Pakistan News

LAHORE: “No one has ever achieved much from staying within the confines of a need to create your own path.” At the risk of sounding a tad affected, these sagely words from a seventeen-year-old student of A-Levels are an attempt to explain how he had managed to achieve a goal most of his cohorts would find unthinkable at their young age, and the message he wants to give students aspiring to build a career in science.

Age, for Muhammad Shaheer Niazi, is a mere number that should never have to hold anyone back. The bespectacled curly-haired student from the Lahore College of Arts and Sciences (LACAS), Johar Town, A-Level Campus, got published a research paper in the journal, Royal Society Open Science, based on research he had conducted for the International Young Physicists’ Tournament in Russia last year.

Speaking to Dawn, Shaheer recalls that while preparing for the tournament at the laboratories at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), Dr Sabieh Anwar, who leads the PhysLab initiative, handed him a thermographic camera. Like most 17-year-olds, he began by taking his own pictures, but also caught on camera temperature differences on the surface of a layer of oil in an electric field between a pointed electrode and a flat one (a honeycomb pattern appears on the layer of oil when high voltage is passed through). He used shadowgraphy to image the ion stream. This had not been done before.

The team representing Pakistan at the International Young Physicists’ Tourna­ment was given the electric honeycomb phenomenon to present on and Shaheer’s twin sister, Khadija Niazi, was the team captain. He decided to write a paper on his findings but little did he realise what an arduous process it would be to make it publishable. The process of peer review, for example, took time.


Professor Troy Shinbrot at the Rutgers University says, “I read Mr Niazi’s paper and thought it was really lovely work, but he needed help writing the manuscript in a publishable form. This was I think just a matter that the work was good, but the presentation needed polishing to strengthen his case. In the end, I referred him to a colleague, Dr Tapan Sabuwala, and the Okinawa Institute for Science and Technology, who generously agreed to spend the time working with Mr Niazi doing the necessary polishing. I’m very glad to see the work published.”

Similarly, Dr Sabieh was all praise for Shaheer’s work. His website carries the stories of all the team members who prepared for the tournament over three months and worked on solutions to “mind-baffling physical phenomena” including: electric honeycombs, hot water geysers, rollers on rollers, magnetic trains, ultra-hydrophobic water, acoustic metamaterials and mechanical machines to generate random numbers.

Smiling broadly, Shaheer says it was his mother’s dream for he and his sister to get papers published in journals. He received an acceptance letter for his paper shortly before his birthday last month. His sister Khadija Niazi got her paper published in the journal, NRC Research Press — a division of Canadian Science Publishing — last year. Her paper — Solving core issues of early physics education in Pakistan — addresses the problem of paucity of women interested in careers in pure physics and sciences, while discussing novel ways to reach a wider audience.

“I see both of my children developing careers in research,” says Ayesha Ahmad, their mother. The twins are candid about how their mother was central to cultivating their interest in science and in pushing them to broaden their interests. Neither of the two wants to limit themselves to a single field. Shaheer, for example, is planning on conducting research into plant perceptions, which he admits is a controversial subject, but fits neatly with his interests in gardening and horticulture.

Khadjia, on the other hand, believes that strict career lines and specialisations only inhibit one’s intellectual curiosity. She is interested in bringing together seemingly immiscible disciplines (in her case, it is physics and journalism) to create something novel and get an increasing number of students in Pakistan interested in subjects that aren’t usually taught at schools.

The twins are all praise for the help LACAS gave them to pursue their research interests — from providing a portion of funding for the tournament, to allowing Shaheer to wreak havoc in the labs. “Mother used to tell us to think big and think ahead,” Khadija says. “She made us brilliant.”

Published in Dawn, October 10th, 2017

Former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar on Saturday requested early retirement from the Pakistan Army citing "pressing personal commitments".

Gen Akhtar, in a letter, asked for "premature release" starting Oct 9, 2017, after nearly 35 years of active commissioned service in the armed forces.

