Opposition, experts decry ‘negligence’ after 22 snow-tourists die in Pakistan resort town

A vehicle is pictured after getting stuck in snow along a road after a heavy snowfall in Murree, around 70 kilometres (45 miles) northeast of the capital, Islamabad, Pakistan, on January 8, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 09 January 2022

Opposition, experts decry ‘negligence’ after 22 snow-tourists die in Pakistan resort town

  • Thousands arrived in Murree in last two days despite authorities’ appeals to postpone plans, snowstorm stranded motorists in freezing cold
  • Backlash on media against comments by PM Imran Khan which were interpreted as blaming the victims for not checking weather

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani opposition leaders and experts on Saturday called out the government for “negligence” after 22 people died in freezing temperatures while being stranded in their vehicles in the Pakistani hill station of Murree where thousands had flocked to enjoy the snow. 
The Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) had predicted heavy snowfall in Murree and the Galiyat mountainous regions from January 6 to 9. Despite appeals by authorities to postpone plans due to bad weather and roadblocks, tens of thousands of snow-tourists arrived in Murree, 64 km (40 miles) northeast of the capital Islamabad, in the past two days. 
On Saturday, the local administration declared Murree “calamity hit,” with long lines of cars stuck in the resort town after a snowstorm made the roads impassable, stranding motorists without food and water in the freezing cold. Rescue efforts to get people and vehicles out were still ongoing on Saturday evening. 




Pakistani army troops take part in rescue operation in a heavy snowfall-hit area in Murree, some 28 miles north of Islamabad, Pakistan, on January 8, 2022. (ISPR)

Rafaqat Zaman, a spokesperson for the Rescue 1122 emergency service, said 22 people, including nine children, had died. 
“Our teams are in the field and trying to rescue stranded people as quickly as possible,” he told Arab News, saying up to six feet of snow had accumulated on the roads and streets, and thousands of tourists and vehicles were trapped in it. 
“The death toll may go up, but we don’t want to speculate on it,” he said. 
“This sheer negligence and mismanagement of the government has led to the loss of precious lives in Murree,” Faisal Karim Kundi, central information secretary of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), told Arab News. “The authorities failed to timely mobilize heavy machinery to remove snow from roads and rescue stranded tourists.” 




Pakistani army troops take part in rescue operation in a heavy snowfall-hit area in Murree, some 28 miles north of Islamabad, Pakistan, on January 8, 2022. (ISPR)

Kundi demanded the federal and Punjab governments apologize to the public over the mishap and announce compensation for the bereaved families. 
Muhammad Zubair, a senior member of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) opposition party, said the tragedy was “beyond imagination” and a clear reflection of bad governance. 
“This is criminal negligence and all those responsible for it must be held accountable,” he told Arab News. 
Zubair said the government was aware of the number of people entering the resort town, but failed to make necessary arrangements to ensure their safety: “This was an avoidable tragedy.” 
There was also backlash on social and mainstream media against comments by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan that were interpreted as blaming the victims. 
“Unprecedented snowfall and rush of people proceeding without checking weather conditions caught district admin unprepared,” he said, adding that he had ordered an investigation. 




Local tourists walk as they return from Murree on the outskirts of Islamabad on January 8, 2022 after an incident where at least 21 people died in an enormous traffic jam caused by tens of thousands of visitors thronging to a Pakistani hill town to see unusually heavy snowfall. (AFP)

Fahd Husain, a political analyst and resident editor Islamabad for Dawn newspaper, said the prime minister’s tweet had “added insult to injury” as the deaths were avoidable. 
“By blaming people and saying the government was caught ‘unawares’ boggles the mind with its sheer insensitivity and callousness,” he said. 
“Rottenness of the system is on full display. Government has failed. Governance is collapsing under the weight of its own incompetence even as pitiful and pitiless minions retch out justifications for the avoidable tragedy,” he said. 
The Pakistan army on Saturday afternoon announced it had established four camps in the area and a “control division” and opened rescue centers. 
“Heavy machinery from Murree army engineers division and FWO (Frontier Works Organization) are working without any pause to assist people who are struck,” the army’s media wing said. “Troops are out in the field. Where machinery can’t reach, troops have been moved and they are clearing traffic and opening roads.” 




