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China’s crude oil imports climb record high

BEIJING (RT): China’s crude oil imports averaged more than 10 million bpd for the first time ever in November, as they beat the previous record for highest crude imports set in October, according to Chinese customs data, as carried by Reuters.

Chinese crude oil imports surged to an all-time high of 10.43 million bpd (barrels per day) last month, up by 8.5 percent compared to November 2017 and beating the previous record of 9.61 million bpd, which was set just a month earlier and was driven by smaller independent refiners who were rushing to fulfill their 2018 oil import quotas before they expire.

In November, independent refiners – the so-called teapots – continued to buy high volumes and some of them increased intake as they start trial runs at newly-built oil refineries.

Private firm Hengli is planning trials at its new 400,000 bpd refinery at Dalian, a port city in northeastern China, while Zhejiang Petrochemical is also expected to begin trial runs at some units of its refinery with 400,000 bpd capacity at Zhoushan. According to Reuters, Zhejiang Petrochemical has imported several cargoes of crude oil from Oman this quarter.

Two months ago, China raised by 42 percent the oil import quota for its non-state refiners—most of which are the independent refiners—for 2019 as new refinery capacity is planned to enter into operation next year. China is allocating a total of up to 202 million tons, or 4.06 million bpd, of import quota to non-state refineries for next year, according to S&P Global Platts. Independent refiners had until November 10 to apply, and those who haven’t imported crude oil in 2018 will not be allocated quotas for next year.

This weekend, Chinese customs data also showed that crude oil imports between January and November averaged 9.17 million bpd, higher than the level of imports in the same period last year, and putting China on course to set a new record for crude oil imports in 2018.

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NAB to continue pursuing corrupt untouchables: Javed

F.P. Report

ISLAMABAD: National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Chairman Justice (Retd) Javed Iqbal on Wednesday said the Bureau,  committed to curbing corruption across-the-board, has taken action against those influential persons during last few months who considered themselves as “untouchable.”

He was addressing a seminar entitled `Our Faith Corruption Free Pakistan’ arranged here by Faisal Masjid campus of International Islamic University, Islamabad (IIUI) in connection with commemoration of anti-corruption week. The chairman said the Bureau started investigations, inquiries and even filed references against corrupt powerful persons and it would continue pursuing such corrupts as per law.

The NAB chairman said corruption was root cause of every evil and it has become one of the greatest challenges of modern era.

“Some have called the corruption as ‘Deemak’ but in our society it has become a cancer and only treatment of this  menace is surgery,” he said, adding that the Bureau and other anti-corruption agencies were working hard to curb corruption through various designed strategies.

He was of the view that economy and social development of Pakistan has suffered immensely from detrimental effects of corruption.

Justice Javed Iqbal said it was very pride that Pakistan is considered as role model for SAARC countries in eradication of corruption due to NAB efforts as Pakistan is the only country whose Corruption Perception Index (CPI) according to Transparency International Report has been decreased from 175 to 116.

He said that 59 per cent people of the country in a latest survey have shown confidence on NAB due to its actions across the board, especially against corrupt influential persons.

The NAB chairman said courts in Pakistan were independent and showing improvement and added the day would soon come when a common man would be able to say for having a decent and respectable life in this country.

He said corruption was a menace and its best solution was to promote self-accountability concept. “We need to pursue self-accountability in our life and I request you to adopt this approach to get positive results.”

He said one of major achievements of NAB during last one year was distribution of Rs2.5 billion recovered amount to various affected persons of different housing societies.

He said that NAB has also taken various initiatives and devised a system to review and further improve its performance. Under grading system, all regional bureau’s are being evaluated at a given criteria which has proved very successful and performance of NAB’s regional bureaus is increasing day by day due to regular monitoring and inspection.

The NAB chairman said youth was future of Pakistan that make up over 60 per cent of country’s population so their role was crucial for eradicating corruption.

He said corruption was far more prevalent in developing countries as compared to the developed ones and it badly impacts society, governance and youth.

