After six-year tenure, General Bajwa retires as Pakistan army chief today

Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa arrives to attend the Pakistan Day parade in Islamabad on March 23, 2019. (AFP/File)
Short Url
Updated 28 November 2022

After six-year tenure, General Bajwa retires as Pakistan army chief today

  • Outgoing chief holds farewell meetings with PM Shehbaz Sharif, President Arif Alvi
  • Will pass baton to successor General Asim Munir at change of command ceremony

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa will be retiring today, Tuesday after completing a six-year tenure as head of Pakistan's all-powerful military, which has an outsized role in the governance and foreign policy of the nuclear-armed nation.

A change of command ceremony will be held at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi on Tuesday morning during which Bajwa will pass the baton to his successor, General Asim Munir, who will become the 17th army chief of the country.

Ahead of the handing over, Bajwa on Monday held farewell meetings with PM Shehbaz Sharif and President Arif Alvi, in which both leaders lauded the outgoing officer's services for Pakistan, particularly in the areas of defense, security, and geo-economics.

“Under the leadership of General Qamar Javed Bajwa, the army demonstrated exemplary services in effectively dealing with various challenges, including the country’s exclusion from the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) Grey List, COVID-19 pandemic, and the recent flashfloods,” the PM office said in a statement. 

“You had the honor of leading the best army in the world.”

In an interview published in an international media outlet on Sunday, Bajwa reiterated the army’s resolve to remain apolitical and, in an apparent reference to former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, said that a campaign had been launched against the armed forces because it refused to intervene in politics. 

“Despite some criticism and undue vilification of the armed forces through mass propaganda and meticulously crafted false narratives, the institutional resolve to remain apolitical will remain steadfast,” the outgoing army chief said in the interview.

“I am certain that this political quarantine of the armed forces will auger well for Pakistan in the long term by fostering political stability and strengthening the army-to-people bond.”

The army has ruled Pakistan for almost half of its 75-year history either through coups or as an invisible guiding hand in politics.

Munir's appointment coincides with a dispute between the military and former premier Khan, who blames the army for playing a part in his ouster earlier this year and who has been leading anti-government protests since then.


22 people killed in bus, car collision in Pakistan

Updated 24 sec ago

22 people killed in bus, car collision in Pakistan

  • Fatal road accidents are common in Pakistan, where traffic rules are rarely followed
  • Bad road infrastructure and use of unfit vehicles are other causes of frequent accidents

PESHAWAR: A speeding bus collided with a car and plunged into a ravine in northwest Pakistan on Tuesday, killing at least 22 passengers and injuring 12 others, police said, the second such deadly accident in less than a week.

The bus was traveling to the garrison city of Rawalpindi from the Ghizer district in the north when the accident happened near Shatial village, 500 kilometers (30 miles) north of Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said Dildar Khan, an area police chief.

He said rescuers transferred the dead and injured to a hospital, where some of them were listed in critical condition.

Last Friday, 17 people were killed in a head-on collision between a passenger bus and a speeding truck near a tunnel in the Kohat district in northwest Pakistan. On Jan, 29, another deadly accident happened in southern Pakistan where a bus crashed into a pillar and fell off a bridge, killing 40 people.

Deadly accidents are common in Pakistan due to poor road infrastructure and a disregard for traffic laws.


Security forces kill 12 militants in joint intelligence-based operation in Pakistan’s northwest

Updated 30 min 6 sec ago

Security forces kill 12 militants in joint intelligence-based operation in Pakistan’s northwest

  • The militants were kept under surveillance by intelligence operatives in Lakki Marwat before being ambushed
  • Police officials say the militants belonged to a TTP faction that killed six of their men in the district last December

ISLAMABAD: Security forces have carried out a joint intelligence-based operation in the northwest of Pakistan, said official statements released on Wednesday, killing 12 militants involved in violent activities in the region.

The operation was carried out in Lakki Marwat, an impoverished district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where a proscribed militant network, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), carried out more than 15 percent of attacks last year.

According to the military’s media wing, ISPR, the militants killed in the operation also belonged to same network and were kept under surveillance by intelligence operatives for about a week.

“Terrorists were lured in by providing a vehicle for escape that was intercepted and neutralized,” it added. “Weapons, ammunition and Afghan currency were also recovered from the terrorists during the operation.”

In a separate statement, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police said the militants belonged to TTP’s Azharuddin Group, adding they were on their way to Tank district when they were ambushed by the security forces.

“The terrorists opened fire but the security personnel remained safe,” the statement said. “The police targeted the vehicle with a rocket launcher.”

