UN agency hails Afghan refugee doctor’s role amid virus outbreak

In this undated picture, Dr. Saleema Rehman, an Afghan refugee, can be seen at work at Rawalpindi's 800-bed Holy Family Hospital. (Photo courtesy: UNHCR)
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Updated 15 April 2020
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UN agency hails Afghan refugee doctor’s role amid virus outbreak

  • Saleema Rehman is the first-ever doctor in the Afghan-Turkmen community in Pakistan, says the UNHCR
  • Rehman wants to serve her community and other underprivileged Pakistanis after specializing as a gynecologist in January next year

ISLAMABAD: The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, has lauded the services of a female Afghan refugee doctor, Saleema Rehman, for treating the poor amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“She is the first-ever doctor in the Afghan-Turkmen community in Pakistan, thanks to her father who played a key role in her education,” Qaiser Khan Afridi, a spokesperson for the UNHCR, told Arab News on Tuesday
The refugee agency has paid tribute to Rehman for making substantial difference to the “lives of the poorest” in Pakistan at a challenging time when the virus outbreak has confined people to their homes
“Such educated young refugees will determine the future of their countries and the future of our world,” Afridi emphasized.




In this undated picture, Dr. Saleema Rehman, an Afghan refugee, can be seen at work at Rawalpindi's 800-bed Holy Family Hospital. (Photo courtesy: UNHCR)

The doctor is now viewed as a role model for thousands of Afghan refugee girls living across Pakistan due to her struggle, though she faces an uncertain future in the country where she was born and educated.
Rehman studied medicine at a government medical college on a reserved seat for refugee students and will be graduating after doing her specialization in January next year from the Holy Family Hospital, an 800-bed medical facility in Rawalpindi city, as a gynecologist.
“Being a refugee this is the most worrying thing for me that I won’t get an opportunity to serve the people here in Pakistan after my graduation,” she told Arab News in an interview on Sunday. “I can’t take up a government job or run a private practice in Pakistan under the rules.”




In this undated picture, Dr. Saleema Rehman, an Afghan refugee, can be seen at work at Rawalpindi's 800-bed Holy Family Hospital. Rehman is the first-ever doctor in the Afghan-Turkmen community in Pakistan and has been lauded by the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, for treating the poor amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo courtesy: Dr. Saleema Rehman]

According to the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council, the apex regulatory body governing medical and dental education in the country, no “foreign national” is allowed to work in Pakistan.
“As per our rules, no Afghan refugee is allowed to practice anywhere in Pakistan until and unless the government grants her citizenship,” Brig. (r) Dr. Hafizuddin Ahmed Siddiqui, PMDC registrar, told Arab News.
Recounting her struggle, Rehman urged the government to allow her to work in the country. “I want to serve Pakistan and all the refugees here … This is my country. I was born and educated here,” she said. “Pakistan has done a lot for us, and now I want to pay back.”
While sharing her job experience at the Holy Family Hospital, she said that all the trainees are required to work for six hours a day, besides doing a 30-hour duty after every third day. “We are exposed to high level of mental stress these days as health care practitioners are getting infected by the novel coronavirus,” she said.
Hospital administration has set up a coronavirus filter clinic for all pregnant women where they are screened before entering the labor room.
“We have proper protective kits to treat the patients, but even then it isn’t an easy job to do,” she said while expressing her resolve to remain on the forefront and treat patients.
“If we sit in our homes fearing the virus, then how will our hospitals operate,” she questioned, expressing her resolve to meet the challenge.
Rehman was born in a refugee camp in Swabi city in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in 1981, a year after her parents moved there from Afghanistan during the Soviet-Afghan war along with thousands of other refugees.
In 1994, they moved to Attock city in the province of Punjab where she got her primary and intermediate education from a government school. “I was lucky to get enrolled in a government medical college on a reserved seat for refugees,” she said.
She is now in the final year of her specialization as a gynecologist and will be a consultant next year after passing her exams in January 2021. “I always wanted to be a gynecologist to support my community and other underprivileged people in Pakistan,” she said.
Pakistan hosts more than 1.4 million registered Afghans who were uprooted by decades of conflict in their country, and 74 percent of them were born in Pakistan. Some 64 percent of the total registered Afghan refugees are below the age of 24, according to the UNHCR.


