Pakistan News

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani doctor won a $1 million grant on Tuesday to fight early child mortality in a small fishing village in southern Pakistan in a contest financed by an American entrepreneur to find innovative ways to save lives, The Caplow Children's Prize said.

A proposal by Anita Zaidi, who heads the pediatrics department at the Aga Khan University in Karachi, beat out more than 550 other applications from more than 70 countries.

The prize was founded and funded by entrepreneur Ted Caplow to find impactful and cost-effective ways to save children's lives, according to a press release announcing the results.

Zaidi said in a telephone interview that her project will focus on reducing child mortality rates in Rehri Goth, on the outskirts of Karachi.

According to Zaidi, 106 out of 1,000 children born in the town die before the age of five. That is almost double the worldwide under-five child mortality rate of 51 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2011, according to Unicef.

Few of the women in the area of roughly 40,000 people have access to medical care during pregnancy or money to pay for things like multivitamins, said Zaidi.

There is no nearby hospital, and women usually give birth accompanied by a birthing attendant with little or no formal training.

When women do run into complications giving birth, the babies often die while the women seek medical care, the doctor said.

The money will be used in Rehri Goth to eliminate malnutrition among expectant and new mothers and their babies, ensure that children have access to primary health care and immunisations and train a group of local women at Aga Khan University to become midwives.

Women taking part in the program would get two medical checkups to monitor their pregnancy, multivitamins to promote a healthy fetus and food if they are malnourished, she said.

Zaidi has been working in the area for the last ten years on various health-related research projects carried out by the university so she was familiar with its needs.

''I know this community. I know what its problems are,'' Zaidi said. ''It's a really good match between what the community needed and what this prize was offering.''

Caplow said Zaidi ''really gave reassurance that she would be able to do exactly what she said she would do and it would have the impact that she said it would have.''

He added that he and his wife conceived of the prize after they gave birth to triplets who spent a month in an intensive care unit.

The prize, which Caplow said would continue next year, was a way to address the disparities in medical technology available around the world.

KARACHI: Two more relatively new aircrafts, Boeing 737-800, were inducted into the Pakistan International Airlines fleet on Thursday, bringing to four the total of new entrants over the past 10 days.

At a press briefing, PIA chairman Mohammad Ali Gardezi said that with four newer aircraft obtained on damp lease, the revenue base of the airline would become strong and make the organisation profitable shortly.

He said that with the help of new aircraft the PIA was not only saving fuel but also improving the flight schedule, adding that the airline was also refurbishing its aircraft and new cabin crew uniforms were being introduced. He said the PIA was also in the process of inducting 10 latest technology fuel-efficient Airbus A310 and A319 aircraft, for which the board of directors had given its approval.

He said that the induction of these 10 aircraft would begin in April 2014 and conclude within 10 months.

The PIA chairman said that the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority Rules had been followed in the entire process, which had been carried out in a transparent manner.

He said that these two aircraft had been obtained on lease from Travel Services of the Republic of Czech while two aircraft inducted on Nov 21, 2013, had been obtained from Corendon Airlines of Turkey.

The PIA managing director present on the occasion said that the PIA was utilising Boeing 737 and Boeing 800 on domestic routes — Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Quetta, etc — as well as on Gulf routes such as Dubai, Kuwait, Dammam, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Muscat. He said that the airline would operate 64 domestic and 27 international flights per week with the induction of four Boeing 737-800 aircraft.

He said that PIA flights on profitable routes had been increased and flights on loss-making routes had been closed down. He said that the airline had recently stopped operating the flight to Hong Kong and would restart its operations with the induction of new aircraft in the fleet.

He said that with the induction of fuel-efficient A320 family aircraft PIA would save on fuel as well as improve flight frequencies, introduce new flights, flight timings and offer better services to its passengers.

ISLAMABAD: After weeks of intense speculation in the media, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has finally made the selection of two senior army officers as Chief of Army Staff and Chairman Joint Chief of Staff Committee.

Career infantry officer Lt Gen Raheel Sharif has been appointed as the new COAS, while Lt Gen Rashad Mahmood has been appointed the CJCSC.

According to a notification issued by the ministry of defence, Lt Gen Raheel Sharif and Lt Gen Rashad Mahmood have been promoted to the rank of four-star general with effect from Thursday, Nov 28.

Both generals would take up their new posts from Friday, the day the current Army chief Kayani retires.

Lt Gen Raheel is currently serving as Inspector General Training and Evaluation whereas Lt Gen Mahmood is serving as Chief of General Staff.

Raheel Sharif holds the Hilal-i-Imtiaz military award, and is the younger brother of late Major Shabbir Sharif, who received the Nishan-i-Haider for his bravery in the 1971 war.

Both senior military officials met Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif earlier today where the premier conveyed them the decision. The two meetings were viewed as immensely significant as they came a day before General Kayani’s retirement from his post of army chief.