"I want everyone [...] to respect my decision and not succumb or resort to speculation in any domain. I shall be available for any service in the army whenever needed," he added.

Akhtar, who was replaced by Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar as director general (DG) ISI, was posted as president of the National Defence University two weeks after Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa took oath last year.


Gen Akhtar is a graduate of the Command and Staff College in Quetta, National Defence University and the Army War College, USA. He was commissioned in the Pakistan Army in Frontier Force Regiment in September 1982.

He is from the Frontier Force Regiment and commanded the infantry brigade and infantry division in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).

Previously as DG Rangers Sindh, Gen Akhtar had been assigned with the task to lead the Karachi operation which began in 2013. But the military had replaced him as DG Rangers Sindh with Maj Gen Bilal Akbar in 2014.

He is considered to have extensive experience of counterinsurgency from a previous posting in the border region of South Waziristan.

ISLAMABAD: In an effort to pacify the agitating members of the ruling party, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on Monday categorically stated on the floor of the National Assembly that the list containing the names of the parliamentarians said to have links with banned outfits allegedly prepared by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) was “fake and a forged document”.

Mr Abbasi declared that neither the Prime Minister Office had written any letter to the IB to investigate the parliamentarians nor had the bureau prepared any such report as claimed by a TV channel last month.

He said the TV channel had claimed that the Prime Minister Office had sent a letter to the IB asking it to investigate some 37 parliamentarians, mostly belonging to the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), for allegedly having links with proscribed organisations.

The prime minister said the IB had already declared the list as “a forged document” and that the bureau had also initiated an inquiry to find out those responsible for this fiasco.PM says Pemra has been directed to take action against TV channel that ‘showed this fake letter’

During the question hour and before arrival of the prime minister at the house, former interior minister and estranged PML-N stalwart Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan was seen holding discussion with Minister for Inter-Provincial Coordina­tion Riaz Pirzada and some other members from south Punjab, whose names were there on the controversial list.

Mr Abbasi said that he had directed the IB to proceed with a legal case against whosoever had authored the fake letter. Besides this, he said the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) had also been directed to take action in line with its laws against the TV channel which “showed this fake letter on screen”.

He said an FIR (first information report) had already been registered and investigations were under way in this regard.

Privilege motion

The prime minister asked Deputy Speaker Murtaza Javed Abbasi, who was presiding over the session at that time, to refer the privilege motion moved by the affected lawmakers to the house committee on rules and privileges for further action.

He said he had come to the house to state some facts regarding the allegations against 37 lawmakers as the issue was being discussed in TV programmes for the past many days. He denied the opposition’s allegations that the government was using the issue to gag the press.

Mr Abbasi said that some of the ministers had raised this issue in a meeting of the federal cabinet last month and they had been informed at that time too that no such list existed and that it was a fake document. He said the members had been asked to lodge their complaints with Pemra as the report had defamed them.

Sources in the PML-N told Dawn that the issue was discussed in detail during a meeting of the party’s parliamentary group presided over by the prime minister before the start of the National Assembly session. They said that it was on the insistence of the agitating PML-N members that Mr Abbasi had to make the statement on the floor of the house.

The sources said that the prime minister agreed to issue the statement and asked the affected lawmakers not to discuss the issue on any other forum as it could cause embarrassment and difficulties for the government. Last month, ARY News in its programme ‘Power Play’ had claimed that the then prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, had directed the IB on July 10 — three weeks before his disqualification by the Supreme Court in the Panama Papers case — to probe the 37 lawmakers for allegedly having links with the banned and sectarian outfits.

The list contained the names of 37 lawmakers, including a number of key ministers such as Riaz Pirzada, Zahid Hamid, Baleeghur Rehman, Sikandar Bosan, Awais Leghari and Hafiz Abdul Kareem as well as Deputy Speaker Murtaza Javed Abbasi.

