Keeping up with the Khawajas: Pakistani father-daughter duo risk it all to break Everest record

Selena Khawaja celebrating victory along with his father, Yousaf Khawaja, (Orange dress) after scaling Quz Sar Peak (5,765 meter) on February, 21st 2018. (Photo credit to Selena’s family)
Updated 01 June 2019

Keeping up with the Khawajas: Pakistani father-daughter duo risk it all to break Everest record

  • If she succeeds, Selena will be the youngest person ever to climb the world’s highest peak
  • Experts say attempting the record is too risky and dangerous for someone Selena’s age

ABBOTTABAD: When Selena Khawaja closes her eyes to make a wish on her 11th birthday in October this year, everyone gathered around the table will already know what she wishes for.
By March 2020, with four years of experience under her belt, Selena is hoping to achieve the impossible – conquer Mount Everest, Earth’s highest peak, and become the youngest person in the world to have done so.
“I love climbing mountains. I can’t explain the joy I feel when I’m at the top. It’s as if you are ruling the world,” Selena, a six grader and resident of Abbottabad, told Arab News.




Selena Khawaja with her friends at school. She is a grad 06 student and going to scale Spantik Peak (7,027 meters) next month, May 15, 2019 Abbottabad. (AN Photo)

For the uninitiated, Mount Everest, which is documented to be 60 million years old, stands at 8,848 meters which is equal to 10.7 Burj Khalifas, the world’s tallest tower, stacked on top of one another.
However, neither her age nor the mountain’s dizzying height seems to act as a deterrent for the little climber who has set her sights on clinching the title – a record currently held by Jordan Romero, a 13-year-old American who summited Everest in 2010.
It’s a feat many would think was unimaginable for a child of 11 — many, except her father Yousaf Khawaja who realized when his daughter was just eight years old that she had a head for heights.




Selena Khawaja on her way to summit the Quz Sar Peak (5, 765 meter) on February, 21st 2018. (Photo credit to Selena’s family)

“She was amazing in climbing mountains. By doing a round trip of Miranjani Mountain (around 3,000 meters) in a quick span of time, I realized that she had the potential to become a great asset for the country,” Khawaja, 60, said about his only child.
He would know. As an experienced climber and mountaineering expert himself, Khawaja also doubles as Selena’s trainer and helped her achieve the impossible on February 21 last year when she became the youngest person to scale the 5,765-meter-high Quz Sar Peak in Hunza, Gilgit Baltistan, at the age of nine, according to official records.
Located in the scenic Shimshal Valley in the north of the country, climbing the Quz Sar Peak is no cakewalk. But Selena, with her short hair, tiny frame, and bespectacled, impish face, is no regular 10-year-old.




Selena Khawaja responding to a question in her grad 06 class at school at Abbottabad on May 15, 2019. (AN Photo)

At an age when most children worry about school tests, peer pressure, body image, and how to flaunt the perfect gaming techniques during a PlayStation mission, Selena catches up on NatGeo documentaries to learn from mistakes committed by other mountaineers before her.
Despite a choc-a-bloc schedule which begins early in the day, Selena still makes time for her favorite TV show, Bulbuly, and for her best friend, Fatima Zehra.
Zehra told Arab News that she was worried for Selena’s safety and well-being even as their teachers at Talking Heads, one of the more popular schools in Abbottabad district, supported their little “champion.”




Ayesha Arshad teaching English literature to Selena Khawaja’s class. She says, she is confident that Selena will climb Everest next year, Abbottabad May 15, 2019. (AN Photo)

“It’s very difficult to do two things simultaneously — studies and mountaineering, but our wishes and prayers are with Selena. We are proud that she is depicting a positive image of Pakistan,” Ayesha Arshad, Selena’s teacher told Arab News.
It’s a costly exercise, says Khawaja who has spent more than Rs2 million in helping Selena realize her dream. Together, they would need $200,000 to summit Everest. Khawaja is in talks with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government and has asked for support.
Selena is aware of what’s at stake and the fitness levels required, especially since expeditions to the mountain can take up to two months from start to finish. She trains with her father at the gym for about an hour after school every day, which stretches to eight hours if she’s scheduled for field training.
By the end of June, she hopes to add Spantik Peak (7,027 meters) to her tally, before heading toward Broad Peak, which at 8,051 meters is the world’s 12th highest mountain.
She doesn’t needs to scale either in order to qualify for the Everest attempt, which requires mountaineers to have an experience of completing a 6,000-meter summit. Selena has already done that — twice.




