Pakistan’s first female general hails Saudi Arabia for women-centric reforms

Pakistan Army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, left, appoints Lt. Gen. Nagar Johar, center, as Colonel Commandant of the Army Medical Corps. (Pakistan Army)
Pakistan Army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, left, appoints Lt. Gen. Nagar Johar, center, as Colonel Commandant of the Army Medical Corps. (Pakistan Army)
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Updated 14 January 2022

Pakistan’s first female general hails Saudi Arabia for women-centric reforms

Pakistan Army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, left, appoints Lt. Gen. Nagar Johar, center, as Colonel Commandant of the Army Medical Corps. (Pakistan Army)
  • Lt. Gen. Nigar Johar was appointed the first female colonel commandant of the Army Medical Corps last year
  • She is the only woman in the history of the Pakistan Army to reach the rank of three-star general

RAWALPINDI: Pakistan’s first female general, Nigar Johar, who in November was appointed colonel commandant of the Army Medical Corps, has hailed Saudi Arabia for introducing “commendable” reforms for the welfare of women.

Lt. Gen. Johar joined the Army Medical College in 1981 and graduated four years later. She subsequently became the only woman in the history of the Pakistan Army to reach the rank of a three-star general, and was asked to lead a corps.

A native of Swabi, a small settlement in the conservative Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan’s northwest, Johar said the environment of her town when she was growing up did not prevent her from dreaming of a professional career, adding women should believe in themselves as they are capable of excelling in any field.

She also praised the recent reforms undertaken by Saudi Arabia to empower women.

“In Saudi Arabia, where there were restrictions, females are driving there after commendable steps taken by His Majesty (King Salman),” she told Arab News in an exclusive interview earlier this week. “I was recently there for Umrah and saw female drivers there which made me very happy.”

Women’s rights are one of the issues that have benefited most from Saudi Arabia’s reform push in recent years. Saudi women have been appointed to high-ranking positions in the public and private sectors, as well as diplomatic missions. More Saudi women are also working in the legal profession and have opportunities to represent clients in court and work at public prosecution offices.

In her own case, Johar attributed professional success to a clear sense of purpose along with a system of meritocracy in the Pakistani armed forces.

“If you know your job and work hard with clear direction and sincerity, there is no reason why you would be left behind,” she said. “The army system is merit-based. This is also exemplified by my presence here.”

Explaining her passion for the armed forces, she said her father was an artillery officer who inspired her.

“He was my ideal,” she said. “I had seen him in uniform from the beginning which influenced my decision to become a doctor and join the army.”

Johar’s dedication and professional excellence captured the attention of her superiors, who gave her positions of command and authority, making her feel she was facing “the biggest challenge” of her life.

She said her first leadership role arrived when she was asked to command a hospital as a brigadier

“That was definitely a huge challenge, since you have to prove yourself,” she said. “Then you feel a burden of responsibility because you know that you are there to make it or break it for females coming there after you.”

With the outbreak of the coronavirus disease pandemic, Johar was asked to convert the Military Hospital Rawalpindi into a fully equipped COVID-19 center within a week.

She recalled the daunting challenge, saying: “We converted it into a COVID hospital by spreading oxygen services to over 100 beds and expanding its intensive care unit.”

As the disease started spreading in the country, she took the initiative to add a further 3,000 beds by taking over the Army Public School building.

“We worked day and night with our team to manage the emergency situation,” she said. “Now, I can proudly say that we did quite well, because our mortality ratio was very low.”

In the beginning of her career, Johar said she had faced gender-based discrimination, which was a global issue present in every field.

She remembered how female doctors were initially not allowed any specialty other than gynecology in the army, but said things have now changed.

“I wanted to be a cardiologist but I couldn’t because I was a female and they were not allowed to be cardiologists,” she said. “Now, we have females in so many areas in the army.”

Although her initial dream of a medical career did not come true, she believes her life took a better turn.

“I feel that my destiny turned out to be better than what I had planned for myself,” Johar said. “I could not become a cardiologist but I am sitting here now, which is better for me.”  

