Sunday, July 24, 2011

Pakistani movie ''Bol'' bowls over diplomats.

A special screening of the record busting film, Bol, was held Friday for the diplomatic community at the American embassy. The movie was introduced by the US Ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, who played a perfect host to the evening. In his opening remarks, Munter was generous in his praise for Geo and lauded its efforts in making such a bold movie which had taken on a number of controversial social issues. Talking to The News, post screening, the US ambassador opined that it was critically important for the West to see such movies that not only revealed the physical magic of Pakistan’s culture and architecture but even more importantly, introduced the world to the social and intellectual parallel narratives taking place in Pakistan. Movies like Bol, he felt, would go a long way in breaking the stereotype image of Pakistan as unlike TV talk shows and newspapers, the wide screen was the perfect forum to capture the imagination of the western mind.

Speaking on behalf of the Jang group, Resident Editor, The News, Mohammad Malick said that Bol was another bold attempt by the group aimed at reviving not just Pakistani cinema but Pakistani liberal thought as well. He said that the Jang Group had never shirked from taking up controversial issues in the larger national interest and had repeatedly taken up principled stances on issues like independence of judiciary, tax evasion etc. He said that Geo Films’ first endeavour, Khuda Kay Liye, also directed by Shoaib Mansoor, too had tackled an equally explosive national issue.

The gathering burst into applause when told that Bol had also made another record by being the first Pakistani movie to cross the $1 million mark in box office receipts. Malick also thanked Ambassador Munter, Ms. Courtney Beale and the other members of the US embassy for hosting the event.

As the movie went about on its roller coaster of emotions, quite a few gentlemen and ladies could be seen discreetly wiping away a tear or two while laughter too lifted the mood every now and then. Talking to The News after the screening of Bol, the diplomatic community expressed its pleasant surprise both at the intense intellectual content as well as the top-notch production standards. While everyone appreciated the quality of English subtitles, the common lament remained about the absence of subtitling of the songs though that little blip did not seem to affect the foot tapping fever. According to one diplomat, he was as much captivated by the physical richness of the frames depicting the old parts of Lahore and its vibrant personality, as the immensely challenging narrative. There was a candid acceptance of the fact that a majority had not deemed it possible for such a “brave movie”, as put by one, to be made and released in Pakistan in the “prevailing circumstances”.

Virtually every diplomat urged the release of the movie (with English subtitles) in western countries though opinions differed on the duration of the movie itself. Ambassador Munter wouldn’t want any cuts but Mrs. Munter thought bringing the movie to 90 minutes would be great as the western audience is used to such duration. The opinion remained equally split amongst the rest of the guests but while there were different opinions on this count, everyone agreed on Bol being a sterling production worthy of making a place in Oscars. Heck, for once even every Pakistani and American present appeared to be in total agreement. And that says it all for the movie aptly titled, Bol.

Construction of bridge over Indus to start soon

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor, Barrister Masood Kausar has said, the formal launching of the long awaited project for construction of a new bridge over Indus River at Khushalgarh is now a matter of days and with its completion, a new era of socio-economic uplift of the people of Kohat Division in particular and of the province and the country will usher.

This project of vital importance will great positive impact in over all economic development of the country and would significantly contribute in generating jobs opportunities, since it is going to act a major supply route for oil and gas, being produced in Karak and Kohat districts to the rest of the country”, he added.

He was talking while inspecting the site of the new bridge on Saturday. The Governor was also accompanied by Provincial Minister for Housing, Malik Amjad Khan Afridi, Commissioner Kohat Division, Sahibzada Muhammad Anis and D.I.G Police Kohat Mr. Masood Khan Afridi while the General Manager of National Highway Authority, Mr. Fazal Nawab Khattak briefed the Governor about salient features of the project

The Governor noted with appreciation that half of the amount of the total cost of the entire project is already readily available with the NHA which expected to be completed at a total cost of Rs.1500 millions in two years time.

