Monday, 27 August 2012

Women’s role in development

Courtesy:- Hashim Abro

Indeed, the evidence on the status of women in rural Pakistani society is horrifying and shocking to the conscience. Articles 8 to Article 28 of the 1973 Constitution describe the Fundamental Rights which are to be available to all citizens, women as well as men wherever they may be, as well as all people temporarily or permanently in Pakistan. Articles 23 & 24 provide property rights. 

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Welcome to Pakistan

Courtesy:- Lets love Pakistan: a new resolution (VI)

Whatever we are, we’re mighty proud of it—just like we should be

Finally, after months of struggle and heaps of derision and negativity, I complete the challenge I laid out for myself last year: to compile a list of 65 things that make Pakistan so special.
I don’t know if I’m taking much away from this seemingly futile exercise, but one thing is certain: in a small, feel-good way, I think it has served its purpose by rekindling that flickering flame of patriotism and respect for the one certain thing in my life that is my country, my home, my Pakistan.
My dear Pakistan, may you live long and prosper.
51. The new wave of local English literati:
Pakistan had always been blessed with some great Urdu writers, but the country has recently started churning out a rather impressive squad of young English authors that have accrued much local and international interest. They have won rave reviews the world over, and in one much celebrated case, evening scoring a larger-than-life Hollywood movie deal. Bring on the local literature festivals!
52. Pakistan Armed Forces:
The seventh largest military force in the world in terms of active troops, Pakistan Armed Forces—which includes Pakistan Army, Pakistan Navy and Pakistan Air Force—have kept us safe and out of harm’s way through four full-fledged wars. It has also countered countless other polarised conflicts since our independence in 1947, and it’s time we get off our high horse and pay due respect to the thousands of jawans who’ve laid down their lives for us and this country.
53. Our charitable nature:
Someone once said that one of the measures of the goodness of a nation is its level of civil engagement. By that logic, I’m proud of the fact that we’re perhaps the most benevolent country in this part of the world! According to South Asian Investor Review, we lead the South Asian pack when it comes to charitable giving. We contribute around Rs150 billion—nearly 1% of the nation’s GDP—every year to some of 162 PCP certified NGOs that operate inside this poor, neglected country we call home.
54. Cheap herbal remedies and grandma’s infallible totkas:
Granted Zubaida Apa has somewhat ruined their charm for most people, but it’s really amazing how Pakistani grannies have a totka up their sleeve for literally everything. From runny noses and hair fall to revamping a week-old saalan to make it look fresh for tonight’s soiree; or manipulating the maasi into becoming a submissive robot; they know it all! Really, if you want help with it, granny’s got a totkafor it!
55. Pakistani handicrafts:
From the iconic embroidered Kashmiri dresses, khussas (shoes), hand-painted earthenware of Multan to the famous bangles and rullis(block-printed shawls) of Hyderabad, Pakistani handicrafts are unique and breathtaking. They are very popular, both locally and among visiting foreigners. Incidentally, our textile and leather industries are second to none, too, despite the fact that they generate far more pride for Pakistanis than they do income!
56. Our hospitality:
We might dislike our next door neighbours and Amreekans with all our might for reasons that aren’t entirely unjustifiable. But let’s face it: we sure know how to put up an exemplary show of warmth,hospitality and cordiality if someone from either place—or any other country for that matter, especially if they’re fair-skinned and blonde!—should ever decide to visit.
57. Dr Abdus Salam:
He was the first and only Pakistani to win the esteemed Nobel Prize in physics for his contribution to the unification of electromagnetic and weak forces in 1979. It’s a pity Dr Abdus Salam didn’t live to see Pakistan become a nuclear state in 1998, but his legacy lives on. He is widely, and rightfully, remembered as an amazing human being and the undisputable father of Pakistan’s school of Mathematical and Theoretical Physics.
58. Badshahi Mosque:
Pakistan may not have inherited a lot of the historic monuments and buildings that made pre-partition India so special, but we’ve been extremely fortunate in the ones we did. This 15th century marvel is one of them. Many other magnificent samples of Islamic-Persian-Hindustani infusions that were inherent to Mughal architecture that are sprinkled across the country. These are a testament to just that! Not only is Badshahi Mosque the second largest mosque in Pakistan and South Asia, it also holds the title of the fifth largest and one of the most visually attractive mosque in the world!
59. The Kalash valley and its beautiful people:
Claiming to be progenies of Alexander the Great, these indigenous people of Chitral are certainly as unique and marvellous as they look. With their rich cultural rituals, festivals, religious practices and those stunning long black iconic robes embroidered heavily with colourful beads and cowrie shells, the people of Kalash are one of a kind. And even though we, as a nation, might not have done much to preserve and revere this extraordinary community like it deserves, it’s still nice to know they’re there, and that they’re a part of Pakistan.
60. Our pride in our identity:
One of my readers pointed this out and I couldn’t agree more: We say we’re Middle Eastern but the Arabs say we’re Persian; Persians say we’re Afghan but the Afghans say we’re Indian… when all we really want—wish, rather—is to be some sort of gora!
The debate is never ending and usually ends in a heap of doubt and confusion… but one thing is clear: Whatever we are, we’re mighty proud of it—just like we should be!
61. The famous Anarkali in Lahore:
I’m sure Pakistan’s love for Anarkali bazaar’s food, clothes and traditional handicrafts has little to do with the fact that it happens to be the oldest surviving market of South Asia and one of the biggest business centers of the country. However, these facts do make this hub of our rich Lahori culture a very special Pakistani landmark indeed!
62. Minar-e-Pakistan:
This monumental minaret in Iqbal Park Lahore is a 200ft reminder of the official declaration to establish a separate homeland for the dejected Muslims of the Indian subcontinent. Today, when it’s not serving as a suicide hotspot for Lahoris, its purlieu seconds as a meeting ground for political revolutionaries and, well, sneaky couples out on daytime dates.
63. Our language:
The beautiful, special, accommodating language that is Urdu.
64. Our August 14 jazba:
It’s funny how we Pakistanis spend the 364 days up till August 14 every year. We are in a perpetual state of spite for the way things run in this country, and then miraculously develop a softer than soft spot for our beloved watan on the eve of the independence day. We virtually forget and forgive all the things we so despise and all ready to start afresh by singing and dancing and watching cheery TV shows like we’re either newborns with hope and patriotism in great abundance, or oldies with a severe case of dementia.
65. Finally, the man of the hour:
Yes, he was the man whose confidence gave a nation of crestfallen minions the best gift they could have wished for: hope. His multidimensional personality and astute political prowess earned us a home and identity. His good looks and unrivaled taste for fine things made him an absolute standout among his counterparts as well as in the league of legendary founding fathers (think George Washington and Mohandas Gandhi, both of whom pale in comparison!). This man left us three simple words and a gamut of lessons to live by… the man who left us all too soon: Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah, thank you, for everything!

