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Believe it or not: Employment trends – PBS data that cannot be relied on

Sun, 04/13/2014 - 10:44

ISLAMABAD: 

No data can be more inaccurate and misleading than the one produced about employment trends by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) in coordination with provincial bureaus. There seems to be no correlation between growth and unemployment, presenting a unique case study for economic theorists.

The latest PBS’s report, Pakistan Employment Trends 2013, bizarrely presents low unemployment levels even in the years when the expansion in national output was below or close to the population growth rate. In 2012-13, the population growth was 2%.

The report also exposes triviality of the official data that is compiled by relying on faulty definitions, just to show that unemployment trends are consistent with previous years.

To start with, the definition of employee says, “anyone over the age of 15, who worked at least one hour during the reference period and was either paid-employed or self-employed”.

The mandarins sitting at the helm of affairs in the PBS also treat a person as employed who is jobless but helping his family member in routine work. The contributing family worker is one “who works without pay in cash or in kind on an enterprise operated by a member of his household or other related persons”.

By banking on these outdated definitions, the PBS produces interesting data on the country’s unemployment rate.

In 2006-07, when the country’s economy was booming and growth touched 5.5%, unemployment stood at 5.1%, according to the PBS. Next year, the pace of growth slowed down to 5% and unemployment rate too dropped to 5%, making it a classical case study for the economists.

Then in 2008-09, the country’s economy was in tatters. Pakistan was on the verge of default and a $500 million loan from the Asian Development Bank released on September 30, 2008 helped the new PPP government avoid default on international payments.

In this financial year, economic growth slipped to 0.4%, probably a very rare phenomenon. But the good news was – for the policymakers only – that joblessness inched up slightly to 5.2%.

In 2009-10, the country was struck by devastating floods that submerged one-fifth of total land. That year, the pace of growth increased to 2.6% and unemployment hit 5.3%.

Next year, the PBS said, the economy recovered from the widely destructive floods and national output expanded 3.7%. On the other hand, unemployment rate was 5.7%.

The PBS did not produce jobs data for financial year 2011-12. Last available figures were for previous fiscal year 2012-13. In that period, the economy grew 3.6% but jobless rate also rose to 6%.

Informal economy

“Two parallel economies are running in Pakistan – one is a formal economy and another is informal economy that is providing cushion even in times of distress,” said Dr Rashid Amjad, former vice chancellor of the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics and a professor at the Lahore School of Economics.

Amjad attributed the low unemployment levels in times of economic slowdown to distress employment (people who are forced to work due to hard times), increasing female participation in rural areas and the informal economy that was creating jobs at a time when economic theories suggested that the unemployment rate should be in double digits.

The PBS’s insistence on counting contributing workers and own-account workers – say self-employed workers – as employed is keeping the unemployment rate low.

Own-account workers make up 35% of the total employed, constituting the third biggest force in total employment. The share of agricultural sector was the highest at 42.2% last year.

Vulnerabilities

In terms of vulnerabilities, nine out of 10 employed in the agricultural sector are considered vulnerable that speaks volumes about authenticity of the official data. Vulnerable employment is measured as the proportion of own-account workers and contributing family workers in total employment.

The government needs to restructure the PBS in a bid to ensure transparency and enhance confidence of data users in jobs figures. This will also help in framing economic policies that could address people’s problems instead of widening the divide between the haves and the have-nots.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 14th, 2014.

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Categories: Pakistan & World News

PPP leader discredits Gallup Pakistan survey that shows PML-N govt in favourable light

Sun, 04/13/2014 - 09:46

LAHORE: Surveys projecting the comparative popularity of political parties and their leaders should not only be credible but also perceived to be so, and the latest Gallup Pakistan survey does not fulfil this requirement, said Mian Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo  in a statement issued by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Secretariat.

The former federal minister was referring to a recent Gallup Pakistan survey, which concluded that a majority of Pakistanis believe that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government is running the country better.

Wattoo claims that 12 to 18 hours of power outage, inflation and the rise in crimes are enough to discredit the survey.

He also singled out the Punjab Youth Festival, arguing that substantial funds were spent on something ‘futile’.

The three-time former chief minister of Punjab also stated that the survey implicitly discredits the governance in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), where, according to him, the public’s approval rating was more than 57%.

Calling into question the mechanism of conducting the survey, the statement said that it was easy to manipulate the results through the framing of the questions. The PPP claims that the survey seems to have employed such measures to obtain “pre-determined conclusions” to favour one party over others.

Wattoo maintained that the “sponsored assessment” was not going to help the government, suggesting that it should focus its attention on solving the problems of the people.

He also stated that the public was not better off now than it was during the PPP government when at least goods of common use were available at moderate process, and there was no domestic load shedding of gas.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Gunmen kill 2 members of Hazara community in Quetta

Sun, 04/13/2014 - 05:32

QUETTA: Gunmen in Quetta shot dead two Shia Muslims who had emigrated from neighbouring Afghanistan almost a decade ago to escape violence there, police said Sunday.

Two men opened fire Saturday night on the family, from Afghanistan’s Hazara community, who were at a bus station in Quetta preparing to travel to Karachi.