The government faced an embarrassing situation in the National Assembly last week when the PML-N members led by Mr Pirzada staged a walkout from the house to register their protest over the issue.

Before leaving the house, Mr Pirzada came down hard on the government for what he termed “insulting” him and other members of parliament.

Meanwhile, the prime minister also responded to a calling attention notice of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement regarding the recent increase in the oil prices.

Mr Abbasi claimed that the oil prices in Pakistan were lowest in the region and among all the oil-importing countries and challenged the members to verify it through internet.

Later, son-in-law of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and MNA retired Capt Mohammad Safdar, who had earlier in the day appeared before a NAB court, took the floor and started a sermon-like speech on the issue of Khatm-i-Nabuwwat in the context of the recent controversy over the change in the declaration for the electoral candidates.

He was still speaking when Hamidul Haq of the PTI pointed out lack of quorum, forcing the deputy speaker to adjourn the sitting till Tuesday morning.

Published in Dawn, October 10th, 2017

WASHINGTON: Pakistan is trying to restart the quadrilateral peace process for ending the Afghan war and has asked the group members to meet in Muscat, Oman, on Oct 16.

Afghanistan, the United States, China and Pakistan are members of the group.

Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif told VOA Urdu in Washington last week that Pakistan would play a leading role in this quadrilateral session, aimed at bringing the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table.

The Quadrilateral Cooperation Group first met in January 2016 and has had five sessions so far, the last being held in May 2016 in Murree.


The process was plagued by problems from the beginning. First the Taliban refused to join it unless given the same status as the Afghan government. When they were persuaded to attend, relations between Kabul and Islamabad strained.

The first four meetings, however, did show some progress. China’s participation was particularly encouraging as both Pakistan and Afghanistan set aside their acrimony to welcome China. Pakistan hoped that China’s involvement would answer its main concern, India’s growing influence in Afghanistan. The Afghan government hoped that China’s clout with Pakistan could have help persuade Islamabad to improve its ties with Kabul.

The international community too welcomed the quadrilateral talks because all four countries are seen as crucial to ensuring the success of any peace talks on Afghanistan.

But during the fifth session, some officials in Kabul leaked news to the media saying that the reclusive Taliban leader Mullah Omar had died in Karachi in 2013 but Pakistan was hiding this news because it feared losing its influence on the Taliban.

The revelation derailed the talks as officials from each of the four governments opted to return to their capitals for consultations. On May 21, 2016, Mullah Omar’s successor, Mullah Mansour was also killed in a US drone strike in Balochistan, which further delayed the peace process.

Since then, Pakistan has made several attempts to restart the talks but none of the four parties seemed very keen on returning to negotiations.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban increased their attacks on both US and Afghan government targets. And in the United States, the new Trump administration concluded that the best way is to force the Taliban to talk.

At a recent news briefing in Washington, US State Department’s spokesperson Heather Nauert expressed doubts about the success of these peace efforts when she questioned the efficacy of the Taliban’s non-official diplomatic post in Qatar.

“We’ve been now in that war for 16 years” but “they have not been able to come to any kind of peace and reconciliation, so just by having folks sit around in Qatar, in probably a pretty cushy life there, has not demonstrated, has not brought to the table any kind of significant peace efforts,” she said.

And during his three-day visit to Washington last week, the Pakistani foreign minister acknowledged that Pakistan too was losing its influence on the Taliban.

“At least for our influence on Taliban today, there is mistrust,” Mr Asif told VOA Urdu, adding that he believes Russia “today has more influence on the Taliban than Pakistan does”.

Despite these concerns, all four members of this group want some peace in Afghanistan and are likely to participate in the Muscat meeting.

But instead of sending their senior officials, as they did to the last five meetings, they are likely to send mid-level officials to prepare for future talks.

Published in Dawn, October 10th, 2017

Faisal Jamil Kashmiri was chatting with a neighbour outside his home in Khawaja Mohalla, one of the oldest and thickly populated parts of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) capital, Muzaffarabad, when a devastating earthquake rocked northern Pakistan on the morning of October 8, 2005. Tens of thousands lost their lives, hundreds of thousands were injured, and countless others were rendered homeless.

