Thursday, 23 August 2012

Pakistan confers Nishan-i-Imtiaz on Manto

Mehmal Sarfraz, Hindustan Times
Lahore, August 15, 2012

Saadat Hasan Manto was recently awarded the Nishan-i-Imtiaz, Pakistan’s highest civilian award. Manto is celebrated widely both in India and Pakistan. His famous story, ‘Toba Tek Singh’, is one of the best available narratives that portray the pain of Partition.

It might have come as a surprise that Manto was finally being honoured at the state level for his contribution to literature. Renowned poet, columnist and writer, Munnoo Bhai, hailed the government's decision and termed Manto as the best story-writer in the Indian subcontinent.

“There’s nobody like Manto. He always rejected awards but by giving him an award, the government is honouring itself rather than honouring Manto.”

For columnist Raza Rumi, the government has “corrected a historical wrong”. By awarding Manto the highest civilian honour it has attempted to redeem the maltreatment of our artists, writers and intellectuals. Manto was shoddily treated during the early years of Pakistan and in his several writings he said how he had “no niche in the new country.”

Rumi is not the only one who feels this way. According to journalist Najam Sethi, “The highest civil award to Manto is not just a recognition of his towering status as a man of letters but also of his relevance to modern-day Pakistan. Manto wrote about ‘zar (gold), zan (women), zameen (land)’ in society in the aftermath of Partition and exposed the hypocrisy, exploitation and violence related to all three. Much the same is happening in Pakistan now.”

Sethi added, “It is doubly ironic that he should have been awarded the highest civilian award when six decades ago he was persecuted for obscenity and today the Supreme Court is hearing a petition to ban ‘obscenity’ on TV.”

Indian scholar Dr Gopi Chand Narang was also awarded a civil award by the government for his service to Urdu literature.

(Mehmal Sarfraz is a Lahore-based journalist)

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Pakistani students win international debate competition in Mexico

Karachi: Three 15-year-old Pakistani students have won the final of The Karl Popper Debating Championship(KPDC), one of the largest high school tournaments in the world, in Mexico.

The Pakistani team beat the team of students from South Korea and also all three participants were listed in the top 10 speakers of tournament.

Zainab Hameed, the Karachi Grammar School student, was named the top speaker of the competition while Azeem Liaquat, student of the Salamat International Campus for Advanced Studies in Lahore, came second. Their teammate, Ahmed Shujaan from the Aitchison College, bagged the fifth position among more than 200 participants.

Teams from 45 countries participated in the tournament, which was a part of the 18th edition of the International Debate Education Association (IDEA) Youth Forum held in Mexico from July 2 to 15.

Pakistani team was defending the topic — “Guantanamo Bay prison should be closed down immediately” — in the KPDC finals while Korean team had to prove that the motion should not be adopted.

The teams participated in two competitions –the KPDC and the mixed team track. In the former, they represented Pakistan as a team while they were split up and paired with debaters from other countries in mixed team track.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Zainab Imran, a Pakistani Olympic torch bearer

Zainab Imran.
In May, I penned a rather cynical note on the security preparations for the Olympic Games. Britain is full of Games fever as the torch tours the country, held by pop stars and local celebrities; and greeted by cheering crowds. My Facebook is full of friends who have glimpsed the golden torch and managed a shaky photo of the moment. My own son now says he wants to see the flame when it touches down in Cambridge. But as the Olympics draws near, my cynicism about the over-spun, oppressively-sponsored event has been silenced by the arrival of a 16-year-old girl from Karachi.

The British Council, UK Sport and UNICEF have been running the International Inspirations programme for a number of years. Operating in 20 countries it fulfils a promise made by Britain when London was named Olympic host for 2012. The promise was to ‘reach young people all around the world and connect them to the inspirational power of the Games so they are inspired to choose sport – improving their lives as a result.’

When Pakistani school girl Zainab Imran arrived in Britain last week to take her turn in carrying the torch – the only Pakistani to do so – I immediately assumed she was a junior sports star. Here in the UK I have felt a little jaded about the over-use of the “inspire me” theme related to the games – but in other countries the UK government seems to have got it right. Although Zainab is a competitive soul who enjoys netball, badminton and even competed in the Dawn Spelling Bee, she is primarily here because of her charity and voluntary work. Only a youngster, yet she has already worked on health care initiatives, cleaned beaches and taken part in sports leaderships programmes. When I was in Karachi last year I learned about how young people in the city wanted to bring about social improvements – so I am very delighted that Zainab is here in Britain to embody this – being an inspiration and an example herself. And she is eloquent and charming with it.

It’s not often that an association between Pakistan and sport is such a positive one, and I confess part of the motivation behind writing this is to add to the sea of media commentary that focuses on all that is negative. Ask an English person their perception of Pakistani sport and they might say cricket match fixing. Some might say “Imran Khan” – and will remember his playboy and Jemima days not knowing his political side. Those who actually follow the game of cricket might utter the words “Boom Boom,” but that’s about it.

Ask Pakistanis about sports role models (and I did) and a different picture emerges. It’s not one without cricketers of course, but also features polo playing legend Podger El Effendi; the awesome Khan dynasty of squash players (Jansher was eight times world champion); and Shehbaz Ahmad, The Maradonna of Pakistan’s most popular sport – hockey. In Britain, Pakistanis are involved in football, motor-racing, and rugby to name but a few sports.

As Zainab takes up her torch duties I hope that she will be thinking about all that is great about Pakistani sport. The battle seems to be, not only in being a country able to host international games but in getting broader media coverage of positive sporting passion. As Shahid Azeem said in a speech that welcomed Zainab: “(She) represents all that is positive in our young people of Pakistan … a new, positive, and fresh face of Pakistan. A face that is very much there – but often hidden”.

