Pakistani teens sue government over misreporting of smog levels 

Three Pakistani teenagers took the government to court this week for violating their right to life and health by underreporting the severity of air pollution in Lahore. (Photo Courtesy: Laiba Siddiqui)
Updated 06 November 2019

Pakistani teens sue government over misreporting of smog levels 

  • Lahore regularly figures on air quality indexes as one of the most polluted cities in the world 
  • Three teenagers have filed a court petition seeking that Punjab government provide citizens true picture of pollution levels

Islamabad — Three Pakistani teenagers took the government to court this week for violating their right to life and health by underreporting the severity of air pollution in Lahore, the capital of Pakistan’s populous Punjab province. 
Lahore, Pakistan’s second-largest city, is choking on smog, driven in part by smoke from brick kilns and steel mills, burning of rice stubble and garbage, growing numbers of vehicles on the road and large-scale losses of trees as the expanding city makes way for new roads and buildings.
Many in the city of 11 million have complained of headaches and burning eyes and throats as air pollution levels have hit an all-time high. Air quality monitors installed in Lahore’s Gulberg area have recorded Air Quality Index (AQI) levels of 600. Levels of 250 to 300 are considered ‘hazardous’ and require people with heart and lung disease and the elderly and children to remain indoors.
Mishael Hyat, 17, Leila Alam, 13, and Laiba Siddiqi, 18, filed a petition before the Lahore High Court on Tuesday, presenting medical reports from Lahore hospitals and testimonials from doctors and environmental activists to show the discrepancies between research by international organizations and reports by the Punjab’s government on smog conditions in Lahore. The girls are represented by environmental lawyer Ahmad Rafay Alam, Leila’s father. 




Three Pakistani teenagers took the government to court this week for violating their right to life and health by underreporting the severity of air pollution in Lahore. (Photo Courtesy: Mishael Hyat)


Speaking to Arab News, lawyer Alam said the court had adjourned the case till next Tuesday — the short date an indication of the priority it was given to the issue — and directed the Government of Punjab and the Environmental Protection Agency, Punjab, to respond to the girls’ complaints. 
“If we are successful, the AQI classification system will be regularised and people will know what measures to take in episodes of air pollution,” Alam said. 
The main concern of the petition, he said, was that Pakistanis have a true picture of pollution levels.
“We’re not asking the court to shut stuff down,” Alam said. “We’re asking the court to make sure the information being provided to the public is accurate and properly reflects the severity of the air pollution.”
Lahore, once known as the Garden City but now choked with cars, regularly figures on air quality indexes as one of the most polluted cities in the world — and many of the pollutants are also drivers of climate change.
Leila, Hyat, and Siddiqi met at Lahore’s climate change march in September this year and decided to join forces to approach the courts. 
“Each has a personal reason why the air quality prevents them from leading normal lives,” Alam said. “All three are impacted differently by air pollution. Mishael is an ace swimmer and it’s impacting her training. Leila and Laiba find it hard to study and concentrate.”
Siddiqi was one of the organizers of the climate march and has been actively involved in climate change activism since 2016.
“After the march, we were all just trying to plan our future course of action and we really wanted to engage with the legislative system and policymakers head-on,” Siddiqi told Arab News “The petition was Rafay’s idea really because he’d been involved in some lawsuits as an environmental lawyer already. And we decided the petitioners would be students who are most impacted by smog.”
The petition includes reports from Lahore’s Children’s Hospital stating that the medical center has seen a threefold increase in admissions presenting chest or cardiovascular complaints in the past decade, as well as discrepancies between what the government has reported on the toxicity of the air versus what World Health Organization (WHO) and other groups have deemed an alarming environmental phenomena.
“The WHO reports that over 95% of children in lower and middle-income countries are exposed to high levels of particulate pollution. Pakistan and Pakistani cities are no exception,” Alam said, adding that the EPA, Punjab, was “underreporting the severity of air pollution.”
An AQI reading of 185 is classified as “Satisfactory” by the EPA, Punjab, but “Unhealthy” by the US EPA, Alam said. 
“In other words, people are not properly informed of how bad the air pollution is, and accordingly their response underestimates the severity of impure air,” he added. 
Hyat said the girls were pleased to see the LHC chief justice taking an interest in their case. Now, the activists are hoping the government also responds responsibly.
“We hope that the government takes action to give the public up to date information that is in accordance with international standards, and takes measures to reduce emissions from industry, transport and agricultural sectors so that future years can see cleaner air,” Hyat said.


