Pakistan Travel and Culture

Chakwal 100 years on, a school searches for its identity

January 25, 2015 – 8:00 pm

he historical edifice of the Government High School No 1 Chakwal, with its embellished turrets and arches, is today perhaps, the only sign of the school’s rich history and lost identity.

Few remember that this school was once called the S.S. Khalsa High School Chakwal and fewer still remember the great men who laid the foundations of this school.

govt-high-school-chakwal

One of the school staffroom walls, like any other government building in Pakistan, bears the portraits of Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Allama Iqbal. However, on the opposite wall there is a portrait of a Sikh man, with the inscription: S. Harbans Singh Sistani, founding chairman of the S.S. Khalsa High School Chakwal. Similarly, the portrait of Sardar Chet Singh hangs in the principal’s office.

These men were among the five students of Munshi Sant Singh who founded this school in 1910 and named it Sant Singh or S.S. Khalsa School in his honour.

A marble plaque has survived from the time and with Punjabi words etched in it in Gurmukhi script.

“It says that five students of Munshi Sant Singh built this school in the honour of their teacher,” explained Qazi Baqir Waseem, a Punjabi poet who has also taught at this school.

“Before this school was set up, Munshi Sant Singh used to teach students in Chakwal voluntarily and was highly respected in the area,” Sardar Rattan Deep Singh Kohli, the grandson of Sardar Chet Singh told Dawn from New Delhi.

“When five students of Sant Singh decided to come together to set up a school that would educate students in the nearby villages, they decided to name it after him. The foundation school was laid by five people of the area, according to Sikh tradition of Panj Pyaray (five loved ones), laying the foundation stone,” Mr Kohli said.

He said that many other notable Sikhs of the area made financial contributions for the construction of the school. Since there was no reliable mode of transport for students to be able to reach the school from remote villages, a hostel was also built next to the school.

The hostel is walking distance from the school and today it houses classrooms for 6th and 8th grades.

Mr Kohli talked about his grandfather, Sardar Chet Singh, who was a businessman and a philanthropist.

His friend Sardar Harbans Singh Sistani was also a wealthy man and together the two of them contributed to a number of charitable causes, with education being their prime area of interest. The friendship between them was so strong that they had made each other ‘pagri-badal’ (turban-exchange) friends, Mr Kohli said.

The turban in Punjab is a symbol of honour and Punjabi men exchange turbans as a sign of respect and strength of ties.

“In 1918 when the S.S. Khalsa School was up and running, my grandfather took up the task of building another high school in Munday, our ancestral village,” he said.

Sardar Chet Singh named this school after his father Sardar Hira Singh. Here too, a hostel, bigger than the one in Chakwal was built next to the school. Today this school is known as Government High School, Munday. Sardar Chet Singh also built a hospital in this village.

The schools built by Sardar Chet Singh were educating
hundreds of students in Chakwal and adjoining areas when India gained independence in 1947 and the independent state of Pakistan was born.

The bloody riots that broke out, forced people to leave their homes and the S.S. Khalsa High School was shut down.

“After the school was shut, authorities turned it into an Exit and Reception Centre where people who were leaving Pakistan for India gathered before they were sent to the other side of the border.

Similarly, Muslim migrants from India were housed here before being allotted houses,” said Qazi Baqir Waseem.

According to him, the S.S. Khalsa School remained closed for two years after which the Government School Chakwal was moved to this building.

S.S. Khalsa’s name was removed.

The school was rechristened Government High School Chakwal.

Later, in 1992 this school was renamed to Government School No.

1 Chakwal.

Sardar Chet Singh and Sardar Harbans were also forced out of their homes and settled in Delhi.

Soon after settling down, the first thing they did was opening another school. They acquired three acres of land in Amar colony, in Lajput Nagar Delhi and laid the foundation of a school which they named ‘S.S. Khalsa Senior School Secondary School (Chakwal)

Delhi’.

