Pakistanis ignore president's call to pray at home amid virus scare

Men leave Jamia Aqsa Mosque in Karachi after congregational Friday prayer on Feb. 28, 2020. (AN photo)
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Updated 15 March 2020

Pakistanis ignore president's call to pray at home amid virus scare

  • President Arif Alvi asked people with flu symptoms to avoid public gatherings
  • Worshippers say they don't panic as the coronavirus fatality rate is only 2 percent

KARACHI: Pakistani mosques were thronged with people who arrived for congregational prayers on Friday, despite President Arif Alvi’s appeal to all those with flu symptoms to stay at home in the wake of coronavirus reports in the country.
“I have flu, but it’s normal, so I came to the mosque,” Muhamamd Saqlain, a 20-year-old worshiper at Jamia Aqsa Mosque in Karachi told Arab News.
Others too arrived to offer prayers, citing their religious obligation.
“We don’t need masks. All people are healthy, and we just cannot skip our Friday prayers over coronavirus fears,” said Irfan Ali, another member of the congregation.
On Thursday evening, President Alvi called on all worshippers with symptoms of illness to refrain from joining public gatherings to avoid posing a health threat to others.
“People who have fever cough shortness of breath or any flu symptom should avoid going to public gatherings,” the president said in a Twitter post, adding that he had sought advice from religious scholars and those who are unwell should perform their prayers at home.

The plea came after first coronavirus infections were reported in Pakistan on Wednesday, but it was not convincing to most people.
Jaffar Askari, a Karachi University employee who usually attends Friday prayers at Imambargah, said the president’s request and the news of virus infections had no impact on prayer attendance.
“People no longer panic knowing that the coronavirus fatality rate is only 2 percent,” he said.
“If I am in trouble, where should I go? I will go to the mosque. I pray and hope that God will protect me from all fatal diseases,” 60-year-old Mumtaz Shah told Arab News.
Dr. Amir Tauseen, a religious scholar and former chairman of Madrassa Education Board, told Arab News that calls concerning religious duties should come from the Council of Islamic Ideology rather than the president.
“The president should act responsibly and tweet anything after taking religious scholars and the Council of Islamic Ideology on board,” he told Arab News, but added that it was not wrong to ask persons with illness symptoms to offer prayers at home and scholars have made such requests before.

Pakistan’s media regulator instructs news channels not to promote political ‘hate mongers’

Updated 14 sec ago

Pakistan’s media regulator instructs news channels not to promote political ‘hate mongers’

  • PEMRA calls it ‘crucial’ to strike a balance between protecting freedom of expression and maintaining public order
  • In an apparent reference to ex-PM Khan, it asks media outlets to screen out people behind anti-state activities

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) on Wednesday instructed news channels to stop promoting “hate mongers” in an apparent reference to former prime minister Imran Khan and leaders of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party while mentioning the violent protests against government and military properties last month.

PEMRA mentioned Article 19 of Pakistan’s constitution that guarantees freedom of speech to all citizens at the beginning of its notification, though it argued it was crucial to strike a balance between protecting freedom of expression and maintaining public order.

The document mentioned the violent protests that broke out after Khan was arrested on the instruction of the country’s anti-graft body on corruption allegations on May 9 when hundreds of people carrying PTI flags torched government buildings, including a top army general’s official residence, and stormed sensitive military installations.

Without naming the ex-premier or any of his close aides, it said these “anti-state activities were orchestrated by the politically charged ... zealots of [a] political party.”

“It is indeed a fact such hate mongers, representing political outfits are abusing power against the Federation of Pakistan and state institutions by polluting innocent minds of public,” said the notification. “This is unequivocally a very horrific trend which needs to be condemned and those involved in promoting such activities must be boycotted on media for damaging peace and tranquility in the country.”

“In the wake of aforementioned scenario, all satellite TV channels licensees are directed to remain vigilant and not to promote any hate mongers, perpetrators and their facilitators inadvertently,” it added.

The notification asked media organizations to follow its code of conduct so that “coherence and national harmony could be promoted and hate mongers, rioters, their facilitators and perpetrators are completely screened out from media.”

It is pertinent to mention here that PEMRA suspended the licenses of various news channels in the past, though its decisions were reversed by the country’s judiciary.

