Scaling Everest without oxygen

When I wrote a post about two Pakistanis’ desire to scale the Mt Everest or the Mt Chomolungma as the Chinese call it, I was rather skeptical. And then when as days went by and there was no news, I thought my fears to be right. But that was not to be so. On 11th May, the dream of one of the two Pakistanis came true when he finally stood at the top of the world.

Hassan Sidhpara had his dream of reaching at the top of the world. What makes his climb special and unique is that he did it without oxygen – something that requires extreme guts and very high standard of physical fitness as oxygen is so thin at Mt Everest that is is extremely difficult to breathe. He became the second Pakistani to have achieved this honour, Nazir Sabir being the first who scaled Everest on 17th May 2000.

The expedition was sponsored by the Alpine Club of Pakistan and had the patronage of the president of Pakistan. The team comprising of three climbers left for Nepal in the last week of March earlier this year and established their base camp III at 7,200 metres overlooked by the gigantic Everest.

The other two members of the team, Mohammad Sadiq and Ghulam Muhammad Faisal could not materialize their dream of scaling Everest. But a determined Hassan from Baltistan province of Pakistan continued despite all odds against him and finally scaled the highest peak of the world at stood at 8,848 metre. Standing by the Pakistani national flag he hoisted atop the peak, Hassan Sidhpara had created a world record for not using oxygen for his climb to the top of the world.

Hassan conquers Mount Everest with no oxygen kit
Conquering Everest – dream of two Pakistani brothers

Originally posted at JahoJalal


Rehabilitation of the Flood Victims or….

When the floods hit Pakistan last year, everyone hoped that the government would cash on the window of the opportunity opened for it and go all out to rehabilitate those millions who lost their entire possessions when their mud houses crumbled and were swept away by those deadly muddy waves of flood water. The destruction started from the north, and continued down south over the next one month till it finally met the deep blue waters of the Arabian Sea.

As the water travelled down country, people watched helplessly as their possessions, their dreams and their aspirations were being swept away until lost forever. Young girls sobbed silently as their dowries so painstakingly prepared by their mothers were washed away along with their dreams of getting married one day. Little children lost their small fortunes, a few toys or the new shoes their parents bought them after years of savings.

All was gone forever and those “rich” people were forced into tent villages to live on as the government had other plans to make space for the “poor” who often have to go to the capital to attend the sessions of the National Assembly and the Senate. The Capital Development Authority had the land allocated for the brand new lodges for these “poor” representatives of the people, frequently “displaced” to attend the sessions while the PM inaugurates a Rs. 2,908 million project for the poor IDPs in Islamabad a few days back. The project entails construction of some 104 family suites, besides some 500 servant quarters on an area measuring 1.4 acres of land.

As per a rough estimate a simple house can be constructed for around Rs. 1 million and the funds allocated for the lodges could thus provide a shelter to some 290 people living helplessly at the mercy of the rigours of the weather and nature. But none of the people’s representatives have raised a voice about this since it concerns their welfare, not the welfare of the people they represent, a portion of which is rotting in the tents under open sky.

Strange are the ways the people of Pakistan are ruled. Had the same thing happened in a military dictator’s rule, politicians would have made an issue out of it. But now in a true democratic rule, everyone seems to be looking the other way, completely ignoring the promises they made when asking for the votes. Who should now the people of Pakistan turn to for help?

Top 10 Women that made headlines in Pakistan – 2010

The year brought good news when two female members of our SAARC games squad (left top and below) won gold medals in athletics and Karate. Naseem Hameed became the fastest women of South East Asia when she won the 100 metres women title. The 22 years old clocked 11.81 seconds, 0.12 seconds ahead of Sri Lanka’s Pramila Priyadarshani, and became the first female athlete to win the race in Pakistan’s sports history. Sara won gold for her superb performance in Karate.

Later in the Asian Games, the Pakistani women cricket team won gold for Pakistan and made headlines as this was their first ever victory at such a prestigious sports venue.

Hadiqa Kiani is a famous pop singer of Pakistan, who besides singing takes active part in caring for the poor, socially children. For her love and care for the poor, she along with the famous Pakistan tennis player Aisam ul Haq, was appointed as UN Ambassador of Goodwill.

