Bulgarian climber dies while trying to scale K2

In this undated photo, Bulgarian climber, Atanas Georgiev Skatov, stands at the base camp of the world's second tallest mountain, K2, in Pakistan. (Photo courtesy: The Alpine Club of Pakistan)
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Updated 05 February 2021

Bulgarian climber dies while trying to scale K2

  • Three other mountaineers were scheduled to summit the world’s second tallest peak today, but there is no information on them as yet
  • A group of Nepalese climbers made history last month by summiting K2 in winter season

ISLAMABAD: A 43-year-old Bulgarian mountaineer fell to his death while trying to summit K2, the world’s second tallest peak, his teammates announced on Friday. 

The incident took place while Atanas Georgiev Skatov was trying to return to the base camp from Camp 3. 

The Bulgarian climber fell down while “changing his safety from one rope to the other,” said a statement issued by his team members who added that “some errors occurred [during the process] and he fell down.” 

“We had fixed the mountain with new ropes and they were not broken,” the statement continued. 

Last month, a Spanish climber, Sergi Mingote, lost his life while trying to scale K2.

A Russian-American mountaineer, Alex Goldfarb, was also found dead on Jan 19 after falling from the world’s 12th highest mountain, Broad Peak, near K2. 

“Three climbers were killed and four climbers of different countries injured during the K2 winter expedition,” Alpine Club General Secretary Karrar Haidri told Arab News on Friday. 

“A three-member team, including John Snorri of Iceland and Muhammad Ali Sadpara of Pakistan, was scheduled to summit K2 today,” he added. “They went beyond 7,800 meters a couple of hours ago. However, we don’t have latest information on them since there is no update from the team.” 

On January 16, a group of Nepalese climbers made history by summiting the world’s second tallest mountain in winter. 

K2 is frequently described as “savage mountain” since a large number of climbers — 86 in all — lost their lives while trying to summit it. 

The mountain straddles the Pakistan-China border.

While it is about two-and-a-half football fields shorter than Everest (8,848 meters), it is widely considered to be the toughest and most dangerous mountain to climb. 

More than 300 climbers have scaled K2 in spring and summer. Italians Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli were the first to reach its summit in the summer of 1954. 


Major social media outlets blocked to ‘maintain public order’ — Pakistan telecoms authority

Updated 1 min 31 sec ago

Major social media outlets blocked to ‘maintain public order’ — Pakistan telecoms authority

  • “In order to maintain public order and safety, access to certain social media applications restricted temporarily,” PPTA spokesperson says
  • Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, TikTok and Telegram blocked on orders of PTA, Internet service provider says

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan blocked multiple social media apps temporarily on security grounds on Friday as part of what is believed to be a crackdown against a religious political party that has held violent nationwide protests this week, a telecommunications authority official said, while a major Internet service provider in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad sent text messages to its users apologizing for the “inconvenience.” 
Pakistan Internet users had difficulty accessing apps including What, Facebook, You tube and Twitter from late on Friday morning, Reuters said. 
Pakistan said this week it would outlaw the religious political party Tehreek-i-Labaik Pakistan after the arrest of its leader on Monday sparked major nationwide protests.
“In order to maintain public order and safety, access to certain social media applications has been restricted temporarily,” Khurram Mehran, a spokesperson for the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) told Arab News, without specifying which social media.
Internet, cable TV and phone service provider Nayatel, based in Islamabad, sent text messages to users saying:
“On directions by PTA, below mentioned social media platforms have been blocked. Twitter. Facebook. WhatsApp. YouTube. TikTok. Telegram. Inconvenience is regretted.”


