Pakistan News

PESHAWAR: All the government schools in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will switch over from Urdu to English medium gradually in a period of four to five years, according to officials.

They told Dawn that English would replace Urdu gradually as a medium in state-run schools of the province because elementary and secondary education department could not do it in one go. It was neither feasible for the students to start learning in the changed medium abruptly nor the teachers were trained to teach their subjects in English, they said.

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf-led provincial government has decided to change the medium from Urdu to English from grade-1 in the government schools from the coming academic year commencing from April, 2014. Once the medium was changed from the grade-I, it would be changed onward with each passing year, officials said.

They said that the previous government of Awami National Party had already taken the initiative of changing the medium from grade-IV under the National Textbook and Learning Material Policy from the academic year 2013. After grade-IV, the medium would be changed with the passing of each year, officials said.

The change of medium has been commenced at two stages -- first from beginning and second from grade-IV -- which would take four or five years to change it to secondary level.

“Textbooks of mathematics and general science for grade-IV have already been converted into English while printing of both the subjects for grade-V has started,” officials in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Textbook Board told Dawn. They said that KPTB had also ordered the publishers to start printing of textbooks of mathematics and general knowledge for grade-1 in English.

Besides national and regional languages, they said, only Pakistan Studies would be taught in Urdu.

Directorate of Curriculum and Teachers Education Director Bashir Hussain Shah, when contacted, said that the required textbooks were already available with the education department as such books had already been taught in several government schools that switched over to English medium in the past.

“The department has no problem with the change of medium as only available books will be printed in English instead of Urdu,” he said.

A single teacher from each of the 23,500 primary schools in the province would be trained before changing the medium of the relevant books, Mr Shah said. The training of teachers would take around one month, he said.

Some international donor organisations were supporting the education department to train the teachers, the official said. The development of training manual was in final stage, he said.

“We are already having master trainers as training teachers is a continuous process,” he said. The master trainers would train the teachers at circle level across the province as each district was divided into several circles according to its size, he said.

“Hopefully teachers will be trained a month before change of the medium. The training duration of each group of teachers will be 12 days,” Mr Shah said.

Killing of Pakistanis in US-led drone strikes may amount to war crimes or extrajudicial executions, according to a report to be released by the London based right's group on Tuesday.

Based on restricted and rare access to the region, the report titled "'Will I be next?' US drone strikes in Pakistan" documents nine strikes that occurred in 2012 and 2013 and the deaths resulting from these in Pakistan's northwestern areas, including the killing of Mamana Bibi who was a 68-year-old grandmother, and 14-year-old boy.

Mamana Bibi's grandchildren told the Amnesty International that she was killed by missile fire on Oct 24 2012, as she was collecting vegetables in a family field in the North Waziristan tribal region, a major militancy infected area near the Afghan border.

Three of Bibi's grandchildren were also wounded in the strike, as were several others who were nearby, the victims said.

An even deadlier incident noted by the report occurred in North Waziristan on July 6, 2012.

Witnesses said a volley of missiles hit a tent where a group of men had gathered for an evening meal after work, and then a second struck those who came to help the wounded, one of a number of attacks that have hit rescuers, the rights group said.

Witnesses and relatives said that total of 18 male laborers with no links to militant groups died, according to Amnesty. Pakistani intelligence officials at the time identified the dead as suspected militants.

The US did not respond to request for comment on the strike.

President Barack Obama said during a speech in May that the US does not conduct a drone strike unless there is ''near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured.''

But Amnesty said the US is so secretive about the program that there is no way to tell what steps it takes to prevent civilian casualties.

They say it has ''failed to commit to conduct investigations'' into alleged deaths that have already occurred.

The report would be released jointly with another report on US drone strikes in Yemen.

Pakistan has repeatedly stated that drone attacks are a violation of its sovereignty and has termed the attacks as counter-productive and a violation of international law.

Premier Nawaz Sharif also raised the drone issue at this year's United Nations General Assembly session and sought an end to the attacks.

 

Moreover, Sharif who is visiting the United States had said prior to his arrival there that he would take up the issue during his meeting on Wednesday with US President Barack Obama.

The issue has been raised on several platforms and the legality of drone strikes has also been previously questioned by the UN human rights chief, Amnesty International, and other organisations.

