'Forest of towers' puts Karachi’s ancient banyan trees at risk 

Banyan trees at Shahrah-e-Iran road in old Clifton Karachi, Pakistan, an area of the city which was developed in the 19th century when Henry Bartle Frere served as the commissioner of Sindh. Photograph taken on August 6, 2020 (AN Photo)
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Updated 07 August 2020

'Forest of towers' puts Karachi’s ancient banyan trees at risk 

  • Sindh government has declared the trees ‘protected heritage’ since a construction boom in 2014 saw them being chopped down
  • Karachi’s Natural Heritage Association is now trying to mark and preserve about 68 banyan trees in the city’s old Clifton neighborhood 

KARACHI: The year 2014 saw a construction boom in Pakistan’s teeming port city of Karachi after a military operation led to a drop in soaring crime rates.
But as the ‘forest of towers’ came up, Karachi’s ancient banyan trees started to be chopped down to make way.
Particularly at risk were trees in the upscale Clifton neighborhood, leading Karachi-based architect Marvi Mazhar to team up with other advocates and push authorities to declare the centuries-old banyan trees “protected heritage” on December 7, 2019.

“It all began in 2014 when the city was witnessing the construction of Bahria Tower, Park Tower and an underpass,” Mazhar told Arab News on Thursday. “A few banyan trees were chopped down because the underpass needed to be built.”
Mazhar said she took to social media platforms to raise her voice and create awareness and then began documenting the location of the endangered trees.
“I documented about 68 trees in the [old Clifton] area and presented the document to the provincial administration. Fortunately, it declared these trees natural heritage,” she said.

Mazari and her team at the Karachi National Heritage Association are now working to preserve all 68 trees by marking them with numbers and setting up benches in their shadow for visitors. The activists aim to prune the trees and create shaded spaces where people could gather and to “set these trees free from concrete since their roots have been trapped under sidewalks.”

“They [banyan trees] are not only like natural canopies where people gather to protect themselves from scorching sun but also add to the beauty of the city,” she said. “Banyan trees also provided structure to our city.”
“The word ‘banyan’ comes from ‘bania’ [or Hindu merchant] since traders used to set up their stalls in the shadow of these trees and sell their products,” Mazari said. “This is an interesting narrative of history that we have been hearing.”




Banyan trees at Shahrah-e-Iran road in old Clifton Karachi, Pakistan, an area of the city which was developed in the 19th century when Henry Bartle Frere served as the commissioner of Sindh. Photograph taken on August 6, 2020 (AN Photo) 

A brief history of the banyan trees has been inscribed on a plaque which has been placed on a road in Clifton where most of the trees are located, so the city’s future residents can “take pride in their cultural heritage,” said Murtaza Wahab, adviser to the chief minister of Sindh on environment and climate change.
“We are taking steps to preserve and protect these trees and make it possible for people to come and see them and find out more about their stories,” he said.




In this undated photo, a banyan tree in Karachi’s old Clifton area is seen uprooted by heavy rains (Photo courtesy Marvi Mazhar) 

The Sindh government, Wahab said, was now prioritizing environmental protection through more tree plantation, and several projects such as the development of urban forests at the Lyari Expressway and Malir river belt were part of its initiative to fight climate change.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has said he aims to fight climate change and pollution by planting trees across the country on government land clawed back from politically connected landlords who have illegally profited from it for years.
Khan has promised to plant 10 billion trees across the country over the next five years.
Environment expert Mehmood Alam Khalid said Karachi needed 200 million trees to beat the growing heat and climate change in general.
“Banyan trees have been cut to create space for buildings in this sprawling city,” Khalid said, “but no one has cared to plant more of them.” 