The prime minister had sent to the president, who is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, a summary to promote the two generals and approve their appointments. The summary was approved, following which the notification was issued by the defence ministry.

“On the advice of the Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif and in pursuance of Article 243/4(a) and 243/4(b) of the Constitution of Pakistan, President of Pakistan and Supreme Commander of Armed Forces, Mamnoon Hussain has been pleased to promote and appoint Gen. Rashid Mehmood as Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and Gen. Raheel Sharif as Chief of the Army Staff,” said a statement from the PM House.

Raheel’s selection as army chief selection implies that frontrunner and the senior most military officer Lt Gen Haroon Aslam, currently serving as Chief of Logistic Staff, was ignored for the elevation.

The post of army chief is arguably the most powerful in Pakistan and anxiety prevailed on who will replace the taciturn, chain-smoking General Kayani, who will step down on Friday after six years at the helm.

General Kayani’s retirement from the post comes after rules were relaxed to grant him an extension in July 2010 by the PPP-led coalition government in what then prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said was in the interest of continuity at a time when the war on terror was successfully continuing against elements who wanted to impose a system of their choice on the country.

Ottoman Turks never expanded their empire as far as today's Pakistan, but some here fear their descendants are now launching a cultural invasion — via popular soap operas that Pakistani artists and politicians say threaten the local TV industry and the country's conservative Islamic values.

Some of the Turkish shows feature actresses wearing miniskirts and showing cleavage, a far cry from the billowing shalwar kameez garments worn by most Pakistani women that hardly reveal skin.

The shows, which have taken Pakistan by storm over the last year, are attractive to local TV operators because they are much cheaper to buy than Pakistani dramas are to produce, and also feature more elaborate costumes and sets.

"It is a big challenge," said Abid Ali, a veteran Pakistani TV star, while filming his latest show, Mere Apne, or My Loved Ones, in Karachi. "Turkish shows have very expensive productions our industry can't afford."

The spartan set of Ali's show, which chronicles the sad life of a young girl after her parents die, helped prove his point. The entire episode was filmed in the living room and driveway of a small rented house in an upscale area of Karachi. The actresses used the only bedroom on the ground floor to apply their makeup, and the kids who lived in the house were scolded for making too much noise while they were filming. Since there was only one camera, they had to shoot each scene three times from different angles.

One of the most popular Turkish shows in Pakistan right now is Mera Sultan, or My Sultan, a period drama about the powerful Ottoman ruler Suleiman the Magnificent. The show is no Game of Thrones, but it does feature ornate Ottoman-style sets, scenes with horses and archery and beautifully designed costumes.

"There are multiple reasons behind the success of Turkish drama serials," said Athar Waqar Azeem, a senior vice president at Hum TV, one of Pakistan's leading entertainment channels. "Freshness, better and beautiful locations and new faces attract Pakistanis."

One episode of a Turkish drama costs a Pakistani TV station about $2,500 to broadcast, while the production of a Pakistani show can be four times that amount, Azeem said.

The popularity of the Turkish shows has sparked concern from Pakistani politicians. The Senate committee responsible for information and broadcasting said at the end of last year that it was worried the shows would harm Pakistan's TV industry and featured content that ran counter to local cultural norms.

Pakistani TV star Javeria Abbasi, who co-stars with Ali in Mere Apne, agreed, saying "if a Pakistani actress wears a miniskirt, nobody accepts it, but Turkish actresses are gaining popularity in these costumes."

Turkey is also a majority Muslim country but is generally more liberal than Pakistan. Sometimes Pakistani TV channels blur miniskirts and low-cut tops worn by women in the Turkish shows in the name of propriety.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who heads an Islamic-based party, has expressed concern about the content of Turkish shows. Last year, he accused the producers of Mera Sultan, which is called Magnificent Century in Turkey, and others of "playing with the nation's values."

The Supreme Court of Pakistan also expressed concern last year about "obscenity" shown on local TV. The court specifically mentioned shows made in India, Pakistan's neighbor and archenemy. Indian shows have been popular in Pakistan for much longer than Turkish ones, and have sparked many of the same concerns. The popularity of Bollywood movies has also harmed Pakistan's local cinema industry.

Pakistan is far from the only country to experience the growing influence of Turkish TV shows. Turkey earned more than $60 million in 2011 from exporting over 100 TV series to more than 20 countries, according to the Oxford Business Group.

The shows have also sparked concern in the Middle East, where Muslim preachers have accused them of being un-Islamic and urged the faithful to change channels.

The popularity of Turkish shows in Pakistan has benefited at least one group in the media industry: voice-over artists who translate the dramas from Turkish into Urdu. The pay isn't great — $20 to $40 per episode, which takes about eight hours to dub — but it's enough to make a living.