It feels as if at last the Olympics are beginning to be about the people and the sport – not about the security concerns, the corporate ownership of the Olympic rings, or the cost to the tax payer. So I might just take my son to see the torch in Cambridge – but perhaps after a game of quick cricket in the park and a conversation about social change.

-Caroline Jaine

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Inspiration leads friends to set up restaurant portal

LAHORE: Attracted by the technological gap in the market and the desire to utilise their full potential, two childhood friends bid farewell to their marketing profession and set up a software venture to create one of the leading food and restaurant websites – – in Pakistan.

The Express Tribune caught up with Omair Bangash, co-founder of Hooked Technologies which launched tossdown as its flagship project back in 2008.

“We felt under-utilised at our jobs,” said Bangash, while explaining the urge to start their own business in 2007. The then 24-year-old Bangash, along with friend Shahzeb Rizvi, thought of working on restaurants because they felt a technological gap in the market, which could reach to the people.

“Since our family owned a restaurant for the past 30 years, the food industry was the only natural choice for us to start the project,” he said.

Bangash and Rizvi launched in January 2008, though the next challenge for them was to hire a programmer for the website, for which they lacked finances. Taking lessons from YouTube, Bangash learnt how to make a website with Rizvi looking after the marketing aspect.

“Ironically, nobody invests in virtual products,” said Bangash, who heads the product vision and design area of his company. With lack of educated investors, he said, funding was a major issue for which they had to struggle for the first three years into their business.

Majority of the investors in Pakistan, he said, looked for investing in tangible products, which was a problem faced by many young entrepreneurs. Funds were then generated through projects which Hooked Technologies worked on. Once the funds started coming in, Bangash and Rizvi started approaching restaurants.

However, the going was not easy this time too. “The response (from restaurants) was horrible as they suspected us to be officers of the excise department,” Bangash said, adding at times they were not even allowed to enter restaurants.

The breakthrough came when restaurant Gun Smoke showed interest in their idea and slowly other restaurants in Lahore also started expressing interest, making it to the blogs in 2010.

Last year, the team at tossdown introduced discount cards and coupons to take advantage of the market attention they had gained introducing ‘Khaba’ – a privileged member card, which offers discounts at 30 food and dessert outlets in Lahore.

“In 2012, we managed to get tossdown where we had initially envisioned it to be,” Bangash said, adding several ‘food bloggers’ were now contributing to their website. He said the idea of the restaurant portal, which he claimed to be the first in Pakistan, was to bring all restaurants onto a single platform including ‘foodies’ – food lovers.

From 30 hits in a day in 2011 to now thousands of hits daily, he said food was big on the web in Pakistan. With more than 600 restaurants in Lahore listed on the website, besides more than 400 in Karachi and almost 200 in Islamabad, Bangash said the website also catered to food lovers in Faisalabad, Multan and Peshawar.

Now the founders of tossdown aim to export their idea, expanding it to tourist destinations such as Indonesia and the Middle East.

-Express Tribune

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Intel ISEF 2012: Peshawar girl wins science accolade

PESHAWAR: Seventeen year old Shiza Gulab, who secured fourth place in the world’s largest pre-college science fair, arrived in her hometown in Swati Patik on Sunday.

The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) 2012 was held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the United States. Three Pakistani teenagers Shiza Gulab, Mahnoor Hassan and Bushra Shahed attained fourth position for their project titled ‘Energy Square for Cattle.’

Gulab, a first-year engineering student at the Institute of Computer and Management Sciences (ICMS), Peshawar, talks about her project and the inspiration behind it.

“We attended a workshop in Islamabad in which the organisers suggested that we work in the fields of biology, mathematics, physics and computer science.”

Gulab said she decided to select a topic from the field of biology on her mother’s advice. “I discussed the idea with my colleagues Mahnoor and Bushra and they also agreed with me and we started working on our project.”

“Our project attained first position at the national level competition in which 86 teams participated and the regional level in the Pak-Turkish School Peshawar. When we found out that our team had been selected for Intel ISEF, we felt a mixture of extreme happiness and confusion.”

Gulab’s father Gul Shah is understandably filled with pride. “I am very happy. She has not only made me proud, but also the province and our country.”

Shah said he has cows in his home which are not raised for a source of income or milk, but to nurture his children’s interest in animals. He added that his daughter was destined to work for the development of the country.

Gulab’s mother maintains that her daughter is a very intelligent student and gets first position in school every year.

Principal of ICMS college for girls, Ambareen Batol said it was a “pleasure that our students have been selected for the international fair.”

ICMS Director Malik Tajamul Hayat said the prize winning students are already on scholarship and will be facilitated in every possible way to excel in their studies. Giving details about the project, she said it was designed to provide livestock with adequate nutrition even in times of natural disasters. The formula, which is a dry mix of a variety of ingredients such as mulberry, wheat, maize, rice polish, urea and calcium, provides vitamins and protein to the animals. It also contributes in controlling diseases, increasing milk production and weight in cattle in just 28 days.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 21st, 2012.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

National Monuments of Pakistan

The Pakistan Monument in Islamabad, Pakistan, is a national monument representing the nation's four provinces and three territories. After a competition among many renowned architects, Arif Masood’s plan was selected for the final design.

The blooming flower shape of the monument represents Pakistan's progress as a rapidly developing country. The four main petals of the monument represent the four provinces (Balochistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa,Punjab, and Sindh), while the three smaller petals represent the three territories (Gilgit-Baltistan,Azad Kashmir and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas).

