70 years on, one Pashtun town still safeguards its old Hindu-Muslim brotherhood

Indian filmmaker Shilpi Batra Adwani with a Hindu Pashtun migrant woman. They pose with traditional Pashtun clothes. (Photo Courtesy: Shilpi Shilpi Batra Adwani)
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Updated 01 July 2020
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70 years on, one Pashtun town still safeguards its old Hindu-Muslim brotherhood

  • As token of love, Muslims of Mekhtar have never opened the abandoned properties of town’s migrated Hindu community 
  • Around 400 Pashtun Hindus migrated from Balochistan‘s Pashtun belt and moved to Jaipur

KARACHI: For more than 70 years, locked up mud shops lining a street in Pakistan’s southwest Balochistan province have stood the test of time as monuments to one small town’s extraordinary Hindu-Muslim brotherhood.
The Pashtun community of Mekhtar, where a little over a thousand families reside off a main national highway, was once a tight-knit small town where people of the two faiths lived side by side. 
During the violent partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, the Hindu families of Mekhtar were forced to migrate to Jaipur across the border, where they formed a tiny community of 400 Pashtun Hindus with a very distinct culture.




Old mud shops that belonged to Hindu Pashtuns in Mekhtar's Hindu Bazaar before 1947. The properties have remained preserved and unopened for over 70 years as a symbol of interfaith harmony. June 26, 2020 (AN Photo by Shadi Khan Kakar)  

But in all these years, the dozens of shops they left behind have never been opened again-- preserved exactly as they were left by their owners seven decades ago. 
“When our Hindu friends were leaving us [after partition] they handed the keys of their shops to us,” Malik Hajji Paio Khan Kakar, a 95 year old resident of Mekhtar told Arab News. 
The keys were never used, he said, and the properties sit as though lying in wait for their rightful owners to return.
The town’s integrity is an anomaly in the history of the partition, where land grabbings of abandoned property were common in the absence of formal registrars after the two new countries were carved out and millions were forced to hastily flee their homes.




In this undated photo, a Pashtun Hindu woman in Jaipur shows off the blue tattoos distinctive of the Hindu Pashtun community. (Photo Courtesy: Shilpi Shilpi Batra Adwani)

Just before the Hindus of Mekhtar migrated to Jaipur, Kakar said they stayed as guests in the homes of their Muslim friends for several nights before finding safe passage across.
“It was like one’s brother was leaving,” Kakar reminisced.
The meat-eating Hindu Pashtuns are a little known tribe in India even today, with a distinct culture carried forward from Afghanistan and Balochistan which includes blue tattoos on the faces of the women, traditional Pashtun dancing and clothes heavily adorned with coins and embroidery.
“It was lovely to hear that the people of Mekhtar still remember us and have taken care of the shops as a token of love,” Shilpi Batra Adwani, a documentary filmmaker from a Pashtun Hindu family in Jaipur, told Arab News. 
Her grandmother, who she calls Babai, migrated from the town during the partition.




Indian filmmaker Shilpi Batra Adwani with a Hindu Pashtun migrant woman. They pose with traditional Pashtun clothes. (Photo Courtesy: Shilpi Shilpi Batra Adwani)

Shilpi told Arab News that elderly members of Jaipur’s Pashtun Hindu community still sat together and spoke about the ‘golden period’ of harmony and love they had left behind in Mekhtar.
They still speak Pashto, she said, and remained fiercely proud of the culture they had brought with them to Jaipur-- though acceptance had not always come easy.
“Because the women had tattoos, people in India used to be curious looking at them. Some found them exotic and some found them questionable,” Shilpi said.
“They would spend most of their time at their homes, remembering their lovely past times.” 




Malik Haji Paio Khan Kakar, a 95 year old resident of Mekhtar, Balochistan, is interviewed for Arab News. June 26, 2020 (AN Photo by Shadi Khan Kakar)  

Shilpi, who made a documentary about the roots of India’s Hindu Pashtuns last year, interviewed several women in her community about the days of the partition. 
From them she discovered that the Muslims of Mekhtar had come to the railway station to bid them farewell on the day they had left, with ghee and gifts of food for their long journey. 
“Together, they would do embroidery, together eat their meals and together do Attan [Pashtun folk dance]. No one would feel like they belonged to a different faith,” Shilpi said, recounting stories from her grandmother.




Indian filmmaker Shilpi Batra Adwani with a Hindu Pashtun migrant woman. They pose with traditional Pashtun clothes. (Photo Courtesy: Shilpi Shilpi Batra Adwani)

The film-maker told many other stories-- of one Hindu Pashtun who fell in love with a Muslim woman from Mekhtar and stayed behind, and of old trunks of Pashtun clothes lovingly restored and worn tearfully by the last remaining generation of the partition.
Even 73 years on, Shilpi said, Mekhtar still lived on in the memories of those who had left behind their ancestral homes and shops. 