Barrister Masood Kausar further pointed out, “truly this is a project of vital importance in all respects and with its completion a long standing dream of the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa especially of Kohat Davison and its surrounding tribal areas will be materialized. We, he remarked, have been anxiously waiting to have an easy and viable land route access to rest of the country and we are thankful to the President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani and Federal Minister for Communication Dr. Arbab Alamgir Khan as well as the provincial government particularly the Chief Minister Mr. Amir Haider Khan Hoti for their keen interest and making out of the way arrangements to ensure launching of the project”, the Governor said. Barrister Masood Kausar also took keen interest in the dualization of the roads on both ends of the bridge; right upto Kohat and the other side in Punjab as well and assured the NHA to help them in getting financial resources for the project.

Now, he remarked, the possibility to develop an oil refinery in the area has also been strengthened and the people of Kohat Division would also listen good news in this respect as well. The Governor also appreciated the spirit and cooperation of the Commissioner of Koah, Sahibzada Anis for his efforts in removing technical hurdles in the widening of the road on the western side of the bridge.

Meanwhile the Governor also inspected the site of the project which is situated adjacent to the existing time old Khushal Garh Bridge”.

In a condolence message, the Governor while expressing his heartfelt sympathies with Mr. Muhammad Rashad Khan and other members of the bereaved family has prayed for the eternal peace of the departed soul and courage to the bereaved family to bear the irreparable loss with patience and fortitude.

NATO hands model anti-Taliban province to Afghans

NATO troops on Sunday handed control of the Panjshir valley, a fiercely anti-Taliban province, to Afghan forces in the latest of a series of security transitions.

Panjshir, around 130 kilometres (80 miles) northeast of the capital Kabul, is one of Afghanistan's most peaceful regions and is the sixth of seven areas to be put under local forces' control over the past week.

Although the transition timetable has been roundly criticised as politically motivated amid scepticism over the ability of Afghan forces to ward off the Taliban rebels, Panjshir is cited as ripe for the handover.

Panjshiris, mainly ethnic Tajiks, pride themselves on having kept out the Taliban and repelled the Soviet Union after its 1979 invasion, and the beautiful valley is now a favoured picnicking spot for visitors from Kabul.

"Transition in Panjshir is very symbolic because in the last 10 years the security of Panjshir has been taken by its own people. It's an example for other provinces," said defence minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, speaking at the official transition ceremony.

"Defending one's own land is the role and responsibility of every Afghan."

"The enemy cannot harm anyone in this province. We all have to learn from the people of Panjshir," he said.

The area was the home of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the country's much loved anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban commander who was assassinated by al-Qaida suicide bombers two days before the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Dominated by the snow-capped mountains of the Hindu Kush and a fast-flowing river in steep valleys, rusting hulks of Soviet tanks line Panjshir's roads -- symbols of the Russians' failure to win the area despite 10 attempts.

US and Afghan officials hope this history and natural beauty will in future bring tourists to Panjshir and boost the nation's economy as foreign forces pull out and as aid money falls in the years ahead.

Massoud's tomb in the province is being developed into a $10 million attraction complete with mosque, library and conference centre.

Officials expect Massoud's legacy to act as a focal point for tourism, along with adventure activities such as mountain trekking and kayaking.

But tourists may be scarce for many years due to record levels of violence in the country-wide insurgency against the Western-backed government.

To complete the first stage of transitions, most of Kabul province will be handed over to local forces shortly in a process focused on the withdrawal of 150,000 NATO-led troops by the end of 2014.

Kabul city has been under Afghan security since 2008.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Tobacco revenue

Tobacco is grown in Swabi, Mardan, Charsadda and Mansehra districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Okara, Sahiwal and Gujrat districts of Punjab. Its crop as per hectare yield is higher than many countries of the world and fetches huge revenue for the country. The crop is cultivated on over 6.5 million hectares in both the provinces with a production of 136 thousand tons. About one million people are associated with its growth, manufacturing, distribution and retailing; and growers are 32 per cent of them, the main chunk. The sale of the crop and its end product-cigarettes, cigar and pipe tobacco