Although now in Delhi, the name of this new school included the word Chakwal in brackets, paying homage to the beloved homeland they had left behind.

“This new school operates to this day, educating 1,300 students free of charge,” Mr Kohli said.

He said that the school educates underprivileged students and does not discriminate on the basis of religion.

Back in Chakwal, the S.S. Khalsa School educated a number of notable students, among them the renowned Urdu writer Colonel Mohammad Khan, former chief minister of Punjab Arif Nakai and many high ranking civil and military officers. Brigadier Akmal, the current Military Secretary of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, also studied in this school.

The grandsons of Chet Singh – Sardar Rattan Deep Singh Kohli and Sardar Harbans Singh – were invited by the Old Students Association of Government High School No. 1 Chakwal for the school’s centenary celebrations.

When the two men arrived from across the border and saw the marble plaque with the names of their grandfathers, they were overwhelmed by emotion. Today, an international border and hundreds of miles separate them from their ancestral land and the legacy of their grandfathers. They kissed the plaque, unable to hold back their tears.

Meanwhile, the Old Students Association members were somewhat embarrassed.

“We had nothing to show our distinguished guests from India, the original name of the school had been removed, and a market and a bus stand had encroached upon school property,” said one member of the association.

“Sardar Chet Singh and Sardar Harbans Singh were great benefactors. Chakwal owes a huge debt to them which can only be repaid by restoring the school to its original name,” said Yunus Awan, Old Students Association president.

“I hope that one day both the schools in Chakwal and Munday are restored to their original names,” said Mr. Kohli.

SARDAR Harbans Singh Sistani (L) and Sardar Chet Singh (R), the founders of the school. — Photos by the writer

Celebrations of Pak-China Year of Friendly Relations launched

January 24, 2015 – 1:34 am

pak-chinaBEIJING: The celebrations of Pakistan-China Year of Friendly Relations 2015 were launched here Monday at a ceremony co-hosted by Tsinghua University and China-Pakistan Institute.

The event was attended by leading luminaries from China and Pakistan actively associated with promoting friendship between the peoples of the two countries.

The event also coincided with the 5th birth anniversary of Pakistan China Institute.

Speaking to the gathering, Ambassador Masood Khalid said that the sentiment that China is a true friend of Pakistan as it remains deeply etched in the hearts and minds of Pakistani people.

With the relationship having successfully weathered several decades since independence of the two countries, the Chinese, young and old, consider Pakistanis to be their iron brothers and closest friends, he said, adding that the friendship is deeper than the oceans, higher than mountains and sweeter than honey.

In the years to come, he said this friendship was bound to blossom further,remain ever green and reap dividends for our future generations.

Ambassador Khalid said that the two countries had broken new grounds of cooperation. Pakistan and China were working on the mega project of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which had become an important policy instrument for regional connectivity and regional integration and was also in line with the vision of President Xi Jinping to revive the old Silk Route through operationalization of Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.

The Silk Road economic belt would connect different regions and civilizations, enhance trade, economic growth and common prosperity. By linking the Gwadar Port via the Karakorum Highway with Xinjiang, the economic corridor would prove to be a game changer. Pakistan would serve as a bridge for China with Middle East, Africa and Europe, for its trade and energy requirements.

These transportation routes would greatly reduce the distances for China’s trade that is being done through Indian Ocean and the Malacca Straits, he added.

Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Sun Weidong said that China-Pakistan relations had become an example of state to state relations. In year 2014, China-Pakistan relations had made great strides. China was now preparing to set up a new Consulate General in Lahore and a Confucius Institute in Faisalabad, in addition to the China Cultural Centre located in Islamabad.

He said both countries looked forward to have further exchanges of visits, to have more high level contacts to promote mutual friendship and cooperation in various fields including politics, economy and people to people contacts.

He said China Pakistan Economic Corridor would be further promoted, particularly cooperation in trade, investment, energy and communications would be strengthened.

