Authorities clear snow around Pakistani resort town after 22 tourist deaths

Workers use heavy machinery to clear a road following a blizzard that started on January 7 trapping visitors in vehicles along the roads to the resort hill town of Murree, Pakistan, on January 9, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 10 January 2022

Authorities clear snow around Pakistani resort town after 22 tourist deaths

  • Rescue official says asphyxiation by carbon monoxide and freezing temperatures resulted in Murree tragedy
  • Urban policy expert suggests government to launch public transport for tourist resorts to avoid congestion

ISLAMABAD: Authorities on Sunday cleared snow from all major roads in and around the Pakistani hill station of Murree, rescue officials said, a day after the deaths of 22 people who died in their vehicles trapped by heavy snowfall and traffic snarl-ups. 
Relief and rescue operations continued in the resort town, with the civil administration and Pakistan army soldiers evacuating hundreds of people stranded some 45 kilometers northeast of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad and providing them with food, water, shelter and warm clothes. 
“The relief and rescue operations are still underway, but all major roads have been reopened for a smooth flow of traffic,” Deeba Shahnaz, a spokesperson for the 1122 emergency service, told Arab News on Sunday. 
All 22 dead bodies were shifted to Rawalpindi Institute of Urology and later handed over to the families after completion of medico-legal formalities, she said. 
“Bodies of all these unfortunate people were found in five vehicles on snowed-in roads,” Shahnaz said. “They either froze to death or were asphyxiated by carbon monoxide after turning heaters of their vehicles on trying to keep them warm during the blizzard.” 




Workers use heavy machinery to clear a road following a blizzard that started on January 7 trapping visitors in vehicles along the roads to the resort hill town of Murree, Pakistan, on January 9, 2022. (AFP)

The 1122 spokesperson said some of the tourists had disappeared after leaving their vehicles on the snow-covered roads, urging them to come back now to remove their cars for the traffic to flow smoothly. 
“All is well for now,” she said. 
Eight of the Murree snowstorm victims belonged to the family of Islamabad police officer Naveed Iqbal, who died alongside his wife and six children. 
Tens of thousands of people arrived in Murree on Thursday and Friday to see the snow, despite appeals by authorities to postpone their plans because of bad weather and roadblocks. The Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) had predicted heavy snowfall in Murree and the Galiyat mountainous regions from January 6 to 9. 

More than four feet of snow fell in the hillside town overnight on Friday, trapping tourists and blocking all incoming traffic the next day. 
Experts said that unchecked tourism, lack of data regarding number of vehicles and tourists entering a spot and zero warnings about weather conditions were bound to lead to such a disaster. 
“We don’t have proper public transportation for our tourist resorts and revellers have to travel through their personal vehicles, which ultimately leads to congestion and accidents,” Naveed Iftikhar, an urban policy specialist who co-founded the Lahore-based Urban Innovation research and advocacy group, told Arab News. 




Stranded tourists walk to catch transport after workers cleared a road that was blocked by a heavy snowstorm, in Murree some 28 miles (46 kilometers) north of the capital of Islamabad, Pakistan, on January 9, 2022. (AP)

He pointed out structural flaws in the country’s disaster management system and lack of capacity of authorities to swiftly respond to an emergency. 
“Our hierarchical system in bureaucracy is one of major hindrances in any proactive relief and rescue measure and this flaw leads to loss of precious lives and property,” he said. 
Iftikhar suggested the government to charge “congestion price” from tourists entering mountainous areas to keep a check on unsustainable tourism. 
“We’ll have to promote responsible and sustainable tourism through education and awareness to stop recurrence of Murree-like mishaps,” he added. 


Anger of Muslims at Salman Rushdie understandable, attack ‘terrible’ — ex-PM Khan

Updated 19 August 2022

Anger of Muslims at Salman Rushdie understandable, attack ‘terrible’ — ex-PM Khan

  • Ten years ago, Khan pulled out of event in India because Rushdie would also be appearing, the two men exchanged insults
  • When asked for his response to knife attack that left Rushdie badly wounded, Khan told the Guardian: “It’s terrible, sad“

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan has condemned the attack on novelist Salman Rushdie, describing it as “terrible” and “sad,” and saying while the anger of the Muslim world over Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses was understandable, it did not justify the assault.

