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    Year after year, March 8 unwaveringly marks International Women’s Day, which is commemorated globally for more than a hundred years now. And while the original focus of the celebration was a movement towards gender equality and women’s suffrage, it has since evolved to become more than that. It has become a day to celebrate women – their achievements and successes – as well as bring awareness to the progressions they’ve managed to accomplish thus far. Yet, I can’t help but wonder about the significance of this day – whether it even deems any significance at all – especially for Pashtun women living back home, within Pakistan and/or Afghanistan. While it is fairly easy for Pashtun women like me (as well as many others), who are living in the ‘privileged’ West, to talk about the importance of International Women’s Day and how it brings awareness to our rights as citizens, and mostly importantly of all, as human beings; we still fail to realise that the majority of Pashtun women, especially those living ‘back home’, do not have access to the same privileges, for they are denied even the most basic of human rights.

    “Pashtun women have little access to the outside world to even know what is being celebrated in their honour as women. Though this day is designed for women to have a voice, and to gather and discuss what they need to empower themselves, little of this happens in reality,” says Ariana Karzai, founder of the Pashtun Organisation for Women (POW). “Few women show interest in the March 8th celebrations, and few discuss the problems that most women face in our regions. I believe that in order for March 8th to be successful, more and more women need to participate and come up with ideas to help our women advance.” She added.
    Even so, the concerns voiced by Pashtun women like Ms Karzai are not uncommon for I, too, feel and agree that the glorified celebration of International Women’s Day is only limited to those who  understand it; practice it; and are hence able to celebrate it freely. And while we have the artless tendency to relate this day to every single woman, all over the world, we also need to realise that there are women – many women – who have no idea that such a tribute in their honour even exists. These are women who are raised to think and act a certain way – one that adamantly conforms to the patriarchal norms of their tribes and/or societies. These women have come to believe that they are the “property” of men and that their lives are and should be controlled by the men in their lives, whether it is her father, her brother, or her husband. She is convinced that she is nothing – worthless – without a man, and protecting her honour, as well as her family’s honour, becomes her sole accountability since the day she is born up until the day she dies.
    “What could International Women’s Day possibly mean to us? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. A Pashtun woman who dares to disagree with her parents is ‘manner less'; a woman who dares to disagree with her brother is 'westernised'; and a woman who dares to disagree with her husband is a 'whore'. We praise Malalai Ana for encouraging soldiers (men) to fight the British for over a century ago. But we hate to hear our own sisters, daughters or wives raise their voice for education,” says Maryam A, a Pashtun woman from the United Kingdom.
    Indeed, lack of education is one of the greatest impediments to social and economic development, especially within Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Afghanistan. And those women who try to seek it face severe consequences, possibly even death. Yet, that did not stop Malala Yousafzai – the young, brave 15-year old woman who was shot several months ago by the Taliban – for being a steadfast activist for female’s right to education. And, needless to say, young and profoundly courageous women like Malala actualise the reason and purpose of International Women’s Day. Additionally, not all Pashtuns are necessarily opposed to International Women’s Day, for there are some who do recognise its significance, as well as the advantages it aims to bring forth.
    “This day is more important now than ever before as more Pashtun women are mobilising and heading towards a more educated future. Women are rightfully demanding dignity, respect and recognition for their role inside their homes, as much as for their role outside (career women, breadwinners, etc.),” says Hina Din, a Pashtun writer and a human rights advocate.
    Personally, I believe that every single day should be celebrated as International Women’s Day. We need to remind ourselves each and every day that women (and not only Pashtuns) are more than often victims of abuse, harassment, and all other iniquitous forms of violence. We also need to remind ourselves of those women who have managed to overcome such adversities, and are now inspiring others, who are also suffering, to do the same. After all, one woman’s success should be every woman’s success. And as long as we keep reminding ourselves of this reality, perhaps we may not need to single out just one day in their commemoration. Read more by Samar here or follow her on Twitter @sesapzai


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    Pashtuns are generally the most democratic people in Pakistan. By looking at the history of elections in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), it is safe to say that they have voted for parties with leftist, rightist or liberal religious ideologies. Furthermore, it shows that unlike others provinces, K-P voted for all parties in the previous elections and yet no one brought tranquility and development to this region. 2013 is another election year in Pakistan and the country will brace itself to one of the most crucial elections since its birth. In K-P, every political party has an active presence and as elections draw near, political parties have started preparing themselves for an election campaign. Read below for a candid prognosis of the political parties of K-P in the 2013 elections. Awami National Party (ANP) ANP won the 2008 election with a thumping majority and has successfully completed its five years term. However, in the 2013 elections, its seats will be decreased as people aren't as satisfied with its governance and deliverance. Photo: APP That said, its performance isn’t as poor as that of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government in Islamabad; ANP has had some achievements in its credentials. The ideological votes of ANP are still intact and will help lift the party in the elections. My prognosis is that they will get approximately 16 seats in the elections, from the Peshawar, Mardan and Malakand divisions. Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) PPP being a coalition ally of the ANP government has miserably failed to deliver. Its ideological voters are unhappy with the performance of PPP ministers in K-P. Also, the federal government and central leadership of this party has ignored the staunch jiyalas of their party, which will pound PPP in the next elections. However, Anwar Saifullah, as provincial president had brought some solace to PPP in K-P, but this won’t impetus the party to a major extent. My analysis is that more or less, they will get 12 seats in the elections, and that from the Malakand, Peshawar division and the Southern districts of K-P. Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F)  JUI-F, being the largest opposition party in K-P assembly has a brighter chance of getting votes in the upcoming elections. Photo: File Their campaign depends on local clerics and this is beneficial to the party as they are present in every locality. I feel as though JUI-F will triumph in the southern districts of K-P and will also extract seats from other areas. Thus, I believe that they will get 20 plus seats in the upcoming elections. Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) After the addition of Ameer Muqam to the party, PML-N’s political outlook is great in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa! Photo: File Leaders have been quite active in the province since the past few months, and this, no doubt is beneficial to the party. However, with that being said, Nawaz Sharif is oblivious to the party’s campaign in K-P. As soon as he starts taking interest in the campaign, I am sure that PML-N will be even more popular in K-P. Hence, in this respect, I believe that PML-N will get 20 plus seats in the upcoming elections and mostly from the Hazara and Malakand division. However, these seats might be augmented from Peshawar and Mardan districts. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Imran Khan is treasured more in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa than in any other province in Pakistan. Photo: Reuters  According to recent surveys, PTI led by Imran Khan is the most popular party of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, but the rivalry between provincial leadership and their inability to activate the party among masses has lowered their chance of getting majority votes in the 2013 elections. PTI has not started an election campaign yet and many stalwarts who joined PTI after its boom have left the party. However, the power factor is that the party is present in every union council and it is up to their provincial leadership as to how they utilise it. My prognosis is that PTI will get more or less 15 seats in the upcoming elections from the Peshawar, Hazara and Malakand divisions. Jamat-e-Islami (JI) Jamat-e-Islami is the most organised party in K-P, but its political clout is comparatively weaker than the above mentioned parties. The party isn’t very active yet. Photo: File According to my analysis, JI will get around 10 seats in the upcoming elections  from the Peshawar and Malakand division. Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) The Aftab Sherpao led QWP has been quite active since the past few months.  He has been trying to pursue nationalist folks in his favour; however, the response is not promising. My prognosis is that QWP will get more or less 10 seats  from the Peshawar and Swabi districts and a few from other pickets. Everyone seems to be anxious about the elections in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Though there is a chance of an electoral alliance between JUI-F and PML-N, they will need the support of one or two more parties to form a stable government. In a nutshell, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is ready to witness a political farrago. Follow Taimur on Twitter @iamTribalKhan

    An election worker count ballots at a polling station for Pakistan's general elections in LahoreAn election worker count ballots at a polling station for Pakistan's general elections in Lahore

