Stranded cable car highlights Pakistan school accessibility crisis

Local residents gather near the incident site, in Pashto village, a mountainous area of Battagram district in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 26 August 2023
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Stranded cable car highlights Pakistan school accessibility crisis

  • Faculty members at schools in the country’s mountainous landscape links long commutes to high dropout rates
  • One of the students rescued from the stuck cable car demands roads, bridges and high schools in his village

BATTAGRAM: Ibrar Ahmed is relieved to be alive after being stuck on a cable car high over a river in northern Pakistan for 16 hours this week, but now the student wonders how he will make the arduous trek to class each day.

“God willing, I am going to continue with my studies, but the way to our school is so long,” he said after Tuesday’s ordeal, which grabbed global attention.

“Sometimes ... I get late for school because it opens at 8:30 a.m. and the road is so perilous,” said Ahmed, in his first year of high school at Batungi Pashto Government School. “The (chair)lift is necessary, but now we are terrified of it.”

Seven children and one man were rescued by Pakistan’s military and civilians from the flimsy cable car after a cable broke, dangling them 183 meters (600 feet) high in mountainous Battagram district north of Islamabad.

The harrowing ordeal highlights a crisis of school accessibility for many in Pakistan, with few high schools, poor roads, poverty and extreme weather hampering students’ ability to get to class.

That is a major reason Pakistan has the world’s second-lowest rate of school attendance. Some 23 million, or 44%, of Pakistani children aged four to 16 are out of school and the situation is worse for girls, according to government figures and the World Bank.

Given Pakistan’s huge youth population, boosting education rates is vital for economic sustainability and to mitigate the security concerns that plague the South Asian country, exacerbated by the lure of militant groups in impoverished rural areas, analysts and economists say.

“Long distances and travel times, few transportation options and costs are some of the barriers to access education, particularly for girls who are often not allowed to travel long distances alone,” said Ellen Van Kalmthout, chief of education at UNICEF Pakistan.

Ahmed wants “a proper road” and a high school near his village.

‘NUMEROUS ACCIDENTS’

Batungi Pashto High School head teacher Ali Asghar Khan links long commutes to high dropout rates.

“Most boys who come from far-off villages try their best to continue but they often face problems in travelling back and forth, either because they are too young or not strong enough or sick, so they definitely leave their studies,” Khan said. “The ratio of dropouts is high here.”

Many students must walk one to three hours each way on poorly built trails, crossing streams that swell into dangerous rivers in rainy seasons, Khan said. Those who make it are often exhausted by the journey, worsened by northern Pakistan’s hot summers and freezing winters. Tired and hungry, they struggle to concentrate, he said.

Communities have strung up scores of cable car systems through the mountainous Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of steep hills plunging into valleys. They often cut commutes to 20 minutes for a cheap fare but come at a dangerous cost, even before Tuesday’s scare.

“Numerous accidents have occurred in the past,” said former provincial police inspector general Naeem Khan. “Mostly the local people themselves with some help from the local police rescue the stranded people.”

A civilian involved in Tuesday’s rescue said he had rescued people at least six times before on smaller chairlifts.

Some 50 chairlifts dot the hillsides of nearby Swat Valley. Residents said the cars provide a lifeline for students, especially after severe flooding last year damaged infrastructure, but there had been multiple deaths and injuries in the past year.

“Two months ago, a woman and her child fell into the River Swat... when the rope of the cable car broke. Their bodies are yet to be recovered,” said resident Nasrullah Khan.

‘THIS IS OUR DEMAND’

Local officials and development agencies are struggling to fix the problems in the province, which are echoed throughout Pakistan.

“It is very difficult for them to reach schools in far-flung areas, but our government has in the last few years invested heavily and innovative ideas have been brought forward,” said Syed Hammad Haider, additional deputy commissioner of Battagram district.

Remote learning and community-based classes, particularly for girls, are a priority, while all the area’s cable cars are being checked and any with safety risks will be shut down, he said.

The World Bank is investing $300 million in rural infrastructure for the province in a project through 2027, with access to education in mind.

Challenges include the shortage of middle and high schools, especially for girls, and the lack of good all-weather roads, “which are becoming increasingly vulnerable to natural disasters due to climate change,” a World Bank spokesperson said.

For students in areas like Battagram who risk their lives to go to school, that cannot come fast enough.

“We will now not go by lift, but I don’t want to leave school either,” said Rizwan Ullah, another rescued student. “We want roads in our region, we want a bridge, we want high schools, we want all these facilities. This is our demand.”


