Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Sun Weidong in an interview with Iran’s IRNA news agency on Monday said China anticipates enhancing cooperation with Iran on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
China looks forward to increased regional cooperation by means of the CPEC, Weidong said, adding that it would be a win-win venture.
“We think that Iran can also be a very important country along the Belt and the Road initiative, so we really look forward to enhance our cooperation with Iran,” he said. “CPEC is a win-win cooperation so we are looking forward to explore the possibilities of cooperation among the all the regional countries.”
The possibility of extending an energy line from Iran to China in the future can be ‘explored’, Weidong said during the interview.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in a meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly had expressed a desire to be part of CPEC.
Minister for Planning, Development and Reforms Ahsan Iqbal in October said that Iran and Saudi Arabia’s desire to join CPEC was a good step and Pakistan would welcome their involvement in the $46 billion project.
Technology giants IBM Corp, Google and seven others have joined hands to launch an open specification that can boost datacentre server performance by up to ten times, to take on Intel Corp.
The new standard, called Open Coherent Accelerator Processor Interface (OpenCAPI), is an open forum to provide a high bandwidth, low latency open interface design specification.
The open interface will help corporate and cloud data centres to speed up big data, machine learning, analytics and other emerging workloads.
The consortium plans to make the OpenCAPI specification available to the public before the end of the year and expects servers and related products based on the new standard in the second half of 2017, it said in a statement.
Intel, the world’s largest chipmaker, is known to protect its server technologies and has chosen to sit out of the new consortium. In the past also, it had stayed away from prominent open standards technology groups such as CCIX and Gen-Z.
“As artificial intelligence, machine learning and advanced analytics become the price of doing business in today’s digital era, huge volumes of data are now the norm,” Doug Balog, general manager for IBM Power, told Reuters.
“It’s clear that today’s datacenters can no longer rely on one company alone to drive innovation,” Balog said.
Advanced Micro Devices Inc, Dell EMC, Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co, Mellanox Technologies Ltd, Micron Technology Inc, NVIDIA Corp and Xilinx Inc are also members of the OpenCAPI consortium.
The series scheduled to be played between India and Pakistan’s women’s cricket teams remains in doubt as the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has not responded to Pakistan Cricket Board’s (PCB) queries on the series since May with a confirmation or rejection,cricinfo reported.
The two teams have till the end of October to play the series, which counts towards ICC Women’s Championship points.
If the series is not played the matter of how the points will be awarded will be referred to the event’s technical committee, a spokesperson from the International Cricket Council (ICC) told ESPNcricinfo.
“The two sides have until the end of this month to play the series, which has to be hosted by Pakistan,” the ICC spokesperson said.
“If the series doesn’t go ahead, then the matter will be referred to the Event Technical Committee,” he added.
Pakistan is due to host India for this series, which is supposed to consist of three ODIs, however, the PCB is open to holding the series in the UAE.
A BCCI official said the board has not made a decision on the matter yet, and that it would be binding on the Indian government’s call.
“This is for the government to decide. The BCCI doesn’t have a say in this,” the official said.
“We still have time to make a decision,” he added.
The PCB wants India to forfeit the six points available for the series if they do not agree to play.
In the ICC Women’s Championship, India currently sit sixth on the table with 13 points five points adrift of thetop four. Pakistan are seventh with eight points. If the six points for the series are awarded to Pakistan, neither side will have a chance to directly qualify for the World Cup.
Cricketing ties between India and Pakistan are currently stalled, given the political tensions between the neighbours.
The men’s teams have not played a bilateral series against each other since December-January 2012-13, when Pakistan visited India, but have met in various multi-team tournaments since then, including the World Cup, World T20, Champions Trophy and Asia Cup.
Pakistan Womenare set to tour New Zealand for three ODIs in Nelson from November 13 to 17, counting towards the championship. It is understood the PCB wanted to play the India series ahead of this tour.
India and Pakistan’s women’s teams are also scheduled to play the Asia Cup in Thailand between November 25 and December 5.
In the heart of the Karakoram mountains lies the fabled Lukpe Lawo ─ the oft-unexplored Snow Lake.
Hopping on the large boulders of Biafo glacier, I was drenched in sweat and panting.
As I paused to catch my breath, my eyes moved towards the path that led to Baltoro glacier, reminding me of the ordeals I faced a few years ago after stepping on the glacial moraine and the boulders of Baltoro glacier.