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    Have you ever heard of the valley of Tirah? This is not some valley in distant country in a faraway continent; it is located in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), in the northwest of Pakistan. Recently, Tirah has fallen into the hands of the Taliban after a fierce couple of months of fighting. The main battle for control of Tirah was between the Ansarul Islam (AI) and the Lashkar-e-Islam (LI) backed by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The news of this fight has been covered extensively by some of the leading daily newspapers of Pakistan, but unfortunately, the mainstream news channels of Pakistan have completely ignored it. For the first time in the history of Pakistan, a civilian government has managed to complete its tenure of five years in power and now the process for the transition of power from one civilian government to the next is underway. PHOTO: FILE This is historic indeed and the entire country is gripped with election fever as the polls come closer, as announced, on May 11, 2013. At the same time though, an entire population has been displaced from Tirah as the fight continues there and thousands of families are desperately seeking shelter at refugee camps setup for them by the political administration of Fata in the Orakzai and Kurram agencies. Help is being sought from the UNHCR by the Fata Disaster Management Authority (FDMA) and as recent reports suggest, the UNHCR has halted its efforts due to security concerns after an attack on the Jalozai Camp (Afghan Refugee Camp) in Nowshehra. The Governor of  Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Fata secretariat, Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) and the President of Pakistan are directly responsible by law and as per the constitution of Pakistan for Fata, which includes Tirah, but none of these authorities seem to be concerned with whatever has been happening there and haven't really said anything or done anything substantial and concrete to help facilitate the displaced thousands at the very least. PHOTO: IRIN The fascination of our media channels with the upcoming elections is understandable and their relentless and continuous coverage of the various jalsas and other such events has its importance, but is it too much to ask of them to give some coverage to the people of Tirah, so that their voices can be heard too? What is even more staggering is that many in the rest of Pakistan are not even aware of the ongoing war in Tirah and about its people and the kind of suffering that they have had to put up with. This is something that needs to change. And this is where our media can play an effective role. We have seen the power of our media and especially the good it can do by covering incidents of terrorism. From the massacre in Quetta to the blasts in Karachi, from the attacks on minorities, to the cases of misuse of power by our representatives, whenever the media has given it some attention, the issues have been highlighted and public pressure has developed which in turn has led to some good being done. There is a strong sentiment of neglect amongst the people of Fata in general and the people of Tirah in specific, given how their voices are not being heard and the fact that Pakistan does not seem to care much about them because of the areas that they belong to. This needs to change and they need to be shown that Pakistan does care about them just as it cares about its people in Karachi, Lahore, Quetta and Islamabad. As mentioned earlier, some of the leading newspapers of Pakistan have been giving the entire situation adequate coverage on a daily basis, but the time has come for all of our media networks to do the same. Who knows, it might just help in rattling the moral sensibilities of the authorities that are responsible for these people and they might just do the necessary. It is definitely worth a try! Follow Khushal on Twitter @Khushal_Khattak

    tirah valleyafptirah valleyafp

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    A sudden lull is seen on social media as the results trickle in. Shock. Disbelief. Disappointment. After all, we were called the “PTI trolls”. Our enthusiasm and excitement, and often confrontational attitude of taking head-on collisions with the old players of the political field irked the intelligentsia and the liberaati. A truly centrist party, we were attacked by everyone: the left and the right. However, through it all, as a young party, we held each other’s hands and were fueled by hopes of a Tsunami.

    PML-N is in a clear lead - no question about it - and we are all devastated, me and my fellow PTIians. A bit sheepish about our often naïve enthusiasm which others mistook for arrogance, I hear the youth, our strongest voters, saying:
    “Nothing in this damned country will ever change."
    To all those, I would like to say:
    "Look around again; it already has. We are already living is a more awake, Naya Pakistan."
    Not knowing the ultimate result of NA 250, here’s what I saw today in the infamous constituency. Women flocked, empowered by passion, realising they had a say and a role in the politics of this country.   The disabled, the elderly, the sick - everyone knew they had a role to play. I saw people on stretchers and children on wheelchairs. They were all out to support PTI, that too when we knew we were up against namaaloom afraad. In a city where we would, once upon a time, take the name of a certain political party in hushed whispers, yesterday we, the women and the youth, battled it out peacefully by exercising our right to vote. We sweated it out for eight hours to cast a vote in the May heat. We remained peaceful and shared water, but did not let anyone break the queue. Our youth realised they were a power and had a sense of ownership in Pakistani politics. We spoke out against hooliganism and intimidation. Hope came alive yesterday. We have emerged as Pakistan’s second largest party, a force to reckon with. We are the biggest threat to the status quo, with no reliance on replays of our assassinated leaders or laptop give-aways or any prior serious political experience and with a leader who is neither a feudal, nor an industrialist, nor a “seasoned” politician who knows the bad game that politics is like the so-called stalwarts. All my leader has is a dream and pure ambition, and my heart swells with pride and joy when I call him that. He dreams of an awake Pakistan - one without the status quo that he has managed to threaten; one without disparity between rich and poor. He dreams a dream of a Pakistan where expats long to come back to and the youth does not want to run away from; a dream of justice for every Pakistani: left, right and centre. Are you kidding me, everyone? This is a proud moment for PTI. In the face of criticism, opposition, backlash from all quarters and no billions in our accounts to support our campaign, we have become a force that cannot be ignored. We have not used violence or insidious ways to get here. At the most, we said a few irksome things on Twitter and Facebook in our over-zealousness, but used no arms or weapons to force our way through. We are not backed by dynastic political support. We did not dig out photographs of any opponents romantic escapades and use them to win popular support. All we had was the ideology of our leader and we have stuck to it because we believe in it. As a mature, aware PTI voter, I believe we did this is for the best: the serious PTI supporters needed this time to mature. The fickle ones will ebb away. What will remain at the other side will be a true force of change. While a nationwide Tsunami may not be here yet, it would be unwise for gloating opponents to write that off in the future. We have done pretty well for a young party, and the change may begin from our problematic frontier where PTI's positive impact will, no doubt, be felt. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf has definitely arrived and is here to stay. Above all, we may not have a Prime Minister from our party (yet) but we have a leader who is a hero who wins hearts. Additionally, Imran Khan is now head of one of Pakistan’s biggest and most original political parties. To you, I say this,
    Khan, as you continue to heal and gain strength in that hospital in Lahore, rest well so that we may get ready for the next innings. This is a great beginning. We will see it to the finish line together. InshAllah.
    PS: It is a privilege and honour, Sir, to be led by you.


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    With the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government formed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), a lot is expected from the political party. Successfully governing such a challenging region would be nothing less than a miracle! Directly or indirectly, the political administration of K-P also involves the critical management of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) affairs. The PTI’s electoral victory in the region shows the unparalleled confidence the people of the province have in them, but by spreading hype of fulfilling high expectations, the party is in for an uphill task. The PTI team needs to first understand and rationalise the existing problems and then formulate and implement feasible solutions for the K-P/FATA region. Challenge 1: Terrorism and security crises The foremost and highest challenge for the new K-P government is to come up with an effective strategy to eradicate terrorism and then provide security to the affected communities of K-P and FATA. The people of K-P/FATA have been facing terrorism for the last 10 years. They are sick and tired of picking up dead bodies of their kith and kin on a daily basis. Their infrastructure has been damaged terribly. Their residential areas (which were rich in natural resources) have been stripped off their natural beauty and functionality. Law and order has become a thing of the past, the once-healthy environment has been lost in smoke, social zones have become war zones and free areas have turned into no-go areas. As such, all possible efforts should be made by the PTI to restore peace and stability to the streets, bazaars and homes of K-P/FATA. Challenge 2: Bad governance and corruption K-P was rated as the most corrupt province under the last rule of Awami National Party (ANP), who claimed to be the most loyal of the Pakhtun soil. Openly and candidly, these sons of the soil made 'corruption' their trade mark. They were even awarded notorious tags for their corrupt stature. With the poverty escalating and the institutions in K-P on the verge of collapsing due to corruption, much is anticipated from PTI – a party that claimed to end national corruption within 90 days. Will they end corruption in K-P in 90 days?   Challenge 3: Economic growth and job creation The final critical challenge for the PTI is to launch a revolutionary economic growth programme in the war-stricken province. This should be of high priority and the gifted natural resources of K-P must be tapped to create economic stability, and eventually economic growth. The new government should take initiatives for natural resource development, energy projects and make room for employment. Improving the condition of industrial and trade zones across various parts of the province should be paid attention to as well. Keep your promise Imran Khan and PTI, you promised durable and indigenous solutions for the communities of K-P and FATA - now is your chance to prove your mettle. The people of K-P have risen to your call.