“Azharuddin Group was involved in terrorist activities against the police in Lakki Marwat,” it continued. “It also martyred six policemen in December.”

The TTP ended a fragile truce with the government last November before stepping up attacks on security forces and resorting to suicide bombings in different parts of the country.

The network leadership is said to be based in Afghanistan, making Pakistani authorities urge the administration in Kabul not to let armed factions use its territory to target other states.


Pakistani winners of Saudi university fest say event helped them show diversity of local culture

Updated 08 February 2023

Pakistani winners of Saudi university fest say event helped them show diversity of local culture

  • Pakistan’s stall secured 1st position in the festival at the King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah 
  • The three-day annual event featured stalls and performances by students from 32 countries 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani students, who secured first position at an annual cultural event at the King Abdulaziz University (KAU) in Jeddah, said on Tuesday that the competition helped them present a positive image of Pakistan by showing its cultural diversity to visitors belonging to more than 30 countries. 

The third edition of KAU’s three-day annual cultural festival was held on January 17-19, featuring stalls and performances by university students from 32 countries. 

Teams of students competed with each other in various aspects of culture, such as food, language, art and music. 

“A total of 30 Pakistani students are studying here and all participated in the event with the aim to show the diversity of our culture to the world as students from different countries were participating in the event,” Ghazanfar Ali, who led the Pakistan team in the competition, told Arab News over the phone from Jeddah. 

“This success will further highlight Pakistan’s positive image among Saudi people as well as other nationalities who visited our stall.” 


In this photo, Pakistani students who secured first position in King Abdulaziz University's cultural festival can be seen with their winning shields and prizes in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on January 19, 2023. (Photo courtesy: Ghazanfar Ali) 

Pakistan has very good historical places, variety of food and different cultural dresses, and the event provided an opportunity to show the richness of Pakistani culture to the world, according to Ali. 

“We worked very hard as a team to pull this off and that was why we got the first position,” he added. 

Another Pakistani student, Abdullah Zai, said it took them more than a month’s hard work to prepare for the performances and stall. 

“We prepared all food items ourselves and assigned this responsibility to different students based on their region in Pakistan,” he said. 

“In the morning sessions, we used to display stall and brief visitors about the unique aspects of different items there, and show Pakistani culture through traditional dance performances during the evening sessions.” 

A group of Pakistani students poses for a picture with their stall at King Abdulaziz University's cultural festival in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on January 19, 2023. (Photo courtesy: Ghazanfar Ali)

Zai said their stall presented food from different parts of Pakistan, traditional dresses, paintings of scenic places and artifacts. 

Both visitors from within the university and the outside guests loved the Pakistani cuisine and culture, he said. 

“It gave a good representation to Pakistan in the Kingdom and after the event, many international as well as Saudi students told us they did not know that Pakistani culture was so rich, colorful and diverse,” Zai said. 

The Pakistani consulate in Jeddah helped these expat students arrange items of cultural significance, especially paintings. 

A Pakistani stall is pictured at King Abdulaziz University's cultural festival in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on January 19, 2023. (Photo courtesy: Ghazanfar Ali)

Hamzah Gilani, a press counselor with Pakistan’s consulate in Jeddah, said such events enabled people from different backgrounds to come together and appreciate each other’s culture, thus strengthening diplomatic ties between nations. 

“The norms of diplomacy are changing; cultural activities have become the most effective tool of public diplomacy,” Gilani told Arab News. 

He said events such as the one held at the KAU provided a great opportunity to promote a “soft image” of Pakistan as countries could showcase the best of their heritage and traditions through art and culture. 

“I am immensely thankful to the Saudi government for providing us an opportunity to demonstrate the true nature of Pakistan which has been buried under negative stereotypes for far too long,” Gilani added. 


Pakistan among most vulnerable nations as glacial lake floods threaten communities

Updated 08 February 2023

Pakistan among most vulnerable nations as glacial lake floods threaten communities

  • Melting mountain glaciers pose a growing flood risk to some 15 million people around the world
  • Collectively, the world’s glaciers lost about 332 gigatons of ice a year between 2006 and 2016

Melting mountain glaciers pose a growing flood risk to some 15 million people around the world, researchers said in a report published on Tuesday, with communities in Asia facing the biggest danger.

Runoff from melting glaciers often pools in shallow lakes, held back by rocks and debris. The risk comes when a lake overfills, bursting through its natural barrier and sending a torrent of water rushing down mountain valleys.

Scientists have assessed for the first time how many people globally are at risk from these floods, finding that more than half of vulnerable populations live in India, Pakistan, China, and Peru.