Old mud shops that belonged to Hindu Pashtuns in Mekhtar's Hindu Bazaar before 1947. The properties have remained preserved and unopened for over 70 years as a symbol of interfaith harmony. June 26, 2020 (AN Photo by Shadi Khan Kakar)  

Across the border in Mekhtar, Kakar too reminisced about meeting his old friends one more time.
“My health and finances don’t allow me to travel, but if they could come here... that would be great,” he smiled. 
“Then maybe once more, we could sit here. All together.”


Pakistan’s stock market records gain as National Assembly holds maiden sitting

Updated 9 sec ago
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Pakistan’s stock market records gain as National Assembly holds maiden sitting

  • Analysts say maiden National Assembly session boosted investors’ confidence in Pakistan’s stock market
  • After much political uncertainty and rigging accusations, Pakistani legislators will elect a new premier on Sunday

KARACHI: Pakistan’s stock market continued its bullish run on Thursday, extending its previous day’s gains to close with an increase of 1.3 percent, as political uncertainty somewhat decreased after the country’s National Assembly convened its maiden session following controversial polls this month.
The stock market’s benchmark KSE100 index gained 875 points to close at the 64,579 level on Thursday, official data showed. On Wednesday, the KSE100 index had gained by 484 points to close at 63,703 points. 
Pakistan has been wracked with political uncertainty due to countrywide protests by political parties, who say the national polls of Feb. 8 were heavily rigged. However, financial analysts noted that investors’ confidence in the market increased as Pakistan’s National Assembly held its maiden session on Thursday, indicating that the country would soon be led by a new democratic government. 
“Stocks closed bullish after the president summoned the National Assembly session himself for the formation of a government,” Ahsan Mehanti, the chief executive officer of Arif Habib Corporation, told Arab News. 
“The move is easing political noise.” 
The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) parties have announced joining hands to form their government at the center. The two parties have the required number of seats to form a coalition government. They also have the support of smaller parties in the assembly and have announced former premier Shehbaz Sharif as their candidate for prime minister. 
Sheheryar Butt, portfolio manager at Pakistani securities brokerage company Darson Securities, said the market had continued its bullish trend from Wednesday amid growing anticipation of the PML-N forming the next government. 
“The next government will have to negotiate with IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the manifesto of the PML-N is compatible with the IMF,” Butt noted. 
He said that Pakistani investors expect the new government will continue to implement the measures undertaken by the caretaker administration to secure a new long-term program from the IMF.
One of the principal tasks of the new government would be to secure a long-term bailout program from the international lender, as its short-term program expires next month. Pakistan’s fragile $350-billion economy is in desperate need of external financing to shore its up its foreign exchange reserves and escape its economic crisis. 
“Pakistan needs a long-term program for at least three years to ensure economic stability, so the market expects that the PML-N will follow the footprint of the caretaker government,” he explained.
Butt was confident Pakistan would secure the last tranche from the IMF under the $3 billion short-term financing agreement it reached with the lender last summer. 
Pakistan’s National Assembly will elect the country’s prime minister on March 3 while elections for the speaker and deputy speaker’s posts are scheduled to be held on Friday, March 1.


Pakistan concludes 60-hour joint military exercise with Saudi Arabia, US, other nations 

Updated 7 min 39 sec ago
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Pakistan concludes 60-hour joint military exercise with Saudi Arabia, US, other nations 

  • The exercise was held at semi-mountainous terrain of Pakistan’s Punjab province from Feb. 25-27
  • Pakistan’s army chief attends closing ceremony, lauds participating teams for their professionalism

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan concluded a three-day, 60-hour joint military training exercise with participating teams from Saudi Arabia, the United States, Jordan and other countries this week, Pakistan Army’s media wing said on Thursday.
Pakistan opened the 7th International Pakistan Army Team Spirit (PATS) Exercise in the northwestern town of Pabbi on Sunday. The exercise, which ran from Feb. 25-27, was aimed at enhancing combat skills through the sharing of innovative ideas and experiences by participants. 
The exercise would also help hone basic soldierly attributes besides interoperability through the sharing of innovative ideas and mutual best practices, the ISPR said last week. 
Seven teams from the Pakistan Army and 15 teams from Bahrain, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, Maldives, Morocco, Qatar, the US, Uzbekistan, Srilanka, Thailand and Turkiye participated in the exercise. Azerbaijan, China, Germany, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Myanmar witnessed the exercise as observers, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said.
“The exercise was conducted from 25-27 Feb 2024 in the semi-mountainous terrain of Punjab,” the ISPR said. “Over the years, the exercise has gained much prominence as a very competitive professional military activity for friendly countries.”
Pakistan’s army chief General Syed Asim Munir attended the event’s closing ceremony at the eastern city of Kharian, the ISPR said. Munir appreciated the participating teams for their professionalism, and for demonstrating physical and mental endurance during the various stages of the exercise.
“At the end, COAS [chief of army staff] gave away individual and team awards to the participants of the exercise,” the ISPR said.
Pakistan routinely holds joint air, ground and sea exercises with friendly nations to foster interoperability and joint deployment concepts to counter threats to global peace.
Several cadets from these nations annually visit the South Asian country, which has fought back militancy for decades, to undergo specialized military training.