PSL 2024: Rutherford blitz ensures Quetta snatch last-ball win over Karachi

Updated 29 February 2024
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PSL 2024: Rutherford blitz ensures Quetta snatch last-ball win over Karachi

  • Sherfane Rutherford scores 58 runs from 31 balls to hand Quetta the victory
  • Quetta spinner Abrar Ahmed returns figures of 3/31 to put Karachi Kings at bay

ISLAMABAD: West Indian batter Sherfane Rutherford handed Quetta Gladiators their fourth victory of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) 2024 tournament on Thursday, smashing a fiery half-century as the Gladiators edged out Karachi Kings, the home side, in a last-ball thriller. 
Batting first, the Kings were considerably troubled by the Gladiators’ bowling line-up. Spinner Abrar Ahmed returned figures of 3/31 while Usman Tariq and Akeal Hosein finished with figures of 2/16 and 2/34 respectively.
James Vince top-scored for the Kings, scoring 37 runs from 25 balls while all-rounder Anwar Ali contributed with an impressive 25 runs from 14 balls. The Kings finished with a score of 165-8 from their 20 overs. 
“#PurpleForce breathe.. we have won the thrilling encounter,” the Gladiators wrote on social media platform X after securing the win. 
The Gladiators had a strong start to their batting, with opener Jason Roy scoring 53 runs from 31 balls while left-handed Saud Shakeel scored 24 runs from 20 balls. Middle order batters Khawaja Nafay, former skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed and Gladiators skipper Rilee Rossouw fell in quick succession, all failing to score in the double digits. 
However, an 80-run stand between Rutherford and Hosein proved to be fatal for the Kings, who lost to Quetta by five wickets in the end. 
Rutherford scored 58 runs from 31 balls, smashing six sixes and a four at a strike rate of 187.10. Hosein, on the other hand, scored 22 runs from 17 balls. 
For the Kings, Hasan Ali and Zahid Mahmood were the best bowlers, returning figures of 2/39 and 2/17 respectively. 
The Gladiators remain at number two on the PSL points table, with four wins from their five matches so far. The Kings remain at the number five spot with only two wins from their five matches in this year’s PSL.


OIC’s COMSTECH joins hands with Pakistan hospital for eye surgeries in Somalia

Updated 29 February 2024
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OIC’s COMSTECH joins hands with Pakistan hospital for eye surgeries in Somalia

  • COMSTECH, Al-Shifa Eye Trust Hospital to set up free cataract eye surgery camp in Mogadishu from March 1-10
  • Initiative aims to eliminate “avoidable blindness” with free cataract eye surgeries to those in need, says state media

ISLAMABAD: The Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC) Ministerial Standing Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation (COMSTECH) has joined hands with a leading Pakistani hospital to provide free cataract eye surgeries in Mogadishu, Somalia, from next month, state-run media reported on Thursday. 
COMSTECH and Pakistan’s Al-Shifa Trust Eye Hospital are collaborating with Al-Nur Foundation Somali and the Benadir University Somalia to organize a free cataract eye surgery camp in Mogadishu from March 1-10, the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) said in a report. 
“The goal of this initiative is to eliminate avoidable blindness by providing free cataract surgeries to those in need,” the report said, adding the camp would be organized at the Dalmar Specialized and Teaching Hospital in Mogadishu. 
APP said that the eye surgery camp is poised to make a “significant impact” on the lives of individuals in need. 
“By offering free medical consultations, medications, eyeglasses, and surgeries to address cataract-related issues, the camp aims to alleviate the burden of visual impairment and improve the overall quality of life for participants,” APP said. 
Headquartered in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad, COMSTECH aims to strengthen cooperation among OIC member states in science and technology, and enhance their capabilities through training in emerging areas.


Pakistan’s stock market records gain as National Assembly holds maiden sitting

Updated 29 February 2024
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Pakistan’s stock market records gain as National Assembly holds maiden sitting

  • Analysts say maiden National Assembly session boosted investors’ confidence in Pakistan’s stock market
  • After much political uncertainty and rigging accusations, Pakistani legislators will elect a new premier on Sunday

KARACHI: Pakistan’s stock market continued its bullish run on Thursday, extending its previous day’s gains to close with an increase of 1.3 percent, as political uncertainty somewhat decreased after the country’s National Assembly convened its maiden session following controversial polls this month.
The stock market’s benchmark KSE100 index gained 875 points to close at the 64,579 level on Thursday, official data showed. On Wednesday, the KSE100 index had gained by 484 points to close at 63,703 points. 
Pakistan has been wracked with political uncertainty due to countrywide protests by political parties, who say the national polls of Feb. 8 were heavily rigged. However, financial analysts noted that investors’ confidence in the market increased as Pakistan’s National Assembly held its maiden session on Thursday, indicating that the country would soon be led by a new democratic government. 
“Stocks closed bullish after the president summoned the National Assembly session himself for the formation of a government,” Ahsan Mehanti, the chief executive officer of Arif Habib Corporation, told Arab News. 
“The move is easing political noise.” 
The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) parties have announced joining hands to form their government at the center. The two parties have the required number of seats to form a coalition government. They also have the support of smaller parties in the assembly and have announced former premier Shehbaz Sharif as their candidate for prime minister. 
Sheheryar Butt, portfolio manager at Pakistani securities brokerage company Darson Securities, said the market had continued its bullish trend from Wednesday amid growing anticipation of the PML-N forming the next government. 
“The next government will have to negotiate with IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the manifesto of the PML-N is compatible with the IMF,” Butt noted. 
He said that Pakistani investors expect the new government will continue to implement the measures undertaken by the caretaker administration to secure a new long-term program from the IMF.
One of the principal tasks of the new government would be to secure a long-term bailout program from the international lender, as its short-term program expires next month. Pakistan’s fragile $350-billion economy is in desperate need of external financing to shore its up its foreign exchange reserves and escape its economic crisis. 
“Pakistan needs a long-term program for at least three years to ensure economic stability, so the market expects that the PML-N will follow the footprint of the caretaker government,” he explained.
Butt was confident Pakistan would secure the last tranche from the IMF under the $3 billion short-term financing agreement it reached with the lender last summer. 
Pakistan’s National Assembly will elect the country’s prime minister on March 3 while elections for the speaker and deputy speaker’s posts are scheduled to be held on Friday, March 1.


