With purifiers and lawsuits, Pakistanis fight back against smog

In this picture taken on December 6, 2019, inventor Hasan Zaidi checks the air quality next to his new air purifier device at the office of a customer in Lahore. (AFP)
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Updated 30 December 2019
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With purifiers and lawsuits, Pakistanis fight back against smog

  • Pollution tends to be at its worst in the country's 12-million strong city of Lahore during winters
  • Public awareness about the issue is growing due to increased activism on social media

Lahore, Pakistan: For the past few months Hasan Zaidi’s phone has been ringing nonstop with calls from desperate residents in Pakistan hoping to get their hands on his newly invented air purifier as smog blankets the country.
“Some days, I had so many calls that I couldn’t answer,” says Zaidi during a recent interview with AFP in his workshop.
Tired of choking on putrid air, Zaidi spent six months perfecting his homemade device as he looked for a low-cost solution to battle the increasingly toxic scourge overwhelming Pakistan.
During this winter alone the 31-year-old engineer has already sold some 500 units, which are priced at just 16,000 Pakistani rupees ($103), but admits to refusing hundreds of orders in recent weeks due to lack of manpower and resources.
In cash-strapped Pakistan Zaidi’s “Indoor Forest” purifiers are cheaper than imported models, which typically cost about two to five times more.
“Now it is less of a luxury and more of a necessity,” explains Sadia Khan, whose company Autosoft Dynamics recently acquired a dozen of Zaidi’s purifiers so his 180 employees can “breathe safely.”
In the past five years, air pollution has worsened in Pakistan, as a mixture of low-grade diesel fumes, smoke from seasonal crop burn off, and colder winter temperatures coalesce into stagnant clouds of smog.
In 2015, 135,000 Pakistanis died due to poor air quality, according to a study published in the scientific journal The Lancet.
Pollution tends to be at its worst in the country’s eastern province of Punjab during winter, particularly in the 12-million strong city of Lahore near the border with India.
In November schools were closed for several days across the province with the level of PM2.5 — tiny particles that get into the bloodstream and vital organs — repeatedly exceeding 200 micrograms per cubic meter of air.
The World Health Organization’s recommended safe daily maximum is a measurement of 25.
Pakistan is ranked one of the worst countries in the world for air quality and Lahore consistently ranked in the top 10 most smog-hit cities, according to the pollution monitoring site AirVisual.
But Tanveer Waraich, director general of the Punjab’s environmental agency, dismisses those figures, saying pollution readings cited by monitors and activists are not from “authentic machines.”
“To say that Pakistan and Lahore are among the top polluted cities... this statement is not based on facts,” he says, but concedes the country’s air quality is largely unacceptable.
Public awareness about the issue is growing due to increased activism on social media about the dangers of pollution and the dire challenges climate change is bringing to Pakistan.
Yann Boquillod, who co-founded AirVisual, said subscribers to the site from Pakistan have increased tenfold this year.
“In Pakistan, there was a problem but no one knew about it. Pakistanis are (now) mobilizing,” Boquillod says.
With officials slow to act, ordinary Pakistanis have increasingly taken measures into their own hands.
In 2016, Abid Omar launched the website PakistanAirQuality (PAQ) dedicated to compiling data about air pollution in the country and publishing its findings.
According to PAQ, Lahore only experienced “10 hours” of good quality air based on WHO standards during the first eleven months of 2019.
Conversely, air quality in the city oscillated between “bad” and “hazardous” for a total of 223 days so far this year.
The smog “has made our lives miserable,” laments a pedestrian in Lahore buying a mask.
Pressure on officials is building.
Ahmad Rafay Alam, one of the few environmental lawyers in Pakistan, filed a suit against the Punjab provincial government on behalf of his daughter and two other teenagers in November, saying officials having underreported the problem.
Outside of activism and lawsuits, others are trying to minimize their exposure to the harmful toxins in the air.
“Last year, it was just bizarre how everybody seemed not concerned,” says Ayza Omar, director of interiorsource.pk, a site offering high-quality face masks and other anti-smog products.
“This year, it has been crazy. We were sold out within the first two months,” she adds, saying they sold thousands of masks this year compared to dozens last year.
In an attempt to improve the situation in Lahore, a group of environmentalists are planning to unveil an eight-meter-high air purifier in attempt to remove harmful particles from the air.
Maryam Saeed, one of the designers, says of the device: “It will help to ease the problem, but it won’t change the whole picture.”


