* Registers highest trail running event at Kilimanjaro, eclipsing 35-year-old feat by Everest Marathon In a proud moment for Qatar, a 35-year-old record held by Everest Marathon has been broken by Z Adventures, a Qatar-based adventure-travel company, which successfully organised the highest trail running event at Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. The Uhuru Peak Challenge held on July 15 consisted of four events; the V1000, Half, Full and Ultra Marathon. A strong group of 30 runners from 12 different nationalities touched down at Arusha, the gateway to Kilimanjaro, on July 8 to take part in this gruelling adventure race on the "Roof of Africa". A winner receiving the race medal At 5,895m, Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain on the African continent, and also the world's highest free-standing mountain. The group consisted of some highly experienced marathon runners from around the world, and also a few first-timers who signed up for this adventure. After going through the mandatory trek briefing and gear-check, the participants started their five-day acclimatisation trek towards the peak — the Kilimanjaro trek involves trekking through 5 distinct climatic zones to reach Uhuru Peak. The Bushland Zone is the initial part of the climb taking runners up to 1,800m. The following day, participants trek through the rainforest zone to camp at 2,800m. Day 3 of the trek takes runners through the Moorland / Heather zone as they camp for the night at 4,000m. Thereafter, the two toughest parts of the journey begin as they reach the Alpine Zone at 4,980m to prepare for the start of the races. Ultra marathon winner Jack Haug The first race was V1000, a 1,000m vertical climb through the Arctic Zone to Uhuru Peak. The V1000 course was certified by the International Skyrunning Federation and is considered the highest Skyrace in the world. Covering a distance of 4.3km, the runners climbed 1,000m from 4,980m to 5,895m to reach the top of the mountain. This was no ordinary feat as runners had to endure below freezing temperatures, thin air and altitude sickness as they soldiered their way to the top of the peak. Jack Haug from Switzerland won the men's event while Tamina Vogel from Germany finished first in the female category. Marathon winner Cara Nelson Once at the top, runners lined up for the customary summit pictures at the top of the peak before starting the next race; the Half, Full or Ultra Marathon. Jaded and cold, they slowly embarked on the next phase to run down the mountain with the hope of completing the distance and being part of the historic record-breaking event. The International Trial Running Association certified course was not for the faint-hearted. The downhill race involved rocky terrain, slippery slopes and sheer drops in altitude as they ran through all 5 climatic zones in one day to reach the base of the mountain to complete the race. The youngest member of the group, 17-year-old Scottish runner and World Spartan Age-Group champion, Harvey Mitchell-Divers, won the Half Marathon (male) event in a time of 3:22:58 whilst Tamina Vogel finished as the 1st female. In the Marathon and Ultra Marathon, it was an all Swiss victory with Jack Haug winning the Ultra Marathon and Alexander Scherz the Full Marathon. Cara Nelson from the US won the female marathon race. For most runners, it was a life-changing experience and even the most experienced marathoners found the race to be the toughest of their running career. Guinness World Records approved the three races as the highest altitude trail Half, Full And Ultra Marathon, thereby breaking the 35-year old record held by Everest Marathon. By successfully organising the race, in collaboration with Kiliwarrior Expeditions, Z Adventures now holds six Guinness World Records in high-altitude running events. In 2019, they organised the World's Highest Altitude Road Half, Full and Ultra Marathon at Khunjerab Pass, Pakistan at 4,693m. The company organises marathons in more than 40 countries and across six continents. In Qatar, they organise more than 30 events a year under Qatar Running Series, with regular events in various parks and trails. The stellar achievement pleased Ziyad Rahim, who is the brains behind Z Adventures, no end. He himself holds 10 Guinness World Records in long-distance running and is the first athlete in the world to complete an Ultra Marathon, Full Marathon and Half Marathon on each continent. Talking to Gulf Times, Ziyad said: "Uhuru Peak Challenge was a tough undertaking, and it took me two years to plan and successfully execute the race. Being the highest altitude running event in the world, it involved extensive risk assessment. I'm so proud of all the runners.”
— Qaiser Abbas, acclaimed leadership coach, tells Pakistan Education Forum seminar Pakistan Engineers Forum (PEF) organised an engaging leadership seminar at the TNG School Al Wakra campus this week with the keynote speaker and international award-winning leadership coach Qaiser Abbas. A business psychologist, who is also an international bestselling author, Qaiser shot to fame with his seminal work Tick Tick Dollar. He is also the recipient of the Brian Tracy International Excellence Award 2017. Predictably, Qaiser stole the show, with personable and engaging interaction with his audience. He drew generously from his own inspirational success story to make the point that if he could overcome the odds and achieve what he has, anyone could. Born into poverty, Qaiser recalled his difficult childhood and the accompanying tribulations. “I was a loner in a class of 59 at school, unable to meet anyone in the eye or give out an introduction as simple as spelling out my name. In a family of eight siblings, I was the youngest. To be frank, we weren’t assured the next meal. All this devastated my self-confidence. I couldn’t speak for lack of confidence even though I topped the grades every year. My parents promised to buy me a bike every year, but they could never fulfil their promise.” Qaiser is an author of 10 books, bestsellers amongst these. Being recognised by his peers is one thing, but life coaches and bestselling authors he looks up to, also speak highly of his prowess. “Qaiser is the future of motivational speaking. He is an inspiration to millions around the globe,” observes Brian Tracy, the world’s most respected authority on personal development. Dave Ulrich, the world’s premier management guru and influential HR Thought Leader, on the other hand, endorses Qaiser’s credentials thus: “Your personal story is very impressive. You have clearly lived the purpose, passion, performance logic you write about.” But it was far from a cake walk. “Back then, even after I had grown up, I had to serve time in the canteens of newspaper offices of Jang Group, Pakistan’s biggest media house, to make a living when in fact, I had gone to seek an opportunity to write. But today, I write bestsellers, of which my latest, Made in Crisis has been nominated for the ‘Business Book of The Year’ award,” Qaiser noted with pride. How does he see himself, then? “I consider myself an artist. Every day, I stand in front of my audience and start afresh. But it involves hard work. This is my 100th session on Tick Tick Dollar (a programme I created) and I still have sleepless nights! I believe in preparation. And how I work keeps evolving.” Explaining Tick Tick Dollar, he jokingly said it should not be confused with money just because the title suggests so, and that, it is a life philosophy. “My work has taken me to some 40 countries and everywhere, people come back to me and say how Tick Tick Dollar changed their lives. The pivot of this philosophy is finding a purpose. The first tick of the clock is to remind yourself to live your life on a purpose. The second tick is to live your passion. I encounter so many people who do not even know what their passion is — or, simply put, what their job entails is different from their passion.” Qaiser felt a lot of people confuse goal with a purpose or use them as interchangeable descriptions. “There is a marked difference. A goal is something you seek and are driven to get on a personal scale. Purpose and goal are, a bit like, give and take: the former involves giving, and the latter taking. For instance, when you focus on a goal, achieving it gives you joy, but it is temporary. However, when you focus on a purpose, this joy is long lasting. There is an outright distinction between the two: for a goal, there is a starting point and an end. With purpose, there is a starting point, but no finishing line. You can accomplish a goal, but you can never accomplish a purpose. Simply put, a purpose is not limited to yourself; even future generations may benefit from it,” Qaiser said, in a matter-of-factly mien. “Have you thought about your life’s calling,” he, then, asked the audience. “During the course of my work, I get to meet a lot of successful people — some in their 50s, 60s and even 70s and they tell me they don’t know what the purpose of their lives is! I appreciate their honesty, but it seems they were so busy making a living, they forgot or just didn’t understand what that purpose was!” Qaiser, then suggested a more meaningful way to look at finding a purpose in life. “What is that one thing in your life that you can give up for it? How would you like to be remembered after you’re gone? What role are you playing to make this world a better place than you found it? Once you begin to focus on these questions, you automatically begin to focus on the purpose of your life. I have a metaphor for it — I call it a compass — because the compass gives you (a sense of) direction. You just have to dig deeper.” So how does one pursue the purpose of life? “The answer is passion. It is the second tick. Purpose is where you want to go and why; passion is your vehicle to it. My metaphor for passion is heart. You need to connect with your heart here.” And how do you make purpose and passion work? “Commitment. It is what enables you to go the whole distance. But nothing substantial is achieved without getting out of your comfort zone. You should be willing to take risks to accomplish your goals and respond to the purpose in your life. Finally, it’s about stretching yourself — going the extra mile to achieve the ends. And that’s why, coming back to business, you will note that determined entrepreneurs persist with new ideas and strategies against the run of play, because they believe in themselves and those ideas, and more importantly, are willing to take risks to make these successful,” Qaiser drove home. Talking of purpose, he looked at the audience and also underpinned the aftermath of success: “When you have found your calling, and if and when money starts to follow you, it’s important not to be distracted and lose sight of that purpose. Never forget what made you and where you go with it.” Giving an insight into his area of expertise, the renowned leadership coach said, trust and rapport is fundamental to help the CEOs achieve their professional objectives. “These people, at the top, are very lonely. Often, they don’t really have someone to share their story with, particularly with regard to insecurities and concerns. If they did that with the board (of governors), they might even get dismissed, and if they did with their colleagues, they might come across as ‘weak’ leaders.” How do the CEOs view Qaiser as a leadership coach? “Once the CEO of a major league company told me: ‘Qaiser, you are like a mirror to us’. Yes, I do think my job is to show them a mirror. My job is to make them focus, not be distracted. The qualities of an effective coach is to earn the trust of their clients, respect them and develop a rapport in order to achieve the desired objectives.” So how far has Qaiser traversed on this journey? “I have trained more than 200 coaches, who are now working across four continents. I have also had the opportunity to work with Pakistan’s national cricket team multiple times and coached all 24 coaches involved in the national set-up. During my work, I have so far coached top-of-the-line business professionals from 55 different industries.” But despite leading a tiresome life, he never loses his passion for what he does. “I do a lot of research and write every day to keep abreast of the developments. In fact, the first thing I do when I wake up and go to bed is write. So far I have written 10 books.” Talking about his works, Qaiser said, the cheapest comes at US$35. And what does he do with all the money? “You’ll be happy to know that my entire earnings from books go towards the education of underprivileged kids across Pakistan. I also have a foundation called ‘Possibilities’, a programme under which underprivileged children to get to study in a school of their choice for which my foundation pays. There’s yet another programme entitled ‘My First Bike’ through which we give out bikes to under-privileged children,” he said. Asked by a member of the audience if he himself had coaches, Qaiser pointed out that he believed in coaching and would encourage CEOs to invest significantly into it. “Since I believe in coaching, and it is every bit worth, I have not one, but three coaches for myself, too. Suppose you sit with a CEO for an hour of conversation and get paid $10K. What does that arrangement imply? It implies that there is something significant to gain from the exercise. At the end of that talk, it will have the kind of impact and outcome that makes it worthwhile. I still have my first coach, Arif Nafees, by my side. He has been coaching me for 20 years. Every year, we sit together with a new agenda and we have teams. We have been able to accomplish many things together,” Qaiser noted. The seminar was graced by Syed Mustafa Rabbani, Deputy Head of Mission at the Embassy of Pakistan in Qatar, and Nasser al-Maslamani, Director HR at Baladna, both of whom also spoke on the occasion. Fawad Rana, the Managing Director of QALCO, was also present. Members of the Pakistan Engineers Forum, led by its president Riyaz Ahmed Bakali, who is also the director of TNG schools and organised the event, along with a large number of Pakistani community members attended the event.