“A man of about 65 years of age and his 18-year-old grandson were killed in the firing at the bus terminal at Sariyab road,” Imran Qureshi, a senior police official, told AFP.

Two other men and two women family members managed to run away and take shelter. The gunmen escaped on a motorbike.

Qureshi said the family had migrated from Afghanistan almost a decade ago to escape war in their homeland.

 


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Peace talks: Govt decides to release 12 'non-combatants'

Sun, 04/13/2014 - 03:03

ISLAMABAD: The federal government on Sunday decided to release 12 of the ‘non-combatants’ mentioned on a prisoners’ list provided by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), sources told Express News.

The TTP is said to have shared with government negotiators a list of Taliban ‘non-combatants’ – mostly women, children and the elderly – who they claim are in the custody of the security forces. The government has also called for the release of some high-profile figures held hostage by the TTP.

The release of ‘non-combatant’ detainees, as demanded by the TTP, has been a contentious issue from the outset – with some officials having earlier denied that security forces are even holding any non-combatants.

Sources said that the 12 prisoners government was likely to release in the next few days did not include any important commander.

TTP intermediary Professor Ibrahim said he has no confirmation of this decision and that he can only ask TTP to release prisoners held in their custody once he has the names of those released and that they were mentioned on the TTP list.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Faith trial: Counsel for blasphemy suspect threatened in court

Sun, 04/13/2014 - 01:21

MULTAN: 

A lawyer defending a blasphemy suspect has said he received threats during court proceedings as well as afterwards.

Rashid Rehman, counsel for Junaid Hafeez, told The Express Tribune that he had been threatened by five people over 48 hours, telling him to drop the case.

Rehman said Zulfiqar Sindhu and Sajjad Ahmed, who were representing the prosecution, had threatened him and told him not to come to the court again.

He said that three unidentified men had also told him, during the hearing of the case on Friday, that he would not be able to come to court to defend the suspect. One of them was later identified as Ayub Mughal.

Rehman said his complaint and statements of witnesses would be submitted to the Multan CPO.

Another lawyer, Allah Dad, who was present at the court, said he was witness to the threats and would record his statement with the city police officer.

Sindhu and Ahmed denied the allegations. They said they had made no death threats. Had that been the case, they said, the judge would have charged them with contempt of court.

Junaid Hafeez has been accused of committing blasphemy using his facebook account. The case is being heard at the Multan Central Prison. The hearing was shifted from the district court to a special court due to death threats to judges, lawyers and the suspect.

At the hearing on Friday, lawyers and witnesses had accused government and the Prisons department of allowing unrelated people in the court.

Several civil society members and lawyers gathered at Nawan Shehar square and marched to the press club.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 13th, 2014.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

All in: ANP senator vows to cooperate in peace process

Sun, 04/13/2014 - 01:08

PESHAWAR: 

Awami National Party (ANP) Senator Haji Muhammad Adeel on Saturday said his party desired peace, whether it comes from dialogue with the militants or an operation against them.

Talking to the media during the inaugural ceremony of Children Surgery Operation Theatre at Lady Reading Hospital, the ANP central leader said they are ready to extend cooperation to the government in this regard.

Approximately Rs30 million has been allocated from the Senate Fund for the new operation theatre which will have five beds to manage as many surgeries at one time.

Senator Adeel said the government had agreed on peace talks in the all-parties conference but despite there being a lapse of several months, the situation is still the same. “It would have been better if the government had taken Parliament into confidence over the peace dialogue issue.”

He said that almost 1,000 ANP workers have been ‘martyred’, but they are ready to forgive their blood for the sake of peace in the country.

Also present at the occasion, Minister for Industries Shaukat Ali Yousafzai said terrorism has afflicted the province and the impact is also felt in its industrial sector, unless the federal government provides privileges and security.

“The government must lift the ban on new gas connections and provide subsidised electricity to factories.”

Published in The Express Tribune, April 13th, 2014.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Analysis: In our self interest

Sun, 04/13/2014 - 00:42

For the last six months or so a major part of our mainstream independent media has overly, but to a large extent very rightly, been preoccupied with two topics of foremost national importance: Talks with the Taliban and Musharraf’s trial.

And for understandable reasons, while making informed and more often than not, not-so-well informed guesses in our reports, comments and analyses, most of us find it almost impossible to avert discussing the role and the interest of the armed forces in the related developments.

It is, of course, but natural for most of us not to resist the temptation of being guided by our history, especially the history of our civil-military relationship or to be more precise the Nawaz-army relations in the immediate past while forming our opinions or when trying to read between the lines while reporting the two topics as well as covering and interpreting relevant statements, speeches and press notes.

So, it is again almost impossible for most of us not to see red in the relationship while discussing the two topics; as it is the army which has been calling all the shots in major policy matters all these 66 years and also that the institution has perceived to have never allowed the superior judiciary to hold any of its past chiefs accountable for taking liberties with the Constitution.