Muzaffarabad was the worst-hit district in AJK due to its proximity to the epicentre of the quake. And within the municipal limits of Muzaffarabad, the entire old city — Khawaja Mohalla being part of it — was completely flattened.

Kashmiri’s three-storey house on a six-marla plot [about 150 sq yards] along a backstreet was home to three families, comprising 20 members. They included Kashmiri’s family, his parents and two siblings who lived on the ground floor, his younger uncle’s family of seven on the first floor, and his youngest uncle’s family of eight on the second.

The earthquake badly damaged the third storey, leaving his youngest uncle dead on the spot. Although the other members of the family remained unhurt, the structure became unliveable.

If the devastation of the October 8, 2005 earthquake wasn’t enough, many citizens of Azad Kashmir are still reeling from unfulfilled promises of new housing

After the burial of the deceased member, all three families moved to Rawalpindi — as almost all other survivors from the main old city had done — where they hired separate houses on rent.

Some eight months or so after the temblor, Kashmiri’s family returned to Muzaffarabad, to rebuild life bit by bit in the same dilapidated structure.

October, 2005: In the aftermath of the quake, most residents of Muzaffarabad turned landless in an instant. Many migrated elsewhere, only to return to the same spectacle of despair | Photos by Arif Mahmood/WhiteStar
October, 2005: In the aftermath of the quake, most residents of Muzaffarabad turned landless in an instant. Many migrated elsewhere, only to return to the same spectacle of despair | Photos by Arif Mahmood/WhiteStar


However, they were undecided about its reconstruction. This was because the AJK authorities had announced that it will develop six satellite towns along the Jhelum Valley Road to overcome the housing problem in the ruined AJK capital. Kashmiri also imagined that he’d be able to construct a new house in any of the proposed satellite towns because, back in the old city, authorities were not allowing the reconstruction of multi-storey — and in some cases, even a single storey — concrete structures.

But what initially appeared a justified call by the government has ever since haunted the residents of the old city. Even 12 years down the line, Kashmiri still lives in the same dangerous building, waiting for the day when the government would make good on its promise to resettle those affected by the earthquake.

And it’s not just Kashmiri’s story — tens of hundreds of affected families from the main old city could not and did not reconstruct their fallen houses or repair their damaged houses in anticipation of resettlement in the proposed satellite towns.

Take for example the woes of 32-year old Khawaja Junaid, now a junior grade employee of the forest department.

A view of the Langarpura Satellite Town from the left bank of the River Jhelum.
A view of the Langarpura Satellite Town from the left bank of the River Jhelum.


As the quake struck, Junaid’s two-storey house along a main thoroughfare in Sethi Bagh neighbourhood tumbled down in a wink, leaving him badly wounded and one of his two younger siblings dead. His parents and another sibling miraculously escaped unhurt.

Junaid remained under treatment in different hospitals over the next six months, following which, the family returned to Muzaffarabad and acquired a small house on rent.

It was the uncertainty about the official plans to widen different streets and roads under a master plan prepared by Japan International Agency for Cooperation (Jica) that prevented Junaid for a long time from utilising his small piece of land for inhabitation.

While the genuine beneficiaries do not see light at the end of the tunnel, the 20 percent plots for the previous landowners are said to be shifting hands ... without any formal allotment process, 233 plots have so far been sold out by previous owners in connivance with some unscrupulous officials in DAM.

At the end of his tether, he somehow managed to erect a tin-roof shelter on his small empty plot, and shifted therein. In the meanwhile, his parents died and he tied the knot and fathered a girl. He, too, desperately awaits allotment where he can move himself or his younger brother whose wedding plan has been put on hold because of their cramped accommodation.