Pakistan’s Rawalpindi administration to deploy over 5,000 cops for next month’s PSL matches

Updated 29 February 2024
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Pakistan’s Rawalpindi administration to deploy over 5,000 cops for next month’s PSL matches

  • Pakistan’s eastern Rawalpindi city will host Pakistan Super League matches from March 2-10
  • Snipers, police to be stationed along ‘critical routes’ and at rooftops near stadium says state media

ISLAMABAD: The administration in Pakistan’s Rawalpindi has taken “extensive measures” to provide security to players and citizens as the city gears up to host the remaining matches of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) 2024 tournament next month, state-run media reported on Thursday.
Pakistan’s eastern city of Rawalpindi will host PSL matches from March 2-10. PSL matches every year draw thousands of people to stadiums in Lahore, Multan, Karachi and Rawalpindi, where matches are usually held. The PSL also features apart from local cricket stars, international cricketers of renown. 
The Rawalpindi administration has finalized a security plan ahead of the tournament’s matches, the Associate Press of Pakistan (APP) said in a report, amid a surge in militant attacks across the country. 
“Under the security plan finalized for PSL matches, over 5,000 police personnel, including elite forces, would be deployed to provide foolproof security cover to the matches,” the APP said. 
It said the security plan includes closing stations, managing traffic, and “strict surveillance” to ensure the safety of the cricketers, officials and spectators. 
It said around 750 police officers would be tasked with managing the teams’ movement from the Islamabad airport across the districts of Attock and Rawalpindi.
“Snipers, along with police equipped with advanced security tools, would be stationed along critical routes and rooftops near the stadium,” the report said. “These measures are designed to ensure a secure environment for the event.”
It said Rwalpindi’s traffic police has also developed a traffic management plan to cope with the expected increase in vehicles during the matches. 
Pakistani authorities have been wary of attacks targeting cricketers and cricket events, especially since 2009 when militants attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore. The incident scared international teams from touring Pakistan, forcing the South Asian country to choose the UAE as its home ground for several years before international teams started touring the country again.
Pakistan has seen a surge in militant violence, especially in its western regions bordering Afghanistan, since November 2022 after a fragile truce between the state and the Pakistani Taliban broke down.


India’s basmati rice exports to fall as Pakistan’s surge

Updated 29 February 2024
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India’s basmati rice exports to fall as Pakistan’s surge

  • Pakistan offering basmati rice at competitive prices amid rebound in production
  • India, Pakistan are leading exporters of rice to Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and UAE

MUMBAI: India’s basmati rice exports are likely to fall in 2024 after nearing a record high last year, as rival Pakistan is offering the grain at competitive prices amid a rebound in production, industry officials said.
India and Pakistan are the leading exporters of the premium long-grain variety of rice, famous for its aroma, to countries such as Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States.
India’s exports of basmati rice surged 11.5 percent from a year earlier to 4.9 million metric tons in 2023, just shy of the record high of 5 million tons hit in 2020, on lower supplies from Pakistan and stocking efforts by importing countries, industry officials said.
Basmati rice shipments helped the world’s biggest rice exporter to garner a record $5.4 billion in 2023, up nearly 21 percent from the previous year, because of higher prices, government data showed.
“Last year, buyers were hustling to stock up when Pakistan was facing production issues. This year, however, Pakistan offers lower prices than India due to increased production,” Vijay Setia, a leading exporter based in Haryana state of India, said.
Islamabad’s total rice exports could jump to 5 million tons in 2023/24 financial year, up from the last year’s 3.7 million tons, Chela Ram Kewlani, chairman of Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan (REAP) said last month.
The depreciation of the Pakistani rupee has made Pakistan’s exports more competitive, according to Akshay Gupta, head of bulk exports at KRBL Ltd.
Meanwhile, lower export demand amid an estimated 10 percent rise in India’s basmati rice production has started pulling down basmati prices in that country, said Gupta.
Iran, the biggest buyer of Indian basmati rice, slashed purchases by 36 percent in 2023, but higher shipments to Iraq, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia offset the shortfall, according to data compiled by India’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
Indian exports had lost momentum in September and October as the government imposed minimum export price (MEP) on basmati rice, but they quickly recovered, said a New-Delhi-based exporter.
In August, India imposed the MEP on basmati rice shipments at $1,200 per ton, exceeding prevailing market rates, before lowering it to $950 in October.
However, exports began faltering again in January, and may decline further in the near term as buyers delay purchases due to increased freight costs caused by disruptions in shipping via the Red Sea, exporter Vijay Setia said.
“Buyers are holding ample inventory; there’s no need for them to rush,” he said.