In undemocratic societies – societies that are rooted in tribal or feudal customs – power is not conceded, but snatched. This has been our custom as well until about the 2008 general elections. Subsequently, for the first time ever we saw the superior judiciary breaking out of shackles of the executive. And one could clearly see a willingness on the part of the omnipotent army institution to learn to live within its constitutional limits. Meanwhile, an already liberated media became even more vibrant. The result was the first ever peaceful democratic transition in Islamabad.

But then you cannot switch on or switch off political pre-dominance of the army overnight. Withdrawal from such a dominant position is a long drawn process even if the successor civilian dispensation possesses the capacity to formulate major national policies and has the ability to govern efficiently.

This is called the transition process – as the successor civilians learn the ropes of governance the politically predominant institution that used to issue orders learns to take orders, sometime from seemingly civilian novices.

Such a situation is bound to result in disagreements, discord and misunderstandings. Take for instance the issue of talks with the Taliban. The talks cannot bear fruit without meaningful strategic input by the army in the agenda for negotiations and how to go about handling post-negotiations aftermath. There is a vast potential in the process to give rise to even acrimonious debates. Similarly, there would be many in the institution who would certainly feel bad about their former chief facing judicial indictment.

This is where I think the media comes in. Being an essential cog in the democratic machine, it is in our essential institutional self-interests that the ongoing democratic transition is not halted or harmed. So, without giving up our watchdog role could we not try not to sharpen the differences between the civilian dispensation and the army in our news reports, our opinion pieces, our analyses, our comments and more importantly our talk-shows?

I know, we being essentially a market-driven entity today and each of us competing to be the highest rated news and views vehicle, it would be almost impossible for us or for our media owners to accept willingly to be left behind in this race to be the first with the most sensational disclosures.

But then, I am not sure if the army had really wanted to save Musharraf from indictment, it would have allowed the matter to linger on for such a long time – to a point where the Special Court had to issue warrant of arrest for a person perceived to have been given sanctuary in the AFIC by the institution itself.

And if the army was against giving another chance to peace negotiations, it would not have waited the advent of the Nawaz government but launched an all-out operation against the Taliban when the US was accusing it of playing a double game.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 13th, 2014.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Deadly infighting: Warring Taliban factions cease fire

Sun, 04/13/2014 - 00:28

ISLAMABAD / SHABQADAR: 

Infighting in the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which has claimed dozens of lives over the week, has come to an end, Taliban intermediary Maulana Yousaf Shah said on Saturday. 

Bloody clashes erupted between Waliur Rahman Group, led by Khan Said alias Sajna, and Hakimullah Group, led by Shehryar Mehsud, on Monday in South Waziristan Agency and quickly escalated to neighbouring North Waziristan and Tank district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. According to independent sources, 43 fighters from both sides have been killed so far.

“A jirga has brokered peace between the two groups. The two sides have settled their differences and ended hostilities,” Maulana Yousaf Shah, the coordinator of the TTP intermediary committee, told reporters in Shabqadar.

However, sources told Daily Express that the two groups have only agreed on a one-month ceasefire and that the Haqqani Network played a key role in brokering the truce. On the other hand, senior Taliban leader Azam Tariq blamed the media for ‘exaggerating the Taliban infighting’.

Sources also told Daily Express that the warring groups have serious differences on the peace talks with the government and it would take some time to bring them on the same page vis-à-vis peace dialogue.

But Maulana Yousaf Shah denied any such split. “There are no differences among the Taliban groups over peace talks with the government,” he said. “All of them want the peace dialogue to be successful.”

Sources said the Taliban infighting was the main reason for the delay in the TTP Shura meeting. However, a government negotiator said that there were other reasons as well.

“The Taliban are calling for the release of their non-combatant prisoners – but the process has stopped following the release of some prisoners,” the government negotiator told Daily Express on the condition of anonymity. “Similarly, the demand for a ‘peace zone’ is also not acceptable to the government.” This, he said, might have put the TTP in a quandary.

Another government negotiator, Rustam Shah Mohmand, confirmed that there was a deadlock in the peace process. “There is very little hope this deepening impasse will break anytime soon,” he told Daily Express.

Taliban intermediary Maulana Yousaf Shah, however, insisted that the talks were on track. “There is no deadlock in the peace talks,” he said. “The negotiations are a time consuming process,” he said and called upon observers to show ‘patience’ in this regard.

About the second face-to-face meeting between the TTP Political Shura and the government negotiators, Shah said it was delayed for other reasons.

“I’m in close contact with members of both the Taliban and government negotiators… both [government officials and the TTP Shura members] have been busy,” he said, adding that the time and place for the second meeting would be finalised in the next two days. However, he urged both sides to prepare their agenda before the face-to-face meeting.

He expressed hope that the ceasefire announced by the Taliban – which officially expired recently – would remain in place till the conclusion of the peace process.

Maulana Yousaf Shah dismissed reports of a rift between the government and the military over the Taliban talks as ‘baseless’. “Like the Taliban, the government and the military are on the same page, and want peace talks to succeed,” he added.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 13th, 2014.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

8 dead, 4 injured in road accident near Sehwan

Sun, 04/13/2014 - 00:26

SEHWAN: In a tragic road accident on Indus Highway, eight people were killed while four others sustained injuries when a passenger bus was hit by a dumper truck, Express News reported on Sunday.