He urged the students to develop zero tolerance for corruption and play their due role in inculcating positive behaviour and good deeds in their surroundings.

Students must play a pivotal role in promoting awareness and taking steps for eradication of corruption to make the country prosperous, he added. “We have also signed an MOU with Higher Education Commission (HEC). Both NAB and HEC are undertaking joint efforts for sensitizing the youth against corruption,” he said and urged all the universities to join hands to eliminate corruption from the society.

In his welcome address, Rector IIUI, Dr Masoom Yasinzai said that corruption was a global phenomena which has crippled the societies. He said that youth were the best utilizable source to get rid of the menace of corruption.

He assured that IIUI would be found in leading ranks against corruption and such activities would continue from varsity platform.

The event was also attended by Director General NAB, other high officials of both organizations, varsity’s Deans, faculty members, journalists and students.

 

 

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CM announces to visit merged tribal districts

F.P. Report

PESHAWAR:  Chief Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Mahmood Khan said he owned the merger of erstwhile FATA into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa along with its challenges that included removing the sense of deprivation of the people, extending efficient governance structure and social sectors services to facilitate the hapless poor of FATA as expeditiously as possible.

This he revealed while talking to Provincial Minister for Information Shaukat Yousafzai, Spoke Person Ajmal Wzir, MNA Iqbal Afridi, members of Provincial Assembly here on Friday.

During meeting, the mainstreaming of erstwhile tribal areas, good governance, developmental strategy for the whole of the province, transparency and merit based decision making were discussed.

Mahmood Khan Spoke out his mind about the overall mainstreaming of erstwhile tribal areas and the government planning for the rapid developmental activities in order to facilitate the hapless people there through efficient services adding that constitutionally, the new districts have become part of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

He said his government would focus on the natural advantages of the new districts using them for the development for these areas because it was necessary to stand these districts on their own feet that would not only generate industrialization and trade activities but would also create jobs to the locals.

Chief Minister said that tourism promotion would also be the area of focus in the overall planning of the government. The overall planning would encompass all areas of the new districts where the developmental and exploration of natural potential would be carried out through federal transfers and the province would also contribute its own expertise.

Mahmood Khan revealed to visit all the new districts and he will first visit district Khyber where he would meet the locals, listen to them personally and resolve their problems as expeditiously as possible adding that there would be mass scale recruitment in police in the new districts and the locals would get special age relaxation.

Regarding the problems raised by the MPAs, the Chief Minister assured that he would focus on resolving the basic problems of the people and assured that each and every area would get their development share in the overall developmental strategy.

He directed the MPAs to monitor the development activities in their respective areas with focus on merit and transparency. The government would continue working in consonance with the people’s aspirations.

He said he would visit Batagram to inaugurate the sub campus of Hazara University soon adding that the burn centre in Peshawar was ready for inauguration adding that the project of shelter homes for the shelter-less people would be started soon.

 

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India death sentence over anti-Sikh riots

Monitoring Desk

New Delhi: An Indian court Tuesday handed down a rare death sentence over anti-Sikh riots in 1984 that left nearly 3,000 dead following the assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi.

Relatives of victims rejoiced in New Delhi after the judge announced the death sentence, the first since 1996. It follows the setting up of a special probe in 2015.

The 1984 carnage erupted just hours after then-premier Gandhi was killed by her Sikh bodyguards.

It lasted three days with Sikhs molested and murdered, their homes and businesses torched.

The violence across the country but mostly in New Delhi saw people dragged from their homes and burned alive. Few have been brought to justice over the massacre, with government-appointed commissions in the past failing to prosecute more than a handful of minor cases.

Gandhi was shot dead after ordering Indian troops to storm the Golden Temple, Sikhism’s holiest shrine in the northern state of Punjab.

