It isn’t difficult to see why Pakistan hungers for entertainment. We are perpetually swamped with social, economic and security crises and get little respite. Even the highly anticipated international cricketing events have been taken away from us.
On the other hand, Pakistani television is the victim of a savage ratings game, where producers are unwilling to experiment with fresh programming ideas. In the morning, ridiculous talk shows are broadcast where both hosts and guests lack the skill and charisma required to create content worth watching.
The evenings are even more depressing. News channels offer the most mind-numbing programmes that quickly disintegrate into shouting contests, and our dramas recycle each other's material so relentlessly they should probably be given a Greenpeace award.
As a result, gardens, shopping malls and fast food joints are swarming with people during the weekends.
Like many others, I was a little stunned to learn that the Punjab government has signed a contract with a Chinese company named the ‘Golden Bean Industry Group’ to build a world-class theme park and aquarium in Lahore for a whopping private investment of 36 billion rupees. It is said that this park will boast rides as spectacular as those at Disneyland.
Certainly, such an agreement will create jobs and attract future businesses, all of which speaks well of the Punjab government’s vision of turning Lahore into a modern city.
Yet, there are some who question if a soulless theme park is really necessary in a country deprived of power, food, education and one that is also fast losing its heritage sites?
Others ask if it’s not more important to consider investing in the promotion of tourism in our northern areas which are breathtaking to behold.
Let’s be realistic. These attractions are created to serve the public, not to draw in tourists. Yes, modernising our northern areas will make them more attractive for visitors from overseas, but foreigners at the moment are keeping away, mainly because of security issues.
Moreover, modernising our northern areas will not affect the life of young city dwellers in Islamabad, Lahore, and Rawalpindi looking for immediate gratification that a theme park would provide.
The most vocal complaints over the Lahore park are coming from affluent Pakistanis who can visit Dubai, Sri Lanka, Thailand or travel to Europe or the United States frequently. Well, this theme park is probably not being built for them anyway.
Pakistan comfortably boasts its share of private country clubs, theme parks and sports clubs, but the majority of these are too expensive for the average Pakistani to afford. Someone with a membership to a theme park told me he was glad it was expensive as it kept the ‘riffraff out’. The memberships here cost several thousand a month, while the initial fee stands on average at over Rs500,000.
This sort of elitism has started to affect our malls as well. Centaurus Mall in Islamabad introduced an entrance fee to shield itself from ‘Pindi boys’.
On the other hand, public theme parks in Pakistan — affordable to middle class citizens — are disorganised, unhygienic, lack security and offer facilities that pale in comparison to private theme parks.
Judging by its record of the Metrobus project, we can only hope that the Punjab government is going to ensure that this private theme park is accessible to everyone.
Does the average citizen not deserve the same degree of entertainment as the affluent?
However, I am admittedly concerned about the company putting this together. Details on the Golden Bean Industry Group are difficult to find on the Internet. The other theme parks they have built in China, such as the Fantasy Park of Changchun city and Jiangnan Park of Jilin City, have little presence online, which is rare in this day and age. The project will apparently be completed in less than two years.
At this point, safety is my biggest concern. And with a track record of poor maintenance in projects across the country, we should stand firm, make sure our safety is taken into account and refuse to accept any more preventable deaths.
RAWALPINDI: Whatever her fate, it seems Ayyan Ali will not be able to get back her half a million dollars until she files an appeal with the Collector of Adjudication, Islamabad.
A senior official of the customs prosecution wing revealed that the model will have to file an appeal with the Collector of Adjudication to get her money back. Ms Ali was apprehended while travelling with half a million US dollars. The amount was seized by customs when she was checking in for a flight to Dubai at Benazir Bhutto International Airport (BBIA) on March 14 this year.
Although Ms Ali was released on bail on July 16, she cannot travel abroad or get back her money and passports.
“She even had to inform the trial court before leaving for Karachi after the court proceedings ended,” the official said.
He said in the event that the collector of adjudication rejects her appeal, she will have to file another appeal with the Customs Tribunal, then the Islamabad High Court and eventually the Supreme Court provided all of her appeals were rejected at lower levels.