Angelina Jolie needs no introduction for her superb acting in many Hollywood motion pictures. But Miss Jolie won the hearts of countless poor Pakistani, especially the women and children when she visited the flood affected areas of Pakistan earlier this year. Miss Jolie, dressed in makeup-less attire was seen wading through muddy flood waters and reaching out to the poor and console them and offering her whole hearted support as UN Ambassador of Goodwill.

Asma Jahangir is is a leading Pakistani lawyer, advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, and an human rights activist, who works both in Pakistan and internationally to prevent the persecution of religious minorities, women, and exploitation of children. She has also recently become the first female President Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan.

Sana Mehmud is the captain of the women football team of Pakistan. Like the women cricket, she has high hopes to bring glory to women of Pakistan by competing and winning international football events. The star Indian tennis player Sania Mirza hit headlines both in Pakistan and India when she married Shoaib Malik, a Pakistan cricketer, earlier this year.

Dr Afia Siddiqui is a victim of pride and prejudice. Indicted as a suspected terrorist, she was convicted by a US court to 86 years in prison despite the fact that the case against did not have solid evidence and witnesses. The whole Pakistan nations want their daughter back as everyone is of the opinion that a case has falsely been framed against her with lot of loose ends and ambiguous claims.

The last photo in the right column is that of the anguished eyes of the veiled women of Pakistan who make headlines everyday when they are subjected to injustice in a male dominated society.

We do hope to have more females making headlines in year 2011 in the fields of science, technology, and other disciplines besides sports.

Where have the forests gone?

Since our childhood we have been told that of the total area of Pakistan, 4.5% is under forests, while for any country to have meaningful green cover, it should be around 25%. Well to start with we have been racing against an odd of some 21.5% for which every year millions and millions of saplings are planted by the forest department, but the area still remained 4.5% even after decades of forestation. This is worrisome as one wonders where these billions of planted saplings have gone. Didn’t even a smaller percentage took roots and turned into tree to add to the already scarce percentage of 4.5?

I got a clue to the mystery when I was assigned to carry out forestation on a given 200 acres in an area close to Lahore on the northern side of River Ravi. Before going to the area, I went to the Chief Conservative Punjab for a briefing and was told that the Forest Department had already planted a forest in the area some five years ago and I was only to plug the empty spaces, “if any.” Happy that my task was made simpler courtesy the Forest Department; I went to the area adjacent to a village called Bansi Nagar.

When I reached the area, to my utter horror I saw not even a semblance of forest. Instead the entire area was covered with thick thorny jungle muskets, which were so dense that it was difficult to drive my jeep through (rather I got two of tyres punctured). When I enquired from the local landlord, he showed his total ignorance about any such move by the Forest Department. So that is how got started.

My entire outfit was put on the task of clearing the jungle muskets with the help of dozers obtained from the Forest Department. It took us quite a while to remove the thick jungle of muskets and would daily encounter 5-10 feet long deadly snakes that my men used to kill. Finally we cleared the area, leveled it, make water channels, and dug holes for the saplings of eucalyptus. We also installed a dozen of water pumps for watering the saplings. It took us some three months to finally plant a forest, which still stands with trees reaching some 50-60 feet by now. And is that was not. While by and by we got to know the area, we were told that a sizeable area of the forest land was illegally occupied by an influential landlord and was using it for cultivation. It was with lot of effort that we got the said land vacated and brought inside our jurisdiction.

Having put in so much of effort myself, I find it heartbreaking when I see no change in the overall forest cover of Pakistan. Rather than increasing the area, just today I read a report which claims that the area under forestation has in fact reduced to 2.5% (1,902,000 hectares) in 2010. The report continues to divulge that between 1990 and 2000, Pakistan lost an average of 41,100 hectares of forest per year. This amounts to an average annual deforestation rate of 1.63%. Between 2000 and 2005, the rate of forest change increased by 24.4% to 2.02% per annum. In total, between 1990 and 2005, Pakistan lost 24.7% of its forest cover, or around 625,000 hectares. Measuring the total rate of habitat conversion (defined as change in forest area plus change in woodland area minus net plantation expansion) for the 1990-2005 interval, Pakistan lost 14.7% of its forest and woodland habitat.