 

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How to Prepare for the Harsh Winter Climate

To some, it’s a wonderful time of year but to others, it’s a time that cannot be over fast enough and the thought of it arriving fills them with a sense of resigned dread. That’s right – the winter season is fast approaching and bringing with it cold temperatures, snow, sleet, ice and having to bundle up in twenty layers before leaving the house. It brings shorter days and even longer nights, with time changes making it so it seems you leave your house in the dark and return home in the dark; only seeing the daylight in glimpses from your workplace and those favored days off.

Why You Should Be Ready

Although there are warning signs that winter is coming, from the drop in temperatures to the shorter days; a lot of people can find themselves wholly unprepared for the winter season. Part of that is because they think “this snow won’t last and it’s too soon for winter to set in” and another part of that is because there is a fair amount of prep work to be done to get ready for the winter. You need to prepare yourself, your home, your vehicle, and even your backyard. Today we are going to run through some helpful guidelines and tips to get yourself in the winter mode and become more prepared to meet Old Man Winter.

How to Prepare the Home

When it comes to preparing the home for the winter season, you almost need to look at the home as a whole and also look at it in terms of rooms that are high-traffic areas. A few helpful guidelines to help prepare your home for winter include but are not limited to:

Use a window insulation kit on the windows of your home to prevent heat escaping from miniscule leaks in the window seals and prevent condensation that can cause rot over time.
Install weather strips on the doorframes of your home to prevent heat from escaping through ill-fitting seams or seals.
Ensure there is a supply of candles, propane heaters, spare blankets and even a propane camping stove in the home in the case of a power outage.
Ensure that there is a supply of bottled water, dry goods, and medications in the case of a power outage.
Inspect the roof of your home for potential leaks or loose shingles.
Turn off any water sources that exist on the outside of the home to prevent pipes from leaking, freezing and breaking.
Clean the chimney, especially if your main source of heat is wood, to prevent chimney fires and smoke inhalation.

How to Prepare the Outside of the Home

When it comes to preparing the home for winter, sometimes people tend to focus and concentrate on just the inside of the home to ensure that heat doesn’t escape during the colder months, pipes stay intact and the home can be easily transitioned back to springtime mode. This is all wonderful, but the outside of the home also can benefit from some wintertime preparation such as:

Ensure that you have an adequate supply of de-icing salt for the driveways and pathways surrounding your home to avoid injury.
Cover and/or store furniture, outdoor appliances such as BBQs in an area that will be protected from heavy snowfall to avoid damage.
Install backyard space heaters on the patio of your home for the crisper but clear nights that you want to enjoy some outdoor fun such as building a snowman, having a bonfire, etc.
Backyard Boss has the best collection of reviews for the hottest space heaters on the market today for the cold winter ahead.

How to Prepare Your Vehicle

Now that we have discussed some ways to prepare the home both inside and out for the upcoming winter season, let’s take a look at some ways to prepare your vehicle as well. Some tips to follow are, but not limited to:
Make an appointment for a maintenance check at your local service shop to ensure that all engine, coolant, and antifreeze levels are where they should be for peak performance.
Install winter tires on your vehicle that have good pressure and a high amount of thread to ensure safety during drives on precarious roads covered in snow, ice and slush.
Have a winter box in your car that consists of a spare set of warm clothes, gloves, first aid kit, flashlights, road flares, a bag of sand (for traction should you go into deep snow) and high-energy snacks that don’t expire.
Check road conditions and upcoming weather conditions before leaving the home during the winter and plan the safest route to arrive at your destination.

How to Prepare Yourself and Your Family

Last but certainly not least, people need to prepare themselves and their family for the winter ahead. To prepare everyone for a safe and happy winter, make sure that you do the following:

Stay active during the winter to maintain good physical and mental health.
Maintain a good skin care routine that will prevent dry skin, scaly patches, rashes and splits in the skin. Use a hydrating moisturizer on the skin, lips and hands and a humidifier in the winter months to add moisture back into the air of the home.
Avoid viruses and illness by instilling a good hygienic routine – wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth when you sneeze and cough, take a multivitamin on a daily basis and visit your doctor to see if there are any levels in the body that are low.