    Hum bhi dekhein gay! (We, too, will witness!)
    Follow Asghar on Twitter @AsgharAKhan

    peshawar 2008peshawar 2008

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    Ever wonder why our country is in such turmoil? Ever wonder how people who are not worth it occupy the seats of the National Assembly? Ever heard yourself say:

    “OMG, my 10-year-old could have done a better job than that!”?
    The major answer to these questions is that in Pakistani culture, merit isn't defined properly. We think merit is the number of years you have worked loyally for a party, and that it is defined through the “amount” of work done instead of the quality or category of the work done. Let’s analyse this definition in terms of a parliamentarian, that is, a lawmaker. What kind of merit is ideal for a lawmaker? Obviously for starters, one would want them to have education in politics and know the laws inside and out. Afterwards, it would be expected of them to have the capabilities to draft laws, defence strategies, international relation strategies, debate drafted laws, so on and so forth. An example of merit working in real life politics would be the appointing of a prominent republican chief executive officer as an advisor to a democratic president. In February 2009, Immelt was appointed as a member to the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board (PERAB) to provide the president and his administration with advice and counsel in fixing America's economic downturn. When President Obama chose to put Jeffrey Immelt at the head of the Economic Advisory Board, he felt that Immelt had attributions in knowing what would help the global economy. Obama has reported that Immelt has emerged as one of his top economic advisors in regards to trying to rebuild America's economy. This is what merit is! In intelligent government bodies, true merit comes even above party affiliations. Someone tried to compare the MNA positions with an award programme. MNA seats aren’t rewards; they are positions of huge responsibility which require merit appointments, especially on reserved seats. Pakistanis must stop viewing such pivotal positions as awards for being loyal. Until they don’t do so, the condition of Pakistan isn’t going to change anytime soon. In the National Assembly appointments, especially in the reserved seats appointments, one must make sure that the true merit of education, experience, and capabilities as a lawmaker must prevail above everything else. We need people who have experience in lawmaking, international relations, defence strategies, law drafting and such. We do not necessarily need good campaigners and fundraisers in parliament. The work of campaigners and fundraisers is best out of the parliament. While watching the many political shows, the capabilities of Dr Shireen Mazari of being a lawmaker, debater and political strategist are very evident. She knows the intricate details of the conflicts existing in different areas of Pakistan. She is able to provide sound opinions and criticism on such conflicts, as well as their proposed solutions. While Mrs Fauzia Kasuri has been an amazing campaigner and a fundraiser, she does not have the top capabilities of being a prominent and influential lawmaker. Popularity among the people isn’t the criteria of being a lawmaker; it is the criteria of being a fundraiser. I am not saying that Mrs Fauzia Kasuri completely lacks the capability of being a lawmaker. She, after all, is an educated woman, who has an MBA as well as a degree in international affairs. However, she has never done any work in those fields. Moreover, she was considered for the reserved seats and was placed fourth, as was proper to do so. Mrs Fauzia Kasuri has defined herself as a social worker rather than a politician. She should know that, she does not need to be an MNA to provide clean drinking water. The women appointed in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) province have been demeaned tremendously for their fault of being distant relatives of chief minister of K-P. Those women are entrepreneurs, head of chamber of commerce, educationists, social workers and they were very active in the political circles of their constituencies. They aren't popular because they weren’t in the media. They were working on ground, door to door. The bottom line is that we must stop equating merit with the number of years worked, or the amount of work done for a party. The category and quality of the work takes precedence over all that. At the top spots, we need lawmakers in the parliament - campaigners and fundraisers simply do not "deserve" the top reserved spots. Follow Rida on Twitter @PakiPride22


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    Paragliding is the simplest and purest form of aviation that fulfils the oldest dream of mankind that is ‘flying’. Hunting for some adventurous sports, we (a group of office colleagues) decided to go paragliding. As paragliding looks risky to first-timers, we thought it best not to take the risk without first contacting professionals who could train us first and then lead us. After much research, we ended up at The Ultimate Adventure Club (TUAC). The reason we chose TUAC is that it is one of the largest adventure clubs in Pakistan and has CE certified equipment. They have internationally trained instructors who guide and test you before your first flight to determine whether or not you are capable of taking the flight. And that’s not all; they also have the cheapest rates I have come across so far! Charging Rs3,000 per person for the first flight and Rs500 for every next flight is not a bad deal at all! The one thing that I want to highlight here is that, you have to make bookings in advance as TUAC can only entertain 25 people per day. So, for instance, if you are a group of more than 25 people then you have to ask them for special arrangements in advance, so they can provide the required facilities to accommodate each one of you. However, they don’t offer any discounted rates. We were a group of 15 people but when we tried to negotiate the price, they didn’t seem to be too pleased. That said the price is still worth the flight! This is how it started... We left Peshawar early in the morning at around 5:30am; we were directed to reach Khanpur around 10am. On arrival, we were greeted with a warm welcome by TUAC team and then asked to follow them as Khanpur was not the actual place of our stay. After a 20 minute drive, we reached a small village known as Mun or Maan (however you like to pronounce it) where we were going to start our adventure! At first the members of TUAC gave us a detailed training session in which they enlightened us about the basics of paragliding. This lesson was very informative for first-timers as before listening to it, we were not even aware of how to tie the belts or hold the wires! After the training session, the guides gave us a physical demonstration on the ground and asked each of us to try it once as well. According to them this would help us in our first flight that was scheduled from a mountain that was 20ft high. So after practising on the ground, we started hiking along with the wings towards the peak of the mountain. On reaching our destination, I was the first one to go. I was excited and nervous all at the same time. I started tying up all the relevant belts and as soon as I got the go-signal, I stepped forward. My heart was in my throat at this point and I was scared to death but I kept running. Holding on to my belt tight, the guides were holding my arms and once they let go I was in the air! I held on to the handles tight and followed all the directions that were communicated via the walky-talky attached to my safety bag on my back. The 1.5 minute flight made my day! I was so enthralled by the whole experience that I decided to go all out and I went a second time as well! Though, it was not an easy job to climb the mountain for the second time it was completely worth it. I have never felt so free and alive in my entire life. I would recommend everyone to go for paragliding at least once in their lives! It is the most thrilling and liberating adventurous sport I have ever tried. PHOTOS: OSAMA YAWAR Read more by Osama here or follow him on Twitter @osamayawar


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    Yesterday I was reading The Express Tribune, when my eye caught an interesting statement made by the new elected chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). He was boldly talking about pulling out the Pakistan Army from the Swat. I will refrain from criticising any party directives or policies here; all I want to do is to provide a clearer picture of the situation in Swat, and let the people be the jury of such an action. I remember when the Pakistan Austrian Institute for Hotel and Tourism Management (PAITHOM) was targeted by the Taliban in the Swat valley in August 2007. This kind of Taliban was generally a lesser known entity at that time. PAITHOM was a joint venture by the Republic of Austria and Pakistan to promote the tourism industry in the Swat valley. I was working at PAITHOM as an assistant teacher at the time. Although the school was only producing alumni based on tourism and hotel management, it was soon labelled as promoting 'secularism' because the name was linked to Austria. One day, a friend of mine asked me what we were really doing in the school. I explained to him that it was a normal school like any other school in the country. The only difference was that we had a new curriculum of tourism and hotel management. However, the Taliban propagated PAITHOM as promoting secularism and maligned it as a place for selling alcohol and promoting other immoral activities. In August, 2007, we first received a letter from the Taliban to stop dressing in ‘Westernised’ clothing. Even though the Taliban were not the force of terror they are today, we took the letter quite seriously and advised the students to come to class in traditional attire. However, the threat was just the beginning. As many students were accommodated inside the school building it was vital that we took initiative to provide security. This was because the school was located 12km away from main Mingora city and there was no nearby police station. Therefore, we asked the police to provide us with the necessary security for our school. This ended as a fruitless venture as they apologised saying, they did not have enough resources to provide us with such assistance. We then turned to the Frontier Constabulary (FC) to help us. The FC agreed to provide security to our school and finally made a compound at the entrance. One day, I went to a nearby mosque and I saw some long-haired suspicious looking people carrying arms. I ran back to the school in a state of complete panic and told everyone that we were no longer safe. Not only was the school in danger, but Swat valley as a whole could be lost to the Taliban too. They had continually propagated an agenda for jihad and this time they were ready for action. A few days later, I got a phone call from a colleague who was residing at PAITHOM itself as he had travelled from Lahore. The phone call sent chills down my spine; he told me that this night could be his last. He wanted to talk to each one of us before he left this world. I could hear the noise of the gunfire in the background. I asked him what had happened, fearing I knew the answer. He said the Taliban had finally attacked our school. I called up the police in a state of panic and horror, however, they had already been informed about the situation, but were waiting on a certain helicopter that was meant to come from Peshawar. Until the next morning, no action had been taken by the police. They did not even try to save the FC personnel. When I went to the school the next morning, I saw blood everywhere. Pages of the Holy Quran were scattered and desecrated; we we collected these with our hands. Our students and associates were safe as they were hiding in the underground compound. The blood was from the FC personnel who had bravely done their duty to provide security. The Holy Quran also belonged to those martyrs. In September, 2007, I left Swat to pursue further studies in Austria. My own words to the people of Swat still haunt me; the Taliban would destroy their homes, and so far they had. We saw (and still see) the Taliban terrorising our school children and demolishing schools. This is a point that deserves your attention, dear Chief Minister. The people of Swat feel safe with the help of the Pakistan Army. Why would you want to pull-out now? Have they completed their job yet? Are the people of Swat safe yet? They are our country’s army, here to protect our people. What’s the guarantee that the Taliban will not return? There are plenty of other problems to address rather than putting the people of Swat into further distress. We do not want another Malala getting shot. Please don’t make it happen. Please listen to us.