The Monument has been designed to reflect the culture and civilization of the country and depicts the story of the Pakistan Movement, dedicated to those who sacrificed themselves for future generations.

Lets discover some of the awesome monuments throughout Pakistan.

  • Uch Sharif

Uch or Uch Sharif Urdu: اوچ شریف) (Greek: Alexandria En Indo Potamo) is located in 75 km from Bahawalpur in Bahawalpur District, South Punjab, Pakistan Uch is an important historical city, being founded by Alexander the Great. Formerly located at the confluence of the Indus and Chenab rivers, it is now removed to Mithankot, some 100 km from that confluence.

It was an important center in medieval India, as an early stronghold of the Delhi Sultanate in the 13th century during the Muslim conquest. Uch Sharif contains the tombs of Bibi Jawindi, Baha'al-Halim and Jalaluddin Bukhari, which are considered master pieces of Islamic architecture and are on the UNESCO World Heritage Site tentative list.

  • Derawar Fort

Derawar Fort is a large square fortress in Pakistan near Bahawalpur. The forty bastions of Derawar are visible for many miles in Cholistan Desert. The walls have a circumference of 1500 metres and stand up to thirty metres high.

The first fort on the site was built by Hindu Rajput, Rai Jajja Bhati of Jaisalmer. It remained in the hands of the royal family of Jaisalmer until captured and completely rebuilt by the nawabs of Bahawalpur in 1733. In 1747, the fort slipped from the hands of the Abbasis owing to Bahawal Khan's preoccupations at Shikarpur. Nawab Mubarak Khan took the stronghold back in 1804.

The nearby mosque was modelled after that in the Red Fort of Delhi. There is also a royal necropolis of the Abbasi family, which still owns the stronghold. The area is rich in archaeological artifacts associated with Ganweriwala, a vast but as-yet-unexcavated city of the Indus Valley Civilization.

  • Wazir Khan Mosque

The Wazir Khan Mosque (Punjabi/Urdu: مسجد وزیر خان Masjid Wazīr Khān) in Lahore,Pakistan, is famous for its extensive faience tile work. It has been described as 'a mole on the cheek of Lahore'. It was built in seven years, starting around 1634–1635 AD, during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan. It was built by Hakim Shaikh Ilm-ud-din Ansari, a native of Chiniot, who rose to be the court physician to Shah Jahan and a governor of Lahore. He was commonly known as Wazir Khan, a popular title bestowed upon him(the word Wazir means 'minister' in Urdu). The mosque is inside the Inner City and is easiest accessed from Delhi Gate.

  • Badshahi Mosque

The Badshahi Mosque (Punjabi, Urdu: بادشاہی مسجد) or the 'Royal Mosque' in Lahore, commissioned by the sixth Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in 1671 and completed in 1673, is the second largest mosque in Pakistan and South Asia and the fifth largest mosque in the world. Epitomising the beauty, passion and grandeur of the Mughal era, it is Lahore's most famous landmark and a major tourist attraction.

Capable of accommodating 5,000 worshippers in its main prayer hall and a further 95,000 in its courtyard and porticoes, it remained the largest mosque in the world from 1673 to 1986 (a period of 313 years), when overtaken in size by the completion of the Faisal Mosque in Islamabad. Today, it remains the second largest mosque in Pakistan and South Asia and the fifth largest mosque in the world after the Masjid al-Haram(Grand Mosque) of Mecca, the Al-Masjid al-Nabawi (Prophet's Mosque) in Medina, the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca and the Faisal Mosque in Islamabad.

To appreciate its large size, the four minarets of the Badshahi Mosque are 13.9 ft (4.2 m) taller than those of the Taj Mahal and the main platform of the Taj Mahal can fit inside the 278,784 sq ft (25,899.9 m2) courtyard of the Badshahi Mosque, which is the largest mosque courtyard in the world.

In 1993, the Government of Pakistan recommended the inclusion of the Badshahi Mosque as a World Heritage Site in UNESCO's World Heritage List, where it has been included in Pakistan's Tentative List for possible nomination to the World Heritage List by UNESCO.

  • Hiran Minar

Hiran Minar; Urdu: ہرن مینار (Minaret of Antelope) is set in peaceful environs near Lahore in Sheikhupura, Pakistan. It was constructed by Emperor Jahangir as a monument to Mansraj, one of his pet deer.

The structure consists of a large, almost-square water tank with an octagonal pavilion in its center, built during the reign of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan; a causeway with its own gateway connects the pavilion with the mainland and a 100-foot (30 m)-high minar, or minaret.

At the center of each side of the tank, a brick ramp slopes down to the water, providing access for royal animals and wild game. The minar itself was built by Emperor Jahangir in 1606 to honor the memory of a pet hunting antelope named Mansraj.

Unique features of this particular complex are the antelope's grave and the distinctive water collection system. At each corner of the tank (approximately 750 by 895 feet (273 m) in size), is a small, square building and a subsurface water collection system which supplied the tank; only one of these water systems is extensively exposed today.

Another special feature of Hiran Minar is its location and environment: the top of the minar is perhaps the best place in the province of Punjab to get a feel for the broader landscape and its relationship to a Mughal site.

Looking north from the top of the minar, one can see a patch of forest which is similar to the scrub forest vegetation of Mughal times, while to the west are extensively-irrigated fields, a product of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but similar in size and appearance to the well-irrigated fields of the Mughal period.