Conclusion

By following these tips and guidelines, you won’t be taken aback when winter is suddenly upon the area that you live in. While winter is never pleasant unless you are an avid enthusiast for winter activities and even then when there is nothing but storms in the forecast, it can be draining on your mental health.

The sense of dread that winter can invoke is eased when you are ready for it and ready to make a stand against the cold temperatures, heavy snowfall and shorter days. While preparing yourself, home and vehicle against the winter season, use this time to create bonding experiences for you and your family. Enlist your children and partner to help in the tasks that come with preparing for winter and turn it into a fun game by setting challenges for the most tasks completed in a set timeframe.

Unless you can afford to travel south for the winter, you, unfortunately, have to face it, so why not take some time to make sure that you are putting your best winter-booted foot forward this season?

 

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Dozens of Rohingya flee camps by boat

YANGON/COX’S BAZAR (Reuters): Dozens of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and Bangladesh have boarded boats to try to reach Malaysia, officials and aid workers said on Thursday, raising fears of a fresh wave of such dangerous voyages after a 2015 crackdown on people smugglers. One boat attempted to set sail from the southern coast of Bangladesh on Wednesday, the coast guard said, while several vessels left Rakhine state in western Myanmar, according to Rohingya leaders, aid workers and a monitoring group.

Officials detained 33 Rohingya and six Bangladeshis aboard a fishing boat bound for Malaysia in the southeastern part of the Bay of Bengal, said Foyezul Islam Mondol, the head of the coast guard in southeastern Teknaf upazila. Six Bangladeshis were also arrested, he said. A Myanmar government spokesman could not be reached for comment. Kyaw Swar Tun, deputy director of the Rakhine state government, said he was unaware of any boats leaving.

More than 700,000 Rohingya, members of a persecuted Muslim minority, fled Rakhine following an army-led crackdown in August last year, settling in sprawling Bangladeshi refugee camps, according to U.N. agency figures, while hundreds of thousands remain inside the country in internal displacement camps and villages. Refugees say soldiers and local Buddhists carried out mass killings and rape during the violence last year, while the United Nations has accused the military of “genocidal intent”. Myanmar has denied almost all the allegations.

For years, Rohingya on both sides of the border have boarded boats organized by smugglers in the dry months between November and March, when the sea is calm. The perilous journey to Thailand and Malaysia, often undertaken in overcrowded, rickety vessels, has cost many lives. Thailand cracked down on the trade after discovering a series of mass graves in 2015, leading to a crisis when smugglers abandoned their human cargo and left boats adrift in the Andaman Sea.

The new departures come as Myanmar prepares to take some of the refugees back after agreeing with Bangladesh to start repatriation on Nov. 15, despite widespread opposition from Rohingya, who say they will not return without guarantees of basic rights, including citizenship and freedom of movement. The United Nations has said conditions in Rakhine, where Buddhists have protested against the repatriation, are not conducive for returns and the special envoy on human rights, Yanghee Lee, on Thursday urged a halt to the “rushed plans”.

Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, which has a network of sources across Rohingya communities, said the threat of being sent back to Myanmar could be pushing refugees to turn to smugglers. “The Rohingya are trapped,” she said when contacted by Reuters via phone. “They have nowhere to go. No one wants them, and now they face on top of that the threat of repatriation.”

On the other side of the border in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine, tens of thousands of Rohingya have been languishing in internal displacement camps since a previous wave of violence in 2012. Accounts of how many boats had left Myanmar differed. A high level of secrecy surrounds the smuggling operations. An aid worker in Sittwe said they had received information that at least four boats had departed since the start of October, and some of them had already arrived in Malaysia. Some of those boarding the boats were women and children joining other family members, the aid worker said.

 

 

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Alibaba cuts sales forecast on economic uncertainty

BEIJING (Reuters): China’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (BABA.N) lowered its full-year sales forecast on Friday due to concerns about the economic impact of a U.S.-China trade spat, which the company expects will dent revenue ahead of its top sale season.