Selena Khawaja standing atop Quz Sar Peak (5, 765 meter) on February, 21st 2018 along with her father, Yousaf Khawaja (Orange dress) and Wazir Baig (black trouser and red jacket). (Photo credit to Selena’s family)

“I’ve already completed the Level-1 mountaineering course. Level-2 is on the cards and after scaling the Spantik Peak by June end, I will be even more prepared,” she said.
While the elementary courses acclimatize climbers to the basics of mountain geology, climbing techniques, mountain rescue, and first aid, there are more pressing concerns at hand.
With temperatures dropping to as low as minus 60C, climbers can suffer acute altitude sickness as well as hypothermia, while several mountaineers have had to amputate their fingers and toes due to frostbite. Other issues include extreme weather patterns, dehydration, and a lack of appetite.
Khawaja says he’s factored in all these conditions. As a physical fitness instructor and nutritionist, he is aware of the dangers involved, especially at the highest points where mountaineers are breathing in a third of the amount of oxygen due to the atmospheric pressure and require bottled oxygen from 7,925 meters and above.
“It’s dangerous, there is no doubt about it. It requires absolutely no chance of a single mistake, but we are taking extra precautionary measures,” Khawaja said, adding that it would be a “fascinating experience for a father and daughter to scale Everest together.”
“By doing so, we will be bringing another record home, with Selena as the youngest individual and I, as the oldest Pakistani father, to scale Everest,” he said.




Selena Khawaja preparing to leave the school for home. The 10-year-old says she wants to register her name in the Guinness Book of World Records after summiting Mount Everest next year, May 15 2019, Abbottabad. (AN Photo)

Lt Col (retired) Dr. Abdul Jabbar Bhatti, who summitted Everest at the age of 60, showed his support.
“With training and a good lifestyle, Selena can become better at mountaineering. It is a dangerous sport even for a seasoned/experienced climber and for a child the dangers increase many times. But with extraordinary preparation, knowledge, training, and practice, Selena can acquire a very good balance on mountains,” he said.
Medical and mountaineering experts, however, aren’t too convinced.
“She is too young for it. A person should be at least 12 and above to attempt the climb. Also, her body isn’t equipped to scale mountains that are 7,000 meters and above,” Karim Hayat, a 46-year-old mountain guide and explorer who works as a climbing instructor at the Hunza Mountaineering Foundation, told Arab News.
Doctor Amir Zeb, director of rehabilitation at the Paraplegic Center in Peshawar, concurred.
“I don’t support the idea of her climbing Everest at the age of 11. She may have scaled 5,000 or 6,000 meters, but Everest is terrible. Apart from muscular fitness, her heartbeat may not support the endeavor either,” he said.
Col. Bhatti disagreed.
“It’s not age that determines someone’s qualification in mountaineering. It involves physical and mental fitness… Selena is more than fit, both physically and mentally, to take on high mountains in the world,” he said.
Selena, on her part, said she is more than ready to push the envelope.
“My efforts to achieve my goal will continue uninterrupted,” she said. “I want to conquer Everest and hoist Pakistan’s flag there.”


Pakistan ‘used and binned’ by England over canceled tour

Updated 21 September 2021

Pakistan ‘used and binned’ by England over canceled tour

  • The British High Commissioner to Pakistan confirmed the decision was taken on the grounds of player welfare
  • Pakistan’s cricket chief says ‘a little bit of caring was needed after the New Zealand pull out and we didn’t get that from England’