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The Two-Muslim theory

Courtesy:- Tahir Mehdi


I am not referring to sectarian differences within Islam as these are much more than two. Sects are not unique to our religion. All religions have these. The followers of one sect are not a completely homologous group either, as they may differ on other counts like economic class, cast, language, culture etc. These attributes have an impact on way people behave and act in spheres of economy, politics, culture and even faith. To me, it’s only natural to consider that all these factors make one what he or she is.
So when someone says ‘Muslims of Indo-Pak subcontinent’ with reference to our history, does this refer to one unanimous, monolithic block of people with no shades and diversity? I think it’s a big folly to ignore how divergent the political interests and ambitions of Muslims were in the period that ended on this day 65 years ago. A reintroduction to these groups and how the new state of Pakistan responded to their political aspirations might help us understand where we stand now.
Pre-partition Muslims can be classified in many ways. For now I would put them into two larger groups and instead of laboring over an academically-sound definition of each, I will demonstrate my point by offering example of one person from each of these two groups.
Abdul Ghaffar Khan was born in 1890 to rural middle-class Pakhtun parents of Utmanzai, a small town in the present day district of Charssadda. At the age of 20 he opened a school in his village. He had woken up to the fact that his people have no future if they don’t educate themselves and their children. The tall, young man proved to be a zealous missionary. He would walk for miles from one village to the other with his simple message – educate yourself and abstain from violence. He was a devout Muslim, a five-timer namazi parhaizgar and would draw heavily from Islamic history and the Prophet’s sayings to rally fellow Pakhtuns. People joined him in droves. His arcane appeal matured into charisma, some would even give him a halo.
In his 30s, he founded a social reform movement named Khudai Khidmatgar (Servants of God). By now he was named Badshah Khan or Bacha Khan. The movement, like many others of that era, gave its volunteers a uniform that was red and organised them on the pattern of a militia that was, in his words, armed “with the weapon of the Prophet – that is, patience and righteousness. No power on earth can stand against it.” It was only Bacha Khan who could unarm Pakhtuns who otherwise were considered quarrelsome and trigger-happy.
The Red Shirts, as the volunteers of the movement were known as, were against the British rule and demanded self government. For the British, the then province of NWFP had great strategic importance. It was a so-called buffer against the Afghan government that was not friendly with the Raj and also against the Russians whom the British dreaded as their rivals.
The Bolshevik revolution of Russia in 1917 was emerging as a huge challenge for Imperialism. It had a natural affinity with the nations oppressed by the British. The Russian revolution was colored red. The sight of a Red Shirt in the Peshawar valley gave the British a fright. At Qisa Khani Bazar in 1930, the frenzied British forces fired directly at a protest rally of unarmed Khudai Khidmatgars killing many hundreds. The movement and its committed cadre did not budge. They stood fast. Many estimate that at its peak there were as many as a hundred thousand Red Shirts.
When the British adopted a cautious policy of sharing power with local political forces and initiated limited franchise elections, the group allied with Indian National Congress. It contested successive elections, won majority and formed governments in the province. As the British hated them, they would conspire against the Red Shirts and jailed Bacha Khan frequently and for long periods but could not undo the politicisation of the Pakhtun middle class that he had initiated.
Pakhtun Muslims felt comfortable with Congress and that didn’t bear out of some personal friendship between the top leaders. Congress accommodated politics of budding smaller sub-national groups, offered them space for growth and opportunity to integrate with others without giving much consideration to religion. On the other hand, Bacha Khan did not owe his ‘fearlessness’ vis a vis Hindus to Pakhtun chivalric traditions, instead he had earned this confidence through successive electoral victories. He had a large constituency where Muslims were in majority. There were Hindus too but Pakhtun Muslims did not see Pakhtun Hindus as threat to their religion or politics.
Despite its vociferous campaign Muslim League could not ignite fears of Hindu domination in the support base of Bacha Khan. His comrades won the land mark elections of 1946 with a thumping majority. He opposed the Partition on the basis of religion, but it happened. His democratically elected government was dismissed 8 days after the independence, on 22 August, 1947 when Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah was the Governor General and Liaqat Ali Khan was the Prime Minister.