Asia’s most valuable public company said it will cut its full-year revenue forecast to between 375 billion and 383 billion yuan ($54.4 bln-$55.6 bln), a 4-6 percent drop, while sales growth in its core commerce business for the September quarter slowed to its lowest rate since 2016.

In a call with analysts on Friday, executives said big ticket purchases could be affected by economic uncertainty and that they will delay efforts to make more money on some aspects of its marketplaces in an effort to retain businesses on its platform.

“In light of current fluid macro-economic conditions, we have recently decided not to monetize, in the near term, incremental inventory generated from growing users and engagement on our China retail marketplaces,” said Alibaba in a statement.

The company’s U.S.-listed stock edged up 0.4 percent to $151.81 by 1346 GMT, but is down more than 12 percent this year amid a wider sell-off of China tech stocks that has also affected Baidu Inc (BIDU.O) and Tencent Holdings Ltd (0700.HK).

The decision to take in less income from its platforms comes ahead of Singles’ Day, Alibaba’s annual mega-sale event, which peaks on Nov. 11 and last year netted the company over $25 billion in sales.

Alibaba competes fiercely for customers and merchants during the event, and has historically recorded much higher marketing costs around the event, which also eats into sales from the first and third quarter.

Ahead of the event, sales growth on the company’s China retail marketplaces in the third quarter slowed to 37 percent, its weakest growth rate in eleven quarters.

The company has been investing heavily in offline retail and rural e-commerce in a bid to win new customers as China’s urban market shows signs of saturation.

Roughly 75 percent of Alibaba’s new users last quarter were from undeveloped areas, said Chief Financial Officer Maggie Wu.

Analysts said the impact of trade tensions and tighter regulation in China, including new rules on advertising and online finance, will continue to weigh on the company’s share price for some time.

“China macro uncertainty has been driving stock price performance for the group as a whole since mid-June. We think this will need to reconcile before there is a sustainable improvement in sentiment,” Rob Sanderson, senior research analyst and managing director at MKM Partners, said in a note ahead of the earnings.

At a recent event, Chairman Jack Ma predicted the trade war could last 20 years, and said the company would adapt plans, including scrapping an initiative to create a million jobs in the United States by bringing U.S. producers onto the platform.

Ma said Alibaba was still confident of reaching its goal of 2 billion customers globally by 2036 however, as it continues to build on big-ticket investments in Southeast Asian e-commerce, global cloud services and projects to reach more buyers outside big cities.

The company’s stock also weakened recently on news that Ma will step down over the coming year, handing over the reins to Chief Executive Daniel Zhang.

Despite the weak forecast, net income attributable to ordinary shareholders rose 13 percent to 20.03 billion yuan, or 6.78 yuan per share, above analyst estimates.

 

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Kashmir to be part of Pakistan: Qureshi

 Jalil Afridi
Washington DC: The Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Shah Mahmood Qureshi said thatKashmir banaiga Pakistan (Kashmir to be part of Pakistan) slogan was always there and will always be there.
While holding a press briefing at the Pakistan Embassy in Washington DC, the foreign minister said that the language used by the Indian foreign office regarding Pakistan and Prime Minister Imran Khan was disgraceful and undiplomatic.
In reply to a question about India, the foreign minister said that India is raising hue and cry about the death of its three soldiers but India does not say a thing about the hundreds of Kashmiris being killed since last few months by Indian armed forces. Qureshi further said that there are many negative things which he can about India, including Gulbashan Yadav but he wants to refrain from such things because he wants to start a dialogue process with India.
In reply to a question about Afghanistan, Qureshi said that Pakistan can only play a constructive role while holding dialogue of Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban where as Pakistan is no position to influence anybody.
When The Frontier Post asked a question about the presence of Daish in Afghanistan, the foreign minister said that Pakistan is very concerned about it and that he will talk more about this topic in near future. He further said that he does not believe that America is planning to leave Afghanistan any time soon.
While replying to another question by The Frontier Post whether the presence of Zalmay Khalilzad who is staunch opponent of Pakistan in the meeting held by Secretary Pampeo and General Dunford with Prime Minister Imran Khan, raised any eyes brows, the foreign minister said that “times change and so do people change.”
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The book of Kings: The book that defines Iranians

