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Pakistan to release captured pilot tomorrow, says PM

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Captured Indian pilot Wing Commander Abhi Nandan.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday announced that Islamabad will release India pilot Wing Commander Abhi Nandan, who was captured after his plane was shot down in Pakistani airspace, on Friday as a peace gesture.

He was addressing a joint session of parliament that was called in the wake of soaring tensions with India.

His statement came as an endorsement of Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s remarks in an interview with Geo News. “We are willing to return the captured Indian pilot if it leads to de-escalation,” Qureshi said

The pilot, identified by Islamabad as Wing Commander Abhi Nandan, became the human face of the latest flare-up following the release of videos showing him being captured and later held in custody.

Qureshi also said the Saudi foreign minister was expected to visit Pakistan with a special message from Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who visited both Pakistan and India earlier this month.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has already called for talks with India to prevent the risk of a “miscalculation” between their nuclear-armed militaries.

The Pakistani foreign minister’s remarks came shortly after Trump said he expected “reasonably decent news” regarding the conflict between India and Pakistan.

The US, China and other world powers have urged restraint from the two nations as tensions escalate following tit-for-tat airstrikes in the wake of a suicide car bombing that killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary police in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Feb. 14.

Earlier on Thursday, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who faces a general election in a matter of months, told a rally of supporters that India would unite against its enemies.

“The world is observing our collective will. It is necessary that we shouldn’t do anything that allows our enemy to raise a finger at us,” he said, in his first remarks since the downing of planes on Wednesday.

FIRING CONTINUES

Pakistan and India have fought three wars since independence from British colonial rule in 1947, two over Kashmir, and went to the brink of a fourth in 2002 after a Pakistani militant attack on India’s parliament.

Pakistan has shut its airspace, forcing commercial airlines to reroute. Thai Airways International announced on Thursday that it had canceled flights to Pakistan and Europe, which left thousands of passengers stranded in Bangkok.

As Trump was speaking, India said that Pakistan had fired mortars into Indian-occupied territory at around 1 p.m. (0730 GMT).

Troops from India and Pakistan also exchanged fire for over an hour in the Poonch district at 6 a.m., according to a statement from the Indian army.

“The Indian army retaliated strongly and effectively,” said Lieutenant Colonel Devender Anand, a defense ministry spokesman.

The firing was significantly less elevated than the artillery fire exchanged by the two sides on Wednesday.

Pakistan said the firing began overnight.

“The firing continued in intervals throughout the night. It was moderate,” said Shaukat Yusufzai, an administration official in the Pakistan-controlled part of Poonch.

One man was hospitalized after being hit by shrapnel, he added.

India is building more than 14,000 bunkers for families in Jammu and Kashmir state living close to the border, hoping to keep them safe near their homes rather than evacuate them.

On Wednesday evening India’s foreign ministry handed a dossier to Pakistan that it claimed detailed camps of the Pakistan-based militant group that carried out the Feb 14 attack.

With a general election due in India by May, an upsurge in nationalism from any conflict with Pakistan could become a key factor, potentially favoring Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Late on Wednesday B.S. Yeddyurappa, a BJP leader in the southern state of Karnataka, said India’s strike inside Pakistani territory would help the party to win back power in the state – the first such comment from a member of the ruling party.

“This has brought a pro-Modi wave all through the country,” he told reporters. “The effect of this will be seen in the elections.”

INTERNATIONAL CONCERN

The latest escalation marks a sudden deterioration in relations between the two countries. As recently as November, Pakistan’s leader Khan spoke of “mending ties” with India.

The White House urged “both sides to take immediate steps to de-escalate the situation.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement he had spoken separately with the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan and urged them to “prioritize direct communication and avoid further military activity”.

Pakistan’s envoy to the United States, Asad Majeed Khan, said Islamabad would like to see the Trump administration play a more active role in easing the crisis.

At the same time, he said the lack of US condemnation of India’s strike on Pakistan was “construed and understood as an endorsement of the Indian position, and that is what emboldened them even more”.

China, the European Union and other countries also called for restraint. Japan’s foreign minister said on Thursday the country was concerned about the “deteriorating situation”.

The Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, spoke by telephone with Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and expressed “deep concern”, China’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

The United States, Britain and France proposed the United Nations Security Council blacklist Masood Azhar, the head of Jaish-e-Mohammad, the group that claimed responsibility for the Feb. 14 attack. China is likely to oppose the move.

FLIGHTS CANCELED

Thai Airways said it had canceled more than a dozen flights to Europe due to Pakistan’s move, along with all flights to and from the country.

