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.


More than 42,000 Pakistani pilgrims arrive in Makkah to perform Hajj 

Updated 4 sec ago

More than 42,000 Pakistani pilgrims arrive in Makkah to perform Hajj 

  • Pakistan has been allotted a quota of 81,132 pilgrims for this year’s Hajj 
  • The Hajj flight operation, comprising 106 flights, will conclude on June 30 

ISLAMABAD: More than 42,000 Pakistani pilgrims have reached Makkah, Saudi Arabia to perform the annual Hajj pilgrimage since the start of a special flight operation on June 6, the Pakistani religion ministry said on Monday. 

The first Hajj flight carrying Pakistani pilgrims departed from Islamabad on June 6. Pakistan has been allotted a quota of 81,132 pilgrims for this year’s Hajj, with 32,000 people using a government scheme and 48,000 traveling through private operators. 

“A total of 42,477 [Pakistani] pilgrims have reached Makkah under the government and private schemes,” the Pakistani ministry of religious affairs said in a statement. 

Around 16,900 Pakistani pilgrims directly reached Madinah under the government scheme from June 6 to June 16, where they stayed for eight days and were gradually transported to Makkah, according to the statement. Under the private scheme, 3,132 pilgrims reached Madinah, while another 9,239 reached Makkah via Jeddah. 

“A total of 30,106 pilgrims are present in Makkah who traveled under the government scheme,” the ministry said. 

The Hajj flight operation was ongoing and all pilgrims traveling under the government scheme would be flown to Saudi Arabia by June 30, it added. 


In ‘testing times’ for startups, Pakistani ride-sharing platform Bykea raises $10 million 

Updated 15 min 14 sec ago

In ‘testing times’ for startups, Pakistani ride-sharing platform Bykea raises $10 million 

  • Bykea top official calls the fresh funding a ‘great vote of confidence’ 
  • Notable startups have recently announced layoffs, scaled down operations 

KARACHI: Bykea, a leading Pakistani ride-sharing and on-demand delivery platform, on Monday announced it had secured $10 million investment from its existing backers to cater to rising demand for online services in the South Asian nation of 220 million. 

The company said it plans to use the capital to enhance and extend its leading position in mobility and fulfillment services for consumers and enterprises, including food and e-commerce deliveries, as well as leveraging its fleet for unique fintech use cases, like cash on delivery (COD), cash-pickup or verification services. 

Bykea’s fresh funding comes at a time when three other startups, Careem, SWVL and Truk It In, either scaled down their services or laid off workforce due to global and domestic economic downturns. 

“In these testing times this is a great vote of confidence,” Rafiq Malik, chief operating officer (COO) of Bykea, told Arab News on Monday. 

“The capital will be used to enhance our leading position in the Bike Taxi, Delivery and fulfilment of services while providing livelihood to hundreds of thousands of driver partners.” 

Bykea investors include Prosus Ventures, MEVP, Sarmayacar, Tharros, and Ithaca Capital. In the last two years, the company has recorded an exponential growth in the three cities it operates in, namely Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. 

Bykea founder Muneeb Maayr said the fresh funding would help serve the company’s five million customers and provide opportunities to over 60,000 riders. 

“With this fresh investment, we are excited to continue to serve our 5 million base of customers. We continue to provide them with an affordable and on-demand method of moving people, money, and parcels, while simultaneously providing livelihoods for over sixty thousand driver partners every month,” Maayr said in a statement. 

Jonas Eichhorst, Bykea executive chairman, said these were exciting times of high growth for the startup and they were grateful for the continued support of existing backers. 

“With 1.7 million monthly active users (MAUs), we see an enormous opportunity to serve the middle-class by offering easy, affordable, and convenient transport and logistics solutions,” Eichhorst said. 

Maayr said the company was particularly proud of being able to consistently deliver on three key ingredients, including rapid growth that was five times its pre-pandemic scale, profitability in mobility, and the versatility of the largest motorbike fleet in the country. 

“This round reflects existing investors’ continued belief in Bykea’s execution excellence and attractive growth profile, underpinned by a focus on sustainable unit economics and second to none capital efficiency,” Rabeel Warraich, founder of the Sarmayacar venture capital firm, said. 

The economic downturn has hit the Pakistani startup scene, where a combination of investor exuberance, pandemic-induced digital adoption, an improved regulatory environment and interest from foreign investors drove VC funding to a record high of $350 million last year — five times the amount raised in 2020 and double the total investment received in the last six years. 