 

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Russia says it won’t start a war as Ukraine tensions mount

Russia says it won’t start a war as Ukraine tensions mount
Updated 21 sec ago

Russia says it won’t start a war as Ukraine tensions mount

Russia says it won’t start a war as Ukraine tensions mount
MOSCOW: Russia’s top diplomat said Friday that Moscow will not start a war in Ukraine but warned that it wouldn’t allow the West to trample on its security interests, amid fears it is planning to invade its neighbor.
US President Joe Biden warned Ukraine’s leader a day earlier that there is a “distinct possibility” that Russia could take military action against the former Soviet state in February.
“There won’t be a war as far as it depends on the Russian Federation, we don’t want a war,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a live interview with Russian radio stations. “But we won’t let our interests be rudely trampled on and ignored.”
Tensions have soared in recent weeks, and the United States and its NATO allies warily eyed a buildup of more than 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine, worrying that Moscow was preparing to attack. Russia has repeatedly denied having any such plans, but has demanded that NATO promise Ukraine will never be allowed to join and that the alliance roll back deployments of troops and military equipment in Eastern Europe.
The US and NATO formally rejected those demands this week, though Washington outlined areas where discussions are possible, offering hope that there could be a way to avoid war.
Russia’s official response to those proposals will come from President Vladimir Putin, but the Kremlin has said there was “little ground for optimism.”
Lavrov echoed noted that grim note Friday.
“While they say they won’t change their positions, we won’t change ours,” he said. “I don’t see any room for compromise here.”
Putin opened the weekly meeting of his Security Council on Friday, saying only that it would address foreign policy issues. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the Russian leader may also discuss his reaction to the US rejection with French President Emmanuel Macron during their video call the same day.
Lavrov noted that the US suggested the two sides could talk about limits on the deployment of intermediate-range missiles, restrictions on military drills and rules to prevent accidents between warships and aircraft. He said that Russia proposed discussing those issues years ago — but Washington and its allies never took them up on it until now.
While he described the US offers as reasonable, he emphasized that Russia’s main concerns are to stop both NATO’s expansion and the deployment of the alliance weapons near Russia’s borders. He noted that international agreements say that the security of one nation must not come at the expense of others’ — and that he would send letters to ask his Western counterparts to address that obligation.
“It will be hard for them to wiggle out from answering why they aren’t fulfilling the obligations sealed by their leaders not to strengthen their security at the expense of others,” he said.
As tensions build, Washington warned Moscow of devastating sanctions if it invades Ukraine, including penalties targeting top Russian officials and key economic sectors. Several senior US officials also said Thursday that Germany would not allow a newly constructed pipeline — which is meant to bring gas directly from Russia — to begin operations if Russia invades Ukraine.
Asked about possible sanctions, Lavrov said that Moscow had warned Washington that their introduction would amount to a complete severing of ties.
While Moscow and the West are mulling their next steps, NATO said it was bolstering its deterrence in the Baltic Sea region, and the US ordered 8,500 troops on higher alert for potential deployment to Europe.
Russia has launched a series of military drills involving motorized infantry and artillery units in southwestern Russia, warplanes in Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea, and dozens of warships in the Black Sea and the Arctic. Russian troops have also headed to Belarus for sweeping joint drills, raising Western fears that Moscow could stage an attack on Ukraine from the north. The Ukrainian capital is just 75 kilometers (50 miles) from the border with Belarus.
Despite the alarming rhetoric, Ukrainian officials have repeatedly tried to project calm.
Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told parliament Friday that the total number of Russian troops near Ukraine — about 130,000 — is comparable to Moscow’s military buildup in the spring of 2021, when Moscow eventually pulled its forces back after massive military exercises.
“We haven’t observed any events or actions of military character that significantly differ from what was going on last spring,” with the exception of the deployment to Belarus, Reznikov said.
But that has so far not reassured many in the West. Biden warned Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Thursday’s call that the US believed there was a high degree of likelihood that Russia could invade when the ground freezes and Russian forces could attack Ukrainian territory from north of Kyiv, according to two people familiar with the conversation who were not authorized to comment publicly.
While concerns rise about an invasion, Ukraine is already beset by conflict. Following the 2014 ouster of a Kremlin-friendly president in Kyiv, Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and backed an insurgency in the country’s eastern industrial heartland. Fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed rebels has killed over 14,000 people, and efforts to reach a settlement have stalled.