Several airlines including Emirates and Qatar Airways, suspended flights to Pakistan on Wednesday, while others such as Singapore Airlines and British Airways were forced to reroute flights.

Singapore Airlines said on Thursday all of its Europe-bound flights would continue as planned, avoiding the affected airspace as necessary.

Flights from the Middle East and India were also affected. Air Canada said on Wednesday it has temporarily suspended service to India.

OPINION

Some progress in Pakistan this week

From many perspectives, this was an eventful week for Pakistan

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As the monsoon rains lashed across the country, amid pounding inflation and protesting traders, Pakistan witnessed important developments this week. Though most incidents will have long term impacts which are expected to unfold with time, their significance at present can also be not denied.

ICJ orders consular access to Yadav, rejects Indian plea: (more…)

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OPINION

Dismays and Delights: How Pakistan fared this week?

Such is the course of time, that humans, after mourning a loss, prepare for the next outcome.

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This week in Pakistan was disappointing, to say the least. From the fiasco in the World cup match to the murder of a blogger in Islamabad, the list of dismays is long. India’s positive response to hold talks with Pakistan seemed the only silver lining in the dark clouds of dooms, yet it was quickly rebuffed by India as “fake news”.

It pains as well as amuses me that fans of cricket in Pakistan still remain die hard to their team. Its a different thing to be a cricket buff and another to be supportive of your team, for its been a while that Pakistan’s cricket team pulled a feat worth praise.

Pakistani Cricket Team captain Sarfaraz Ahmed (L), Indian Cricket Team captain Virat Kohli

One did not even need to switch on the TV or check updates on phone on the mess which Pakistan was in its World Cup match against India. The memes did the job pretty well, an area in which Pakistanis’ talent and sense of humour is worth appreciating.

Starting from the mind boggling decision of choosing to field after winning the toss, to poor bowling and miserable fielding (as usual), I can only say that the fans of Pakistani cricket team were very courageous to stick with their support through out the match. In comparison, was the highly professional and progressive Indian team, which showed true characteristics of first class cricket. It was no surprise that Pakistani cricket icon Wasim Akram showed his confidence in India as a player even before the match started.

A Pak-India interaction on a different level received an uplift, when the re-elected Prime Minister Modi of India, finally responded in positive to a series of letters written by his Pakistani counterpart, Imran Khan.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L), Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan

Since early this year, both countries have experienced most severe ties, even reaching the brink of war. The Pulwama attack in Indian held Kashmir triggered a spate of exchanges of words as well as arms. After an informal meeting between the foreign ministers of the two countries at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), Pakistan’s allowance for India to use its airspace for Prime Minister Modi for the SCO meeting of heads of states, Modi’s preference to still fly using another, alternate route while refusing to rub shoulders with Khan at the conference, the ice seemed to thaw.

However, Pakistani media’s interpretation of Modi’s written response to Khan that India had agreed to resume dialogue, was refuted by Indian foreign ministry.

External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar

“The letters only reiterated India’s old position that it wants normal and cooperative relations with all countries in South Asia (including Pakistan) and that it was important to create an environment free of terror and violence for it. There was no mention of any sort of dialogue with Pakistan,” responded the ministry’s spokesperson to The Times of India.

A similar exchange of letters between Pakistan’s foreign minister Qureshi and his newly appointed Indian counterpart, Jaishankar, was also explained as a mere reply. The hope of resuming of dialogues between the two countries was quashed.

So was the life of Muhammad Bilal Khan, a famous 22-year-old Pakistani blogger, who was stabbed to death in Islamabad, sparking outrage among Pakistanis.

Blogger Muhammad Bilal Khan was murdered in Islamabad

Khan was known for his critical comments on religious issues. He also spoke about the disappearance of activists and journalists. Khan’s shocking death is pertinent in the context that he had a following of thousands on Twitter, YouTube as well as Facebook. Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari has assured of investigation by the government.

Perhaps, a not so highlighted and the lone positive news one could find was the approval of the initial draft of the Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Bill 2019 by a Parliamentary body. The bill has recommendations for rigorous imprisonment until death for the sexual assault and murder of children.

Photo Credit: AFP

The recommendations are now to be discussed by the National Assembly Standing Committee on Human Rights. Once passed by parliament, the bill will pave way for the setting up of Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Agency (ZARRA), where missing child cases will be reported to generate an automatic alert. It will also introduce a response and recovery mechanism for missing children.