He said that a series of activities especially between legislatures, parties, local governments, youth, think tanks, to further promote mutual cooperation giving a solid foundation to build on, had been planned.

Senator Mushahid Hussain, who is also the head of the Pakistan China Institute (PCI), said that the day was special as the year of China-Pakistan friendship was being launched and also the 5th birth anniversary of Pakistan China Institute was being celebrated.

He said that his institute was the first non-governmental initiative of the two neighbours and strategic partners, that took the initiate of introducing Chinese language classes, in holding the first Pakistan, China , Afghanistan trilateral Dialogue and launched President Xi Jinping’s book “The Governance of China,” in Islamabad.

Zhao Baige, Vice Chairperson of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National People’s Congress, Director of Tsinghua International Centre for Communication Professor Li Xiguang, Zhao Baige, Vice Chairperson of the Foreign Affairs Committee of NPC,Zhai Huisheng, Party Secretary and Executive President of All China Journalists Association, Ai Ping, former Vice Minister of the International Department of CPC, Sun Weidong, Ambassador of China to Pakistan, Senator Mushahid Hussain, Chairman, China-Pakistan Institute, Ambassador Sha Zukang, President, China – Pakistan Friendship Association, Prof Li Xiguang, Director, Tsinghua University Center for Pakistan Culture and Communication Studies and Ambassador Masood Khalid were the key participants on the occasion.

Tourists throng Murree to enjoy snowfall

January 17, 2015 – 8:27 pm

ISLAMABAD: Local Tourists from around Pakistan have thronged to Murre to see the Snowfall in in Murree and surrounding hills on Tuesday.

Despite the fact there were no vacations, holiday or weekend, a large number of people, especially from the urban areas of Punjab and Karachi, traveled to Murree to enjoy the snowfall.

The hotels and resorts including Bhurban, New Murree, Kashmir Point, Pindi Point, Mall Road and Ayubia were fully booked.

Galyaat, Hazara and Bhurbhan received more snow as compared to Murree city. All restaurants were packed with tourists and the demand of woollies also went up, as mercury has gone below the freezing point. A great crowd was observed at hotels and place for eatables, where people were enjoying hot food and hot drinks to keep themselves warm. Businessmen and shopkeepers of the city seem happy to see increased business activity. “I am enjoying the weather here,” said a visitor Raza Baloch. “We are spending good family time and the children are especially happy,” adding “Murree has enjoyable entertainment facilities he lauded the civic body for construction of numerous attractive picnic spots.”

Jamshed Ali, a visitor from Lahore, while talking to APP, said Murree has all the facilities for enjoyment. “I am here today with my family and enjoying this awesome weather,” he added. The local administration should develop these areas further with additional facilities to attract visitors and promote tourism, he said.

Mushtaq Ahmed, another tourist from Karachi complained that eatables, woollies and other accessories available there to beat the cold weather were too much expensive. The shopkeepers are exploiting the situation and fleecing the customers, he said.
Meanwhile, traffic police has issued a travel advisory for tourists planning to visit Murree while the hill station is having snowfall. Talking to APP, a senior traffic official urged APP that motorists should avoid using Compressed Natural Gas (CNG)-run and old model vehicles to ensure safe journey to the mountainous resort where people from across the country throng to see scenic beauty of Malka-e-Kohsar. He said the traffic police have stopped movement of heavy vehicles on the roads leading to Murree to avoid any untoward incident as the road becomes slippery after and during snowfall.

He further stressed motorists to use tyre chains as it ensures better road grip, minimising the risk of slipping.

The commuters were perplexed that as various roads had proper drainage system, the rainwater was flowing on the roads, not only damaging them but also creating problems for the commuters. They demanded that the civic bodies should rectify the situation.

Prospects for investment in Pakistan are bright – Dar

January 17, 2015 – 7:31 pm

TOKYO – Federal Minister for Finance and Economic Affairs Senator Ishaq Dar has said that the prospects for investment in Pakistan are bright.

