am pretty sure the visit will prove successful and the people in China will take [the offers] seriously,” Naseer told journalists in Gilgit