Funds continued to flow into Pakistan till the first quarter of 2022, with startups raising around $176.6 million, according to data from Invest2Innovate and Alpha Beta Core. 

But reality is setting in now, with several notable players announcing layoffs recently and scaling down operations. 


China affirms support to Pakistan after India blocks participation in Beijing-hosted meeting 

Updated 28 min 53 sec ago

China affirms support to Pakistan after India blocks participation in Beijing-hosted meeting 

  • China hosted 14th BRICS summit on June 23 with participation from many non-member states 
  • Pakistan earlier said its participation in the BRICS sideline dialogue was ‘blocked’ by New Delhi 

ISLAMABAD: China on Monday reaffirmed its support to Pakistan after India blocked Islamabad’s participation in a ‘High-level Dialogue on Global Development’ that was virtually hosted by Beijing on the sidelines of BRICS meetings this month, Pakistani state media reported. 

The BRICS countries comprise Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. China hosted the 14th BRICS summit on June 23 and focusing on an agenda regarding the expansion of the group, invited leaders of other non-member countries including Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Kazakhstan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, Nigeria, Senegal, and Thailand to its sideline meetings. 

Asim Iftikhar Ahmed, a Pakistani foreign office spokesperson, confirmed to Arab News that India had blocked Pakistan’s participation in sideline meetings. Pakistan and India have fought three wars and engaged in numerous smaller armed clashes, mostly over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir. 

On Monday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said the decision to hold the dialogue on global development was based on consultation among BRICS countries, Pakistani state-run APP news agency reported. 

“Pakistan is an important member of the group of friends of the Global Development Initiative (GDI),” Zhao was quoted as saying at a routine media briefing. 

“China highly values the important role of Pakistan in promoting global development and advancing implementation of the UN 2030 agenda for a sustainable development and booting regional cooperation.” 

Zhao said China and Pakistan maintained close coordination and Beijing would continue to partner with Islamabad on a priority basis to implement the global development initiative. 

“We have conducted substantial cooperation in the field of development, which has delivered tangible benefits to the people of both countries and the region,” he said. 

“We will continue to work with the country (Pakistan) to advance the global development agenda.” 

Earlier in the day, the Pakistani foreign office spokesperson said China, being the host country, engaged with Pakistan prior to the BRICS meetings, where decisions were taken after consultations with all BRICS members, including extending the invitation to non-members. “Regrettably one member blocked Pakistan’s participation,” he said. 

The spokesperson hoped future engagement of the organization would be based on the “principles of inclusivity, keeping in view the overall interests of the developing world and in a manner that is devoid of narrow geopolitical considerations.” 

“Pakistan stands ready to work with all developing countries, including the BRICS members for addressing the challenges faced by the global community,” he said. 

When questioned by Arab News on the impact on Pak-China relations of Pakistan’s absence from the BRICS meeting, the foreign office spokesperson declined to comment. 

China caving in to ostensible Indian pressure comes even as ties between New Delhi and Beijing remain strained after a fatal border clash in the Galwan valley in June 2020 left at least 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers dead. 

Beijing has repeatedly said that the border standoff, which is ongoing, does not represent the entirety of China-India relations, while New Delhi has maintained that peace along the frontier is essential for the two countries to work together. 

China is India’s largest trading partner, with bilateral trade expanding exponentially since the turn of the century to $95.02 billion in 2021/22. More than 100 Chinese companies, including state-owned enterprises, operate in India, including electronics manufacturers that have come to dominate the country’s mobile phone market. 

Abdul Basit, a former Pakistani ambassador who has served in India, said the recent dialogue was merely a sideline meeting and would not have much impact but cautioned that Pakistan be more careful about upcoming multilateral meetings where India could attempt to harm Islamabad’s interests. 

“Pakistan must also ensure that India should not be invited to the upcoming Organization of Islamic Cooperation summits as their participation would be harmful to Pakistan,” Basit added. 

Naghmana Hashmi, Pakistan’s former ambassador to China, said Pakistan missing the sideline meeting would not have “any kind of negative impact” on Pakistan’s relations with China. 

“China wanted Pakistan to be on the table but because of the regulation of unanimous decision by all the BRICS members, they [Chinese] did not have any option left,” she added. 

