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.

Court orders issuance of Pakistan Origin Cards to over 100 Afghan spouses of Pakistanis

Updated 7 sec ago

Court orders issuance of Pakistan Origin Cards to over 100 Afghan spouses of Pakistanis

  • POC provides all rights to foreigners married in Pakistan, except to vote, contest polls or to get a passport
  • Around 109 Afghans nationals had approached the Peshawar High Court seeking the Pakistan Origin Cards

PESHAWAR: The Peshawar High Court (PHC) has approved applications of more than a hundred Afghan nationals, who are married to Pakistanis, seeking Pakistan Origin Cards (POCs) and ordered authorities to process their applications once they fulfill legal formalities and rules, lawyers said on Saturday. 

Based on their marriages with Pakistanis, around 109 Afghan nationals had filed petitions in the court seeking POCs, which are issued by Pakistan's National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) to foreigners married to Pakistani citizens and allows them all rights except the rights to vote, contest election or to get a passport. 

A two-member bench of the PHC, headed by Justice Waqar Ahmad and Justice Sayed Arshad Ali, gave the order on Friday after hearing arguments of lawyers representing the petitioners, the federal government and the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA). 

“This is a partial judgment and a written verdict will be released in the next few days,” Advocate Sanaullah Khan, an additional attorney general who represented the federal government, told Arab News. 

"The judgment directed the federal government to proceed with their (Afghan spouses) cases to issue them POCs provided that the petitioners fulfill established rules." 

The development amid a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following Islamabad’s directive for all undocumented foreigners to leave the country by November 1. Many of the Afghans have since gone underground, fearing for their lives upon return to a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. 

Pakistan has long been home to more than 4 million Afghan migrants and refugees and around 1.7 million of them were undocumented, according to official estimates. Hundreds of thousands more arrived after the Taliban retook Afghanistan in 2021, joining the large number living in Pakistan since the Soviet invasion of the neighboring country in 1979. 

Advocate Saifullah Muhib Kakakhel, who appeared before the court on behalf of the petitioners, said most of his clients neither had passports nor other documents as they were born in Pakistan. 

“After hearing arguments from all the sides, the august court allowed these cases of issuing POCs to Afghan spouses, making them entitled to enjoy all benefits except Pakistani passport and right to vote,” Kakakhel said. "It was a short verdict and the detailed judgement will come later." 

He said that NADRA Rules (POC) 2002 provided for the grant of residence permits to spouses of Pakistani citizens and denying it would be a "clear violation of their basic rights." 

Advocate Shahid Imran Gigyani, who represented NADRA, said one of the conditions for a foreigner to get the POC was that they must have a passport of their country of origin, but in this particular case, most of the petitioners had no documents at all.  

He said he had argued before the court that these petitioners did not fall under the category of foreigners. 

“Our main contention before the court was that there is a huge difference between refugees and foreigners. A refugee can’t claim that right (POC) because they’re already given refugees’ rights, which is defined in Geneva Convention 1951,” Gigyani said.  

"But a foreigner is an individual who has a valid passport, visa and entry and exit rights." 

More than 370,000 Afghans have left Pakistan since Islamabad ordered them to leave in early October and said many of them had been involved in militant attacks and other offences. 

Khan Muhammad Babar, an Afghan national and a focal person at Peshawar's Afghan Commissionerate that provides humanitarian assistance to Afghan refugees, welcomed the judgement, saying the move would facilitate thousands of Afghan spouses and their children, who have been living in Pakistan for decades. 

“Though the petition mentions 109 spouses only, but as per my information there are over 1,400 such cases,” he said. "This decision is a ray of hope for many Afghan spouses that their children will ultimately get some sort of recognition, identity and homeland at least." 

Babar said the move by Pakistan to expel undocumented foreigners had put millions of Afghans in trouble, alleging that they were being "harassed" by Pakistani authorities. 

“As per our assessment, Pakistani authorities have so far expelled almost 470,000 Afghan refugees via Torkham and Chaman, the two main border crossings in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and southwestern Balochistan provinces,” he said. 

“Those residing illegally or without valid documents should be expelled, but in a dignified manner. Secondly, Pakistan should facilitate those refugees who have valid documents.”

Pakistan PM calls for financial, technical aid to climate-vulnerable nations at UN conference in Dubai

Updated 02 December 2023

Pakistan PM calls for financial, technical aid to climate-vulnerable nations at UN conference in Dubai

  • Kakar raised the issue at the Global Stock Take event to assess the world’s collective climate progress
  • The PM is scheduled to discuss Indus Basin restoration at yet another event at the Pakistan Pavilion

ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar urged the developed world on Saturday to help nations most vulnerable to the impact of erratic weather patterns by extending financial and technical assistance while addressing a gathering at the United Nations climate conference in Dubai.

Kakar is on a week-long visit to the Middle East where he is currently spearheading his country’s delegation at the 28th UN Conference of Parties (COP28) that began on Nov. 30.