Pakistan interior minister orders ‘strict adherence’ to security plan for Muharram processions

Updated 16 July 2024
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Pakistan interior minister orders ‘strict adherence’ to security plan for Muharram processions

  • Militants have attacked Muharram processions in Pakistan in the past 
  • The South Asian nation has seen a surge in militancy in recent months 

ISLAMABAD: Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi on Tuesday directed authorities to ensure security in all parts of the country and urged “strict adherence” to a special Muharram security plan put in place ahead of Ashura.

Ashura occurs annually on the tenth of Muharram and is marked worldwide by Shi’te Muslims as a day of mourning over the seventh-century battlefield death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

Militants have attacked Muharram processions in the past in Pakistan, which has seen a surge in militancy in recent months.

“The Minister directed the authorities concerned for ensuring security in all four provinces, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir and emphasized strict adherence to the special Muharram security plan,” state-run Radio Pakistan reported as Naqvi reviewed security arrangements at a main procession held in Islamabad on Tuesday, the 9th of Muharram.

“Naqvi said the federal government is extending every possible cooperation to provinces, Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Kashmir for maintenance of peace and law and order.”

While the Pakistani Taliban and separatist groups have been the major source of instability in Pakistan, sectarian militants who regard Shiites as non-Muslims also pose a significant security threat.

Large-scale sectarian attacks, which killed thousands in the 1980s and 1990s, are now less frequent in Pakistan but the rise of a local Daesh franchise has presented new challenges for the government. 


Pakistan-origin Shabana Mahmood is UK’s first Muslim woman Lord Chancellor

Updated 16 July 2024
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Pakistan-origin Shabana Mahmood is UK’s first Muslim woman Lord Chancellor

  • 43-year-old barrister has been a Member of Parliament for Birmingham Ladywood since 2010
  • Mahmood’s family roots are from Mirpur in Azad Kashmir, she graduated in 2002 from Oxford 

ISLAMABAD: Shabana Mahmood, a British-Pakistani MP from Birmingham, was sworn in this week as the United Kingdom’s new Lord Chancellor at a ceremony at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, becoming the first Muslim woman to head the Ministry of Justice as the Secretary of State for Justice. 

A member of the Labour Party, the 43-year-old barrister has been an MP for Birmingham Ladywood since 2010 and previously held various shadow junior ministerial and shadow cabinet positions under leaders Ed Miliband, Harriet Harman, and Keir Starmer between 2010 and 2024.

“I must say what an honor it is to take my own oath as Lord Chancellor today,” Mahmood, 43, said in a speech on Monday as she was sworn in. “There once was a little girl in Small Heath, one of the poorest areas of Birmingham who worked behind the till in her parents’ corner shop ...

“I hold this office in the very highest regard. I do so not just as a former barrister, but as the child of immigrants. My parents weren’t steeped in Magna Carta, Habeas Corpus and the Bill of Rights – as I would one day be. But they did have a strong sense, arriving here in the UK from rural Kashmir, that this country was different: That there are rules, some written and some not, that we abide by.”

Speaking about her inspirations, Mahmood mentioned Elwyn-Jones who served as Lord Chancellor for five years between 1974 and 1979.

“I certainly hope to emulate his longevity. It is said that he was the first Welsh speaking Lord Chancellor for centuries,” she said. “I wonder what he would’ve made of the first Lord Chancellor to speak Urdu.

“I’ve carried the weight of many identities in this career. It is a privilege, but also a burden … So, at the very least, I hope my appointment shows the next little girl in Small Heath, or wherever she may be that, in this country, even the oldest offices in the land are within reach of us all.”

