Pakistan’s first female general hails Saudi Arabia for women-centric reforms

Pakistan Army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa (left) appoints Lt. Gen. Nagar Johar (center) as Colonel Commandant of the Army Medical Corps during a ceremony in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on November 26, 2021. (ISPR)
Short Url
Updated 15 January 2022

Pakistan’s first female general hails Saudi Arabia for women-centric reforms

  • Lt. Gen. Nigar Johar was appointed the first female colonel commandant of the Army Medical Corps last year
  • The three-star Pakistan Army general wants Muslim women to have self-belief since they are capable of exceling in any field

RAWALPINDI: Pakistan’s first female general, Nigar Johar, hailed Saudi Arabia for introducing “commendable” reforms for the welfare and well-being of women in an exclusive interview with Arab News earlier this week. 
Lt. Gen. Johar belongs to Swabi, a small settlement in the conservative Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in the country’s northwest, though the childhood environment of her town did not prevent her from dreaming of a professional career. 
She joined the Army Medical College in 1981 and graduated four years later. Subsequently, she became the only woman in the history of Pakistan Army who reached the rank of a three-star general and was asked to lead a corps. 
The three-star Pakistan Army general asked Muslim women to have self-belief since they were capable of exceling in any field. 
“I am very happy that female residents of Saudi Arabia can now drive around due to the commendable steps taken by the king,” she told Arab News on Monday. “I was recently there for umrah and saw female drivers which made me very happy.” 




Pakistan’s first female general, Lieutenant General Nigar Johar Nigar Johar (right), speaks to Arab News Pakistan in Islamabad, Pakistan on January 10, 2022. (AN Photo)

Women’s rights are one of the issues that has benefited most from Saudi Arabia’s reform push in recent years. Some of the most important reforms in the kingdom included changes to laws designed to enhance rights of women in a number of fields and promote gender equality. 
As a result, Saudi women have been appointed to high-ranking positions in the public and private sectors, as well as diplomatic missions. In addition, more Saudi women are working in the legal profession and have opportunities to represent clients in court and work in public prosecution offices. 
Lt Gen Johar, who is the first female colonel commandant of the Army Medical Corps (AMC), also applauded the Gulf countries for providing assistance to Pakistan during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE and Qatar have really helped us,” she acknowledged. “We got ventilators, oxygen generation plants and oxygen concentrators [from them].” 
The top AMC official attributed her professional success to a clear sense of purpose along with a system of meritocracy in the Pakistani armed forces. 
“If you know your job and work hard with clear direction and sincerity, there is no reason why you would be left behind,” she said. “The army system is merit-based. This is also exemplified by my presence here.” 
Explaining her passion for the armed forces, she said her father was an artillery officer who inspired her in many ways. 
“He was my ideal,” she said. “I had seen him in uniform from the beginning which influenced my decision to become a doctor and join the army.” 
Johar’s dedication and professional excellence captured the attention of her superiors who gave her positions of command and authority, making her feel she was facing “the biggest challenge” of her life. 
She said that her first leadership role arrived when she was asked to command a hospital as a brigadier. 
“That was definitely a huge challenge since you have to prove yourself,” she continued. “Then you feel a burden of responsibility because you know that you are there to make it or break it for females coming there after you.” 
She added that her performance was acknowledged by everyone, increasing her institution’s expectations further. With the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Johar was asked to convert the Military Hospital Rawalpindi into a fully equipped COVID-19 center within a week. 




Pakistan’s first female general, Lieutenant General Nigar Johar Nigar Johar (right), speaks to Arab News Pakistan in Islamabad, Pakistan on January 10, 2022. (AN Photo)

She recalled the daunting challenge, saying: “We converted it into a COVID hospital by spreading oxygen services to over 100 beds and expanding its Intensive Care Unit from one to four within days.” 
As the disease started spreading in the country, she took the initiative to further add 3,000 beds by taking over the building of an Army Public School. 
“We worked day and night with our team to manage the emergency situation,” she continued, “and now I can proudly say that we did quite well because our mortality ratio was very low.” 
Asked if she ever faced gender discrimination, Johar said it was a global issue which was present in every field across the world. 
She remembered that female doctors were initially not allowed any specialty other than gynecology in the army, but maintained things had changed and female officers were now present everywhere in the military setup. 
“I wanted to be a cardiologist but I couldn’t,” she said, adding: “I feel that my destiny turned out to be better than what I had planned for myself because I could not become a cardiologist but I am sitting here now which is better for me.” 
Johar said women had more options in the military now. 
“We have females in so many areas in the army. They are there in education, computer sciences, information technology, engineering and architecture,” she said. 
“Though many of them are still in the initial stages of their careers and are captains and majors.” 


