Thursday, 13 June 2013

Pakistan fighter pilot wins battle of sexes, now she's ready for war

MUSHAF AIR BASE: With an olive green head scarf poking out from her helmet, Ayesha Farooq flashes a cheeky grin when asked if it is lonely being the only war-ready female fighter pilot in Pakistan.

Farooq, hailing from Bahawalpur, is one of 19 women who have become pilots in the Pakistan Air Force over the last decade – there are five other female fighter pilots, but they have yet to take the final tests to qualify for combat.

“I don’t feel any different. We do the same activities, the same precision bombing,” the soft-spoken 26-year-old said of her male colleagues at Mushaf base in Sargodha, where neatly piled missiles sit.

A growing number of women have joined Pakistan’s defence forces in recent years as attitudes towards women change.

“Because of terrorism and our geographical location it’s very important that we stay on our toes,” said Farooq, referring to Taliban militancy and a sharp rise in sectarian violence.

Deteriorating security in neighbouring Afghanistan, where US-led troops are preparing to leave by the end of next year, and an uneasy relationship with arch rival India to the east add to the mix.

Farooq, whose slim frame offers a study in contrast with her burly male colleagues, was at loggerheads with her widowed and uneducated mother seven years ago when she said she wanted to join the air force.

“In our society most girls don’t even think about doing such things as flying an aircraft,” she said.

Family pressure against the traditionally male domain of the armed forces dissuaded other women from taking the next step to become combat ready, air force officials said. They fly slower aircraft instead, ferrying troops and equipment around the country.

“Less of a taboo”

Centuries-old rule in the tribal belt area along the border with Afghanistan, where rape, mutilation and the killing of women are ordered to mete out justice, underlines Pakistan’s failures in protecting women’s rights.

But women are becoming more aware of those rights and signing up with the air force is about as empowering as it gets.

“More and more ladies are joining now,” said Nasim Abbas, Wing Commander of Squadron 20, made up of 25 pilots, including Farooq, who fly Chinese-made F-7PG fighter jets.

“It’s seen as less of a taboo. There’s been a shift in the nation’s, the society’s, way of thinking,” Abbas told Reuters on the base in Sargodha.

There are now about 4,000 women in Pakistan’s armed forces, largely confined to desk jobs and medical work.

But over the last decade, women have became sky marshals, defending Pakistan’s commercial liners against insurgent attacks, and a select few are serving in the elite anti-terrorist force. Like most female soldiers in the world, Pakistani women are still banned from ground combat.

Pakistan now has 316 women in the air force compared to around 100 five years ago, Abbas said.

“In Pakistan, it’s very important to defend our front lines because of terrorism and it’s very important for everyone to be part of it,” said avionics engineer Anam Hassan, 24, as she set out for work on an F-16 fighter aircraft, her thick black hair tucked under a baseball cap.

“It just took a while for the air force to accept this.”


Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Fatima to play Malala Yousufzai’s coveted role in ’Gul Makai’

KARACHI: Malala Yousufzai, who deserves the accolade for bringing about a revolution not only in her own country but around the world, has proved that age has nothing to do with courage.

In order to pay tribute to this young Pakistani girl, Amjad Khan, an Indian film director is filming a biopic depicting her extraordinary story. It is reported that Fatima Sheikh, a 16-year-old Bangladeshi student has been selected for the coveted role of Malala in the film. However, Fatima’s parents are reportedly terrified with revenge attacks and have insisted her face should not be revealed till the film is shot halfway through.

The only picture that has reportedly been revealed shows the girl wearing a ‘naqab’, revealing her eyes only. The film will reportedly be named ‘Gul Makai’ in reference to Malala’s original blog and will be shot in Pakistan, Iran, India and London. The project is expected to begin in mid-July.


Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Arbash’s way to gold: Pakistani clinches World Muay Thai Championship

KARACHI: After failing seven times at the World Muay Thai Championship, Pakistan’s Arbash Khan was finally able to taste the sweetness of success as he beat Thai champion Kim Nom in the final of the professional 45-kg event.

Arbash’s performance was convincing enough for the eight judges who announced a unanimous decision in his favour after he won all the five rounds.

The 20-year-old, who had previously taken part in the amateur category, was pleased with the win, which he now feels can inspire other fighters in the country.