Syed Muhammad Ali, a foreign and strategic affairs expert, said the Indian approach toward Pakistan’s participation was driven by “narrow and short-term geopolitical goals,” instead of a spirit of inclusivity, accommodation and cooperation. 

“This Indian attitude has also prevented SAARC, another important regional forum, from playing a more substantive and constructive role in regional cooperation and progress,” he told Arab News, referring to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), an economic and political organization of eight countries in South Asia. 

Pakistan, perpetually in a brittle relationship with the United States, has leaned closely to longtime partner China in recent decades, offering its “all-weather friendship” with Beijing as an alternative to Washington. 

In 2015, China and Pakistan launched a plan for energy and infrastructure projects in Pakistan worth over $60 billion, linking their economies and underscoring China’s economic ambitions in Asia and beyond. In March this year, the Pakistan Air Force showed off the latest addition to its fleet, next-generation Chinese J-10 C fighter jets, as the longtime allies counter what they see as the threat from regional military rival India. 

“Pakistan and China are all-weather strategic partners and our iron brotherhood remains rock solid,” the Pakistani foreign office statement said. “The two countries are fully committed to take our all-round cooperation to higher levels both bilaterally and multilaterally.” 


In a first, Karachi prison offers Mandarin Chinese classes to inmates

Updated 27 June 2022

In a first, Karachi prison offers Mandarin Chinese classes to inmates

  • High-security Karachi Central Jail once had a reputation for being a brutal holding pen
  • In recent years, the prison has launched classes in English, computer science, music and art

KARACHI: In a first, a prison in the Pakistani megacity of Karachi has started offering Mandarin Chinese classes to up-skill inmates and give them a chance at a “better life” when they are released, jail officials said on Monday. 

Karachi Central Jail, a high-security prison where 5,843 prisoners are housed in barracks meant for 2,400, was once notorious for incarcerating the most unredeemable class of criminals and had a reputation for being a brutal holding pen. 

For the last few years, however, the prison has launched new rehabilitation programs to help ease the tedium of life behind bars and impart new skills to inmates. The prison has a School of Fine Arts and Music, offering painting, jewelry, embroidery, music and language training classes. Computer science and English lessons are also offered at the facility. In January this year, a convicted murderer jailed at the prison, Syed Naeem Shah, earned a prestigious chartered accountancy scholarship. 

Last month, the prison launched Mandarin Chinese classes at its ‘Alkhidmat Computer Training and English Language Center.’ The teacher is Farhan Niazi, himself an inmate, and he has thirty students. 

“This Chinese language class, we started a month ago, is one of those programs to enable inmates to live a normal and better life as good citizens after they are released,” jail superintendent Hasan Sehto told Arab News on Monday.

An inmate notes down Chinese language numbers in a register during Mandarin language class at Karachi central jail, Pakistan, on June 27, 2022. (AN Photo)

“The class of Chinese language is just a new addition, which is being introduced keeping in view its growing demand with many projects being started in Pakistan under CPEC [China-Pakistan Economic Corridor],” Sehto said, referring to a multi-billion dollar Chinese project in Pakistan. “These days Pakistanis need to focus on and learn Chinese language to have more chances of getting employment in the growing job market that CEPC related projects have created.”

Niazi, who worked as a Chinese language interpreter and translator before landing in jail for a minor misdemeanour, said he planned to train at least three teachers who could continue teaching the classes after he got out. 

“I acquired a three-year education of the language in China but the six-month long course we are teaching here will help the inmates have a command over the language and use this skill in getting jobs,” Niazi told Arab News.

Farhan Niazi, an inmate and trainer, teaches Mandarin at Karachi central jail, Pakistan, on June 27, 2022. (AN Photo)

Muhammad Hanzala, an under-trial prisoner in his twenties, said learning a language was better than just passing time in jail purposelessly.

“The time will pass but you can make it useful by attending any of the programs that jail officials are offering,” Hanzala said. “And these classes provide an excellent opportunity as Chinese has become a very important language like English is necessary for progress and advancement in life.” 

Alkhidmat Computer Training and English Language Center at central prison and correctional facility, Karachi, Pakistan, on June 27, 2022. (AN Photo)

“The mistakes you have made may not be undone,” his teacher Niazi chipped in, “but inmates can learn, they can acquire a skill or two and make a better life for themselves once they are free.”

*Names of inmates have been changed to protect identities.