Pakistan Engineers Forum (PEF) organised an engaging leadership seminar at the TNG School Al Wakra campus this week with the keynote speaker and international award-winning leadership coach Qaiser Abbas. A business psychologist, who is also an international bestselling author, Qaiser shot to fame with his seminal work Tick Tick Dollar. He is also the recipient of the Brian Tracy International Excellence Award 2017. Predictably, Qaiser stole the show, with personable and engaging interaction with his audience. He drew generously from his own inspirational success story to make the point that if he could overcome the odds and achieve what he has, anyone could. Born into poverty, Qaiser recalled his difficult childhood and the accompanying tribulations. “I was a loner in a class of 59 at school, unable to meet anyone in the eye or give out an introduction as simple as spelling out my name. In a family of eight siblings, I was the youngest. To be frank, we weren’t assured the next meal. All this devastated my self-confidence. I couldn't speak for lack of confidence even though I topped the grades every year. My parents promised to buy me a bike every year, but they could never fulfil their promise.” Qaiser is an author of 10 books, bestsellers amongst these. Being recognised by his peers is one thing, but life coaches and bestselling authors he looks up to, also speak highly of his prowess. “Qaiser is the future of motivational speaking. He is an inspiration to millions around the globe,” observes Brian Tracy, the world's most respected authority on personal development. Dave Ulrich, the world's premier management guru and influential HR Thought Leader, on the other hand, endorses Qaiser’s credentials thus: “Your personal story is very impressive. You have clearly lived the purpose, passion, performance logic you write about.” But it was far from a cake walk. “Back then, even after I had grown up, I had to serve time in the canteens of newspaper offices of Jang Group, Pakistan's biggest media house, to make a living when in fact, I had gone to seek an opportunity to write. But today, I write bestsellers, of which my latest, Made in Crisis has been nominated for the ‘Business Book of The Year’ award,” Qaiser noted with pride. How does he see himself, then? “I consider myself an artist. Every day, I stand in front of my audience and start afresh. But it involves hard work. This is my 100th session on Tick Tick Dollar (a programme I created) and I still have sleepless nights! I believe in preparation. And how I work keeps evolving.” Explaining Tick Tick Dollar, he jokingly said it should not be confused with money just because the title suggests so, and that, it is a life philosophy. “My work has taken me to some 40 countries and everywhere, people come back to me and say how Tick Tick Dollar changed their lives. The pivot of this philosophy is finding a purpose. The first tick of the clock is to remind yourself to live your life on a purpose. The second tick is to live your passion. I encounter so many people who do not even know what their passion is — or, simply put, what their job entails is different from their passion.” Qaiser felt a lot of people confuse goal with a purpose or use them as interchangeable descriptions. “There is a marked difference. A goal is something you seek and are driven to get on a personal scale. Purpose and goal are, a bit like, give and take: the former involves giving, and the latter taking. For instance, when you focus on a goal, achieving it gives you joy, but it is temporary. However, when you focus on a purpose, this joy is long lasting. There is an outright distinction between the two: for a goal, there is a starting point and an end. With purpose, there is a starting point, but no finishing line. You can accomplish a goal, but you can never accomplish a purpose. Simply put, a purpose is not limited to yourself; even future generations may benefit from it,” Qaiser said, in a matter-of-factly mien. “Have you thought about your life's calling,” he, then, asked the audience. “During the course of my work, I get to meet a lot of successful people — some in their 50s, 60s and even 70s and they tell me they don't know what the purpose of their lives is! I appreciate their honesty, but it seems they were so busy making a living, they forgot or just didn't understand what that purpose was!” Qaiser, then suggested a more meaningful way to look at finding a purpose in life. “What is that one thing in your life that you can give up for it? How would you like to be remembered after you're gone? What role are you playing to make this world a better place than you found it? Once you begin to focus on these questions, you automatically begin to focus on the purpose of your life. I have a metaphor for it — I call it a compass — because the compass gives you (a sense of) direction. You just have to dig deeper.” So how does one pursue the purpose of life? “The answer is passion. It is the second tick. Purpose is where you want to go and why; passion is your vehicle to it. My metaphor for passion is heart. You need to connect with your heart here.” And how do you make purpose and passion work? “Commitment. It is what enables you to go the whole distance. But nothing substantial is achieved without getting out of your comfort zone. You should be willing to take risks to accomplish your goals and respond to the purpose in your life. Finally, it's about stretching yourself — going the extra mile to achieve the ends. And that's why, coming back to business, you will note that determined entrepreneurs persist with new ideas and strategies against the run of play, because they believe in themselves and those ideas, and more importantly, are willing to take risks to make these successful,” Qaiser drove home. Talking of purpose, he looked at the audience and also underpinned the aftermath of success: “When you have found your calling, and if and when money starts to follow you, it's important not to be distracted and lose sight of that purpose. Never forget what made you and where you go with it.” Giving an insight into his area of expertise, the renowned leadership coach said, trust and rapport is fundamental to help the CEOs achieve their professional objectives. “These people, at the top, are very lonely. Often, they don't really have someone to share their story with, particularly with regard to insecurities and concerns. If they did that with the board (of governors), they might even get dismissed, and if they did with their colleagues, they might come across as 'weak' leaders.” How do the CEOs view Qaiser as a leadership coach? “Once the CEO of a major league company told me: ‘Qaiser, you are like a mirror to us’. Yes, I do think my job is to show them a mirror. My job is to make them focus, not be distracted. The qualities of an effective coach is to earn the trust of their clients, respect them and develop a rapport in order to achieve the desired objectives.” So how far has Qaiser traversed on this journey? “I have trained more than 200 coaches, who are now working across four continents. I have also had the opportunity to work with Pakistan’s national cricket team multiple times and coached all 24 coaches involved in the national set-up. During my work, I have so far coached top-of-the-line business professionals from 55 different industries.” But despite leading a tiresome life, he never loses his passion for what he does. “I do a lot of research and write every day to keep abreast of the developments. In fact, the first thing I do when I wake up and go to bed is write. So far I have written 10 books.” Talking about his works, Qaiser said, the cheapest comes at US$35. And what does he do with all the money? “You'll be happy to know that my entire earnings from books go towards the education of underprivileged kids across Pakistan. I also have a foundation called Possibilities, a programme under which underprivileged children to get to study in a school of their choice for which my foundation pays. There's yet another programme entitled 'My First Bike' through which we give out bikes to under-privileged children,” he said. Asked by a member of the audience if he himself had coaches, Qaiser pointed out that he believed in coaching and would encourage CEOs to invest significantly into it. “Since I believe in coaching, and it is every bit worth, I have not one, but three coaches for myself, too. Suppose you sit with a CEO for an hour of conversation and get paid $10K. What does that arrangement imply? It implies that there is something significant to gain from the exercise. At the end of that talk, it will have the kind of impact and outcome that makes it worthwhile. I still have my first coach, Arif Nafees, by my side. He has been coaching me for 20 years. Every year, we sit together with a new agenda and we have teams. We have been able to accomplish many things together,” Qaiser noted. The seminar was graced by Syed Mustafa Rabbani, Deputy Head of Mission at the Embassy of Pakistan in Qatar, and Nasser al-Maslamani, Director HR at Baladna, both of whom also spoke on the occasion. Fawad Rana, the Managing Director of QALCO, was also present. Members of the Pakistan Engineers Forum, led by its president Riyaz Ahmed Bakali, who is also the director of TNG schools and organised the event, along with a large number of Pakistani community members attended the event.
Pakistanis all over the world celebrated the 75th Independence Day with traditional fervour yesterday. The same zest was evident at a colourful event hosted by the Pakistan embassy on its premises to mark the occasion. Ambassador Syed Ahsan Raza hoisted the crescent-and-star flag to the tune of the national anthem, sung in unison by the audience, after a smartly turned out contingent of the Pakistan Army presented a salute. Officers of the Pakistan embassy read out messages of President Dr Arif Alvi and Prime Minister Imran Khan. In his message, the president praised the resilience of Pakistan as a nation that had achieved tremendous successes in various fields. He made a note of how the country fought a long drawn out war against terrorism and defeating the menace. He felt the nuclear deterrence was a great achievement that made the country’s defence impregnable. More recently, President Alvi expressed his satisfaction at the laurels Pakistan had won globally for handling the Covid-19 pandemic for which he credited the doctors and paramedics, media, National Command and Operation Centre, security forces and the entire nation. Whilst congratulating the nation on the Independence Day, Prime Minister Imran Khan exhorted his compatriots to resolve to uphold national values of unity, faith and discipline envisioned by the Father of the Nation Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. “Pakistan today, can stand tall among the comity of nations. Our policies towards reviving the economy, handling the pandemic and protecting the environment have received universal acclaim,” he pointed out. Emphasising his government’s policy, the prime minister said: “We want peace within and without, to pursue our socio-economic agenda. The Naya (new) Pakistan has shifted its focus from geo-politics to geo-economics, with the wellbeing and welfare of our people as the topmost priority. He also underlined that 14th August inspired all Pakistanis “to serve the country with greater dedication in order to carry the national flag, which symbolises the nation’s hopes and aspirations, even higher”. Hailing the 170,000-strong Pakistani community in Qatar as a “living bridge” between the two countries, Ambassador Syed Ahsan Raza exhorted them to present the true image of Pakistan in their practices and dealings by following the ideals of the Father of the Nation Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and National Poet Dr Allama Muhammad Iqbal. He felt the community had it in them to continue to contribute to the development and progress of both countries majorly. He assured them of the embassy’s complete support to help achieve the desired objective within the framework of resources available at its disposal. The ambassador also expressed his gratitude to His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and the Qatari leadership for hosting the Pakistani community with excellent employment opportunities and living conditions. He felt that His Highness the Amir had great affection for Pakistan and Pakistanis and that the leadership in the two countries were committed to boosting the existing fraternal ties. In this context, he recalled the fruitful visit of the Amir to Pakistan in 2019 and Prime Minister Khan’s visits to Qatar the same year and in 2020. The celebration concluded with a cake cutting in the colours and contours of the green-and-white national flag in the presence of children mostly attired in similar colours, with prayers offered for the solidarity, progress and prosperity of Pakistan.