Houses have sprung up on both sides of the Gojra Nullah. The watercourse was as vast as a playground about two decades ago, but today, it has been narrowed by constructions on both sides. Authorities say there are at least 1,000 families living in red zone, high hazardous areas and watercourses | Photos by Tariq Naqash
Houses have sprung up on both sides of the Gojra Nullah. The watercourse was as vast as a playground about two decades ago, but today, it has been narrowed by constructions on both sides. Authorities say there are at least 1,000 families living in red zone, high hazardous areas and watercourses | Photos by Tariq Naqash


Given the skyrocketing prices of real estate in Muzaffarabad — almost at par with the federal capital — it became next to impossible for a vast majority to buy a piece of land within the municipal limits and then build a modest house on it.

With landlessness a concern in almost every household in the old city, the government stepped in to provide relief. Or at least it pretended to having stepped in.

Official figures detail that there were as many as 750 families in the old city who used to inhabit multi-storey houses that are technically unliveable now. The government decided on constructing satellite towns and shifting the affected out of the old city and into the new settlements.

But things didn’t pan out the way citizens expected them to.

Three years passed after the quake before the federal government in 2008 released funds for the acquisition of land for these satellite towns. By that time, their number had been slashed to two.

Consequently, 1,625.4 kanals in Langarpura Village and 669.17 kanals in Thotha Village were acquired against 608.697 rupees and 266.211 million rupees, respectively [a kanal is approximately 500 sq metres]. Both villages are located some 10 kilometres south of Muzaffarabad along the right bank of the River Jhelum, and fall in the AJK Legislative Assembly’s constituency number 29.

According to initial plans, the affected families were to be gradually relocated from the most vulnerable and hazardous areas within the municipal limits of Muzaffarabad to the proposed towns. In the main old city, open spaces were to be created where people could rush to safety in the event of a similar calamity.

Things crawled ahead and three years after the money was released, a policy document was finally issued by the AJK government on July 30, 2011, to identify the categories of quake affectees who were eligible for allotment of plots in the two towns.

They included affectees of the (implementation of) master plan of Muzaffarabad city; projected population required to be accommodated in satellite towns; affectees of (possible) landslides in the municipal area of Muzaffarabad; affectees from the red zone/high hazardous areas; and 20 percent of the total acquired land (for satellite towns) for its previous owners.

October, 2005: Medical supplies being dispensed from a tent pharmacy manned by police officers
October, 2005: Medical supplies being dispensed from a tent pharmacy manned by police officers


According to that document, such affectees whose houses or tracts of land have been acquired by government for any official purpose, after payment of compensation, will be allotted plots in the satellite towns against the officially determined cost and development charges. However, it also adds that if they do not receive compensation of their house or piece of land, they will be provided plots free of cost.

The document also stipulates that affected persons living “out of compulsion” in the red zone or hazardous areas or along the main boundary thrust (MBT) where a minor jolt or torrential rains can wreak material and physical losses will also be entitled to free-of-cost plots in satellite towns, provided they surrender their vulnerable house or piece of land to the government without receiving any compensation. The landless or shelter-less survivors who have not received any compensation for their lost land will also be entitled to free-of-cost allotment of plots. It also categorically states that the previous landowners will be given 20 percent of land/plots against the determined cost of development charges.

These towns were subsequently developed by a Chinese company under Muzaffarabad City Development Project (MCDP), which was directly supervised by the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority. According to official figures, the development work cost Rs1,625 million and Rs737 million in Langarpura and Thotha, respectively. The allotment process was to be carried out by Development Authority Muzaffarabad (DAM), the controlling authority of the master plan.


October, 2005: Structures seemingly constructed on strong foundations came tumbling down
October, 2005: Structures seemingly constructed on strong foundations came tumbling down


Things seemed in place till it got to the allotment stage.

The drawings obtained from DAM show that 1,652 plots had been created in Langarpura on about 43.5 percent of the total acquired land there. The remaining 56.5 percent was used either for roads or as open spaces. Similarly in Thotha, 1,135 plots were carved on 45 percent of the total land.