A draft of the ICT Rights of Persons with Disability Bill has also been approved with recommendations concerning the registration of people with disabilities, reforms to address their grievances and procedures to address their complaints.

While unexplained deaths and disappearances of activists remains a worrying issue, some decision making for missing and abused children as well as disabled persons is a progress in the human rights of country.

Other sectors are eagerly looked upon for some positive news. The nation’s favourite sports of cricket comes back at the turn of the week with anticipation.

The week, which started miserably with Pakistan’s loss against India in the World Cup match, has ended with hopes and fears for the next contest between Pakistan and South Africa. Such is the course of time, that humans, after mourning a loss, prepare for the next outcome. A comeback by Pakistan in the World Cup could raise hopes for optimism in the week that is to begin.

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OPINION

Hunza Valley: A case of educational enlightenment

Educational initiatives that have enlightened Hunza’s local communities are exemplary for others

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The Hunza Valley in Pakistan is known for its breathtaking beauty, lofty mountains, lakes, historical forts and fruit orchards. But equally enthralling are the educational initiatives that have enlightened Hunza’s local communities and are exemplary for others.

Hunza is a mountainous valley in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan. Situated in the extreme northern part of the country, Hunza borders with the Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan and the Xinjiang region of China. Hunza was an independent principality for more than 900 years, until the British gained control of it and the neighbouring valley of Nagar between 1889 and 1891 through a military conquest. The former princely state survived until 1974, when it was finally dissolved by Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

The centuries old history of the area is reflected in its rich cultural heritage and ethnic diversity. With mass migrations, conflicts and resettling of tribes, people of the region joyfully recount their historical traditions. They are also famous for the longevity of their lives.

But another trait which makes the people of Hunza distinct from the rest of the country, is its high literacy rate. While the literacy rate of the country is slightly above 50 percent, which in many rural areas is even lesser, the literacy rate in Hunza is believed to be nearly 80 percent, with some claiming it to be even more than 90 percent. What is the reason that a far flung, remote area perched at the top of the highest mountainous regions of the continent has been so successful in educating its people?

The evolution of education in Hunza valley was initiated in the year 1912 when the government of British India founded a primary school in Hunza state. But a major role has been played by the Ismaili Muslims, who make up nearly 90 percent of Hunza’s population.

In 1946, seventeen Diamond Jubilee Schools were established under the guidance and funding provided by Aga Khan III, the spiritual leader of Ismaili Muslims. Aga Khan Education Service played an important role in improving quality of education by arranging teachers training programs. Aga Khan Academies opened in Hunza which were later upgraded to Aga Khan Higher Secondary School for girls, with well trained teachers qualified from foreign universities. Locals also established community schools in late 1990s. Karakoram International University and its campus in Hunza provides quality education to students and degrees with scope of local and international markets, e.g. Tourism and Management.

Some unique initiatives include Al-Amyn Model School and Hassegawa Memorial Public School which are funded by Japan. These schools help re-establish the broken link between school and home. Here parents and grandparents are invited to share their wisdom with the younger generation. Parents come to know that their knowledge is not obsolete and that the younger generation can benefit from it.

Public schools are also opened by the Government of Pakistan which play a vital role in providing quality education to both boys and girls,
Being educated not only means to know how to read, write, think, or even being able to conjure new ideas, but having a cultured sense of oneself and the surrounding. In this sense, apart from being educated, the minds of people in Hunza are liberated from dogmas, and they encourage gender equality and critical thinking, which has led to the development of its pluralistic society.

Women have become an integral part of the local economy, including those who weave Hunza’s famous handicrafts. Both girls and boys study music in music schools established by USAID and Aga Khan Cultural and Support Program (AKCSP).

The world famous female mountaineer Samina Baig, international cricket player Diana Baig, female atheletes, models and singers are a depiction of gender equality and freedom from stereotypes. Although some of the remote mountainous regions of northern and northwestern Pakistan have been scarred by militant fundamentalism and terrorism, Hunza has largely avoided such associations, and the crime rate is extremely low.

Perhaps, this is why renowned international publications Washington Post and Foreign Policy Magazine have termed Hunza as a “success story for moderate Islam…. Once a hard Himalayan town where resident barely had enough food, Karimabad, in the Hunza Valley, is now one of Pakistan’s most idyllic spots and has become an oasis of tolerance, security, and good schools.”

Thus, an educational enlightenment including cultural, moral, social and economic progress of the community as well as the inculcation of deep respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, has helped eliminate poverty, and the promotion and implementation of secular pluralism and the advancement of the status of women in Hunza Valley.

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