The engine of the passenger bus stopped working near Sehwan and the vehicle was parked on the road when the dumper coming from behind hit it.

Express News correspondent Nazar Ali reported that the parked bus was not visible to the dumper because of the untrimmed wild shrubs in the area. The driver of the dumper managed to escape after he hit the passenger bus.

The bus coming from Karachi was carrying residents of Madina Colony. The deceased include four children.

Earlier in March, multiple road accidents in Sindh on the National, Indus and Super highways resulted in the deaths of 11 passengers, while leaving almost 100 others injured.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Karachi to Hollywood: Pakistani visual effects artist wins third Oscar

Sat, 04/12/2014 - 23:33

KARACHI: 

Richard Parker swims in the Life of Pi ocean. Afterwards, the 10 million hair on the Bengal tiger’s body are wiped down, his fur gradually morphing from dripping wet to dry. In Frozen, we watch the little girl Elsa create snowfall and her enchanting ice world emerge. The line between fantasy and reality blurs, so real are the images. But this much is clear; the artist behind this graphic wizardry deserves the three Oscar awards he has received in six years.

The recognition from the industry for Pakistani visual effects artist, 38-year-old Mir Zafar Ali, has been nothing short of a dream come true. His latest Academy Award, for Frozen, was the first in the animation category for the Walt Disney Animation Studios. The 3D musical fantasy-comedy film is now the highest-grossing animated film in history, beating the Lion King and Toy Story 3. It has also made it to the top 10 biggest films, leaving far behind the likes of Star Wars and the Pirates of the Caribbean series.

Ali’s first Oscar came for The Golden Compass in 2008. He recalls the moment as being “very, very surreal.” “My wife Tamanna Shah was working at Paramount Studios at the time and we were invited to one of their Oscar parties. So we’re talking to people, having a good time and then the nomination for the best visual effects category came up and I almost dropped my drink when they announced The Golden Compass as the winner,” he said in a telephone interview with The Express Tribune.

It was a tough competition. They had been up against Transformers and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. “It took a good few seconds to sink in,” he recalled.

Ali’s forte is to mainly recreate natural phenomena such as water, fire, destruction and snow as well as visually recreate fantasy. This takes hundreds of hours of reference research, watching footage of natural phenomena such as tsunamis and storms and poring over science papers.

His second Academy Award came last year for the Life of Pi, a movie based on Yann Martel’s acclaimed novel. The Bengal tiger named Richard Parker stars in most sequences, although the real 300-pound tiger was only used when Pi and Richard are not in the same shot. The rest of the scenes consist of computer-generated images that give life to an extremely challenging script. It was in Life of Pi that a real animal and a digital one were used interchangeably for the first time. A team of 15 people were dedicated to creating just the fur by placing and combing all 10 million hair on his body.

But in the United States, even Oscar wins don’t promise job security. After the successes of Life of Pi and The Golden Compass, Ali found himself unemployed for some weeks. “After being in business for well over a decade, the company I worked for, Rhythm & Hues, filed for bankruptcy in 2013,” he said. “That was right after we won the Oscar for Life of Pi. There were major layoffs and I ended up on the chopping block after I wrapped up Percy Jackson 2 in April.”

The layoff came as a near blessing though and a couple of weeks later he was offered a job at Disney where he was assigned Frozen, leading to his second consecutive Oscar win. “The timing worked out perfectly for me.”

Ali grew up in Karachi watching a wide range of films and was particularly interested in science-fiction and fantasy movies. Jurassic Park  was his first main inspiration. “It completely blew me away!” he said.

He studied at the BeaconHouse School Systems and always wanted to go to art school. “But back in the day, going to art school wasn’t thought of as a good career move — hell, it’s still not thought of as a good career move,” he admitted. As a result, it took him a while to figure out what he wanted to do.

In A’ Levels, the visual effects artist studied what many students do out of a lack of a better choice – science. After that he enrolled at FAST, Karachi to study computer science. “Studying computer science seemed like the most logical step because I was best at Math and Sciences,” he said. “But in my last year at FAST, I realised I wasn’t fit for regular software engineering.”

Ali veered off into AutoCAD and 3d studio max classes, which “pretty much sealed the deal.” He didn’t bother looking for a regular software engineering job after graduating and instead took a short course in sculpture at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture and started looking for jobs in 3d animation. “I was lucky enough to land at Sharp Image — one of the best visual fx and post production houses in Pakistan.”

In the two years that Ali worked in Karachi, he took up countless commercials, from Safeguard to pesticides in farm lands. “I hated spring because most of the commercials we had were for these damn pesticides!”

It was in July 1999 that he took the courage to start again and enrolled in a BFA programme at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). This one step went a long, long way — from Karachi to Hollywood. “My family was very supportive of my decision and that was a huge thing considering that most of my relatives thought this was just a hobby and a waste of time.”

In the last quarter at SCAD, one of his professors, Garman Harigstad, who he says he owes much of his success to, told him about an entry-level visual fx artist position at Digital Domain.

Ali compiled a demo reel of his best work on projects at SCAD and sent it over. Two weeks after, he was on his way to Los Angeles to work on The Day After Tomorrow.