Mahmood concluded by quoting Chapter 4 Verse 135 of the Qur’an: “O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin and whether it be (against) rich or poor: For Allah can best protect both.”

“This is the fundamental articulation of how we, as Muslims, view justice in how we deal with the world,” Mahmood said. “It places justice above all else,” the justice secretary said. 

With roots in Mirpur, Azad Kashmir in Pakistan, Mahmood was born in 1980 in Birmingham and lived from 1981 to 1986 in Taif, Saudi Arabia, where her father was working as a civil engineer on desalination. After that, she was brought up in Birmingham where her mother worked in a corner grocery shop that the family had bought after returning to England. Her father became chair of the local Labour party and as a teenager, Mahmood helped him with campaigning in local elections.

Mahmood graduated in 2002 from Lincoln College, University of Oxford and went on to complete the Bar Vocational Course at the Inns of Court School of Law in 2003 after receiving a scholarship. As a barrister, her specialism is in professional indemnity.


Pakistan Navy conducts sea training of Saudi officers and cadets

Updated 16 July 2024
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Pakistan Navy conducts sea training of Saudi officers and cadets

  • 96 Royal Saudi Naval Forces trainees from King Fahad Naval Academy completed comprehensive sea training
  • Pakistan has close military ties with Saudi Arabia, providing extensive support, arms, training for Saudi army

KARACHI: The Pakistan Navy said on Tuesday it had conducted a sea training exercise for officers and cadets of the Royal Saudi Navy Forces, describing the collaboration as a testament to the two nations’ mutual commitment to enhancing military capabilities and strategic cooperation.

Pakistan maintains close military ties with Saudi Arabia, providing extensive support, arms, and training for the Saudi armed forces. Since the 1970s, Pakistani soldiers have been stationed in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan has also been providing training to Saudi soldiers, sailors and pilots.

“Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have long enjoyed robust collaboration in military training. Saudi Navy Officers and Cadets frequently undergo training at various PN training units, Ships & Naval Squadrons,” the Pakistan Navy said in a statement shared with media. 

The picture shared by the Pakistan Navy on July 16, 2024, shows officers and cadets of the Royal Saudi Naval Forces (RSNF) attending a sea training exercise. (Pakistan Navy)

“In a recent episode, 96 x Royal Saudi Naval Forces (RSNF) trainees from the King Fahad Naval Academy completed comprehensive sea training. They went through modules of tactics, weapon handling, combat training, navigation, naval operations and seamanship. A familiarization tour to Naval Aviation was also arranged.”

The statement added that the collaboration underscored the “multifaceted defense relations between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.”

The picture shared by the Pakistan Navy on July 16, 2024, shows officers and cadets of the Royal Saudi Naval Forces (RSNF) attending a sea training exercise. (Pakistan Navy)

“It serves as a testament to the mutual commitment to enhance military capabilities and strategic cooperation, reflecting a shared vision for sustained military excellence and cooperation,” Pakistan Navy said. 


Four Pakistanis killed, 30 injured in ‘terrorist attack’ near mosque in Oman

Updated 16 July 2024
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Four Pakistanis killed, 30 injured in ‘terrorist attack’ near mosque in Oman

  • Attack took place at Shiite mosque in Wadi Al-Kabir, a district east of Omani capital city of Muscat
  • Omani police have not confirmed motive for rare attack in one of most stable countries in Middle East

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday four Pakistanis had been killed in what it described as a “terrorist attack” near a mosque in Wadi Al-Kabir, a district east of the Omani capital of Muscat. 

The Royal Oman Police have confirmed the attack but given no motive nor said who was suspected of being behind the assault, a rare breach of security in one of the most stable countries in the Middle East.

“According to the latest information received from the Omani authorities, four Pakistanis were martyred as a result of gunshots in the dastardly terrorist attack on the Ali bin Abi Talib mosque in Wadi Kabeer area in Muscat,” the foreign ministry said. “Another thirty Pakistanis are under treatment in hospitals.”

Videos shared by the embassy in Oman showed Pakistan’s ambassador to Oman Imran Ali visiting the injured in hospital. 