    Pak army holds Taliban militant (afp)Pak army holds Taliban militant (afp)

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    Ayesha Gulalai Wazir is the youngest parliamentarian elected for the National Assembly on the reserved women’s seats on Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s ticket. She belongs to the Wana subdivision of South Waziristan’s Ahmad Zai Wazir tribe. The Taliban commander, Naik Muhammad Wazir, also belonged to the same tribe known for having signed peace agreements with the government of Pakistan. Naik was killed in one of the first drone strikes to hit Pakistan. This was followed by deaths of other commanders, who were willing to sign similar peace agreements, such as Mulla Nazir or Waliur Rehman. A story was published about Ayesha Gulalai Wazir in this newspaper, after which, other media groups have interviewed her and stated that she is the first female parliamentarian to hail from Fata. In doing so, the media has given the impression that Fata has had no other women parliamentarian in the past, which is not true. Miss Mehrunnisa Afridi belongs to the famous Afridi tribe and has remained an MNA on PPP’s reserved seat, while Hajira Tariq Aziz, wife of famous broadcaster Tariq Aziz, has also remained an MNA and belongs to the Mohmand Musa Khel tribe. Pakhtuns, and especially the tribals, state that they have no such respect for women and sometimes even consider that WANA stands for ‘Women Are Not Allowed’. But the fact is that Pakhtuns are more liberal than others in this respect. Begum Naseem Wali Khan was the first Pakistani woman, who was elected in the general election in 1977. Rahila Qazi, daughter of former Jamaat-e-Islami chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed, a Pakhtun, was elected on the reserved women’s seat in the past. This proves that Pakhtuns have respect for their women and their women are educated and hold positions of power. Therefore, when people from outside, especially those from the Western countries, attack the Pakhtuns for maltreating their women, their criticism is based on a false notion. Every nation has its own culture and traditions and it goes against moral ethics to impose your own worldview over others. If the West cannot adjust to Pakhtun culture then it is not fair to expect Pakhtuns to adjust to their cultures or definitions of ‘ethics’ either. Read more by Mureeb here

    FATA women-protestPHOTOMUHAMMADIQBALEXPRESS-1361814400-431-640x480FATA women-protestPHOTOMUHAMMADIQBALEXPRESS-1361814400-431-640x480

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    Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) are in state of war. Everyone here, including the politicians, are bearing the brunt of state policies, in the makings of which they share no role. Amongst this lot of politicians was my father Muhammad Ali Khan Mohmand shaheed. A member of the provincial assembly (MPA) from Shabqadar, Charsadda, he was well known to K-P and Fata. However, few in Pakistan know of his heroic story. Muhammad Ali Khan Mohmand became an MPA from Shabqadar in 2008 on a Pakistan People’s Party-Sherpao (now Qaumi Watan Party) ticket. The victory delighted all of us, but we could never have imagined how this epoch would be the start of a tormenting journey. In 2009, my father was attending a public gathering in Shabqadar when he received an urgent call from the then Deputy Inspector General of Peshawar. He and his friend, Safwat Ghayur (shaheed), were advised to leave Shabqadar immediately and head to Peshawar. No reasons were given. My father waited till the end of the gathering and then left for Peshawar to meet with his friend Safwat. He cautioned him to stop visiting the village for a few weeks. On further inquiry, he revealed an assassination plot targeting my father had been uncovered by the security agencies. Yet, even this didn’t deter my father and he continued his visits to the village. After some days with the persistent efforts of Safwat Ghayur, the assassination plot was foiled and militants responsible were arrested. This whole tale was kept a secret by my father - a burden he carried with himself. He confessed to these details after many months. This was the mark of the man he was; he would tackle all obstacles on his own, protecting his loved one’s all the while. June 16, 2010 This seemingly ordinary date is a day in my life which makes my heart ache. My elder brother, Babar, was travelling to Peshawar from Shabaqadar when he was abducted by a band of armed militants. We were traumatised upon receiving the news; it felt as if the sky had started falling and we alone suffered its wrath. The days without him were agonising and grim. But Allah (SWT) blessed us once more and returned my brother safely after ten days. After this incident, my father had resolved to pursue action against these terrorists and decided to permanently reside in the village. February 2012 In the last week of February, my father received another threat, but by this time, he was so deep into his work for the people that he refused to be disturbed by this. March 3, 2012 After attending a public gathering in Shabqadar, my father, Aftab Sherpao and Sikandar Sherpao were going to Peshawar in one jeep when they was targeted by a suicide bomber in the Kangra area of Shabqadar. In this blast my father suffered grave injuries to his head and chest. Tragically, he never fully recovery and was afflicted with illness for eight months. He embraced shahadat (martyrdom) on November 2, 2012. Even through his trauma from the blast, he would frequent gatherings to better Pakistan. His bravery and dedication never allowed him to be hindered by terrorists and their acts of cowardice. My father's work towards public service could be judged from the fact that despite him and his party being on the militant hit-list, he could not be separated from the people. He attended every gathering, whether to mourn or to celebrate with the people of the Charshada District. Despite the threats, he had decided to permanently take residence in the village. He was a passionate political worker and due to his efforts, the Qaumi Watan Party gained a stronghold in Charsadda, to the extent that it won four provincial seats out of six in the current elections. Within our fold we had lost a father, a husband, a brother and our armour all in one man. The backbone of our household was ripped from us. He is missed with every beat of my heart. My elder brother, Babar Ali Khan Mohmand, won the by-elections for the Shabqadar seat. We thought that by this time we would be safer. But our notions were misplaced, as the militant agenda had not yet been satisfied. March 2013 In the third week of  March, a bomb was planted outside the back gate of our Hujra (small room in a mosque). After two days the militants had attacked our home, but we managed to fend this strike with the help of our guards. After three days our home was under fire once again, but this time with heavy artillery like rocket launchers, but once more we successfully deflected the attack. Due to the blessings of Allah (SWT), no one was injured in all three attacks. There have been no more attacks till now. Though we have been put through many tribulations, I am proud of the sacrifices my father made in his struggle for peace. Not only him, but thousands of citizens of Fata and K-P, led previously by assembly members like Bashir Bilour shaheed, have lost their lives in this strife. The purpose of narrating this tale of unending woe on my family is to pay homage to all those victims of terrorist activities- the unsung heroes who have shed blood in the battle to restore peace in Pakistan. I hope that one day, the death count of these people will stop growing and we will finally achieve that which they gave their lives up for; peace. Read more by Taimur here or follow him on Twitter @iamTribalKhan