Pakistan says its participation in BRICS sideline dialogue ‘blocked’ by India

Updated 27 June 2022

Pakistan says its participation in BRICS sideline dialogue ‘blocked’ by India

  • China hosted 14th BRICS summit on June 23 with participation from many non-member states
  • Experts say Pakistan’s absence from a sideline meeting would not have impact on ties with China 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan said on Monday its participation in a ‘High-level Dialogue on Global Development,’ held virtually and hosted by China on the sidelines of BRICS meetings this month, had been blocked by India, though foreign affairs experts said this would not have a negative effect on relations between longtime allies Islamabad and Beijing. 

The BRICS countries comprise Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. 

China hosted the 14th BRICS summit on June 23 and focusing on an agenda regarding the expansion of the group, invited leaders of other non-member countries including Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Kazakhstan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, Nigeria, Senegal, and Thailand to its sideline meetings. 

Asim Iftikhar Ahmed, the Pakistani foreign office spokesperson, confirmed to Arab News that India had blocked Pakistan’s participation in sideline meetings. 

Pakistan and India have fought three wars and engaged in numerous smaller armed clashes, mostly over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.

“China being the host country engaged with Pakistan prior to the BRICS meetings, where decisions are taken after consultations with all BRICS members, including extending the invitation to non-members,” the foreign office said in a statement earlier in the day. “Regrettably one member blocked Pakistan’s participation.” 

The spokesperson hoped future engagement of the organization would be based on the “principles of inclusivity, keeping in view the overall interests of the developing world and in a manner that is devoid of “narrow geopolitical considerations.”

“Pakistan stands ready to work with all developing countries, including the BRICS members for addressing the challenges faced by the global community,” he said.

When questioned by Arab News on the impact on Pak-China relations of Pakistan’s absence from the BRICS meeting, the foreign office spokesperson declined comment.

China caving in to ostensible Indian pressure comes even as ties between New Delhi and Beijing remain strained after a fatal border clash in the Galwan valley in June 2020 left at least 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers dead. 

Beijing has repeatedly said that the border standoff, which is ongoing, does not represent the entirety of China-India relations, while New Delhi has maintained that peace along the frontier is essential for the two countries to work together.

China is India’s largest trading partner, with bilateral trade expanding exponentially since the turn of the century to $95.02 billion in 2021/22. More than 100 Chinese companies, including state-owned enterprises, operate in India, including electronics manufacturers that have come to dominate the country’s mobile phone market.

Abdul Basit, a former Pakistani ambassador who has served in India, said the recent dialogue was merely a sideline meeting and would not have much impact but cautioned that Pakistan be more careful about upcoming multilateral meetings where India could attempt to harm Islamabad’s interests.

“Pakistan must also ensure that India should not be invited to the upcoming Organization of Islamic Cooperation summits as their participation would be harmful to Pakistan,” Basit added.

Naghmana Hashmi, Pakistan’s former ambassador to China, said Pakistan missing the sideline meeting would not have “any kind of negative impact” on Pakistan’s relations with China.

“China wanted Pakistan to be on the table but because of the regulation of unanimous decision by all the BRICS members, they [Chinese] did not have any option left,” she added. 

Syed Muhammad Ali, a foreign and strategic affairs expert, said the Indian approach toward Pakistan’s participation was driven by “narrow and short-term geopolitical goals,” instead of a spirit of inclusivity, accommodation and cooperation.

“This Indian attitude has also prevented SAARC, another important regional forum, from playing a more substantive and constructive role in regional cooperation and progress,” he told Arab News, referring to 
the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), an economic and political organization of eight countries in South Asia.

Pakistan, perpetually in a brittle relationship with the United States, has leaned closely to longtime partner China in recent decades, offering its “all-weather friendship” with Beijing as an alternative to Washington.

In 2015, China and Pakistan launched a plan for energy and infrastructure projects in Pakistan worth over $60 billion, linking their economies and underscoring China’s economic ambitions in Asia and beyond. In March this year, the Pakistan Air Force showed off the latest addition to its fleet, next-generation Chinese J-10 C fighter jets, as the longtime allies counter what they see as the threat from regional military rival India.

“Pakistan and China are all-weather strategic partners and our iron brotherhood remains rock solid,” the foreign office statement said. “The two countries are fully committed to take our all-round cooperation to higher levels both bilaterally and multilaterally.”