Pakistan concludes 60-hour joint military exercise with Saudi Arabia, US, other nations 

Updated 29 February 2024
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Pakistan concludes 60-hour joint military exercise with Saudi Arabia, US, other nations 

  • The exercise was held at semi-mountainous terrain of Pakistan’s Punjab province from Feb. 25-27
  • Pakistan’s army chief attends closing ceremony, lauds participating teams for their professionalism

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan concluded a three-day, 60-hour joint military training exercise with participating teams from Saudi Arabia, the United States, Jordan and other countries this week, Pakistan Army’s media wing said on Thursday.
Pakistan opened the 7th International Pakistan Army Team Spirit (PATS) Exercise in the northwestern town of Pabbi on Sunday. The exercise, which ran from Feb. 25-27, was aimed at enhancing combat skills through the sharing of innovative ideas and experiences by participants. 
The exercise would also help hone basic soldierly attributes besides interoperability through the sharing of innovative ideas and mutual best practices, the ISPR said last week. 
Seven teams from the Pakistan Army and 15 teams from Bahrain, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, Maldives, Morocco, Qatar, the US, Uzbekistan, Srilanka, Thailand and Turkiye participated in the exercise. Azerbaijan, China, Germany, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Myanmar witnessed the exercise as observers, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said.
“The exercise was conducted from 25-27 Feb 2024 in the semi-mountainous terrain of Punjab,” the ISPR said. “Over the years, the exercise has gained much prominence as a very competitive professional military activity for friendly countries.”
Pakistan’s army chief General Syed Asim Munir attended the event’s closing ceremony at the eastern city of Kharian, the ISPR said. Munir appreciated the participating teams for their professionalism, and for demonstrating physical and mental endurance during the various stages of the exercise.
“At the end, COAS [chief of army staff] gave away individual and team awards to the participants of the exercise,” the ISPR said.
Pakistan routinely holds joint air, ground and sea exercises with friendly nations to foster interoperability and joint deployment concepts to counter threats to global peace.
Several cadets from these nations annually visit the South Asian country, which has fought back militancy for decades, to undergo specialized military training.


Pakistan’s Rawalpindi administration to deploy over 5,000 cops for next month’s PSL matches

Updated 29 February 2024
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Pakistan’s Rawalpindi administration to deploy over 5,000 cops for next month’s PSL matches

  • Pakistan’s eastern Rawalpindi city will host Pakistan Super League matches from March 2-10
  • Snipers, police to be stationed along ‘critical routes’ and at rooftops near stadium says state media

ISLAMABAD: The administration in Pakistan’s Rawalpindi has taken “extensive measures” to provide security to players and citizens as the city gears up to host the remaining matches of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) 2024 tournament next month, state-run media reported on Thursday.
Pakistan’s eastern city of Rawalpindi will host PSL matches from March 2-10. PSL matches every year draw thousands of people to stadiums in Lahore, Multan, Karachi and Rawalpindi, where matches are usually held. The PSL also features apart from local cricket stars, international cricketers of renown. 
The Rawalpindi administration has finalized a security plan ahead of the tournament’s matches, the Associate Press of Pakistan (APP) said in a report, amid a surge in militant attacks across the country. 
“Under the security plan finalized for PSL matches, over 5,000 police personnel, including elite forces, would be deployed to provide foolproof security cover to the matches,” the APP said. 
It said the security plan includes closing stations, managing traffic, and “strict surveillance” to ensure the safety of the cricketers, officials and spectators. 
It said around 750 police officers would be tasked with managing the teams’ movement from the Islamabad airport across the districts of Attock and Rawalpindi.
“Snipers, along with police equipped with advanced security tools, would be stationed along critical routes and rooftops near the stadium,” the report said. “These measures are designed to ensure a secure environment for the event.”
It said Rwalpindi’s traffic police has also developed a traffic management plan to cope with the expected increase in vehicles during the matches. 
Pakistani authorities have been wary of attacks targeting cricketers and cricket events, especially since 2009 when militants attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore. The incident scared international teams from touring Pakistan, forcing the South Asian country to choose the UAE as its home ground for several years before international teams started touring the country again.
Pakistan has seen a surge in militant violence, especially in its western regions bordering Afghanistan, since November 2022 after a fragile truce between the state and the Pakistani Taliban broke down.