It was my first encounter with glaciers and that too with Baltoro, [often termed ‘Bal-Toro’ in Urdu, meaning bone breaker].
I remembered all the group members, including myself, using all sorts of nasty names from our personal vocabularies to describe the terrain and varied moraines of Baltoro.
Having left Askole and stepping on Biafo’s boulders, Baltoro’s brutalities seemed like silly little pranks of a mischievous child.
All those words that I had given to Baltoro in 2010, were passed on to ‘honour’ the ‘glory’ of Biafo’s crusts and turfs; most of them starting with B [whether in English, Urdu or Punjabi!].
My mind was set before embarking on this journey, termed as the most difficult trek of Pakistan’s north.
Where I was going had a reputation well above that of word of mouth. The terrain was the most terrifying and tormenting ‘mettle tester’ in every way. But then the destination too was not ordinary.
In the heart of the Karakoram mountains lies the fabled and fabulous Snow Lake
Lakes are often called the mirrors of mountains, but a lake exists that does not reflect anything because its water is frozen.
Lukpe Lawo, famously known as Snow Lake, lies in the heart of Panmah Muztagh range which is a sub-range of the Karakoram mountains. Actually it’s a high altitude glacial basin which was discovered by a British mountaineer, Martin Conway, in 1892.
Only a few lucky souls have seen this 16 km-wide frozen lake located 4,877 metres above sea level on the convergence point of the Hispar and Biafo glaciers.
Both glaciers together form the world’s longest glacial system (100 km) outside the polar regions — 67 km long Biafo alone is the world’s third longest glacier, whereas the Hispar glacier is 49 km long. The Snow Lake traverse uses all of Hispar glacier’s length and 51 km of Biafo glacier’s length.
The ancient kingdoms of Baltistan and Nagar are located in the opposite direction of Snow Lake. We started our journey from Skardu which falls in Baltistan, and after crossing Biafo glacier and scaling the Hispar Pass (5,128m) and its glacier, we would have reached Hunza.
Being a sub-range of the Karakoram mountains the Panmah Muztagh too has some prominent peaks for climbing, such as Baintha Brakk or The Ogre (7,285m), Latok Group (7,145m), Sosbun Brakk (6,413m) and Solu Towers (5,947m). Different features distinguish them from the rest of the Karakoram — Panmah Muztagh range is much rockier and steeper with complex granite formations.
At Namla, the first campsite on the Biafo glacier, a sign board describing Namla as a sighting place for snow-leopards greeted us. Our porters and a very talkative guide told us that markhor too can be seen on the surrounding cliffs.
We were further informed that various hunters come to Biafo to try their luck, and the presence of hunter posts on the way to the Biantha campsite confirmed this.
Hunters come to the posts in summer and stay for several days in quest of their bounty. A few hunt for hobby while the rest hunt for selling and often sell markhor meat for 7,000 rupees per kilo.
We had a rest day at the Baintha campsite to relax our stiff and cramped muscles. Around noon we heard gunshots; somebody whispered “Markhors are being hunted.”
After some time a hunter came and offered markhor meat to us. He had sold almost all the meat and was left with just 5kg which he did not want to carry the entire length of the Biafo.
All of us knew that markhor is one of the ‘near threatened’ species so nobody was interested but the hunter knew all the tricks of marketing and managed to convince most of the expedition members to ‘taste’ the most expensive meat of our lives.
The markhor had been killed and we had no involvement in his cold-blooded murder, so the top management decided to enjoy the ‘God sent’ opportunity.
The meat was handed over to our expert cook who told us that, since we were in the wilderness of mountains with no proper kitchen facility, we should not expect the feast to be ready before two hours.
We spent the long wait relaxing and inhaling the aroma of the food being cooked.
After battling with the kerosene stove for more than two hours, our cook served lunch.
It took me quite some time to chew the first bite; even after being cooked for over two hours the meat was still like rubber.
It tasted good (thanks to the chef’s culinary skills) but climbing on cliffs gave the markhor tough meat. I left the rest in my plate and finished the rice as did a few others.
After coming back from this expedition, I learnt that the Gilgit Baltistan government auctioned off the markhor hunting license for 6.2 million rupees.
The next campsite that we reached was on the upper surface of the glacier which was cluttered with stones of all sizes eroded from the mountain cliffs.
Biafo is notorious for being cluttered with time and energy consuming lethal crevasses and to avoid these we took the longer route.
Fresh snowfall covers crevasses and makes them deadlier. Since it was summer, the centuries-old glacial ice and snow was melting and the water was going deep into the maze of hidden and deep crevasses.