Even before the Coronavirus pandemic engulfed the world last year — majorly upending the global economy — Information and Communications Technology (ICT) was rapidly transforming the rules of business. Thanks to its size and nature of products, the ICT industry, including telecommunications operators, computer and software producers and electronic equipment manufacturers, are playing a significant role in boosting economic growth. This growth is fuelled by the ease of business in the workplace and convenience for the individual end-user thanks to the outreach of technologies that have spurred connectivity and a strong productivity base. In 2020, China officially surpassed the US in its number of patent applications, with its spending on R&D climbing 10% to $378bn. China had also outstripped the US in putting out research papers in the natural sciences, according to data released in the third quarter of 2020. A significant such story is that of Huawei, which despite a lack of level playing field in the West, especially the US, over geo-political considerations has not been able to stop its smart-solution, innovative march — pivoted on hi-tech accessibility and affordability — on a global scale. In 2020 alone, the company invested about $20bn on R&D, with $100bn to be invested in the next five years. It also launched 13 open labs in the world. A Global Competitive Index conceived by the tech giant in collaboration with Oxford Economics that evaluated the scale of digital traction from ICT investment cites that every dollar invested in digital technologies in the last three decades added, on average, $20 to the global GDP. This is massive when compared to the non-digital investments that only fetched, on average, $3 to a dollar. So how has ICT created a better and more convenient life at business and pleasure? Here’s a look at some of the transformational aspects. Swift and accurate information process The sheer scale of how much Information and Communications Technology is now a part of our daily lives is astounding although we probably never stop to think too much about it since we take it for granted. From the government sector to private entities and from individuals to institutions, almost everyone and everything is dependent on its enabling structures and systems. From the literal click of a button, you can transact end-to-end in comfortable environs with efficiency and performance at its heart. Superior communication It probably goes without saying, but just to underline the import, communication has never been easier, cheaper and effective thanks to ICT. While it makes life enjoyable for social media users in particular, its far-reaching beneficial impact is in the domain of business. ‘Far reaching’ therefore, is a literal explanation for the open source and private platforms the technology provides to keep employers and employees no matter how far in terms of physical space connected and thrive. Globalisation According to a report published by STL Partners, a major league consultancy, the new generation of connectivity — premised in the 5G application — can fuel GDP manufacturing growth by 4%. The technology will cut costs and unlock new streams for manufacturing, making it easier to track production in real time using far more data than ever. Economy This is probably, the most fascinating of all advances made possible by ICT. Whole economies are now interconnected — from private entities to states — and doing business at an unprecedented scale. In fact, it is well-nigh impossible to conceive of economy today, without unlocking the potential of doing business minus the constraints of time and space. Unsparingly, any entity worth its salt has an online presence trading goods efficiently and quickly. Specific to digital economy, according to a 2019 study by IHS Markit, a London-based American-British leading source of critical information, 5G will enable $13.2 trillion of global economic output — 7.4% of global GDP — by 2035. Job creation With all the buzz around technology, is it any surprise that the demand for IT professionals is increasing by the day across the field and globally. There is now greater emphasis on computer learning system analysis, Big Data, software and hardware development and web applications. Significantly, emerging economies are more invested in ICT than ever before — understandable given the near and long-term future. The IHS Markit study predicts that the global 5G value chain will enable 22.3 million jobs by 2035. Improved healthcare Tele-medicines, electronic health records and health grids have made quick inroads make public health both easily accessible and affordable across distances. This has been especially true in the post-Covid-19 era where the entire range of services had to be revisited given the present and clear danger of infections. While ICT had already enabled improved healthcare, the virtual healthcare applications have gone a long way in connecting people to do the needful to look after their individual health. This is likely to grow further. STL Partners predict that 5G-enabled use cases globally could enable healthcare professionals to treat more than 850 million extra outpatients per year in 2030, while also making available more than 4 million extra bed days for use in hospitals. Learning One of the areas where ICT has made a major impact, especially in the post-Covid-19 era is education. Whilst traditional methods of teaching had already largely given way to scientific learning courtesy information and communications tools, the virtual environment set up that replaced physical learning in classrooms deemed impossible by many became a reality. And while physical learning will not become passé anytime soon — and probably shouldn’t for various reasons — the “impossible” has been taken out of the equation thanks to systems enabled by technology. News dissemination The business of news, above all, has been revolutionised. Never before in history has dissemination of news in real time been more apparent. And while news coming out from known capitals has always been par for the course, it is now standard to have it from locations around the world, which would have been considered taboo in terms of accessibility and censorship under authoritarian regimes. Smartphones are now the weapon that do not become the first casualty of truth — thanks to accessibility enabled by ICT. Accessibility The ultimate benefit of ICT is the shrinking space. Last year, because of the prevailing Covid-19 situation, we were forced to work from home — an idea, which seemed pretty common sense, but guess what: I had already pitchforked the idea as a smart solution at least half a decade earlier with my management whilst envisaging where information and communications technology was headed. The eventual resort — even if it was borne out of a necessity — did not come as a surprise. In less than a couple of days, we had a conveniently arranged smart system up and running at home enabling remote working just as efficiently, if not more, at the physical office — minus all the noise! We are in the midst of a technological revolution in which AI, 3D printing, virtual reality and other technologies are converging. No industry and economy on the planet will be able to progress without it. Considering the undeniable importance of ICT for economic growth, policymakers would do well to build an environment that helps government and private entities reap the benefits by removing the barriers affecting demand. It is however, instructive that in order to derive the benefits, policy action must entail making effective use of ICT in supporting GDP such as e-commerce by SMEs and e-governance by public administrations. Ultimately, in our current digital society, being connected is no longer a luxury, but a necessity in our professional and personal lives. With openness, collaboration, and shared success between individuals, private and public sectors, ICT organisations, and any relevant party, we can build a healthy ICT ecosystem that benefits everyone. •The writer is Features Editor. He tweets @kaamyabi
Pakistanis all over the world celebrated the country’s 73rd Independence Day with solemnity on Friday. A function to mark the occasion was held early morning on the premises of the new embassy of Pakistan here that saw a restricted attendance in compliance with the local guidelines. Ambassador of Pakistan Syed Ahsan Raza hoisted crescent-and-star Pakistan flag and later cut the celebratory cake. The ambassador, accompanied by children, also planted a sapling. This follows Prime Minister Imran Khan’s initiative of the largest tree plantation drive in Pakistan’s history last Sunday, with 3.5 million saplings being planted in a single day, a national record. At the end of the event, members of the media were shown around the new building of the embassy and briefed about the state-of-the-art facilities being provided at the consular section. The spacious new consular hall can accommodate up to 300 persons at a time. It has dedicated counters under one roof with reduced waiting time for services sought. The inauguration of the new embassy took place in February this year, but because of the situation arising out of the coronavirus outbreak, the shifting of consular services had to be halted. Now, these services have been shifted to the new premises and will be available from Sunday, August 16. The ambassador felicitated fellow Pakistanis on the occasion stating that the day refreshes the enthusiasm and rejuvenates the resolve of the nation to work for the progress and prosperity of the motherland. He said the day inspired all Pakistanis to serve the country with greater dedication in order to carry the national flag, which symbolises nation’s hopes and aspirations, even higher. “While we were celebrating our Independence Day, our brothers and sisters in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu & Kashmir were facing human rights violations. The Pakistani nation stood resolutely with the Kashmiri people in their rightful struggle for self-determination and freedom,” he noted. He praised the Pakistani community in Qatar, which he said was imbibed with the love of the country and filled with the zeal to participate in Pakistan’s progress and development. He expressed the confidence that the Pakistani community, which is a living bridge between Pakistan and Qatar, in their practices and dealings would present the true image of Pakistan in keeping with the true spirit of the ideals and teachings of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Allama Muhammad Iqbal in their true spirit. The ambassador expressed gratitude to His Highness Shiekh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and the leadership of the State of Qatar for hosting the Pakistani community in Qatar and providing them with excellent employment opportunities and living conditions. He highlighted that strong bonds of fraternal relations between Pakistan and Qatar based on historical bonds of a shared faith, heritage and culture. The visits by His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani to Pakistan in June 2019 and by Prime Minister Imran Khan to Qatar in January 2019 and February, 2020 have further strengthened these relations. In his message to the nation on Pakistan’s Independence Day, Prime Minister Imran Khan said that despite Covid-19 pandemic, the country’s economic indicators were improving to herald a better time ahead and paving way for an industrial Pakistan. He spoke of improved economic indicators like surging exports, revenue and stock market besides a historic agreement with power producers to bring down the generation cost. “Despite coronavirus, our tax collection in July is above the set target. I foresee an even better situation,” the PM said. He felt no country had maintained a balance (between lives and livelihood) as effectively as Pakistan and that consequent to the government’s decision of smart lockdown, the coronavirus cases were on decline and the economy in revival. “The war (against coronavirus) is not yet over. The challenges still persists,” the premier said, advising people to keep adhering to precautions of social distancing to avert the resurgence of the virus. Felicitating the nation on the Independence Day, President Dr Arif Alvi called upon the Pakistanis to stand firm and work for the progress and prosperity of country. The president said the current Independence Day was being celebrated in extraordinarily difficult times as the entire world was affected by the coronavirus pandemic that had adversely impacted all sectors of life, including economy, health and education. He felt the pandemic brought enormous challenges for Pakistan, but thanks to a resilient nation that followed the government’s effective strategy of smart lockdown, the country was seen as an international success story. He paid tribute to doctors, nurses and healthcare workers, who saved the lives of people by putting their own lives at risk during the pandemic.
Even though the world is locked in an intense struggle to contain the coronavirus pandemic, the global crisis has presented a new opportunity to benefit from technology in ways that perhaps, would have taken some time to embrace but has over the past few weeks and months emphatically underscored the need for gainful investment. What we are witnessing is a major technological revolution driven by 5G connectivity and new artificial intelligence applications. Countries across the world, but also closer home in the Middle East, are beginning to recognise digital transformation as a key enabler of national development. This has resulted in a surge of powerful digital networks and more intelligent, real-time applications — particularly in the healthcare and education sectors following the coronavirus outbreak. The deployment of 5G connectivity has now moved beyond the interests of techno giants and into the geostrategic interests of governments across the world. As the latest ICT technology, 5G is raising the bar of international competition due to its key advantages to all industries in the new digital era. It is the pivot supporting unprecedented opportunities for digital transformation. This explains why the development and deployment of 5G have become hot-button issues for many politicians, and a centrepiece of the wider trade deliberations between two of the world’s greatest economies — the United States and China. Being at the forefront of 5G connectivity provides a strong competitive edge to nations. The fact is — its possession can greatly influence the international balance of power. The US reaction to the technology juggernaut coming from China betrays a sense of insecurity. It has led to sanctions imposed on the Chinese technology giant Huawei, which has since become one of the most important issues in the world of technology. Private Chinese companies have emerged over the past decade as global leaders in the ICT field, challenging the West’s historical technological leadership. Huawei, in particular, is one of the largest representations of innovation coming out from China. The rapid spread of Huawei’s solutions and products into more than 170 countries around the world, culminating in its ability to both pioneer and then lead the world in 5G technologies, raised a level of interest bordering on astonishment. All this has predictably drawn negative attention as well, making the entity a target for countries with an interest in propping up their own national tech companies. The coronavirus pandemic has thrown its own dynamic in this battle of attrition. In what is turning out to be a testing year for US President Donald Trump, whose enormous failure to contain the pandemic — with 2.9 million confirmed cases and 132,000 plus deaths, US leads the world count — has left him with his toughest challenge to retain office in this year’s presidential election. In a studied gambit, Trump has chosen to deflect attention and in classic political brinkmanship blamed much of the ills on China, which made a remarkable turnaround to contain the outbreak. He also withdrew finances to the World Health Organization when it badly needed more to reinforce efforts to fight the pandemic. Continuing in the same vein, the Trump Administration has further escalated the issue by imposing sanctions against Huawei last year. The administration’s campaign against the techno giant has become a historical landmark in the technology world as well as a hot topic for global discussion. The Trump administration included the tech giant in a list of entities that American companies were prohibited from dealing with, citing concerns over national security last year. It has since ratcheted up the pressure by recently placing a ban on foreign companies’ sales of chips to Huawei if American equipment or software is involved. But is this really about “security concerns” per se or protectionism resulting from falling abysmally in the technology race? Many pundits suggest that the policies of the Trump administration are actually driven by a desire to prevent private Chinese companies from breaking Western influence, especially in the realm of 5G. The intended campaign has not actually shown evidence of the allegations about threats to cybersecurity regulation or any clear cybersecurity breaches. Interestingly, US Attorney General William Barr appeared to be more introspective in finding fault with private US businesses for not doing enough to maintain American strength in the wider tech industry. Bloomberg reported Barr as portraying parts of the US business community as ingrates because “they’re willing — ultimately, many of them — to sacrifice the long-term viability of their companies for short-term profit, so they can get their stock options and move into the golf resort.” The attorney general advocated for cracking down on Chinese researchers “who are sent over to get involved in our key technological programs”, advocating to work instead with Western companies such as the Finland-based Nokia and Sweden’s Ericsson when it comes to 5G. “We’ve been the technological leader of the world. In the last decade or so, China has been putting on a great push to supplant us explicitly,” Barr pointed out. He would go on to advise how the Western world “has to pick” a Huawei competitor to invest in; perhaps its only strategy to stay technologically competitive. A deader giveaway, lay in what US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo had to say on the issue. On Fox News’ Sunday Morning Futures programme recently, he categorically asserted said that Europe “needs to get” Huawei “out of their system” as part of ensuring “that the next century remains a Western one.” But what makes this argument — at least at this point in time — untenable is that the US is not leading the next technological era. To be sure, there is no American company competing real time in 5G technology. In contrast, the Chinese companies are championing that future with aplomb and at a time when the world is desperate for 5G connectivity that can meet the challenges of supporting massive surges in network traffic in a post-Covid-19 world. The significance of 5G connectivity is apparent and explains why and how the Middle East, in general, and Qatar, in particular, have prioritised superfast technology for digitisation that helps boost national economic transformation plans that it can facilitate. While this unhelpful drama plays out, it is important to draw the correct lessons and consider these beyond geostrategic gamesmanship. Obstacles to technology supply chains, 5G innovation and sanctions are counterproductive. It is instructive that governments and private companies come together from whichever part of the world — bereft of pride and prejudice — to bring advanced technologies for the greater good of humankind.
