Puppeteers lead message of tolerance in Pakistan

FILE PHOTO: Artists play a string puppet during a show in a puppet theater in Karachi, Pakistan, December 2, 2016. (REUTERS)
Updated 07 May 2019

Puppeteers lead message of tolerance in Pakistan

  • Aim to counter religious and ethnic antagonism in poor neighborhoods
  • The show plans to travel to other neighborhoods of Karachi

KARACHI: In the narrow alleys of a poor neighborhood of the Pakistani city of Karachi, known for drugs, gang wars and low literacy rates, children are learning about peace, love and interfaith tolerance from string puppets.
As the curtains open on stage, a narrator tells the story of “Sindbad the Sailor,” a hero of Middle Eastern origin and his journeys around the world in which he meets people of different faiths, languages and religions — who often do not have much tolerance for one another.
“A man is dying and you guys are talking about castes,” the protagonist puppet rebuked a fellow puppet who did not want to save a drowning marionette because it belonged to a lower caste.
“You should be ashamed calling yourself human beings. Humans save humanity not caste,” Sindbad says.
Writer Nouman Mehmood said the story came to mind when his group was conducting an education awareness campaign in some poor neighborhoods in the city.
They noticed religious and ethnic antagonism in those neighborhoods and decided to create a show to spread a message of peace, tolerance and harmony.
Pakistan, an overwhelmingly Muslim country of more than 200 million people, has seen repeated attacks on churches, Hindu temples and sufi shrines in recent years by hard-line religious groups and Islamist militants.
Conservative religious schools or madrasas are regularly blamed for radicalization but they are often the only education available to millions of poor children, making alternative messages especially important.
“The basic thing is acceptance. You should have enough room to accept others regardless of whether he is a Christian, without considering he is a Hindu, without considering he is a Sikh,” Mehmood said.
Organized by Thespianz Theatre, the show plans to travel to other poor Karachi neighborhoods and provinces after its run in the tough Karachi neighborhood of Lyari.
“There is a message that we should not interfere with others’ religions. We should help each other,” said eighth grade student Adul Rahim Arshad after watching the show.
“If one deceives us, we should not deceive him back. Instead we should help him.”

Pakistan seals Taftan border after coronavirus kills eight in Iran

Updated 30 min 42 sec ago

Pakistan seals Taftan border after coronavirus kills eight in Iran

  • Balochistan’s government declares health emergency in all bordering districts
  • No flights to and from Iran have been halted, says CAA 

KARACHI: Pakistan has sealed Taftan border and stopped pilgrims from traveling via the crossing to Iran after eight coronavirus deaths were reported from the neighboring country, officials told Arab News on Sunday.

Iranian health authorities have said that 43 people were being treated for the virus -- which was first detected in Wuhan, China -- in at least four different cities, including the capital, Tehran. 
There are several shrines in Iran that are frequented by a large number of Shiite Muslims from Pakistan. Hundreds of people access the Taftan border crossing between the countries on a daily basis. 

Pakistan has stopped all movement from crossing points, launched screening procedures and introduced additional patrolling along the border “until the situation is under control,” Mir Zia Ullah Langove, Home Minister of southwestern Balochistan province told Arab News on Sunday. 

A Pakistan health official screens a man at the Taftan border crossing between the Pakistan-Iran border on Feb. 23, 2020, after coronavirus killed eight in Iran. Pakistan on Saturday declared a health emergency along its border with Iran. (Photo Courtesy: Office of the assistant commissioner Taftan)

“We are trying to take every possible precaution,” the home minister said, adding that these were efforts being taken by the provincial government, with assurance from Prime Minister Imran Khan that the federal government would be extending help as well.

The move to seal the border follows Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan’s decision on Saturday to declare a health emergency in all provincial districts bordering Iran.
However, flights to and from Iran have not been suspended.
“The staff of health ministry is already present at the airports and a passenger is allowed entry only after clearance of health declaration,” Abdul Sattar Khokhar, spokesperson Civil Aviation Authority of Pakistan (CAAP) told Arab News, dismissing reports of a temporary halt on flights to Iran.
“There is no reality in reports that flight operations to Iran have been stopped. We had neither stopped flight operations to and from China and nor will it be stopped to any other country,” the official said.
Imran Zarkon, chief of the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) told Arab News that as part of emergency preventative efforts, 1,000 masks had been distributed in the border areas, while a temporary hospital tent with 100-beds had been set up in case of an emergency. 
“Qom is the most affected area of Iran where the pilgrims go, so if there is any possibility of the virus coming to Pakistan it will be through Taftan and authorities here are on high alert,” he added.
However, this has failed to provide much consolation to the people of Balochistan, with some concerned about the illegal movement along the porous border.
“Iran shares over #1000 KM long porous border with #Balochistan #Pakistan, #coronaravirus deaths are alarming news for the region. Daily 100s of people cross these borders without formal procedures, region is poverty-stricken with no medical facility,” Sanallah Baloch, a Balochistan lawmaker tweeted on Saturday.
Meanwhile, in a statement released on Sunday, Pakistan’s Minister for Religious Affairs, Noorul Haq Qadri, said that he had discussed the matter with Iranian officials to safeguard Pakistani nationals visiting the country.
Qadri also spoke to Dr. Zafar Mirza, State Minister for Health, on the deployment of medical teams to the Taftan town along the border.