Since he brought a tsunami to New York in The Day After Tomorrow, Ali has given X-men’s Banshee his sonic scream and made monsters rise from the sea in Percy Jackson.

Now when he comes to Karachi he is not known as the crazy kid who wanted to study art but as the crazier man who created fantasy worlds that people back home love to lose themselves in.

Movies Mir Zafar Ali has worked on

2013 Frozen

2013 Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

2012 Life of Pi

2012 The Cabin in the Woods

2011 Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked

2011 X-Men: First Class

2011 Hop

2010 Yogi Bear

2009 Aliens in the Attic

2009 Land of the Lost

2008 The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

2008 The Incredible Hulk

2007 The Golden Compass

2007 Surf’s Up

2007 Spider-Man 3

2007 Ghost Rider

2006 Open Season

2006 Monster House

2005 Stealth

2004 The Day After Tomorrow

Source: IMDB

Published in The Express Tribune, April 13th, 2014.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Ban on YouTube: Govt decides to follow court’s ruling

Sat, 04/12/2014 - 23:26

ISLAMABAD: 

The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government has decided not to take any independent decision regarding lifting ban on video-sharing website YouTube.

An official in the ministry of information technology told The Express Tribune that the government would only follow the court orders.

“The government has decided to disregard both the recommendations of a parliamentary panel and the resolution moved by Pakistan Peoples Party’s MNA Shazia Mari in the National Assembly this week,” he added

A functional standing committee of Senate on Human Rights had recommended the government last month to lift ban on the service after necessary measures by Pakistan Telecommunication (PTA).

The PPP’s Shazia Mari had also moved a resolution in the lower house to initiate debate on YouTube but the speaker had not allowed her, saying that the  issue was currently pending before a  bench of the Lahore High Court (LHC).

However, Mari had argued that the court order did not restrict the government from lifting the ban.

“It is really disappointing that the government is ignoring this issue and trying to shift responsibility. YouTube is a source of knowledge for a large population of Pakistanis, particularly students and young professionals,” she added.

Meanwhile, the PPP’s Khurshid Shah, Senator Farhatullah Babar, MNA Shazia Mari along with representatives of civil society group ‘Bolo Bhi’ held a press conference to urge the government to unblock the website.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 13th, 2014.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Ruthless tactics: Body of abducted prayer leader found

Sat, 04/12/2014 - 23:17

PESHAWAR: 

The beheaded body of a prayer leader and schoolteacher, who was kidnapped a week ago from a mosque in Bazargai, Frontier Region (FR) Peshawar, was recovered from Zayri area of Jina Kor.

Local elders told The Express Tribune Mullah Younas had close ties with militants in the past but closed that chapter when he was arrested by security forces. He was later released after months in custody. At the time of the kidnapping, locals had suspected Younas was kidnapped over his suspected links with security forces.

“He was killed on Friday night and his body was found in Zayari with a note stating no one should remove the body till 8am today (Saturday),” said an elder, adding the severed head had been placed on the deceased’s chest to give a brutal message.

After the kidnapping last week, residents had said Younas taught at the local government school and was from the Zaka Khel sub-clan of the Hassan Khel Afridi tribe.

Most people, who can afford to do so, have left FR Peshawar for the settled areas and other provinces. After the incident, PAF jets bombed hideouts of militants in Kar Darra area of Hassan Khel. Locals said bombers targeted suspected militant positions in the mountains which are known to be used as militant bases.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 13th, 2014.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Pak-China Economic Corridor: Chinese team to visit Gwadar by end-April

Sat, 04/12/2014 - 22:59

ISLAMABAD: 

A high-level Chinese technical team will visit Gwadar by the end of this month to examine the deep seaport and infrastructure sites for the proposed Pakistan-China Economic Corridor.

This is for the first time top Chinese experts will examine the proposed roads and rail tracks for the economic corridor from Gwadar port, in Balochistan, to Kashgar, in China.

“We will arrange meetings and physical visits of the Chinese technical team at the port and infrastructure sites to examine technical feasibilities of infrastructure,” said Gwadar Port Authority (GPA) Chairman Dostain Khan Jamaldini.

This visit will be followed by another by officials of Chinese financial institutions – including China’s Exim Bank, the chief financier of the mega project – to set modalities for provision of funds to execute the project, he added. He said the technical team might give some suggestions for further improvement in infrastructure.

Pakistan has also asked the Chinese company – responsible for operating the Gwadar port – to submit the masterplan of a free trade zone along with a comprehensive business and marketing plan for the port to get a formal approval, which will pave way for starting businesses at the free trade zone of the port.

Under the short-term plan, the two countries want to develop the Gwadar port, whose control has already been given to China, in a bid to attract investment in different sectors to make it a hub of economic activity, especially for regional countries.

Some Chinese businessmen and investors have already visited Pakistan to explore trade opportunities in the free trade zone as well as in the proposed economic corridor.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 13th, 2014.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Additional charge to registrar: Top court to revisit ex-chief justice’s decision

Sat, 04/12/2014 - 22:54

ISLAMABAD: 

The Supreme Court has decided to review former chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry’s decision to give the additional charge of Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan’s (LJCP) secretary to the top court’s former registrar, Dr Faqir Hussain.