Nawabzada Liaqat Ali Khan was five-years younger to Bacha Khan. He was born in 1895 to a Muslim aristocrat family whose jagir starting at the eastern edge of Punjab (now Haryana) stretched into Uttar Pradesh. His family had cordial relations with the British. Some say the family gained fortunes and earned intimacy with the Raj, when his grandfather extended support to the British during the hard times of 1857. His father earned many a titles and honors too.
Liaqat Ali went to Aligarh and then to Oxford. On his return from London in 1923, he joined Muslim League. He contested his first elections in 1926 on a seat reserved for Muslims in the UP Assembly (Muzaffarnagar constituency) and comfortably won. He grew into an eloquent parliamentarian, pleading mostly for the causes of Muslim landlords who were a minority in that province.
He became one of the most important members of the Muslim League’s vanguard. Nawabzada is, in fact, credited to have convinced a dejected and disappointed Muhammad Ali Jinnah to end his ‘self-imposed exile’ in London and lead the movement for a separate homeland for Muslims. Liaqat Ali Khan was made the General Secretary of the Muslim League in 1936.
The party’s parliamentary committee did not award him the ticket for the 1936 elections for his home constituency which he valued highly. Despite holding a high office in the Muslim League, he contested as an independent from his home constituency and faced criticism of fellow party men.
He contested the 1946 elections for the Central Legislative Assembly on the Muslim seat of Meerut that is situated in Uttar Pradesh. Following this victory, Nawabzada won a place in the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan and at independence was made the first Prime Minister with the additional charge of Foreign Affairs and Commonwealth Relations and Defense. He remained the longest serving prime minister in the history of Pakistan till Yousuf Raza Gilani exceeded him by a few weeks recently.
Prime Minister Liaqat Ali is accredited with a number of ground breaking contributions. He decided to ally with the US in the Cold War divide; quashed a coup attempt by communists; promoted General Ayub to the highest rank and fought a war with India over Kashmir to name just a select few. His government ruled on ad hoc basis under temporary laws as it could not formulate and build a consensus on a constitution for the country.
Reasons were simple. They could not dig out a monarchy to rule the country nor could they install a Caliph. The constitution has to be based on democracy. But the problem was that Meerut was now in India. The most powerful Prime Minister serving for one of the longest periods in the history of Pakistan had no constituency in the country to contest elections from. A committed democrat and an active parliamentarian, he  knew well that he and his political class had no, or at best a very shaky, future under a democracy. In contrast, Bacha Khan’s was a completely secure political position. It was impossible to democratically uproot him from his constituency. He had voters, volunteers and diehard loyalists.
The ad hoc powers were thus used to change the rules of the game.
Six months after the death of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan moved the Objective Resolution in the Constituent Assembly that introduced Islam as the raison d’être of the new country. Religion was pitched against ones linguistic and cultural identity and faith was made to rival political interests. Those loving their culture, defending their language and demanding their democratic and political rights on these bases became heretics conspiring against the last citadel of Islam in the Subcontinent. Ideological boundaries of the country became more important than the limits of electoral constituencies and principles of democracy were contrasted to injunctions of Islam as defined by the select ulema.
Bacha Khan who enjoyed a hard earned and unflinching popular support in a vast constituency went down in our official gazettes as an anti-Pakistan traitor. Red Shirts were hounded and hunted. Politicians were jailed and elections were rigged.
By declaring the entire country as one constituency and setting ones perceived Islamic credentials as the only qualification, Liaqat Ali Khan tried to create a constituency for his class – the politically insecure Muslim elite that had migrated from the Muslim minority provinces of India. But ironically, they could not sustain their hold on this constituency for long. Within a decade they were outdone by the Army in the game they had pioneered. They were declared incapable of defending the citadel of Islam. The army took over the ‘responsibility’ of keeping the country united in the name of Islam and secure from the conspirators who had strong democratic constituencies in the country.
The army did not feel the need to redraft the national narrative that was scripted in those initial years. It was found to be in perfect harmony with the Army’s own scheme to block or cripple democracy and sustain its direct or indirect rule for decades to come. The narrative persists with all its detail and corollaries and insists on its refusal to recognise Bacha Khan as a great national hero.