Chief of Tehreek-e-Labaik asks supporters to call off protests as Pakistan moves to ban party

Updated 2 min 1 sec ago

Chief of Tehreek-e-Labaik asks supporters to call off protests as Pakistan moves to ban party

  • Saad Rizvi tells supporters not to indulge in illegal activity, immediately clear roadblocks, return peacefully to homes and cooperate with authorities
  • Rizvi’s appeal comes a day after cabinet approved proposal by interior ministry to ban TLP and file a case with Supreme Court to dissolve the party

KARACHI: Saad Rizvi, the head of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan religious political party, has called on his supporters to “immediately” halt protests being held across the country against Rizvi’z arrest, the party chief said in a handwritten letter shared on Twitter on Thursday by a top government aide. 
TLP supporters have been holding violent nationwide protests since Monday when Rizvi was arrested for threatening to launch a major protest campaign against the government if it did not expel France’s envoy to Islamabad over blasphemous caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) printed in a French publication last year. 
“I am addressing all shura [TLP council] members and Tehreek-e-Labaik workers and appeal that no illegal activity should be done for the sake of people and in the better interest of the country,” Rizvi said in his note, which was tweeted by Dr. Shahbaz Gill, special adviser to Prime Minister Imran Khan on political communication.
“All protest demonstrations and roadblocks should be immediately cleared. All workers should return to their homes peacefully. Fully cooperate with the law enforcement agencies.”


Rizvi’s appeal comes a day after Pakistan’s federal cabinet approved a proposal by the interior ministry to ban TLP and file a case with the Supreme Court to dissolve the religious party, which is a registered political party with the Election Commission of Pakistan. The interior ministry says it is moving to have the party banned for killing two policemen, attacking law enforcement forces and disrupting public life during this week’s protests. 
“We have proscribed [the TLP] and the notification for that will be issued shortly,” federal interior minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told reporters on Thursday. “Tomorrow, we will send another summary to the cabinet to file a reference in the Supreme Court since we are moving toward [TLP’s] dissolution.” 
The TLP gained prominence in Pakistan’s 2018 federal elections, campaigning to defend the country’s blasphemy law, which calls for the death penalty for anyone who insults Islam. The party also has a history of staging protests and sit-ins to pressure the government to accept its demands. 
In November 2017, Rizvi’s followers staged a 21-day protest and sit-in after a reference to the sanctity of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was removed from the text of a government form. 
In the 2018 elections, the party managed to win two seats in the Sindh Assembly from Karachi and got a female member elected on a reserved seat of the assembly. 
Religious parties — some new, others long-established — fielded more than 1,500 candidates for national and provincial assemblies in Pakistan’s general election on July 25, 2018.


India ‘more likely’ under PM Modi to use military force against Pakistan — US report 

Updated 16 April 2021

India ‘more likely’ under PM Modi to use military force against Pakistan — US report 

  • Annual threat assessment report for 2021 prepared by US Director of National Intelligence and sent to Congress
  • Says Modi more likely than in the past to respond with military force to ‘perceived or real’ Pakistani provocations

ISLAMABAD: Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India was more likely “to respond with military force” to provocations from Pakistan, heightening the risk of conflict between the nuclear-armed neighbors, a US intelligence report sent to Congress this week said.
Ties between India and Pakistan have been frozen since the suicide bombing of an Indian military convoy in Kashmir in 2019 that India said was carried out by Pakistan-based militants (Islamabad denies state complicity) and because of which New Delhi sent warplanes into Pakistan. Islamabad shot down an Indian fighter jet and captured its pilot in a subsequent aerial dogfight.
In August of the same year, India’s prime minister withdrew Indian-ruled Kashmir’s autonomy in order to tighten his grip over the territory, provoking outrage in Pakistan and the downgrading of diplomatic ties and suspension of bilateral trade. Both India and Pakistan rule Kashmir in part but claim the Himalayan valley in full.
“Although a general war between India and Pakistan is unlikely, crises between the two are likely to become more intense, risking an escalatory cycle,” said the annual threat assessment report for 2021 prepared by the office of the US Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and sent to Congress.
“Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India is more likely than in the past to respond with military force to perceived or real Pakistani provocations, and heightened tensions raise the risk of conflict between the two nuclear-armed neighbors, with violent unrest in Kashmir or a militant attack in India being potential flashpoints.”
“The tensions between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan remain a concern for the world,” the report said, referring to regional conflicts that continue to fuel humanitarian crises, undermine stability, and threaten US persons and interests.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars and had tense ties since gaining independence from British colonial rule in 1947.
But in a rare sign of rapprochement, they held the first meeting in three years of a commission on water rights from the Indus River in March.
In February, the two nations announced a rare agreement to stop firing on the bitterly-contested border in Kashmir.
This week, the United Arab Emirates envoy to Washington said the UAE had played a role in getting longtime rivals India and Pakistan to agree to a cease-fire amid tensions over disputed Kashmir.
Speaking in a video released Wednesday by Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, Yousef Al-Otaiba acknowledged an Emirati role “in bringing the Kashmir escalation down.”
“We try to be helpful where we have influence with two different countries,” Al-Otaiba told H.R. McMaster, a former national security adviser to Trump. “India and Pakistan was the most recent one.”