Pakistan’s National Assembly convenes for maiden sitting, PM’s election on March 3

Updated 29 February 2024
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Pakistan’s National Assembly convenes for maiden sitting, PM’s election on March 3

  • Lawmakers backed by ex-PM Khan chant slogans through the session, many carried his portraits and wore Khan face masks
  • Nomination papers for the prime minister’s election can be submitted on Saturday, says National Assembly secretariat

ISLAMABAD: Members of Pakistan’s lower house of the parliament will elect a new prime minister on Sunday, the National Assembly secretariat confirmed on Thursday, hours after the assembly’s maiden session was held amid protests on the floor of the house by supporters of jailed former prime minister Imran Khan.

The assembly’s secretariat said legislators can submit nomination papers for the prime minister’s election at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, March 2. It added that scrutiny of the nomination papers would begin from 3:00 p.m. on Saturday.

“The prime minister will be elected on Sunday, March 3, 2024,” the National Assembly secretariat said.

Pakistan’s Feb. 8 national elections were followed by widespread allegations of rigging and vote fraud, leading to nationwide protests by a number of political parties but most prominently by Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) that won the most seats in the National Assembly despite a state-backed crackdown against the party and the arrests of its leaders in the run-up to the vote.

The split mandate in parliament led to an agreement between Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of three-time premier Nawaz Sharif on Feb. 20 to form a coalition government, ending days of uncertainty and negotiations.

PML-N’s 79 and the PPP’s 54 seats together make a simple majority in parliament to form a government, and they have also roped in smaller parties in the coalition. Candidates backed by Khan’s PTI won 93 seats, but do not have the numbers to form a government.

Thursday’s session started with ruckus as soon as the national anthem ended and Khan-backed lawmakers, who have joined the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), surrounded the speaker’s podium.

“Who will save Pakistan? Imran Khan, Imran Khan!” PTI lawmakers chanted after the oath taking ceremony and as newly elected MNAs signed the NA register roll.

PTI lawmakers were carrying placards inscribed with the slogan, “Release Imran Khan,” and some were carrying his portraits and wearing Imran Khan face masks.

RESERVED SEATS

Not all members of the 336-member house took the oath on Thursday, with the apportioning of 70 reserved seats for women and minorities still pending adjudication by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

The commission will decide on allocating reserved seats to the SIC, which did not win any seats in the polls but was later joined by Khan’s successful supporters, who had contested as independents. The ECP completed hearings on the matter on Wednesday but has yet to deliver a ruling.

Other major parties including the PPP and PMLN have opposed the allocation of the reserved seats to the PTI-SIC alliance, saying the SIC was not a parliamentary party and could not claim seats.

Speaking on the floor of the house, PTI lawmaker Barrister Gohar Khan said parliament was “incomplete” as his party was yet to be allocated its share of reserved seats.

“You become the elected member when you enjoy trust of the public, and trust of the people is earned,” he said, alleging that rigging in the elections had compromised the PTI’s mandate and it had won 180 seats in parliament.

Barrister Khan said the PTI-SCI alliance deserved 20 women and three minority seats out of 70 reserved seats in the assembly.

The National Assembly will elect the speaker and deputy speaker on Friday.

“CHALLENGES AHEAD”

The coalition alliance has announced Shehbaz Sharif, the brother of three-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, as its candidate for the PM’s slot. Shehbaz is himself a former premier and replaced Khan when he was ousted in a no-confidence vote in parliament in 2022. Since then, Khan has been convicted of several offenses in what his supporters call politically motivated cases to keep him out of office.

The coalition alliance is backing Asif Ali Zardari of the PPP as their joint candidate for president when the new parliament and all the four provincial legislatures elect the successor of the outgoing President Arif Ali, a close Khan ally, in the coming weeks.

Shehbaz is expected to take over the country at the time when the new government would need to take tough decisions to steer the country out of financial crisis, including negotiating a new bailout deal with the International Monetary Fund. The current IMF program expires in March.

A new program will mean committing to steps needed to stay on a narrow path to recovery, but which will limit policy options to provide relief to a deeply frustrated population and cater to industries that are looking for government support to spur growth.

Other big moves include privatization of loss-making state-owned enterprises such as the flagship carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).

Pakistan is also facing a troubling rise in militancy, which any new government will have to tackle. Lowering political temperatures will also be a key challenge as Khan maintains mass popular support in Pakistan, and a continued crackdown on his party and his remaining in jail would likely stoke tensions at a time when stability is needed to attract foreign investment to shore up the economy.