Pakistan top court bans transfers of investigating officers in ‘high-profile’ criminal cases

Updated 11 sec ago

Pakistan top court bans transfers of investigating officers in ‘high-profile’ criminal cases

  • The supreme court bars all investigating agencies from withdrawing high-profile cases pending before trial courts
  • The court expresses apprehension the country’s criminal justice system may be undermined by those in positions of authority

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s top court on Thursday stopped authorities from transferring officials involved in “high-profile” cases in different investigating agencies while seeking record of any new appointments and transfers made in the last six weeks.

The development took place only a day after the Supreme Court took suo motu notice on apprehensions that criminal justice system may be undermined by people in positions of authority.

According to news reports based on court documents, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) said last week it did not want to pursue a Rs16 billion money laundering case against Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his two sons three days before a special court in Lahore was scheduled to frame charges against them.

The FIA denied, however, it was withdrawing the case against the prime minister in a statement subsequently released to the media.

“We want to ensure the sanctity and integrity of the criminal justice system and rule of law,” Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial remarked while chairing a five-member larger bench to hear the case.

The court barred the authorities from withdrawing any high-profile cases while seeking a response from the government on transfers and appointments recently made in the FIA.

Attorney General of Pakistan Ashtar Ausaf tried to defend the transfers and postings, saying there might be “genuine reasons” behind them.

The court also issued notices to the National Accountability Bureau, director general FIA, secretary interior and others to explain their respective positions over the issue.

It directed the attorney general to ensure all record and evidence in high-profile cases were preserved and protected from any tampering.

“We hope the federal government will help us by explaining all these matters,” the chief justice said.

“We have been seeing such news for the last one month,” he continued. “We want to know about these matters because they are impacting the rule of law.”

The chief justice pointed out that an investigation officer, Dr. Rizwan, who was probing cases against Prime Minister Sharif and his son Hamza, was transferred and later died of heart attack.

“Why were the officers investigating the case against Hamza Shehbaz removed,” the chief justice asked. “We have to ensure independent and transparent working of the prosecution branch.”

The chief justice clarified the court proceedings were not meant to embarrass or hold anyone responsible, but “to uphold the rule of law.”
The court adjourned the case until May 27.


Pakistan says suspect in last week’s Karachi blast received instructions from Iran-based commander

Updated 29 min 39 sec ago

Pakistan says suspect in last week’s Karachi blast received instructions from Iran-based commander

  • Allah Dino, killed by police in a gunbattle on Wednesday, was trained in Iran, Counterterrorism Department says
  • Iran and Pakistan regularly accuse each other of harboring militants that launch attacks on the neighboring country

KARACHI: Counterterrorism authorities in Pakistan said on Thursday a suspect in an attack in the port city of Karachi last week had been trained in Iran and was receiving instructions from the Iran-based commander of a Pakistani separatist group.

One person was killed and several were injured in a bomb blast late on May 12 in the Saddar neighborhood of Karachi. The assault was claimed by the little-known Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army (SRA), a dissident faction fighting for independence in the province of Sindh.

The attack came two weeks after a female suicide bomber killed four people, including three Chinese nationals, in an attack on a minibus carrying staff from a Beijing cultural program at Karachi University.

In a press release on Thursday, the Counterterrorism Department for Sindh said special investigation teams formed by the CTD in the wake of the latest spate of attacks were able to identify a number of suspects through intelligence sources and the use of technology.

Based on the information, police on Wednesday traced three suspects in the Saddar attack as they traveled by motorcycle to transport explosives in Karachi on the instructions of what the CTD said was an Iran-based SRA commander called Asghar Shah. In a gunbattle with the three suspects, two identified as Allah Dino and Nawab Ali were killed while a third suspect fled the scene.

“The accused [Allah Dino] had been taking instructions from Asghar Shah, who operates his group [of the SRA] from Iran,” Syed Khurram Ali Shah, a senior CTD official, told reporters on Thursday.

“The eliminated terrorist Allah Dino was a master of bomb-making and he got his military training from neighboring country Iran,” the CTD press release said.

Iran and Pakistan regularly accuse each other of harboring militants that launch attacks on the neighboring country. Both nations deny state complicity in such attacks.