A three-judge bench – headed by Justice Jawwad S Khawaja – will also examine the appointment of LJCP’s incumbent secretary, Raja Ikhlaq Hussain, by the former top judge last year.

Hearing a five-year-old petition filed by the-then LJCP joint secretary, Malik Iqbal Ahmad, on October 28, 2009, the bench on Saturday asked whether any official – except for a federal government officer not below the rank of joint secretary – can be appointed LJCP’s secretary.

Ahmad had filed the petition against the rejection of his appeal by the Federal Service Tribunal (FST) and contended that he had not been considered for the post of LJCP secretary even though he had been working as LJCP’s senior most joint secretary.

Taking up the matter, which remained undecided during the tenure of the former chief justice, the bench directed Deputy Attorney General Sohail Mahmood to assist on this point and adjourned the hearing for two weeks.

Talking to The Express Tribune, a senior government official said that any decision of the court on this matter might affect the appointment of the incumbent LJCP secretary, who was a district and sessions judge prior to his appointment – in violation of Section 5 (1) of the Law & Justice Commission Ordinance 1979.

Section 5 (1) reads: “The commission shall have a separate secretariat to be headed by a secretary, who shall be an officer of the federal government not inferior in rank to a joint secretary to the federal government.”

The official, however, said that during the tenure of the former chief justice, the LJCP’s rules were amended and the chief justice was authorised to appoint anyone, including members of the bar, judicial officers, teachers etc, against the post of LJCP secretary.

Speaking on the issue, Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) president Kamran Murtaza said whenever a rule contravenes any basic law (ordinance) then the law prevails as it is the basic principle.

Meanwhile, the top court has also started reviewing the former chief justice’s judgments against parliamentarians whose membership were suspended by entertaining petitions under Article 184 (3) of the Constitution.

The apex court on Friday also accepted for preliminary hearing a petition against the alleged misuse of sou motu power by former CJ and requested to set parameters for future use.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 13th, 2014.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Rural schools: Solar power project put on the backburner

Sat, 04/12/2014 - 22:36

ISLAMABAD: 

A glimmer of hope that school buildings in the capital’s rural areas would soon have their lights on has faded to black after the transfer of the man behind the project.

Six months after the announcement of an Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) administration plan to install solar panels at schools in the capital’s rural areas, in collaboration with two oil companies, no headway has been made and the project now seems to have been put on the backburner.

The initiative was taken on Supreme Court orders.

The plan was started by former deputy commissioner Amir Ali Ahmed, who has since been transferred to the Capital Development Authority as the administration member.

The plan, if implemented, will not only help provide clean energy to school buildings, but also provide an opportunity to the younger generation to learn about the importance of sustainable energy.

The Supreme Court, in its order, had directed two companies exploring for oil and gas in rural areas of the capital to spend 10 per cent of their revenues on the social welfare of residents of the areas where any reserves are found.

Despite the lapse of six months, the ICT administration has failed to start the project, said an official close to the development.

He said Ahmed had held two meetings with officials from Oil and Gas Development Company (OGDC) and MOL, a Hungarian oil and gas company, which are surveying reserves in rural areas, and they had agreed to carry out the project.

“Since Ahmed left the office, the project has not progressed an inch,” said the official, adding that new Islamabad DC Mujahid Sherdil has not bothered to take up the issue with the companies.

He said that in the first phase of the project, more than 100 schools would have been hooked up with solar energy, and in the next phase, all remaining schools in these areas would be covered. There are a total of 275 schools in the capital’s rural areas.

Islamabad Model College for Boys Rawat Principal Bashir Arain confirmed that the administration has not installed solar panels in his school. He said that the students had to face constant loadshedding in the summer, and if the project had been carried out, it would have brought a great respite from the suffocating heat.

He said there were 650 students in his school alone and the number was expected to increase during the next session.

“Why would oil companies take interest in the project if the administration does not pursue it seriously,” said a school teacher while requesting not to be named.

“The government has miserably failed to facilitate students in rural areas,” said Muhammad Usman, a student of Islamabad Model School for Boys Kirpa.

The Express Tribune approached Sherdil at his office and via his cell phone, but he was not available for comment.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 13th, 2014.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Taliban non-combatants: Govt ponders proposal to set up special panel

Sun, 04/06/2014 - 17:06

ISLAMABAD: The government is considering setting up a special panel to investigate the cases of ‘non-combatant Taliban prisoners’ amid reports that the military leadership is reluctant to support the release of such inmates.

Last month the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) handed over a list of 300 detainees, including women and children, to peace negotiators and demanded they be freed before the fledgling peace process could pick up pace.

“A group or committee may be set up to investigate the cases of those in detention,” an official privy to developments told The Express Tribune on Sunday. He added that the proposal has been discussed but a final decision on the matter has yet to be taken.

The official asked not to be named in the report because he was not authorized to speak publically on the matter. However, a TTP intermediary also confirmed the development.

“The proposal to set up a committee to exclusively deal with the issue of non-combatants is among several suggestions under consideration,” said Prof Muhammad Ibrahim. “But no decision has been taken so far in this regard,” he added.

