Ten arrested for spreading misinformation, derailing polio campaign in Pakistan’s northwest

Man posting fake video on social media against polio vaccine arrested (Photo Courtesy: APP)
Updated 24 April 2019

Ten arrested for spreading misinformation, derailing polio campaign in Pakistan’s northwest

  • Two policemen assigned to protect vaccination teams shot dead by unidentified gunmen in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province
  • Panic spread across the province on Monday due to false reports several schoolchildren had fainted after being administered polio drops

PESHAWAR: Ten people have been arrested in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province for trying to derail an ongoing anti-polio drive with a concerted misinformation campaign, police said on Wednesday, as two policemen assigned to protect polio teams were shot dead by unidentified gunmen in the last two days.
Along with Afghanistan and Nigeria, Pakistan is one of the only three countries where complete polio eradication has not yet been achieved, but case numbers are at the lowest level ever, with only eight cases reported in 2019. The country’s success follows an intense program based around vaccinating vulnerable children. 
On Monday, the program was thrown into jeopardy as panic spread across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province due to reports that hundreds of schoolchildren had to be rushed to health facilities apparently after being administered polio vaccine drops. It emerged the following day that parents had acted on rumors spread over community and mosque loudspeakers, and reported by mainstream and social media and shared on WhatsApp.
In Mashokhel, where the rumor apparently originated, a local health unit was set on fire by rioters, while a terrified public overwhelmed streets and hospitals across the province.
“Police have enhanced patrolling in the city to ensure smooth flow of the campaign,” Muhammad Ilyas, a spokesman for Peshawar police, told Arab News. “More arrests are expected as police raids continue in different localities of the city.”
Ilyas said among the ten people arrested was Nazar Muhammad who first spread misinformation about the anti-polio drive on Monday and was seen in viral social media videos coaxing children to pretend to fall ill after being administered polio drops. In other videos that also went viral, he was seen claiming that many children had fainted after being vaccinated.
Last month, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s office urged the country’s telecoms regulator to take action against misinformation spread on social media discouraging vaccination against polio and other diseases.
Separately last month, Facebook Inc, which along with other social media companies has faced growing pressure over spurious content spread on its platform, announced it would remove user groups and pages that contained misinformation about vaccinations. Online video sharing site YouTube has also said it would take action to stop advertising revenue to channels promoting anti-vaccination content.
On Monday, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Health Minister Dr. Hisham Inamullah Khan told reporters that complaints of headaches, nausea and abdominal pain by children were “psychological and triggered by panic” caused by the misinformation campaign and rumors.
Babar bin Atta, the prime minister’s focal person on polio eradication, told Arab News the anti-polio drive was continuing throughout the province despite the misinformation campaign and the hunt was on to identify culprits behind Monday’s “nasty propaganda.”
“Not a single child at any hospital has been found to be affected [by the polio drops],” Atta said, adding that all of the children brought to hospitals were quickly discharged because they were in stable condition.
A nation-wide anti-polio campaign was kicked off in Pakistan on Monday, targeting 39 million children in all four provinces, including Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
“The panic was aimed at jeopardizing the polio eradication drive to put our children at risk but the perpetrators will be taken to task,” Atta said. “What they have done is a criminal act.”
Shehzad Kaukab, a spokesman for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police, said an assistant sub-Inspector Imran (last name not given) had been killed in the Bannu district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa while police constable Zafar Khan was killed in the province’s Bunner area.
No group has accepted responsibility for the killings. Many extremists, including Taliban militants, have long opposed the polio campaign, saying it is used to sterilize Muslims. 