This horrific revelation means that our future generations would start from a 2.5% area under forestation as against 4.5% of our times. This is despite the fact that billions of rupees must have been squandered away in the process. Each year the president and the prime minister are seen planting saplings to mark the beginning of the tree plantation drive (held twice a year) and the Forest Department dishes out the same quantity of saplings to God knows who by making a vow to increase the area under active forestation in Pakistan. But the ground realities are far from true than the tall claims of the Forest Department and the green cover is shrinking at a very fast pace.

 Tree plantation requires sincere and dedicated efforts and each sapling is to be cared to rear these into tall trees. But this has not been done and we are witnessing the worst disaster of our times. The recent flash flood are but one factor attributed to rapid pace of deforestation in our northern areas, specially Chitral and Swat, where people are mercilessly cutting trees for warming their houses and kitchens besides using it for furniture.

Unless we tackle the issue on war footings and strict monitoring of the affairs of the Forest Department is undertaken, I am afraid we may soon lose the remaining 2.5% forest cover as well, which will not shatter the already fragile economy of the country, but would also rob us the natural habitat of millions of bird species, some of which are already on the verge of extinction. The deforestation would also erode soil resulting into floods and burning of wood would add to more pollution and harm to environment.

Related Link/Resource Information:

Forestry in Pakistan: Deforestation (Museum of Learning)

PS: The post originally published in The Fire Within

27th September each year is celebrated since 1980 as the World Tourism Day under the auspices of United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). The purpose of this day is to raise awareness on the role of tourism within the international community and to demonstrate how it affects social, cultural, political and economic values worldwide. This year the theme for the day is “Tourism –Celebrating Biodiversity.” Official celebrations will be hosted by China on 27 September, with many other events taking place around the world, including the 30th anniversary celebration of the establishment of the UNWTO.

The theme selected for this year would help focus on the world’s cultural wealth and role of the tourism industry in revitalizing local traditions and making them flourish as these cross other cultures. The local customs and traditions are generally reflective in the languages, food, architecture, religion, attire and even the natural environment.

Like all other countries, the culture and traditions of Pakistan are unique, attractive and awe inspiring. These are a fine blend of our millennium old cultural heritage stemming from the Mehrgarh Civilization, which as old as 9000-7000 BC, and the following Moenjodaro, Kot diji, Taxila and Gandhara civilizations. With the arrival of Islam in the 7th century and the incursions from the North by the Mongols, Turks, Afghans and the Moguls, Pakistan has become a showcase window of the cumulative effect of all these civilizations, religion and empires.

The city of Lahore is rich in its cultural heritage while remains of Mehrgarh (Balochistan), Moenjodaro and Kot Diji (Sind), Taxila and Harrapa (Punjab) and Rehman Dheri and Buddhist remains (Khyber Pakhtunkwa) provide an insight into our rich cultural heritage. The customs and traditions of Pakistan are diverse in nature and each province has its own peculiar traditions that are found in their way of life, food, languages, music, festivals and literature.

Pakistan is also a haven of natural wonders and landscapes. From the snow covered pinnacles of the north, that include the K2 (the second highest mountain after Mt Everest) and many other peaks that top in the world listing, lakes with picturesque view. The lush green Deosai Plains are the highest plains in the world. Punjab offers vast green pastures, while Sind and Balochistan have wide tracts of desert and semi desert terrain. Near Ziarat (Balochistan) one finds the second largest Juniper Forest of the world with trees as old as 5000-7000 years. The Arabian Sea that skirts the 1200 kilometres coastline of Pakistan along Balochistan dn Sind provinces is home to still virgin beaches. The mangrove forests in Sind are unique in the world.

Pakistan is also home to some of the endangered species like the Snow Leopard, the Marco polo Sheep, Markhor, Hooubara Bustard, the Himalayan Brown Bears and the Blind Indus Dolphins. Besides Pakistan attracts millions of migratory birds from around the world each year in search of warm waters to its countless wetlands and lakes and is an ideal place for the bird watchers.

The people of Pakistan are extremely simple, hearty and hospitable. Those who venture out to Pakistan carry back pleasant memories of love and care by their Pakistani hosts. It’s fun to be in Pakistan, despite many misconceptions.