“This is my message to the Pakistani community that in this emergency situation, please don’t go toward Wadi Al-Kabir, that area is cordoned off,” Ali said in a video message recorded at a hospital. “If anyone has injured relatives, kindly please don’t give up on your patience.”

He said he had visited up to four hospitals and the injured people he had met were in “relatively” stable condition. 

“People in their homes, please stay safe, and don’t go there [toward Wadi Al-Kabir] because our information is that the emergency situation is still ongoing,” the ambassador concluded.

A handout from the embassy said the “terrorist” attack by “unknown assailants” took place around 11pm on Monday night on the Imam Bargah Ali bin Abu Talib in Wadi Al-Kabir. Authorities evacuated people from the area following the attack and started an operation around 230am.

“Assailants have taken worshippers hostages while reportedly [there are] several casualties; authorities have cordoned off the area,” it added. “Hostage evacuation has started now. Military units have reached.”

The Pakistani embassy’s Facebook page said emergency had been imposed at the Khulla Hospital, Nahida Hospital and Royal Hospital, which Ambassador Ali had visited. 

The attack comes during the Islamic month of Muharram when Shiite Muslims commemorate the seventh-century battlefield martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).


10 soldiers killed in two separate militant attacks in northwest Pakistan — army 

Updated 16 July 2024
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10 soldiers killed in two separate militant attacks in northwest Pakistan — army 

  • Eight soldiers killed while blocking militants from entering military cantonment in Bannu on Monday
  • Two soldiers, five civilians killed in militant attack on Rural Health Center in Dera Ismail Khan on Tuesday

ISLAMABAD: Ten soldiers and five civilians were killed in two separate attacks in the country’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Monday and Tuesday, the army’s media wing said, blaming insurgents based in Afghanistan for one of the assaults.

Pakistan has witnessed a spike in militant attacks in recent years, with many of them taking place in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province which borders Afghanistan. Islamabad blames the surge mainly on militants from the Pakistani Taliban, or TTP, and other groups that it says operate out of Afghanistan.

Kabul denies that it allows its territory to be used by insurgents and says Pakistan’s security woes are a domestic issue.

In the first attack, the army said a group of ten militants had tried to enter a cantonment in Bannu in the early hours of July 15, Monday. 

“The attempt to enter the cantonment was effectively thwarted by the security forces personnel, which forced the terrorists to ram an explosive laden vehicle into perimeter wall of the cantonment,” the statement said.

Eight soldiers were killed in the ensuing blast which also led to the collapse of a portion of the outer wall and damaged nearby infrastructure.

“In the ensuing operation, own troops effectively engaged the terrorists as a result of which all ten terrorists were sent to hell,” the army said. “This timely and effective response by the security forces prevented major catastrophe, saving precious innocent lives.”

The military said the attack had been carried out by the Hafiz Gul Bahadur group, a TTP faction, saying it operated from Afghanistan and had used Afghan soil to ‘orchestrate’ attacks inside Pakistan in the past as well. 

“Pakistan has consistently raised its concerns with Interim Afghan Government, asking them to deny persistent use of Afghan soil by the terrorists and take effective action against such elements,” the statement said. 

“Pakistan Armed Forces will keep defending the motherland and its people against this menace of terrorism and will take all necessary measures as deemed appropriate against these threats emanating from Afghanistan.”

In a second attack early on Tuesday morning, militants opened fire at staff at a Rural Health Center in KP’s Dera Ismail Khan district, killing two women health workers, two children and a guard. 

“Security Forces in vicinity were immediately mobilized for clearance operation in RHC and in ensuing fire exchange, own troops effectively engaged the terrorists as a result of which three terrorists were sent to hell,” the army said. 

“However, during intense fire exchange, Naib Subedar Muhammad Farooq (age 44 years, resident of District Narowal) and Sepoy Muhammad Javed Iqbal (age 23 years, resident of District Khanewal) paid the ultimate sacrifice and embraced Shahadat [martyrdom].”