Pakistan tightens enforcement against smuggling after ban on luxury imports

Updated 24 May 2022

Pakistan tightens enforcement against smuggling after ban on luxury imports

  • The country recently banned import of luxury, non-essential items to save precious foreign exchange
  • Pakistan has been witnessing an increase in current account deficit, with rupee hitting historic lows

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani government has increased enforcement against the smuggling of contraband items, Finance Minister Miftah Ismail said on Tuesday, days after the South Asian country banned luxury imports to stop the outflow of precious foreign exchange. 

Pakistan last week announced a complete ban on imported cars and non-essential items as its current account deficit continues to spiral out of control and foreign exchange reserves tumble, pushing the Pakistani rupee to historic lows against the US dollar. 

The banned items include imported cars, home appliances, cellular phones, home appliances, shoes, cosmetics, chocolates, among others. 

"As the government has banned the import of a few non-essential items, we fear that smuggling of these items will increase," Ismail said on Twitter.  

"Therefore, we have increased enforcement against professional khaipyas (bootleggers)." 

The minister, however, said that common citizens bringing in a few items from abroad would not be harassed. 

Meanwhile, the Pakistan Customs said in a statement it had increased enforcement at the Karachi airport to prevent smuggling of items, which had recently been banned by the government. 

As a result of heightened vigilance, it said, officials had seized hundreds of kilograms of food stuff and fruit as well as sanitary ware, used mobile phones and branded shoes. 

"The enforcement staff has been directed to ensure deterrence in future and to make sure that unscrupulous elements may not use air travel to circumvent the recently imposed ban," the Pakistan Customs added. 


Ahead of ex-PM Khan’s march, Pakistan embassy warns expats against protests in UAE

Updated 24 May 2022

Ahead of ex-PM Khan’s march, Pakistan embassy warns expats against protests in UAE

  • Since Khan’s ouster, Pakistani expats have held demonstrations in their respective countries of residence
  • The embassy reminds ‘misuse’ and ‘out of context activity’ on social media is also prohibited in the UAE

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s embassy in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday asked Pakistani nationals to refrain from holding protest demonstrations in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and indulging in “out of context” activities on social media. 

Khan last month became the first Pakistani prime minister to be ousted through a no-confidence vote in parliament. Since his ouster, hundreds of expats have been holding demonstrations in his favor in their respective countries of residence, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE). 

Seeking fresh elections in the country, the ousted prime minister recently announced an anti-government march to the Pakistani capital of Islamabad on May 25 and asked supporters in different parts of Pakistan to rally behind him. 

“This is to bring to the notice of all Pakistanis in the UAE that as per local laws, any kind of procession or protest is illegal,” the Pakistani embassy said in statement on Tuesday. 

“It is also informed that misuse and out of context activity on social media is also prohibited.” 

The embassy advised all Pakistani expats to abide by the local laws and refrain from indulging in any such activity. 

The Pakistani government has banned Khan’s protest march to Islamabad, Pakistani Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah announced at a news briefing on Tuesday, hours after a policeman was shot and killed during a crackdown on Khan’s supporters across the country. 

An official of Khan’s party had shot and killed the policeman when police visited his house, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said, adding the accused and his father had been arrested. 


Saudi Arabia finalizing extension of $3 billion deposit to Pakistan — finance minister

Updated 24 May 2022

Saudi Arabia finalizing extension of $3 billion deposit to Pakistan — finance minister

  • Mohammed Al-Jadaan says Pakistan is a key ally and the kingdom will stand behind the South Asian nation
  • On May 1, both countries said they would discuss possibility of supporting deposit by extending its term

DAVOS: Saudi Arabia is finalizing the extension of the kingdom’s $3 billion deposit to Pakistan, Saudi Minister of Finance Mohammed Al-Jadaan told Reuters.

“We are currently finalizing extending the $3 billion deposit to Pakistan,” he said on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Saudi Minister of Finance Mohammed Al-Jadaan speaks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on May 23, 2022. (WEF/File)

Last year, Saudi Arabia deposited $3 billion in Pakistan’s central bank to help support its foreign reserves.

Al-Jadaan did not offer further details, but on May 1 the two countries said in a joint statement that they would discuss the possibility of supporting the deposit by extending its term “or through other options.”

Pakistan is in dire need of external finances, hurt by high inflation, reserves declining to as low as less than two months’ of imports, and a fast-weakening currency.

Al-Jadaan said Pakistan was an important ally and the kingdom would stand behind the South Asian nation.

Uncertainty over the revival of an International Monetary Fund program has compounded volatility in the economy and markets amid a political crisis since a new government took over last month from ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan.