To say that, by and large, we Iranians are proud of our ancient culture and the Persian language – often to a fault – is to point out the obvious. In naming our children, we look back to our emperors and the legendary heroes of ancient Iran. We revel in the syrupy sweetness of Persian as the words of Hafez, Rumi and myriad other mystics and bards languidly roll off our tongues, leaving us and our audiences spellbound. We believe, as Sa’di once wrote, that mankind is one, but nonetheless regard our roots and distinct identity with an ineffable reverence and joy. Yet, there might have been relatively little left of our indigenous culture and the Persian language to celebrate today, had one particular poet not been around.

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Completed by Abolqasem Ferdowsi in the early 11th Century, the Shahnameh (Book of Kings) is not only a literary masterpiece, but also a book that has for centuries helped define Iran and the Iranian peoples, as well as safeguard the existence of the Persian language. Consisting of more than 50,000 rhyming couplets, it is the longest poem ever written by a single author. It is not an epic about a single defining event, a fantastical voyage, or a particular pair or star-crossed lovers or arch-rivals, as is the case with many national epics. Although certainly brimming with the aforementioned, the Shahnameh is an epic centred around the very essence and soul of Iran; and, while ancient Iran is its chief object, the book’s messages are timeless, and in many cases may well have been written for humanity as a whole.

Breaking the silence

To appreciate the importance of Ferdowsi’s magnum opus, it is crucial to understand the context in which it was written. After the Arab invasion of Iran in the 7th Century and the fall of the Sassanian Empire, there followed one of the darkest periods in Iran’s history. Under the reign of Iran’s foreign occupiers, adherents of its indigenous monotheistic Zoroastrian faith were persecuted, libraries were burned, and the Persian language vehemently suppressed during, as Iranians term it, the ‘two centuries of silence’. With Islam being the new order of the day, and Arabic the language of Iran’s new governors, the Persian language was, as with Zoroastrianism and indigenous Iranian culture as a whole, at risk of extinction. While some submitted to the yoke of the occupiers and tried to find a place for themselves within a strange new world, other Iranians chose to resist.

(Credit: Alamy)

The Samanids, who ruled between 819 and 1005 AD, were based in Bukhara, Uzbekistan – where this mausoleum is today (Credit: Alamy)

Before his time, Ferdowsi’s home province of Khorasan in northeast Iran had been a hotbed of popular uprisings against Iran’s Arab occupiers, and the region in general was enjoying a revival of all things Persian under the reign of the Iranian Samanids between 819 and 1005 AD, administratively based in Bukhara in present-day Uzbekistan. Poets like Rudaki were amongst the first after the ‘two centuries of silence’ to write in Modern Persian, which had evolved from the Middle Persian of the Sassanian era; and, by the time Ferdowsi set to work on the Shahnameh, there already existed two other versions of it. The 10th Century poet Daqiqi had written some 1,000-odd verses of his Khodainameh, based on a book now known as the Abu Mansuri Shahnameh, after its patron, one Abu Mansur. Daqiqi, however, was killed by his slave before he could complete his paean to Iran; and so, picking up where Daqiqi had left off (his verses are included and acknowledged in Ferdowsi’s version), Ferdowsi sat down to finish the story with the support of his Samanid patrons.