“First place is what counts,” Arbash told The Express Tribune. “Those seven years of struggle are worth this moment. Winning the world championship gold medal had been my aim.”

Last year Arbash came tantalisingly close to winning the World Open in Bangkok but lost to an Indian opponent in the final.

The fighter again won a silver medal at the World Eight Open and finished third at the World Championship’s pro-amateur category in 2011.

However, he was not to be denied this time around and the passionate fighter was happy that his training in Karachi and Thailand had paid off.

“I love the sport because it’s the best way to channel one’s aggression. It’s a discipline. I hope that my medal can attract more people and promote this sport since there’s a lot of money involved in it as well.

“Last year I won a local championship in Thailand and earned 50,000 bahts.

International kick-boxers make good money and this is a career that can be pursued.”

While Arbash is the lone Pakistani at most international muay events, the fighter said that a few sponsorships can go a long way in promoting the sport.

“We need to put in some money because the Pakistan Muay Thai federation doesn’t have enough funds to send players [international events] on a regular basis.”

Arbash’s next assignment is also in Thailand where the young fighter will take part in the World Open in October.


Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Abdus Salam – The forgotten genius

On a hot summer afternoon in 1940, a boy of 14 was rushing on his bicycle to his hometown near Jhang, part of present day Pakistan. He covered his head under a heavy turban because the barber had accidentally shaved off his hair.

When he reached the town, he saw people lined up on either side of the road, greeting him with loud cheers. The boy had earned a distinction in his matriculation examinations; the young genius had broken all previous records within the province, he was Abdus Salam.

Salam was born on January 29, 1926 in Jhang, then a small town in Punjab. After attending Government College, Jhang he went to Government College, Lahore in 1946 where he was awarded a masters degree in Mathematics, securing first place in the College with 95.5 per cent.

A wrangler in Cambridge

After his masters, Salam had two choices: Join the civil services or go abroad for further education. Luckily, he was offered a scholarship and instantly opted for the latter.

In 1946 at St. John’s College in Cambridge, Salam did his Tripos (BA honors) in just two years (the course usually takes three years) and because of this, he was given the title of ‘wrangler’ – a term given to students at Cambridge for obtaining first-class honours in the University’s undergraduate degree in mathematics.

Salam was appointed as a fellow at the Institute of Advanced Study, Princeton University, USA In 1951, where he attended a lecture by Albert Einstein.

Author Zakaria Virk mentions a witty incident between Salam and Einstein in her book “Dr. Abdus Salam – Champion of Science in the Third World”:

“One day, when Prof Salam was studying in Princeton, New Jersey, he met Prof Einstein casually on the campus of the Institute for Advanced Study. Einstein asked him, ‘what kind of research are you doing?’ Salam replied, ‘I am working on the renormalisation theory,’ to which Einstein replied, ‘I am not interested in that.’ After a few moments of silence, Einstein asked the Pakistani, ‘have you studied my Relativity Theory.?’ Salam replied, ‘I am not interested in that.’”

The story of his doctoral thesis too is truly inspiring; he had taken up the complex task of eliminating infinities from the Meson Theory. Salam found a unique solution to this problem in just three short months! However, as per the regulations at Cambridge, he had to wait three years to receive his doctorate degree in 1952.


Back to Pakistan

While he was waiting to get his degree, Salam returned to Pakistan with the hope of serving his country. Upon his return, Salam was appointed the head of the Mathematics Department at Government College, Lahore from 1951-54. However, in that period with no research, minimal contacts or updated material to work with, Salam faced complete intellectual isolation.

In addition to this, neglecting Salam’s outstanding academic career at Cambridge and Princeton, his principal at the college advised him to put aside his research, offering him three substandard jobs: warden of the hostel, chief treasurer of the college or president of the football club. Resignedly, Salam took up the football club offer. However, this occurrence resulted in major disappointment for Salam, prompting him to return to Cambridge as a lecturer. He was the pioneer of the Theoretical Physics Department at Imperial College, London, where he taught from 1957 to 1993.

Back at Cambridge, he studied and interacted with PAM Dirac, Max Born, Wolfgang Pauli and other great minds of the time.