During an interview with Japan’s leading economic journal Nikkei Asian Review” he said that the economic position of Pakistan was fairly unstable [prior to the 2013 general election]. That’s why many international institutions stopped working with Pakistan. But the political party headed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif – the Pakistan Muslim League-N – had a very clear road map of how to make an economic recovery. That was included in our manifesto.

We had four E’s: economy, energy, extremism, education and health. Soon after we took the oath of office in June 2013, we pursued very strong structural reforms to fix the economy. They’re always painful, but I’m glad to say that all of our macroeconomic indicators have shown very good performance. We project to attain GDP growth of 5 per cent this year, the third year 6 per cent and the fourth year 7 per cent. So our projected GDP growth is 7 per cent in the 2017 to 2018 fiscal year.

Asked that Pakistan last year made a splash in the bond market, the finance minister said that we took Pakistan back to the international bond market after seven years. We issued in April a conventional bond, a euro-dollar bond. It was heavily oversubscribed. We offered it for $500 million, and we got $7 billion [worth of orders]. By the way, we did not take $7 billion, we took only $2 billion. For sukuk – Islamic bonds – in November we went again to the international market and offered $500 million. We were offered $2.3 billion and we picked $1 billion.

Asked to comment on his interest to introduce Japanese technology for coal-fired power plants, he said that Pakistan have plans for something like a 10,000-megawatt addition in the electricity generation sector, because the supply-demand gap right now is around 4,000mw to 5,000mw. China has indicated that they are willing to finance coal-based generation. If Japanese companies would like to come, they are most welcome.

In reply to a question about security concerns of the investors, Dar said under the leadership of the prime minister, the government made a very clear public commitment that we will deal with security. He said that the Zarb-e-Azb operation is very successful, and it’s still on. It has eliminated the sanctuaries of the terrorists, it has destroyed their ammunition, it has killed almost 1,200 [militants, including] their high-profile leaders.

To a question about Pakistan and China economic corridor project, estimated to cost $45 billion Dar said that the economic corridor is not going to benefit Pakistan and China alone. It’s going to [bring] benefits to the entire region – to the Central Asian states, to India, to Afghanistan, to other neighboring countries. Even Japan won’t have to go to the Gulf to get things done if this economic corridor from Kashgar [in northwestern China] to Gwadar [in southwestern Pakistan] is activated. It’s a win-win for everybody. We are quite grateful for China’s support, which they announced. Now we are looking to Japan for an equal package, hopefully.

He said that Japan is an old friend. In Pakistan, we mostly see Japanese cars. Honda is there, Suzuki is there, Toyota, Hino. We are looking forward to the earliest possible visit by the Japanese prime minister to Pakistan. He said that the two countries have a history of bilateral economic and trade relations, and there’s a great scope to expand the ties further.

Pakistan consulate offers mobile services in UAE

January 1, 2015 – 5:19 pm

Initiative to benefit labourers who had to take a day off to travel to Dubai The first mobile consular services camp for Pakistanis in the northern emirates was held last Friday (December 26) at a school in Ras Al Khaimah.

The next camp will be held on January 9 in Sharjah.
The mobile consular services initiative will benefit Pakistanis who had to normally take a day off from work to travel to Dubai early in the morning to reach the consulate and finish their work before closing time.

Javed Jalil Khattak, Consul-General of Pakistan in the UAE, and consular Hussain Mohammad travelled to Ras Al Khaimah as part of the first camp.
Dozens of people on Friday utilised services such as those related to the attestation of documents and the NICOP (National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistanis).
Mobile units offering consular services will reach Pakistanis in Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah and Sharjah on the weekends.

The camps offer all consulate services, except passport services, Abdul Wahid Khan, press consul, Consulate General of Pakistan, said.
The mobile units are connected to Pakistan’s National Database and Registration Authority’s network system.