  • Makli Hills

One of the largest necropolises in the world, with a diameter of approximately 8km. Makli Hill is supposed to be the burial place of some 125,000 local rulers, Sufi saints and others. It is located on the outskirts of Thatta, the capital of lower Sind until the seventeenth century, in what is the southeastern province of present-day Pakistan. It was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1981 under the name, Historical Monuments of Thatta.

Thanks to Wikipedia and Flickr.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

'Pakistan's sweetheart': Nazia Hassan's 47th birthday

Nazia forever changed the Pakistani pop music industry.
On April 3, 1965, the ‘Sweetheart of Pakistan’ Nazia Hassan was born – a soon to be iconic figure of the Pakistani pop industry. If alive today, April 3, 2012 she would be celebrating her 47thbirthday.

Nazia’s first hit was a pop song “Aap Jaisa Koi” which she sang for an Indian film titled Qurbani at the age of 15. She won a Filmfare award for this song and paved the way for her debut album, Disco Deewane.

The pop icon of the 70s soon became the striking beauty of the 80s and along with her brother produced audio and video hits, forever changing the Pakistani pop music industry.

Even during the conservative era of General Ziaul Haq, Nazia persevered, not faltering in her passion for music and became a celebrity. Among her biggest hits were “Ankhen Milane Wale” and “Dum Dum Dede”.

In 1995 she got married and had her son Arez in 1997.

Sadly, Nazia passed away in 2000 after losing a battle with cancer. She however remains a celebrity in the hearts of the 80s’ generation and lives on through her fans and all those who showered her with their love.

-Express Tribune

Monday, 2 April 2012

Teaching peace: Karachi High School principal wins UN award for work

Parveen Kassim, the principal of the Karachi High School. PHOTO: EXPRESS
KARACHI: Parveen Kassim, the principal of the Karachi High School, has won the global educators award at the 7th annual United Nations conference on Teaching Peace and Human Rights that concluded on Friday.

In particular, Kassim’s work as the chairperson of the International Schools Educational Olympiad (ISEO) was commended.

The two-day conference gathered teachers, administrators, future leaders and non-governmental organisations from across the world to acknowledge leadership in education. It served to highlight the role of educationists from Karachi, Chennai, Burnaby, Mexico City, Manila, and the US, whilst highlighting inspiring initiatives world-wide towards promoting and teaching peace within classrooms.

Kassim was nominated for her contribution over the last two decades towards bridging distances, and gathering students from Pakistan and across the world, including youth from India, the UK and Australia on a single platform to boost shared learning, competition and healthy interaction through the yearly ISEO. The award acknowledges her commitment to promote innovation in education in Pakistan by extending learning across borders and beyond the realms of the classroom.

Kassim was also acknowledged for Karachi High School’s active partnership with the British Council’s Connecting Classroom initiative aimed at forging lasting partnerships among schools in the UK with others around the world.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 2nd, 2012.

Australian govt makes Moosa ‘math ambassador’

PHALIA - The Government of Australia on Thursday made Moosa Feroz, a 13-year old student from Phalia, a far-flung area of Punjab, who secured the first position in an online World Mathematics Competition, held in Australia, as its math ambassador. He reserved the first spot among 1.4 million students across the world. As his voice gives a disappointing tone over indifference by the federal and Punjab governments, Moosa said that he was expecting a warm welcome on his return from Australia.

“I feel really sad as I was expecting the prime minister or Punjab chief minister to encourage me on this achievement for Pakistan.”It seems that they do not have time to motivate emerging talent in the country,” he said. Moosa was awarded gold medal in Australia recently. He secured 4405 points and got the first place while another Pakistani student Hasnain got second position in the competition with 4303 points in 11-13 years age category. In the category of age 14-18 years, the country’s another student named Osama secured second place with 3318 points. Moosa said that he has been trying to win world math competition since 2009. “I have also clinched 5th spot in 2011.” Moosa’s father Dr Khaliq Dad Tarar expressed joy over his son’s performance. “I am proud of my son who has made Pakistan’s name across the world with his untiring efforts and hard work,” he said.


Monday, 26 March 2012

Student from a Pakistani University lands job at Microsoft Corporation

Muhammad Abdur Rauf has been hired by Microsoft as a Software Development Engineer. PHOTO: Courtesy LUMS.

KARACHI: “One should pursue a career in a subject that interests them and that they are in love with. Success will follow,” says Muhammad Abdur Rauf – a talented 21-year-old student from Lahore who has recently landed an enviable job at the Microsoft Corporation… before completing his bachelor’s degree in computer science.

A computer science major at the Lahore University of Management Science’s (LUMS) School of Science and Engineering, Rauf was recently hired by Microsoft as a Software Development Engineer. Rauf’s new job will require him to use his skills testing computer programmes and software for technical faults, or ‘bugs’ as they are more commonly referred to.

It was, however, only after a rigorous hiring process that Rauf secured a place at Microsoft. He applied for the opening through the company’s website in December last year, and was interviewed over the phone by representatives in February. According to the LUMS website, he was then asked to travel to Dubai – all expenses paid – where he gave four technical interviews during which his previous projects were scrutinised and discussed in detail. He was also asked to solve algorithms and do programmed coding. In his last interview, he was given a coding problem which he was asked to debug. After an exceptional performance, Microsoft offered him a job. He soon accepted. He will be required to report to the company’s headquarters in Seattle, Washington on October 1, 2012.

Rauf says that one winning strategy that enabled him to succeed was his in-depth research about his employer, prior to his job application. He had been told that a team from Microsoft’s Dubai division will interview him. As preparation, he says that he studied a research paper of the very team that was to interview him. “I wanted to understand how they work and what their specific interests are,” he says.