UK foreign office pledges to release Afghanistan cash after aid chief pleas

UK foreign office pledges to release Afghanistan cash after aid chief pleas
Updated 59 min 21 sec ago

UK foreign office pledges to release Afghanistan cash after aid chief pleas

UK foreign office pledges to release Afghanistan cash after aid chief pleas
  • London announces more than $130m in aid to ease Afghan humanitarian crisis
  • 1m children could die from acute malnutrition: Ex-UN official

LONDON: The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office has pledged to release nearly £100m ($133m) in emergency funds to Afghanistan following impassioned pleas from two former aid chiefs, who warned that a million children could die from acute malnutrition.

Last August, the British government promised to double its aid spent in Afghanistan, but so far only £145 million out of £286 million has been disbursed, leaving roughly half the money unspent, just months before the end of the financial year in April. On Thursday Sir Mark Lowcock, a former UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, urged London to release the rest of the money.

He told Sky News: “It’s not at all appropriate to enforce a sort of collective punishment on the total population of the country because you don’t like the regime that those people haven’t chosen. Where is the rest of that money, what are they waiting for?”

Baroness Valerie Amos, also a former UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, also warned: “There will be 3 million children under 5 who will face acute malnutrition by March. Of those, a million children will die.”

Following those urgent pleas, the Foreign Office pledged to released £97m of emergency aid to Afghanistan for winter, which the department said would provide more than 2.7 million people with food, health services, and water.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said: “The UK continues to provide vital humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan. We have doubled UK aid this year to save lives, protect women and girls and support stability in the region.

“The funds announced today will mean essential food, shelter and health supplies will reach those who are most in need.”

Billions of dollars of Afghan money is currently frozen in assets by foreign governments as the US and its allies grapple with how they should deal with the Taliban regime.

Lowcock said Afghanistan’s own cash could be used to pay teachers and health workers directly. The UN is seeking $5.9 billion to help solve the humanitarian crisis.

“This is a significant requirement but the good news is quite a lot of it could be funded from Afghanistan’s own resources,” said Lowcock.

He added that while people “are right to be concerned” by the Taliban, the price is being paid by innocent children and women.

Reports have emerged that impoverished and desperate Afghans have resorted to selling their own organs, or in some cases their children, in order to feed themselves and their families.

Amos said: “We have to find a way of restoring the economy in Afghanistan without getting money into the hands of the Taliban, and we have plenty of experience of doing this.”

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Death toll from Storm Ana rises to 86 as another storm brews to Africa’s east

Death toll from Storm Ana rises to 86 as another storm brews to Africa’s east
Updated 28 January 2022

Death toll from Storm Ana rises to 86 as another storm brews to Africa’s east

Death toll from Storm Ana rises to 86 as another storm brews to Africa’s east
  • Storm Ana passed over Madagascar on Jan. 22, adding to days of already intense rainfall
  • Ana has affected hundreds of thousands of people and lead to widespread flooding and destruction
JOHANNESBURG: Tropical Storm Ana has killed at least 86 people across southern and eastern Africa, with recovery operations still ongoing as another storm threatened more severe weather.
Storm Ana passed over Madagascar on Jan. 22, adding to days of already intense rainfall. The country declared a state of disaster on Thursday night, reporting a rise in the death toll from Ana to 48, with people killed by landslides and collapsing buildings or washed away.
Ana then made landfall in Mozambique on Jan. 24, where 18 have been reported dead, before moving inland to Malawi, where it triggered massive power cuts. Malawi’s death toll rose to 20 on Thursday.
Across all three nations, Ana has affected hundreds of thousands of people and lead to widespread flooding and destruction, according to the United Nations.
“This latest storm...is a blunt reminder that the climate crisis is very much a reality,” said Maria Luisa Fornara, UNICEF Representative in Mozambique.
The region has been repeatedly struck by severe storms and cyclones in recent years, destroying homes, infrastructure and crops and displacing large numbers of people.
In some cases, communities still recovering are hit again, compounding the impacts. Experts say storms are becoming stronger and more frequent as waters warm due to climate change, with rising sea levels also making low-lying coastal areas vulnerable.
Another storm, dubbed Batsirai, is now traveling toward Africa’s east coast.
Meteo France on Friday described Batsirai as a small system that presented no immediate threat to a group of islands to the east of Madagascar, including the French territory of Reunion, because it was still days away.
However, it said the evolution of Batsirai’s intensity and trajectory remained uncertain. Mozambique’s National Institute of Meteorology warned Batsirai still had the potential to evolve into a severe tropical storm.