LONDON: Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ramiz Raja said on Tuesday he felt “used and then binned” after England canceled a white-ball tour for their men’s and women’s teams next month.
The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) cited “increasing concerns about traveling to the region” just days after New Zealand also pulled out of a tour to Pakistan over security concerns.
However, the British High Commissioner to Pakistan, Christian Turner, confirmed the decision was taken by the ECB on the grounds of player welfare.
The first trip by the England men’s side to Pakistan since 2005 was only meant to last four days with two Twenty20 matches in Rawalpindi on October 13 and 14.
Two women’s T20 matches were scheduled on the same days as double-headers with three women’s one-day internationals to follow in the same city.
Reaction to the withdrawal in Pakistan has been furious.
Pakistan traveled to England last year at a time when COVID-19 infection rates in Britain were among the highest in the world for a three-match Test and T20 series that saved the ECB millions in television rights deals.
“It’s the feeling of being used and then binned. That’s the feeling I have right now,” Raja told reporters.
“A little bit of hand-holding, a little bit of caring was needed after the New Zealand pull out and we didn’t get that from England which is so frustrating.
“We’ve been going out of our way to meet the international demands, being such a responsible member of the cricketing fraternity, and in return we get a response from ECB saying the players were spooked by New Zealand’s withdrawal. What does that mean?“
New Zealand officials refused to give details of the security threat that forced them to abruptly cancel their matches.
A deadly 2009 attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore saw Pakistan become a no-go destination for international teams.
In 2012 and 2015 Pakistan hosted England in the UAE, which has staged most of their “home” games since the attack.
A rapid improvement in security in recent years has led to the return of international cricket, with Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, the West Indies, South Africa and Bangladesh touring in the past six years.
“I share the deep sadness of cricket fans that England will not tour Pakistan in October,” Turner said in a video post on Twitter. “This was a decision made by the ECB, which is independent of the British government, based on concerns for player welfare.
“The British High Commission supported the tour; did not advise against it on security grounds; and our travel advice for Pakistan has not changed.”
The series was supposed to be part of the preparation for England’s men ahead of next month’s T20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates and Oman.
But many of their star players would now be free to play in the latter stages of the lucrative Indian Premier League, also being hosted in the UAE, should their sides reach the knockout phase.
“You are quoting fatigue and mental tension and players being spooked and a hour-and-a-half flight from here before a World Cup they are quite happy to be caged in a bubble environment and carry on with the tournament,” added Raja.
“One feels slighted, one feels humiliated because withdrawal doesn’t have an answer.”
The ECB’s decision has also been met with fierce criticism at home.
“They had a chance to repay a debt, uphold their honor and side with a cricketing nation that has undergone the kind of challenges others cannot even begin to contemplate,” former England Test captain Michael Atherton wrote in The Times.
“Instead, citing a mealy-mouthed statement, they did the wrong thing.”


PM Khan says Afghanistan’s ‘strong’ women will assert rights under Taliban rule

Updated 21 September 2021

PM Khan says Afghanistan’s ‘strong’ women will assert rights under Taliban rule

  • The Pakistani prime minister says absence of an inclusive government in Afghanistan may lead to a civil war
  • Khan warns the world community that an unstable Afghanistan will be an ‘ideal place for terrorists’

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Tuesday Afghan women were “very strong” and likely to assert their right under the Taliban rule.
Khan was responding to a question about the rights of women in Afghanistan after the fall of the US-backed Ashraf Ghani administration and the emergence of the Taliban regime during an interview with the BBC.
Women were not allowed to work and girls could not go to school when the conservative Afghan faction came into power between 1996 and 2001.
While the Taliban have said they will not implement their previous policies, they recently closed the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in Kabul and replaced it with the Ministry for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.
“Their women are very strong,” the Pakistani prime minister told the British news channel. “I feel give them time and they will assert their rights.”
Asked how much time would be required for that to happen, he said: “A year, two years, three years ... It’s too early to say anything because it has just barely been a month. After 20 years of civil war, they have come back into power.”

A Taliban fighter watches as Afghan women hold placards during a demonstration demanding better rights for women in front of the former Ministry of Women Affairs in Kabul on September 19, 2021. (AFp)

Khan said his biggest worry about the situation in Afghanistan related to a possible humanitarian disaster that could lead to another refugee influx in the region.
He reiterated it was important for the Taliban to form an inclusive government since Afghanistan could witness another civil war if all the factions in the country did not get a stake in its governance and administration.
The prime minister also warned that an “unstable and chaotic Afghanistan” was going to be an “ideal place for terrorists.”