It also took action against pro-PTI media outlets, most notably ARY News, by removing them from national airwaves in the wake of the alleged anti-government and anti-military broadcasts.

Pakistan’s pigeon racing enthusiasts indulge their passion in Karachi skies

Updated 39 min 1 sec ago

Pakistan’s pigeon racing enthusiasts indulge their passion in Karachi skies

  • People in Ranchore Line neighborhood of Karachi organize pigeon racing tournaments biennially in May and October
  • Origins of pigeon flying in Karachi can be traced back to New Delhi, where there are entire neighborhoods dedicated to the sport

KARACHI: Whether it’s summer or winter, after 4pm on most days, even when he is unwell, Muhammad Shafiq Chando can be found on the roof of the six-story residential building in which he lives in the Ranchore Line neighborhood of Karachi.

The unwavering commitment owes to his passion for his pet pigeons, which he trains and prepares for a unique race organized biennially in May and October in Ranchore, turning the whole neighborhood into a festival of colors and noise. Many in the area maintain flocks of hundreds of pigeons but with over six decades of experience in the sport, Chando is considered a maestro of pigeon racing.

“Even when I am sick, if people come [to check on me] after 4pm, my family tells them that they have come in vain because I have gone to the rooftop,” Chando told Arab News as he signaled to his pigeons to fly.

“My hobby has reached a level of obsession. I am a 72-year-old father of four children, a maternal grandfather, and also a paternal grandfather, but this is my true passion.”

For each type of pigeon flying tournament, the finish line is their home, which pigeons find using some combination of the sun, magnetic fields and an olfactory map of familiar smells. And what makes them return home is how kindly they are treated, how well they are fed and how clean their accommodations are.

Humans have been capitalizing on pigeons’ homing abilities for centuries. Genghis Khan used pigeons to relay commands across Asia and Eastern Europe. These days, the fastest fliers tend to be highly bred and pedigreed, like racehorses. In May 2012, a pigeon named Usain Bolt — for the Olympic sprinting champion from Jamaica — was sold to a Chinese businessman for about $430,000. In 2020, a female racing pigeon named New Kim sold for around $1.9 million at an auction in Belgium.

The origins of the sport in Karachi can be traced back to India, particularly New Delhi, where there are still entire neighborhoods dedicated to the sport.

Chando’s own involvement in pigeon flying started when he met Nawab Maqsood, a migrant from India, from whom he learnt about the types of racing and the many tricks of the trade.

There are three types of pigeon tournaments held in Pakistan, said Shamroz Chando, who shares his father’s enthusiasm for the sport.

“One is high pigeon flying, which we call Kabuli,” he said. “The second is low pigeon flying, and the third type is Golay Bazi [roller flying].”

In the high-flying tournament, each team can fly eight pigeons who must remain in the air from 7am until 5pm. A pigeon has to return home by 5pm or else is disqualified from the tournament. Similar to the low-flying pigeon contest, in the high-flying contest, mostly held in winter, a pigeon’s duration in the air is counted, not the height the bird is able to reach.

In the low-flying tournament, being held this month in Chando’s neighborhood with 100 participating teams, the pigeons are tied with bands or ribbons. Again, each team can fly eight pigeons, but the score of a team is determined by the flying hours of the seven pigeons who flew for the longest duration. The top ten teams are declared winners, with one team receiving a prize, often something like a small car. In the low-flying tournament, the pigeon has to remain in sight. If the bird goes missing for more than 45 minutes, it is considered out of the tournament.

In Golay Bazi, also called Tukri, 50 to 500 pigeons from two teams fly, and when both teams mix, which is called a battle, the team that captures the largest number of pigeons from the opponent’s team is declared the winner .

Tahmoor Chohan, a tournament participant, said people in Karachi had made modifications to the rules of the sport introduced by migrants from India.

“Unlike in India, where they allow the wings [of these birds] to grow naturally, in Karachi, the birds’ wings are first clipped, and then they are prepared for racing,” he explained.

And the hobby isn’t cheap, with Chando saying he spent Rs50,000 ($170) a month on keeping the birds. 

Chando’s 400 pigeons live on a diet of around 10 kilograms of millet daily, which he described as the “secret” to their success. They also eat food supplements and a special pudding called “chiknao,” which resembles halwa, or locally made pudding, and is costly to prepare. 