“Neither she, nor the trial court, asked customs for the custody of her passports or her mobile phones, which are being kept as ‘case property’ with customs,” the legal expert said. He said all her belongings were confiscated by customs in March, including her two passports.
KABUL/ISLAMABAD/PESHAWAR: In Pakistan, at least 228 people are confirmed dead in the aftermath of a massive 7.5 magnitude earthquake which hit northern Afghanistan and Pakistan on Monday.
The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) says at least 1,620 are injured across Pakistan.
Rescuers on Tuesday rushed to deliver relief aid to victims of the quake, which killed at least 291 people in the Pak-Afghan region over a wide swathe of mountainous terrain.
The initial quake — which struck the country at 2:09pm Monday — was followed by seven aftershocks, measuring as high as magnitude 4.8, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS). The latest aftershock came just before dawn on Tuesday.
“Many houses and buildings have collapsed in the city,” said Arbab Muhammad Asim, district mayor for the northwestern city of Peshawar.
Many people were trapped under piles of rubble, with officials warning that the toll was set to rise.
“The building was swinging like a pendulum, it felt as if the heavens would fall,” Peshawar shop owner Tufail Ahmed told AFP.
Thousands spent the night outdoors in near-freezing temperatures reluctant to go back inside for fear of aftershocks, Pakistani media reported.
"Rescue work is ongoing, and tents, blankets and sleeping mats are being provided," Latifur Rehman, a Pakistani disaster management official, told Reuters from Peshawar.
Pakistan's military and civilian authorities dispatched several helicopters to affected areas to assess damage and run rescue operations, the NDMA said.
However, eyewitnesses near Lower Dir's Khal area have a different story to tell.
One Syed Shah says, "No rescue teams have reached here yet. There is no power, no water and no roads are open."
His account is echoed by Irshadullah who says, "Our houses are not capable of living in. We spent the whole night under the open sky because we were afraid of the aftershocks. Everything we own is buried under the debris of our house."
Shah says his house, too, has been completely destroyed. "All our possessions and our money is buried under it," he says.
"We sent our children to relatives living 5km away. We are very scared."
At least 95 people, including women and children, are injured, with many admitted to District Headquarters Hospital Timergara.
At least 12 houses have been destroyed in a village near Khal, where over 50 per cent of houses have been damaged by the quake.
According to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Provincial Disaster Management Authority, the highest number of confirmed deaths in the province is 38 in Shangla, while the highest number of injuries has been confirmed as 248 in Lower Dir.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had said he would personally oversee the rescue efforts. "We will try our best to deal with this disaster using our own resources," he had said.
The toll is expected to rise as search teams reach remote areas that are cut off by the powerful 7.5 magnitude quake, which triggered landslides and stampedes as it toppled buildings and severed communication lines.
Landslides in Pakistan's northern areas over the weekend caused by heavy rain and snow had already left thousands of tourists stranded.
The Pakistan Meteorological Department measured the intensity of the quake as 8.1.
The US Geological Survey (USGS), however, estimated the quake’s intensity at 7.7, then revised it down to 7.5 on the Richter scale.
An official from the Met Office said that the USGS readings were different from PMD’s because they were monitoring the situation from mainland America, as USGS did not have a station in Afghanistan or Pakistan.
“On the other hand, PMD has bases to observe seismic activities in Cherat and Chitral. There is also an advanced station in the Pattan area of Swat, since these areas fall in the active seismic zone,” the official said.
The US and Iran were among countries that offered to provide humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, which already depends heavily on foreign aid after decades of war that have wrecked its economy and infrastructure.
UNITED NATIONS: Pakistan told the United Nations General Assembly during a debate that “the unresolved Jammu and Kashmir dispute remains the root cause of tensions and instability” in South Asia.
Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United Nations Maleeha Lodhi said that the longstanding dispute had to be addressed boldly and decisively if enduring peace and stability was to be established in the area.
She pointed out during a debate that for over half a century UN resolutions pledging a plebiscite to allow the Kashmiri people to exercise their right to self- determination had not been implemented.