There are no additional charges for availing mobile unit services.
Khan said: “Many of the applicants from the Northern Emirates are labourers, who had to take an expensive taxi ride to Dubai, since inter-emirate buses don’t start so early.”

“Being daily wage-earners, they lost a day’s pay for taking a day off for the trip. Seeing their hardship, the consulate decided to reach out to them.”

The mobile units are expected to normally work from 10am to 5pm.
Khan added that the number of applicants vary depending on which emirate the camp is held in as some areas have a higher number of Pakistani residents than others.

The northern emirates also include Ajman and Umm Al Quwain. Dubai is the seat of the Pakistani consulate that caters to Northern Emirates as well, while the Pakistani embassy is located in the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi. The arrangement is typical of other countries’ missions as well in the UAE.

7 news stories that will shape Pakistan in 2015

December 31, 2014 – 2:15 am

tahir-mehdiIf I said ‘Pakistan is at an important juncture of its history’, I know most people would laugh or shrug it off as something they have been told a million times already. So, I have decided to fashion seven measures and leave it to the readers to use them to find out for themselves where exactly Pakistan is heading in 2015.

Here you go:

1. Whatever happens in North Dakota?
The ‘oil-wrestling’ games will roll over into 2015. Sit back, enjoy the plummeting prices and hope for lesser load-shedding.

They say when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. But something quite contrary is happening in the world economy these days: as the fight between the oil giants is getting worse, our pastures are turning greener than ever.

Oil (petrol) prices in the world market are facing the worst slump of recent history. From a high of $115 (per barrel) in June 2014, the prices have nosedived to $60 in mid-December. According to The Economist, a price cut of $40 shifts $1.3 trillion from oil producers to consumers. (How big is $1.3 trillion? The GDP of China in 2013 was $9.24 trillion.)

The present reduction of $55 over June simply means boon for all developing economies. More money in consumers’ pockets raises demand for everything. It also means lower cost of production and prices that are affordable by more people. From farmers sowing wheat for home consumption to industrialists filling apparel export orders, everyone will benefit.

It is good news for a Pakistan government looking to weather the ever-worsening energy crisis. It can reap its benefits in both economic and political spheres. Lower oil prices will help reduce cost of energy and is likely to ease out load-shedding.

We owe this ‘largesse’ to the oilmen of North Dakota and Texas who have utilised a new technique called fracking to drill out oil from reserves that were earlier inaccessible or considered not viable. The supply gush of what is called shale gas has glutted the market, sending oil prices into a tailspin. Right now there is a war going on between ‘Shiekhs and shale’, in the words of The Economist, and lots of twists and turns are in store.

So enjoy the good times, hope for a better economy and don’t go away — Stay tuned to the free-style wrestling match between the energy giants.

2. In and around Lal Masjid, Islamabad, and Chauburji, Lahore too
As the war on terrorism enters a new dimension, everything that happens (and doesn’t happen) to our local militant outfits will be central in shaping a (hopefully) new narrative of the country we live in.

The fight against terrorism in Pakistan has gone into top gear towards the end of 2014, and it seems that the pressure from the clutch has also been released. It is finally moving forward and has shown ample signs of force and resolve with which it intends to march ahead.

But let us not be deceived. Terrorism as we, Pakistanis, have lived through over the past decades is not about a group of rouge, violent and misguided elements. It has taken deep roots in society, its polity and its economy as well.

The narratives that were propagated to support and sustain terrorism are also the ones that determine the way we see our religion, our religious minorities and other faiths. They define the way we perceive nationalism and decide for us which Pakistan we will live in.

These narratives and the structures supporting and sustaining them form the chilling mass underneath the tip of the iceberg known as terrorists. So while terrorist causalities matter, this fight is no high scoring-T20 that sends the national adrenaline level through the roof.

The tip will be chopped off but will the invisible mass melt too?