— makes a hefty 4.4 per cent of the total GDP that is over Rs30 billion in real terms. Total revenue from this industry is in excess of Rs60 billion, including Rs18.17 billion in excise duty and Rs15.54 billion in sales tax. But Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is restricted to collect about Rs280 million in cess development fund while Rs180million was the annual share of the Pakistan Tobacco Board (PTB). This board was established in 1968 owing to the crop’s economic importance and its objective included conducting research and solving growers’ problems. It has regional offices in Peshawar and Lahore.
It was in this background that leaders of top political parties got together at Swabi, the house of tobacco production, on Friday to demand that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa should be empowered to collect all the revenue generated by tobacco. Such an authorization for the province has become all the more important following the devolution of power that saw the transfer of agriculture to provinces. Local journalists sponsored the debate on “Status of Tobacco Crop after the Eighteenth Amendment”. ANP MNA Pervez Khan from Swabi set the tone of the discussion by saying that tobacco manufacturing companies were exploiting growers by paying them much less than the crop’s actual price. He called for the dissolution of the Pakistan Tobacco Board for failing to work for the growers` welfare, and instead serving the tobacco companies’ interests. Jamaat-i-Islami leader Mohammad Usman said the centre had been receiving Rs45 billion to Rs48 billion through sale and excise taxes on cigarette and tobacco and this ratio has almost deprived the growers of their rights. Other speakers observed that all revenue generating from tobacco must go to province, particularly Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that was producing 90 per cent of the crop. The fact that the PTB fixed earlier this month the price of the commodity that growers feel is below the cost of production. PTB fixed the price at Rs124.30 per kg while the production cost is Rs170 per kg, according to farmers.
What the meeting at Swabi observed and how the farmers reacted to the PTB affairs, manifests that growers are not getting even the production expenses and the PTB has a definite tilt in favour of tobacco companies. Let the board’s affairs be investigated by the provincial governments of Punjab and KP and if the body is doing nothing to the objectives of farmers’ welfare, it may be dissolved to bring in some viable arrangement to conduct research for improvement of the tobacco quality and quantity. The devolution of tobacco growth is also a genuine demand and the federal government has to meet this constitutional obligation.

Pabbi, Peshawar: The hepatitis headquarters

There is no way one can tell when will Senior Minister Bashir Ahmed Bilour’s promise of new pipelines into the streets of the metropolis Peshawar will start supplying fresh water and rid us of the germ and rust infested water we are drinking. The minister has just made an announcement of intention by the government. When will the plan be approved, when will estimates be made and okayed, funds released, tenders called, work order issued and the actual work on the ground start, when will the whole work be completed. There are a lot of ifs and buts to be crossed and a lot of years to wait before the people of Peshawar take a sip from the water supplied by these new pipelines which have only been announced by the senior minister. In the meanwhile, the city of Peshawar and probably Pabbi, Nowshera and Khyber Agency seem to be emerging as the hepatitis headquarters of the province, The disease may become a full blown endemic in these areas as we wait for such time when the new pipelines are ready to supply fresh and uncontaminated water. Till then all of us should prey that somehow, it does not cause our deaths. The senior minister is not an ignorant man and knows that a sick population not only increases financial burden of the government in health expenditure and stretches thin the ability of the health services to cater to so many sick individuals, it also takes off many workers from the job force and adds to the poverty of the already poor. A free camp for diagnosing hepatitis in Peshawar found out that 14.20 percent individual out of the people they examined had this deadly and fast spreading hepatitis. That is not to say that contaminated water causes only this ailment. It can cause a number of illnesses from skin rashes, itches, stomach disorder, constant headache, aching joints and blindness. You name it and contaminated water has the ability to cause that disease. It is a matter of with what is the water contaminated. The ratio of hepatitis in the rest of the country is about 8 percent which means that in Peshawar and the nearby areas the rate of people getting this disease is just a tad less than double. And this is not the first time that there have been published statistics which revealed that this disease was fast spreading in this area. Doctors report that by the number of patients they are diagnosing, the next most affected area might be Pabbi and the surrounding villages like Dagbisood, Mohibbanda, Khudrizo, and many other villages on the way from Peshawar to Nowshera. The reason is said to be that because the area of Pabbi is in a depression and like the bottom of bowel water flows into it from the surrounding areas. This has raised the water level there and with it many chemicals under the ground and harmful for human health have dissolved in the water. In Peshawar however, it is not the underground water level but rather the rusty, leaky old pipelines which are supplying mixture of fresh and sewerage which is causing all these diseases, the most deadly and costly to treat of course is hepatitis. In Khyber agency which borders Peshawar city, the conditions of sanitation and supply of fresh water is not different rather worse and if data is collected it would show as much worse results There is a move in the government circles to provide free treatment right away to individuals diagnosed with this ailment. The number of such individuals can run into millions just in Peshawar and the surrounding areas and it would cost billions of rupees if the government really carries out its intentions. However, the fact is that had this money been spent on time in providing fresh and clean water to the citizens, this sickness and many others would not have even existed and the currently stationed doctors would have been looking after the patients with normal ailments which are present in any population. Still one would wish that the government wakes up to the magnitude of the issue and starts an awareness campaign among the international community and ask for help in this regard. It is not a job which a provincial government can do alone. Both the cure of hepatitis and laying fresh water pipelines in the whole city.