Ten years ago, Khan pulled out of an event in India because Rushdie would also be appearing and the two men exchanged insults. But in a wide-ranging interview with the Guardian published on Friday, when asked for his response to the knife attack in New York state that left Rushdie badly wounded, Khan said: “I think it’s terrible, sad.”

“Rushdie understood [why his book was offesnive], because he came from a Muslim family. He knows the love, respect, reverence of a prophet that lives in our hearts. He knew that,” Khan said. “So the anger I understood, but you can’t justify what happened.”

The man accused of stabbing Rushdie last week in western New York pleaded not guilty to second-degree attempted murder and assault charges on Thursday and was held without bail.

Hadi Matar, 24, is accused of wounding Rushdie, 75, on Friday just before the author was to deliver a lecture on stage at an educational retreat near Lake Erie. Rushdie was hospitalized with serious injuries in what writers and politicians around the world decried as an attack on the freedom of expression.

The attack came 33 years after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Iran’s supreme leader, issued a fatwa, or religious edict, calling on Muslims to assassinate Rushdie a few months after “The Satanic Verses” was published. Many Muslims saw passages in the book about the Prophet Muhammad as blasphemous.

Rushdie, who was born in India to a Muslim Kashmiri family, has lived with a bounty on his head, and spent nine years in hiding under British police protection.

In 1998, Iran President Mohammad Khatami government distanced itself from the fatwa, saying the threat against Rushdie was over.

But the multimillion-dollar bounty has since grown and the fatwa was never lifted: Khomeini’s successor, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was suspended from Twitter in 2019 for saying the fatwa against Rushdie was “irrevocable.”


Pakistan picks State Bank, Saudi Central Bank veteran Jameel Ahmad as new governor

Updated 19 August 2022

Pakistan picks State Bank, Saudi Central Bank veteran Jameel Ahmad as new governor

  • Pakistan's central bank has been without a governor since May
  • New central bank governor will serve a five-year term 

KARACHI: Pakistan named Jameel Ahmad, a deputy governor of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), as the central bank's new governor on Friday, appointing him for a five-year term.

The Pakistani central bank had been without a full-time governor since May and one of Ahmad's first tasks will be to chair a monetary policy meeting to consider its policy rate.

Ahmad's career spans more than 30 years in various positions at the State Bank of Pakistan and the Saudi Central Bank, the country's central bank said in a profile on its website.

Prior to his appointment as deputy governor of the Pakistani central bank in 2018, he was executive director of its Banking Supervision and Financial Stability Group.

As a deputy SBP governor, Ahmad played an instrumental role in the digitisation of banking and payments as well in the enabling of financial technology services, the bank said.  


Key Pakistani internet providers report outage

Updated 19 August 2022

Key Pakistani internet providers report outage

  • Users in northern and central regions of Pakistan were facing an outage
  • Country's telecom regulator says it was investigating the issue

ISLAMABAD: Key Pakistani telecom operators reported that internet connectivity was down in some regions in the country on Friday, while the country's telecom regulator said it was investigating the issue.

State-owned Pakistan Telecommunication Company Ltd's optical fiber network was experiencing faults and hence users in northern and central regions of the country were facing an outage, it said in a tweet.

Telenor Pakistan, backed by Norway's state-controlled Telenor said its internet network was down due to a network issue on their internet service provider.


Pakistan ‘categorically rejects’ Dehli’s announcement to register new voters in Indian-administered Kashmir

Updated 19 August 2022

Pakistan ‘categorically rejects’ Dehli’s announcement to register new voters in Indian-administered Kashmir

  • India to register over 2 million voters in a move local politicians have called attempt to influence November elections
  • Kashmiris fear rule changes will allow BJP government led by PM Modi to alter demographics of the region

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan said on Friday it rejected what it called New Delhi's attempt at “pre-poll rigging” in Indian-administered Kashmir after announcements over two million new voters would be registered in the contested region, a move local political parties have called an attempt to influence upcoming elections.