UN chief Ban-Ki moon, during his visit to Islamabad this year, had also urged for the controversial strikes to be brought within the sphere of international law. These attacks have also been described to undermine world security, according to another UN report.

 

Moreover the Bureau of Investigative Journalism had launched a report aimed at keeping track of victims of drone attacks.

These groups indicated that the attacks have killed between 2,065 and 3,613 people, the report said. Between 153 and 926 were thought to be civilians.

Amnesty said it is concerned that the attacks outlined in the report and others may have resulted in unlawful killings that constitute extrajudicial executions or war crimes, even though the US insists the strikes are legal.

 

''We cannot find any justification for these killings. There are genuine threats to the USA and its allies in the region, and drone strikes may be lawful in some circumstances,'' said Mustafa Qadri, Amnesty International's Pakistan researcher. ''But it is hard to believe that a group of laborers, or an elderly woman surrounded by her grandchildren, were endangering anyone at all, let alone posing an imminent threat to the United States.''

The US on the other hand considers its drone program to be a key weapon against insurgent groups that it says stages cross-border forays into neighboring Afghanistan.

Amnesty called on the US to comply with its obligations under international law by investigating the killings documented in the report and providing victims with ''full reparation.''

 

The US carried out its first drone strike in Pakistan in 2004 and has carried out nearly 350 more since then, the majority of which have been in North Waziristan.

President Barack Obama significantly ramped up attacks when he took office in 2009, and the number peaked the following year with over 100 strikes.

The frequency has steadily dropped since then, partly because of growing tension between Pakistan and the US There have only been around two dozen strikes so far this year.

Pakistani officials regularly denounce the attacks in public as a violation of the country's sovereignty, but senior members of the government and the military are known to have supported the strikes in the past.

''Amnesty International is also extremely concerned about the failure of the Pakistani authorities to protect and enforce the rights of victims of drone strikes,'' said the report. ''Pakistan has a duty to independently and impartially investigate all drone strikes in the country and ensure access to justice and reparation for victims of violations.''

Amnesty said victims they interviewed with no apparent connection to militant groups have either received no compensation or inadequate assistance from the Pakistani government.

The top political official in North Waziristan gave Bibi's family around $100 to cover medical expenses for the children injured in the strike, even though the total cost to the family, including loss of livestock and repairs to their home, was around $9,500, the rights group said.

None of the victims in the attack on the laborers received any compensation, the report added.

RAIWIND: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said Wednesday that the government’s hands were tied and it was forced to increase electricity prices, DawnNews reported.

Addressing party workers at his residence in Raiwind, the premier said the government would reduce the electricity tariff after completion of new power projects.

Last week, the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) federal government had notified a massive increase of over 70 per cent in power tariff to be effective from November 1.

A tariff revision was made through the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) on directives issued by the Supreme Court earlier this month.

Sharif said that the government had launched an operation against power theft to overcome the electricity shortage.

He said the energy crisis had become a major challenge which badly affected the economy adding that the government was fully committed to overcome it during its five years constitutional term.

Speaking about an ongoing operation to restore law and order in Sindh’s provincial capital Karachi, the premier said the government was not under any political pressure to conduct targeted operations.

He said citizens of Karachi were satisfied with steps taken by the government to rid the city of criminal elements and extortionists.

He moreover said that the PML-N government had assumed charge over the nation in difficult times, adding that it wanted lasting solutions to the problems faced by the country.

The premier said the government would undertake tough decisions to enforce law and order in the country.

“We are going to take bold decisions for the sake of restoring peace and maintaining law and order in Karachi and everywhere in the country,” he said.

The prime minister appreciated the performance of law enforcement agencies in Karachi which, he said, had decreased to some extent crimes like kidnapping for ransom, targeted killings and extortion.

Sharif said the government had taken all political parties on board for preparing a common agenda to eradicate terrorism from Pakistan. He said the dialogue process was adopted to restore peace and hoped that the efforts of talks would be successful.

“By the grace of Allah Almighty, we are determined to make a bright future of Pakistan through hard work to come to the expectations and aspirations of the people” he said.

KARACHI: Pakistan will become the first country to offer top-quality education on an integrated online platform that will include free online courses from hundreds of top universities around the world, claimed Dr Prof Atta-ur-Rahman, the former chairman of the Higher Education Commission, at the Second National Conference on Space Science on Monday.