Pakistan is among the most vulnerable nations in the world to climate change and has set up its own pavilion at the conference venue to highlight some of the most-pressing issues related to a rapidly accelerating climate crisis.

Kakar participated in the Global Stock Take event to assess the progress made by the world to collectively deal with the issue of climate change.

“In his remarks at this roundtable discussion, the Prime Minister highlighted the acuteness of the climate crisis and laid emphasis on providing adequate means of implementation including climate finance, capacity-building and technology, to developing countries to tackle this growing challenge,” said a brief statement issued by his office in Islamabad.

He pointed out that climate finance would always be the enabler for climate action, adding that the needs of developing countries far exceeded the unfulfilled $100 billion pledge made in Paris during the 2015 conference to ensure climate adaptability.

“Prime Minister also called for scaling-up development and transfer of proven climate technologies, as well as better delivery of capacity building for developing countries,” the statement added. “The need for greater coherence and coordination across the United Nations system was also underscored.”

Pakistan's Caretaker Prime Minister, Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar (center), is being received by the President of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (right), and the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, upon his arrival at Dubai Expo City to attend the High-Level Segment of the United Nations' 28th Conference of Parties on December 1, 2023. (Photo courtesy: PMO)

Kakar is also scheduled to attend a discussion session on the ecological restoration of the Indus Basin at the UN conference.

The event is organized at the Pakistan Pavilion by Living Indus, the country’s biggest climate initiative that is estimated to cost $11-17 billion and was launched with UN support last year in September.

The initiative aims to protect and restore the health of the Indus River, which is crucial for the economy, environment and well-being of millions of people in Pakistan.

The Living Indus project focuses on addressing the challenges faced by the Indus River system, including water scarcity, pollution and habitat degradation, through various conservation and sustainable management strategies.

According to the information available on its website, 90 percent of Pakistan’s people and more than three-quarters of its economy resides in the Indus Basin. More than 80 percent of Pakistan’s arable land is irrigated by its waters, and nine out of the ten largest cities in the country are situated within 50 kilometers or less of the waters of Indus.

The Indus River has served as the vibrant core of the social, cultural and economic life of what is now Pakistan for well over 5,000 years. According to the country’s former climate change minister, Senator Sherry Rehman, however, it is the world’s second most polluted river today.

Pakistani school wins $100,000 Zayed Prize for Sustainability at UAE's COP28 conference

Updated 02 December 2023

Pakistani school wins $100,000 Zayed Prize for Sustainability at UAE's COP28 conference

  • Located in Azad Kashmir, the school was recognized for water conservation and organic farming
  • Competing with finalists from India and Bangladesh, it was declared the best school in South Asia

DUBAI: A Pakistani school won the prestigious Zayed Sustainability Prize of $100,000 after being declared the best Global School in South Asia for its innovative project on water conservation and organic farming at the UN climate conference in Dubai on Friday.
The school is operated by the Kashmir Orphan Relief Trust (KORT) and was competing for the prize against two other finalists from India and Bangladesh.
Two young representatives of the trust were present at the gathering at the Expo City in Dubai where United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed presented the award.
The Zayed Sustainability Prize honors the legacy of UAE’s founding father Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan by rewarding small and medium enterprises, non-profit organizations, and high schools addressing health, food, energy, water and climate-related challenges.
The prize has been awarded to 106 recipients in the last 15 years to positively impact the lives of 384 million people worldwide.
“Our project is on water conservation because, in 2025, clean drinking water will finish in Pakistan,” Sumaiya Bibi, 19, told Arab News after receiving the award on behalf of the trust.
After losing her parents in the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan’s Kashmir region, she found a sense of direction by focusing on climate-related projects.
“We want to set up water filtration plants and sensor taps in our school to minimize water wastage,” she said. “We also want to set up a kitchen garden in our school through organic farming so that the children can get nutrition from the organically grown food.”
KORT School and College of Excellence is based in Azad Kashmir and was set up in 2016 for children who were orphaned in the devastating earthquake. The facility is serving over 500 students.
The trust also opened another school in Swabi this October which can house 450 children. For the past several years, KORT has been supporting and providing orphaned children with education, boarding facilities, food, clothing and medical care.
Kinza Bibi, another 19-year-old student at the education institute in Kashmir who also represented the trust at the event said: “We want the children at the school to learn how to preserve clean water.”
According to the founding chairman of the organization, Chaudhry Mohammed Akhtar, the prize money would be used to undertake projects related to clean water and organic farming in rural areas.
The 11 winners of the prize this year were elected in September by a panel of jury members, who evaluated each submission for its contribution and commitment to delivering impactful, innovative, and inspiring solutions across the six categories of health, food, energy, water, climate action and global high schools.
This year, the 11 winners across all these categories shared a total prize fund of $3.6 million for their pioneering solutions to transform lives and accelerate environmental change around the world.

