Mobile camel library carries books to children in remote Pakistani villages

Roshan the camel seen with his mobile library in District Kech, Balochistan, Pakistan, on November 6, 2020 (Photo courtesy: Haneefa Abdul Samad)
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Updated 16 November 2020

Mobile camel library carries books to children in remote Pakistani villages

  • A local herder and his 12-year-old camel Roshan have been carrying a library of fifty books to six villages of Balochistan’s Kech district since October
  • The project has been made possible by the Judith Reading Room and Alif Laila Book Bus Society that has established more than 7,000 mobile libraries across Pakistan

QUETTA: In a remote part of Pakistan, two women and a charity have come up with a novel idea to help children continue reading and learning — a camel bearing books.
Pakistan closed its schools in March and sent over 50 million school and university-going Pakistanis home. The closures have put children in Balochistan at particular risk of falling behind, as the province is Pakistan’s most impoverished, with few schools and the lowest literacy rate in the country.
According to data from the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, up to 62 percent of children between the ages of 5 and 16 are out of school in rural areas of Balochistan.
With the coronavirus pandemic threatening even more children, two sisters from Balochistan, Raheema Jalal, the principal of the Zubaida Jalal Girls High School, and Zubaida Jalal, the Pakistani minister for defense production, thought: if children couldn’t go to school, why not take the books to them?

Women and children gather to read books in Kech district, Balochistan, Pakistan, on November 6, 2020 (Photo courtesy: Haneefa Abdul Samad)

The sisters, who run the Female Education Trust Balochistan (FETB), reached out to the Alif Laila Book Bus Society (ALBBS), which has established more than 7,000 mobile libraries across Pakistan, with over 1.5 million books donated in the past four decades. In collaboration, they launched a mobile library that deploys local herder, Murad Dur Muhammad, and his 12-year-old camel, to carry books to help hundreds of children continue their education in Balochsitan’s remote Kech district.
The idea had previously been used in Ethiopia by Save the Children.
“When Zubaida Jalal learnt that camel libraries were being used in Ethiopia she thought of the joy such libraries could bring to children in Mand [a town in Balochistan province] and how they could help raise the literacy rate in the area,” said Syeda Basarat Kazim, president of the Alif Laila Book Bus Society.
“Alif Laila approached the Judith’s Reading Room with a proposal,” Kazim said, referring to a US-based organization that runs libraries in 22 countries. “The board of governors chose this as their board option prize and Mand’s camel library became the 101st Judith’s Reading Room library.”
Alif Laila prepared the library, named the camel, purchased books, games, puzzles and puppets in record time and the library was launched in October, Kazim said.
The camel was named Roshan, or bright light, Reheema Jalal said, “because he has been lighting [the path of] education for the deprived children of Balochistan.”

Since October 2, Roshan has taken his library of fifty books to six villages of Mand. Over 150 children have borrowed books from the program in the past six weeks, Raheema said.
The titles are in both Urdu and English and include storybooks, and books of general knowledge, science and Islamic studies. A majority of the children targeted are from grades one to six, but secondary school students have also borrowed books from the mobile library.
“Roshan supplies the books on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and covers three different villages every week,” Raheema said. “The library is open for two hours, from 4 p.m. to 6 pm. Children choose the books they like and return them after a week.”

Women and children gather to read books in Kech district, Balochistan, Pakistan, on November 6, 2020 (Photo courtesy: Haneefa Abdul Samad)

Roshan and Muhammad are also often accompanied by Haneefa Abdul Samad, a 30-year-old science and math teacher, who supports the duo by helping answer the children’s queries.
“Initially, I was reluctant as to how the idea would work in remote villages,” Samad, who is also the coordinator of the project, said. “But after seeing the reaction and love of children toward books, I decided to accompany Roshan to every single village of Kech.”

Locals gather around 12-year-old camel, Roshan, who carries books to help hundreds of children continue their education in Kech district, Balochistan, Pakistan, on November 6, 2020 (Photo courtesy: Haneefa Abdul Samad)

“As Pakistan grapples with the deadly coronavirus, and educational activities across the country are yet to be fully restored, the camel library has been engaging children to continue their studies and attachment with books,” Samad added.
One such student is Sara Abdul Rauf, a seventh grader from the Koh-e-Pusht village, who eagerly awaits Roshan’s visits.
“Not [just] me, but all the children, especially girls, are very happy with the camel library,” the 14-year-old, who wants to be a doctor, said. “It has been providing us with books at our doorsteps.”
The initial plan for the camel library was to reach “as many villages as possible” over a three-month period. But Raheema now hopes, with Alif Laila’s help, to expand the project to other areas of Kech and hire more camels to keep Roshan company.
“We had planned this program till December,” she said. “Fortunately, we have received a positive response from the children. After December, we will look for more donors and hire more camels to reach more villages of Kech.”