The Muslim-majority region is claimed in full but ruled in part by nuclear arch-rivals India and Pakistan, who have fought two wars over control of the territory. New Delhi stripped semi-autonomy from its portion of the region in August 2019, changing the Indian constitution to allow non-Kashmiris to vote and own land there.

In a statement by the Pakistani foreign office, Islamabad said the announcement that even temporary residents in Kashmir, including outside workers and security personnel, would be permitted to register as ‘voters’ was an attempt “to influence the outcome of ‘so-called’ elections.”

“Despite its reprehensible measures that have followed the illegal and unilateral actions of 5 August 2019, India will not be able to break the will of the Kashmiri people or to mislead the world community,” the foreign office said, calling on New Delhi to desist from violating “international law, the UN Charter, and the 4th Geneva Convention,” which relates to the protection of civilians in times of war.

“India must also release all political prisoners detained on trumped-up charges, halt human rights violations … lift the brutal military siege, and let the Kashmiris exercise their legitimate right to self-determination as stipulated in the relevant UN Security Council resolutions,” the foreign office added.

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Electoral Officer Hirdesh Kumar told reporters on Wednesday more than 2 million new voters were expected to be enrolled in the region ahead of local polls due in November. The new registrants could increase the voter count by more than a third, adding to the existing 7.6 million voters in the region.

Kashmiris fear the rule changes will allow the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to alter the demographics of the region. The BJP says its policies in the region are for the benefit of ordinary Kashmiris.


Islamabad court orders ex-PM Khan aide, facing sedition charges, be hospitalized till Monday

Updated 19 August 2022

Islamabad court orders ex-PM Khan aide, facing sedition charges, be hospitalized till Monday

  • Judicial magistrate orders Gill be reexamined, medical report be submitted in court by Monday
  • Video footage outside local court on Friday showed Gill in a wheelchair saying “I can’t breathe”

ISLAMABAD: A district court in Islamabad on Friday suspended the physical police remand of Dr Shahbaz Gill, the chief of staff of ex-premier Imran Khan, and ordered police to keep him in hospital until Monday.

Police had presented Gill in court today seeking an extension in his physical remand for another eight days to complete investigations in a case against him involving charges of sedition and incitement to mutiny.

“Shahbaz Gill is apparently unwell and he is under treatment. His physical remand is suspended till Monday,” judicial magistrate Raja Farrukh Ali Khan ruled, ordering that Gill be reexamined by doctors and a medical report submitted in court by Monday.

On Friday morning, Islamabad police said in a statement Gill was "pretending to be ill" to obstruct the investigation and a medical board had declared him ‘clinically stable’ after a thorough examination and tests.

Gill, a senior member of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, was brought to PIMS on Wednesday night in an ambulance from Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi for a check-up after Islamabad police took over his custody following a court ordering a two-day physical remand. A government prosecutor had argued that Gill needed to be remanded in police custody for an additional two days so that police could complete their investigation into a sedition case filed against him.

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.  But in a rare move on Wednesday, a local court remanded Gill back into police custody.

Gill has been under arrest since last Tuesday for comments he made during a news bulletin that the national electronic media regulator has called “seditious.”

“The medical board declared the accused … medically healthy,” Islamabad police said on Twitter on Friday, saying Gill was “pretending to be ill under false pretences … to obstruct the investigation.”

“After reviewing the reports and opinions from cardiologist and psychiatrist, patient [Gill] is clinically stable,” a six-member medical board of senior doctors said in its report dated August 18. “Although he is a known case of bronchial asthma, currently he has no signs of exacerbation of acute asthma.”

“Pulmonologist advised and discharged on medication,” the report, a copy of which is available with Arab News, said.

A day earlier, doctors who checked Gill at PIMS said he needed to be examined by a cardiologist and pulmonologist.

Video footage made outside a local court on Friday and widely shared on social media showed Gill in a wheelchair, surrounded by policemen, and saying “I can’t breathe.”

Khan and the PTI party have said Gill has been tortured in police custody, which Islamabad police have denied.

The case against the Khan aide relates to comments made on ARY News last Monday 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 to 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.