The Big Picture

Courtesy:- Israeli persecution: History’s ironic repetition

Is what the Nazi’s did to the Jews of Germany different from what the Zionists are doing to the Muslims of Palestine?

A young man – a Palestinian national footballer – lay on a bed in hospital. His weak face partially hidden with an oxygen mask while the machine continues to beep every second, matching the thumping of this heart beat; zigzag lines on the screen drawing each second of life left within him. He is critically ill and fighting for his life.
His diagnosis?
A serious illness caused due to a prolonged hunger strike.
Why was this hunger strike more important than his own health, you ask.
The hunger strike was carried out as a form of protest against his detention at the brutal hands of Israel.
It had been three months – since March 24, 2012 – that Mahmoud Sarsak had been refusing food. The 25-year-old was one of more than2,000 Palestinians held captive in Israeli jails demanding that Israel ends its abusive use of administrative detention – detention without charge or trial.
When we read through our history books, one country or the other has at least one fact to be proud of. Ever since the State of Israel came into existence, it is hard to think of one good thing the nation has to be proud of, depending on what the nation defines as pride.
Keeping people in prisons without basic rights or even without the right to be freed – either by bail or charge – is one of the most barbaric ways to behave. It just goes to show how low the Zionists are willing to go to silence the Palestinians.
As the clock ticks, bulldozers continue to demolish Palestinian homes. They roam freely and illegally across their lands, building settlements along the way. Powerful leaders, of the Western and Arab world, silently watch the cruelty unfold against these people. The Palestinians still protest for their rights – their right to live in their own country without the fear of oppression or persecution – and as soon as the word of achieving freedom passes through their lips, they are silenced by being concealed from the world.
The right to speak up, protest and fight for freedom is something that is a basic to all humans. To take away such rights is not only inhumane but is against International Law as well. It just goes to show what animals the Israelis have become.
It is quite ironic actually.
Wasn’t it the Jewish community that was robbed of basic rights back in the early 1940s in Nazi Germany?
They were robbed of their own identity when they were forced to wear the stars, identifying their Jewish faith. They were also robbed of their right to life, were they not? Freedom of speech was a privilege they did not have nor could they protest the atrocities that took place in the concentration camps.
Rather than learning from that horrific experience, they chose to repeat it with another nation. Consumed by the hatred they felt and the pain and suffering, they ended up becoming something they once hated and despised themselves.
How is what the Nazi’s did to the Jews of Germany any different from what the Zionists are now doing to the Muslims of Palestine?
The plight of these Palestinians protesting against the mighty Israel may go unnoticed now, but it is for us to remember and for them to never  forget that even the smallest person can change the course of history.

