Dubai-based prodigy has new dream: Becoming youngest Pakistani to sit for public service exams

Pakistani child prodigy Sitara Brooj Akbar talks to Arab News on October 17, 2020 in Dubai, UAE. (AN photo by Asma Ali Zain)
Short Url
Updated 22 October 2020

Dubai-based prodigy has new dream: Becoming youngest Pakistani to sit for public service exams

  • Minimum age limit to take Pakistan’s Central Superior Services exams is 21, Sitara Brooj Akbar is 20
  • She has written to Prime Minister Imran Khan, now awaits cabinet approval of her request to take CSS exam despite not meeting age limit

DUBAI: A Dubai-based Pakistani child prodigy, who is one year short of the minimum age limit to appear in civil service exams, has requested the prime minister to bend the rule for her so she can fulfill her dream of becoming a civil servant.
The minimum age limit to participate in Pakistan’s Central Superior Services (CSS) exams is 21. Sitara Brooj Akbar is 20.
Native of Pakistan’s Punjab province, Akbar moved to the UAE with her parents in 2015. She is now considering pursuing doctoral studies in oncology but also dreams of sitting for the civil services exam.
“I wrote to the prime minister on July 25 of this year and received a reply on August 11 saying that such a decision cannot be taken without the cabinet convening and agreeing to it,” Akbar told Arab News last week.
At age 11, Akbar became the world’s youngest person to pass five subjects in O-Levels, exams usually taken by sixteen year olds. A few years later, she was the highest IELTS band scorer.
At age 17, she became the youngest person to receive a certificate from the US-based Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists.
Now she wants to break another record: be the youngest person to take the CSS exams.
“I cannot explain in words the love I feel for my country and my goal is to eventually go back and serve my country,” Akbar said.




Pakistani child prodigy Sitara Brooj Akbar receives an award from Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al-Nahyan, the UAE minister for culture, youth and social development, in Dubai, UAE, on August 14, 2017. (Photo courtesy: Sitara Brooj Akbar)

Akbar has already been recognized in Pakistan. In 2013, she received a Nazriya Pakistan Council award and in 2016 was honored with a gold medal from Pakistan’s ambassador to the UAE for outstanding achievements in education. In 2017, she received the Pakistan Award for Excellent Community Work from the Pakistani government, handed to her during a special ceremony in Dubai by Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al-Nahyan, the UAE minister for culture, youth and social development.
“I have already moved a petition [with the PM] and am hoping that I am allowed to appear for this [CSS] exam soon,” she said. “When we say we will empower our youth, we need to see that in practice as well.”
Akbar and her 10-year-old brother, Qamar Muneer Akbar, are both homeschooled.




Pakistani child prodigy Qamar Muneer Akbar talks to Arab News on October 17, 2020 in Dubai, UAE. (AN photo by Asma Ali Zain)

“I used to attend school until grade one but Pakistan’s education system is so geared toward conventional learning that I was unable to cope,” Akbar said, saying her teachers complained that she asked too many questions. “I had to drop out of school and since my mother was a chemistry teacher, she started teaching me at home.”




Pakistani child prodigy Qamar Muneer Akbar with officials from the British Council Pakistan in 2018. (Photo courtesy: Sitara Brooj Akbar)

Qamar is quickly following in his sibling’s footsteps. In 2018, he broke Akbar’s record and passed O-levels at the age of eight. He said he enjoys coding and developing apps and hosts a kids’ radio show in the UAE.
“I showed interest in chemistry and it was fun for me and that is the reason I chose to appear in the exam,” said Qamar, who is now hoping to break his sister’s IELTS record also.
When asked about his inspirations, he named Pakistan’s first foreign minister, Zafarullah Khan, and Abdus Salam, a theoretical physicist and the first Pakistani to receive a Nobel Prize in science.
“I really look up to Dr. Abdus Salam … he is a Nobel laureate,” Qamar said. “And also Dr. Zafarullah Khan who was the first Pakistani to serve as the president of the International Court of Justice.”


Peshawar Zalmi's playoff streak continues in PSL's Abu Dhabi leg

Updated 20 June 2021

Peshawar Zalmi's playoff streak continues in PSL's Abu Dhabi leg

  • Head coach Daren Sammy says team aims at winning the PSL title for a second time
  • Peshawar Zalmi will be facing Karachi Kings in the first eliminator on Monday

KARACHI: Peshawar Zalmi has become the first team to have qualified for all six playoffs in Pakistan’s flagship cricket super league, of which remaining matches are held at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi.

One of Pakistan's most popular cricket franchises, Zalmi achieved the milestone on Thursday, after Karachi Kings defeated Lahore Qalandars by seven runs, limiting with better net run-rate Lahore's chances to qualify. Zalmi and Qalandars, have won five of the 10 matches they have played in the first phase of the tournament, earning 10 points each.

Kings became the second team to qualify for all six playoffs after beating Quetta Gladiators by 14 runs in its do-or-die last league game on Saturday, by which they knocked out Lahore.