Ex-PM Khan’s nominee wins party chairmanship unopposed, as critics call polls controversial

Updated 02 December 2023

Ex-PM Khan’s nominee wins party chairmanship unopposed, as critics call polls controversial

  • Barrister Gohar Ali Khan says he will work as Khan’s successor and representative till he returns from prison
  • Akbar S. Babar and Mariyum Aurangzeb have described the intra-party polls as “selection” held at secret location

ISLAMABAD: Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party said on Saturday it had elected Barrister Gohar Ali Khan as new chairman after he was nominated for the post by the ex-premier who has been in prison since August on charges ranging from corrupt practices to leaking state secrets.
The intra-party polls, which have been described as controversial by PTI critics, were held after Pakistan’s election commission ordered Khan’s party to hold them within 20 days to retain cricket bat as its election symbol.
This led to political quandary for PTI officials since some of its members pointed out it would not be possible for Khan, the founding leader and chairman of the party, to run for the post after being disqualified to hold public office in a case involving the illegal sale of state gifts during his tenure in power.
“Intra-party elections conducted,” the PTI said in a brief statement while announcing results.
It informed that Barrister Gohar had been elected unopposed while Omer Ayub Khan had won the contest for the party secretary-general.
The results also named the provincial PTI presidents, saying Dr. Yasmin Rashid would lead the party in Punjab, Ali Amin Gandapur in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Munir Ahmed Baloch in Balochistan and Haleem Adil Sheikh in Sindh.
“I will fulfil chairman’s responsibilities as Khan’s successor and representative,” Barrister Gohar said after the announcement of results. “There are 170 political parties in the country who have been presenting [internal] election results to the Election Commission of Pakistan since 1960. However, their intra-party polls have not be scrutinized like ours have.”
The new PTI chairman said the Pakistani people were watching these developments, hoping it would ultimately lead to an end to political “persecution.”
“This position is with me as a sacred trust until Khan is back,” he added.
One of the founding PTI members, who later fell apart from the ex-PM and other party leaders, however, dismissed the polls even before they were organized.
Akbar S. Babar described the exercise as “selection, elections,” promising to hold a news conference to share “important facts” about the intra-party polls later today.
PTI’s rival party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), also raised objections to the conduct of elections.
PML-N leader and former federal information minister, Mariyum Aurangzeb, told the media the “selection process” only took 15 minutes.
She maintained the intra-party polls were held at a secret place and lacked voters, voter lists and presiding officers.

Ex-PM Khan’s court-ordered public trial scheduled to begin today in state secrets case

Updated 02 December 2023

Ex-PM Khan’s court-ordered public trial scheduled to begin today in state secrets case

  • Case relates to cipher between Washington and Islamabad Khan says was proof that US orchestrated his ouster as PM
  • Case relates to cipher between Washington and Islamabad Khan says was proof that US orchestrated his ouster as PM

ISLAMABAD: The jail trial of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, with media and members of the public allowed access for the first time, will begin today, Saturday, at Rawalpindi’s Adiala jail in a case in which the ex-premier is accused of leaking state secrets.
A special court established to hear what has popularly come to be called the cipher case had been conducting the trial inside the Adiala prison in Rawalpindi city since Khan was indicted on the charges last month and after the government said he could not be moved to a courtroom for hearings due to security reasons. However, the Islamabad High Court ruled last week that holding Khan’s trial inside jail premises on security concerns was illegal, and ordered it restarted in an open court.
The trial began afresh on Friday, but Khan and Shah Mahmood Qureshi, a close aide who has also been indicted in the case, were not produced before the special court when the hearing began because a law ministry notification sanctioning their trial had not been submitted until well into the hearing.
The proceedings broke for recess and when they resumed, the judge said the law ministry’s notification had arrived and adjourned the hearing till Saturday.
“Another blatant attempt to slow the process when [law ministry] notification could have been issued yesterday,” a PTI media manager told reporters on Friday.
Khan, who is the chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, is being held at Adiala jail where he is serving a three-year sentence in a separate case in which he was convicted in August of failing to disclose assets earned from the sale of state gifts while he was PM from 2018-2022.
Khan is also accused in a number of other cases, including the cipher case, which relates to an alleged diplomatic correspondence between Washington and Islamabad that Khan says was proof that his ouster as PM in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence in April 2022 was part of a US conspiracy to remove him. Washington has repeatedly denied Khan’s accusations.
Khan, arguably the most popular politician in the country, has not been seen in public since he was arrested in August. Prior to that, he regularly addressed his millions of followers via social media and held massive public rallies and protest marches.
Khan had also been appearing in courts prior to his August arrest protected by his personal security guards. But he has also sought exemptions from personal appearances, often citing threats to his safety.
The former premier says all cases against him are “politically motivated” and aimed at keeping him and his party out of politics ahead of general elections, due in February.