The way I see it

Courtesy:- I may be a ‘gora’ but Pakistan is my home

I love Pakistan; Its landscapes, its culture, and above all, I love its people

I will soon be celebrating my 10th year here in Pakistan. It has been an incredible experience so far having travelled all four corners of the country, from Hunza to Jiwani and from Darra Adam Khel to Nagarparkar.
I have enjoyed all the highs and lows possible and Pakistan would not be Pakistan if these highs were not unscalable, 25,000 feet mountains, and lows of ocean grade depths.
Yesterday, specifically, has special significance to me as it was three years ago that I cemented my relation with Pakistan by marrying one of its most beautiful and smartest women. I still remember the photographer at our wedding who was waiting even after all guests had left for the rukhsati (bidding farewell to the bride by her family). His face dropped when we told him there would be no such ceremony as I had decided to embrace my extended family by living in their home.
I left my parental home eagerly at the age of 18 to go to university. I must admit that it took me some time to get used to the fact that your life becomes an open book to all family members and servants alike and that your father-in-law would still worryingly ask you not come home too late at night.
Growing and running your own company is no sinecure and I must admit that having been a professional ‘rat-racer’ for 18 years, I do sometimes long to the life of the company-senior-executive life style. The need to chase, harass and blackmail your customers to pay for you even after the completion of an assignment continues to surprise me. Despite all the zillion of hours in planes to visit clients with my family taking the brunt of it, I still love my work. Helping companies to engage their employees to grow their business has been immensely rewarding. If I had to do it all over again, I would do it again in a jiffy.
Over the last several years, many people have asked me why I have chosen to stay on. My answer to that has always been that Pakistan is my home. I have my family here, my business here and my life here. The simple thing is, I would never have been able to achieve what I have achieved here any where else in the world. Here, everything is possible; and with that I truly mean everything is possible. There are no boundaries; just your passion, your ideas, your hard work and, of course, a little bit of luck. As the saying goes, “meri kismat, mere haath mein” (if it is to be, it is up to me)
I love this country I so proudly call home. I love its landscapes and its culture. Above all, I love its people; heart wrenching, emotional, utterly impulsive, ‘minimise effort and maximise reward’ seekers, conspiracy theorists, intensely optimistic, kick-us-down-and-we-come-out-on-top resilient, ever hospitable, fun- and food-loving Pakistanis.
I guess nobody has been able to articulate my status better then the driver who picked me up from Islamabad airport. After interrogating me in “Urdu-English” he came to his conclusion,

Welcome to Pakistan

Courtesy:- I was there to witness the miracle of August 14, 1947

Naido argued with a colonel, saying that there will ‘never be a Pakistan’. He replied saying Pakistani will 'definitely' be

It is August 14 - a day that revives the memory of an extraordinary experience of a young girl, Zee Niazi, on the day of the inception of this beautiful country. The way that events moved at that time instills the belief that miracles do, in fact, happen.
Zee got married to an officer in the then British Army, just before partition took place. Not being acquainted with an army lifestyle, her husband’s first posting came to her as a surprise.
They went to Harbanspura by train. The future had already begun to look bleak for the newly married couple. They was no accomodation available and they stayed at Mount Hotel for some time. They were having trouble making plans because everything seemed uncertain. Financial worries were not the only dilemma; the couple had to put up with harsh, discouraging words from people, too.
Zee recalls a social gathering at Nagpur, where an Indian lady named Naido, argued with a colonel and his wife, saying that there will ‘never be a Pakistan’. To this the colonel replied that there would ‘definitely’ be Pakistan. The lady impolitely continued her rant;
“You are Pak people,” she said indignantly.
This was only a few days before Pakistan became a reality.
It was a time when most people could not decide what to do. They were torn between deciding whether to stay or muster the courage to leave. Additionally, transport for a safe journey was not available to everyone. Many Muslims were opting for taking refuge with people they knew.
Zee’s husband was to report for duty at Rawalpindi on the fateful day of August 14. Hearing about Muslim travellers getting massacred, raped and kidnapped, Zee and her husband found themselves between a rock and a hard place.
Luckily, Zee’s husband was blessed with a sincere Sikh friend, who advised them not to travel that day.
“You can stay at my house. Or at least let me accompany you to the border. It’s a battlefield out there,” he offered.
However, this would have only put three lives at risk. Their friend escorting them could have gotten him killed, too, had there been another outbreak of brutal killing in the region.
The couple humbly declined his offer, upon which he uttered words which they would never forget:
It does not matter if one gives his life to save a friend.
Walls of faith differences crumbled with his sentence and a strong bridge of humanity led the couple to embark on their journey from New Delhi on a train.
The general feel in the train was uneasy and you could smell the fear in the air. The first thing the couple noticed was that there were only about ten passengers on the entire train. Their fear deepened as they went over their decision. They had already heard about the bitter fate of trains that had gone to Pakistan. They found themselves on tenterhooks, holding on to their decision and praying they had made the right choice.
As the train was nearing the border at Kasur, something happened that shook the earth under everyone’s feet.
The train stopped suddenly. Someone had climbed onto the train and pulled the chain to make it stop with wicked intentions, so it should never reach Pakistan. What appeared next turned Zee’s world upside down. When she looked out of the window of the train, she saw a mob of vicious killers, knives in hands, approaching the train. Zee’s husband was the only one on the train carrying ammunition; a mere army revolver. Everyone else sat helplessly, certain that their lives were going to end any minute now.
This was the moment when the most unexpected of miracles happened. An abrupt jerk made all the passengers lose balance as the train restarted. The driver of the train had somehow gotten the train running again!
Within minutes, the sound they could have given anything to hear, was finally heard;
Pakistan zindabad!, people outside were chanting.
They had now crossed the border at Kasur and entered what thousands had deemed impossible; Pakistan.
As Muslims we know that no one can die if Allah wants them to live. Zee knew that God was on their side when he rescued them from the thorny, dark mouth of death. She realised the worth of Pakistan, a land which had cost many lives and unending effort.
Here we are in 2012, living in that Pakistan, a country that must be cherished and loved. It wasn’t discovered one lucky day; it was fought for.
Of course, a great land had come at a great cost. Zee’s husband’s uncle recalls that as a train inspector, he could not eat his meals after duty because many had been massacred in front of his very eyes; there was much blood, gore and horror.
People were going through mixed feelings; the happiness of having a country to call their own and the sorrow of losing their brothers and home. But one thing is certain ─ no other generation can feel the happiness that this ‘eye witness generation’ experienced.

