Pakistani Hindus march, cancel major Holi celebrations to protest Delhi riots

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Members of March from Capri Cinema to Karachi Press Club to express their solidarity with Indian Muslims on March 8, 2020. (AN Photo)
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Pundit Mukesh Kumar, a Hindu community leader, speaks to Arab News during the protest march on March 8, 2020. (AN photo)
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Shanti Devi, a Hindu woman marching in solidarity with Indian Muslims, speaks to Arab News at M.A. Jinnah Road in Karachi, on March 8, 2020. (AN Photo)
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A child on a motorcycle with his father as the protest march proceeds to Karachi Press Club from M.A Jinnah road in Karachi on March 8, 2020. (AN Photo)
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Members of the protest as they march from Capri Cinema to Karachi Press Club to express their solidarity with Indian Muslims on March 8, 2020. (AN Photo)
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Members of the protest as they march from Capri Cinema to Karachi Press Club to express their solidarity with Indian Muslims on March 8, 2020. (AN Photo)
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Updated 09 March 2020

Pakistani Hindus march, cancel major Holi celebrations to protest Delhi riots

  • Community members say will celebrate this year’s Holi festival with simplicity and sobriety
  • Pakistan’s Hindu community makes up about two percent of country’s population with majority living in Sindh

KARACHI: Representatives of Pakistan’s Hindu community on Sunday marched in support of the Muslims of Delhi affected by violent riots in the Indian capital last month, and announced they would celebrate this year’s Holi festival on Monday with sobriety as a message of protest against the violence in India.
The Hindu community in Pakistan makes up about two percent of the country’s population of 210 million people and the majority lives in southern Sindh province. For this religious group, the annual festival of Holi is normally celebrated with great zeal in Karachi, as a commemoration of spring and color.
But the 2020 Delhi riots which erupted on the night of Feb. 23 and led to the deaths of 53 people, mostly Muslim, in violent ways, have dampened the joy of the impending festival, the demonstrators said.
“Our Muslim brothers were being oppressed and killed, and their property was damaged in Delhi. It has really hurt us and prompted us to march today,” Pundit Mukesh Kumar, one of the march’s organizers, told Arab News and added: “The festival of Holi, which starts on Monday evening will be celebrated but to fulfil religious obligations only-- without all the colors and merry-making.”
On Sunday, as nationwide Aurat March demonstrations garnered national attention, the Hindu marchers continued their own impassioned protest. Community members said they have suspended all major events usually associated with the festival.
“We have canceled our main events of throwing colors, playing music and showing happiness,” Kumar said
“We urge upon the UN and world community to stop Modi and his government from meting out bad treatment to religious minorities. We also urge our Hindu brothers in India to stand up for the rights of Muslims and other religious minorities,” he said.
“Our Muslim brothers have never been a hurdle to our festival, instead they’ve always protected us,” he said. “They celebrate it with us.”
Referring to India’s controversial new citizenship law which Muslims and civil libertarians in India have been protesting since the beginning of the year, Dr. Rakesh Motiani, a local leader of Pakistan People’s Party said India’s Muslims were only protesting against a bad law. 
“It’s unfortunate that the Modi government tried to stop them from protesting by resorting to the worst form of violence,” Motiani said at the Karachi Press Club.
Shanti Devi, a demonstrator and woman in her 60’s, said the Muslims of India should be considered equal citizens of their country.
“It hurts us a lot when Muslims are tortured in India. All should be considered human beings, and only then will peace prevail and society prosper,” she said. 
“We are all humans and have the right to live in our countries peacefully.”

Pakistan's ninth review in order, IMF 'can't dictate' country — finance minister

Updated 30 sec ago

Pakistan's ninth review in order, IMF 'can't dictate' country — finance minister

  • Pakistan awaits a tranche of $500mln from IMF as part of its $7 billion loan program
  • The country is facing a myriad of economic woes and desperately needs forex inflows

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said on Friday that the ninth review of the country's $7 billion loan program was in order and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) "can't dictate" it measures for the release a $500 million tranche. 

The IMF review for the release of its next tranche of funding has been pending since September, which has left Pakistan in dire need of external financing. 

Dar told a Pakistani TV station that all targets for the IMF review had been completed and that withholding a tranche despite that would not make sense. 

"Our ninth review is totally in order... I have reminded them they should come and review and give Pakistan $500 million," the finance minister said. 