Pakistan to skip Ukraine peace summit due to ‘host of factors’ — Foreign Office

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Pakistan to skip Ukraine peace summit due to ‘host of factors’ — Foreign Office

  • The summit being held in Lucerne on June 15-16 aims to gather support for President Zelensky’s peace proposals
  • Islamabad’s decision to skip the conference is seen as a diplomatic move to maintain neutrality on the matter

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will not be participating in a Ukraine peace summit being hosted by Switzerland due to a “host of factors,” the Pakistani Foreign Office said on Thursday.
The summit, being held in the alpine resort of Lucerne on Saturday and Sunday, aims to gather support for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s peace proposals, including the full withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine.
While around 90 states and organizations have registered to take part in the summit, several other countries, including China, have shown unwillingness to join the peace conference in the absence of Moscow, which was not invited.
Islamabad’s decision to skip the conference is being viewed by many as a diplomatic move to maintain neutrality on Russia’s war on Ukraine, especially since longtime ally China and Moscow are also not attending it.
“Pakistan received an invitation from Switzerland for the Conference, which is being held from 15th to 16th of June,” Pakistani Foreign Office spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said at a weekly briefing on Thursday.
“However, due to a host of factors, including scheduling challenges, Pakistan is not participating in this conference.”
Pakistan has tried to stay neutral since Russia launched its war on Ukraine in Feb 2022, though Islamabad has raised concern and urged the world powers to mediate the crisis.
Pakistan has had good relations with Ukraine and has purchased weapons systems from Kyiv in the past. However, the war on Ukraine came amid Islamabad’s efforts to strengthen ties with Russia. Moscow has also provided discounted crude oil to energy-deficient Pakistan in recent years.
Baloch said Pakistan supported universal and consistent application of UN Charter principles, including non-use or threat of use of force, respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of states, pacific settlement of disputes, and equal security for all states.
“We reiterate our call for immediate cessation of hostilities and stress the need for diplomacy and dialogue for an early negotiated end to the conflict between Ukraine and Russia,” she added.


Game changer: extreme heat stifles women’s sports in Pakistan

Updated 38 min 23 sec ago
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Game changer: extreme heat stifles women’s sports in Pakistan

  • Sport has been unaffordable luxury for girls from low-income households in Pakistan
  • It costs money to get to the few sports clubs available and even eating well is costly

KARACHI: Pakistani student Aqsa Shabbir is hot, tired and frustrated. A keen field hockey player, she can no longer train during the day because of a brutal heatwave, she can’t sleep at night and she fears she will not play well in a tournament at the end of June.
The 17-year-old, who lives in Jacobabad in the southern Sindh province, already had to overcome many obstacles — like many girls who live in Pakistan’s smaller cities where exercising in public is frowned upon — and the heatwave is making things harder.
Two years ago, Jacobabad was named the hottest city on earth after temperatures reached 51 degrees Celsius (124 Fahrenheit). This year, as a heatwave seared southeast Asia, temperatures shot up to 52 degrees Celsius (126 Fahrenheit) in May.
“We cannot keep waiting for the weather to get better — it won’t,” Shabbir told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Jacobabad.
Rising temperatures are one more barrier for women and girls who want to stay active in a country where there are few training spaces available to them, apart from private sports clubs reserved for the wealthy.
A 2022 study found that the main obstacles to participating in sport in the Muslim-majority country are “religious and cultural limitations, a lack of permission from parents, and a lack of sports facilities and equipment.”
Now add extreme heat, linked to climate change, to the list.
Shabbir is a member of the Star Women’s Sports Academy in Jacobabad, the only women’s sports club in the city of nearly 300,000 people. The girls have started training later in the day in a bid to beat the heat but parents are unhappy with their daughters returning home late on their own.
And there is little rest at night either. Shabbir says the one air conditioner her family has invested in provides “little comfort” because of frequent power cuts. The long days and nights are affecting her performance. “I am not playing my best,” she said.
Haseena Soomro, who plays hockey at the same club, is equally frustrated.
“Of course the heat impacts our game,” the 19-year-old said. “The heat makes you sluggish, and this game is defined by speed.”
‘LONG AND UNBEARABLE’ SUMMER
Sport has long been an often unaffordable luxury for girls from low-income households in Pakistan. It costs money to get to the few sports clubs available and even eating well is costly.
Some sports clubs try to help out with expenses but Erum Baloch, who founded the club in Jacobabad where Shabbir and Soomro play, says that can also be difficult.
And now she is also grappling with the challenge of training her team on outdoor pitches during what she calls the “long and unbearable” summers.
The situation is complicated by the fact that the women wear long clothing when training. Even though Baloch’s club is in a women’s government college, the girls she coaches are uncomfortable swapping shalwar kameez for jogging pants, never mind cooler shorts.
“Families don’t like them wearing pants … shorts is too far-fetched a concept,” said Baloch. “Until society is ready, we need to concentrate on (making) sports for women acceptable instead of letting a dress come in our way.”
Farwa Batool, from Khairpur city in Sindh, wears long sleeves beneath her T-shirt to cover her arms and also wears a hijab when she plays field hockey.
“You cannot imagine the heat we bear,” she said, adding that she envies the men who can wear just shorts and T-shirts. She gets up at 5.45 am to train at the mixed gender club, hoping no men will be around.
“If we could have women-only grounds, or women timings are introduced with men strictly not allowed, we too can be free of yards of cumbersome clothing.”
In Jacobabad, Baloch is hoping to get financing from the government or a sponsor to pay for an indoor facility with air conditioning.
UNSUSTAINABLE EXPENSES
Zamzam Allahbuksh said she pays out of pocket to top up water and ice supplies at the women’s sports club she runs in Mirpurkhas, 230 km (143 miles) east of Pakistan’s largest city Karachi.
“I don’t want them catching a heatstroke,” she said.
To manage costs, she has introduced games like football and volleyball because she does not have enough equipment for everyone to play cricket or field hockey.
“At least with one football or one volleyball, quite a few girls can play a sport,” she said.
Baloch, too, arranges for drinking water every day for her 43 field hockey players along with oral rehydration solutions but this is not sustainable.
“I don’t know how long I can carry on doing this,” she said. “We cannot train girls on an ad hoc basis — there needs to be a continuous and full government support for them, if they want to play their best.”
As heat threatens the viability of the few facilities available to women and girls, Baloch said she hopes they don’t lose out on the opportunities sports can provide.
Some of the athletes Baloch has coached went on to attend university on sports scholarships.
Bushra Arif, a former field hockey player, is keenly aware of what sport offers girls in her country.
“Sports teach lifelong values like endurance, teamwork, confidence, overcoming challenges,” said Arif, now the director of physical education at Khursheed Begum Girls Degree College in Hyderabad in Sindh.
Despite all the challenges, Shabbir is trying to look on the bright side ahead of her important tournament in the neighboring Sukkur district.
“Who knows, we may outdo other teams from other cities with relatively lower temperatures, being more acclimatized to this extreme heat.”