Dekhti Aankhon, Sunte kaano'n Aap ko Tariq Aziz ka Salaam pohanchay (To all the eyes that see, the ears that listen, May greetings from Tariq Aziz reach you) These were the famous opening lines of a game show — Neelam Ghar (Auction House) — that Tariq Aziz made all his own when he began hosting it in 1974 and, which ran for four decades. It remains one of the longest game shows in history and certainly, the longest in Asia — later christened the Tariq Aziz Show and Bazm-e-Tariq Aziz. It is unlikely that the 84-year-old veteran compere, actor, poet and a politician, who walked into the sunset yesterday after protracted illness in Lahore — fittingly, Pakistan’s cultural capital — would ever be forgotten. Just like you never forget your firstborn! There’s no dearth of game show hosts who have made a name for themselves in television history, but Aziz was unique for several reasons, not in the least for eye-catching milestones. He was the first man to appear on state-run Pakistan Television when it began broadcasting in 1964 and also its maiden broadcaster, who made that epoch-making opening announcement. But what made Aziz stand out was the incredible popularity he enjoyed for decades in a country where fame however fickle was largely associated with sport and film stars, and a few demagogues like the irrepressible Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the first popularly elected prime minister, whose party, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Aziz later joined in his first foray into politics. No matter what caste, creed, colour or hearth you belonged to, you were drawn to Aziz taking the stage and delivering the goods in his trademark deep-set voice. Long after he put the mike down — and reluctantly, picked up again in later years but with little heart — many game show hosts have made the mare go. Some — like the belligerent Aamir Liaquat — have created records that have ensured gravitas for their ilk. But, none, could hold a torch to the grandeur of the original one. While Aziz had a solo flight in his time — helped in part by the fact that there was only one TV channel — he captured the hearts of Pakistanis like no-one else did. His show was aired through the decades in which the country endured long spells of authoritarian rule with little of entertainment value for the teeming millions. And so, the streets would empty in anticipation of yet another episode of Neelam Ghar. It is a measure of his celebrityhood that in those barren times even the prize of a “water cooler” for a question put to the audience attained the kind of fame — becoming a virtual adage — that even fancied cars and millions in prize money have not been able to muster decades later. Aziz also featured in a clutch of films, mostly playing character roles, including Insaniyat (Humanity), Haar Gaya Insan (Humanity has lost), Qasam Us Waqt Ki (That Time be My Witness), Katari (Knife) and the 1969-made Saalgira (Birthday) which incidentally became more famous for the debut of child star Asif Zardari, who later became president and is currently, the co-chairman of PPP — and son-in-law of Bhutto, whom Aziz had joined in the Sixties as a firebrand socialist. Aziz parted ways with the PPP and much later joined former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N on whose ticket he won his sole seat of the National Assembly — lower house of Pakistan’s bicameral legislature — in 1997. And the rival he got the better of was none other than Imran Khan — the current prime minister. Khan Wednesday condoled Aziz’s demise and termed him “an icon in his time and a pioneer of our TV game shows”. The one major blot on his erratic political career was his involvement in the attack on the Supreme Court building in 1997 during a hearing where his party feared an adverse decision. Aziz also compromised with military ruler General Ziaul Haq after Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s execution on a disputed conviction for abetment to murder of a political opponent by realigning the show to include religious content, which is why Benazir, Bhutto’s daughter and the Muslim world’s first head of government, took the show off air when she assumed power in 1988 following Zia’s death in a plane crash. The veteran last tried his luck with the PML-Q, the king’s party during General Parvez Musharraf’s rule but was eventually sidelined, putting an end to an unspectacular political career. He made a last ditch effort to regain old glory in the entertainment arena where he first made a name for himself by returning to the PTV but the bid fizzled out. In 1992, he received the coveted Pride of Performance award — that the president confers in recognition of people who have made an especially meritorious contribution to the field of literature, arts, sports, medicine and science. Aziz also indulged poetry and authored a collection entitled Hamzaad da Dukh ( Pain of Alter Ego) and had a massive collection of books at his home. He once famously said that a house with no books “was the worst place to live”. He married late and had no children. Declaring that to be Allah’s Will, he had directed in his will to have all his assets deposited with the national treasury. Pakistanis in Qatar, like compatriots back home and fellow expats elsewhere in the world, reacted with sadness over the demise of the legend. Talking to Community, Muhammad Atiq, Chairman of the Majlis-e-Farogh-e-Urdu Adab Qatar, paid rich tributes to the icon, saying the loss was colossal. “Tariq Aziz was a multidimensional artiste with few peers. He had his own unique style. But more than a giant of his trade, he was a great human being. He was highly respected and admired in the whole country. He will be missed by all for all times to come.’’ Riyaz Bakali, Director of The Next Generation schools, said Aziz was always the benchmark. “The naturally flamboyant Tariq Aziz with his gravel voice and tons of confidence set the gold standard for the rest to follow. And then, one can only imagine living the life he lived!” Bakali also noted that apart from his legendary status, Aziz had bequeathed a sartorial elegance that even political leaders followed. “Even in his death, he has left behind a fan base that would be the envy of those who followed him.” Mohsin Mujtaba, Director Product and Market Development at Qatar Stock Exchange, and a culture and arts aficionado, was no less melancholic. “Growing up as an expat back in the 80s and 90s there were very few things that meant Pakistan to me. Tariq Aziz and his Neelam Ghar was an integral part of the PTV and Pakistan where I spent my summer vacations every year. When I go down memory lane, there are many houses that have a special place in my heart. Neelam Ghar and its inhabitant Tariq Aziz stand out,” he averred. “Today, he is no more and the many memories that were stored in that house will become antique, but even more valuable. I pray that I hold them dear for the rest of my life and never mistakenly auction them for anything ordinary. For, we as a nation, are forever indebted for his services on television,” he concluded.
Critically acclaimed Pakistani music producer Kashan Admani, who has worked alongside Pakistan’s top music talent, has produced a musical ensemble, comprising international and Pakistani musicians, among them Grammy award winning artists. The song, which carries anthemic undertones, and seeks to inspire and renew hope in face of the challenges facing the world in the year 2020, is appropriately called We Are One — a global musical collaboration that immediately reminds the listeners of We are the world. Talking to Community, Kashan said, “Covid-19 has changed the way we used to live our lives. Millions of people are getting hopeless due to the economic crisis and social isolation. The only thing that can keep their spirits uplifted is music. We Are One/Aae Khuda is for all of us — the global population affected by the pandemic. It is about giving hope to people and giving them a message that we are all in it together and we shall come out of it sooner or later.” He added: “It was a wonderful experience working on this project because musicians from all over the world joined in and all of them have a completely different sound. Using them all together was a challenge but a memorable experience. This is one-of-a-kind project initiated in Pakistan and I’m glad we’ve been able to pull it off.” The song entitled Ae Khuda — We Are One is a joint collaboration among international and Pakistani artists from 40 countries across the world. It features Grammy Award-winning American violinist Charlie Bisharat, who has earlier played for the soundtracks of countless Hollywood movies including Titanic and Transformers; Grammy nominee Simon Philips; bass virtuoso Stu Hamm; and percussionist Gumbi Ortiz from the US; multiple award winning Russian guitarist Roman Miroshnichenko; and Dr Palash Sen, the lead vocalist of Indian pop/rock band Euphoria and Taylor Simpson, American drummer for Junoon, to name a few. The song also features famous Pakistani artists Najam Sheraz, Faakhir, Farhad Humayun, Maha Ali Kazmi, Bilal Ali (Kashmir The Band) and Farooq Ahmed (Aaroh). Talking to Community, Maha Ali Kazmi described her experience as “a dream come true”. “To have worked alongside such highly acclaimed musicians from all over the world is something very special and close to my heart,” she said, adding, “the song instills a sense of hope, bringing so many musicians from such diverse backgrounds and geographical locations, to reinforce the message that, while we seek God’s blessings, we must unite in our efforts, as one human family, to face our challenges. This is our shared destiny”.