In the past, Rauf has freelanced for some local and international companies. He also has experience in developing software applications for Android-powered devices.

Born in Bahawalnagar, Rauf has lived most of his life in Lahore. There, he attended The Trust School and completed his FSc from the Government College Lahore before he was admitted to LUMS.

Rauf does not come from an affluent family; his father is a civil servant. Keeping his limitations in mind, Rauf applied for LUMS’ National Outreach Program – a need and merit based scholarship. Deemed to be a deserving candidate, he was soon admitted in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at LUMS.

“However, after taking a few courses in humanities and social sciences, I realised that these were not my cup of tea,” he says. “I switched to the computer science major because I had prior interest in the subject”.

As evidenced, Rauf has done well in the subject of his choosing; he also works as a research associate in the computer sciences department. His research interest is in programming languages.

When asked if he ever thought about what he’ll do after landing a dream job, he says: “this is just the beginning! I want some experience working there, and then I want to think about higher studies in a specialised field.”

His advice to his compatriots? Students should not be afraid to fail; they should learn instead to face adversity and handle it to the best of their ability. After identifying one’s interest, Rauf says, one should stay focused and move in a direction that helps them achieve their goals.

“Success didn’t just knock on my door one fine day,” he says.

I dream of a day!

This dream is not what we see when we are asleep
This deam is what keeps us awake all night.
If we were to stand as one, all our goals would finally be in sight.
Let us keep our differences aside, Let us all finally unite.

-Hammad Suriya

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Students paint world's largest canvas

On the momentous occasion of Pakistan Day, around 1300 ambitious youth attempted to set a new world record of painting the largest canvas in the world at Lahore's National Hockey Stadium. Consuming 3500 litres of paint, 206 teams of volunteers participated in the great event organized by the Message Welfare Trust to paint a mosaic representation of the Pakistan Flag. Some 41,865 square feet of canvas were colored green and white in a record time of five hours and forty minutes, breaking an earlier record set in Nigeria spanning 7 hours. Results have been sent to Guinness World Records.


Tuesday, 13 March 2012

For the first time, Pakistani to compete in the world’s toughest marathon

Busy in training, Ziyad Rahim takes part in race after race ahead of the gruelling 150 miles (250 km) Marathon des Sables or the Marathon of the Sands at the Sahara Desert. PHOTO: THE EXPRESS TRIBUNE 
ISLAMABAD: Six days, 150km. Through the Sahara desert, supplies for the journey strapped to their backs, competitors run 150km in the appropriately titled Marathon des Sables (Marathon of the Sands).

Marathon des Sables (MdS), held annually in Southern Morocco, is the toughest marathon in the world where the lives of at least two competitors have been lost in the past. Another Italian runner lost his way during a sandstorm in 1994 and wandered for nine days, losing 13kg.

For the first time, a Pakistani based in Qatar, Ziyad Rahim, will take on the challenging race.

Rahim, 38, is originally from Lahore and is currently working for Barwa Bank in Qatar.

“I have competed in over 70 long distance events in 20 odd countries and five continents,” Rahim said while talking to The Express Tribuneover the phone, a day before leaving for the Antarctica Marathon — a 42km race set in King Edward Island, a peninsula just off Antarctica beginning March 6.

“These are two totally opposite and extreme conditions. The MdS is held under extremely hot conditions with temperatures averaging 50 Celsius in the desert and Antarctica being as cold as it is, it isn’t really humanly suitable,” said Rahim. “I am sure nobody’s ever done this before,” he added.

Following des Sables, Rahim hopes to become the first Pakistani to have run a marathon in all seven continents by competing in New Zealand later this year.

Though the adrenaline junkie adventurous athlete runs out of passion, his athleticism isn’t without a cause. With every race, he aims to raise funds for medical and scientific research.

This year, a part of his entry fee and all proceeds from MdS will go to the cure for Noma — a gangrenous disease leading to tissue destruction of the face especially those in the mouth and cheek. Noma has affected over half a million people, with 140,000 new cases reported each year according to estimates by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Mostly children below the age of 12, in the poorest countries of Africa and some parts of Asia and South America are its victims. According to WHO, about 80-90% of Noma victims die.

Fully supported by his employers, Rahim intends to raise a large fund for sending medical teams to treat Noma patients by performing reconstructive surgery.

“I also intend to contribute towards fundraising for charity in Pakistan, but organisations there have yet to respond to my emails,” he said, adding that he will continue his efforts to reach them.

Training for the challenging MdS, Rahim has gone at it tenaciously and determinedly, running races in Colombo, Amman, Aqaba, Beirut, Reggio Emelia, Pisa and Dubai in the space of three months as preparation for des Sables. His final two races will be the 72K Wadi Bhi in Oman, and the Kilimanjaro Marathon in Tanzania.

As part of the des Sables, Rahim would have to carry in his personal belongings, a sleeping bag, headlamp, distress flare, survival knife, portable stove and an anti-venom kit, but he believes “living in Qatar would give me an advantage over many others.”

Published in The Express Tribune.

A sign of the times: Pakistan’s first online art magazine makes a scene

William Lawrie, an Islamic Art specialist, flew in from Dubai for the launch . PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS
KARACHI: It was in December last year that William Lawrie, the co-owner of a gallery in Dubai, was so inspired by an art catalogue that he decided to visit the country to check out its art scene.

“I have seen thousands of catalogues in my life but the one on Rising Tide at Mohatta Palace struck a chord,” he said. “The very next morning I decided to come to Pakistan.”

Lawrie came to Pakistan in early January. He met 30 artists and appeared to love Karachi’s art, which he describes as ‘a mixture of delicate and gruesome issues with a sense of humour.”