Best Independence Day homage

Courtesy:- Wajid Shamsul Hasan

On the 65th anniversary of Pakistan’s independence best homage to the Muslims of the subcontinent who sacrificed all they had for the creation of a separate homeland under the dynamic leadership of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah would be to sincerely rededicate ourselves as a nation to the ideals of the founding fathers.

US visit of ISI DG

Courtesy:- Dr Raja Muhammad Khan
August 15, 2012

General Zaheerul Islam, Director General Inter Services Intelligence Agency has successfully concluded his week-long US visit. It was the first US visit of Gen Zaheer as DG of ISI, since he assumed charge in March this year. 

Financing Bhasha Dam

Courtesy:- The Nation 
August 15, 2012

Success of the Indian influence in the World Bank has stymied funding from the World Bank for the strategically crucial Bhasha Dam. The factor seems to have deterred Asian Development Bank from funding the Bhasha Diamer Dam which on completion would produce 4,500 megawatts of electricity. Against this backdrop, an emergency meeting was held in the Ministry of Water and Power chaired by Federal Minister Ahmed Mukhtar in order to explore new avenues for funding. The Minister directed WAPDA to submit a report on options and whether there are forthcoming international donors. Already facing a credit crunch, the Pakistan government is at a loss how to arrange for the cash. To boost its sagging fortunes, the impression was given by the PPP government that construction activity was underway. But as things stand we are not even at square one. It is beyond belief that it could have sat idle concerning a project of great national importance especially since when it has already shelved Kalabagh Dam. One had wished that at least the government had started work on Bhasha in order to fill the gap created by silting up of Mangla and Tarbella dams. Our lackluster response is all the more a cause for concern given the number of dams India is building in gross violation of Indus Water Treaty. Chairman of House Kashmir Committee Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s foreboding that these machinations could shatter South Asia’s peace is not misplaced.

Polio persistence

Courtesy:- August 15, 2012

News on the polio eradication front remains disappointing although reports indicate there has been a significant decline in the number of reported cases. During the recent days, two new cases came to light in Charsadda and Peshawar. The victims apparently caught poliovirus in the nearby Fata, which remains inaccessible to vaccination teams. Some 200,000 children in North and South Waziristan are said to be at risk of contracting the disease because the Taliban militants in the region have banned polio vaccination. 

The situation is particularly bad in Khyber Agency's Bara tehsil which has remained out of bounds for vaccination teams. Sadly but unsurprisingly, out of 13 polio cases reported so far in Fata 10 happened in Bara. Unless these children are vaccinated, Pakistan will remain one of the world's three polio endemic countries - the other two being Afghanistan and Nigeria. 