It seemed as though this entire orchestra of nature was perhaps crooning the last couplet of Rumi’s poem,
‘Be melting snow. Wash yourself of yourself.’
Dancing around crevasses and jumping on the boulders, somehow we crossed two more stages and reached the mouth of Snow Lake.
Here we rested for a while, while the porters served us soup in the majestic span of Snow Lake.
Then we started to ascend the Hispar La; the climb was way more toilsome than it appeared, a couple of times the ice cracked beneath the feet and one or the other group member came close to falling down the bottomless deep crevasses but thankfully we were prepared — tied up with rope and group formation, and the expertise of the guides came to our rescue.
By afternoon we were on top of the Hispar La. The view from 5,128m above sea level was spectacular.
The famous Italian climber and mountain guide Hervé Barmasse has won nine international awards for climbing and opening new routes on various unclimbed peaks. He has climbed more than 30 peaks, most of which were ‘first ascents’.
In an article about peaks around Biafo glacier and Snow Lake, published in 2013 in American Alpine Journal, a prestigious publication of the world of climbing, he states, “In five expeditions to different areas of the Karakoram, I’ve climbed virgin peaks and new routes up to 7,000m, but never seen a place like Snow Lake, its particular features making it so aptly named.”
The panoramic view from the top of Hispar La substantiated his words.
This corner of Karakoram is almost unexplored; unlike the Baltoro or main Karakoram, very few climbers turn to this side.
Peaks around Snow Lake are more challenging, but yet to be explored and ascended.
Some of them are not even touched and named; in the language of climbing such peaks are called ‘Virgin Peaks’. Aspiring climbers can try their luck and give their names to unnamed peaks, and enrich the history of climbing.
Last week Priyanka Chopra caused a stir with her cover shoot for the Indian edition of Conde Nast Traveller, which featured her wearing this tank top:
Many called the shoot out for being offensive and inappropriate, arguing that by equating refugees with carefree travellers and holiday makers, Priyanka was minimising the plight of refugees across the Middle East.
This week, while speaking to NDTV, she apologised.
“I’m really apologetic about sentiments being hurt,” she said in an interview. “I have always been against labels. I am very affected and feel really horrible, but the message has been misconstrued. The magazine was very clear that they wanted to send a message about addressing xenophobia with labels.”
After backlash against the cover shoot picked up on social media last week, Conde Nast Traveller issued an apology ahead of Priyanka, attempting to explain the cover by saying: “We must recognise that we are all on a journey.”
On her part, Priyanka insists that the cover was misconstrued. “I’m sorry people saw it like that and they saw it on me,” she said.
THE direct message from Cyril Almeida’s aborted harassment in Pakistan and the nuanced message from the BRICS summit in India have an unwitting connection, beyond their incidental Goa link. The Pakistan establishment would like to deny — though they may not succeed — that the world wants them to fix the security apparatus’s apparently stubborn need to court rabid freelancers as a policy to deal with neighbours. The message from BRICS is — though India will be in denial — that New Delhi needs to improve human rights conditions in Kashmir as elsewhere, and thereby explore a political answer to the terrorism that dogs it in different parts of the country. There is no military solution, according to the unstated message.
If anything, despite the host’s repeated decibels about Pakistan being the ‘mothership of terrorism’ reference to cross-border militancy did not figure in the summit statement.
Almeida himself admits that his story would have had a shorter shelf life but for the official denial and harassment that followed. Domestic outrage against the government’s move to block the journalist’s travel rights revealed a welcome truth. The world may be only pondering the word ‘isolation’ for Pakistan, but public opinion in Pakistan seems less tentative about what needs to be fixed and how. It is thus that Almeida’s story stands. And Pakistan has been advised by Pakistanis to find a better alternative to sending emissaries to a world already overloaded with its own deep problems — from Brexit to the sabre-rattling over Syria and the mud bath called American elections.
What happened to India’s diplomatic draftsmen? Where is the reference to the source of much of the headache?
Instead, Pakistan could be more agreeably engaged at home, confronting the threats the world faces, above all, Pakistanis themselves feel under their skin. No one seriously wants Pakistan to live in denial about dangerously armed messianic zealots roaming in the country freely, with or without state support. That’s one side of the coin.