India, Pakistan militaries agree to stop cross border firing in Kashmir

Updated 11 min 13 sec ago

India, Pakistan militaries agree to stop cross border firing in Kashmir

  • Such exchange of gunfire has been frequent in recent months on the disputed border
  • Military operational heads of the two countries spoke over telephone, agreed to discuss each other’s concerns

NEW DELHI: India and Pakistan’s militaries said on Thursday that they had agreed to stop firing along their disputed border in Kashmir, where such gunfire has been frequent in recent months, often killing or maiming people living in the area.
“In the interest of achieving mutually beneficial and sustainable peace along the borders, the two DGsMO agreed to address each other’s core issues and concerns which have propensity to disturb peace and lead to violence,” a joint statement said, referring to the military operations heads of the two countries.
The nuclear-armed neighbors signed a cease-fire agreement along the Line of Control (LoC) — the de facto border in the Kashmir region — in 2003, but the truce has been fraying in recent years.
An official in New Delhi said the cessation was partly aimed at easing the fraught situation for civilians living along the border, who are regularly caught in the crossfire.
“We are cautiously optimistic that the violence levels and tensions along the LoC will come down,” the official said, declining to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.
But India will not ease up on deployments along the LoC that aim to stop infiltration or counterinsurgency operations in the Kashmir valley, the official said.
Last summer, Indian and Pakistani troops were locked in their most frequent cross-border fighting in at least two years, amid surging coronavirus outbreaks.
Kashmir has long been a flashpoint between the neighbors, but tension was renewed after New Delhi withdrew the autonomy of the Himalayan region last August and split it into federally administered territories.
Both countries claim the region in full, but rule only parts.


Wheelchair athlete’s dream to see Peshawar Zalmi play upended, again, by coronavirus 

Updated 7 min 38 sec ago

Wheelchair athlete’s dream to see Peshawar Zalmi play upended, again, by coronavirus 

  • Despite childhood polio, Amjad Ali is Pakistan no. 4 in wheelchair tennis and a national-level player of wheelchair cricket, basketball and handball
  • But for years now, security reasons and now the coronavirus have kept Ali from fulfilling his dream of watching his favorite team play in a stadium

KARACHI: Amjad Ali has been a fighter all his life: despite losing control of his legs after childhood polio, he was able to fulfil his dream of becoming a successful wheelchair athlete.
But one dream keeps eluding him. For six years now, one reason or another — ‘home’ matches played abroad for years due to security risks and now limited spectators allowed at stadiums because of the coronavirus — has kept him from being able to watch his favorite cricket team play in a stadium.
Ali, a resident of Karachi, is a diehard fan of Peshawar Zalmi, one of the teams playing in Pakistan’s hugely popular Super League cricket tournament. It represents the city of Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — Ali’s home province.
The inaugural national cricket league was launched in 2016 and has been a spectacular success, even though many of the matches in the first five editions had to be played in the United Arab Emirates due to security risks, preventing fans like Ali from attending.

Amjad Ali teaches children from his neighborhood in Farid Colony, Karachi, Pakistan, on February 24, 2021. (AN photo)

Last year, however, all matches of the series were played in Pakistan for the first time, and an overjoyed Ali bought a ticket to see Peshawar play against the Multan Sultans. But he never made it to the stadium on that March 13: the coronavirus pandemic broke out in February and lockdown restrictions were imposed, including a ban on spectators at stadiums.
This year again, Ali said, with only 50% spectator capacity allowed at stadiums due to the coronavirus, getting his hands on a ticket was no easy task.
“Last year, I had purchased a ticket to watch the match of my favorite Peshawar Zalmi but unfortunately I couldn’t go due to the coronavirus outbreak,” Ali told Arab News. “This time around, the government has allowed [limited] crowds only which has made obtaining tickets difficult.”