"Peshawar Zalmi once again qualified for the playoffs. Congratulations to my team for being the first team in the PSL to have qualified in every six PSL into the playoffs," Peshawar Zalmi head coach Darren Sammy said in video message to Arab News.

As Zalmi will be facing Kings in the first eliminator on Monday, Sammy said they are ready.

"We are playing Karachi. We are ready for," he said. "The main goal right now is to win our second PSL title. I know that will mean the world to our fans, and especially my players and also our boss, Javed Afridi. You will love that. So inshallah we shall achieve that."

After losing an eliminator to Islamabad United in the PSL's inaugural edition in 2016, Zalmi won the tournament in 2017, defeating Quetta Gladiators by 58 runs after achieving the target of 149 runs in 16.3 overs.  

In 2018, Zalmi again played the final after defeating Karachi Kings, but eventually lost to Islamabad United.

In 2019, Zalmi finished the group stage at first position by winning seven of their matches and losing only three, but in the final lost to Gladiators by eight wickets end became the runners up.

Last year, Zalmi lost to Lahore Qalandars in the first eliminator of the tournament.

Currently, Islamabad United is the table topper after winning eight of 10 matches. It will face Multan Sultans in a qualifier on Monday and the winner will go straight to the final, while the looser will play against the winner of the first eliminator.

The sixth edition of PSL resumed on June 9. It was suspended in March after a string of positive coronavirus cases among players and officials in Pakistan.


On World Refugee Day, Pakistan calls for greater global responsibility sharing

Updated 20 June 2021

On World Refugee Day, Pakistan calls for greater global responsibility sharing

  • Pakistan is the world’s third largest refugee host
  • UNHCR says number of refugees in 2020 rose to nearly 82.4 million

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Sunday called for greater global sharing of responsibility for refugees as the international community observes a day designated to honor the world’s displaced people. 

World Refugee Day was held globally for the first time on June 20, 2001, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. It is observed in a tribute to the millions of people uprooted from their countries as a result of conflict, war and natural disasters.

Pakistan is the third largest refugee-hosting country after Turkey and Colombia and hosts 1.4 million registered refugees from neighboring war-torn Afghanistan. The actual number of Afghan refugees in Pakistan is considered to be much higher.

"The people of Pakistan have contributed more than their fair share of shouldering an international responsibility by hosting millions of refugees," Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said in a statement, as he called for "greater global responsibility-sharing."

"For over four decades, Pakistan has led by example in refugee protection. Pakistan has been one of the world’s largest refugee hosting countries. Pakistan still hosts around 3 million Afghans providing them necessary protection," he said, adding that the "pre-pandemic and COVID-compounded socio-economic and health challenges especially for developing countries that host millions of refugees necessitate global political and financial support that meets the needs of host communities and large refugee populations."

United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) Asia and the Pacific director Indrika Ratwatte also recognized Pakistan's role and called for more support.

"Together, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Iran continue to host 13% of the global total refugee population," she said in a tweet. "The generosity of these host countries and their people, even in the midst of a pandemic needs to be recognized and supported."

There are more refugees today than there have ever been, the UNHCR reports, despite movement restrictions imposed by countries because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The number of people fleeing wars, violence, persecution and human rights violations in 2020 rose to nearly 82.4 million," UNHCR said in a statement, adding that the number was representing a “4% increase on top of the already record-high 79.5 million at the end of 2019.”


In Pakistan’s Sindh, vaccination centers close over shortage of jabs

Updated 20 June 2021

In Pakistan’s Sindh, vaccination centers close over shortage of jabs

  • Provincial COVID-19 task force decided to close vaccination centers as only 300,000 doses were left in the province
  • Planning minister says 6.5 million COVID-19 shots will reach Pakistan in the next 10 days

KARACHI: Vaccination centers closed in Pakistan’s Sindh province on Sunday over a vaccine shortage, a senior health official confirmed, as the federal government promises that millions of shots will reach the country in the coming days.
The decision to slow the vaccination drive in Sindh was made during a meeting of the provincial COVID-19 task force a day earlier after it turned out that the province where 22 million adults are eligible for vaccination, had only 300,000 vaccine doses left.
“The taskforce decided to close down vaccination centers across Sindh on Sunday keeping in view the unavailability of the required amount of vaccines,” Qasim Soomro, the provincial parliament’s health secretary, told Arab News. 
“We have around 300,000 vaccine doses left,” he said, adding that two weeks ago the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), which oversees the country’s pandemic response, requested the province to expedite its immunization campaign.
“(We) were promised that we will get the required number of vaccines,” Soomro said, adding the local government subsequently increased its daily vaccination capacity by setting up vaccination centers and some 35 mobile vaccination units in every district.
“With increased capacity, we started inoculating up to 110,000 people daily as we began sending vaccination teams to industries, malls, university, religious place and remote villages. But supply didn’t match the capacity and as result we ran out of the vaccine doses,” Soomro said.