The other was witnessed in Goa. That’s where India, host of the BRICS summit, was made aware by China, not too obliquely, to take into account the root causes of terrorism that everyone censures, and to find a political solution. Moreover, the BRICS document, which its five leaders signed, speaks of the need to observe human rights and to respect the UN Charter in dealing with terrorism. It is early days to say how the Indians will officially interpret these references. But in the public mind across the board these could mean a number of things.
Let’s refer to one of the occasions that the UN and rights are mentioned in the Goa document. “We acknowledge that international terrorism, especially the [militant Islamic State group] and affiliated terrorist groups and individuals, constitute a global and unprecedented threat to international peace and security.” If the statement is a reflection of how India has isolated Pakistan internationally, it leaves much to the imagination.
Pakistan may be the ‘mothership of terrorism’ for India as Prime Minister Narendra Modi underscored at the summit, but what happened to India’s diplomatic draftsmen? Where is the reference to the source of much of the headache? Let me put it another way. The next chief guest at India’s Republic Day parade in January will be the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. How would he see the understanding of terrorism that BRICS has highlighted, mainly with regard to Syria?
There’s more advice that may not please everyone in BRICS or outside. “Stressing UN’s central role in coordinating multilateral approaches against terrorism, we [BRICS leaders] urge all nations to undertake effective implementation of relevant UN Security Council Resolutions, and reaffirm our commitment on increasing the effectiveness of the UN counterterrorism framework.”
A clause that should please India, and Pakistan should not be wary of it. “We call upon all nations to work together to expedite the adoption of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism in the UN General Assembly without any further delay. We recall the responsibility of all states to prevent terrorist actions from their territories.” The last sentence makes eminent sense for all concerned and it is good advice for Pakistan in particular.
But there’s food for thought for India. “Successfully combating terrorism requires a holistic approach,” the BRICS summit counselled. “All counterterrorism measures should uphold international law and respect human rights.” Would it be fair to expect some compliance in Kashmir and the northeast, in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh? In fact, reference to human rights comes frequently in the declaration even if the idea has become utterly unfashionable or downright suspect with the rise of jingoism in the media on both sides.
(For some reason, I can’t see human rights as a watchword being the initiative of an Indian draftsman, but it is sage advice nevertheless.)
The document referred to terrorism, and the need to apply international law in tackling it. I searched for a paragraph reflecting India’s concerns over Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba and couldn’t find one. What it said, however, did not preclude a reference to either group, but such subtleties would hardly be tantamount to isolating Pakistan internationally. “While continuing the relentless pursuit against terrorist groups so designated by the UN Security Council including [the IS], Jabhat al-Nusra and other terrorist organisations designated by the UN Security Council” the BRICS summit kept its focus primarily on the Middle East.
There was something Nehruvian in the reference to Palestine after a long time. Perhaps the drafting committee was not familiar with new India’s new allergens, its own former leaders. “We reiterate also the necessity to implement the two-state solution of the Palestinian-Israeli [conflict] … through negotiations aimed at creating an independent, viable, territorially contiguous Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel.…” The ‘mothership of terrorism’ seems to have eluded the BRICS radar. Will a speedboat of peace be just as elusive?
Pakistan maintains one of the world’s largest centralised citizen databases, which continues to expand at an unprecedented rate. This mammoth task sounds impressive, but it also raises concerns about the vulnerability of our data.
There is no denying the database’s utility. Multi-layered digitisation of big data can offer guarantees for greater transparency. Indeed, in the best-case scenario, sophisticated mobilisation of big data can refine the state’s service delivery mechanisms.
The Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), for instance, is one biometric transition success story in Pakistan.
The BISP’s increasing automation reflects how biometric verification of credentials acknowledges the non-static, dynamic nature of data. The programme facilitates nearly 5.3 million women in accessing welfare support through real-time thumbprint recognition.
On the other end, insufficient legal safeguards to curb abuse of surveillance knowledge by law-enforcement agencies (LEAs) raises red flags.
These concerns are not unfounded considering the exceedingly vigilant security regime under which rights defenders, citizen activists, and journalists operate in Pakistan’s data territory.
Given the size of biometrically-contained human records in the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) repository and the extent to which data-sharing occurs across, between, and beyond government agencies and LEAs, the scale of this vulnerability is likely to be huge.
Read: CNIC re-verification hit by major technical snag
With Computerised National Identification Cards (CNICs) as testaments of having our consolidated biometric data stored with principally a single entity; and with an inevitably recurrent use of this CNIC and of biometrically-registered SIM cards while conducting our daily consumer mobility and monetary interactions, the ideals of free movement and of unmonitored human communication for the citizens, are breached in their fundamental.