“Instead the people of Kashmir have suffered brutal oppression,” she said, adding that the urgency of peacefully settling the dispute was even more compelling today.
She said that calling for termination of these consultations, as a precondition for dialogue, is unacceptable as well as counter-productive, referring to the Indian pre-condition for talks.
“Escalating tensions on the Line of Control in Kashmir and the Working Boundary also require Pakistan and India to take possible measures to avert further escalation.”
She said “it was against this backdrop that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced a four-point peace initiative in this General Assembly on Sept 30.
“This should have evoked a positive response from India. But this has not been forthcoming.”
Nevertheless, she said, Pakistan stood ready to engage in a dialogue on all outstanding issues.
ISLAMABAD: China will build in Karachi four of eight submarines that it is selling to Pakistan.
Minister for Defence Production Rana Tanveer Hussain told at the inauguration of the Defence Export Promotion Organisation (DEPO) Display Centre in the federal capital that the deal for the acquisition of submarines from China had been finalised and four of them would be built here.
He further said that construction of the submarines would simultaneously begin in Pakistan and China.
China, he said, would transfer the technology to Pakistan for submarine construction.
The implementation of the agreement would augment the existing submarine related capacity. One of the three Agosta 90-B submarines in Navy’s fleet — PNS Hamza commissioned in 2008 — was assembled at the Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works. The other two Agosta 90-B submarines — PNS Khalid and PNS Saad — were also indigenously overhauled and retrofitted with air-independent propulsion (AIP) systems in 2011.
The three Agosta 90-B submarines of French design form the core of Pakistan’s current submarine fleet that also includes two ageing Agosta-70 submarines.
Mr Hussain did not specify when the construction would begin, but said it would be happening soon. A training centre would be set up in Karachi for this purpose.
The minister did not either say which type of submarines were being purchased from China. It is, however, speculated that the deal was for Yuan-class Type-041 diesel-electric submarines equipped with AIP systems.
Navy has been pursuing different options for expanding its submarine fleet. Naval officials say that more submarines were needed to address force imbalance with India, which too is increasing and modernising its fleet of submarines.
Pakistan had earlier explored the options of buying submarines from France and Germany, but those deals did not materialise.
PRIVATE-PUBLIC PARTNERSHIP: Mr Hussain said the government would encourage private-public partnership in defence production to improve the efficiency of the sector.
“We can compete with the best in the world only through a national effort,” he said, adding that the government would extend all possible cooperation to private sector in this regard.
He said that this was “the beginning of a new approach”.
The minister said the country needed indigenously developed hardware, which was also technologically innovative.
NEW NAVAL SHIPYARD: The minister expected progress on the proposal for a new deep-sea shipyard planned in Gawadar.
“The summary for the new shipyard is with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his approval is expected,” he said.
The shipyard is planned to be constructed by foreign investors on build-operate-transfer basis.
“We have already earmarked land for this purpose,” the minister said.
Mr Hussain hoped that the new shipyard would be able to get substantial maritime related business from Gulf and Arab countries.
ISLAMABAD: A 16-member delegation of Pakistan Rangers, headed by Rangers (Punjab) Director General Maj Gen Umar Farooq Barki, arrived in New Delhi Wednesday for routine annual talks with Border Security Force (BSF) officials.
The delegation comprises officials from Pakistan Rangers (Punjab and Sindh), Ministry of Interior, Survey of Pakistan and the Anti-Narcotics Force.
BSF Director-General Devendra Kumar Pathak will represent India at the meeting, which will last for four days (Sept 9-12).
A Rangers spokesman told DawnNews that the Rangers-BSF talks are held alternatively in India and Pakistan.
The spokesman said both border guarding forces will discuss professional matters in relation to border management.
In order to avoid losses of innocent civilian lives and property, the delegation will discuss issues pertaining to ceasefire violations, smuggling and the safe return of inadvertent border crossers, the spokesman said.
Independent observers rate this interaction highly significant against the backdrop of the recent heavy exchange of artillery fire.