Pakistan's Dynastic politics: Hamza likely to be made provincial general secretary

Nawaz Sharif, at a recent meeting here in the city, had told PML-N leaders that it was time for Hamza to take on a bigger role as he was the party’s future. Nawaz recently made his son-in-law Cap (r) Safdar chief organiser of the party’s youth wing.
No more than one candidate would be nominated for each post. If Khosa preferred a central office, his son MNA Saifuddin Khosa could be made general secretary in Punjab and Hamza president.
So that means the common workers of the party have no right to move up the ladder. PML-N should be re-name to “Nawaz & Family League”.It is the sign of the weakness of political party that it has to be kept in the “family’. Why are Pakistani parties so weak? Inbreeding is not a sign of health.Moonis Illahi, Hamza Shehbaz are the royal blood and not the true representatives of the 98% people of this poor nation. People should condemn family politics.
It is important for a country like Pakistan with fudal system still intact and flourishing to have a grass root political movement from labours and peasants. Only this would ensure their rights and an end to this repressive system.

Hina Rabbani Khar,Woman, 34, fills void as Pakistan's foreign minister .

Arizona Daily Star
After a five-month hiatus, Pakistan - a country with tense relations with its eastern and western neighbors and a deteriorating relationship with the United States - finally has a new foreign minister.

Hina Rabbani Khar, 34, was sworn in this past week as the country's head of foreign policy.
Khar is not only the youngest person but also the first woman to occupy the prestigious post in Pakistan's 64-year history.
Khar's appointment is not exactly a surprise as she had been serving as a sort of junior foreign minister since February, when a Cabinet reshuffle saw former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi lose his job. The circumstances of Qureshi's dismissal remain unclear, but the fact that it took five months to replace him gives a measure of the current government's internal tensions as well as friction with the powerful military establishment, which traditionally holds sway over Pakistan's foreign policy.

Najam Sethi, a political analyst and editor-in-chief of the Friday Times, said Khar's appointment is the result of a compromise between President Asif Ali Zardari, who needs someone he can trust politically; and the army, which Sethi said is "very comfortable" with the choice of Khar as the new foreign minister.

"The reason they got her as foreign minister is that she is very amenable and pliable," Sethi said. "In this country the foreign minister can't be an independent entity."

Khar started her political career in 2002 as a member of the National Assembly and later served as a minister in former President Pervez Musharraf's government. She then switched her political affiliation to the current ruling party - Pakistan Peoples Party - and in 2008 was named senior official in the present government's finance ministry.

Her latest appointment has received mixed reviews. While some observers have deemed her political and diplomatic credentials too thin for such a prominent position and have hinted at the disadvantage of being a young woman in South Asia's male-dominated political environment, others have saluted Khar's femininity and youth as a breath of fresh air.

"We must hope these factors alone can bring in some fresh thinking into the running of foreign policy and how to improve Pakistan's declining standing in the region," the Express Tribune, a local English daily, wrote in an editorial. "Ms. Khar has shown over her relatively brief career as a politician that she is quite capable of going about her mission with determination and sincerity."

Determination will be only one of the qualities required for the task at hand. Tension between Pakistan and the United States has been rising steadily this year after a CIA contractor killed two Pakistanis and a U.S. raid targeting Osama bin Laden was seen here as a breach of national sovereignty.

Meanwhile, recent allegations of cross-border attacks have marred Pakistan's warming ties with Afghanistan.