It can be rationally imagined that only when surveillance on communications is regulated exhaustively and when limitations on the jurisdiction of this surveillance are very thoroughly defined – which is possible when there are efficient legal protections accessible to all citizens indiscriminately – the privacy of citizens and the democratic guarantees that their personal data are not exploited, will not be threatened.
The desperate need for biometric data management
The simple fact is that biometric data management is yet to mature.
Accidental data leakage, forgery with identification documents leading to identification theft and duplication, and inaccuracies in the handling of even legitimate documents, are insecurities of scale and have incredible damaging externalities.
Risks associated with these externalities become more profound in the intricate dynamics — including a refugee management crisis, an overwhelming population, and a climate of intense censorship — of countries like Pakistan.
These challenges are exacerbated when infrastructure and staff competencies in the use of biometric technology are not adequate and thorough.
Explore: Afghan refugees’ children can’t get CNICs: Nisar
Opportunities which biometric data amassment has to offer, merit a pragmatic acknowledgement of existing structural and legal voids which prevent the prioritisation of the protection of individual privacy, and which continue to generate pressing questions on the efficacy of this technology for public development and responsive governance.
Mass-scale surveillance and the law
In Pakistan, the space for an autonomous Privacy Commission gains prominence to respond to the critical need for the examination of an exceptionally large surveillance data.
This need grows further in the scenario where the government is investing heavily in mass-scale digital surveillance of its citizens and visitors through projects like the Punjab Safe Cities Project (PSCP).
The PSCP will reportedly have more than 8,000 cameras installed across its premises, and is now being extended to include Rawalpindi, Multan, Gujranwala, and Faisalabad.
Similarly, the Islamabad Safe City Project (ISCP) gives LEAs sweeping intrusive powers through 24 hours of intensively-networked, real-time virtual monitoring with around 1,800 high definition Huawei CCTV cameras worth over Rs13 billlion installed in the capital city and connected to Nadra’s centralised biometric repository.
As shared by ISCP project director Dr Tahir Akram with Dawn, the project’s command centre will be able to “monitor every car coming out of any residential sector in Islamabad”.
Read: Operators to spend more on Sim verification drive
This arrangement between safe city projects and Nadra affords the kind of arbitrariness to data handlers that pervasively encroaches on the civil freedom of sociopolitically vulnerable sections of the citizenry, to claim anonymity.
It therefore becomes important to question what guarantees are being supplied for the protection of this surveillance data during its retention with Nadra, and what extent of this retention carries involvement of Huawei’s equipment.
Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 and the way forward
The recently-enacted Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA, 2016) further legitimises the demand for independent data protection authorities and an increased jurisdiction of the National Commission for Human Rights as also outlined in the 2015 Charter of Demands jointly prepared by digital rights organisations Bytes for All, Pakistan, and Media Matters for Democracy.
Simultaneously, it is crucially significant that the data-handling and investigative capacities of FIA’s National Response Centre for Cyber Crimes, are rapidly evaluated and optimised. This will ensure that PECA is enforced keeping in view the local dynamics where the government has still not rolled out enough campaigns for the purpose of educating the cyberspace occupiers in the country about the legal implications of this law on their cyber rights and responsibilities.
A glaring void currently exists between the extensive criminalisation of the Internet landscape that PECA’s enactment has mobilised into law and the public’s nascent information and comprehension of the intricacies of its legalities.
Equally concerning is that PECA’s language contains considerable opportunity for the subjectivity of the investigating regulator to claim a determinant jurisdiction.
Explore: The state bytes back: Internet surveillance in Pakistan
In the backdrop of Pakistan’s dictatorial history with digital censorship and the political exploitation of the blasphemy law, to invest potentially unmonitored authority in a regulatory body, will make the ambiance of cyber expression only more precarious.
To refer to PECA as ‘archaic’ is no exaggeration.
In its quite expansive coverage and criminalisation of cyber activism, it criminalises the act of whistleblowing. It also makes highly controversial way for a warrantless collection of one’s personal digital data and its reproduction to Pakistan’s foreign cooperation partners.
With now a fiercer surveillance regime in place, Pakistan currently experiences one of the world’s most desperate urgencies to ensure the presence and preparedness of an assertive oversight and transparency regime.
In terms of transparency, it is expected of the federal and provincial governments to educate the public on the use of their Right to Information for greater documentation on surveillance practices, to be brought into the public domain.