Vehicles stuck under fallen trees are seen on a snowy road, in Murree, northeast of Islamabad, Pakistan in this still image taken from a video January 8, 2022. (REUTERS via PTV)

On Friday evening, the Islamabad administration announced it was closing the roads leading to Murree for the rest of the weekend “in public interest.” 
For hours overnight and well after daybreak on Saturday, thousands of cars lined the snow-clogged roadway as their drivers grew increasingly desperate about their predicament and exasperated by what appeared to be a slow response by authorities. 
Authorities in Rawalpindi, which is adjacent to Islamabad, said on Saturday over 23,000 stranded vehicles had been already evacuated from Murree and around 1,000 were still stranded. 
A strong westerly wave entered Pakistan’s western and upper parts earlier this week, producing rain and snowfall. It is forecast to grip the areas until Sunday.


In ‘Saadhay 14 August,’ Pakistani playwright Anwar Maqsood brings heroes of independence to life 

Updated 6 sec ago

In ‘Saadhay 14 August,’ Pakistani playwright Anwar Maqsood brings heroes of independence to life 

  • ‘Saadhay 14 August,’ an ode to Jinnah and Gandhi, premiered in Karachi on Pakistani Independence Day
  • Play will also be performed in Islamabad and Lahore as well as several international destinations next year

KARACHI: A Pakistani stage production that spotlights the relationship between two leading figures of the Indian independence movement, Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Mahatama Gandhi, has received widespread applause from audiences in Karachi since it premiered there on the 75th anniversary of Pakistan’s birth. 
Written by renowned dramatist Anwar Maqsood, “Saadhay 14 August” is the last part of a trilogy that centers on events leading to the emergence of two independent nations, India and Pakistan, after the end of British rule in the Indian Subcontinent in 1947.
The play tries to imagine interactions between Pakistan’s founding father Jinnah and Indian independence icon Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.
The previous two parts of the series were called “Pawnay 14 August” and “Sawa 14 August.”
“I didn’t write ‘14 August’ because Independence Day never came for me after August 14, 1947,” Maqsood told Arab News in an interview this week. “People do not really understand what independence truly means and I have tried to convey it in the play.”
Discussing the central theme of the new production, the platwright said it was an attempt to determine who was responsible for the division of the Subcontinent and “should be punished.” The drama then plays out as a court case that takes Jinnah and Gandhi to London, Lahore, Kashmir and New Delhi in search of the answer to the play’s central puzzle.
“We wanted to show a lighter side of the two leaders,” Dawar Mehmood, who directed the play, told Arab News.
“It was a huge responsibility to portray a big, national leader,” actor Omar Kazi, who plays Jinnah, told Arab News. “It was a new look, new style and a new aura … as opposed to the clichéd Jinnah in his Karakul cap. The play is also set in current times so he is supposed to behave in a manner that aligns with present times.”
Tanveer Gill, who has won audiences with his portrayal of Gandhi, said he worked really hard to get into his character.
“There is only so much you find about original Gandhi on YouTube,” he said. “To make this character [work], I observed and thought of positive, older people who used to be in my life. It was their positivity that helped me play the part.”
Veteran actor Sajid Hasan, who played a small role in the production, said Maqsood had “done us a very big favor” by turning the two characters into “real humans.”
“There is a little irreverence in Anwar [Maqsood] Bhai for which he has always been known,” he said. “But it is a brilliant take on the overall India-Pakistan situation.”
Musician Ali Hamza said such historical plays were needed in Pakistan and Maqsood was well placed to write on partition since he had witnessed it closely.
“He uses humor but what he feels in his heart is also reflected in [the play],” Hamza said. “This was so engaging and so on-point.”
Actor Fahad Mirza said “Saadhary 14 August” could be compared to any international stage production.
“I hope the world sees how much talent and skill we have,” he said. “It was so beautiful. There were times when people were horrified to see the scenes of partition and violence … Dawar [Mehmood] has nailed it and Anwar Sahib is at his best.”
“Saadhay 14 August” will be staged in Karachi until November 15, after which it will move to Lahore and Islamabad as well as to various international destinations next year.