“We have to ensure that [the birds] are fit and active in every way,” he said. “So, for that, we provide them with a special food called chiknao … It contains almonds, desi ghee, spices, and dough. We feed them things that we ourselves cannot afford to eat.”

When asked if he ever felt the urge to give up on pigeon racing, Chando said his victories brought him “tremendous joy,” but the close bond with his pigeons led to “immense pain” if a bird was lost, especially during tournaments, making him sometimes wish to abandon the sport.

“The pain is intense,” he said, “because it takes three years to raise a squab.”

When asked if he believed it was humane to raise pigeons for racing tournaments, Chando rebuffed the question, saying: “We feed them the things that we ourselves cannot afford to eat.”

The pigeons, being pigeons, were unavailable for comment.

Pakistan's sole PVC resin manufacturer eyes 'big opportunity' to supply construction materials to NEOM

Updated 01 June 2023

Pakistan's sole PVC resin manufacturer eyes 'big opportunity' to supply construction materials to NEOM

  • Engro Polymer and Chemicals Limited says Pakistani manufacturers have already bid to supply PVC material to kingdom
  • Demand for PVC materials to keep booming for at least two years after first phase of construction in NEOM, says EPCL

KARACHI: Engro Polymer and Chemicals Limited (EPCL), Pakistan’s sole manufacturer of PVC resin material, said on Wednesday it is eyeing supply of the product for construction at Saudi Arabia’s planned smart city NEOM which can help it earn $300 million in exports. 

Neom, a $500 billion project, is a key element of the Saudi Vision 2030 plan as part of the kingdom’s mission to diversify away from its oil-dependent economy. The project is estimated to create 380,000 jobs and contribute SAR180 billion to Kingdom’s GDP. Saudi Arabia’s flagship business and tourism development project at the Red Sea coast is expected to see massive construction in the coming months and years. 

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) resin is the raw material used to manufacture various construction materials. These include PVC pipes, Wood Plastic Composite (WPC) windows and furniture, Stone Plastic Composite (SPC) flooring, and cable insulation. PVC is also used to manufacture medical equipment. 

“A big opportunity is knocking at the door in the form of Neom,” Muhammad Farhan, general manager downstream business and market development at EPCL, told Arab News. Farhan was speaking at a media briefing at the Bin Qasim industrial zone in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi. 

“Neom is a $500 billion project that requires massive construction materials including PVC downstream products that are available in Pakistan,” Farhan added. 

“In fact, some of the Pakistani manufacturers have already bid for the supply of material to the kingdom.” 

Farhan said Pakistani manufacturers of PVC products had received overwhelming response from Saudi participants of the Big 5, a mega construction show held in Dubai in December 2022. 

He said Saudis are exploring different options while manufacturers in the kingdom are looking for other manufacturers who can make products for them. 

The EPCL official said the demand for the basic construction material, including cables and pipes, will increase in the first phase of construction at Neom and will keep booming for at least two years. Simultaneously, demand for value-added products for construction on the exterior, including SPC and WPC, will increase.

To take greater advantage of Neom’s lucrative opportunities, Farhan said the government can play a vital role by engaging Saudi authorities and the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP). 

“We saw the interest of the Saudi participants in the value-added products – they want to import but they were also looking for investment in the kingdom for manufacturing and as a nation, we have access capacity and by utilizing that capacity we can avail the opportunity,” he added. 

Muhammad Idrees, EPCL’s chief commercial officer, said the country is already exporting PVC resin to Gulf countries UAE. Bahrain, Oman, and Egypt because of the freight advantage. 

“Engro has installed capacity of 300,000-ton resin production while the downstream industry has close to a million-ton capacity,” Idrees said.

“The downstream PVC industry can fully utilize its excess capacity and earn $300 million in terms of export revenue by standardizing and improving the quality of finished products.”

He said the $300 million PVC export potential could materialize within the next three to four years by the value-added industry through the export of surplus volumes and products. 

Idrees said EPCL is collaborating with TDAP to explore global markets to export value-added PVC downstream products. 

“In the last two years, the company exported surplus products worth $48 million to Turkiye and Middle Eastern markets, while import substitution of around $300 million contributed significantly toward solving Pakistan’s balance of payments situation,” he added. 