Pakistan’s top IT body says government signed ‘death warrant’ of industry with budget 2024-25

Updated 14 June 2024
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Pakistan’s top IT body says government signed ‘death warrant’ of industry with budget 2024-25

  • Pakistan’s IT sector continued growth momentum in April marking another all-time high of $310 million inflows
  • Chairman of P@SHA says IT industry was already facing a dearth of skilled and highly-skilled workforce

KARACHI: Officials of the Pakistan Software Houses Association (P@SHA) on Thursday expressed “profound apprehensions” about Pakistan’s national budget announced a day earlier, saying the IT Industry’s proposals had been “completely overlooked” and demanding amendments to the finance bill.
Pakistan’s IT sector continued its growth momentum in April this year, marking another all-time high record of $310 million in inflows. Central bank data shows the country achieved 62 percent year-on-year growth in the sector. During the 10 months of the current fiscal year (10MFY24), IT exports clocked in at $2.59 billion, up by 21 percent annual basis as compared to $2.14 billion recorded in 10MFY23.
Pakistani IT exports are expected to rise to above $3.5 billion after the caretaker government allowed a retention limit from 35 percent to 50 percent in the Exporters’ Specialized Foreign Currency Accounts.
Against this background, Ali Ihsan, senior vice chairman of P@SHA, said the government had signed the “death warrant” of the IT industry with the new budget.
“The government should have been aware that the last savior of Pakistan’s economy is the IT industry,” Ihsan said, “be it exports, current account management, employment generation or foreign direct investment.”
Muhammad Zohaib Khan, the chairman of P@SHA, said the IT industry was already facing a dearth of skilled and highly-skilled workforce:
“The government should have given a special package to the human resource pool to enable IT companies to continue with the momentum of double-digit growth in IT exports.”
He said higher income taxes on the salaried class included in the budget would “further fuel the brain drain of the skilled workforce from the IT industry of Pakistan,” adding that an allocation of Rs79 billion ($282.8 million) was primarily for the government’s own projects and IT parks while the industry as a whole and IT companies had been neglected.
“The situation was already alarming vis-à-vis taxes and human resource availability and P@SHA has, time and again, duly presented the facts and relevant proposals to the government,” Khan added.
On taxation measures, the P@SHA chief emphasized that the burden on IT companies was further compounded by the failure to address the challenges posed by the remote worker tax regime.
“Ironically, instead of removing the anomalies in current tax laws, additional taxes have been levied on imports of equipment and GST on hardware has been counterproductively enhanced from 5 percent to 10 percent,” Khan said.
He said the budget “directly” contradicted the Ministry of IT and Telecom’s claims of supporting the industry for investments and exports, demanding “necessary amendments” in the finance bill to ensure that Pakistan’s IT sector continued on its “spectacular growth trajectory.”


Political talks by Pakistan’s Imran Khan-led opposition shouldn’t be perceived as ‘anti-army’ — aide

Updated 13 June 2024
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Political talks by Pakistan’s Imran Khan-led opposition shouldn’t be perceived as ‘anti-army’ — aide

  • Jailed ex-PM Khan had vowed not to hold talks with his political rivals or army
  • Aides say Khan has now okayed talks with political rivals on way forward

ISLAMABAD: Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s confidant Mehmood Khan Achakzai said on Thursday political talks approved by the ex-premier with the coalition government should not be perceived as “anti-army.”