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    I find it ridiculous that some media anchors and members of the civil society have the nerve to criticise Imran Khan’s visit to the UK, especially to the royal gathering hosted by Prince Charles.  It is believed that the scheduled ‘All Parties Conference’ (APC) has been postponed due to Khan’s absence. However, this is nothing but a baseless allegation. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) had made it clear much before Khan’s departure, that Khan will be travelling to the UK for his medical treatment and to meet his children. Moreover, if an APC was to even be carried out while Khan was away, PTI had nominated Shah Mehmood Qureshi to represent the party, if need be. This was done as a genuine gesture of good will; an attempt to show that PTI is supportive of the positive efforts made by the government. With that said, it is important to understand the rhetoric of the APC. These kinds of meetings are held whenever there is a conflict about a certain issue. But, as we have witnessed in the last two APCs – one headed by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the other by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), all parties have agreed that political dialogue is the only solution for tackling terrorism. Now, what other solution could this ‘new’ APC bring about? Additionally, what caused this mayhem around Khan’s absence is pure jealousy. Imagine - Imran Khan in a dashing tuxedo, looking as handsome as ever. Of course, this made some people insecure and question his motives. Anchors were alleging that Khan is perfectly well as seen by the way he is ‘chit-chatting with Prince Charles’ and so, going to the UK was nothing but a sham. Well-connected: Prince Charles asked Imran Khan how he was getting on after his fall in Pakistan To those who believe that – please grow up! Imran Khan is perhaps the only Pakistani who is accorded such level of honour and respect in international circles. And we as a nation must be proud of this rather than hateful towards it. At least, there is someone from the Pakistani political circle who is internationally recognised and respected! There is a lot more to criticise Imran Khan on, but not this. Yes, we can question his slogan of ‘change’ that he promised and we can ask about the improvement in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). Apparently, the frequency of terrorist attacks has increased and I have heard that the K-P government has passed an ordinance whereby anyone found eating or drinking during Ramazan can be fined up to Rs50, 000. Where is Imran Khan now? Is this the ‘Naya Pakistan’ Khan has been talking about? The person who has been trusted with the ticket for by-election from NA-1 has a number of allegations upon him, including the fact that he is an Afghan national. This would be a grievous mistake if an unpopular person is awarded a ticket, and this can lead to the defeat of PTI in its stronghold. Furthermore, a serious issue of double standards has surfaced; PTI has announced protests against load shedding in K-P. Imran Khan used to criticise and mock Shahbaz Sharif, calling him names such as, ‘Show-Baz Sharif’, when the latter put up a tent at Minar-e-Pakistan to protest against the unfair load shedding in Punjab.  Khan was of the view that as provinces can produce their own electricity and that this kind of a protest is just a show piece. Now, what pretext can he offer for his own provincial government doing the same ‘show baazi’? The crux of what I mean to say is that we must think carefully before blaming anyone. When judging Khan, we must see him through the paradigm of politics, and not through the lens of our own bias. [poll id="271"] Read more by Osama here


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    In lieu of the Dera Ismail Khan (DI Khan) Central Prison attack, the media mounted one of its own. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) came under strong criticism for its failure to initially prevent, and then contain the incident. Prominent MQM politicians, for example, took to social media to openly question the whereabouts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Chief Minister Pervez Khattak as the fight between the militants and the security forces raged on. Meanwhile, PTI leader Imran Khan found his hands tied in a different issue altogether - that of Ayla Malik’s fake degree. It was disappointing to see both Imran Khan and Pervez Khattak refuse to accept responsibility. Khan called the tribunal trial for Ayla Malik discriminatory and Khattak blamed the intelligence agencies for failing to identify the militant threat in K-P. Two of the most prominent PTI stalwarts provided disappointing responses, but many claim that given the trajectory of the party’s public image, it was hardly a surprise. Since the elections, it seems the PTI legislators have tried harder with every passing day to land themselves and the party in hot water. However, calling for Mumtaz Qadri’s release, ambiguous statements regarding sanitary jobs and educational systems, and trying to justify suicide bombing indicate political immaturity rather than incompetence. Within the last week alone, this list has seen further additions to this embarrassing list. Ishfaq Paracha managed to get tangled up in a sexual harassment case while Governor K-P Shaukatullah Khan refused to term the Parachinar attacks ‘sectarian’ in nature; fair credit to the governor, the attacks were indeed not sectarian in nature but explicitly genocidal. It is hard to imagine what the PTI legislators could possibly get up to next - perhaps an appearance on the Aamir Liaquat show is in order! I do not support the PTI and I do not agree with their (or a lack thereof) political ideology. Yet, much of what is being ascribed to PTI these days is more symptomatic of our impatient outlook as a country, rather than the failures of PTI itself. Despite these guffaws and blunders, it would be childish to dismiss the PTI as a political party. Compared to Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), PTI is still a political infant. It is only in the past three months that the party, as a whole, has tasted power. Popular argument goes that many of the PTI legislators like Khattak are experienced politicians and should be able to navigate the current situation better. However, it is worth mentioning that a party in power functions well only when it is able to work with itself. Khattak is certainly an experienced politician but his internal tussle with PTI is a glaring revelation of how the ‘old guard’ of politicians will have a hard time adjusting to the demands of the youth-envisaged PTI. It seems that in the frenzy of the bringing about tabdeeli, Imran Khan focused on the elections and the electorate - he might find his electoral candidates a different matter altogether. When PTI emerged victorious in the K-P, supporters bragged about K-P’s future as a model for the rest of the country. Less than 90 days in and many seem to have lost hope. The only time tabdeeli gets mentioned is in a satirical manner. We conveniently forget that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also ascended to power at the exact same time and is on par with the PTI in terms of the number of real problems tackled. Terrorism, for example, is as much a federal issue as it is a provincial one. The same leniency with respect to time in the office is not afforded to the PTI when it comes to K-P. What makes it ironic is the fact that for all their experienced political candidates who have held provincial and national posts previously, PTI is still learning to navigate the bureaucratic jungle. The violence in K-P cannot simply be attributed to PTI. For PTI to claim responsibility would have been a magnanimous act but their shirking away from the responsibility is in tandem with every single political party in this country. If PTI is to be blamed for the increasing violence in K-P, we could implicate the MQM for volatility in Karachi too, couldn't we? Violence combined with a fractious PTI leadership doesn’t fill the masses with confidence either. In order to build a stronger presence in the country, PTI needs to communicate more effectively internally. MQM, for all its vices, still presents a united front and PTI would do well to learn from them. When all has been said and done, it is still premature to claim that PTI is digging its own hole just like it was premature to claim a PTI revolution in the elections in May. As a country, we have displayed infinite patience with our politicians. The way we recycle the same faces and the same names is exemplary - if Nawaz Sharif can be appointed to office for a third time; PPP can ascend to power thrice in the last 25 years; the army can periodically throw governments out, and MQM can continue to run Karachi, what reason is there to think Khan and his merry men won’t be around for the foreseeable future either?


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    When we talk about women empowerment, our society, not unlike others, is divided between two extremes — those who go to extreme lengths to establish female independence even at the cost of others and those who enforce patriarchal authority. Then there are the women this society is fighting for. Ironically enough, these women are not asked by either side about what they want. Recently, during Friday sermons in Karak, four clerics took a decision to restrict women from entering bazaars without a male family member accompanying them. The decision sparked debates over news, social media and even managed to enter our homes. We were told just how lucky we were to live in a city where women were not restricted to their houses. The story further stated that the Karak District Police Officer refused to impose such orders and that women in Karak were free to go to bazaars on their own. I do not approve of what the clerics spoke of that day, but the issue, as I was told, was not based on ‘spreading vulgarity in the holy month of Ramazan’. As rumour has it, due to the increase in robberies at these bazaars by people disguised in burkhas, the clerics stated that the men should keep an eye on where their women were going, so as to decrease the probability of these crimes occurring again. The newspapers, however, got creative in reporting the incident and framed it to their liking. One even went as far as to say that the DPO banned women after the demand made by the clerics, while others hinted at militant presence in the area. After the news, women in Karak are now actually afraid of stepping out alone. They feel that if they do, they will be punished. A place once safe is now feared to be infested with extremists. Bazaars are low in business in the festive season and shopkeepers are confused as to what all the fuss is about. When we sit on the sidelines and comment on a city we haven’t been to, on traditions we have not heard of before and mindsets we cannot imagine, our statements become redundant. What was not a big deal in the district itself, made the headlines in newspapers across the country. The locals were appalled and continued to defend their area but we went on painting a sour picture of the region. No one, however, bothered to see the other side of the story. It’s about time we learned that two extremes do not make a positive.