A digital poster made by Amjad Ali, a Peshawar Zalmi supporter, for the 2021 edition of the Pakistan Super League. (Photo courtesy: Amjad Ali)

Ali was born in Shangla, a hilly district in northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and now lives in a sprawling slum neighborhood in the seaside metropolis of Karachi. He was only one years old when he contracted polio and never walked.
But disability did not dampen his dream to become a sportsman: he is now Pakistan no. 4 in wheelchair tennis and a national-level player of wheelchair cricket, basketball and handball. He also works as an accountant at a school during the day and teaches neighborhood children in the evenings.
“I have struggled a lot in my life and have become a sportsman despite my disability,” Ali said, adding that his favorite player was Darren Sammy, a Saint Lucian-Pakistani cricketer who played international cricket for the West Indies. “I see a fighter in him.”
He hopes to one day meet Sammy as well as Pakistani players Shoaib Malik, Wahab Riaz and Haider Ali.
“Now coronavirus is a hurdle between me and Peshawar Zalmi,” Ali said. “But I believe, God willing, one day we will defeat coronavirus and I will be able to meet Peshawar Zalmi players.”


Pakistan eases coronavirus restrictions, regular school restarts March 1

Updated 25 February 2021

Pakistan eases coronavirus restrictions, regular school restarts March 1

  • Time limits on commercial activities lifted and indoor dining allowed from March 15
  • 50% spectators allowed at Pakistan Super League pool matches, full attendance at semifinals and final 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan this week announced it would ease a number of coronavirus restrictions, including lifting time limits on commercial activities, allowing indoor dining at restaurants from March 15 and restarting regular five-day classes at schools from March 1.
Pakistan recorded 1,361 news cases on Thursday, taking the total number of COVID-19 infections to 575,941, with 12,772 deaths.
Education minister Shafqat Mahmood said on Thursday regular classes would restart at schools from March 1.
“Important announcement. All schools will go back to regular 5 day classes from Monday March 1,” he said on Twitter. “Restrictions imposed in some major cities on schools to conduct staggered classes was only till Feb 28.”


The National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), which oversees Pakistan’s coronavirus response, said in a statement on Wednesday that it had devised new rules after a “comprehensive review” of the coronavirus situation.
“Time-limit lifted from commercial activities and amusement parks, condition of 50% work from home removed,” NCOC said. “Indoor wedding ceremonies will be allowed from 15th March 21 … Indoor dining allowed from 15th March subject to the review on 10th March.”
The NCOC also allowed cinemas and shrines to reopen from March 15, with coronavirus guidelines in place.
“Wearing of mask, social distancing, smart lockdowns will continue and will be ensured,” the body said.
It said Pakistan Super League pool matches would be allowed with 50% spectators while “full attendance” would be permitted at semifinals and the final match of the tournament.
The NCOC added that these rules could be reviewed and revised whenever necessary.


$316 mln inflows in Roshan Digital Accounts from Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia, UAE 

Updated 25 February 2021

$316 mln inflows in Roshan Digital Accounts from Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia, UAE 

  • Roshan Digital Accounts enable overseas Pakistanis to open bank account online from anywhere outside Pakistan without visiting branch 
  • Since initiative’s launch in Sept 2020, overseas Pakistanis have opened 92,500 accounts and remitted $554 million 

KARACHI: Pakistan has received $554 in five months from Roshan Digital Accounts, a banking initiative for non-resident Pakistanis launched last year, with 57 percent of the remittances, or $316 million, coming from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the central bank has said.
A Roshan Digital Account (RDA) enables overseas Pakistanis to open a bank account online from anywhere outside Pakistan without visiting a branch and permits account holders to send money into the account. Account holders can perform transactions like funds transfer and bill payment via online banking, debit card or cheque books. Online banking is available for all RDA customers.
Since the initiative’s launch in September 2020, overseas Pakistanis have opened 92,500 accounts and remitted $554 million. Thirty four percent of the accounts were opened by Pakistanis living in Saudi Arabia and 24 percent by UAE residents, according to a presentation given by the central bank on Wednesday.
“Out of $554 million put into Roshan Digital Accounts, 22% funds were received from Saudi Arabia and 35% from Pakistani living in UAE,” Syed Irfan Ali, Managing Director of Deposit Protection Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of the State Bank of Pakistan, said at a ceremony to mark Dubai Islamic Bank (DIB) joining the RDA initiative.
Roshan Digital Account services were being offered by nine banks including Saudi Samba Bank. Dubai Islamic Bank, the world’s first Islamic bank, is the tenth to join.
“Our existing customer base of over 200,000 in UAE gives us an all-important advantage to capture the potential for Roshan Digital Accounts,” DIB CEO Junaid Ahmed said at the joining ceremony in Karachi. “Moreover, non-resident Pakistanis working in UAE will also benefit from this product. Our focus is on a seamless experience and prompt response time for the customers.”
Roshan Digital Accounts enable overseas Pakistanis to deposit and invest in Pakistan. They also offer an additional financial instrument, Naya Pakistan Certificates (NPCs), through which overseas Pakistanis can invest in USD and Pakistani currency with returns of 75% and 11% on five years maturity.
NPCs offer attractive risk-free returns over different maturities and are available in both conventional and Shariah compliant versions administered by the central bank. So far, central bank officials say overseas Pakistanis have invested $358 through NPCs.