However, in January last year, the PPP government decided that previous owners whose land had already been purchased to construct satellite towns would be given “20 percent of the total acquired area, in the shape of plots, without any charge.”

A shoddily drafted official handout had stated at that time that AJK Prime Minister Chaudhry Abdul Majeed was of the view that “since these people have sacrificed their fertile land for their quake-affected brethren, they should not be charged any amount for the plots, pledged to them at the time of acquisition.”

This is in sharp contrast to the July 2011 allotment criteria.

On March 17 last year, the PPP government constituted a nine-member committee for allotment of plots in the said towns, under the then DAM chairman — a novice in administrative affairs appointed on the recommendations of Zardari House. The committee included Chaudhry Mohammad Rasheed, then minister for works and communications, and Barrister Syed Iftikhar Gillani, then opposition PML-N lawmaker from Muzaffarabad city.

Around the same time, the DAM asked “deserving persons” through newspaper adverts to obtain allotment forms from a state-owned bank against a non-refundable amount of 3,000 rupees and refundable pay order/demand draft in the sum of 10 percent of the plot’s cost as first instalment. The price was fixed at 100,000 rupees for one marla [approximately 25 sq metres].

“Preference will be given to the families affected by the master planning of Muzaffarabad city or by the landslides,” read the adverts, adding, “Landless survivors or those families with scant residential space will also get plots on priority basis.”

By the first week of June, as many as 2,264 applications against Langarpura plots and 89 against Thotha plots landed in DAM, along with pay orders worth 250.795 million rupees. Separately, the DAM generated 8.5 million rupees from the sale of brochures.

Not all applicants were genuinely affected or deserving persons, according to insiders.

“Most of the affected persons were unable even to deposit the first instalment of one to two lakh rupees along with their application,” laments Ziauddin Pirzada, a survivor from Madina Market, who now lives in a rented accommodation ever since the catastrophe that left his mother, younger sister and sister-in-law dead. “I can safely say that it’s mostly the well-off people already in possession of sizeable property in different parts of the state who have applied for these plots.”


On July 28, 2017, Kashmiri, whose satirical pieces on social and political issues in mainstream and social media draw huge attention, convened a first-ever meeting of the intended allottees at Upper Adda Muzaffarabad, in the wake of worrying pieces of information about the process. A second such sitting was organised by him at the same place on August 25, and attendees decided to launch a campaign on this issue.

“Those meetings were held in the wake of confirmed information that some people are attempting to delay the allotment process to facilitate the influential land mafia,” Kashmiri says.

The concerns of these citizens are not unfounded.

While the genuine beneficiaries do not see light at the end of the tunnel, the 20 percent plots for the previous landowners are said to be shifting hands. According to DAM records, 331 out of the 1,652 plots in Langarpura were set aside under 20 percent quota of previous landowners. But without any formal allotment process, 233 of those 331 plots have so far been sold out by previous owners in connivance with some unscrupulous officials in DAM.

“I wonder how DAM kept on issuing the so-called istehqaq [entitlement] certificates to the previous landowners, intending to sell out the plots to anyone with deep pockets,” asks Kashmiri.

Similarly, in Thotha, 20 percent quota for previous owners has been worked out as 369 plots, notwithstanding the fact that 730 out of the total 1,135 plots had already been handed over to post-1990 migrants.

So far, officials from the DAM have issued istehqaq certificates of 296 plots to previous owners. After the issuance of the remaining istehqaq certificates, only 36 plots will be left in Thotha for other survivors.

Chaudhry Mohammad Raqeeb, a management group official who has recently been posted as chairman DAM, claims that a negligible number of Muzaffarabad residents affected by the implementation of the master plan, or falling in the categories of landless and shelter-less survivors or from the red zone, hazardous or landslide-prone areas have applied for plots.