Pakistan arrests key suspect in Lahore bombing that killed 3

Updated 20 min 55 sec ago

Pakistan arrests key suspect in Lahore bombing that killed 3

  • Security officials say the man behind Wednesday's attack was arrested at the airport as he was trying to leave the country
  • Pakistan's Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said earlier in the day the police were close to arresting those responsible for the car bombing

LAHORE: Pakistani security forces on Thursday arrested one of the alleged perpetrators of a car bombing the day before that killed three people and wounded 25 near the residence of a convicted militant leader linked to the Mumbai terrorist attacks, officials said.
The man behind Wednesday's attack in the eastern city of Lahore was arrested at the airport as he was trying to leave the country, said Suhail Ahmad, a security official familiar with the investigation. He identified the man as Pakistani national David Peter.
Ahmad refused to share further details, saying the government would issue a statement about a breakthrough in the case achieved by the Punjab Counter-Terrorism Department with the help of the country's intelligence agencies.
Hours earlier, Pakistan's Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said in a video message on Twitter that the Punjab police were close to arresting those responsible for the Lahore car bombing.
The powerful explosion in the Johar Town neighborhood was near the residence of anti-India militant leader Hafiz Saeed, designated a terrorist by the US Justice Department and has a $10 million bounty on his head.
Saeed is the founder of the outlawed Lashkar-e-Taiba group, which was blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people. He was unharmed in Wednesday's bombing, but the windows of his home were shattered.
Last year, Pakistan sentenced Saeed to 15 years in prison in a terror-financing case, but he was never charged in connection with the Mumbai attacks. He has been serving his term at home under a government order.
Saeed's Lashkar-e-Taiba was active for years mainly in Kashmir, which is split between Pakistan and India but claimed by both in its entirety. In the Indian-administered sector of Kashmir, rebels have been fighting against Indian rule since 1989. Most Muslim Kashmiris support the rebel goal that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule, or as an independent country.
Pakistan and India have a history of bitter relations and they have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir since gaining independence in 1947.


Experts divided over effectiveness of Pakistan’s new intelligence coordination committee

Updated 58 min 6 sec ago

Experts divided over effectiveness of Pakistan’s new intelligence coordination committee

  • Despite being notified earlier this year, there is little information on the composition, working and mandate of the body
  • Some analysts say it will be yet another "institutional layer" in the absence of a robust accountability mechanism

ISLAMABAD: The National Intelligence Coordination Committee (NICC) will help collate key information to counter the threat of religious militancy and terrorism, security experts said on Thursday, though some analysts also dismissed the new body as yet another institutional layer in the absence of an effective accountability mechanism.
Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday presided over the inaugural session of the body at the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) headquarters in Islamabad.
“A comprehensive briefing followed by discussion on enhanced intelligence cooperation was held. [The] Prime Minister appreciated the ongoing efforts and expressed satisfaction over the performance of National Intelligence Coordination Committee,” the PM Office said in a statement after the meeting.
The event was also attended by Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, Information Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, the heads of the services’ intelligence agencies, Intelligence Bureau and Federal Investigation Agency, according to the statement.
The government notified the platform on January 22, though little information has been disclosed to the public about its composition, working, funding and mandate.
The information ministry and the military did not reply to calls seeks comment for this piece.
Lieutenant General (r) Amjad Shoaib, a defense analyst, said the idea had been in the pipeline for the last many years, but failed to materialize due to differences within the spy agencies regarding its composition and leadership.
“The platform will help intelligence agencies pool information to develop a complete picture before forwarding it to the government and other relevant departments,” he told Arab News on Thursday.
Shoaib said various intelligence agencies were working separately in the past and were shy of sharing information with other agencies. “This gap in their working relationship led to intelligence breaches in some cases,” he said.
“The platform will help fight terrorism effectively, besides boosting the country’s overall defense and security,” he added.
Political analyst and columnist Mosharraf Zaidi called the committee a "good start" but said there was a long way to go to improve coordination.
“Coordinating functions for intelligence collection and analysis is a longstanding need in Pakistani national security equation,” he told Arab News. “But as long as intelligence is dominated by the military, the full potential of Pakistan’s national power capabilities will continue to be constrained by the legacy of civil-military divide in the country.”
Around two dozen intelligence agencies are working in Pakistan with their respective mandates, and civil-military intelligence coordination has mostly remained a hurdle in their operations.
Author and defence expert Ayesha Siddiqa said full details of the intelligence coordination body should be shared with the public for transparency in its operations since it would otherwise be “just another institutional layer” without any effectiveness.
“Civilians have not been a key stakeholder in Pakistan’s intelligence service as it has always been dominated by the military,” she told Arab News. “Only time will tell therefore regarding the new body’s efficacy.”
Siddiqa noted that only infrastructure was not required to enhance intelligence cooperation in Pakistan, and
the accountability of any institutional setup was also key.
“We have witnessed a number of incidents that resulted from intelligence breach,” she said, asking: “Have we ever had accountability of ... spy agencies?”