According to sources, the proposal was floated to address anomalies in dealing with the cases of non-combatants. The government doesn’t have the records of some of the prisoners on the Taliban’s list, they said.

On Saturday, the government decided to release a dozen more Taliban prisoners ahead of the second round of face-to-face talks with the TTP. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said that some of those to be released figured on the TTP list. The government set free 19 non-combatants earlier, but the Taliban said none of them were individuals they had asked for.

The security establishment, on the other hand, thinks it’s too early to free Taliban inmates. A senior security official told The Express Tribune that the government and the army were on board as far as talks were concerned but “more discussions are needed on the timing of prisoners’ release.”

“It appears that the Taliban are dictating the terms. Where in the world does this happen that a handful of people try to dictate the government,” the official asked while requesting anonymity.

Sources said the military leadership has grown increasingly concerned over the government’s move and believes such releases should have come after ‘tangible progress’ in talks.

“The release of Taliban prisoners has caused great resentment among those who are fighting militancy at the front line,” said another official. “Not only them, but the widows and families of martyred soldiers are upset over the development as well,” he added.

The official said the release of prisoners and other such matters should be an ‘end condition’ and not a ‘pre-condition’.

The army, The Express Tribune has learnt, still believes that the TTP and its affiliates are buying time and not sincere about striking a peace deal.

When asked, the military’s media wing refused to comment on the development saying only the government could talk about the release of prisoners.

A high-ranking government official, meanwhile, dismissed the suggestion that the army was upset over the release of prisoners. “How is it possible that prisoners have been released without the willingness of the army? You know whose custody these prisoners are in,” he asked.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 7th, 2014.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Express News bureau chief’s residence attacked

Sun, 04/06/2014 - 16:50

PESHAWAR: Masked men hurled a hand grenade at the house of Jamshed Baghwan, the Express News bureau chief in Peshawar, in the Murshiedabad neighbourhood of the city early Sunday morning.

The main gate of the house was damaged in the attack which happened just over two weeks after an explosive device was found and subsequently defused by the Bomb Disposal Squad near Baghwan’s house.

Around 6:25am two masked men riding on a motorcycle threw a hand grenade at the main gate of Baghwan’s house which went off with a loud bang.

According to the police, it was a China-made grenade. “We’ve registered an FIR on the complaint of Jamshed Baghwan,” an official of the Yakatot police station told The Express Tribune.

Talking about the 2kg device found on March 19 outside Baghwan’s house, he said that it was defused because it was spotted by the family on time.

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s Minister for Industries Shaukat Ali Yousafzai condemned the attack and ordered investigation.

Baghwan is a senior journalist and the attack on his house is, in fact, an attack on free media, Yousafzai said. It’s the government responsibility to protect journalists, he added and directed the city police chief to consult media persons and chalk out a security plan for them.

Meanwhile, the Khyber Union of Journalists (KhUJ) condemned the attack and demanded thorough investigation.

KhUJ President Nisar Mehmood and General Secretary Tariq Afaq said Baghwan is a senior journalist and such attacks would not be tolerated. The government should fulfill its responsibility to protect journalists.

The KhUJ will stage a demonstration outside the Peshawar Press Club at 1pm on Monday to protest against the attack.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 7th, 2014.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Int’l conference on rehabilitation: Govt committed to providing quality healthcare, says Mamnoon

Sun, 04/06/2014 - 02:01

RAWALPINDI: 

The government is making every possible effort to provide quality healthcare.

“Reaching out to calamity-hit people and their rehabilitation has always been our foremost priority,” President Mamnoon Hussain said on Saturday while addressing an international conference on physical medicine and rehabilitation, organised by the Armed Force Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine (AFIRM) here on Saturday.

The president also pointed out that, at times, such efforts were hampered by many factors including resource constraints.

“Sometimes, the magnitude and enormity of challenges is so huge that no single organisation can respond to them single-handedly,” he said.

“To put our thoughts into action, the government, civil society and the armed forces have to work in unison in areas such as rehabilitation services within the health sector,” he said.

“These rehabilitation efforts signify our collective conscientiousness in providing solace to the vulnerable and needy segments of the society.”

The president, while hailing the support of the international community, called for even greater commitment and support towards such noble causes. “Let us bring our collective goodness in making such endeavours a success,” he said and added, “Let’s make partnerships which will ensure the most optimum utilisation of resource to develop collaborative rehabilitation networks.”

The president also referred to the human and economic losses suffered by Pakistan due to the war on terror and urged the world community to realise its sacrifices in the war and help the country.

The president welcomed all the participants of the conference, especially those who had travelled from abroad to make the event truly international in its scope, content and significance.

He also appreciated the efforts of Chief of Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif and former army chief Gen (retd) Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani for patronising the noble cause and establishing modern facilities such as the AFIRM.

Hussain said Pakistan’s resilience could be gauged from the efforts that it had put into countering the effects of natural calamities and terrorism.

While these unfortunate events have left a tale of anguish and disability at individual levels, there have been consistent efforts made at institutional and collective levels to provide help to the affected people, he said.