Danger is highest, they report in a study published in the journal Nature Communications, when a large number of people live near a lake.

“Our work does not just focus on the size or number of glacier lakes — no disaster is natural — it is the presence of people, especially vulnerable people, in the landscape that causes a disaster,” said Stuart Dunning, a physical geographer at Britain’s Newcastle University, and a co-author of the study.

Collectively, the world’s glaciers lost about 332 gigatons of ice a year between 2006 and 2016. Since 1990, the number and volume of glacial lakes worldwide have each increased by about 50 percent.

In the high mountains of Asia, some 9 million people live near more than 2,000 glacial lakes. In 2021, more than 100 people were killed in India in an outburst flood in its northern mountains.

HEATING UP THE HIMALAYAS

Compared with mountain glaciers in the Alps and North America, Asia’s icy places are not as well monitored — most lack long-term observations of how they have changed over time.

The best-studied glacier in the Himalayas is north India’s Chhota Shigri, which has 20 years of mass balance measurements — the difference between how much ice a glacier gains and loses in a year.

In 2022, India suffered blistering temperatures and near the end of the year, scientists headed into the Himalayas to measure Chhota Shigri’s mass.

Their findings, shared with Reuters, revealed the best-studied glacier in the Himalayas had experienced its worst year on record; Chhota Shigri lost three times as much mass in 2022 compared with its 2002 to 2022 yearly average.

“The impacts are already visible as the glacier is thinning and retreating,” said Farooq Azam, a glaciologist at the Indian Institute of Technology Indore who monitors Chhota Shigri. This will be “impactful to downstream water availability in near future,” he said.

Satellite observations also show that the glaciers in the Himalayas are in a state of overall decline.

“The ice is really melting significantly during the last decades — mass loss is accelerating,” said Tobias Bolch, a glaciologist with Graz University of Technology in Austria.

From 1990 to 2015, glacier coverage in the Himalayas shrank by about 11 percent, according to July 2022 study.

During the same time period, Himalayan glacial lakes increased by about 9 percent in number, and 14 percent in area. More than 200 lakes now pose a very high hazard to Himalayan communities, according to 2022 research.


IMF bailout should advance economic rights of Pakistanis – Human Rights Watch

Updated 19 min 30 sec ago

IMF bailout should advance economic rights of Pakistanis – Human Rights Watch

  • Human Rights Watch says the economic reforms recommended by the international lender will burden low-income segments
  • HRW maintains the IMF and Pakistan must deal with the economic crisis in a way that protects financially vulnerable people

ISLAMABAD: A global rights organization has called for the protection of economically disadvantaged people in Pakistan by broadening social protection systems in the country as officials in Islamabad discuss structural reforms with an International Monetary Fund (IMF) delegation to unlock a stalled bailout program amid a severe dollar liquidity crunch.

The negotiations between the two sides began on February 1 and are expected to conclude during the ongoing week. A successful outcome of the talks will help the government secure $1.1 billion from the international lender under a loan agreement signed in 2019.

The financial assistance from the IMF is likely to ease the crippling shortage of foreign exchange in Pakistan and make other sources of funding accessible to the country. However, the economic reforms currently under discussion are likely to put significant burden on low-income segments, making the government concerned about a likely political backlash in an election year while forcing rights organizations to ring alarm bells.

“Millions of Pakistanis have been pushed into poverty and denied their fundamental social and economic rights,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch (HRW). “The IMF and the Pakistani government have a responsibility to address this crisis in a way that prioritizes and protects low-income people.”

In a statement issued earlier this week, HRW noted the IMF was asking Pakistan to remove energy and fuel subsidies, move to a market-based exchange rate and increase its general sales tax rate. It maintained this was likely to make it harder for many people to meet their basic needs amid the rapid depreciation of local currency and soaring inflation.

“The IMF program should conduct a thorough assessment of the direct and indirect impact these adjustments would have on low-income people and adequately mitigate them,” it added. “New tax measures should be progressive in nature and should not exacerbate inequality and increase the cost of living in ways that undermine rights.”

HRW said the IMF recommendations should encourage government spending on social services, such as education, health care, and poverty-reduction programs while shoring up government revenues by improving the tax collection infrastructure and adopting stringent and transparent accountability measures.

It asked the international lender to make needed funds available as soon as possible, putting into place safeguards to protect people’s economic and social rights while pointing out they were still reeling from the devastating floods last year.

“Pakistan’s government should use the influx of funds to expand support for those worst affected by the economic crisis,” Gossman said. “The IMF should provide Pakistan the time and flexibility to achieve a sustainable, inclusive, and rights-based recovery.”