Pakistan seeks larger job quota in Saudi Arabia's NEOM business zone

Updated 18 min 45 sec ago

Pakistan seeks larger job quota in Saudi Arabia's NEOM business zone

  • Pakistan hopes to benefit from Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 initiative
  • The kingdom is home to over two million Pakistani expatriates

ISLAMABAD: Minister for Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resources Sajid Hussain Turi met the Saudi envoy in Islamabad on Wednesday and discussed job opportunities for Pakistanis in the kingdom's NEOM City Project, a $500 billion flagship business zone aimed at diversifying the economy of the world’s largest oil exporter.

NEOM is part of Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 and aims to transform more than 26,500 sq. km in the kingdom’s northwestern Tabuk region. The zero-carbon city is expected to be ready to receive tourists and investors by 2024.

Saudi Arabia is home to over two million Pakistani expatriates and is the single largest remittance source to the South Asian nation.

“Federal Minister discussed issues and opportunities for creating jobs for Overseas Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia,” the ministry of overseas Pakistanis said in a statement. “Federal Minister emphasized ensuring the Pakistani quota in the workforce for the development of the futuristic NEOM City Project in Saudi Arabia.”

“As we are a developing country so the criteria for Pakistanis should be more open towards skilled and unskilled labour to accommodate more and more Pakistanis in diverse jobs in the multi-billion project,” the statement read.

Minister for Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resources Sajid Hussain Turi, left, meets Saudi envoy in Islamabad on May 18, 2022. (Photo courtesy: @KSAembassyPK/Twitter)


Pakistan is hoping to benefit from Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 initiative — am ambitious economic reform program expected to create millions of jobs in the Kingdom — by building its workforce’s professional skills.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, on his first foreign trip since assuming the top political office of his country last month, visited Saudi Arabia from April 27 to 29 and discussed enhancing the kingdom's $3 billion deposit in Pakistan’s central bank “through term extension or otherwise.”

Saudi Arabia last year deposited $3 billion in Pakistan’s central bank to help support its foreign reserves.


Baloch militants actively recruiting women attackers — provincial government spokeswoman

Updated 19 May 2022

Baloch militants actively recruiting women attackers — provincial government spokeswoman

  • Two women arrested this week in Balochistan, one described as would-be bomber planning to target Chinese
  • Two weeks ago woman bomber blew herself up on university campus in Karachi, killing three Chinese teachers

ISLAMABAD: Farah Azeem Shah, a spokesperson for the provincial government in Balochistan, on Wednesday confirmed the arrest of a suspected woman suicide bomber from Turbat, a city in the southwestern province, saying the separatist Balochistan Liberation Army was now actively recruiting female attackers.

Shah’s statement comes days after the arrest of two women in Balochistan, one of whom security officials described as a would-be suicide bomber who was planning to target Chinese citizens.

The arrests came two weeks after a woman suicide bomber blew herself up on a university campus in the southern port city of Karachi, killing three Chinese teachers. The woman belonged to the militant separatist group the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), which has waged a violent secessionist insurgency in Balochistan, and targeted Chinese interests in the region.

“The arrested woman has made revelations regarding the BLA activities and the wife of one Aslam alias Uccho was training women to become terrorists,” Shah told reporters. “Aslam alias Uccho has already been killed and now his wife Yasmeen is training women to become terrorists.”

Shah said a suicide vest, a Kalashnikov, nine kilograms (kgs) of explosive material and six grenades were recovered from the female suspect who was arrested in a raid carried out on May 16. The suspect had confessed during interrogation that she was being financed from “abroad,” Shah added.

She said the names of another three women suspects had surfaced during the investigation.

“Those who care for the cause of Balochistan should return home to truly serve the people here,” Shah said. “Real Baloch cannot use their women for terror attacks.”

Demonstrators this week blocked a highway in Hoshab in Balochistan to protest the arrests of the two local women. The highway links Quetta with Gwadar port and was built under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor initiative.