So if you are eager for signs of a real change in Pakistan in 2015, watch out for what happens at Lal Masjid, Islamabad, whose students have publicly expressed their support to the militants of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Watch out for what transpires at Chauburji, Lahore the working headquarters of Jamaat-ud-Dawa; that spews anti-India venom and is positioned to countervail initiatives for regional cooperation taken by elected governments.

Also important will be what happens with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and a dozen other names that the outfit comes in, as their anti-Shia ‘jihad’ has been instrumental in replacing belief with hatred and equating tolerance with treason in our country.

3. What is hidden underneath Kabul’s snow?
Will we see the last of ‘strategic depth’, of toxic connivances and of the Taliban to usher in a new era of peace and regional cooperation?

Afghanistan will celebrate Nowruz on Saturday, March 21, 2015. It is one of the biggest annual festivals in the entire region including Central Asia, Iran and Afghanistan. That’s when the spring equinox happens, life completes a full circle and enters the next one. The snow melts, water starts flowing in streams again and the New Year begins.

As the sun shines bright, a host of things buried underneath icy white masses raise their heads. This includes both flowers and old wounds. The coming spring will be an extraordinary time for the Afghans as after three devastating decades of bloodshed, hopes for the beginning of an era of peace will be the strongest.

Most of the US and allied troops will have been home by then. The rest will be out of a pro-active combat role, which effectively means that the Afghan National Army will be face-to-face with its adversary, the Taliban.

It will be the last ‘opportunity’ for the Taliban to disrupt the system now in place in Afghanistan and make efforts for restoration of their ‘emirate’ (or some ‘khilafat’) that was dismantled by the US forces in 2001.

The Taliban have been significantly weakened as a fighting force. Their supply lines are curtailed and morale is low. The coming spring will all but disclose the real size of the Taliban as a fighting force. Initiatives to engage them out of the battlefield and break peace agreements with them are also afoot.

Whatever transpires in the battlefields and around negotiation tables in Afghanistan is crucial for Pakistan. It can translate into a lasting peace heralding a new era of regional cooperation and economic progress, and if things go wrong it might not only mean stagnation but more trouble.

Odds are stacked against a Taliban comeback but keep Kabul on your radar with a mix of anxiety and hope.

By the way, Pakistan’s strategic depth dream will be a ‘collateral damage’ of peace in Afghanistan. So if you are a Pakistan-reigns-supreme-over-the-world buff, do plan to take a refresher course in nationalism.

4. Will ‘ilaqa-e-ghair’ become ‘apna mulk’?
The time is ripe to do the overdue — integrate Fata into the country and turn the ‘tribal brothers’ into Pakistani citizens.

The military campaign in Pakistan’s tribal areas has resulted in a mass exodus of local inhabitants. As soon as the campaign makes significant gains, the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) will want to return home.

But will they return to the same old Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata, known as ilaqa ghair in common parlance) caught in the jinx of a colonial-style governance system? The areas have had the status of ‘semi-governed’ for far too long which in reality means that its citizens have no rights and the authorities have no responsibilities.

This backwater of Pakistan has been kept lawless and transformed into a factory producing indoctrinated mercenaries fighting for dubious causes to promote ill-conceived foreign policy objectives. Pakistan is currently out to liquidate these strategic assets that have become a liability in a changed international environ.

But if Pakistan has to really uproot militancy and avoid its recurrence, it will have to abandon the endeared notion of ‘valorous tribes ready to sacrifice their lives’. It will have to extend the rule of law to these areas and start considering ‘the tribals’ as its citizens who need schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, clinics, police and all other civic amenities as does the rest of the country.

The integration of the Fatas into the federation will require consensus among all parties and constitutional amendments. It might also necessitate some Pak-Afghan negotiations on the border between the two, also called the Durand Line.

So news about an All Parties Conference deciding details of integrating these areas into the country will be important and the absence of any such news will be a cause of worry.

5. Will Imran Khan bounce back?
The dharna is over. The issues are not. How will the PTI go about politicking next? Will the naya year bring a naya Imran Khan?