He is the director of the Lawrie Shabibi Gallery and is a specialist in Islamic Art. He joined Christie’s Islamic Art department in 2004 and worked for seven years before moving to Dubai as its first special resident in the Middle East.

It has just been over two months and Lawrie is back again in Karachi. He spoke at the launch of ArtNow, the country’s only bilingual online magazine on contemporary art. Although the magazine has been in print for six months, its official launch took place on Friday at Port Grand.

What blue-eyed Lawrie finds interesting about Pakistani art, is its focus on craftsmanship and miniature paintings. “Also, there are a lot of political and social issues involved in the paintings,” he said. “What struck me the most was that there is so much cultural and political activity on which many artists base their work.” He is inspired by Sara Khan’s miniature paintings and Adeela Zafar’s love for guns, for example. Lawrie also praised the art studies in Pakistan. “I think the standard of art education is high in the country,” he said. “What the National College of Arts (NCA), the Indus Valley of Art and Architecture are doing is great.”

While paintings on conflicts, death and politics occupy Lawrie’s gallery space, he promises that the work of Pakistani artists will also be exhibited there soon.

Meanwhile, the magazine seemed to be received with enthusiasm among the young artists. An NCA graduate, Irfan Hasan, who makes miniature paintings, said, “It is [the magazine] a great database for upcoming artists.” His recent exhibition “Dolay Shah kay Choohay” was held at Koel Gallery.

A jubilant and excited editor-in-chief, Fawzia Naqvi, said that the aim of the magazine was to highlight young and upcoming artists and to create a space for Pakistani artists in foreign galleries. “We want to portray Pakistan’s positive image on the international front,” she said. “We want to establish the magazine as an authentic source for contemporary art.” Naqvi made it clear that the ArtNow website was not a selling point for paintings. “We have pictures of the galleries but we don’t buy or sell art.”

Art collectors had also come to the launch with art critics and artists. “I used to collect paintings of Naqash and Chugtai,” said Mirrett Mumtaz. “Now I’ve passed them on to my daughter.” Her daughter, Amirah, said that she was more interested in the contemporary work of Moin Farooq. The web address for ArtNow magazine

Published in The Express Tribune, March 10th, 2012.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Pakistani activist gets US’ International Women of Courage Award

WASHINGTON: A Pakistani woman activist from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa has been conferred with the International Women of Courage award by the US.

Shad Begum was presented the award by US First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a ceremony on Thursday, which was also attended by Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US Sherry Rehman.

Shad hails from Lower Dir district of Malakand division, which was briefly under militant rule before the Pakistan Army launched an operation in May 2009. She has been recognised for her contribution to the improvement in the lives of women in conservative communities.

Shad is among 10 women who were given the award from as many countries, which are Afghanistan, Pakistan, Burma, Sudan, Cambodia, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Maldives, Turkey and Brazil.

Born in 1974, Shad founded the Anjuman Behbud-e-Khawateen Talash (ABKT) in Lower Dir in 1994 to work on women rights and development. The organisation has now been renamed as the Association for Behaviour and Knowledge Transformation (ABKT).

Last year, a Pakistani woman named Ghulam Sughra, was given the award.

-Express Tribune

Monday, 27 February 2012

Lahore Grammar School girl to represent Pakistan in London

Public speaking is imperative in helping children reach their potential and we need such opportunities in the country.

KARACHI: Tooba Ahmad Sheikh from Lahore Grammar School and Ahmed Nawaz from Fazaia College Islamabad are going to represent Pakistan at the International Public Speaking Competition in London, UK, to be held in the summer.

Tooba came first and Ahmed second at the English Speaking Union of Pakistan (ESUP) nationals held on Thursday and Friday at the Beach Luxury Hotel in Karachi. “The experience was great and I am thrilled to judged the national winner,” said Tooba.

Public speaking is imperative in helping children reach their potential and we need such opportunities in the country.” Nawaz represented Pakistan last year and made it to the semi-finals. 

The theme for the first round of the four-minute and 30-second speeches was Wisdom of Youth. While some participants chose to restrict themselves to the words ‘wisdom’ and ‘youth’, others also spoke on multi-dimensional topics related to youth. Subjects which caught the audience’s attention included too much money or the lack thereof, social messages through cartoons and laughter, the role of the media, ending child labour, and the right to make mistakes but not repeat them. 

Mahnoor Ayub from the DA Public School chose to quote from Henri Estienne in her speech: “If youth only knew, if only age could.” Her choice happened to encapsulate the general consensus in the room for both the young speakers and the judges. 

Many speakers offered the theory that ‘youth’ is a state of mind, but one of the speakers pointed out the United Nations defines youth as persons between the ages of 15 and 24. The speeches challenged, applauded, glorified and even picked on the youth. 

Most of the speakers said that the only hope left for the country – in fact the world – was the youth, as the previous generations ‘could not do the job’. The judges, gently yet persistently, reminded the young lot through their questions and comments at the end of the speeches about the importance of guidance from their elders. 

As the speakers talked of inspiration, some names came up more than others, including those of the late Arfa Karim, Ali Moin Nawazish, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Khalida Brohi. The prevalent message was the need for change, but answers to how it should be brought about were vague. An animated Babar Ali from the Korangi Public School had a suggestion. He said that professional training for communication skills should be introduced in schools and colleges to give shape to the youngsters’ ideas. 

In the second round, the students were given 15 minutes to prepare for speaking on a topic. They were not allowed to seek advice or tips from accompanying teacher trainers during this round. The topics ranged from hijab to pop idols, to why the chicken crossed the road. 