In rare move, court orders ex-PM Khan aide’s police remand for another two days

Updated 17 August 2022

In rare move, court orders ex-PM Khan aide’s police remand for another two days

  • Dr. Shahbaz Gill was arrested last Tuesday over televised comments media regulator says were ‘seditious’
  • Senior PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry seeks judicial inquiry into alleged torture of Gill during police custody

ISLAMABAD: A local court in the federal capital on Wednesday remanded Dr. Shahbaz Gill, a senior Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader and former prime minister Imran Khan’s chief of staff, in police custody for two days for investigation in a sedition case.

Gill was arrested last Tuesday afternoon, a day after he made a controversial comment in a talk show aired by a private news channel, asking army officers not to follow orders of their top command if they were “against the sentiments of the masses.”

The country’s national media regulator described the statement as “seditious” and said it was tantamount of inciting revolt within the military. The regulator also issued a show-cause notice to the channel, ARY News, for airing the “illegal” content. The channel has since been off air. 

Last Friday, after Gill had been in police custody for two days, the court sent him to jail on judicial remand, rejecting a request by the police to extend the suspect’s physical remand. Islamabad Advocate General Jahangir Khan Jadoon filed a plea in the Islamabad High Court on Saturday last week challenging the order and saying the physical remand of Gill was important to help complete the investigation.

Prosecutor Raja Rizwan Abbasi on Wednesday urged the court to allow physical remand of the suspect as investigators have yet to recover his mobile phone and conduct a polygraph test. In a rare move, the court accepted the demand for another round of police remand. 

“We are yet to investigate the person who approved the script [of what Gill said on TV show],” Abbasi told district and session judge Zeba Chaudhry during the hearing.

Gill’s counsel Barrister Salman Safdar opposed the prosecution’s plea for physical remand and said he had already faced torture by police last week.

“Shahbaz Gill has been tortured in police custody,” Safdar said, referring to a previous period of physical remand, adding that Gill was blindfolded when subjected to torture: “Even his private parts were tortured in custody.”

After hearing arguments from both the sides, the judge first reserved the verdict and later announced that Gill should be handed over to police on physical remand for 48 hours.

Meanwhile, senior PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry called for an independent inquiry.

“A judicial inquiry should be conducted and an independent board should be constituted on which both Shahbaz Gill and prosecution have the trust,” he told reporters.

PTI chairman Imran Khan wrote on Twitter he was “very concerned about Shahbaz Gill being sent into police remand again.”

“He is in a fragile state of mental & physical health because of the torture inflicted on him when he was abducted & taken to undisclosed location & then again at the police station,” Khan said.

 

 


Pakistan to host ten international cricket teams over next 4 years

Updated 17 August 2022

Pakistan to host ten international cricket teams over next 4 years

  • Cricket-obsessed Pakistan will also host Asia Cup and Champions Trophy during this period
  • Pakistan has struggled to convince international players to visit since attack on Sri Lanka team in 2009

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will host ten test playing nations between 2023 and 2027, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) said on Wednesday as it unveiled the country’s cricketing schedule under the next Future Tours Programme.

International cricket teams stopped visiting Pakistan after a 2009 attack on Sri Lankan players in Lahore and Pakistan hosted most bilateral international series in the UAE.

However, international matches partially resumed in May 2015, when Zimbabwe toured the South Asian country, followed by other international teams. 

Early this year, the Australian team visited Pakistan in February for their first cricket tour in nearly 24 years and later West Indies played three one day matches in Pakistan in June.

“The PCB has scheduled around 238 days of international cricket during the four-year period comprising 27 ICC World Test Championship fixtures (13 home and 14 away), 47 One-Day Internationals (26 home and 21 home) and 56 Twenty20 Internationals (27 home and 29 away),” PCB said in a statement.

“Pakistan’s FTP 2023-2027 reflects that it will play hosts to 10 out of 12 ICC Full Member nations for the first time in more than two decades.”

Pakistan will also host major cricket events like the Asia Cup and Champions Trophy. 