From Aryanam Vaejah to Iran

Simply put, the Shahnameh is a compendium of indigenous, pre-Islamic myths, legends, and historical episodes relating to the Irano-Aryans, written in a relatively ‘pure’ form of Modern Persian largely devoid of foreign loanwords. Although Iran’s national epic, the emphasis is on the Iranians as a people, especially as the Iran in the Shahnameh does not necessarily correspond to modern-day Iran, or even the Iran of Ferdowsi’s time. Aside from its ever-changing borders, one also needs to consider the difference between the ancient Iranian homeland – Aryanam Vaejah, meaning ‘Land of the Aryans’ – and present-day Iran (a simplification of Aryanam Vaejah, simply meaning ‘Aryan’), to which the Iranians migrated.

According to Dick Davis, translator of the Penguin edition of the Shahnameh, Aryanam Vaejah “was almost certainly [in] Central Asia: modern Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, [and] Tajikistan”. It is for this reason, for instance, that the Alborz Mountains Ferdowsi speaks of, and which are so central to Zoroastrian lore, are not the present-day ones in northern Iran, or why, as Davis says, “the modern Sistan is largely to the west of the ancient Sistan”. Expanding on the location of Iran in the Shahnameh, Davis posits that: “In the poem’s mythical and early legendary sections, Iran is in what is now northern Khorasan, and reaches as far north as present-day Bokhara and Samarkand … and it reaches as far east as the Helmand province in Afghanistan … With the Sassanians, Iran becomes more or less modern Iran.”

(Credit: Alamy)

The Shahnameh is a compendium of indigenous, pre-Islamic myths, legends and historical episodes (Credit: Alamy)

One of the things that makes the Shahnameh such a singular epic is its sheer breadth. Scholars typically divide the book into three ‘ages’. The first, the mythical, begins with the world’s creation and the reign of Keyumars, the first Iranian king (and man on Earth), and continues with stories such as that of the legendary Jamshid and his fall from grace, and the foreign, demonic Zahhak, who is buried alive by the blacksmith Kaveh.

From here, the story progresses to the heroic age, which contains the bulk of the epic’s most beloved and well-known tales, and which has at its core the rivalry between the Iranians, west of the Oxus River in Central Asia, and the Turanians to the east. Although Ferdowsi calls the Turanians ‘Turks’ in his poem (as Turks inhabited the area in his lifetime), they are actually Iranian. “[The Turanians] are clearly a separate branch of the Iranian people,” says Davis. “The Iran-Turan rivalry … almost certainly derives from a dimly remembered prehistoric enmity between two branches of the Iranian peoples.”

If there’s one character any Iranian can name from the Shahnameh, it’s Rostam. A valiant hero like none other in the book, he battles with divs (devils), gets kings out of sticky situations, and, like Hercules, undergoes seven trials. He also happens, in a case of mistaken identity, to kill his son, Sohrab, in one of the epic’s most tragic and harrowing episodes. Also of note is the ill-fated Siyavash, who, after proving his innocence in a trial by fire (having been accused of rape by his lusty, scheming stepmother), is later murdered at the hands of the Turanians. Ending with the death of Rostam, the book makes a jump of sorts to the historical age, which begins with the invasion of Alexander, and ends – on a rather caustic note – with that of the Muslim Arabs in the 7th Century. Although they use historical events and figures as starting points, the stories here have been greatly embellished and exaggerated for dramatic effect.

Ferdowsi died a poor and brokenhearted man and was buried in his own orchard

While things started out well for Ferdowsi, he didn’t have a particularly happy ending. Before he could complete the book, his Samanid patrons were vanquished by the Ghaznavid Turks. According to the 12th-Century Persian writer Nezami Aruzi Samarkandi, instead of the 60,000 dinars Ferdowsi had been promised, the Ghaznavid ruler Sultan Mahmud only dished out 20,000 dirhams in the end, not appreciating the significance of the book before him. Depressed, Ferdowsi then, according to Samarkandi, went to a bathhouse, had a beer, and gave the money to the attendants there.