"For the first time in the history of the voice-over industry, there is enough work for an artist because of Urdu dubbing of Turkish serials and soaps," said Tasleem Ansari, a veteran voice-over artist, who was working out of a cheap apartment in Karachi. "Before this trend, voice-over artists could only perform in commercials."

Ansari said she wasn't persuaded by those who argue that the Turkish shows threatened Pakistani cultural norms.

"Local actresses and models also wear miniskirts on television programs and at award functions," Ansari said. "I agree that these costumes do not match Pakistani culture, but Turkish drama is all about Turkish culture, and people like it and have accepted it."

ISLAMABAD: The government will try former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf for treason for imposing emergency rule in 2007, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said Sunday.

“Following the judgement of the Supreme Court and a report submitted by an inquiry committee, it has been decided to start proceedings against General Pervez Musharraf (for treason) under Article 6 of the Constitution,” Khan told a press conference televised live.

“It is happening for the first time in the history of Pakistan and the decision has been taken in the national interest,” Khan said.

The minister said the Supreme Court's Chief Justice would Monday receive a letter from the government requesting the setting-up of a tribunal of three high court judges to start proceedings against Musharraf for treason.

The government would also announce a special prosecutor on Monday.

Nisar said that Musharraf had committed crimes against the people of Pakistan and against the constitution. He said that nobody, not even the prime minister can offer him pardon.

Musharraf had been granted bail in all cases against him since his return to Pakistan in a bid to contest general elections in May.

He had been tried for his alleged involvement in the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the killing of Baloch nationalist leader Nawab Akbar Bugti, and the case relating to the murder of the Lal Masjid cleric during the army operation on the mosque in 2007.

Last week he asked a court to let him leave the country to visit his sick mother in Dubai. The court was expected to rule on the application on Monday.

ISLAMABAD: It began innocuously enough, two men on a motorbike delivered a plain brown envelope to the home of Mohammed, an Islamabad businessman.

But the contents plunged him into a terrifying three-month nightmare.

The letter, headed with the banner of the Pakistani Taliban, informed Mohammed that a Taliban judge had found him guilty of not living by Islamic principles.

It said Mohammed, not his real name, had been fined five million rupees ($50,000) and threatened dire consequences if he went to the police or failed to pay up.

“Our squad of suicide bombers is always prepared to send non-believers to hell, God willing,” the letter seen by AFP read.

At the bottom, the name of feared Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Hakimullah Mehsud was written in bold followed by a signature that resembled his name.

Mohammed had no way of knowing it, but the signature was fake.

He had been snared by criminals exploiting the terrifying reputation of the Pakistani Taliban to extort money from rich businessmen in Islamabad and its twin city Rawalpindi.

The Rawalpindi chamber of commerce says its members regularly receive extortion demands of up to $100,000, and last month a property dealer in the city who refused to pay a demand found explosives hanging from the door of his office.

The leafy capital, home to foreign embassies, international aid organisations and well-to-do officials, has remained relatively peaceful in recent years as attacks by homegrown Islamist militants have rattled other parts of the country.

But fear of the TTP, which has killed thousands of people in a bloody campaign against the state over the past six years, runs deep and criminals are cashing in.

Multiple sources in the security agencies and among the militants confirmed that the signature on the letter sent to Mohammed was fake and did not resemble that of Mehsud in any way.

Mehsud has since been killed in a US drone strike, but at the time, his name alone was enough to strike terror into Mohammed.

“I was scared to death when I read the letter. It was the most frightening experience of my life, I didn't know what to do,” Mohammed told AFP.

“I avoided going out of the house and didn't even go to work. I was also worried about my family's safety, my kids going to school.”He shared the letter with his wife but even then they were too afraid to go to the police.

“She said the Taliban were also attacking the police and intelligence agencies, they can't protect us from them,” he said.

The letter gave a phone number and time to call, and the man who answered spoke with a Pashtun accent, the main language of the northwest, where the Taliban have strongholds.

There followed a series of calls from strange numbers which he later came to know were from Waziristan, in the tribal areas where the Tailban have hideouts, and Afghanistan.

It took three months for Mohammed to resolve the situation, but he refused to say how he paid the money.

Over the past two years at least four businessmen are thought to have been killed by militants for not paying ransom demands, and a senior intelligence official told AFP it was natural victims would take threats seriously.

“Posing as member of the Pakistani Taliban is the easiest thing because the victims then get the impression that they are dealing with a very mighty thing,” a senior intelligence official told AFP.

“So they don't report the case with the police and are very ready to cooperate with the criminals.” Islamabad police say 17 extortion cases have been reported this year, compared with none last year, but there could be many others that go unreported because the victims are too afraid to go to the authorities.

The situation has become so severe that the TTP were recently forced to issue a statement denouncing extortion attempts.