“Perhaps because people were gradually allowed to make constructions in all such areas in keeping with the requisite precautionary measures, they did not apply for these plots,” he maintains. “It’s why allotments had to be thrown open to everyone living within the municipal limits, regardless of their being earthquake victims or not.”

However, survivors disagree with his notion.

“Muzaffarabad is not a big city like Karachi where hardly anyone knows his neighbour, it’s a small city of not more than a five-kilometre radius and thus almost everyone knows everyone,” argues Junaid.

“Why couldn’t the concerned officials prepare a list of genuinely affected and deserving persons for provision of plots on priority. Given the present practice, all well-heeled people who have submitted multiple applications with different identity cards will clinch these plots, leaving people like us in the lurch at the end of the day.”

Ghulam Muhammad, a survivor from Shahnara Mohalla, makes another point. “The conversion of just 44 percent of acquired land into plots means one marla costs at least 150,000 rupees to the government,” he says. “Since this money was meant for earthquake victims, the authorities are under an obligation not to dole it out to unaffected people, including the previous owners. Those who possess one kanal or more in their name anywhere in AJK should be declared disqualified outright for these plots, if the government really wants to help out the genuine victims.”

All said and done, however, there are more shocks in store for the quake-affected.

While 331 plots out of 1,652 plots in Langarpura were set aside under 20 percent quota of previous landowners, Raqeeb argues that if the calculations were made on 20 percent of the total land acquired “in the shape of plots,” then previous landowners will be entitled to 916 plots, rather than the 331. This is where the scandal exists: previous land owners are demanding more land than has been earmarked for them, and are justifying the demand on a mathematical lacuna. In effect, only 736 plots will be left for the rest of the survivors. Similarly, the share of previous owners in Thotha scales up to 623 plots. “If previous landowners are to be given 623 plots, the DAM will have to create another 72 plots (of bigger size) to meet that figure,” adds Raqeeb.

However, in a cautious manner, he argues that balloting for the 736 Langarpura plots should be held without further ado, before these may also become unavailable for any reason.

Many wonder how such a big number of plots for previous landowners has been determined, particularly when there is no such precedence anywhere in AJK. Unlike the land acquired in Mirpur for the Mangla Dam Raising project and Mangla Dam Housing Authority, a different yardstick has been put in place in Muzaffarabad allegedly under the influence of the “plot mafia” working hand-in-glove with some unscrupulous elements in DAM. The plot mafia allegedly includes some political figures.

The wheeling-and-dealing by the corrupt lot in civic bodies of Muzaffarabad, which sits on two major fault lines, has already exposed a sizeable portion of the town’s population to disaster, and a fresh wave of unrest is on the cards, thanks to the faulty allotment policy on satellite towns.

Even though the master planning of Muzaffarabad had recommended relocation of survivors from landslide-prone areas as well as from along the watercourses, the past decade has witnessed an upsurge in constructions on such sites in part due to the oversight and connivance of the officials concerned. Take for example the Gojra Nullah which used to have a vast span only around two decades ago. Such was its width that back in 1995, a playground was developed on it where local teams would play cricket matches. However, today, its span has shrunk to hardly 10 feet, as buildings have sprung up on both sides.

Similarly, during reconstruction of their homes, the majority has not surrendered a single foot of land and resultantly the pathways are as cramped as they used to be before the quake.

“God forbid, if we are again struck by any natural calamity, such as an earthquake or a cloud burst, the losses in such areas would be colossal,” warns environmentalist Shafiq Abbasi. However, suppose the authorities decide on relocating the most vulnerable of these people at some point of time, where will they resettle them is a big question. Kashmiri believes that the authorities are literally cheating the survivors.

“It seems the plots have already been distributed among the favourites in a secretive and illicit manner at the behest of corrupt politicians and bureaucracy.” “The way we are being deprived of plots reminds me of 1846, when one fine morning the Kashmiris came to know that they had been sold out by the British to Dogra ruler Gulab Singh along with their land.”