Pakistani exporters complain of high freight charges amid global supply chain disruption

Updated 21 September 2021

Pakistani exporters complain of high freight charges amid global supply chain disruption

  • Global shipping charges have increased by about 500 percent since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic
  • Pakistani exporters want the government to activate the National Shipping Corporation to address the situation

KARACHI: Pakistani exporters on Tuesday complained about global supply chain disruption, saying their shipments were becoming more expensive due to the unavailability of containers which was leading to much higher freight charges.
The global supply chain industry is yet to recover from the impact of lockdowns imposed by countries since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The container movement primarily become difficult due to the congestion at major ports in countries like the United States and China, resulting in significant rise in shipping costs worldwide.
“Exporters are worried since ships and containers are not available and freight cost has increased manifold,” Jawed Bilwani, chief coordinator of the Pakistan Hosiery Manufacturers and Exporters Association, told Arab News. “The containers that used to be only a phone call away are now made available after 20 days or more which delays our shipments. It also doubles our cost.”
Pakistani exporters said the availability of containers had become a major challenge to their businesses.
“The shipping line business is concentrated in a few hands, and these people are taking full advantage of the prevailing situation,” Khurram Mukhtar, patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Textile Exporters Association, said.
Local exporters informed freight charges had increased by 200 and 500 percent for 40- and 20-foot containers, respectively, since the emergence of the pandemic.
The cost of the 20-foot container from Karachi to the United States has increased from $5,157 to $7,685 since May, while its price for the month of October is quoted at $8,500.
Similarly, the 40-foot container price increased from $6,439 to $9,760 between May and September. The shipping line businesses plan to charge $10,800 for it starting next month.
Pakistani shipping experts believe the situation will not improve anytime soon and may take at least a year to get back to the pre-pandemic level.
“The pressure on global supply chain is mounting and there is no immediate solution in sight,” Mohammed A. Rajpar, chairman of the Pakistan Ships Agents Association, told Arab News.
He said that ships used to complete their full cycle from east to west and west to east in four to six weeks before the COVID-19 outbreak, but this duration went up to three to six months under the current circumstances.
He added that many shipping lines had also stopped their operations worldwide and scrapped their ships.
“New ships have been ordered and that will take at least two years to be delivered. New containers have also been ordered by companies,” Rajpar said.
Amid the aggravating situation, Pakistani exporters said the government should intervene by mobilizing the National Shipping Corporation, the national flag carrier and state-owned shipping company.
“All relevant ministries of the country must immediately intervene by taking necessary measures to safeguard the country’s exports,” the patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Textile Exporters Association said. “The government may dedicate its shipping corporation for export and import purposes for now.”
Pakistani exporters said they had been forced to pay demurrage — a charge applied to containers that are left at the port longer than their allotted free time — for the first time due to the ongoing shipping problems.


Cricketers say UK, NZ pullouts ‘huge setback’ to reviving international cricket in Pakistan

Updated 21 September 2021

Cricketers say UK, NZ pullouts ‘huge setback’ to reviving international cricket in Pakistan

  • England on Monday announced to postpone the Pakistan trip after New Zealand called off its series last week without playing a match
  • The Pakistan Cricket Board says it will seek compensation from New Zealand for recalling the team on the basis of a vague security alert

KARACHI: Pakistani cricketers and sports experts on Tuesday said the announcement by England to postpone its Pakistan tour after New Zealand’s decision to abruptly call off its series without playing a single match was a “huge setback” to the revival of international cricket in the country.
One of the top cricketing nations that lifted world cup trophies in the past, Pakistan regularly hosted test playing teams and international tournaments until a group of militants targeted the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore in 2009.
In the coming years, the cricket-crazy South Asian nation was deprived of watching international teams in action in their own country.
“It is a huge setback to the efforts of reviving international cricket in Pakistan,” Umar Gul, a former Pakistani pacer, said while urging the International Cricket Council (ICC) to take notice and prevent teams from taking such unilateral decisions.
Zimbabwe sent its team to visit Pakistan in 2015, though no major cricketing squad visited the country after the 2009 attack.
Some high-profile international players started playing in the country, however, after the launch of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) tournament.
This resulted in a change of international perception regarding Pakistan’s security environment, making international cricket squads like New Zealand and England agree to tour the country after more than a decade.
“The decision of these two teams to abandon their tour of the country will negatively impact Pakistan’s own preparations for the world cup,” Gul told Arab News. “It also has financial implications. Besides, it will harm our efforts to revive international cricket in the country despite making best security arrangements.”