Later, feeling remorse for his behaviour towards the poet upon whom, as the introduction of one extant Shahnameh manuscript suggests, he had conferred the sobriquet ‘Ferdowsi’ (‘Paradisiacal’), Sultan Mahmud sent 60,000 dinars’ worth of indigo to Ferdowsi. But alas, it was too late: at the same time the indigo was being delivered, Ferdowsi’s corpse was being taken to the cemetery, where it was denied burial on account of his professed Shi’a faith. He died a poor and brokenhearted man and was buried in his own orchard.

A legend after his lifetime

Although downcast at the time Sultan Mahmud snubbed him, Ferdowsi knew what he’d achieved. Amongst Iranians today, Ferdowsi enjoys a status comparable with that of Cyrus the Great. So much is he revered and honoured that some have even credited him with singlehandedly saving the Persian language from oblivion, not to mention the memory of many of Iran’s ancient myths and legends. This, according to Davis, is ‘unwarranted’, as the Persian revival had been in full swing before Ferdowsi’s time. “Nevertheless,” he says, “it’s certainly the case that the Shahnameh put Persian on the map in a way that no previous poem had done”.

(Credit: Alamy)

Despite being unknown in his lifetime, the poet Ferdowsi is now one of the most celebrated writers in Iran – this tomb complex was built in his honour in Tus (Credit: Alamy)

In spite of the fact that the heroes of the Shahnameh are overwhelmingly Aryan Zoroastrians, and that the stories take place in ancient, often remote times, the book has managed to transcend ethnicity, religion, geography, and time. “One of the definitions of a major literary work,” says Davis, “is that it speaks cogently to different generations, and not necessarily in the same way for each generation, and the Shahnameh has done this for many people for a thousand years”. Yes, the tales are riveting and masterfully composed; but they are also didactic, replete with life lessons, sage advice, and observations on the ways of the world. Ferdowsi extols wisdom, faith, courage, patriotism, and justice, warns his readers of the fickleness of fortune, and – notwithstanding the self-determining Zoroastrian faith of his heroes – laments the ineluctability of fate. As such, the Shahnameh is as edifying as it is entertaining.

A favourite of every Iranian dynasty, whether native or foreign, since its completion, and adored by the Ottoman Turks and the Mughals of India, it is still revered in a multitude of countries, from Turkey and Georgia in the West, to Tajikistan in the East, to name only a few. It has also featured prominently in contemporary works of literature and art, such as Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red, Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, and Shirin Neshat’s Book of Kings series of portraits. And, while the Shahnameh – with its celebration of royalty and pre-Islamic Iran – has been considered anathema by some in Iran since the 1979 Revolution, Ferdowsi’s detractors there have had no choice but to embrace him, so firmly rooted is he in the hearts of Iranians – and deservedly so. “Long did I toil during these decades three,” he famously wrote of his labours. “The Iranians I revived with this Parsi (Persian)”.

Courtesy: BBC

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Security forces recapture multiple areas in Baghlan

Monitoring Desk

KUNDUZ: The security forces retook those areas from Taliban which they had captured in Markazi Baghlan district of Baghlan province few days ago, officials and local residents said on Tuesday.

The security regained control over Mangalo, Kog Chinar, Qaisar Khel, Araban and other areas as a result of military operation, a local resident told AIP.

The foreign troops supported the Afghan forces in the offensive, he added.

Meanwhile, media official of 20th regiment Ghulam Hazrat Karimi told AIP that Taliban suffered heavy casualties in the operation over the past two days. The security forces regained control over the areas which the Taliban had captured few days ago, he added.

About 30 Taliban fighters were killed and 15 more injured in the gunfight, he said. The dead and injured Taliban including some commanders, he added.

He confirmed that the foreign troops provided aerial support to the Afghan forces in the offensive. The operation was still in progress, he added.

Taliban captured these areas after fierce gunfight early this week. It was believed that dozens of security personnel suffered casualties in the gunfight. The Taliban took away multiple weapons.

However, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AIP that the areas captured in Markazi Baghlan district were still under their control.

The reports of officials about recapturing the areas were false, he added.

The foreign forces have not said anything in this regard so far.