Speaking at a meeting on "Identifying the impediments to polio eradication in Pakistan" in Islamabad the other day, Special Adviser to the Prime Minister, Shahnaz Wazir Ali, said that misinformation about the safety of the polio vaccine and its side effects had prevented the drive from reaching all children. It has been almost three years since the Taliban stopped the immunisation drive, saying it was a Western scheme aimed at rendering their children infertile to reduce the population of Muslims. This they may have done out of plain ignorance, or due to fear of hostile infiltration in the guise of immunisation teams. Whatever the reason, the idea has caught on in Quetta and parts of Karachi. Gunmen opened fire last July on a vehicle carrying a WHO doctor in Gadap Town, injuring him and his driver. Vaccination campaign there has been restarted after a brief halt, but security concerns remain. Media awareness efforts seem to have had some success in countering misinformation. An indication to that effect comes out from a recent Taliban offer to allow vaccination in return for a stop to drone strikes. There obviously is no connection between the two issues. 

But the offer seems to suggest that there is a growing realisation now among the Taliban militants that polio vaccine is meant only to help protect children from a debilitating disease, and is not part of some sinister anti-Muslim plan. A sustained public awareness campaign, especially TV commercial featuring a world cricket star, Shahid Afridi (ethnically a Pashtoon), participation in it via a TV, must help dispel misinformation. At least two other steps are in order: one, the political agent for the Khyber Agency ought to use all available means to take advantage of the militants' somewhat softening position and persuade them to allow vaccination. Secondly, the government should consider integrating polio vaccination with the general health services. That would allow immunisation without attracting unnecessary attention, and resultant controversy and resistance. 

Photo feature: Not far from paradise

A ravishing view of the Kaghan Valley, located in the Mansehra District of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province of Pakistan. 

The Himalayas and the Kaghan valley have inspired poets, musicians, painters, videographers and photographers through the ages. For me, the inspiration came last month, when my friends revealed they were planning a trip.
At first it seemed farfetched, and then it seemed absurd because they wanted to leave within the next few days. Just as I was about to convince them that it was an impulsive and over-ambitious idea, I realised that if we don’t do it now, we probably never will. I was now sold to the idea of this trip.
On July 13, 2012 we caught a flight from Karachi to Islamabad, from where we were going to drive further up north.
After a two-day stay in Islamabad, we left for Murree, which is located at a distance of about 58 kilometres northeast of Islamabad.
My last visit to Murree came in 2000, and I remembered the mountains being quiet and peaceful. Draped in forests of pine, with narrow steep roads, at an average altitude of over 2,000 metres – I knew this place got cold.
However, this time, the traffic caught me by surprise. There were times when the car would stand still for 45 minutes. It would then move 20 feet before the 45-minute ordeal would repeat.
Women and kids were busy wooing the customers with all kinds of eatables and quick-selling gifts: Deep red cherries wrapped in leaves instead of paper bags, colourful shawls and umbrellas.

After a strenuous ride filled with endless traffic and steep roads, we finally made it to our guesthouse.
Starving, we ate dinner, which was followed by a much overdue cup of tea. Bellies bursting and shattered by exhaustion, we decided to call it a night and leave for Kaghan valley in the morning.
When I woke up next, I was greeted by the most surreal morning views I had ever seen. The hue in the sky and the cloud cover were so perfect, it all looked unreal.

A view of sunrise in Murree.
Passing through Nathia Gali, Abbottabad and Mansehra district, our aim was to relish the views of Kaghan valley and finally reach Naran by sunset.
The drive from Murree to Nathia Gali was nothing short of amazing and peaceful, but as Abbottabad drew nearer, the heat began to kick in and signs of civilisation were back, along with the traffic jams and noise.
Going through Mansehra district and Balakot, we made it to the Kaghan valley. All of a sudden, the views and landscapes became postcard perfect.
The Kunhar river flowing through the Kaghan Valley, Pakistan
Rock formations covered with pine forests and laced with streams and waterfalls fuelled by melting glaciers, the Kaghan valley is a plateau of magnificent beauty that spreads over 155 kilometres, mounting from an altitude of 2,200 feet and reaching its highest point at over 13,000 feet.
At first glance, the valley gives an invigorating feeling with crystal-clear lakes and raging mountain streams.
The freezing-cold Kunhar river flows through the picturesque valley, brimming with delicious trout fish, which a tourists’ favourite as the most requested food item in the area.
Other towns settled along the river include, Balakot, Paras and Mahandari.
Apiaries’, too, were found in abundance along the road throughout the area. Several beekeepers retail the locally-extracted honey found here.
A semi blurry image of apiaries captured from a moving car while driving by the roads of the Kaghan Valley.
At a distance of 34 kilometres from Balakot, lies another summer retreat in Shogran, which can be reached via Kewai.
The road leading up to Shogran is a mission in itself. It makes one feel like being part of a video game. The road here was much more narrow and steep in comparison to other routes.
In addition to that, there was an ever-looming danger of landslides and tree falls. The road here is more like a trek trail instead of asphalt-covered route made for cars. The adventure seems endless. At each moment, you are locked between thrill and threat. A danger sign, that greets you often along the road, gives a constant reminder of how you are in absolutely no control of what happens next.
By the time we came down from Shogran, it had already been more than eight hours since our departure from Murree. The sun had now set well behind the mountains and we were driving in the rain with darkest blue sky and furious lightning.
Fog had surrounded the air and at a distant of every few kilometres, we had to drive through waterfalls flowing down the mountain range and in to the river.
Soft snow falling off the mountain ranges that comes from melted glaciers alongside the roads of Kaghan Valley
Another couple of hours later, we were graced by the first sight of Naran: An array of shining lights.
Entering Naran, I noticed that the main residential area was located all along a single road, which stretched a long way deep into the valley.
The road had numerous hotels, street stalls and an entire marketplace offering food, a variety of warm clothes, traditional craft-work etched in beads and various other handmade accessories.
Most of the locals running businesses in Naran hailed from Balakot – a town located 88 kilometres away.
Naran is usually hit by such freezing winters that it is only operational in the summer season.
The most prominent attractions in and around Naran include Lake Saiful Muluk. This picturesque lake has its own share of folklore. An old man claiming to be a storyteller asked if I would like to hear what he had to say. Without a moment’s hesitation, I obliged.
A view of the enchanted lake Saif ul Malook in Naran, Pakistan.
So it goes that Saif – the prince of Misr at the time – once dreamt of courting the queen of fairies, who was entrapped by a giant.