This picture taken on September 7, 2017 shows pigeons resting on a sign for the Pakistan Cricket Board at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, Pakistan. (AFP/File)

A Pakistani sports show host, Shoaib Jatt, called England’s decision to postpone its Pakistan series unjustified while pointing out that his country’s own team had visited the United Kingdom when the tour was considered highly dangerous by medical experts due to the prevalence of COVID-19.
“It is definitely a blow to Pakistan,” he said. “It is not about losing one or two cricket series. We are talking about the revival of international cricket for which a lot of effort has been made.”
Qamar Ahmed, a cricket expert and former first-class player, maintained that PSL had made a huge contribution in bringing back international cricket to Pakistan, though he added the recent refusals of New Zealand and England to play in Pakistan were not going to be helpful.
“It has been more than a decade since the Sri Lankan team came under attack in Lahore,” Ahmed said. “It will take several more years to revive international cricket in this country after the decisions made by New Zealand and England.”
Gul said, however, Pakistan was a resilient nation which would come out much stronger from the recent crisis.
“We have a good world cup team,” he maintained. “If they play well, it may change the situation for us.”
The new chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board Ramiz Raja recently said in a video message that his country would seek compensation from New Zealand for abandoning its Pakistan tour on the basis of vague security threats.
While New Zealand Cricket (NZC) did not respond to request for comment, its chief executive David White told a sports website in his own country that he was hopeful that Pakistan and New Zealand would be able to “work through” their concerns in the coming days.
“We’ve got a very close working relationship with Pakistan Cricket,” White said.
The English Cricket Board (ECB) shared a statement with Arab News, saying the ECB had a longstanding commitment to tour Pakistan but had postponed its visit after careful deliberations.
“The ECB Board convened this weekend to discuss these extra England Women’s and Men’s games in Pakistan and we can confirm that the Board has reluctantly decided to withdraw both teams from the October trip,” the statement read, adding that the mental and physical well-being of players and support staff remained the highest priority.
However, a leading Pakistani cricketer Muhammad Hafeez pointed out that his own team members had also been playing in tough conditions and under huge mental stress.
“The decision of New Zeeland and England cricket teams to withdraw is very painful for me as a cricketer. We have completed difficult tours where the conditions were not very good at all, but we did not quit,” he told Arab News, adding that the Green Shirts had to complete a 15-days quarantine period during their last tour to England.
“All the hardships are borne for cricket, the gentlemen’s game which demands great sportsman’s spirit. A hoax threat alert should not have been the reason for anyone to call off a series,” he added.


Taliban appreciate PM Khan for playing positive role for Afghan peace

Updated 21 September 2021

Taliban appreciate PM Khan for playing positive role for Afghan peace

  • The Taliban deputy information minister says Kabul is 'heading towards an inclusive government'
  • Zabihullah Mujahid says Pakistan, Qatar and China are striving for Afghanistan's better political future

ISLAMABAD: Afghanistan's deputy information minister and the Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid praised Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan's efforts for peace and inclusive government in his country while addressing a news conference in Kabul on Tuesday.

Pakistan has been trying to convince regional countries and other members of the international community to continue their engagement with Afghanistan since the Taliban consolidated their political control in the neighboring state in August.

The Pakistani prime minister informed in his recent Twitter posts he had initiated a dialogue with the Taliban to form a more inclusive administration after a lengthy meeting with Tajikistan's President Emomali Rahmon in Dushanbe last week.

"We do not see the positive statements of Prime Minister Imran Khan as interference in the internal matters of Afghanistan," Mujahid was quoted by Pakistan's Express Tribune newspaper on Tuesday.

"The spokesperson further added that Pakistan, Qatar and China were playing an active role for stability in Afghanistan," said the news report.

Mujahid maintained the cabinet formation was still an ongoing process and the Taliban were "heading towards an inclusive government."

"More people from different ethnicities including Hazaras, technocrats and educated people have been inducted in the interim cabinet. The cabinet formation is not complete yet and more people will also be included in it," he added.

Pakistan's foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has also reached New York to discuss the situation in Afghanistan at the United Nations General Assembly and urge the world to prevent the economic implosion in the war-battered country since it could lead to a humanitarian disaster.