Mahmood Siddiqui, vice president of manufacturing at EPCL, said the company has invested over $188 million since 2015 in plant expansion and other upgrade projects for higher efficiency, reliability, and diversification of operations.

Pakistan’s per capita PVC consumption stands at 1.2 kg versus a global average of 6.1 kg. Per capita consumption growth, EPCL officials said, would be driven by rising per capita income, increasing urbanization, and robust domestic manufacturing in the coming years. 

However, they said the company was facing challenges of importing equipment for additional plants as commercial banks refuse to open Letters of Credit (LCs) as Pakistan faces a dollar crunch amid a worsening economic crisis. 

Amid decades-high inflation, Pakistan slashes petrol price by Rs8 per liter

Updated 31 May 2023

Amid decades-high inflation, Pakistan slashes petrol price by Rs8 per liter

  • After revision in prices, petrol will now be sold for Rs262 per liter, says finance minister
  • Pakistan slashes prices of high speed diesel, light diesel oil by Rs5 per liter respectively

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Finance Minister Ishaq Dar announced the government’s decision to slash the price of petrol by Rs8 per liter on Wednesday, as Pakistan attempts to provide relief to the masses amid decades-high inflation. 

Inflation increased to a historic high of 36.4 percent in Pakistan in April 2023, the highest since 1964, after the South Asian country hiked fuel and energy prices to revive a $6.5 billion loan program with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). 

To reduce the burden of inflation from the masses, Pakistan slashed the price of petrol by Rs 12 per liter two weeks ago. The South Asian country revises prices of petroleum products fortnightly. 

In a brief video message on Wednesday, the finance minister said that prices of petroleum products had not reduced drastically over the past 15 days nor had the value of the rupee significantly improved against the US dollar. 

“The maximum that we could reduce the petrol price [a fortnight ago] was Rs12 per liter,” Dar said. “Today, by reducing an additional Rs8 per liter, the price of petrol will reduce by Rs20 per liter in total. So, its price will reduce from Rs270 per liter to Rs262 from June 1,” he added. 

Dar also announced a reduction in the price of high speed diesel by Rs5 per liter and light diesel oil by Rs5 per liter. The price of kerosene oil will remain unchanged, he added.  

The finance minister said after the latest price reduction, high speed diesel, kerosene, and light diesel oil would cost Rs253, Rs164.07, and Rs147.68 per liter respectively.

Pakistan also slashed its oil imports by almost half last month, reducing it by 48 percent to 1.07 million tons during April 2023 as compared to 2.05 million tons during April 2022, a research report by Pakistan’s largest securities brokerage company, Arif Habib Limited, said. 

British Army chief calls on Pakistani counterpart, discusses regional security issues

Updated 31 May 2023

British Army chief calls on Pakistani counterpart, discusses regional security issues

  • British Army chief arrived in Pakistan this week to discuss military cooperation in response to climate-related disasters
  • General Nicholas Sanders lays floral wreath at Martyrs’ Monument, acknowledges Pakistan Army’s sacrifices against militancy

ISLAMABAD: British Army chief General Nicholas Yardley Monrad Sanders called on Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Syed Asim Munir on Wednesday to discuss regional security issues at the General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi, the Pakistani military said. 

Sanders arrived in Pakistan on a five-day visit on Monday to discuss military cooperation in response to climate-related challenges, with the UK High Commission in Islamabad saying his visit is part of a long-standing military cooperation agreement between the two countries.

Pakistan and UK’s militaries cooperate frequently, with many Pakistani officers undertaking training at the UK’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, the Advance Command and Staff Course, and the Royal College of Defense Studies. 

During his visit, Sanders laid a floral wreath at the Yadgar-e-Shuhuda (Marters’ Memorial) while a Pakistan Army contingent gave him a guard-of-honor. 

“During the meeting, regional security issues and matters of mutual interest were discussed,” the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said. 

“The visiting dignitary acknowledged the sacrifices and achievements of the Pakistan Army in the fight against terrorism and efforts for bringing peace and stability to the region,” the military’s media wing added. 

Earlier, Sanders also met General Sahir Shamshad Mirza, Pakistan’s chairman joint chiefs of staff committee at the Joint Staff Headquarters in Rawalpindi, the ISPR said.