Imran Khan abandoned the biggest adventure of his political career in the wake of the December 16 Peshawar carnage. His movement was in dire straits anyway and many critiques believe that his party was desperate for a safe and honourable exit.

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf is now in negotiations with the ruling party on its demand of setting up a judicial commission to probe the allegations of rigging in the 2013 elections. The talks do not at the moment seem to be heading towards a settlement. It will be important how these actually conclude in the near future.

The campaign against terrorism is likely to bring to fore new issues and change the national political agendas towards the second half of 2015. If the campaign succeeds quickly, who will get the credit and politically cash on it; and if it hits snags, who will be held responsible for new problems that might arise?

PTI politics might not remain focused on the sole agenda of rigging in previous elections.

The provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is at the centre stage and its actions and stances related to the campaign against terrorism will be debated and contested at length on the national level. The PTI is leading a coalition government and its numbers in the house are not very secure.

In short, there will be lots of opportunities for politicking on hot national issues as new political realities take shape.

It will be interesting to see what avatar the PTI chooses as the choice will not only impact day-to-day politics of the coming year, but also affect the politics of KP and Punjab in the coming years.

So with bated breath, we await the naya Imran Khan.

6. Mid-term verdict?
The pressure to make local bodies elections happen, will be greater than before. Watch out for new configurations of power.

While the Nawaz government may feel relieved at the abrupt end of the PTI’s protest campaign, it cannot take the rest of its tenure for granted. It has a lot many challenges to face still, one of them being organising local government elections.

The elected governments are under constitutional obligation to hold these local polls, and the Supreme Court has been pressuring them to fulfill it. But they have been evading it under one pretext or the other. The security situation may provide yet another excuse, but it may not hold for too long.

The Supreme Court has recently made the federal government appoint Chief Election Commissioner, another obligation that the government was dragging its feet on.

Local government elections will be important not only because these will take the electoral democracy down to the grassroots level, but also because they will serve as ‘shadow mid-term elections’. The aggregate verdict coming out of these will have the capacity to redirect the course of national politics.

Consider, for example, if the PTI can repeat its general election 2013 performance in KP and sustain or improve in Punjab, it will attack the Nawaz government with renewed vigour and from a more legitimate position.

In turn, if the PML-N can sustain or improve its position in the local elections in Punjab, it will consider itself secure until the general elections in 2018. Local elections can also unsettle the present balance of power in Karachi and the rest of Sindh.

So local elections, whenever they are held, if not in 2015 then maybe next year, will give birth to new political realities.

7. The billion dollar march
Tons of foreign investment is waiting to pour into Pakistan — waiting for an end to terrorism risks. If that happens, the worst may be behind us.

Mega projects worth tens of billions of dollars are waiting in the wings, east, west and north of Pakistan. China is eager to invest in what is called a trade corridor to give a transport outlet to its fast developing northwestern Xinjiang. It is also keen on developing a massive copper field, considered the world’s second largest, in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan and India want a passage through Pakistan as the latter wants to mine iron ore in Bamiyan, Afghanistan.

Tajikistan requested Pakistan, just days ago, to allow land route for importing oil from Middle East. A gas pipeline project running from Tajikistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan and then India is being negotiated since the past few years.

These projects will prove a boon for our economy and will enrich and increase the size of our middle class. These opportunities are knocking at our door and will gate-crash as soon as terrorism subsides.

Mega investors are very shrewd about calculating risks that their projects might face and progress on these projects and terrorism are inversely related. So, any time next year if you think terrorism has waned, expect multi-billion projects to kick-start immediately; or if you read about real advancement on these projects first, you can be sure that we are past the most horrid phase of terrorism in our country.

Tahir Mehdi works with Punjab Lok Sujag, a research and advocacy group that has a primary interest in understanding governance and democracy.