"[You] can't dictate." 

Pakistan secured a $6 billion bailout in 2019 under an Extended Fund Facility (EFF), that was topped up with another $1 billion earlier this year. 

The minister said Pakistan's foreign reserves, currently at $7.5 billion, would be shored up with a $3 billion financing from a friendly country in the next two weeks. 

But the reserves at the moment are barely enough for a month of imports for the South Asian nation, facing a widening current account deficit and balance-of-payment crises as well as depreciation of national currency. 

Asked about a delay in the visit of an IMF delegation to Pakistan, Dar said he "didn't care" and he did not want to plead for the visit. 

"If it (money) doesn't come, we will manage, no problem," the minister added. 

Pakistani startup using AI for breast cancer detection eyes FDA approval, Middle East expansion

Updated 27 sec ago

Pakistani startup using AI for breast cancer detection eyes FDA approval, Middle East expansion

  • Xylexa’s technology has gone through clinical trials at several medical facilities in Pakistan and abroad
  • Startup recently got its first contract in Lebanon and is now looking into opportunities in UAE, Saudi Arabia

ISLAMABAD: An award-winning Pakistani startup that uses artificial intelligence and cloud-based tools for breast cancer detection is now working on getting approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and pursuing expansion into Arab countries, the founders of the firm said this week.

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), Pakistan has the highest breast cancer rate in Asia, with one out of nine Pakistani women now facing a lifetime risk of the disease. The country also has one of the highest breast cancer mortality rates globally.

Known as Xylexa, the Islamabad-based startup was founded in 2018 by entrepreneurs Shahid Abbasi, Shahrukh Babar, and Neda Nehal who met each other by chance at an IT industry event in 2017.

The three individuals thus embarked on a mission to fight the disease by empowering radiologists — medical doctors that specialize in diagnosing and treating injuries and diseases using medical imaging procedures — with tools and technologies that would render improved clinical outcomes for the patients.

“We have developed a decision support program for interpretation of medical images which use cutting edge technologies like artificial intelligence, computer vision, and deep learning that would help radiologists attain better clinical insights,” Abbasi, the co-founder of the startup, told Arab News in an interview in Islamabad this week.

Xylexa team poses for a picture after receiving the Pasha Technology of the Year Award in Islamabad, Pakistan on September 7, 2018. (Photo courtesy: Xylexa)

The inspiration to do something for breast cancer patients came when a close relative was diagnosed with the disease at a very late stage, he said.

“We got together as a group and decided to do something about it and use technology as a medium to save more lives,” Abbasi added.

The first set of algorithms that Xylexa developed was for the detection of breast cancer using mammography, he said, and its clinical evaluation was successfully concluded after the hard work of three and half years.

“We are not just stopping at mammography but now we are focused on developing support for 14 different diseases that require chest x-rays and have also developed algorithms for protection of blockages within the arterial system,” Abbasi said.

The entrepreneur said his company’s product delivered results with an up to a 95 percent accuracy ratio, thus giving 24 percent better results than traditional radiology examination.

“If you look at the market data available for the accuracy of radiologists’ readings, it ranges anywhere between 71 percent to 82 percent. On the other hand, the accuracy rates of three algorithms that we have developed for mammography, chest x-ray, and peripheral artery disease detection ranges anywhere between 89 percent to 95 percent,” he added.

After developing an AI and cloud-based platform to provide support for breast cancer detection, Xylexa put it through clinical validation at various medical facilities in Pakistan and abroad.

According to StartUs Insights, an Austrian company that has evaluated almost 359 companies across the globe using artificial intelligence in health care, Xylexa was among the top five performers in this domain.

Babar, another co-founder of the startup, said the team was now applying for approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States after completing clinical trials.

“We ran a trial in Pakistan with Fouji Foundation Hospital, Islamabad Diagnostic Center, and Epiphany Labs,” he said, adding that the startup was also expanding to Arab countries.

“Recently, we got our first contract in Lebanon and we are looking at a few opportunities in Saudi Arabia too. We have already carried out trials with the King Fahad Hospital in the Kingdom and now are in talks with a few potential partners in Dubai as well.”

Babar said breast cancer could be successfully cured with early detection.

“If breast cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, chances of survival are 90 percent,” he said. “If it is diagnosed at a later stage, then chances of survival remain 25 percent or even less.”