Islamabad beats Karachi in high-scoring PSL game 

Updated 25 February 2021

Islamabad beats Karachi in high-scoring PSL game 

  • Left-handed Sharjeel Khan plundered eight sixes and nine fours in his 105 off 59 balls 
  • Lahore Qalandars and Islamabad share the leaderboard with two wins from as many games in the six-team event 

KARACHI: Islamabad United overcame a blistering century by Karachi Kings opener Sharjeel Khan to record their second successive victory in the Pakistan Super League on Wednesday.
The left-handed Khan, who scored only six runs in the first six overs, plundered eight sixes and nine fours in his 105 off 59 balls to give defending champions a strong total of 196-3.
But the depth in Islamabad’s batting, led by Iftikhar Ahmed’s unbeaten 49, and an early onslaught by Alex Hales (46 off 21 balls) helped the former champions cruise to 197-5 for a five-wicket win in 19.1 overs.
“It was obviously a really big chase and I thought we had to knock the teeth out of it early,” Hales said. “I felt like the pitch was getting slower as the game went on, so my plan was to be really attacking in the Powerplay, get the run rate below 10 and fortunately that worked tonight.”
Hales set up a strong platform for Islamabad by smashing fast bowler Aamer Yamin for 29 runs in only the third over — the most expensive over bowled in the history of PSL.
Hales was caught out at mid off in the sixth over, but the Englishman’s clean hitting had provided a solid base of 75 runs inside the batting powerplay.
Iftikhar and Hussain Talat (42) then combined for a match-winning stand of 94 runs off 67 balls as Karachi’s fast bowlers couldn’t get the breakthrough, with Mohammad Amir (1-44) returning with expensive figures.
Afghanistan’s experienced Twenty20 allrounder Mohammad Nabi (1-26) pegged back Islamabad’s run-chase through his offspin in the middle overs before Asif Ali finished off the game with a rapid 21 off nine balls.
“You don’t lose the tournament if you lose the second game so it’s just the start of the tournament,” Karachi skipper Imad Wasim said. “I think we’ll rectify the errors and come back very hard.”
Earlier, after being put into bat, Khan and Pakistan all-format skipper Babar Azam featured in a PSL record-breaking 176-run opening wicket stand against the erratic Karachi bowlers.
Khan forced Islamabad United captain Shadab Khan out of the attack by smashing the legspiner for four successive sixes in the ninth over but Karachi’s bowlers overstepped at least three times which could have broken the partnership.
Babar was twice caught off Hussain’s no-balls in one over and Karachi also missed out to dismiss Khan on 70 when fast bowler Mohammad Wasim overstepped.
Both batsmen fell on successive deliveries in the penultimate over of Hasan Ali (1-36), but not before Karachi erred once again in the field.
Hales dropped a sitter of Babar at long-on before throwing the ball in time to run out Babar, who went for the second run. Babar made 62 off off 54 balls with six fours and a six.
Khan was trapped leg before wicket off the next ball when Hasan successfully overturned the decision through television referral.
Lahore Qalandars and Islamabad share the leaderboard with two wins from as many games in the six-team event.