The spread of Covid-19 has undoubtedly altered all of our lives, habits, and behaviour. It has challenged several of our social norms while turning the business and financial world upside down. This is happening as schools and companies are closed across the world, events are being cancelled, people are quarantined in their homes, and there’s a possibility that millions of people may lose their jobs. Today the world’s scientists, doctors, and policy experts are looking for a lifeboat. In fact, we’re all looking for news that will bring hope to solving this pandemic. Despite all the challenges, the swift embrace of advanced technology is giving many of us hope to set a new normal in our lives. Through the use of 5G connectivity, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and big data analysis, nations and industries are finding new ways to safeguard social and economic development. They are finding new ways to shape a world more suitable to our current needs in which we are sharing information, collaborating, and learning in decentralised environments. Most importantly, these technologies are also being used to protect public health and safety. These capabilities have, of course, only been possible on the back of incredible technological progress and innovation — especially in 2019. It was the year the commercial launch of 5G technology took place globally, with several countries in the Middle East being early pioneers. This was supported by national initiatives to foster applications in AI, cloud computing, and related sectors. International companies have also committed to bringing new solutions to local governments and industry, offering the tools that are now connecting our societies in light of Covid-19. In particular, the impact of 5G technology cannot be overstated. It is not limited to simply downloading HD movies, but includes much more robust capabilities in connecting humans to humans, humans to machines, and machines to machines. This has opened new opportunities for industries to develop the quality of their services in a better way, and deal with disruptions like Covid-19 faster. Remote studying, emergency response, digital medicine, remote patient diagnosis, and more are all examples of how technologies like 5G and AI are now being combined for the betterment of our society. At the same time, there’s an urgent need to strengthen the capabilities of telecom networks to deal with the pressures they are facing with the increased demand for data traffic, in some cases increasing by more than 100%. In these crucial times, we must optimise these technological capabilities through a unified, co-operative approach. The technology sector embodies innovation and is filled with the resources and tools to tackle our upcoming challenges. It is not the time to put up walls, but rather, to build bridges. In the technology world, this co-operation is under threat by a trade war between the United States and China. While those discussions may be far from over, it is simply no longer the time to entertain falsehoods and rumours. No single company or country should be restricted from participating in solutions right now. For example, there appears to be little benefit from the US administration continuing to ban a global 5G technology leader for geopolitical accusations. Politics do not speak on behalf of technology, and these companies have a lot to offer the world through strong research and development capabilities. We are in a time where we need the most advanced technologies to help reduce the risks of Covid-19 regardless of a company’s origins or trade competition. This is ultimately a time to prevent the Covid-19 situation from getting out of control. Qatar has been vigilant in its response to combat the spread of Covid-19 within the country, taking measures that will ultimately reduce the number of new cases reported. The government has acted quickly and successfully by reinforcing strict social distancing guidelines and regular inspections and sanitisation. Partnerships with companies in the private sector are more essential now than ever. By allowing private companies to fulfil their own social responsibility role, and activating communication channels between the private and public sectors, we can all take advantage of emerging technologies to bring things back to normal, faster. * The writer is Features Editor
Come Saturday and the world’s eyes will be riveted to Doha where the US and Taliban are slated to sign what would be a historic peace deal between two of the fiercest rivals in recent war history. Qatar is playing a gracious host — as it has on a number of occasions in the past — and has invited Pakistan, too, which has played a central role in trying to make this happen against all odds. While understandably, there was a great sense of relief at the simultaneous announcement last week by the US and Taliban of an impending peace deal and the subsequent week-long ceasefire that is conditioned to it (mercifully, holding at the time of writing this), the stakes are high, especially given the complexities of the undertaking and uncertainty that has always engulfed war-torn Afghanistan. Any peace process therefore, can only be looked at from the prism of cautious optimism at best. There is however, no doubt that all parties to the conflict are heartily tired of war. The Americans want out, having lost more than 2,400 personnel and trillions of dollars that were consumed in keeping the US war machine running for nearly two decades. In fact, President Donald Trump is so desperate to have the maximum number of troops return home before he seeks re-election this year that his administration flipped open a moribund relationship with Pakistan last year to seek its help to bring the Taliban to the negotiation table. As a first step, President Trump wrote an official letter in this regard to Prime Minister Imran Khan, reinforcing the long-held stance of the Pakistani leader, who has been a vocal proponent of talks with the militia since his early days in politics, and which earned him the wrath of many who thought it was a preposterous idea. Nearly two decades of a draining war later, the Americans have themselves come around and been seriously engaged in dialogue with the Taliban for more than a year now. Earlier this week, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi recalled in a statement how it all sprang from the lowest ebb in ties with Washington. “(US Secretary of State Mike) Pompeo told me that the pathway to fixing relations between Pakistan and US came through Kabul. Now, I would like to remind him that we have fulfilled all our promises. Not only did we build a peace team but we also played our role in ensuring that the negotiations were successful,” he said. The first signs of a deal were apparent last year when President Trump said he was readying to invite key Taliban figures to a secret meeting in Camp David, Maryland with Afghan president, but summarily cancelled it when a US sergeant was killed in a suicide attack in Kabul last September. Despite the setback, Islamabad had to bring all its experience, energy and power of persuasion to get the two parties back to the negotiating table. “The world knows that the two sides have been fighting for over 19 years. After US President Donald Trump cancelled the peace process in a single tweet after a death (of a US soldier), it was Pakistan who convinced the US to restart negotiations,” Qureshi noted. Even though the Taliban were equally belligerent when Trump called the talks “dead” and vowed to inflict more damage, it is perhaps, not very hard to imagine that there is, over all, very little enthusiasm for a meandering existence in the theatre of a war with seemingly no end. Sirajuddin Haqqani, the deputy Taliban leader and head of the Haqqani network — a US-designated terrorist group fighting US-led Nato and Afghan forces in Afghanistan — could not have been more forthcoming on the hour of reckoning. In a surprise oped piece for The New York Times entitled What Taliban Want earlier this week, he spoke categorically of his militia’s commitment to keep the deal. Admitting he is “convinced the killing and maiming must stop”, Haqqani wrote: “We are about to sign an agreement with the United States and we are fully committed to carrying out its every single provision, in letter and spirit”. Removed from the militia’s oppressive rule in the past, he appeared to offer a new social contract that would allow for “a new, inclusive political system in which the voice of every Afghan is reflected and where no Afghan feels excluded”. That being said, the reality is that it would take a great deal to make the proposed peace deal work in the long term even if it survives the pangs of birth. The intra-Afghan political reconciliation is a virtual maze and it will require more than just a leap of faith from one or two partners to find a way out. The country — and its vulnerable government — is still coming to terms with a disputed presidential election last September and solving it is key to future settlements because in the next phase of the process, the Afghan government and Taliban will be on the negotiating table. For this to effectively materialise, President Ashraf Ghani who has been declared winner, and his rival contestant Abdullah Abdullah, who rejected the results and simultaneously claimed victory, will have to reconcile — by no means an easy proposition. With Ghani insisting on leading the talks, but other Afghan parties seeking more inclusive representation, it will test the resolve of the Americans, the main interlocutors on behalf of Kabul. Contrast this with the united Taliban who may find other power groups and warlords willing to form alliances in a widening turf, which would hardly bring the government in Kabul any solace. It is interesting to note that the Taliban have shown no proclivity yet towards a permanent ceasefire and this may stem from the uncertainty surrounding the rather complex nature of the Afghan power chessboard. Under the proposed agreement, approximately, 5,000 Taliban prisoners held by the American and Afghan authorities will be released, which would reinforce the militia. For now, the Taliban leadership is holding their cards close to their chests. Mindful of these realities, Islamabad has repeatedly underscored the need for Afghans to take charge of their affairs and ensure the transition is in line with the aspirations of the Afghan people who yearn for peace and stability. Ultimately, lasting peace would require the process to be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned. The writer is Features Editor. He tweets @kaamyabi
When the prestigious luxury travel magazine Condé Nast declared Pakistan to be the world’s number one holiday destination for 2020, little would the authors have known that the most representative global figure by virtue of his office — the UN secretary-general — would come to endorse the view with a high profile visit even if it was, strictly speaking, more oriented to the business end of things. António Guterres left with resounding notes of gratitude and even managed to say at a presser with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi in Islamabad that one of the main purposes of his visit was “to spotlight the real Pakistan — with all its possibility and potential”. It was quite the pitch Condé Nast raised in its coveted choice! Indeed, the live pictures of the UN secretary-general meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan (himself an author of a travelogue); opening his heart in admiration for Pakistan being an open-door country for its compassion and generosity in a world of closed doors at a conference marking 40 years of Afghan refugees in the country; sharing a meal at the world’s largest Gurdwara Sahib at Kartarpur with the country’s Muslim religious affairs minister and Sikh custodian of the shrine; addressing the youth at a university, meeting the country’s showbiz queen Mahira Khan (a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador) and enjoying a musical evening in the cultural capital Lahore — all symbolised the transformation of a confident, changed Pakistan that the world is now keenly embracing. But even before he landed, Prime Minister Khan had just capped a fortnight of impressive personal diplomatic engagements that have reinforced Pakistan’s status as perhaps, the most important Muslim power in the world with its ability to take along all other states in spite of their often disparate nature of regional and global interests. Only three months ago, Pakistan had taken the difficult and painful decision to pull out of a summit of Islamic countries in Kuala Lumpur to allay concerns of division in the ranks of the Muslim world. This led Doubting Thomases to cast aspersions on Islamabad’s direction with some analysts jumping to the conclusion that it would now be at the mercy of one dictating country. Prime Minister Khan resoundingly put to rest all such conspiracy theories by undertaking an official visit to Kuala Lumpur earlier this month where his counterpart Mahathir Mohamed received him as warmly as ever. The personal chemistry underlined the ‘business as usual’ spectrum with a slew of agreements. He courageously regretted missing out and promised to be at the summit next year. A week later, Khan hosted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with not a trace of weariness as he personally, drove him to the PM House in Islamabad. In hindsight, it was just a warm-up for the events over two days which saw both the countries sign 13 MoUs after Erdogan addressed the joint session of Pakistan’s parliament for a record fourth time. The two leaders also presided over the 6th High Level Strategic Co-operation Council meeting. In his parliamentary address, Erdogan, who has been placed by the Gallup International’s annual index as the most popular Muslim leader in the world, was unequivocal in his support of Pakistan’s stand on Kashmir and also pledged to back the country to have it removed from the grey list at the ongoing Financial Action Task Force meeting in Paris. China, which is the current chair, Malaysia and Turkey have all steadfastly supported Pakistan’s bid to fend off attempts by a rival camp to have it blacklisted. Turkey and Pakistan also agreed to begin negotiations in April to finalise a Free Trade Agreement. Later, Prime Minister Khan and President Erdogan addressed a forum attended by more than 100 Turkish and Pakistani businessmen and investors. They converged on the idea to lift the current volume of trade from $804 million to $1 billion in the short term and eventually, to $5 billion. The reinforcement of ties with Malaysia and Turkey is manifest in Islamabad’s bold foreign policy reset that is premised in uniting the Muslim world and expanding its reach across the globe. But to return to the visit of the week, unlike a few of his stiff-upper lip predecessors, the 67-year-old Portuguese chief of the world body, did not shy away from addressing fundamental issues, including seeking de-escalation of tensions in the region, Kashmir for which he offered his offices for mediation “should parties to the dispute ask”, and Afghanistan during his four-day visit. He paid a visit to Gurdwara Sahib Kartarpur — the last resting place of Baba Guru Nanak Dev, founder of Sikhism — opened recently by Pakistan to facilitate members of the faith whose largest concentration is in next-door India. Moved by the experience, the UN chief hailed the peace initiative and said it was “a practical proof of Pakistan’s desire for peace and interfaith harmony”. Guterres also paid tribute to the country for its unreserved support to the UN missions with one of the largest and most consistent contribution of peacekeeping forces across the world over a long period of time. The UN chief reserved his best at the Islamabad conference co-hosted by the UNHCR entitled ‘40 Years of Afghan Refugees’ Presence in Pakistan: A New Partnership for Solidarity’. Apart from the UN chief and Prime Minister Khan, it was attended by Afghan second vice-president, top US officials and delegates from 20 countries. Said he: “The story of Pakistan and Afghan refugees is a story of compassion to be celebrated for many reasons, one of which is that such compassion is missing from much of the world. For 40 years, the people of Afghanistan have faced many crises, for 40 years, the people of Pakistan have responded with solidarity. This generosity now spans across decades and generations and this is the world’s largest protracted refugee situation in recorded history. On every visit here, I have been struck by (Pakistani) resilience, exceptional generosity and compassion. The generous spirit is in line with the best description for refugee protection in Surah Al Tawbah of the Holy Qur’an and I quote: “And if anyone seeks your protection then grant him protection so therein he can hear the words of God. Then escort him where he can be secure”. The writer is Features Editor. He tweets @kaamyabi