After beating floods, one man in Sindh adopts ‘paradoxical farming’ to increase crop yield

Updated 03 December 2022

After beating floods, one man in Sindh adopts ‘paradoxical farming’ to increase crop yield

  • Farmer named Bhom Singh Sodho uses organic method that combines raised bed cropping and hardpan breaking
  • Method was pioneered by a local agronomist and is now being promoted by Pakistan’s planning commission

UMERKOT: At a time when Pakistan is reeling from major agricultural losses due to worst-ever floods this summer that washed away thousands of acres of crops, a man in the southern Sindh says he is earning substantial cotton, sugarcane, and vegetable crop yields by using an innovative farming method that promises massive profits for agriculturalists.

Paedar Qudrati Nizam-e-Kashtkari (PQNK) – a term sometimes described as “paradoxical farming” – was pioneered in 2008 by a Lahore-based agronomist, Asif Sharif, who encouraged growers to adopt natural means to increase agricultural production.

Paradoxical farming combines farming practices like hardpan breaking, no tilling, raised beds, precision planting, and organic mulching to invent an effective cropping system.

It is this technique that is being used by Bhom Singh Sodho, a farmer from the district of Umerkot in Sindh where much of the agricultural land was submerged during the recent floods.

Sodho combined raised bed cropping, which helped reduce excess surface water, as well as hardpan breaking, which increased the absorption capacity of his land in the absence of thick agrochemical layers.

“The floods devastated thousands of acres of agricultural land which were using traditional production methods around my farm,” Sodho told Arab News. “However, PQNK saved me from incurring any losses. In fact, I earned substantial profit and was even preparing to cultivate my next crop when a majority of farmers were trying to drain water from their fields.”

This picture shows an agricultural land which is still submerged by flood water in Umerkot, Pakistan, on November 17, 2022. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

Official estimates suggest the catastrophic floods in Pakistan inflicted more than $30 billion in economic losses while the agricultural sector suffered $3.7 billion in damages. Sindh was the worst-hit province, where a large number of farmers lost both crops and livestock.

Sodho said that he shifted to the new production method two years ago when he decided to employ it over 11 out of his 55 acres of land. The year 2022 was the best for him in terms of cotton, sugarcane, and vegetable crops even amid the unprecedented floods, he said. 

Farmers in Umerkot mostly complain of water shortages and Sodho’s decision to switch to the new farming technique was also prompted by the same reason since the innovative method could help him grow the crops by using much less water than was otherwise required for conventional farming. 

Speaking to Arab News, Sharif, the 71-year-old founder of the system, said PQNK was a “low-cost, sustainable agricultural technique.”

“This is a self-funded initiative and there is no commercial angle involved in it,” Sharif, who is also the founding chairman and chief executive of Pedaver Private Limited, said over the telephone.

He said his method did not employ agrochemicals “which are poisonous for the microbes in the soil.” With an emphasis on organic food production, a farmer’s yield can also be sold at much higher rates in the international market. Apart from that, the new method “helps reduce the seed and water requirements by about 80 percent each.”

He said local soil had developed hardpan layers of chemical pesticide and fertilizer deposits of seven to 19 inches since the green revolution in the 1960s in conventional agriculture farming. Hardpan, he said, was largely impervious to water and restricted the growth of plant roots which lowered crop productivity and decreased the nutrition level.

“PQNK is a permanent low-cost solution for water scarcity and flooding,” he said.

“Breaking hardpan means increasing the capacity of the soil to absorb water. The recent floods caused massive devastation which could have been avoided if there had been a breaking of the hardpan on a larger scale. This also becomes clear when we see Bhom Singh Sodho’s farms since he applied the same method.”

Pakistan’s planning commission, the apex policymaking body, endorsed the new agricultural mechanism in 2021, rebranding it as Regenerative Agricultural Production System (RAPS).

According to Dr. Hamid Jalil, who works with the commission as a member of food security and climate change, “RAPS is a climate-smart agricultural production system.”

“We are scaling up RAPS in the country and introducing it in all public sector research centers and universities for authentication trials,” he told Arab News.

“We have already had success in getting international recognition for it when the World Bank evaluated RAPS in April this year and included it in the upcoming agricultural projects in Pakistan.”

However, Jalil said the biggest challenge in adopting the farming mechanism on a mass level was the provision of seed-sowing planter machines.