The competition, which has been running for more than 10 years, took place at the Beach Luxury Hotel with the participation of 34 students from 17 schools and colleges. 

The winners 
On Thursday in the Karachi competition, Salaar Sheikh from Karachi Grammar School won the title for the Best Speaker, followed by Mahnoor Nadeem from Convent of Jesus and Mary. They went on to compete on Friday in the nationals but didn’t make it. 

The third position, according to the audience’s votes, was awarded to Haris Hashmi from the Korangi Academy. Hashmi’s speech, perhaps not the most eloquent but the most invigorating, focused on how the youth needed to be pro active and look for opportunities rather than wait for them to be created. Giving his own example, he told the audience how he tried to play his part by cleaning his street every morning after Fajr prayers. 

Published in The Express Tribune, February 25th, 2012.

Pakistan stands proud at Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s win

Directors Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy (L) and Daniel Junge, winners of the Best Documentary Short Subject for the film "Saving Face", pose with their Oscars during the 84th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California February 26, 2012. PHOTO: REUTERS
Pakistani journalist and documentarian Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s latest venture Saving Face has won an Oscar award under the category ‘Best Documentary, Short Subject’.

In her acceptance speech, Chinoy dedicated the award to “all the heroes working on the ground in Pakistan” including British Pakistani plastic surgeon Dr Mohammad Jawad, main subjects of the documentary and the women of Pakistan.

“All the women in Pakistan working for change, don’t give up on your dreams, this is for you,” she said.

Dedicating the award to main subjects Rukhsana and Zakia, Obaid-Chinoy said that their “resilience and bravery in the face of such adversary is admirable”.

Co-director Daniel Junge said he had the idea for the film after hearing about Jawad, and asked Chinoy to work with him. He has been previously nominated for an both an Oscar and an Emmy.

“To win … and with such a subject – it’s such an honour,” he said.

The documentary Saving Face chronicles the work of Dr Jawad, who performed reconstructive surgery on survivors of acid attacks in Pakistan.

The documentary, which is filmed across Islamabad, Rawalpindi and the small towns of Punjab, was released in the US in November. It is due to release in the UK in March 2012, following which it will be released in Pakistan.

“The women who decided to be a part of the documentary did so because they wanted to make their voices heard and wanted to bring attention to this form of assault,” Chinoy said in an interview conducted before she won the Oscar.

“The main reason that they are in Saving Face is to make their stories heard and have an impact.” Many victims are women attacked by their husbands, and others assaulted for turning down a proposal of marriage. One girl in the documentary describes how she was burned after rejecting the advances of her teacher. She was 13 at the time.

Another woman featured in the film is 25-year-old Rukhsana, whose husband threw acid on her and her sister-in-law doused her in gasoline before her mother-in-law lit a match and set her on fire.

Chinoy said she hopes the cases in her film will resonate for others in Pakistan.

“It is a story of hope with a powerful message for the Pakistani audience. I felt this would be a great way to show how Pakistanis can help other Pakistanis overcome their problems,” she said.

Chinoy’s films have won international acclaim. Her 2010 documentary, Pakistan’s Taliban Generation, won an International Emmy Award.

At the ceremony, Obaid-Chinoy chose to wear female designers, from her clothes and her jewellery.

“I am wearing Bunto Kazmi for the ceremony and will be wearing Sana Safinaz and Saniya Maskatiya for Oscar-related events. My jewellery will be done by Kiran Aman of Kiran Fine Jewellery and Sherezad Rahimtoola of Labels. I am really excited to showcase local Pakistani talent, and that too all women,” revealed Chinoy.

-Express Tribune

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Positive Pakistani: Oasis for the underprivileged

Shabina Mustafa set out to teach her maid’s daughter in her garage — today she runs a school with over 400 students.
“My husband and I used to wonder how the country’s economic and social conditions would change if the majority of Pakistan’s children were deprived of quality education,” says Shabina Mustafa, founder of The Garage School. “But it was only after his death that I got around to dedicating myself to teaching children who would otherwise not get an opportunity to go to school.”

The foundation of The Garage School (TGS) was laid in 1999 when Shabina’s maid convinced her to teach her daughter, cleaning out the garage for the purpose, as it was the only place in her house which could be dedicated to giving lessons to the little girl. But Somia wasn’t Shabina’s only student — news that she would be giving lessons for free had spread quickly in the neighbourhood and on the first day of ‘school’ 14 bright faces eagerly turned towards Shabina as she stepped into that single-room school, ready to teach.

Those were the humble beginnings of The Garage School, as it came to be called, and from that point on there was no looking back. Children who could not gain admission in a regular school and students from the nearby slums of Neelum Colony and Shah Rasool Colony flocked in droves to Shabina’s home, keen to learn. In fact, the number of enthusiastic learners who would turn up outside Shabina’s door simply kept increasing by the day.

While multiplication tables and match-the-word exercises were very much a part of daily school lessons, it was more than just book knowledge that TGS aimed to impart. It had a more holistic view to education: making these children competitive, responsible, healthy, well behaved and successful. Shabina often reminds her students of the 4 T’s on which her system is based: Taleem (education), Tarbiat (upbringing), Taur (manners), Tariqay (behaviour) — which, she believes, lead to the fifth T, that is Taraqqi (success).

“This is our motto. I always tell my students that I can only help them in obtaining the first four tools, but achieving success depends upon their hard work and determination,” says Shabina.

At the same time, Shabina also feels she has the responsibility of grooming and coaching these children so that they can be accommodated in mainstream institutions. In 2002, she approached Nasra School and prepared the students for its entrance exam. “I want them to progress to a respectable career. It makes me feel really proud that 22 of my students were accepted at Nasra School and 16 by St Patrick’s Technical College,” she says.