In this photograph taken on June 20, 2021, a notice outside Khalikdina Hall Vaccination Center in Karachi, Sindh province, reads: "Tomorrow on Sunday, 20/6/2021, the vaccination center will be closed. You will be informed as soon as vaccines are available." (AN photo/SA Babar)

On Saturday, he added, only 70,0000 people were vaccinated, while authorities have also decided to relocate some vaccine doses from rural areas to densely populated cities, especially Karachi, where living conditions make people more likely to contract the disease.
“We have to rely on supplies from the federal government,” he said, explaining that despite NCOC’s permission for the province to directly procure vaccines from their producers, the drug makers “declined to share the prices on which vaccines were provided to federal government.”
The government has meanwhile announced that millions of vaccine doses are due to arrive in Pakistan in the coming days.
“With 1.5 million vaccines arriving today and another almost 5 million in next 10 days,” Planning Minister Asad Umar, who heads the NCOC, said in a tweet on Saturday.
Pakistan started its immunization campaign in February and has since administered about 13 million vaccine doses. So far, less than 3.46 million people out of the country’s population of 220 million have been fully vaccinated.


Fencing of Pakistani border with Afghanistan to be completed this month — interior minister

Updated 20 June 2021

Fencing of Pakistani border with Afghanistan to be completed this month — interior minister

  • Sheikh Rashid says 88 percent of the work is “already complete”
  • Army conducted operation in North Waziristan on Saturday, two militants and soldier killed

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s interior minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed has said that fencing work along the country’s porous border with Afghanistan will finish by June 30. 
During an address to the National Assembly on Saturday, he added that “88 percent of the fencing work has already been completed,” according to media reports. 
Pakistan began fencing its 2,600 km border with Afghanistan in 2017 to prevent militant crossings and smuggling and has frequently attributed high-profile attacks to groups based in Afghanistan. 
Afghanistan, in turn, accuses Islamabad of sheltering the Afghan Taliban militants who are battling the Western-backed government in Kabul. Both countries deny the charges. 
On Saturday, Pakistan’s military conducted an intelligence-based operation in the Spinwam area of North Waziristan district near Afghanistan, killing two “terrorists” which it says “were active members of the TTP [Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan].” 
“[They were] involved in terrorist activities against Security Forces,” the Inter-Service Public Relations (ISPR), the Pakistani military’s media wing, said in a statement.


Pakistan hopes to overcome COVID-19 vaccine shortages as more doses trickle in

Updated 20 June 2021

Pakistan hopes to overcome COVID-19 vaccine shortages as more doses trickle in

  • Nation of 220 million expected to receive over 6 million jabs next week to continue nationwide vaccination drive, health officials say
  • Vaccine shortage in Islamabad temporary, hopeful to overcome it in next 2-3 days, district health officer Islamabad says

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s government struck an optimistic tone on Sunday, hoping to overcome a COVID-19 vaccine shortage in various parts of the country, including in the capital city, Islamabad, with the arrival of over 6 million doses of the crucial jabs.

Health Chief Dr. Faisal Sultan said that while Pakistan had one million doses of COVID-19 vaccines in stock, authorities were expecting 1.55 million doses on Sunday, 2.5 million doses on Tuesday, and another 2-3 million doses between June 23 and June 30.

“Therefore, any pressure in the system and local/distribution issues will be eased by Mon/Tue,” Dr. Sultan said in a Twitter post on Saturday.

The National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), the federal body dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, confirmed the arrival of 1.55 million doses of China’s Sinovac vaccines on Sunday.

“This is part of planned contracted quantity purchased from China,” the NCOC said in a statement.

“China as a time-tested friend of Pakistan, has taken special measures to ensure uninterrupted supply of vaccines to Pakistan. Another consignment of 2-3 million doses of Chinese vaccines will be reaching Pakistan next week,” it added.

Pakistan has been grappling with a vaccine shortage since Monday, especially in Islamabad and the southern Sindh province, where authorities have shut down nearly 40 percent of vaccination centers due to a scarcity of the COVID-19 jabs.

“This vaccine shortage is temporary and we are hopeful to overcome it in the next two to three days,” Dr. Zaeem Zia, a district health officer in Islamabad, told Arab News on Sunday

He added that the federal government would provide more vaccines by Monday to “ease the pressure on vaccination centers, especially in rural areas of Islamabad.”

Islamabad’s administration has vaccinated 52.7 percent or 580,000 of its population since February when the nationwide vaccination drive was launched, with plans to inoculate at least 1.1 million by the year-end.

“We have been successful in flattening the virus curve in Islamabad through restrictions and vaccination,” Zia said.

“We will have sufficient vaccine supplies in the next couple of days to achieve our target,” he added.

Since February, the South Asian nation of 220 million has procured around 14.5 million jabs from various sources, including COVAX, a global vaccine-sharing facility for developing countries led by the World Health Organization.

Pakistan has allocated $1.1 billion in the fiscal year 2022 to procure coronavirus vaccines from the international market to achieve herd immunity.

The government says it’s aiming to vaccinate between 45 million and 65 million people this year, with plans to inoculate 70 million people by next year.

So far, Pakistan has administered more than 13 million doses of the vaccine.