“With the assistance of Pro Nature Alliance, the planning commission manufactured four planter machines recently on an experimental basis whose testing was successful,” he added. “Pakistan needs 20,000 planter machines across the country to adopt RAPS. We have made PC-1 [or project feasibility report] that after approval will allow starting local production of planter machines. We can make the required number of machines in five years.”

Sharif added that the farming system could help Pakistan “generate an estimated $20 billion exportable food surplus in just a few years, provided that the country takes well-planned initiatives.

“At present, I have millions of followers across the world who are learning PQNK techniques online,” he said. “In Pakistan, there are about 100,000 farmers who are linked with PQNK and their number is increasing.”

Saudi development agency extends term of $3 billion deposit with Pakistan's central bank

Updated 02 December 2022

Saudi development agency extends term of $3 billion deposit with Pakistan's central bank

  • The deposit originally aimed to help Pakistan deal with financial repercussions in the wake of COVID-19
  • The Saudi Development Fund hopes the decision will help Pakistan handle external sector challenges

KARACHI: Pakistan's central bank said on Friday the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD) had extended the term of a $3 billion deposit to shore up the country's economy which is currently going through a rough patch.
The deposit was made under an agreement signed between the State Bank of Pakistan and the Saudi development agency in November 2021 to support the South Asian state's dwindling foreign exchange reserves.
The Pakistani central bank announced in a Twitter post last September the SFD had confirmed the deposit's rollover for another year.
"The extension of the term of deposit is a continuation of the support provided by the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan," the State Bank said in a statement.
It noted the deposit originally aimed to help Pakistan deal with financial repercussions in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Saudi development agency also hoped in a Twitter post that its decision would make it easier for Pakistan "to meet external sector challenges & achieve sustainable economic growth."
According to Pakistan's central bank, the country's total liquid foreign reserves stood at $13.4 billion on November 25. The foreign exchange held by the State Bank amounted to $7.5 billion while the rest of it was with various commercial banks.
"It is a crucial development for Pakistan's economy since the amount of $3 billion is quite considerable," Dr. Khaqan Najeeb, former advisor to the finance ministry, told Arab News. "With $7.5 billion on November 25, Pakistan needs to ensure that the money deposited by all friendly countries is rolled over."
The development was also applauded by people from other walks of life, including the country's religious community that said Saudi Arabia had always cooperated with Pakistan.
"As a result of the meetings held between Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, it is clear that investment and cooperation from Saudi Arabia in Pakistan will further increase in the coming days," said chairman of the Pakistan Ulema Council Hafiz Muhammad Tahir Ashrafi.
He added the country was expected to hear "good news in the near future" from other Muslim countries like the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Turkey.

PM Sharif condemns 'assassination attempt' on Pakistan diplomat after embassy in Kabul comes under attack

Updated 02 December 2022

PM Sharif condemns 'assassination attempt' on Pakistan diplomat after embassy in Kabul comes under attack

  • The foreign office says a security guard was 'critically injured' while trying to save Pakistan's head of mission
  • Pakistan has demanded investigation into the incident while calling for security of its diplomatic personnel

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif condemned an "assassination attempt" against his country's head of mission in Afghanistan after Pakistan's embassy in Kabul was attacked on Friday.
The foreign office said in a statement a Pakistani security guard got "critically injured" while trying to protect the head of mission, Ubaid-ur-Rehman Nizamani, during the attack.
The statement also urged the Afghan interim administration to thoroughly investigate the incident, apprehend the culprits and hold them to account.
Prime Minister Sharif also expressed shock at the development while applauding the bravery of the security guard.
"I strongly condemn [the] dastardly assassination attempt on [Pakistani] Head of Mission [in] Kabul," he wrote in a Twitter post. "Salute to brave security guard, who took bullet to save his life."
"I demand immediate investigation & action against [the] perpetrators of this heinous act," he added.

While it is not clear who launched the attack, Pakistan's interior minister Rana Sanaullah said on Thursday Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a proscribed militant network, was enjoying "all sorts of facilities in Afghanistan."
Sanaullah issued the statement after a recent suicide bombing in the southwestern Balochistan province that targeted police providing security to polio workers.
The TTP claimed responsibility for the attack in Balochistan, making the Pakistani minister say it should be "a matter of concern" for the government in Kabul since the top leadership of the group was based in Afghanistan.
The Pakistan foreign office also asked the administration in Kabul to "take urgent measures to ensure the safety and security of Pakistani diplomatic personnel and citizens in Afghanistan."