“Pakistan will host the Asia Cup 2023 and triangular series in February 2025 in the lead up to the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023 and the ICC Champions Trophy 2025, respectively, it will play 11 T20Is against the Netherlands, Ireland and England in the build up to the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2024, which will be jointly hosted by the United States and the West Indies,” PCB said.

“I am sure that our cricket fans will be delighted to know that top-ranked and attractive sides such as Bangladesh, England, New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka and the West Indies will visit Pakistan to compete in matches for the ICC World Test Championship,” PCB Chief Executive Faisal Hasnain said.


Pakistan fulfills another FATF condition, makes currency declaration mandatory for air travelers

Updated 17 August 2022

Pakistan fulfills another FATF condition, makes currency declaration mandatory for air travelers

  • No passenger will be able to board a flight or leave the airport without submitting the declaration form
  • The global financial watchdog praised Pakistan for implementing its recommendations in its last meeting

ISLAMABAD: The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) of Pakistan has made it mandatory for all incoming and outgoing passengers to fill out a currency declaration form, said an official statement on Tuesday, to meet yet another requirement of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
Pakistan has been on the international watchdog’s “grey list” of countries since 2018 due to inadequate controls over money laundering and terrorism financing.
However, the country moved closer to exiting the list in recent months after implementing FATF recommendations to strengthen its financial system.
The Paris-based international watchdog also praised Pakistani officials for making substantial progress while saying its team would soon carry out an onsite visit of the country.
The CAA notification on Tuesday said no passenger would be allowed to board a flight or leave the airport without submitting the declaration.
“For inbound flights, airlines are required to ensure in-flight announcement by the flight crew for every inbound flight for submission of subject declaration wherein the passengers will mention the currency under the regulatory requirement of FATF,” the notification informed.
“The said declaration will be deposited at the customs counter before the immigration desk at international arrival,” it added.
The CAA said airline staff and travel agents should provide a copy of the declaration form to all potential passengers who intend to be on an outbound flight while booking their tickets.
“At check-in counters, airlines are directed to issue boarding pass only once the passenger has deposited the declaration with the them,” the notification added.


Pakistan's finance minister criticizes manufacturers for importing parts instead of building them

Updated 17 August 2022

Pakistan's finance minister criticizes manufacturers for importing parts instead of building them

  • Miftah Ismail says cellphone manufacturers were only adding five percent value to their products
  • He points out that automobile manufacturers had not exported cars to lucrative destinations in 30 years

ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister for Finance and Revenue Miftah Ismail on Wednesday highlighted the structural problems of the country’s economy, saying that Pakistani companies preferred to import parts of their products instead of manufacturing them indigenously at home.

The government recently imposed a temporary ban on the import of luxury items since it was facing a massive current account deficit along with dwindling forex reserves and a rapidly depreciating currency.

The finance minister issued the statement against the same backdrop while addressing a conference of business leaders in the federal capital where he specifically mentioned the country’s cellphone and automobile manufacturers.

“We have given subsidies and 10 percent duty advantage to mobile industry to manufacture phones in Pakistan but their value addition is not more than five percent,” he said. “They get all of their parts from outside and only assemble them here. We have given double duty protection than its value addition and the same thing holds true for car manufacturing companies as well.”

Ismail noted that automobile manufacturers had been working in Pakistan for more than 30 years, but they had not exported vehicles worth a single dollar.

“Pakistani companies are selling inside the country only, though they should try to sell [their products] in rich markets of the United States, Europe and far eastern countries,” he added. “They sell locally to earn more profit because it is a protected market.”

The minister pointed out that out of Pakistan’s $30 billion exports, around $20 billion were generated by the textile sector.

“We import $80 billion worth of goods from abroad which is unsustainable,” he continued. “Our industries have to increase exports instead of only making local sales.”

Ismail also maintained that agriculture was the backbone of Pakistan’s economy, though he added it needed more innovation by adopting advanced Agri-Tech.

“My focus is to strengthen our agriculture as we have imported $450 million tons of wheat this year and more is still required,” he said.

The money spent on the import of wheat, the minister continued, could be used to support farmers and introduce latest technology in the sector.