Over 1.4 million Afghan refugees to get new 'proof of registration' smartcards

Updated 15 April 2021

Over 1.4 million Afghan refugees to get new 'proof of registration' smartcards

  • Supported by the UN refugee agency, the program will also help prepare targeted health, education and livelihood programs for refugees
  • The country conducted a similar documentation and verification survey about 10 years ago

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has launched a nationwide verification exercise for 1.4 million Afghan refugees to distribute new smartcards among them, said a statement issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on Thursday. 

The Documentation Renewal and Information Verification Exercise (DRIVE) was inaugurated in by Federal Minister for States and Frontier Region Mehboob Sultan in the presence of UNHCR Representative Noriko Yoshida. 

“Pakistan has been hosting Afghan refugees for four decades, and a lot has changed since the last verification exercise 10 years ago,” said the minister. “It’s crucial that we update the data of Afghan refugees to understand their situation better.” 

The UN refugee agency also highlighted the necessity of the program by mentioning its administrative significance.  

“The DRIVE exercise is a leap forward for everyone,” Yoshida noted. “This step will allow refugees to have better, faster and safer access to services, including schools, hospitals and banks.” 

The UNHCR representative added that the exercise will not only be helpful in verifying the existing data but will also record the skillsets of Afghan refugees, their education level and socio-economic circumstances to provide them more targeted health, education and livelihood support in Pakistan and Afghanistan. 

Meanwhile, Sultan urged all Afghans with Proof of Registration cards to fully participate in the exercise. 

Six hundred male and female staff – a combination of government and UNHCR personnel – will be working at some 35 DRIVE verification sites around the country. 

Measures have also been taken at all DRIVE sites to mitigate COVID-19 risks through enhanced hygiene, physical distancing and the scheduling of set numbers of appointments each day. 


Pakistan hopes for 'responsible' exit of foreign forces from Afghanistan

Updated 15 April 2021

Pakistan hopes for 'responsible' exit of foreign forces from Afghanistan

  • The country says it is important to time troop pullout with progress in intra-Afghan peace process
  • Pakistan also urges the international community to help with the reconstruction work in the post-conflict Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Thursday emphasized the significance of synchronizing the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan with progress in peace talks between rival Afghan factions.

The country's foreign office issued a statement in response to media queries about the recent US announcement regarding the troop pullout, saying that Pakistan hoped Washington would continue to urge Afghan leaders to seize the opportunity to reach a political settlement in the war-battered country.

"We hope that the forthcoming meeting of Afghan leadership in Turkey would be an important opportunity for Afghans to make progress toward a negotiated political settlement," said the foreign office. "In this regard, we support the principle of responsible troop withdrawal in coordination with Afghan stakeholders."

US President Joe Biden recently confirmed a full military exit from Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks and said the process would begin to unfold from May 1.

"Pakistan reaffirms its abiding commitment for a peaceful, stable, united, democratic, sovereign and prosperous Afghanistan," the foreign office added. "A meaningful engagement of the international community for promoting reconstruction and economic development in the post-conflict Afghanistan is important for ensuring sustainable peace and stability."

The statement also urged the world community to come up with a "time-bound and well-resourced plan for the return of Afghan refugees to their homeland and their reintegration in Afghanistan."

The United States reached a peace agreement with the Taliban in Doha under the Trump administration in February 2020, agreeing to pull out its forces by May 1.

The Taliban on Thursday described the recent US decision "a clear violation of the Doha agreement" and asked the international community to "exert pressure on America to implement its commitments and withdraw all forces from Afghanistan by the specified date."

"The Islamic Emirate will under no circumstance ever relent on complete independence and establishment of a pure Islamic system and remains committed to finding a peaceful solution to the Afghan problem following the complete and certain end of occupation," said the insurgent group in a statement.