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    Katoora Lake (also called Jaz Dand) is situated in the Lamoti Valley of Upper Dir, KPK at an altitude of 11,500 ft approximately. Most of the time, this lake is surrounded by high mountains covered with snow. The best season to visit it is August/September. However, June and July are also good months for a tour, if you are prepared for random monsoon showers. The level of difficulty for trekking in the area may be considered ‘moderate’ for regular trekkers/hikers. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Moderate weather, fresh air and stunning views - a winning combination. Photo: Murtaza Mahmud[/caption] Travel towards Jaz Dand actually starts when you reach Upper Dir – a location that can be reached from Islamabad within seven hours or the Swat Valley through Badgoi Pass. From Upper Dir, it takes almost five hours to reach the base camp in Jandrai (also pronounced as Zhandrai). At this point, one has to leave the road (as there is none!) and start trekking towards Jaz Banda. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] While trekking to Jaz Banda, one has to pass through dense forests. Deforestation rate is not so high in this part of valley, so trekking becomes a real experience. Photo: Murtaza Mahmud[/caption] It takes another five hours of trekking in dense forests to reach the destination. I would advise tourists to stay a night in Jaz Banda and then trek towards the lake - this will take you close to three hours. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] After trekking for almost 3 hours, you reach this place. We continued our journey towards the right side. Photo: Murtaza Mahmud[/caption] As far as accommodation is concerned, the best option is to set up camp, as my companions and I did. However, for those who are not comfortable with camping, there is one private rest house in Jandrai and one in Jaz Banda. These rest houses are owned and managed by Mr Raja Taj Muhammad. He is a renowned personality of the area and has been promoting tourism and serving visitors for more than 10 years now. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] These mountains are the main source of chilled and fresh spring water. Photo: Murtaza Mahmud[/caption] If I have to describe this place in one sentence, I would say ‘It is just amazing!’ [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Katoora Lake waterfall. Photo: Murtaza Mahmud[/caption] The serenity in the atmosphere puts pains and troubles out of your mind and puts you in a state of peace from where there is no return. One simply cannot forget the time spent there. We spent a night in Jaz Banda, trekking back the next day to continue our adventure through Kumrat Valley. Personally, I wish to just live here; streams of fresh, chilled water emanating from the lake, high snowy mountains, meadows spread over large expanses, the fresh and pure air – there are so many reasons why this place is absolutely beautiful. Here, you will find yourself closer to nature. For those who travel alone, this spot offers pleasant company – here, the clouds won’t leave you at any point. As for the lake itself, it takes your breath away for a moment, and then it recharges your mind with its freshness and glory. Just writing about it has me wishing I could go back! [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Situated at an altitude of 11,500 ft approximately, it seems like the colour of this lake changes with the weather conditions. Photo: Murtaza Mahmud[/caption] Of course, we cannot possibly overlook the terrific hospitality shown by the local community of the area. People here are simple, kind and hospitable. Mr Raja Taj Muhammad, the owner of the rest houses mentioned above, is a prime example. We were so impressed by his hospitality that we recorded an interview with him, requesting him to brief us about this place and shed light on the area’s security situation. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Our group and some locals, with Chimrain Cottage in the background. Photo: Murtaza Mahmud[/caption] During our trek, we met many people who offered us a cup of tea, extending a hand of friendship in their own hospitable way. These people are pursuing a very simple life and eat plain yet healthy food. In pure economical terms, their cost of living is very low. One can guess their general political views via flags and banners of various political parties. These people are self sufficient and this is evident from small irrigation channels and small-scale electricity generation facilities. I personally feel that a better infrastructure would bring more prosperity to the area and make life easier for these people. They have great respect for their customs and traditions. As a general rule, it becomes the responsibility of travellers to get familiar with and show respect for these local community manners. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="300"] This man requested us to take his picture with his buffalo. I cannot forget his gestures of joy when he saw his photos. Photo: Murtaza Mahmud[/caption] A special plea to my photographer community - pack your bags and visit this place as soon as you can. It is a brilliant opportunity for your work and can indeed bring you fame through the eye of your gear. As for general adventure-fans, trekkers and travellers, Katoora Lake is an ideal spot for you to explore for your next vacation. Follow Murtaza on Twitter @murtazamahmud

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    Dear Leaders of Pakistan, I hope you are well and are busy overseeing and planning solutions for the many problems faced by our nation. Since you will, undoubtedly, be caught up with reforms rather than amassing wealth, as you have just stepped into office, I thought I should tell you a little bit about your awaam. As a dutiful child is expected to inform his parents about the changes happening in his life, I want to tell you about how we are living now. We, your children, have finally installed a generator at home. Despite living in a posh area of the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, there are many unannounced and unscheduled power cuts here. The long absences of electricity are felt immensely by all of us and we suffer brutally. We have waited for years for the governments to resolve the power crisis, but this has not happened thus far. I am from a middle class family where huge investments - such as buying a generator - are not easy and we have to think long and hard before committing to such extravagant expenses. Coming from an educated family, we have always considered our actions holistically; whether they are on the right course and whether our decision would be considered as one made by a good citizen. But in this case, we had to give in; the heat is getting unbearable and so is the energy crisis. We had initially installed a UPS, which seemed like a tiny miracle in itself, bringing fans and lights to life despite the power cut. At that time, we were ready to bear the hardships for the cause of our nation. Being naïve, we believed in the promises made time and time again. Sadly after these same promises broken at the same rate by our government, our patience has worn away. I am not blaming one person here; it is not entirely one leader's fault. The blame rests with your class - the people who have had power for years; who have had the power to bring change and within whom the people power oscillates (there is rarely any real change in your echelons). As a citizen of this country, I would like to say thanks to our great President Ziaul Haq who introduced the concept of loadshedding Back then, I remember there being only one hour of scheduled load shedding. Dear leaders of today, can you give my children the same facility now? Can you give my students that peace of mind, that if they happen to take an unscheduled nap, they will still be able to submit their assignments on time, or be prepared for an exam the next day? Can you give the nation an uninterrupted eight hours of sleep? I don't think you realise the responsibility you have towards your people because you do not feel the same hardship as they do. Do you get eight hours of sleep - sleep that is not interrupted by power cuts and is void of worries pertaining to your livelihood? I am sure you do. Can you give our senior citizens the guarantee that the sacrifices they made for the independence of this state were worthwhile? Why don’t you make a deal with your nation; you give us an improved lifestyle and we will do something in return for you. Our youngsters will be able to study harder and bring pride to Pakistan through their educational achievements; being rested with uninterrupted electricity at night, we will go to work refreshed and will boost Pakistan's GDP; if you give us our right to electricity, we will make Pakistan brighter. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, you, as a businessman would know better than me about how to cut costs and effectively utilise resources; please make use of your skills for the betterment of the nation. We really need it. We don’t expect you to buy cheap electricity from another state; we have enough resources to work miracles for us. We would not mind if you get cheap electricity for a little while only as relief for us, we will consider it our Eidi, but we want a permanent, effective and indigenous solution that which is not imported. I promise, we will keep our end of the deal if you keep yours. I promise we will work hard, we will do all we can for the improvement of our nation only if you support us. It has been 65 years and things are not improving, in fact, rather than going forward we have put the gear in reverse. I hope, dear leaders, that you won’t take our plea lightly. I will be waiting for a positive response from you. Sincerely, Your children, your awaam.

    power cut (Reuters)power cut (Reuters)