China agrees to Xinjiang visit by UN rights chief in early 2022 — report

China agrees to Xinjiang visit by UN rights chief in early 2022 — report
Updated 28 January 2022

China agrees to Xinjiang visit by UN rights chief in early 2022 — report

China agrees to Xinjiang visit by UN rights chief in early 2022 — report
  • Rights groups have accused China of perpetrating widescale abuses against Uyghurs and other minority groups in its western region of Xinjiang

BEIJING: China has agreed to let the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights visit Xinjiang in the first half of 2022 after the Beijing Winter Olympics, according to a report in the South China Morning Post which cited unnamed sources.
Rights groups have accused China of perpetrating widescale abuses against Uyghurs and other minority groups in its western region of Xinjiang, including mass detention, torture and forced labor. The United States has accused China of genocide.
Beijing denies all allegations of abuse of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims and has described its policies as necessary to combat religious extremism.
UN human rights commissioner Michelle Bachelet has been pursuing negotiations with China on a visit since September 2018.
China’s foreign ministry, China’s mission to the United Nations in New York, and the United Nations did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The South China Morning Post report on Thursday cited sources saying that the approval for a visit after the conclusion of the Beijing Winter Games, which run Feb. 4-20, was granted on the condition the trip should be “friendly” and not framed as an investigation.
As in 2008, the Olympics have again cast a spotlight on China’s human rights record, which critics say has worsened since then, leading Washington to call Beijing’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims genocide and prompting a diplomatic boycott from the United States and other countries.
“No one, especially the world’s leading human rights diplomat, should be fooled by the Chinese government’s efforts to distract attention away from its crimes against humanity targeting Uyghurs and other Turkic communities,” Sophie Richardson, China Director at Human Rights Watch, told Reuters in an emailed statement on Friday. 


3M hit with $110 million verdict in latest US military earplug trial

3M hit with $110 million verdict in latest US military earplug trial
Updated 28 January 2022

3M hit with $110 million verdict in latest US military earplug trial

3M hit with $110 million verdict in latest US military earplug trial
  • The two men are among the nearly 300,000 service members who have sued 3M, alleging its earplugs products were defective

FLORIDA, US: A federal jury on Thursday awarded $110 million to two US Army veterans who said combat earplugs sold by 3M Co. to the military caused them to suffer hearing damage, the largest verdict yet to result from hundreds of thousands of lawsuits over the product.
Jurors in Pensacola, Florida, sided with US Army veterans Ronald Sloan and William Wayman, who alleged that 3M’s Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2’s design was defective, lawyers for the plaintiffs’ said.
The two men are among the nearly 300,000 service members and others who have sued 3M claiming they suffered hearing damage as a result of using the earplugs in what has become the largest federal mass tort litigation in US history.
Sloan and Wayman were each awarded $15 million in compensatory damages and $40 million in punitive damages, the lawyers said. Each won more than the previously largest verdict in the litigation of $22.5 million.
“Juries continue to find that 3M’s earplugs were defective and that they are responsible for causing irreparable hearing damage to those who served our country,” plaintiffs’ lawyers Bryan Aylstock, Shelley Hutson and Christopher Seeger said in a joint statement.
3M in a statement said it was disappointed and would appeal. It noted it won the last two trials involving the earplugs and said its conduct was consistent with its “long-time commitment to keeping our US military safe.”
Aearo Technologies, which 3M bought in 2008, developed the product. Plaintiffs allege the company hid design flaws, fudged test results and failed to provide instructions for the proper use of the earplugs.
The trial was the 11th so far to reach a verdict. Plaintiffs in six trials, including Thursday’s, have won more than $160 million combined. Juries sided with 3M in the five others.
Five more trials are scheduled this year.