She loves talking about all the success that her students have achieved since the school first started. “There was Anil who passed out of Nasra, then went to Bahria College and is now a manager at a multinational company. Another boy stood first in the Aga Khan Board exam while his brother is a straight ‘A’ student who wants to be a doctor. And from our first batch of English conversation and grooming classes, eight girls are working as beauticians at leading salons.”

“Joining this school was a turning point in my life,” says Mohammed Asad, who is currently studying at Aga Khan Secondary School and plans to join the Pakistan Air Force as an aeronautical engineer. “TGS is the reason that I am studying in a good college today,” he says proudly.

With the children coming from slums, health care often emerges as a serious concern. In 2002, Dr Khalid Bhamba offered his services. Now, whenever a new student is admitted, he is medically examined. Most students are found to be malnourished. “We cannot expect unhealthy bodies to have healthy minds. So with the help of pharmaceutical companies, we give them multivitamins and vaccines of hepatitis, typhoid and flu annually. Also, the school provides food, such as milk, eggs, fruits and juices, for all the children on a regular basis.”

Brimming with new ideas and eager to expand her philanthropic activities, Shabina started the adult literacy programme in 2008, with 25 women. So far 42 students have completed the adult literacy course. The Garage School is also offering sewing classes and Shabina envisions that these will one day become the basis for the Garage School Cottage Industry where women can earn money by stitching and selling clothes. TGS also underscores the habit of saving money so that these children learn to plan for the future from an early age. Initially, they were provided piggy banks, but now the piggy banks have been transformed into 32 separate bank accounts at Bank Al-Habib.

With enrolment increasing by the day, Shabina has had to expand her premises. “I need more space to accommodate all the projects but people are reluctant to help,” she laments. “We are in dire need of monetary help and are looking for teachers to volunteer their time too.”

While this may not be enough to solve the social and economic conditions of the country just yet, at least now Shabina knows that she is doing her bit.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, February 19th, 2012.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Pak military builds $200 Android tablet - PACPAD

PAC builds the PACPAD with a company called Innavtek in a Hong Kong-registered partnership that also builds high-tech parts for the warplanes. - File photo

KAMRA: Inside a high-security air force complex that builds jet fighters and weapons systems, Pakistan’s military is working on the latest addition to its sprawling commercial empire: a homegrown version of the iPad.

It’s a venture that bundles together Pakistani engineering and Chinese hardware, and shines a light on the military’s controversial foothold in the consumer market. Supporters say it will boost the economy as well as the nation’s self-esteem.

It all comes together at an air force base in Kamra, where avionics engineers – when they’re not working on defence projects – assemble the PACPAD 1.

“The original is the iPad, the copy is the PACPAD,” said Mohammad Imran, who stocks the product at his small computer and cellphone shop in a mall in Rawalpindi.

The device runs on Android 2.3, an operating system made by Google and given away for free. At around $200, it’s less than half the price of Apple or Samsung devices and cheaper than other low-end Chinese tablets on the market, with the bonus of a local, one-year guarantee.The PAC in the name stands for the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, where it is made.

The PAC also makes an e-reader and small laptop.

But the other side of the affair produces a different reaction.

“I just can’t figure it out,” said Jehan Ara, head of Pakistan’s Software Houses Association, said of the PACPAD. “Even if they could sell a billion units, I can’t see the point. The air force is supposed to be protecting the air space and borders of the country.”

Supporters say the foray into information technology is a boost to national pride for a country vastly overshadowed by arch rival India in the high-tech field. Tech websites in the country have shown curiosity or cautious enthusiasm, but say it’s too early to predict how the device will perform. Sceptics claim it’s a vanity project that will never see mass production.

Only a few hundred of each products has been made so far, though a new batch will be completed in the next three months.

“The defence industry is trying to justify its presence by doing more than just produce weapons,” said Ayesha Siddiqa, author of Military Inc., a critical study of military businesses.

“Some smart aleck must have thought we can make some money here.”

PAC’s website at says the goal is “strengthening the national economy through commercialisation” and lauds the collaboration with China – something that likely resonates among nationalists.

China is regarded as a firm ally by Pakistan’s security establishment.

PAC officials suggested the programme that produces the PACPAD was modelled in part on the Chinese military’s entry into commercial industry, which lasted two decades until it was ordered to cut back lest it become corrupted and lose sight of its core mission.

The tablet and other devices are made in a low-slung facility, daubed in camouflage paint, near, a factory that produces J-17 Thunder fighter jets with Chinese help.

“It’s about using spare capacity. There are 24 hours in a day, do we waste them or use them to make something?” said Sohail Kalim, PAC’s sales director. “The profits go to the welfare of the people here. There are lots of auditors. They don’t let us do any hanky-panky here.”

PAC builds the PACPAD with a company called Innavtek in a Hong Kong-registered partnership that also builds high-tech parts for the warplanes.

But basic questions go unanswered. Maqsood Arshad, a retired air force officer who is one of the directors, couldn’t say how much money had been invested, how many units the venture hoped to sell and what the profit from each sale was likely to be.

The market for low-cost Android tablets is expanding quickly around the world, with factories in China filling most of the demand. Last year, an Indian company produced the ‘Aakash’ tablet, priced at $50, and sold largely to schoolchildren and students.

Mr Arshad said a second-generation PACPAD would be launched in the next three months, able to connect to the Internet via cellphone networks and other improved features. He said the Kamra facility could produce up to 1,000 devices a day.