Even before he could take on the external challenges of governance, it was always going to be a test of nerve and character for Imran Khan to deal with partners in his own coalition government. And it was never going to be easy — not just because coalitions anywhere and everywhere are notoriously demanding but because the incumbent prime minister has a completely contrasting background as a high profile unbending leader not given to blackmail and someone who takes pride in being his own man. Ever since realising his ambition of leading Pakistan, Prime Minister Khan has had a tough ride that has oscillated between luck and pluck: luck because the opposition is too divided with the supremos of the two biggest political parties both out in the cold for health reasons and corruption baggage, and pluck because Khan is not one to throw in the towel regardless of the odds. But keeping the coalition in business has obviously involved compromises that he loathes, but when the choice is between taking the path less trodden to somehow get to the destination or losing the plot on a self-righteous whim, there really is not much of a choice unless you accept defeat and go home with a whimper — well-nigh inconceivable given his public track record of the last four-and-a-half decade. Benjamin Disraeli, a 19th century two-time British prime minister, had this to say about what is really standard in coalition politics: “There is no act of treachery or meanness of which a political party is not capable; for in politics there is no honour”. Khan may have had a fair idea of this as a firebrand opposition leader but of course, it is a completely different kettle of fish when you have to deal with it in government and that, too, one holding a razor thin majority in parliament. In terms of arithmetic, Khan’s ruling Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) would be hard-pressed to survive if any of its key coalition partners walked out. Earlier this week, after weeks of uncertainty hanging over its fate, the PTI finally managed to bring the Pakistan Muslim League - Quaid (PML-Q) – or simply Q League as it is known — around after conceding to its longstanding demands of effective power-sharing in both the Punjab province and at the Centre. The Q League was not the only party venting its spleen; more or less the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) and Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) also used the opportunity to push for a greater pie with both Q League and MQM even threatening to part ways. Typical of how such coalition blues play out and are managed, the PTI leader set up a ruling party committee which held a number of meetings but whose composition was changed recently to the chagrin of Q League, which felt more comfortable with the earlier government team. Notably, the prime minister dropped Jahangir Tareen, his quintessential negotiator, from the team. This rattled the Q League, which had hoped to get more out of him if the talks had proceeded. The new team was led by Punjab Governor Chaudhry Sarwar (with whom the Q League has had cold ties), Chief Minister Usman Buzdar and Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood. The Q League is led by the Chaudhry cousins of Gujrat, the country’s 20th largest city in the Punjab province, of whom Pervaiz Elahi is currently, the speaker of the provincial assembly. Elahi was also a successful chief minister of the province after the two manoeuvred a split with ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) in the Nineties to curry favour with military strongman General Pervez Musharraf after he overthrew Sharif in a coup. After becoming what was then called the ‘king’s party’, the Q League gradually declined as a political force following the return of both Benazir Bhutto, a two-time prime minister and chairperson of the Pakistan People’s Party, and Sharif from exile. However, they have managed to retain enough political space to be able to derive considerable mileage. The two cousins are crafty politicians whose match is not easy to find in the rough and tumble of Pakistani politics. Perhaps, only Jamiat Ulema Islam chief Fazlur Rehman comes close, but for the first time, the cleric failed to find truck with the party in government when the PTI took power following the 2018 general elections. The Q League, however, has historically managed to curry favour with all major political parties and players as well as the powerful security establishment, save for Sharif’s PML-N, but there too, lady luck recently brought the cousins some space as PML-N is, reportedly, no longer averse to the idea of hatching a coalition of its own with their support, if an opportunity presents itself. However, the Q League has only used it as a bargaining chip with the PTI and they would prefer to keep the marriage of convenience with the sitting government for less than compromise heavily with the PML-N. After the agreement with the PTI this week, Pervaiz Elahi dropped hints about that being the understanding. Talking to the media, Elahi, who had been upping the ante in recent weeks with predictable fanfare given the ruling party’s difficulties, was strikingly reconciliatory. Said he, “There has been a lot of talk on where the bottlenecks are and how they can be resolved. But one thing is very clear, we do not have any doubts about the leadership, intentions, and struggle of Imran Khan”. He even cemented the rapprochement by suggesting that the Q League was committed to taking the relationship right till the end of the present government’s tenure. “We want our union (with the PTI) to continue till the next elections so that we can stand before the people after offering solutions to their problems”. And pray how is that going to happen? The Q League had been demanding empowerment of its ministers — two in Punjab government and one at the Centre — as well as a share in administrative powers in three districts and three tehsils (administrative units). These are areas where it claims to have winning MPs. On a broader canvas, the development will bring relief to both the parties since Punjab is key in Pakistan’s power matrix without which no government at the Centre can effectively function. The writer is Features Editor. He tweets @kaamyabi
Japanese philosopher, educator, author, and nuclear disarmament advocate Daisaku Ikeda says something very profound about the need for communication in international relations that has withstood the test of time. Avers the 92-year-old, “Whether in our local communities or in international relations, the skilful use of our communicative capacities to negotiate and resolve differences is the first evidence of human wisdom.” In this very space a fortnight ago, one had reasoned that Pakistan’s decision to pull out of the Kuala Lumpur Summit last December, where Prime Minister Imran Khan was one of the top three leaders hogging the pre-summit limelight and slated to be the opening keynote speaker, was forced by circumstance but still likely in the best interests of the Islamic world. Predictably, the late withdrawal raised eyebrows and armchair critics were quick to see it as a form of an imposed decision coming from the lopsided prism of a one-state relationship. However unfortunate it seemed, the fact is Islamabad did calibrate it within the context of its foreign policy imperatives with caution being the rider. To his credit, even if barely concealed disappointment, the Pakistani prime minister admitted as much as he first called up his Malaysian counterpart Mahathir Mohamad to explain the decision back in December and then made a bold decision to visit the veteran leader in Kuala Lumpur on Monday. The general perception was that Khan’s two-day official visit was primed to placate Kuala Lumpur, but that is once again, a restricted view from which to gauge the relationship. For starters, Mahathir had not only understood the context and situation back then but also graciously, accepted Islamabad’s decision. He showed the same warmth and courtesy he had extended to the Pakistani leader on his first visit to Malaysia in 2018 upon assuming office. True to form, Prime Minister Khan — who is not a great fan of semantics anyway — was extremely forthcoming in acknowledging that fears advanced by a few members of the Organisation of Islamic Conference about the Kuala Lumpur Summit being a ruse to divide the Islamic unity and replace it — and which Pakistan factored in its decision to skip the summit — were unfounded. “Unfortunately, our friends, who are very close to Pakistan as well, felt that somehow the conference was going to divide the Ummah (Islamic world). It was clearly, a misconception because that was not the purpose of the conference as evident from when the conference took place. I want to say how sad I was that I couldn’t attend the conference in Kuala Lumpur,” the PM admitted. It is possible that a similar decision with comparable stakes such as the one the Kuala Lumpur summit raised would have ruptured a relationship with accompanying consequences elsewhere, but there is more at play here than mere semantics of bilaterals. And it is to do with the deep personal chemistry that Khan and Mahathir enjoy. Imran Khan remains a global celebrity for his exploits as a former World Cup-winning cricket captain, one of the game’s greatest all-rounders as well as a renowned philanthropist who founded a world class state-of-the-art cancer hospital and a university for students with humble origins before he shot to power in 2018 after a 22-year political struggle, but he also is a self-proclaimed admirer of Mahathir Mohamed. As an opposition leader, he would often recount Mahathir’s sterling leadership in turning around Malaysia’s fate — going back to 2006, when he invited the Malaysian prime minister to a conference in Islamabad entitled “A Clash of Civilizations or A Clash of Interest?” Mahathir surprised many in accepting the invitation and later visiting Khan’s residence even though back then, he was still trying to find his feet in the rough and tumble of Pakistani politics. In the intervening years, Khan would regularly invoke Mahathir’s leadership, which helped turn a largely rubber-dependent country divided along ethnic lines into a well-oiled machine and high-tech Asian tiger, with self-belief and single-minded dedication. In 2012, in an interview with the British broadsheet The Guardian, Khan named him alongside the-then Turkish prime minister and current president Recep Tayyip Erdogan; former Brazilian president Lula Da Silva; and the-then Singaporean prime minister Lee Kuan Yew as leaders he admired most. Khan and Mahathir struck an immediate rapport once the latter surprised the pundits in winning back power in Malaysia after coming out of retirement at the age of 92 in May 2018. Two months later, the former, at 66, also won power in Pakistan, for the first time. In the last 15 months, the Pakistani PM has visited Malaysia twice and his counterpart was the chief guest at Pakistan’s National Day parade in March last year. The two also met on the sidelines of the UNGA session in New York the same year, where they, along with Erdogan, agreed to launch a united front to fight Islamophobia and work collectively to promote a holistic understanding of Islam globally with electronic media as the pivot. In Kuala Lumpur, the two sides signed on three agreements with Islamabad also pledging to buy more palm oil to compensate for the restrictions placed on its bilateral trade by New Delhi following Malaysia’s stand over Kashmir. The presence of Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi; Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar; and Adviser to the PM on Commerce, Textile, Industry and Production Abdul Razzak Dawood underlined the significance attached to the visit. To show that he means business, and to underline Islamabad’s sovereign and independent course, Prime Minister Khan promised to attend the Kuala Lumpur Summit the next year. “Of course, I would because now, it is evident that the Kuala Lumpur Summit was not to divide the Ummah. If anything, it was to unite the Ummah, so of course, I would love to come.” Next, Turkish President Erdogan is also due in Pakistan this month, which lays to rest the rumour mill in the wake of Islamabad’s Kuala Lumpur ‘no-show’ that it would drive a wedge in the trilateral relationship. Far from it, Islamabad has reasons to look up with the testy winter soon giving way to a spring of hope. The writer is Features Editor. He tweets @kaamyabi
Imran Khan has appeared on the cover of TIME magazine before when he was still aspiring to the country’s highest office, but the form is slightly more interesting this time. His first outing in Davos as prime minister last week — he has been to the famous ski resort in the Swiss Alps as a distinguished WEF guest a few times before as well — made a splash in the US publication with respected global leaders for company. The Famous Five riding a chairlift, included Khan, World Economic Forum (WEF) Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde. Khan, of course is not new to the spotlight having first tasted fame in the Sydney Test of 1976 as a genuine fast bowler, who would send the pulse racing in a magnificent career as one of cricket’s greatest ever all-rounders and captain, but slowly and surely, the Pakistani leader is now again becoming the international media’s poster boy in a different avatar. There are some parallels to his past career though. He picked up a team of mostly disparate cricketers and turned it into a world beating force, culminating in that fairytale 1992 Oceania triumph. His star dust in the new avatar again comes in the backdrop of a struggling economy where the country appeared in dire straits when he assumed power. He is now gaining global attention as a profound peacemaker, battling Islamophobia with a clarion call for better understanding of Islam in the West, and raising a resonant pitch for the world powers to assume climate change responsibility. The trouble is he has too much on his plate and it shows — while Khan is in demand wherever he trots on the globe, he has considerable challenges at home where he is up against an old order, long used to milking the nation’s resources for personal benefit. The opposition is in a bit of a disarray with its top leaders either convicted of corruption or facing the law for alleged abuse of power, but still capable of putting a spoke in the wheels of change that Khan is defiantly trying to steer. The peculiar ways of power politics in the sub-continent means despite having coalition governments in three of the four provinces, including one with a thin majority in Punjab — the key to holding power in the Centre as well — allows Khan little wiggle room. Yet, upon his return from Davos, the PM sacked three of his relatively close aides and ministers in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province because they were threatening to bring down the chief minister in intra-party jockeying for greater spoils. The media — also used to flirting with the party in power — is now at the receiving end of a government unwilling to bend. An unhappy media — the electronic is pretty large and a vibrant, if loud, one — continue to ‘scrutinise’ him and his party like never before in the country’s history. All of these pressures and pulls make governance even more pronouncedly, difficult. But reminiscent of his heydays in cricket — coming to the party when the chips were down — Khan is dead-batting the crisis, manfully. Likely, the form comes from his prowess in Davos where he spoke passionately about good governance being the cornerstone of his ambition to change Pakistan’s direction for the better. Not shy of admitting reversals, he noted: “Sadly, our governance deteriorated in the last 30 years. That is one of the biggest reasons we have not been able to fulfil our potential as a country. We had the biggest fiscal deficit when my party came into power one-and-a-half years ago. From now on, my biggest challenge is how we can improve