Joyland, first Pakistani film selected in Cannes, receives standing ovation at premiere

Updated 24 May 2022

Joyland, first Pakistani film selected in Cannes, receives standing ovation at premiere

  • Pakistani Saim Sadiq’s feature debut premiered in the festival’s Un Certain Regard strand
  • Widely shared videos showed the film getting a nearly 10-minute-long standing ovation

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Saim Sadiq’s feature debut, “Joyland,” the first Pakistani film to be selected in Cannes, received a standing ovation after it premiered in the festival’s Un Certain Regard strand.

The film celebrates ‘transgenedr culture’ in Pakistan and tells the story of a family torn between modernity and tradition in contemporary Lahore.

Videos widely shared on social media showed the film getting a nearly 10-minute-long standing ovation.

“Standing ovation for ‘Joyland,’” actress and screenwriter Rose Harlean said.

Pakistani filmmaker Nabeel Qureshi congratulated Sadiq on the achievement.

“Such a moment of pride to see #Joyland receive a standing ovation at Cannes, and the immense praise its received,” actor Osman Khalid Butt posted.

A review in Variety described the film as the story of a patriarchal family that yearns for the birth of a baby boy to continue the family line, while their youngest son secretly joins an erotic dance theater and falls for an ambitious transsexual starlet.

Sadiq drew inspiration from his own family and a theater close to his home in Lahore.

“I came from a very morally upright, middle-class conservative family, and to find out that this other world exists, literally like a 10-minute drive from my house, that I never knew of. It’s so different, the world of the theater, where sexuality is not such a taboo, where women can get on stage and be in such positions of power,” the filmmaker told Variety.

“It’s the same people who are probably sitting at a family dinner in my house, who probably are later going in and watching those shows sometimes, and then pretending that they’re not the same person existing in both worlds. For me, it became an interesting way of examining myself, my family and the world around me with a particular focus on gender and intimacy,” Sadiq added.

Pakistan has one of the most progressive transgender cultures in the world. In 2018, Pakistan passed a landmark transgender rights bill that provides the country’s trans citizens with fundamental rights including prohibiting discrimination and harassment against them educationally and socially, allowing them to obtain driving licenses and passports and to change their gender in the national database at their own discretion.

“They were always very much part of the world that we lived in. They brought a certain sense of color and flamboyance and an owning up of desire in a certain way,” Sadiq said.

The filmmaker said that the progress of Pakistan’s transgender community had been so swift that he had to pause writing the script because some narratives about them weren’t accurate anymore.

“From the time they were struggling and they had all these superstitions around them to now when they are actresses, doctors and news anchors, it’s a big, big shift that I’ve been fortunate enough to see in my life,” Sadiq said.


‘Decisive moment’: Pakistan’s defiant ex-premier says will lead anti-government march as planned

Updated 24 May 2022

‘Decisive moment’: Pakistan’s defiant ex-premier says will lead anti-government march as planned

  • Imran Khan asks people not to fear the government’s heavy-handed tactics and work for ‘real independence’
  • The former prime minister addresses ‘the neutrals,’ says they will be judged for their actions during the current crisis

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan announced his decision on Tuesday to lead an anti-government march to the federal capital shortly after the government refused to permit the protest demonstration, saying it was a “decisive moment” that would determine the future direction of the country.

Khan, who has been seeking fresh elections in the country since his ouster from power last month in a no-confidence vote, said on Sunday he would march on Islamabad on May 25 while asking his supporters from different parts of Pakistan to join him there.

The government ordered a crackdown against his top aides and staunch supporters in different cities on Monday night before declaring it would not allow Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party to stage the planned sit-in.

“This is a decisive moment,” Khan said while addressing a news conference in Peshawar, asking his followers not to fear the government’s heavy-handed tactics.

“I will be leaving [Khyber] Pakhtunkhwa with one of the biggest caravans in history tomorrow to go to Islamabad,” he added.

Khan wondered why the government was taking stringent measures to stop the protest march while pointing out he had never broken a law in his entire political career.

Addressing the country’s top judiciary, he asked if it was going to allow the government to stop the march since it could put the institution’s reputation on the line.

He also mentioned “the neutrals” — a reference to the country’s military that described itself as “apolitical” while Khan’s administration was driven out of power – saying the nation would also judge them on the basis of their actions during the ongoing crisis.

“You have to decide which side are you standing on,” he maintained while adding that it was no longer an option for anyone to stay neutral anymore.

The former prime minister also warned the police and bureaucracy not to follow “unlawful directives” of the government.

“There are two ways from here: one leads to destruction while the other will take us to real independence,” he said.

Khan reiterated his march would bring “a sea of people” to Islamabad, making it impossible for anyone to stop it.