Related Reading: Pakistanpaedia (the mini pedia of Pakistan)

A time of change, I swear it’s not too late!

Many many years ago, To everything turn turn turn was one of my favourite songs – song that carried many good things in it. Today, the political milieu of Pakistan reminds me of that song and I wish we change for its still not late (I have replaced “peace” with “change”).

Pakistan today faces yet another turning point of its history. Having been ruled by corrupt rulers for a long time, that finds no end to itself till date, we are at the crossroads once again – the crossroads that require an urgent change to put the miseries being faced by the country to a possible end. On every TV channel there is a debate going on what to do, but there aren’t any suggestions – just wild guesses. Some advocate martial law, others contend for change within the parliament. While the military option is clear (and dangerous), the change within the parliament is vague and ambiguous.

The Supreme Court’s orders and decisions are being disobeyed openly and there seems a clash of titans very soon. But the epic court can only give decisions – but if these are not implemented, then where goes the rule of law. The elected representatives insist all issues to be resolved within the parliament, while the Supreme Court insists implementation of its decisions. Both the parliament and the Supreme Court seem to be at logger head with each other.

Those politicians not part of the parliaments have loud claims, but they cannot do anything being out of the parliament. Dragging Army once again would be disastrous as if the Army also fails to harness the sorry state of affairs of the country, then what would become of all of us?

There is a need to have realization by everyone that the present situation is harmful for the country. The already fragile economy has been hit hard by the floods that have destroyed almost half of the country’s communication infrastructure, dislodges more than 20 million people and destroying millions of houses and buildings. And above all, the flow of foreign assistance is being hampered due to widespread corruption and resultant credibility issue. Due to bad governance and no hold on the affairs of the state by the government, corruption is rampant in the country. Even an elected representative of the ruling party claims openly that corruption is their right and words to that effect.

We are thus faced with a political, economic and social dilemma and yet find no solution to escape from it. The IMF and WB are out there demanding enforcement of stringent financial discipline that would create an unprecedented price hike in the country – which will only hit the poor and the middle class besides the flood victims more than anyone else. Those who have brought the country to this abysmal situation would never be harmed by the conditions of the country as they have the vaults full of money and villas in posh localities all around the world. If God forbid something happens to the country, they have all escape routes opened to them.

A time has finally come for change; I swear it is not too late. We can still keep the genie inside the bottle lest any delay would allow him to escape. To my reckoning, there are following four options to keep the genie inside the bottle and these be considered in the same order of priority to be followed one after the other if the previous one doesn’t materialize or fails.

1. The Army Chief, being a stake holder and part of the troika (President, PM and himself), should step in and use his weight on the former two to take stock of the situation, uphold the rule of law by implementing all decisions of the supreme court in letter and spirit, ensure good governance and resolve the credibility issue by taking corrective measures (and everyone knows what measures I am referring to).

2. The president should step down from being the party head of the PPP, hands over all powers to the PM and himself becomes a figurehead as is done in any parliamentary form of government, India being a fine example of it. Here it may be mentioned that any change inside the parliament by changing the PM would not resolve the issue. We need an impartial president who allows functioning of the government through a strong and powerful PM.

3. The Supreme Court to order the Army to step as per the relevant clauses of the constitution and take stock of the situation, especially till earliest rehabilitation of the flood victims and control over the economy. A timeframe be spelt out by the epic court, after which elections be held and government handed over to the new elected government.

4. If all three options fail, the last options would be that of martial law – but a stringent martial law to really cleanse the mess rather than prolonging it with devastating after effects.

I hope sanity would prevail and need to resort to options 3-4 doen not arises. This is the only way we can bail out of the present turmoil temporarily– what is being termed as a constitutional change.

Having said that, I would also add that we also need to analyze whether the parliamentary system is still a workable system for us? So far it seems that presidential form of government has been more suited rather than the parliamentary system we follow. Our past record shows that the country progressed more in the times when we had a powerful president rather than a prime minister. But at present we may not be ready for the system change. We need to deliberate more on it, lest we plunge into another nightmare.

Related Reading: Constitutional Change (By Syed Asghar Javed Shirazi)