our state institutions so we can improve our governance —so we can tap our potential.” On the state of economy, he had a few healthy percentages to draw the card. “Mercifully, the rupee has gained, the stock market has gone up, the current fiscal deficit has reduced by 75% and foreign investment jumped by 200% in the last year alone. We still have a lot of work to do, but we are (headed) in the right direction.” But the Pakistani leader began his Davos rendezvous, which marked the 50th anniversary of the WEF, by reinforcing the strong message on climate change. Khan said his government intended to plant 10bn trees over the next four years. He observed that the forestation was crucial not only because Pakistan was vulnerable to the effects of global warming but also because pollution had a become a “silent killer” across cities. As he spoke on the need to protect environment, the PM reminded the world of his country’s natural beauty. “What I loved about Pakistan was its wilderness, its mountains. With age, I saw this wilderness disappear. I always resolved that I would make sure that we preserve the God-given beauty of this country”. He was also bullish about attracting a large number of tourists this year with some of the leading entities — luxury travel magazine Conde Nast, for instance — declaring Pakistan as the No.1 tourist destination for 2020. Khan also pushed for peace with India by urging world powers, including the US, and UN to play its role in preventing conflict. On the sidelines of the WEF, the Pakistani leader met US President Donald Trump — the third time he had met him in seven months since his first White House outing in July last year — to raise the Kashmir issue, build on Islamabad’s engagement with Washington for peace in Afghanistan and prevent escalation of US-Iran tensions. Khan and Trump had a media interaction before going into a detailed meeting. The PM also made an important reiteration of Pakistan’s future foreign policy goals. Admitting that involvement in the war-on-terror, even if on the world’s behalf, was a mistake for the colossal damage it wrought on Pakistan’s economy, Khan underlined the paradigm shift by saying Islamabad would no longer get involved in any conflict. “From now onwards, Pakistan will only partner another country in peace. We would not become part of any other conflict,” the PM said, before adding that recently, Islamabad had played its part in helping defuse tensions between the US and Iran as well as Saudi Arabia and Iran. The PM was also sanguine about the potential of trade once ties with India were normalised. “The moment Pakistan-India relationship becomes normal and trade starts between the two countries, immense opportunities for growth will emerge”. The writer is Features Editor. He tweets @kaamyabi
Thailand — that Land of Smiles — is amongst a handful of countries that probably can afford to do even without any roadshow to promote its touristy avatar. Why, it already counts as one of the world’s premier destinations. But, of course that has never stopped it from always looking out to improve and make the tourist at home with all the wonders of vacation. There is however, so much more to the country than just those exotic resorts and azure waters that take your breath away — some distance removed from the urban heat. My latest visit came as part of a media tour recently, where we travelled northwards after the familiar Bangkok round. A round-up of what was in store is in order. Space constraints mean this piece, for all its pull, may still be restrictive in some ways. But you get the drift. Should be enough to push you to explore in ways similar or better! The Grand Palace No visit to Bangkok is complete without a visit to The Grand Palace. In fact, be prepared to be intimidated! There’s a rich vein of history at every turn and with grandeur to boot. Stunning structures of great artistry will simply blow you away. It’s all so well preserved that it’s hard to fathom that the complex was established way back in 1782 — made up of royal and throne halls, government offices and the renowned Temple of the Emerald Buddha. It covers an area of 218,000 square metres and is surrounded by four walls, totaling 1,900 metres in length. The palace was built after the accession of King Rama I. Prior to this, the royal palace and centre of administration had been located in Thonburi, on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River. The new monarch decided to establish a new capital on the opposite side of the river. By his royal command, a palace was built to serve not only as his residence but also as the site of administrative offices. The royal compound has been known since then as The Grand Palace. The robes on the Buddha are changed with the seasons by the king — an important ritual in the Buddhist calendar. Thai kings stopped living in the palace around the turn of the 20th century, but the palace complex is still used to mark all kinds of other ceremonial and auspicious events. Chakrapong Mosque Chakrapong Mosque is a historic mosque located in Bang Lamphu, Phra Nakhon district of Bangkok. It was built by locals who migrated from the southern province of Pattani due to the war in the reign of King Rama I in the Rattanakosin period. Originally, the mosque had a one-storey wooden house used for religious teaching and ceremony, and a minaret used for calling prayers. After renovation, the mosque became a two-storey concrete building with mixed Arabic and Persian décor, which is simple but was renamed to coincide with the Chakrabongse road, where it was located. The building’s components such as the stencil of wooden windows and the minbar (place where the imam sits) — are made of teak and assembled together without nails, showing the craftsmanship and expertise of the old generations. There are two large clocks that have been installed since the first year that these were introduced into Thailand. The mosque also houses a Thai translation of the Quran initiated by His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great. Metro Forest A man-made forest in eastern Bangkok, The Metro-Forest — or simply ‘A Forest in the City’, it is a relatively new eco-tourism spot which inspires you to new heights. The project aims to help visitors of all ages recognise the importance of urban forests and motivate them to plant trees in their homes. One of the most impressive features is the skywalk and the 23-metre high observation tower. The tower not only offers a unique vantage point to admire all the green space, but also protects the 279 native plant species in the forest below. The site constitutes 75% natural forests, 10% water resources and the rest houses a multipurpose area and exhibition venue. The buildings here are designed to be in line with ecology, enriching the area and connecting humanity with nature. A true inspiration to the inner green activist in you, be sure to see the natural forest, rammed earth wall, seed wall, exhibition room, mini theatre that even opens into the green expanse after you’ve watched a helpful documentary, roof garden, sky walk, observation tower and a PV cell. Phyathai 2 Hospital Thailand is a choice destination for medical tourism. There are a number of medical facilities offering specialised treatment, relaxed stay and post-op procedures — all at an affordable cost. One such facility is the Phyathai 2 Hospital in Bangkok. For more than three decades, it has been a leading source of satisfactory services with its state-of-the-art technology coupled with the signature Thai hospitality. Consisting of two buildings joined by a walkway, the hospital provides healthcare under the avowed mission to deliver the best possible care. Our team was able to visit a wide spectrum of these facilities with a detailed presentation given by its management and panel of expert doctors and surgeons. While the exceptional level of service was evident, what stands out is its excellent green credentials. Each year, thousands of patients from all over the world come to 550-bed Phyathai 2 Hospital, seeking consultation, a second opinion and medical treatment in a world class environment — right from the provision of convenient communication channels in their language of choice to the end of last treatment. The average number of outpatients is 50,000 per month and in-patients 1,600 per month. It was the first hospital to receive accreditation for high-quality assurance and customer satisfaction and a plethora of awards such as the most trusted hospital in Thailand in 2007, Thailand Energy Award 2010, ASEAN Energy Award 2011, ISO 14001(Environmental Management), ISO 50001(Energy Management), etc. Mae Fah Luang Foundation under Royal Patronage The not-for-profit organisation was inspired by Princess Srinagarindra — also known as the Princess Mother with happiness, sustainability and stability at its core. The foundation fosters stainable development — economically, socially, culturally and environmentally by implementing development projects; integrating and collaborating with strategic partners; providing consultation and imparting training. The foundation has a 3S Model development framework divided into three phases: survival, sufficiency and sustainability to ‘help the people help themselves. In 1988, the foundation undertook the Doi Tung Development Project, which has become the recognised sustainable development model in Thailand and the world. Doi Tung Development Project It’s hard not to be impressed by the dedication and commitment of the Thai Royal Family and the unreserved love of their people, especially those at the bottom rung of the ladder. One towering figure was Princess Srinagarindra, the Princess Mother of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great, who established the Doi Tung Development Project, one of the flagship projects of the Mae Fah Luang Foundation, in 1988 on Doi Tung, a high mountain in the northernmost province of Chiang Rai. The project area covers approximately 15,000 hectares, benefiting approximately 11,000 people from 29 villages. Doi Tung was once a secluded area in the heart of the Golden Triangle — a hub of illicit opium production. The problems of Doi Tung were complex. The watershed area was denuded by slash and burn cultivation, and further accelerated by opium growing. The residents were of six ethnic groups without Thai citizenship. They struggled to survive without infrastructure or government support. Armed groups occupied parts of the area, which made it even more difficult for government officials to provide any assistance to the local residents. The Princess Mother decided to improve the conditions of Doi Tung, socially, economically, and environmentally, commitment by building her home in Doi Tung, giving hope to the ethnic minorities and providing opportunities for all people regardless of race, religion, or nationality. Her vision was to allow people and nature to coexist in harmony, by aligning the people’s interests with the preservation of the natural environment and providing opportunities for all, regardless of race or religion. The Hall of Inspiration This is a stunning mixed-media exhibition that compiles the history of the Mahidol royal family, the parenting principles of the Princess Mother, who raised two sons and a daughter to be loved by the people — owed no doubt to a phenomenal 4,000 plus royally initiated projects of King Rama IX — the last monarch. The exhibition is a worthy tribute to those services. The Colours of Doi Tung Festival If natural colours were to decide the outlook of a tourist country, you could look no further than perhaps, the Mae Fah Luang Garden, resplendent as it is with a sea of colourful flowers, plants and trees. But like elsewhere, natural beauty is not the only thing that catches your eye. Also competing for your attention are sideway stalls selling food of the indigenous variety — including seeds — and ethnic wear stalls with plenty of cultural vistas all around. We were lucky in that we stepped into the last two days of a two-month long annual Family-Friendly Festival! The Hall of Opium How many countries can boast of success as sweeping as Thailand in eliminating the menace of drug trade that made the Golden Triangle — a border area surrounding the country and neighbouring Laos and Myanmar — quite the global hub of poppy fields, drug smugglers and opium warlords throughout the Sixties to the early Nineties? The Princess Mother also expressed her desire to educate people on the background of opium, and the Hall of Opium was created as a result. The Hall of Opium is one impressive entity and it beggars belief not to bet on coming out a changed person: the sheer scale of history, genesis of the trade and more significantly, the pitfalls of indulgence with more relatable figures of modern history affected by it leave you plenty of room for reflection. While intended for people of all ages and all nationalities, the target audience of the Hall of Opium is teens and young adults, the most susceptible to the lure of illegal drugs, to show them how opium addiction became a world-wide problem, and how drug abuse affects individuals, their families, neighbourhoods, and even country. Covering an area of 5,600 square meters, the exhibition in the Hall of Opium is the result of almost a decade of research. Here visitors learn about the 5,000-year history of opium: how it was a drug to treat illnesses, how its use spread throughout the world, how imperialist expansion used opium in the economic colonisation and control of China, and how it eventually came to dominate the Golden Triangle as well as other parts of the world such as Afghanistan. Visitors also learn about current issues of addiction and illegal drugs, efforts to control drugs, and the impacts of drug abuse and addiction. Prince Chakrabandh Pensiri Center This was easily one of the highlights of the trip. The plantation had a picturesque setting — long rows of green plantation contrasting the blue yonder. The staff duly explained the key project that aims to improve and develop plant varieties and produce high quality seed that can resist diseases and pests. The centre sprang from Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn’s decision to designate the Chaipattana Foundation in commemoration of the 100th birthday anniversary of His Highness Prince Chakrabandh Pensiri, who was an extinguished scholar. The plant varieties are adequately developed and selected so they can generate fine quality of produce for local households. Apart from serving as a centre for plant development, it offers visitors a place to relax and enjoy the majestic scenery. Rows and rows of fresh organic fruits and vegetables are enough to tempt the inner foodie in you. Just as well that we had a taste of Nature’s gifts at the nearby Jun Ka Pak restaurant serving Thai and fusion cuisine. Chiang Rai Night Bazaar The experience was like a calling to live in the spirit of the moment. For some time, we almost forgot it was a bazaar with plenty to enthuse the average Joe: from the sheer variety of street food to made-to-order souvenirs to regular wear. A large assembly of people — of all ages, some past their primes — were dancing and singing to the beat of a group belting out numbers onstage not far from the stalls. It was the perfect setting past the sunset after a busy day. For the discerning traveler, there’s a range of hill-tribe craft such as knitted scarves, embroidered bags, silver jewellery, bed spreads, wallets and fashion accessories along with tees, sneakers as well as sculptural art and handicraft. Karen Long Neck Village There are various village locations between Chiang Mai and the Golden Triangle, and our group was able to visit one on the last day of the visit where the famous hill tribespeople were busy selling wide-ranging ethnic articles. The outstanding feature, which they are known for, of course, are the brass rings that girls and women wear. At first look, you might wonder how this can at all be conceived as an idea of beauty — long necks — let alone worn for an entire life, but there it is. They seemed at peace with it, even female children. The idea is to start before puberty so that the body gets used to it. My takeaway from the Long Neck Karen Village? Hard working people, in the throes of life’s struggles like elsewhere, but doing so with a smile. When I slipped into a de rigueur impulse to seek a discount for a souvenir, the seller politely declined, then argued that she had spent hours making it. It felt good to honour the labour of love.