Khan, who is jailed in Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail since August after being convicted on corruption and other charges, had vowed not to hold talks with his political rivals and rejected the possibility of any “deal” with the incumbent government or the military, a major player in Pakistan’s tumultuous politics.

However, earlier this week, local media reported Khan had accepted a Supreme Court judge’s advice to engage in a dialogue with his rival political parties, especially the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N), which heads the coalition government in the center, and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), a main coalition partner. 

Khan was ousted as Pakistan’s prime minister in April 2022 via a parliamentary vote of no confidence. The former premier alleged the vote was orchestrated by Washington in cahoots with his political rivals, whom he accused of colluding with then Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, now retired, to remove him from power. All the accused deny the charge.

“The political talks should never, never be perceived as anti-army,” Achakzai said on Thursday during an interview with a local Pakistani media outlet, accepting that Khan had now given the go-ahead for talks.

Mahmood Khan Achakzai, chairman of the Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami party, arrives at the Parliament House in Islamabad, Pakistan, on March 3, 2024. (AFP/File)

The sole purpose of the talks led by him would be to “let bygones be bygones” and strive for a solution together with the entire political elite, Achakzai said, adding that the solution would not be perfect but would “at least move toward perfection.”

When asked if the PML-N and PPP chiefs, PM Shehbaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari respectively, were willing to join political talks, Achakzai said: 

“We are striving for supremacy of the Constitution. If they don’t want to come, don’t, but there will come a time when they won’t be able to leave their houses.”

Political tensions in Pakistan came to a head last year on May 9 when allegedly angry supporters of Khan attacked military and government installations in many parts of the country. The attacks were in response to Khan’s brief arrest from the Islamabad High Court earlier the same day. 

Subsequently, the government launched a crackdown on Khan’s Pakistane Thereek-e-Insaf party, rounding up hundreds of its leaders and supporters across the country. The party has distanced itself from the attacks, rejecting the government’s allegations that it instigated them. Some prominent leaders of Khan’s party remain incarcerated.


Unusually heavy monsoon rains in Pakistan will affect 200,000 people, top UN official warns

Updated 13 June 2024
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Unusually heavy monsoon rains in Pakistan will affect 200,000 people, top UN official warns

  • UN, with help from local authorities, has prepared contingency plan, with $40 million set aside to respond to any emergencies
  • Devastating floods in 2022 killed 1,739 people, destroyed 2 million homes, and covered as much as one-third of the country 

ISLAMABAD: An estimated 200,000 people in Pakistan could be affected by the upcoming monsoon season, which is expected to bring heavier rains than usual, a top UN official warned on Thursday.

The United Nations, with help from local authorities, has prepared a contingency plan, with $40 million set aside to respond to any emergencies, said Mohamed Yahya, the newly appointed Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in Pakistan.

Yahya told journalists in Islamabad that the weather forecasters in Pakistan are projecting above-normal rainfall in the coming weeks. However, the rains would not be as heavy as in 2022 when devastating floods killed 1,739 people, destroyed 2 million homes, and covered as much as one-third of the country at one point.

Pakistan is one of the countries in the world most vulnerable to climate change, in part because of its immense northern glaciers, which are now melting as air temperatures rise. Warmer air can also hold more moisture, intensifying the rains of the monsoon.

Until recently, public opinion and even some government officials took little account of the possible negative impact from climate change on daily life. Pakistan’s weather patterns have changed in recent years, forcing cities to strengthen their infrastructure and farmers to adapt their practices.

The 2022 floods caused more than $30 billion in damage to Pakistan’s already cash-strapped economy.

Analysts and government officials say Pakistan in recent years failed to achieve goals for economic growth because of man-made disasters, which have repeatedly hit the country in the form of droughts, heatwaves and heavy rains, which badly damaged the road network, bridges, power system and other infrastructure.

Pakistan says despite contributing less than 1 percent to carbon emissions worldwide, it is bearing the brunt of global climate disasters. This year, Pakistan recorded its wettest April since 1961, with more than double the usual monthly rainfall.

Yahya said he was in contact with officials at Pakistan’s ministry of climate change, who were preparing their contingency own plans for monsoon season, which in Pakistan runs from July to October.

Earlier this week, weather forecasters in Pakistan urged people to stay indoors as the third heatwave in a month began. A recent study by the United Nations children’s agency said that Pakistan could avert 175,000 deaths by 2030 by developing resilient energy systems to power its health facilities.

On Thursday, temperatures in various parts of Pakistan soared as high as 48 degrees Celsius (118 degrees Fahrenheit), forcing many people to stay indoors. Authorities are asking people to hydrate and avoid unnecessary travel.