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    The people of Northern Pakistan do not just reside on a higher altitude; in fact they are above us in many ways. They are healthier, wealthier and wiser. The northern areas of Pakistan, in addition to being one of the most beautiful places on earth, house some of the most brilliant people in our country (some of whom I’ve had the privilege to meet). Although I have had many friends from this area, I came abreast with their true potential and capabilities about six months ago, when I attended a residential youth camp with participants from all over Pakistan. A considerable number of participants had their roots in the northern areas. Their array of talents ranged from academics and social work to sports and even politics. If you think of them like I did - as shalwar-kameez clad, conservative people - then your view is about to change, forever. The northern areas of Pakistan consist of the Gilgit-Baltistan region, with Hindukush, Karakoram and western Himalayas guarding it on the north and south respectively. It borders to the north with Afghanistan and China, to the south with India and Azad Kashmir and to the west with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Populated by 1,800,000 people (according to 2008 census), the territory of present-day Gilgit–Baltistan became a separate administrative unit in 1970 under the name of Northern Areas, formed by the amalgamation of the Gilgit Agency, the Baltistan District of the Ladakh Wazarat, and the states of Hunza and Nagar. On August 29, 2009, the Pakistani cabinet passed the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order, 2009, which was later signed by the President. The order contracted self-rule to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan, by creating an elected Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly among other things. Gilgit–Baltistan thus gained de facto province-like status without constitutionally being a province. When education is a national emergency, the literacy rate of the region is considerably higher than the rest of the country, and whatever the demographic facts might say, the people are sincere towards education with over 2,100 schools and educational institutions, most of them are community-based with primary and secondary schools and adult education centres. The people have formed various community-based programs with help from NGOs and strongly believe that they can solve their problems creatively and peacefully. But sadly, Pakistan has not integrated them further in the country’s affairs on the grounds of its international obligations over the Kashmir dispute. Consequently, these enlightened people do not have the right to vote in the Senate and National Assembly. In spite of all the stereotypes about them, the people of northern areas continue to show a rather educated, constructive and liberal face of Pakistan to the world. The most recent examples are of Natasha Baig from Hunza being selected as one of the only six participants in the show Cornetto Music Icons from all over Pakistan and Samina Baig also from Hunza who became the Pakistani woman to conquer the peak of Mount Everest. Apart from these two in the field of sports, the northern areas have given Pakistan a female arm-wrestling champion and a few international female cricketers. Another example is of Hina Hazrat from Chitral, a student in Karachi University, who founded The Youth Republic, a global youth network spread across 135 countries, which bagged the runner-up award in the World Youth Summit, 2012 in Canada, competing with 1224 entries from 122 UN member states who submitted their projects in the global contest. The Youth Republic’s most recent initiative, Parinday, which focuses on Indo-Pak friendship, is co-founded by Hina Hazrat and the music icon Natasha Baig. Yet another example is of Saeeda Mirbaz Khan, who after writing a 100-page essay for an international competition, came out a winner, beating 1900 essays from 25 countries. She was honoured by the then prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, and was inducted as youth governor of Gilgit-Baltistan in the National Youth Assembly. Judging from the above, women empowerment seems to be thriving in the northern areas, when it has yet to find a way even in the most educated and posh locales of urban Pakistan. The list of their contributions is endless. But we find it easier to marginalise people instead of acknowledging their talents. Six months ago, my whole perception about these people changed forever. Now, I know that northern areas of Pakistan are synonymous with education, dedication to their country and empowerment.


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    Women’s suffrage is the right of women to vote. In primitive societies, women have always been denied basic rights, however, the struggle to snatch what is theirs has never ceased. The movement for women’s suffrage started in France around the end of the eighteenth century and by the twenty-first century, there is no part of the world where women were barred from voting – except, of course, Pakistan. Yesterday, much was happening in the country because of the by-polls, not only socially but also politically, as women from various areas of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa were not permitted to go out and cast their votes. Reportedly there were dozens of polling stations for women, where not even a single vote was cast as the elders of the jirga agreed upon not letting the women out of their houses as it could damage their ghairat (dignity) and was totally against Pakhtoon culture. What is even more shocking is that a few political parties were even supporting the decision of the jirga and tried to convince people who were of the opinion that women should cast the votes against this. A few local religious heads also declared that there is no need for women to come out against their values and cast vote, as their vote “doesn’t matter at all” and that “men can better decide the fate of the country” by choosing who to vote for. Our country is an Islamic-democrat which means two forces are acting here: Islam and democracy. It is totally beyond my comprehension to decide which of the two forces is against the basic rights of women. Islam gives equal rights to women in such matters and so does democracy. So where does the problem lie? Does it lie in the wrong interpretation of religion? Or in the misuse of laws? Or in culture? If it’s the latter, why does the culture feel threatened if women decide who to vote for and cast it? By any parameters of reason and logic, it cannot be determined that voting is of any harm to the culture or a blemish on the dignity of the family. If the objection is on moral grounds, we are fully aware that there are many other things happening openly in our society whose immorality is well established. From brothel-houses to secret bars for men and all sorts of liberty with things that are strictly against religious, social and moral codes for almost all societies, are not issues for men. When men harass women at home and at the work-place, it never becomes a matter of honour. Also, when the same men stay back at home and let their women go out to win bread for the family and be exploited in many ways, there is no issue of cultural codes but when it comes to the basic rights of voting or education or even having an opinion of their own, the ghairat is seriously damaged? When it comes to essays and debates, it’s very easy to chant that women are an equal and important part of society; they should be given respect and freedom and so on. However, it’s easier said than done. Unfortunately, when the time comes, the same culture which we take pride in, the same families which we serve all our lives, the same elders for whom we make every effort to please and comfort, stand in the way of women. Let’s not be hypocrites and pick and choose at our own convenience. When we compare our country with the rest of the world in matters related to economy, technology and other facilities, we should also compare it in terms of basic human rights. When for the others it is women’s suffrage, it should not be in any way “Women’s Suffer-age” in our country.

    women voters- INP-FILEwomen voters- INP-FILE

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    “It’s just a blast, not the end of the world”
    This statement, made by Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa ex-information minister Shaukat Yousafzai, on a suicide attack killing 16 people shows arrogance, ignorance and lack of experience to run a government in a stressful situation. It isn't surprising, thus, that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) lost badly in the biggest ever by-elections in Pakistani history. They lost both the seats vacated by its Chairman Imran Khan with Ghulam Ahmad Bilour emerging as victor of the seat NA-1 in Peshawar and Ubaidullah Khan Shadi Khel (PML-N) of NA-71 in Mianwali. Tragic news indeed for PTI. So, how exactly did they lose? Bad decisions: Locking horns with Maulana Fazlur Rehman Imran Khan locked horns with Maulana Fazlur Rehman in hopes of taking the space of the broken MMA in the general election, betting on support from the Jamaat-e-Islami and undeclared support from the TTP. This was a gross miscalculation on his behalf, as being a right wing party this wasn’t the best strategy. Maulana used demagoguery (emotion) in reaction and won many over with this tactic. This left the space open for a secular party like ANP to use the Maulana’s reaction to win over the seats that the Maulana couldn't! 'Speaking' with the enemy: The Taliban infatuation  Imran Khan stated many times that the harsh stance towards the Taliban is the only reason the people of KPK have been suffering and that his soft method of dialogue can work on these “monsters of death”. This was another miscalculation, which threw all pro-Taliban argument out of the window when they, the Taliban, successfully carried out the DI Khan jail break, inhumanly decapitated Shia prisoners and committed other shameless atrocities. The PTI government specifically asked the media not to use the word “condemnation” in their “we are concerned” press statement on the incident. This did not resonate with people as PTI's method of 'speaking' with the enemy clearly failed. Broken promises: The farce of change in 90 days Voters in KPK in specific and in Pakistan in general, were under the impression that the PTI had a proactive team ready, with their homework in hand, to come up with some radical changes in the system from day one. Imran Khan’s so-called “change in 90 days” jingle, however, became a joke when his team started using bitter old lines like, “it is worse than we expected”. They didn't deliver and the people made note. Power to the Jamaat: Weakness to PTI   To hold power in KPK, Imran Khan had earlier presented Jamaat-e-Islami with the education ministry - a ministry in which Khan also planned to put the biggest chunk of his budget. To be able to teach their ideology to children has always remained a lifelong dream for the Jamaat. Fortunately, the PTI later overturned this decision, but the damage was done. PTI had alienated possible secular voters; what PTI may not have realised is that in its efforts to further please Jamaat-e-Islami, its liberal voters, who had severe reservations about Jamaat-e-Islami’s ideology, were left stunned and dejected. This caused ripples in the vote bank. Sore losers: Blame it all on 'rigging' No serious analyst predicted more than 30 to 40 seats to go to the PTI for the national assembly in the general elections, but Imran Khan kept claiming an imminent white wash of his self-titled tsunami. Apparently, and not surprisingly, this never happened. Now, the Pakistani voter has grown tired of listening to the “R” word (rigging) after every election. Yes, no one is saying that the last general elections were all 'clean and pure' but people find it difficult to believe PTI’s rhetoric about the elections being rigged everywhere except KPK; this sore loser attitude did not sit well with voters. It all boils down to indecisiveness Quite visibly, the PTI leadership is indecisive about whether they should act as a strong, staunch, loud opposition in the national assembly, or as a model provincial government in KPK. If PTI’s election campaigns were to be believed, they had portrayed themselves as visionaries and bearers of a national model for the country. Now, however, to tailor itself to a province that is underdeveloped, conservative and under constant attack from religious miscreants, is proving to be no easy feat. Ostensibly, it’s not an easy road ahead for the PTI at all. ANP and Maulana Fazlur Rehman will make life hard for Chief Minister Pervez Khattak and his coalition government in KPK. At the centre, PTI will be facing experienced rivals like the PPP and PML-N and to make matters worse, the media will be scrutinising every single tongue slip, promise and slogan of ‘change’ as per the election campaign, to see if it matches PTI’s ‘before elections’ stance. Many “career politicians” and “seasonal birds” will steer away from the PTI towards other “juicy” options. This can already be seen in the rise of organisational discipline issues in KPK, making it harder for the leadership to sort things out without compromising the adhesiveness of the party. Having said as much, it is without a doubt that PTI’s inclusion to the Pakistani political sphere was a positive sign for the country. The fact that PTI was able to stir a sleeping country back to consciousness and make them start believing in dying concepts like democracy and parliamentary politics shows the change that has already taken place in our political history. However, it is now time for PTI to recall its leadership to the drawing board, come up with a well agreed strategy and well thought modus operandi; they cannot skate by on rhetoric any longer because the people are looking, and as is proven by the results of the by-election, they don't like what they are seeing.