By Kamran Rehmat There are multiple engaging areas and aspects to a familiarisation trip such as one to Thailand, but each time you realise one is not enough. ‘The Land of Smiles’ — as it is popularly known — immediately strikes you as (why it is) one of the world’s premier tourist destinations even if you have not been here before. But if you have, chances are you just take it for granted. Because somehow they have managed to whittle it down to a simple enough equation: smile = happy tourist. The figures speak for themselves: 2020 marks the 60th anniversary of the Tourism Authority of Thailand and Thai Airways International — the pillars of Thai tourism. Today, the kingdom enjoys 40 million arrivals and 3 trillion bhats in income according to Imtiaz Muqbil, Executive Editor of Travel Impact Newswire, Thailand’s second longest serving travel trade journalist, and author of The Greatest Story in Global Tourism History. That being said, just pigeonholing it in one (admittedly, massive) area would be a tad one-dimensional — even unfair — given how rich the tapestry is. But let’s start with the smiles anyway. In moments of solitude, one has often wondered how Thais manage to keep that emoticon-like spread regardless of how tough life is — and it always is, in some part of this cinder of a planet! The standard outsider explanation, of course, redounds to “laughing all the way to the bank”. But that, in my considered opinion, is a rather lazy inference with a pronounced business rider. It does not take into account what lies beneath that effusive smile. Could this simply be a natural byproduct of religion, culture, values? I had this engaging casual conversation with a senior Thai official, who, agreed with me on those derivatives as well as the calm and serenity one had experienced in another predominantly Buddhist nation — Sri Lanka — as an expat resident. But he told me how it was also viewed as a “weakness” by a few, who deduced that the Thais were “too soft” — as a people and country. At the end of this conversation, one just opined how the world would be a much better place if there were similarly other “soft” nations. Consider. Thailand is now exporting ‘Sufficiency Economy Philosophy (SEP)’ in a conscientious endeavour to help other nations achieve sustainable development goals! At a Ministry of Foreign Affairs press briefing in Bangkok, its finer details were shared with our media group from the Middle East. In fact, Saowalak Pornwilassiri, of the Department of South Asia, African and Middle East Affairs, disclosed that Thai diplomatic missions abroad had a new mandate vis-à-vis SEP. Fresh from leading the Asean with panache as its chair last year, Thailand is swearing by the uncanny scruples of taking every willing partner along on a journey for collective rewards. When this scribe asked about the ‘novelty factor’ in passing the ingredients of success to other nations with the possibility that they may go on to rise as similar powers or even better, she reasoned that ultimately, it benefited humanity and that was the only motivating goal for Bangkok in proactively helping other capitals. If nothing else, it surely is a recipe for winning friends and perhaps influencing people (Dale Carnegie, anyone?) swiftly! Natapanu Nopakun, Deputy Director General, Department of Information, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the tour was part of a studied endeavour to familiarise media professionals with the diversity of Thailand. In this regard, he highlighted the economic vistas and tourism (including medical tourism, which also makes the country a choice destination), but with a greater emphasis on ‘sustainable development’, which he drove home was entirely homegrown in Thailand’s case. It was a recurring theme throughout the tour and Assistant Professor Dr Molraudee Saratun of the Sustainable Development and Sufficiency Economy, Studies Center, National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA), painstakingly explained the philosophy that has enabled Thailand to become the success story it is today and how it was trying to fashion the same elsewhere with a profound commitment. In a frank exchange where a figure of $63 billion turnover was trotted out for the last year, Nopakun said that while tourism had been pivotal in making Thailand a hub, the country believed in — and practised — responsibility to ecology. “We believe in maintaining a fine balance; we offer value for money, but money on its own is not our goal. (Hence) our tourism is not only for the rich indulging in luxury, but it caters to all tiers where the prime goal is to maintain environment-friendly tourism. We don’t aspire for too many just to make more money. It is important to maintain eco-friendly tourism and sustain all good practices,” he pointed out. Perhaps, the spirit was encapsulated none better than by this inscription on a signpost one saw: “We are supposed to plant a tree in the people’s heart and those people will plant tree in the land”— King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) Over the years, Thailand has developed indigenous marketing schemes to promote tourism and it has also been creative in using tourism as a bridge to enhance diplomatic relations. However, late King Bhumibol inspired the development of sustainable tourism by empowering local communities as well as preserving the environment and natural resources (in the round-up that follows on the select few sites this scribe visited, this is a central theme of Thailand’s green outlook). Islam in Thailand: A look at history and the burgeoning Halal industry Thailand, a predominantly Buddhist nation, has been for some time now, a go-to destination for even people of other faiths particularly, Muslims, from the Middle East, and closer home, the GCC. In fact, it is already the top ranked destination in Asia for Muslims. The reason is not hard to understand. It has also evolved into a dedicated tourism industry catering to the Islamic faith: from running halal hotels and food to the many places of worship that enable Muslims to have a relaxed vacation. Similarly, patients coming from the Middle East and GCC have been benefiting from medical tourism in completely safe and secure environs with dedicated help right from native language communication tools to treatment and post- treatment stay in the country, and resultant follow-ups. Associate Professor Dr Pakorn Priyakorn, Chairman of the International Task Force, Office of the Sheikhul Islam of Thailand, was at hand to give the media a detailed presentation on his behalf and answer questions related to various issues falling under the subject. Going back in time, he said, historically, politically and culturally, Muslims have been an integral part of the social and economic development of Thailand for nearly five centuries. Islam is the second biggest religion in the kingdom and enjoys royal and official patronage. Muslims number approximately 5.9 million. He felt that part of the Thai success story was owed to peaceful coexistence by intent. The Sheikhul Islam was first established and appointed by King Songtham in 1602 AD. Islam is the dominant religion in four southernmost provinces. He disclosed that there were nearly 4,000 mosques in the country, and 185 of these were in Bangkok alone. But none of this backgrounder would be complete with a word on halal food. Coined as ‘Kitchen of The World’ since 2000, Thailand is one of the world’s top 10 Halal food exporting countries and all this is owed to an elaborate paraphernalia manned and overseen by Muslim researchers and food inspectors in a detailed set-up. Dr Priyakorn, who is also Director, The Halal Standards Institute of Thailand, ran a documentary on the subject to enlighten the visitors on how — and what — Thailand manages to dutifully respond to the need for Muslims to lead their lives in conjunction with Islam where halal food is concerned. Thailand’s status in the Muslim world is also embellished by the fact that it also enjoys Observer Status in the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Co-operation.
A picture of Nawaz Sharif dining out at a London restaurant with his brother Shahbaz, their sons, and other kin, including the absconding ex-finance minister Ishaq Dar, this week went viral and has once again brought into sharp focus the ailing former prime minister’s apparent “critical” health. The image has given the media, especially electronic, the fodder to reignite the debate over its merit. This wasn’t the first such huddle, but is destined to gather traction given the proclaimed severity of his condition and terms of release — eight weeks off — from prison allowed by the court on health grounds have now run their course. It has already drawn plenty of sarcasm, especially from those members of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s cabinet who were opposed to letting off Sharif in the first place. Consider this tweet from the outspoken Fawad Chaudhry, the Federal Minister for Science and Technology, whose propensity for speaking his mind is matched by only a few amongst his colleagues. “Scenes of a meeting in the intensive care unit of a London hospital, the treatment for binge-eating is underway with sheer concentration, all patients are feeling better,” Chaudhry tweeted. Sharif, 70, who has a history of cardiac issues, and now reportedly, an immune system disorder, was serving a sentence in the so-called Al-Azizia Steel Mills graft case when his condition deteriorated last October to the extent that an intervention was petitioned by his medical team with the Islamabad High Court and granted. The Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf government, which conducted its own medical investigation and appeared willing to relent after the alarming findings, sought a security guarantee worth the amount Sharif was convicted for, but was overruled by the court with only a simple guarantee of return submitted by Sharif’s brother Shahbaz. The verdict created quite a ripple when subsequent pictures of Sharif boarding a special flight to London and an inflight image emerged on the social media, where the ex-PM did not quite look the part of a “patient”. It caused consternation in the ruling circles and a perturbed Prime Minister Imran Khan appeared to reflect those at a public event post-verdict where he appealed to the chief justice (who has since retired) and his successor to help “restore the confidence of the people in the courts” by removing the perception of discrimination between the powerful and the weak with an equal application of law. The chief justice however, appeared to snub the chief executive’s assertion, suggesting the release was the government’s call, and that while the judiciary was “not perfect”, it was ringing “a silent revolution”. It would be interesting to see how much of a “revolution” is in the works, especially after the Lahore High Court allowed relief to Sharif last November but not before notifying the government’s writ to make a call on any further medical reports. With little update coming out of London on Sharif in the interim — in complete contrast to the windmills churning furiously on diving platelets before his flight — there was wide speculation that he would seek an extended stay amid rumours of a ‘political’ deal. Expectedly — some may be wont to suggest, true to form — Sharif has, indeed, applied for an extension, but a wary PTI government is unwilling to buy the updated report, and has even rejected it. A case of once bitten, twice shy, perhaps, but also because it has lost a bit of political capital having promised never to compromise on corruption by giving the “plunderers of national wealth” — which is how it has always seen Sharif — any relief. Sharif is now counting on the Royal Brompton Hospital’s three reports: Rubidium Cardiac PET-CT scan; Holter Analysis; and Echocardiogram for succour. Cardiothoracic Surgeon David Lawrence has issued a medical summary based on reports by the Royal Brompton and Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospitals. The reports disclose that Sharif has significant areas of compromised perfusion and there is an element of impaired cardiac function as well with the heart at risk of another adverse cardiac event. The Royal Brompton and Lawrence have recommended urgent heart intervention but suggest that Sharif cannot undergo the invasive procedure unless cleared by the haematologists given his platelet counts are variable and unstable. Lawrence’s summary adds: “The impression is of compromised heart blood supply and functionality particularly in the circumflex territory. I recommend that Mr Sharif undergo coronary angiography at the earliest as there is a significant part of his heart at risk. I would strongly recommend urgent coronary intervention. Failure to do this could compromise his myocardium, his cardiac health, and his well-being.” “The Guy’s and St Thomas’ haematology experts are managing his unstable platelet count to make him safe for an invasive procedure including lymph node biopsy. The significant carotid artery disease further makes the issue complex and is managed simultaneously on aggressive medical therapy pending an intervention,” he concluded. This hasn’t impressed Dr Yasmin Rashid, the health minister of ruling PTI’s Punjab province, who was also involved in the medical investigation and reporting on Sharif prior to the approval granted by Prime Minister Khan’s government. Following the appearance of Sharif’s apparently, steady looking pictures, media reports emerged of a certain dismay within the party ranks at how an experienced medical professional like Rashid allegedly “fell for the (Sharif’s adverse) reports”! Earlier this week, she called up Dr Adnan Khan, Sharif’s personal physician, who led the ‘battle cry’ for seeking his client’s urgent treatment abroad, to furnish the latest update. After receiving one, she declared it “unsatisfactory”. “The report does not mention anything new related to the treatment being accorded to Nawaz Sharif,” she told reporters in Lahore,” adding she had talked to the physician twice and told him that the bail given to his patient had been on humanitarian and health grounds. She also had something to say about the viral post. “Everyone has seen the viral photos of Nawaz Sharif on social media. We have asked Dr Adnan to tell us whether the excursions of the former premier have anything to do with his health condition.” Rashid wouldn’t buy into the explanation tweeted by his son about seeking “a breath of fresh air” when the photos were taken, saying that “sick people do not go out to dine at restaurants for fresh air, unless the air at the restaurant has some special oxygen.” * The writer is Features Editor and tweets @kaamyabi.