Speaking to Dawn on the sidelines of the first day of the conference, he said that the search engine had been developed. He added that the Hussain Ebrahim Jamal (HEJ) Institute of Chemistry would launch the integrated platform for the best available free online courses like MIT open courseware, Coursera, Udacity, Khan Academy, Virtual University of Pakistan and other courses next month.

Dr Rahman said that the lack of trained faculty was a major hurdle in educating the masses especially in developing world. And joining hands with world’s top varsities such as MIT and Harvard to deliver excellent academic material would greatly help Pakistan and other developing countries, he added.

According to the former HEC chairman, Pakistan will be the only country to have brought together the great wealth of educational material from around the world on one single platform.

Some 60 research presentations and papers will be presented at the two-day event being organised by the Institute of Planetary Astrophysics (ISPA), the University of Karachi, to celebrate the ‘World Space Week 2013’.

The first day of the two-day conference brought together scholars and experts from Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (Suparco), Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute of Engineering Science and Technology, Institute of Space Technology, ISPA and other institutes.

The official topic of this year’s Space Week celebrations is “Exploring Mars, Discovering Earth”.

In an interesting presentation, Salman Zubair from the department of Geography, Karachi University, shared his findings about road designs and accidents, which according to him, could be curbed using the help of satellite imagery and Geographical Information System.

He also urged road planners to consider the mass awareness about the new road facilities and GIS planning while designing major roads, a lack of which was responsible for 34 per cent accidents directly or indirectly.

Mr Zubair said that Karachi ranked fourth in the world when it came to road accidents.

In another lecture, Mohammad Shafique from the National Centre of Excellence in Geology, the University of Peshawar, said that Pakistan witnessed 138 major disasters over the past 30 years. He said remote sensing and satellite imaging could be used as an important tool in disaster mitigation and management.

Other scholars presented their findings in cosmology, theoretical physics, renewable energy, Mars explorations and other topics related to Space Science, technology and cosmology.

NCSS-2013 has been organised with the collaboration of Suparco, HEC and Pakistan Science Foundation.

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Tuesday refused to authorise overseas Pakistanis to vote in the local government elections in the absence of legislation at the provincial level, DawnNews reported.

According to the commission, none of the provinces had extended the facility of voting in LG polls to Pakistanis living abroad.

An ECP official said they could not authorise overseas Pakistanis to vote without appropriate legislation at the provincial level.

The official moreover said that overseas Pakistanis were playing a major role in the construction and development of Pakistan, adding that in the past five years, they had sent 55 billion dollars to the country as foreign exchange.

He was of the view that Pakistanis living abroad should be included in the country’s electoral process.

It may be mentioned that an inter-provincial meeting was informed last week that holding of local government elections was not possible this year because provinces had not done basic work to conduct the exercise.

It transpired during the meeting, presided over by acting Chief Election Commissioner Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jilani, that provinces were yet to have complete delimitation, which would have to be carried out afresh on the basis of new census blocks.

ECP secretary Ishtiak Ahmad Khan told reporters that all provinces had assured the meeting of sending a requisition to the commission for holding LG elections in the first week of December after completing prerequisites for the polls in November.

And after receiving requisitions, the ECP required one month to carry out multiple tasks before announcing the election schedule, he said.

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani government has decided to shut down all compressed natural gas (CNG) stations in Punjab, the most populated province, for three months starting from November.

Federal minister for petroleum Shahid Khaqan Abbasi told reporters on Tuesday that due to shortages of gas in winter, all CNG stations in the province will be closed from November to January.

Pakistan suffers from a chronic gas shortage. Many Pakistanis have converted their cars to run on CNG, depending on it as a cheaper alternative to petrol and diesel.

The switch to CNG by both private and commercial sectors as an alternative fuel for motor transport has hampered an already burdened gas supply.

Pakistani households use gas as fuel for domestic usage.

“Our first priority are domestic consumers during the winters, so there will be no gas for motor transport in Punjab,” Abbasi said.

NEW YORK: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif left for home after a week-long stay during which he single-handedly persuaded his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh to take the first step towards improving relations with Pakistan by agreeing on a procedure to defuse tensions along the line of control in Kashmir.

But more important than this agreement was the message he kept sending to the Indians in his statements and interviews to various Indian, Pakistani and US media outlets: let’s put the bitter past behind and “make a new beginning”.