Local transporters' strike over tax hike raises fear of Pakistan-wide fuel shortages

Updated 24 June 2021

Local transporters' strike over tax hike raises fear of Pakistan-wide fuel shortages

  • Oil transporters are also protesting a proposed change in the loading system, saying it will help companies monopolize the business
  • The government has invited transporters of petroleum products for talks in Islamabad on Friday

KARACHI: Local transporters of petroleum products on Thursday announced an indefinite strike after a tax increase in the country’s budget, disrupting 80 percent of supplies from Pakistan’s port city of Karachi and generating fears of a nationwide shortage of petrol and diesel in the coming days.
“The government has increased the withholding tax from 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent which is not viable for our business,” Israr Ahmed Shinwari of the All Pakistan Oil Tankers Owners Association told Arab News.
“They are also changing the 40-year-old loading system that operated on the first-come-first-served basis,” he continued. “This will not only allow companies to monopolize the business but also deprive about 400 people of their jobs.”
Shinwari confirmed that oil supplies from Karachi had been suspended and more than 10,000 tankers were taken off the city's roads.
“The supplies in other parts of country are continuing as per routine,” he informed. “If our demands are not met, however, we will go on a nationwide strike and take more than 42,000 vehicles off the country’s roads.”
Abidullah Afridi, president of the All Pakistan Oil Tankers Contractors Association which originally gave the strike call, told Arab News that around 1,500 tankers were loaded in Karachi on a daily basis for the city and upcountry, adding that all of them had been parked by their owners to protest the government’s measures.
“We will not back off until our demands are met,” he maintained.
Shinwari confirmed the government had invited local transporters for talks in Islamabad on Friday.
If the strike continues in the coming days, it will create an acute fuel shortage in the country.
Petroleum dealers said on Thursday they had only received about 20 percent of supplies, though they added that their available stocks had so far prevented a crisis.
“We have received around 20 percent supplies through tankers which were loaded a day before and overnight,” Abdul Sami Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Petroleum Dealers Association, told Arab News.
“We have managed the situation by using our available stocks,” he continued. “We hope that a way out will soon be found or else we will have to shut down our petrol pumps.”
Meanwhile, officials of the Pakistan State Oil, a state-owned entity responsible for marketing and distribution of petroleum products, denied any supply disruption due to the strike.
They said that alternative measures would be taken to ensure smooth supplies in the coming days.
So far, the oil supplies have not been fully disrupted since a faction of transporters belonging to the Oil Tankers Owners Association has distanced itself from the protest.
“In the current economic situation, the strike is not in the interest of the country and economy, so we have decided to stay away from it,” Haji Hanif Kakar, the association’s general secretary, said.