China, a close Pakistan ally, plans to invest over $65 billion in Pakistan under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor - a part of Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative to seek road and sea trade routes to connect with the rest of the world.

Beijing is also developing the Gwadar deep-water port and other projects in Balochistan.

Rights activists and locals have long accused security forces of extrajudicial abductions and killings in Balochistan. Security officials deny the charges.


Pakistan top court opens case on 'apprehensions' top officials meddling in criminal justice system

Updated 19 May 2022

Pakistan top court opens case on 'apprehensions' top officials meddling in criminal justice system

  • Court’s action comes after reports FIA was withdrawing high-profile money laundering case against PM Shehbaz Sharif
  • Supreme court has for years relied on “suo motu” provisions in law that allow court to open cases on its own initiative

ISLAMABAD: Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial late on Wednesday night took "suo motu" notice over perceived fears "persons in authority" could undermine the criminal justice system, days after media reports suggested a high-profile money laundering case against the prime minister would be dropped by a federal investigation agency.

Hearings in the case will commence today, Thursday.

Pakistan’s supreme court has for years relied on “suo motu” provisions in Pakistani law that allow the court to open cases on its own initiative to set its stamp on wide swathes of public life and denounce the failure of public institutions. It has ordered inquiries into issues ranging from payments to farmers by powerful sugar mills to milk prices, city water supplies and corruption allegations against managers of the railways and national airline PIA.

In a press release, the top court said the CJP had taken notice of perceived interference in the “independence of the prosecution branch in the performance of its powers and duties for the investigation and prosecution of pending criminal matters involving persons in authority in the government.”

The CJP had taken suo motu notice on the recommendations of a judge of the Supreme Court, the statement said.

The court said “perceived interferences” could influence the prosecution of cases and lead to the tampering with or disappearance of evidence in courts or in the possession of prosecuting agencies, as well as the transfer and postings of officers on key posts.

"Such actions, along with media reports to modify accountability laws, are likely to undermine the functioning of the criminal justice system in the country and that tantamounts to violation of fundamental rights affecting the society as a whole and eroding the confidence of the people in the rule of law and constitutionalism in the country," the statement said.

The Supreme Court’s action comes a week after Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) denied media reports it was withdrawing a high-profile money laundering case against Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

According to news reports based on court documents, the country’s top investigation agency had said last week it did not want to pursue a Rs16 billion money laundering case against Sharif and his two sons three days before a special court in Lahore was scheduled to frame charges against them.

Sharif, who became prime minister last month after Imran Khan was ousted in a no-confidence vote in parliament, is the president of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party.

Sharif, his sons Hamza, who is the chief minister of Punjab province, and Suleman, who resides in London, were booked by FIA in November 2020 under various sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act and Anti Money Laundering Act.

According to a written application submitted in court on April 11, the FIA director general (DG), via the investigating officer, told Special Prosecutor Sikander Zulqarnain Saleem not to appear in court as the “accused in the case are going to be elected the prime minister of Pakistan and chief minister of Punjab.”

“A fake news is circulating in media regarding withdrawal of the case against political leaders of a party in Lahore,” the FIA said in a statement. “The case has not been withdrawn. Proceedings are continuing in the Court.”

The statement said the prosecutor of the case submitted his “opinion-based application” in the court after he was instructed not to appear on behalf of the prosecution.

“It was not a withdrawal application,” the FIA said, adding that the document was submitted on April 11 when the new prime minister had not even taken oath.

The Sharifs have always said the cases against them are politically motivated and driven by now ex-PM Khan who won power in 2018 vowing to root out corruption among what he cast as a venal political elite.

While few dispute the need to clean up Pakistani politics, the anti-graft campaign by Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in the last three and a half years has become a topic of fierce political debate, with many saying its focus was just on the government’s political foes.

The Khan government denied targeting political opponents.

This week, PM Sharif's cabinet approved setting up a committee to amend NAB laws.