He used his address to the UN General Assembly on Friday to convey the same message, saying that “Pakistan and India can prosper together and the entire region would benefit from our cooperation.”

To Mr Singh, who appeared reluctant to embrace Pakistan so close to the elections, he said: “We stand ready to re-engage with India in a substantive and purposeful dialogue.”

And at a community dinner at a New York hotel, Mr Sharif told the Pakistanis: “We cannot have prosperity unless we have good relations with our neighbours, India and Afghanistan.”

Mr Sharif also used that speech to tell the Pakistani military establishment that the country couldn’t afford to continue to increase its defence budget, so they too should support his moves to improve relations with India. He said he was toppled in 1999 because he was trying to improve relations with India.

When Mr Singh used a joint White House news conference with US President Barack Obama to call Pakistan “an epicentre of terrorism” and declared that any solution to the Kashmir dispute had to be based in Pakistan’s acceptance of the valley as “an integral part of India,” Mr Sharif came under tremendous pressure from some of his aides and the Pakistani media to “give a befitting response”. But he ignored such suggestions, reminding his aides not to forget that Mr Singh’s party was going to an election.

Throughout this period, Mr Sharif focused on the meeting, working quietly with the Indian side on a possible understanding that would promote peace without causing any political damage to him or Mr Singh. They came up with a plan to end clashes along the LoC, hoping that it would stop unnecessary blood-letting in a sensitive area where any mistake can lead to a larger conflict.

The plan worked and the two prime ministers tasked their military officials to “suggest effective means to restore the ceasefire and a way forward to ensure that that remains in force and in place”, as Indian National Security Adviser Shivshanker Menon explained.

The military officials will also “establish a joint mechanism for not only investigation of incidents on the LoC, but also to ensure there is no recurrence of violence”, Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jillani added.

While the understanding itself was important, the two briefings also had a pleasant surprise for the Pakistani and Indian media covering the event.

In the past, such briefings were mostly held separately. Officials from both sides ensured that every journalist from the other side was forced out of the room before the briefing began.

It was different this time. Pakistani journalists were treated with cookies and tea as they came to the Indian briefing room and were not asked to leave when the briefing began. And before Mr Menon spoke, Pakistani officials distributed written invitations among Indian journalists, telling them that they were “welcome” to attend a briefing by the Pakistani foreign secretary at a nearby hotel. As Mr Menon’s briefing ended, a group of Pakistani journalists guided their Indian colleagues to the hotel.

But such gestures were not enough to hide ugly realities.

After the Indians left, Pakistani television channels, shown constantly at the Pakistani media room, focused on a rally that the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi held hours before the Sharif-Singh meeting, criticising the Indian prime minister for pursuing peace with Pakistan. He conveniently forgot that it was a BJP prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, who took forward the dialogue process in 2003-04.

The channels also ran a statement from some militant groups in Pakistan, telling Mr Sharif that he was “betraying the nation” by engaging India in peace talks.Meanwhile, the Indian channels were focusing on a non-issue, Mr Sharif allegedly calling Mr Singh a “dehati budhiya.” Although Pakistani officials strenuously denied the allegation, saying that the remarks were falsely attributed to Mr Sharif, the channels continued to play it up.

The understanding on ending LoC violations also could not hide the fact that both sides were still unwilling to discuss more serious issues. The foremost among such issues is Afghanistan where both India and Pakistan have been vying for influence. The deadline for the 2014 withdrawal of US and Nato combat troops from Afghanistan has further intensified this competition. The Pakistanis fear that India will use its influence in Afghanistan to create trouble in the bordering areas. Indians fear that Pakistan can once again recruit Afghan militants in an armed conflict in Kashmir.

Yet, there were no discussions on Afghanistan in the Sharif-Singh meeting, “although it was mentioned”, as Mr Menon said.

There also was no understanding on the resumption of a composite dialogue process between the two countries. The Indians are believed to have said that they would wait to see if the plan for ending LoC violations worked before committing themselves to the composite dialogue.

Other major issues — Kashmir, Sir Creek and Siachen — were also just mentioned as neither side appeared ready to tackle them at this stage.

Yet, peace was a clear winner on this muggy Sunday morning in New York where India and Pakistan made yet another “new beginning” for peace. If it’s a real beginning or a false start, only time will tell.

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