In order to realise his dream, Saif packed his bags and set off along with two jinns.

When the full moon was reflected in the glistening bowl of Lake Saiful Muluk, fairies were believed to descend and bathe in the lake.

On one such night, in order to gain the queen’s attention, Prince Saif ordered his guardsmen to steal her tiara.
Lake Saif ul Malook, Naran
When the queen and her companions emerged from the lake, Saif appeared. As a result, the queen’s companions vanished as the queen stood stunned. The queen was obligated to stay: She couldn’t return to her master without her crown.
The storyteller went on to narrate that while Saif and the queen were on the run, the giant set out on his search. They hid in a cave, which they had locked with their prayers until the giant’s demise.
At present, Lake Saiful Muluk remains one of the most visited attractions of the Kaghan valley. The lake is surrounded by magnificent snow-layered mountains and lush green grass. A fragrance of fresh flowers and cool breeze surrounds the area.
A view of a plateau in the vicinity of lake Saif ul Malook. 
This lake has however commercialised with time and offers tourists boat and horse rides.
The area comprises a small marketplace, which offers mountain-friendly shoes and garments for rent and various kinds of food items for sale.
The depth of this lake is said to be unknown and in winters, snow covers the ground for up to 30 feet.
The peripheral view is so surreal that pictures cannot do justice to the lake’s splendour.
From there on, we rented horses and went further up. Surrounded by a combination of waterfalls, soft slushy patches surrounding hardened glaciers and huge rocky paths – we rode until reaching a platform of camps, with a waterfall on one side, leading to a three-hour hike up to Ansoo Lake.
A view of Malika Parbat (Queen of Mountains ) a few kilimetres ahead of Lake Saif ul Malook.
On the opposite side stood Malika Parbat (Queen of the mountains), known as the most dangerous mountain of the Kaghan Valley.
The height of the summit is not very significant in comparison to the massive peaks of the Karakoram Range. The peak gets its name from its steep apex.
It was not until earlier this month that climbers scaled the Malika Parbat.
A view of the Lulusar Lake. the main source of the Kunhar River .
Lulusar is another cluster of mounts near the Naran Valley. The lake here is the central source of the Kunhar River, which streams across Kaghan Valley through Jalkhand, Naran Valley, Kaghan, Jared, Paras and Balakot – until it junctions with the Jhelum River
The lake is 48 kilometres away from Naran, on the Naran-Babusar road. The Babusar road leads to the Babusar Top and further towards Chillas.
This was by far the most captivating and magnificent sight that I have experienced so far. The mountain range is aligned with poetic beauty; the Hindu Kush on one side and the Himalayas on the other.
A view of the Himalayas from the Babusar Top, the highest peak of Kaghan Valley. 
We were the only ones present at this point, along with a handful of locals. Just then, it started to hail.
A local came to get us out of the blistering cold and invited us inside their tent, where they were making their own version of roti, which they served with steaming hot chai.
Simply put, it seemed like I was part of a fairytale. I am glad that I took time out to discover the hidden wonders my country has to offer and most importantly having the opportunity to make others aware of it.