“Threats are being hurled out and money being extorted from rich people in all big cities including Peshawar in the name of Tehreek-e-Taliban,” said the statement posted on the TTP media arm's website.

“We consider wealth of a Muslim as sacred as his life and announce our disassociation from such acts.”

'Help pay for jihad'

Not all of the letters are directly threatening in tone.

One sent to an Islamabad lawyer appealed to his religious conscience to help fund the militants' struggle, saying it cost $30,000 a day to feed their fighters.

“We cover our expenses with the help of God-fearing Muslims like you. Allah has provided you the opportunity to put your effort in the jihad and serve him and his fighters,” the letter said.

“You are instructed to arrange for the food expenses of the lions of Allah for two days.”The handwritten letter was again signed with Mehsud's name, but follow-up calls and letters put police on the trail of the culprits.

“The extortionists knew everything about the lawyer, his family, the number of his kids and when he leaves for and comes from the office,” a police officer on the case told AFP.

“This was the biggest clue and we investigated and found that the extortionists were actually labourers who were working in the lawyer’s home.”

The lawyer admits he was lucky, the police rarely catch the extortionists, leaving businessmen to pay up, and in some cases they are even in on the racket.

Islamabad police spokesman Mohammed Naeem said 13 people had been arrested over extortion, including serving officers.


It was a time of destruction and devastation. When novelist James Michener published his essay “A Lament for Pakistan” in the New York Times in January of 1972, the country had been hacked in half. Michener, who had lived in various parts of Pakistan, wrote evocatively and with consternation. He could not imagine how the country he had so sincerely admired had become the site of such disunity. In Michener’s words, Pakistan seemed “dogged by bad luck. Jinnah died shortly after the nation was launched, Liaquat Ali Khan, first Prime Minister and perhaps an abler politician than even Jinnah, was assassinated in 1951. All attempts at democracy ended in 1958 when dictatorship took over. And the conciliation one hoped for between East and West never happened.”

 

It was not bad luck, however, that doomed Pakistan. Michener’s grim assessment of Pakistan rested not on the country’s condemnation by chance or fortune, but by a crucial failure in its core idea. The severing of East and West Pakistan represented to Michener the end of the tantalizing dream of the religious state, proof of the inadequacy of religion as the foundation of a nation state. Faith had been the only basis of uniting East and West Pakistan, the glue with which the vast chasm of cultural differences, geographical incongruencies, qualms, and quibbles over politics and outlook and ethnicity were to be molded together into one statuesque edifice of nationhood. This glue of a common faith had been infused in the once-united country’s constitution, but it could not glue the two halves of the country together.

Decades after Michener’s essay, religion dangles again over the gaping wounds of a bleeding nation. Since 1971 and the excision of a portion of the country, it has been used to paper over the perfidy of dictators, to keep the country’s women forever suspect, to imagine an authenticity that reality has failed to hand up. If religion is believed to be the glue, the country has needed a lot of it to keep its armies fighting, to keep its people paranoid, to make it all work. There is popular religion on television talk shows, to be ingested with recipes for chicken chow mein; there is the religion of beards and exposed ankles, the religion of school textbooks, the religion of cricket matches, and of course the religion of suicide bombers.

Once again, it has not been enough. Lathered liberally over a nation that imagines itself forever soiled, it has failed to purify, failed to unite, and failed to enlighten. All it has done is change the contestation over culture, over misunderstood identity, over limited opportunity into a sordid contest of the accessories of piety. Unable to unite, it remains still the object of an insatiable hunger, slathered on open wounds it cannot heal. The anger of the bleeding distorts it, devolves and daily denigrates it. Before a bleeding blinded population, its arbiters are not men of learning or men of spiritual substance but men with the blood of thousands on their hands, men of war. Theirs is a vision not of the future but of a crudely imagined past — dark, primitive, poor, and paranoid. Today’s lament for Pakistan is that this landscape of dread has become the vision of a nation.

But if the loss of one part of itself did not provoke the grim deliberations that would reveal the delinquencies of nationhood, the ravages of the current moment are also unlikely to do so. The burden of 60 and some years of believing in one idea, on erecting nationhood on faith, means that imagining alternatives feels at once traitorous and misguided. If not this, what then, asks a generation that knows only war, that has not been trained to look elsewhere, that imagines goodness as blind obedience and spirituality as a political act.

There are no answers for them; the greed of those who have gobbled up faith has rendered dissent into blasphemy and silence into survival. Soiled by the politics of power and death, religion stands misused and politics confused. Amid the wreckage of old ideas, of peace talks, amid ready shrouds and promises for the future by the robbers of the past, is the fear that the shuddering, shivering edifice of our nationhood will crumble and fall as it nearly did once before, occasioning from one writer, now long dead, a lament for Pakistan. His words from the past touch our present; our quest for a nation built on faith has left behind a faith without feeling, and a nation without meaning.

By Rafia Zakaria 

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