    Imran khan (afp) maafiImran khan (afp) maafi

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    Imagine a place that has contrasting images of lush green landscapes with rugged mountains as a backdrop and multiple rivers flowing through its land, yet its people have little or no water to drink. Such is the life of the people in, the infrastructurally impaired but visually appealing, Malakand District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The district holds ample importance geographically, as it strategically acts as a gateway to Swat, Dir, Chitral and Bajaur from Peshawar. Keeping its importance in mind, many development projects have been discussed, planned and debated upon but few have seen the light of day up till now. For the people of the district, terrorism was a major issue but now they are also suffering tremendously from lack of infrastructure and facilities - and one such deprivation is that of clean water for drinking and domestic usage. The surrounding areas of the Malakand bypass include multiple residential colonies, where people have to scavenge for every drop of water they can find, either through rivers or under the ground via their trusty hand pumps. This dilemma is a result of inaccessibility of pure water to the residents, as the sewerage and pipeline system for the area is almost non-existent. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="601"] A girl walks past a broken pipelines. Photo: Junaid Ali Khan[/caption] Government officials are usually keen on giving statistical data for everything, showing how much has been spent on what over the years, at least on paper. Therefore it came as no surprise when the Public Health Department official, Mr Muhammad Arif Khan, shared that Rs500,000 had been allocated from which a pipeline, two transformers and two pure water sewerage plants had been built and installed by the former provincial government, in collaboration with the Public Health Department. These projects have not been of much avail to the masses. This was because the pure water sewage plant required constant and vigilant supervision, for which the government was unable to provide competent staffers and workers. A scheme was also introduced asking those individuals who had donated their land for the projects to come and work for the government and supervise the projects, but only few people became interested in this scheme, and soon enough the plant died down, stopping the water supply to the area due to inadequate human resource. The residents voiced their discomfort in agony because there was no sign of water in the said pipelines, which were embedded two years ago. This was perhaps one of the many blunders which the former K-P government had made, making life more of a challenge than a blessing for these people.

    ‘We fill water continuously using the hand pumps but that can be very hectic and straining for us.’ said one of the residents.
    The people hold the Awami National Party (ANP) responsible for their woes. The few pipelines which did exist in the area were either destroyed or stolen by thieves and hooligans, and the remaining ones have become homes to the local rats. Needless to say, there has been no official inspection from any government employee so far and the people continue to bitterly search for water. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="601"] Children look for water. Photo: Junaid Ali Khan[/caption]
    ‘It’s like we live in a jungle’, one resident protested.
    The height of incompetence was when government officials were approached with this matter and they blatantly accused the public itself for the issue, stating that these people seem little interested in working for the project or taking a connection from the water plant, due to which the department stopped the supply. Later on, it was conveniently concluded that if the people really were facing major issues, the department would be informed about it and that they would then work on providing more pipelines to the area. The Malakand district - with its scenic beauty and rich history - can be turned into a major tourist attraction. However, when it’s local people are facing so many crises and the government isn't bothered, then how can anyone deem to establish Malakand as a tourist point? Hence, for now the people have to live with their primitive ways to satisfy even their most basic needs while their government portrays itself as marching forward to a brighter, progressive future.


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    Islamabad silently bore witness to the brutal murder of an entire Australian-Pakistani family, including a seven-year-old boy, last Monday. The police suspect that the family was killed over a familial land dispute. Apparently, a branch of Mr Khan’s extended family stood to inherit several large tracts of land in the event of his and his children’s death, so in a heinous act of greed and cowardice, the whole family was strangled and left in the bushes.  According to the news, the bodies of Amir Ullah Khan, his daughter Romana aged 17, and his sons Adam aged 14 and Haider aged seven, were found dumped in bushes in Bhoray Shah, on Islamabad's leafy middle-class southern outskirts. Their hands and feet had been bound, their mouths taped, and they had been strangled to death with thin wire. The bodies of Nadia, Amir's wife, and a family servant named Asghar, were found similarly dumped in a nearby suburb. While Mrs Amir's body showed signs of being strangled, Asghar's body showed stab wounds. What do you do when one fine morning you read something like this in the newspaper and that too about someone who has been your friend and colleague? Someone whom you know to be the nicest and most humble person on earth? Amir and his family were the epitome of ‘perfect’; they were people you were proud to be associated with, the sort you always wanted to stay in touch with. Needles to say, I was completely shattered by the news. How can life possibly return to normal after an incident like this? How can one resume their faith in people, in goodness, in life itself? What wouldn't I give to go back in time just to see those little angels and their loving parents? The world does not know what it has lost with the murder of Amir Ullah Khan. Although words cannot do justice in describing the qualities of this man, I feel as if I owe him a least this much. The world needs to know about his exuberant personality, his commitment to his work, his endless love towards his family and friends, and his never-ending tales that could send anyone into fits of laughter. People longed to meet Amir and wouldn't stop talking about him long after meeting him – that’s just how remarkable a person he was. I met Amir way back in 2006, at an orientation session for new entrants into the company. He was the speaker for one of the most complicated and mind-boggling topics - ‘The Telecom Technology’. All of us - especially the non-technical people in the session - thought that we would be subject to the most boring lecture for the next hour or so. However, the podium was then taken by one of the most impressive individuals that I have ever come across, who just seemed so passionate about his work that we all straightened up in our seats. The energy he brought into that room was actually palpable and I am sure that he left at least a few of us regretting the fact that we had not taken up engineering as our career option. I knew Amir for almost seven years and in those years I realised that he lived a very content life with his beautiful wife Nadia and three lovely, bright and well-mannered children. I met his family for the first time at a painting competition that I had organised for employees and their families at the company where we worked. I distinctly remember how much he enjoyed participating in the competition and playing musical chairs. He definitely set the tone for all fathers that day and made us realise once again how important family is. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Amir Ullah Khan was a true inspiration, a mentor for many, and that his humility and generosity rubbed off on everyone around him. Just the thought of that dark night when this tragedy was taking place is enough to send shivers down my spine.  I keep thinking about all that must have happened in their house. How Amir must have tried to save his wife and children; how their faces must have contorted in fear; how their helpless screams must have ended in an eerie silence. I try so hard to think of the last time I met them; how happy and cheerful they seemed then. However, try as I might, all I can think of is how the light must have gone out of their eyes in those last moments. I keep thinking,

    “Why was this pain inflicted upon them? What did they do to deserve this?”
    My only consolation lies in the fact that none of them lived to suffer the trauma of living without their loved ones. It seems callous, I know, but surviving such a tragedy – reliving it each moment for the rest of their lives, missing those who did not survive – would perhaps, have been more painful. Nafeesa Inayatullah Khattak, who happens to be Mr Khan’s aunt and a Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) parliamentarian, gave a statement saying that the murders over land were senseless and destructive. Furthermore, she said that she was confident that the killers could be identified, but not that they would be brought to justice. She said,
    “This is Pakistan, everything is for sale. The judges are for sale, the investigators. These cases can be delayed, people get away without punishment.”
    Although Ms Khattak has urged the Australian government to put pressure on Pakistani authorities in order to ensure a thorough investigation of the case, I remain as hopeless as she does; and my only prayer is,
    “May the Khans rest in peace.”

    Family cover finalFamily cover final

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