Pakistani Taliban warn women in northwest against working for government, NGOs

Updated 24 June 2021

Pakistani Taliban warn women in northwest against working for government, NGOs

  • Threaten "consequences" if women in North Waziristan take up jobs with government departments
  • In February this year, militants shot dead four female aid workers near a main town in North Waziristan

PESHAWAR: The Pakistani Taliban on Thursday warned women in Pakistan's northwest of "consequences" and meeting their "ultimate fate" if they took up jobs with the government or non-governmental organizations.

The Pakistani Taliban are an umbrella of militant groups called the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is banned by the Pakistani government and designated a terrorist group by the US. They are a separate entity from the Afghan Taliban.

In February this year, militants shot dead four female aid workers near Mir Ali, a main town in North Waziristan.

“Women are strictly warned not to undertake jobs at any government body or its stooges (NGOs) on the soil of (North) Waziristan, otherwise everyone knows its consequences,” TTP's spokesperson for North Waziristan, Abdul Rehman, said in a statement.

"Females from the adjacent Bannu or other districts continue to work with government or NGOs presumably for public welfare, but they are causing obscenity despite repeated warnings," Rehman said, adding that the women were "under our observation" and "will meet their ultimate fate soon."

TTP has been in disarray in recent years, after Pakistan military operations and US drone strikes targeting their hideouts in North and South Waziristan, but in August announced a reunion with some of its splinters. The group has since stepped up attacks on government troops and installations in tribal regions bordering Afghanistan, rising concerns that the militants are regrouping there.

The war-torn tribal belt remains one of the most underdeveloped areas of Pakistan.

Senior analyst Rustam Shah Mohmand said the TTP was trying to regain grip over the region and building pressure with threats.

"The TTP is now disorganized, desperate and wants to restore its standing," he said. "But people aren’t ready to accept them."


Individual countries deciding on vaccine acceptability for travel ‘creating chaos’ — Pakistani minister

Updated 24 June 2021

Individual countries deciding on vaccine acceptability for travel ‘creating chaos’ — Pakistani minister

  • Federal Minister for Planning Asad Umar says the health and well-being of world citizens cannot be held hostage to global geostrategic rivalries
  • Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi recently urged an international forum to abandon ‘vaccine nationalism’ and help developing nations

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s planning minister Asad Umar said on Thursday the decision concerning the travel suitability of various COVID-19 vaccines should be taken by relevant global institutions like the World Health Organization (WHO) instead of individual nations.
Umar, who also heads the National Command and Operations Center that oversees his country’s pandemic response, maintained in a Twitter post that the health and well-being of people across the world should not be held “hostage to global geostrategic rivalries.”
“Each country deciding which vaccine is acceptable for travel to that country is creating chaos,” he claimed.


Pakistan has heavily relied on COVID-19 vaccines prepared in China since the beginning of its immunization drive in February this year.
Many developed countries, however, have decided not to grant travel permission to people who took Chinese vaccines, asking world citizens to take Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna or Johnson and Johnson instead.
Chinese President Xi Jinping recently urged the international community to abandon “vaccine nationalism” and help developing nations with post-pandemic economic recovery.
Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi also upheld China’s perspective on the issue while addressing the Asia and Pacific High Level Conference on Belt and Road Cooperation on Wednesday.
“Echoing the sentiments of the speakers today, let me on behalf of this distinguished forum, endorse President Xi Jinping’s declaration of making COVID-19 vaccine a global public good, dispel notions of stigmatization, and reject vaccine nationalism,” Qureshi said. “We should make collective endeavors to ensure equitable and affordable supply of vaccine to developing countries.”
There are several vaccine brands available in the international market and every country has approved some specific version of it for its citizens, leading to a question of universal acceptability and creating obstacles for those traveling to other countries.
Early this week, Pakistan signed a deal with Pfizer for an additional 1.3 million COVID-19 doses without releasing details of its agreement.
The country has so far administered over 13.8 million doses and aims to vaccinate 70 million people by next year.
In recent weeks, Pakistan has witnessed a steady decline in COVID-19 cases and its positivity ratio has also reduced significantly.
According to official data, 1,097 people tested positive for the disease and 38 deaths were reported on Wednesday.
The country has so far reported 951,865 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 22,108 fatalities since the emergence of the pandemic last year.