He tweets @TahirMehdiZ

UNWTO and UNESCO to organize first World Conference on Tourism and Culture

December 17, 2014 – 4:26 pm

The First World Conference on Tourism and Culture will bring together, for the first time, Ministers of Tourism and Ministers of Culture from around the world, experts and stakeholders from both sectors to explore new models of partnership between tourism and culture (Siem Reap, Cambodia, 4-6 February 2015).

Cultural tourism can contribute to inclusive economic growth, social development and cultural preservation. The first UNWTO/UNESCO World Conference on Tourism and Culture will provide an unprecedented global platform for policymakers, experts and practitioners in tourism and culture to meet and identify the key challenges and opportunities for stronger cooperation between these highly interlinked areas.

Over the course of two days, participants will explore different roles and mandates on five key topics – governance and partnership models, cultural preservation, living cultures and creative industries, cultural routes and urban regeneration through cultural tourism.

Confirmed speakers include King Simeon II, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, UN High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, John Delaney, Senior Vice President of Seabourn, and Elizabeth Becker, award-winning author and former correspondent for the New York Times.

UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai, said “This milestone event will provide a unique opportunity for tourism and culture stakeholders from all regions to discuss how to further harness the power of tourism and culture to alleviate poverty, create jobs, protect heritage and promote international understanding, contributing to the post-2015 development agenda”.

Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General: “Culture shapes our identity and is a means to foster respect and tolerance among people. It is also a way to create millions of jobs and improve people’s lives, a path to strengthen mutual understanding. Safeguarding cultural heritage must move forward with sustainable tourism, which is the core message of this Conference. This vision guides our efforts to promote culture as a driver and as an enabler of sustainable development, and is especially important at this time of change, when countries are shaping a new global sustainable development agenda to follow 2015.”

Hosted by the Kingdom of Cambodia in Siem Reap, home of UNESCO World Heritage Site Angkor Wat, the Conference will count on the presence of His Majesty Preah Bat Samdech Preah Baromneath Norodom Sihamoni, King of Cambodia, and Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia.

Rawalpindi’s dilapidated Shamshan Ghat

December 15, 2014 – 1:41 am

ccording to Hindu religious practice, a Shamshan Ghat (cremation ground) is built near rivers or fresh streams so that ashes can be disposed of after cremation. One such old Shamshan Ghat is located at Tipu Road near Nullah Leh in Rawalpindi. In the past, the Leh Nullah used to be a fresh stream and the ashes of a cremated body were disposed in its waters. This Shamshan Ghat is still the only place of cremation for the Hindu community living in the city and nearby areas. Besides the cremation place on the premises of the Shamshan Ghat, there is an old building which is considered as the Dhannshala-cum-temple by the Hindu community.

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Here, religious rituals were performed before and after cremating a body. According to the marble plaque erected at the Shamshan Ghat, it was built in 1923 by the sons and wife of Lala Tansukh Rai Sahib Syal, the Rais-i-Azam of Rawalpindi. After the partition when most of the Hindu and Sikh population migrated to India, this place remained abandoned for a couple of years. In 1949, it was handed over to the Hindu community to perform their religious rights. The Pakistan Hindu-Sikh Social Welfare Association president, Jagmohan Kumar Arora, told Dawn: “In July 2010, the temple building was given on lease to a media group which started digging and demolishing it. The Hindu and Sikh communities protested against it after which the demolition process was stopped.” Mr Arora said the original area of the Shamshan Ghat was 277 kanals. He said 10 kanals and 13 marlas were given to the Hindu community in 1949.

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“The present area of Shamshan Ghat and the temple attached to it is merely two to three kanals,” he said. In 2012, the cremation area was restored and a new building constructed but the temple near the cremation place remained abandoned. Mohanlal Kashyap, a member of the Hindu community, said: “This is the only place of cremation for the Hindu community in Rawalpindi.” The Hindu community demands the reconstruction of the temple on the premises of Shamshan Ghat. “We don’t want anything from the government, just give us our right to die peacefully,” Mr Arora said.