The writer is a member of staff

Published in Dawn, EOS, October 8th, 2017

LAHORE: Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif on Sunday unveiled the first train of the Orange Line Metro Train Project (OLMTP), regarded as vital by the ruling PML-N to retain its vote bank in the province .

The Punjab government plans to bring it into operation in December, although 25 per cent of work is still incomplete due to litigation over the train route’s proximity to some historical places.

The Supreme Court has yet to announce its verdict.

The ceremony to celebrate the arrival of the first batch of five carriages and an engine was held at the Dera Gujjran depot.

The mega project was launched in May 2014. It will cover a distance of 27.1 kilometres from Ali Town to Dera Gujjran and reduce travel time from two-and-a-half hours to 45 minutes.

The train corridor comprises an elevated portion of 25.4km and an underground portion of 1.72km (cut and cover sections). There will be 26 stations — 24 elevated and two underground — depots and stabling yards.

Shahbaz says PML-N’s opponents were conspiring to get the project stopped

The project consists of 27 trains — each consisting of five carriages — an energy-saving air-conditioning system and systems configured to handle unstable voltage. Each train has a capacity to carry 1,000 passengers.

The government says the metro train will run on electricity and transport up to 250,000 passengers daily and its capacity will be raised to 500,000 in stages.

According to the government, the estimated cost of the project is Rs165 billion, of which a

major chunk of Rs150bn has been provided by China under a soft-loan agreement outside the financial framework of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Speaking on the occasion, Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif said the project would provide a modern, safe, swift and affordable transport to commuters.

He said the PML-N’s political opponents were levelling “false allegations against us” and conspiring to stop the project by filing petitions in the court.

He recalled that “these very people had called the metro bus plan a failed project”, but could not prove any corruption.

Referring to the Khyber Pakh­tunkhwa government’s announcement about a metro bus project for Peshawar, he said it had done nothing to start the project.

“Those political leaders who speak about ‘tabdeeli’ (change) did nothing to provide any relief to the people,” Shahbaz Sharif said.

He said his government would accept the SC verdict in the Orange Line case.

Referring to apprehensions that the project would harm historic buildings. he said: “We have completed 75 per cent of the work and are waiting for the court’s decision to complete the remaining part.”

Earlier, Mass transit Authority Managing Director Sibtain Fazal Haleem explained different aspects of the project. The chief of the steering committee, Khawja Ahmed Hassan, and Chinese officials were present on the occasion.

Published in Dawn, October 9th, 2017

ISLAMABAD: A special corps commanders conference that reportedly lasted around seven hours was held at the military’s General Headquarters (GHQ) on Tuesday.

Chaired by Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, the huddle reviewed the security challenges facing the country, as well as the preparedness of the armed forces to deal with any situation that may develop.

Sources told Dawn that the forum considered the continuing unprovoked ceasefire violations committed by India on both the Line of Control (LoC) and the Working Boundary, as well as the irresponsible statements emanating from New Delhi.

But in a rare move, the army’s PR wing Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) did not issue any official statement following the marathon special meeting of top military commanders.

The ISPR usually issues a brief statement outlining the crux of the discussion, but the lack of an official account of the huddle triggered all sorts of rumours about what transpired behind closed doors on Tuesday.

This echoed what happened a day earlier, as there was no official announcement from the ISPR regarding the meeting.

ISPR Director General Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor did not to respond to queries about what was discussed in the meeting and whether the corps commanders talked about the prevailing political situation in the country.

The meeting took place a day after former prime minister Nawaz Sharif appeared before an accountability court in connection with the corruption references filed against him on the orders of the Supreme Court.

On that day, ministers, PML-N leaders and supporters were barred from entering the judicial complex by Rangers personnel, who inexplicably took over security of the courts from the police, even though their deployment had not been requisitioned by the relevant authorities.

The army chief is believed to have taken the corps commanders into confidence about his recent visit to Afghanistan and his interaction with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

Published in Dawn, October 4th, 2017


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