In 1959, Salam became the youngest Fellow of the Royal Society at the age of 33 years. The Royal Society is the oldest science association on the planet

During the 50s, Salam visited Pakistan often as an advisor on science policy to the government and in 1961 he was finally appointed as a Chief Scientific Advisor to the President of Pakistan. He laid the foundation of Pakistan Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) and made remarkable contributions in creating a culture of science in Pakistan.

In 1973, at the Conference of Islamic Countries in Lahore, Salam presented a memorandum for the creation of Islamic Science Foundation.

The dream of ICTP

During a meeting at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Salam proposed the Idea of an International Center for Theortical Physics (ICTP). He planned a platform for physicists from the developing world to stop the ‘brain drain.’

In his book Salam wrote, “The notion of a centre that should cater particularly to the needs of physicists from developing countries had lived with me from 1954, when I was forced to leave my own country. I realised that if I stayed there much longer, I would have to leave physics, through sheer intellectual isolation” (Ideals and Realities 3rd ed., World Scientific, 392, 1989).

Salam was interested to establish the centre in Pakistan. He also passed on this idea to President Ayub Khan. When Ayub Khan briefed his Finance Minister, Mohammad Shoaib, about the idea, the minister dismissively replied, “Salam wants to make a hotel for scientists rather than a centre.”


Unification of Fundamental Forces

Dr Salam was often quoted as saying, “Progress, begins with the belief that what is necessary is possible.” With this spirit he presented the unification theory of electromagnetic and weak forces – the basic but very different forces of nature; he named it the ‘Electroweak Force.’

The theory predicted basic particles of W and Z bosons. The experimental stamp was put to theory when Carlo Rubbia discovered them in atom smashing machines at the Center for European Nuclear Research (CERN). Rubbia was also conferred the Noble Prize in 1984 with Simon Van Der Meer for the discovery of the particles.

Despite being afflicted with Parkinson’s disease, Salam produced high level research papers until 1995. He worked on Chirality and its role in the origin of life, gravity, fermions, superconductivity, symmetry, proton decay and science and human development.


The Nobel Prize

In 1979, he shared the Noble Prize of Physics with US physicists Steven Weinberg and Sheldon Glashow. For the Nobel Prize ceremony, he wore the traditional Pakistani dress of shalwar and sherwani with a turban. He was also allowed to give his speech in Urdu.



Beside the unification of Physics, Salam had another passion; to unify humanity for science. He often said science is the common heritage of mankind.

In 1964, he setup a rendezvous for science called the International Centre for Theoretical Physics. And due to the laudable efforts of the Italian government, the centre still continues to do wonders in the beautiful city of Trieste. Unesco and IAEA also supported the effort for the centre which was set up to bridge the gap between the scientists of the south and the north. The ICTP mission statement says:

“Foster the growth of advanced studies and research in physical and mathematical sciences, especially in support of excellence in developing countries. Develop high-level scientific programmes keeping in mind the needs of developing countries, and provide an international forum of scientific contact for scientists from all countries. Conduct research at the highest international standards and maintain a conducive environment of scientific inquiry for the entire ICTP community.”

The center also offers strong scientific research and outreach programs, organising more than 60 international conferences, seminars and numerous workshops annually. Thousands of scientists and scholars visit the ICTP every year to avail the center’s travel fellowships as well.

Salam was the Founding Director for the ICTP from 1964 to 1993.

Apart from his passion for Physics, Salam also felt strongly about providing a platform for scientists from the developing world. He established the Third World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), also located in Trieste, for this very reason. TWAS supports scientists in the developing world through a variety of grants and fellowships.

Salam breathed his last in Oxford, England on November 21, 1996.

In an email to, world renowned physicist, author and professor of physics at the University of Texas, USA, Steven Weinberg said:

“As a graduate student, though I had not yet met Salam, I spent a good deal of time reading his papers on quantum field theory. So I was very pleased when he invited me to spend 1961-2 at Imperial College, where he was the leading theorist. We became friends and collaborators, and wrote a paper together (with Jeffrey Goldstone) that turned out to be pretty important. Of course, before and after that Salam did work of the highest importance in theoretical physics. Physicists in general, and I in particular, miss him greatly.”


By Suhail Yusuf, Dawn Newspaper