Earlier, AFIRM further Maj-Gen Akhtar Waheed said the institute was providing rehabilitation facilities to the people affected by natural calamities and victims of war on terror.

He said with 29 specialists at the AFIRM, 16 departments were providing rehabilitation services to the affected people across the country. He said experts and delegates from over 20 countries were participating in the conference to share their experiences and expertise in the area of rehabilitation.

Dr James Gosney from the International Society of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine (ISPRM) highlighted pre- and post-disaster rehabilitation barriers and the measures required to overcome such barriers, particularly in the developing countries. 

Published in The Express Tribune, April 6th, 2014.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Medical maladies: In Pakistan, just being a doctor can get you killed

Sun, 04/06/2014 - 01:57

ISLAMABAD: 

In Pakistan, the medical profession can often become deadly for the practitioner. While regular reports of attacks on immunisation workers make the headlines, in the last three years, Karachi alone has seen over 100 doctors killed.

There is a also a need to revamp the existing health sector, which is suffering due to poor governance, corruption, lack of accountability, scarcity of professionals and lack of funds.

This was the crux of the inaugural session of the two-day, 23rd biannual International Convention of Pakistan Islamic Medical Association (PIMA), held on Saturday at Jinnah Convention Centre.

Around 1,500 doctors from across Pakistan are participating in the convention to share new ideas, challenges and to explore new avenues in the field of healthcare.

Health experts expressed concern over the health sector of the country, saying that if timely action was not taken to repair the “sinking ship”, havoc would ensue.

Talking to The Express Tribune, PIMA President Dr Misbahul Aziz, a former associate professor at Dow University of Health Sciences in Karachi, said Pakistan’s health sector is in shambles and need to be revamped from grassroots level.

He said day-by- day, the disease burden is alarmingly increasing, mainly because people do not have access to quality healthcare services, especially in far-flung areas.

“Considering the rate at which the population is increasing, there is a need to increase healthcare facilities accordingly. Existing public hospitals have old infrastructure and are unable to cater to the healthcare needs of every individual that walks in,” he said.

According to the Pakistan Economic Survey 2012-13, there are currently 1,207 hospitals, 5,382 dispensaries, 5,404 basic health units and 696 maternity and child health centres, 160,289 doctors, 12,544 dentists, 82,119 nurses, 101,173 hospital beds in Pakistan to cater to the healthcare needs of 180 million people. He said the situation of healthcare services in rural areas is the worst, as a majority of rural health centres (RHCs) lack doctors, medical staff, medicines, equipments, toilets, provision of clean drinking water, electricity etc.

“Due to poor infrastructure and lack of incentives, doctors are reluctant to work at rural health centres,” he said.

Dr Aziz was also concerned by the lack of training and capacity-building opportunities for medical students and professionals around the country.

“How can one expect a medical student to become a professional doctor when throughout his medical education, he keeps learning from books rather than practical work,” he said.

Sohail Akhtar, a senior pulmonologist and professor of medicine at Ziauddin Hospital, Karachi, told The Express Tribune that there are many doctors in Karachi who are scared to work because almost every day, two or three members of the medical fraternity receive extortion threats.

“If they fail to pay, they are killed,” he said.

Meanwhile, talking about the current health sector, he said there is need to focus on prevention, improving routine immunisation and strengthening primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare services.

He was also worried by the poor implementation of anti-tobacco laws, which he blamed for a rise in lung and oral cancer.

“Every month, two-to-three fresh cases of lung cancer come to me alone, so one can imagine how many go to other pulmonologists every day,” he said.

Prof Dr Mohammad Iqbal Khan, dean of Health and Medical Sciences at Azad Jammu and Kashmir University, Muzaffarabad, talked about the objectionable performance of the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PMDC) over the past few years.

“They are registering doctors who have never tended to a single patient and medical colleges that are being run in two-room houses in return for millions of rupees. Such ill-practices and corruption have defamed the medical profession nationally and internationally,” he said.

He was of the view that the doctors being produced by fake medical colleges will lead to a disaster for the upcoming generation.

Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Reforms Ahsan Iqbal said the government plans to double the budgets for health and education over the next five years to promote socioeconomic development and healthy lifestyles in the country.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 6th, 2014.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Mother earth: Hotel staff devote own time to clean up park

Sun, 04/06/2014 - 01:47

ISLAMABAD: 

Although Earth Day, the global event to promote environmental protection, is still two weeks away, efforts to demonstrate care for the environment have already started in the capital.

On Saturday, staff from the Islamabad Serena Hotel voluntarily participated in a cleanliness drive at the Fatima Jinnah Park.

The hotel has in the past also supported environmental conservation through Serena Environmental and Educational Development, the hotel’s corporate social responsibility programme.

Hotel officials said the drive was in connection with the upcoming Earth Day and it will be followed by other initiatives by the time the international day is celebrated worldwide on April 22.

Staff members collected litter from different parts of the sprawling park before properly disposing of it in the numerous garbage bins around the park.

The activity was supposed to send a message of environment-friendliness to the park users and also reiterate Serena’s commitment to eco-friendly attitudes, officials said.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 6th, 2014.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

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