Third Afghan Taliban commander killed in Peshawar in last four months

Updated 16 min 43 sec ago

Third Afghan Taliban commander killed in Peshawar in last four months

  • Mullah Nek Muhammad Rehbar looked after the insurgent group’s military deployments in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province
  • He fought against Daesh militants in Afghanistan who claimed responsibility for the attack

ISLAMABAD: A senior Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Nek Muhammad Rehbar was killed in Peshawar Monday afternoon by two gunmen riding a motorbike, confirmed a police official and two Taliban leaders.
The slain Taliban commander looked after military deployments in Nangarhar, and his killing was also mentioned by the governor of the Afghan province Ziaulhaq Amarkhil in a Twitter post.
Rehbar was scheduled to return to Afghanistan as top Taliban leaders had asked their key commanders to reach their respective areas in the war-battered country.
The attack on Rehbar was claimed by Daesh.
His brother Maulvi Noor Muhammad was also killed in Peshawar in a shooting incident about 15 years ago.
A police official in Peshawar who requested anonymity since he was not authorized to speak to the media said three other people accompanying 35-year-old Rehbar were also injured in the attack.
Rehbar’s body had been shifted to the Lady Reading Hospital and investigations were launched to determine the motive behind the incident, he added.
Afghan analysts say the slain Taliban commander had fought against Daesh militants in Nangarhar which could be the main reason behind his murder in Peshawar.
Zakir Jalali, a security analyst, said Taliban officials were easy to target when they live a normal life as refugees.
Jalali told Arab News Rehbar had resisted Daesh fighters in Khogyani district of Nangarhar and the group decided to kill him since he was a “soft target” inside Pakistan.
The slain commander was the third Taliban leader who was killed in Peshawar during the last four months.
Maulvi Abdul Hadi, the Taliban governor for Laghman, was assassinated in Peshawar in February.
In January, another Taliban leader Abdul Samad Mullah Toor was killed near the city.
Several senior Taliban commanders, including the group’s chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour, were also killed in American drone attacks in the past.
Unidentified gunmen shot dead Dr. Nasiruddin Haqqani, the brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Taliban deputy chief, near Islamabad in November 2013.
A former senior Taliban figure, Abdullah alias Maulvi Abdul Raqeeb, who was known to be in favor of peace talks with the Hamid Karzai administration, was gunned down in Peshawar in February 2014.
Meanwhile, a former Taliban spokesman Abdul Hai Mutmayeen died of COVID-19 in Peshawar in January.
Mutmayeen served as Taliban spokesperson after Mullah Omar launched the movement in Kandahar in 1994.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed Mutmayeen’s death and conveyed the insurgent group’s condolences to his family.

Pakistan parliament to debate French ambassador's expulsion today

Updated 20 April 2021

Pakistan parliament to debate French ambassador's expulsion today

  • The announcement came after the interior and religious affairs ministers met leaders of Tehreek-e-Labbaik religious party for negotiations in Lahore
  • The interior minister says the government has assured the TLP all cases against its workers will be withdrawn 

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani government said on Tuesday it would present a resolution in the National Assembly later in the day for the expulsion of the French ambassador to meet the demand of a recently banned religious party in the country.
The Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party held violent nationwide protests to force the government to honor what it said was a commitment made to it last February to expel the French envoy before April 20 over the publication of blasphemous caricatures in France.
“It is agreed between the government and TLP after negotiations that we will present a resolution in the National Assembly today for the expulsion of the French ambassador,” Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said in a video statement early Tuesday.
The announcement comes after a government delegation, comprising the interior and religious affairs ministers, met the TLP leaders for negotiations in Lahore. The government representatives held at least three rounds of talks with the protesters to convince them to call off their demonstrations.
The interior minister said the TLP had agreed to call off protests and sit-ins across the country.
“The process of negotiations will move forward,” he added.
All cases registered against the TLP workers will also be withdrawn, he said, adding that he will give a detailed briefing on the development in a press conference later today.
The National Assembly will also meet at 3pm on Tuesday to debate the issue.
Last night, the government closed all major roads in Islamabad and Rawalpindi with shipping containers, fearing the TLP workers may move toward the twin cities to hold anti-France protests.
The government has apparently shown flexibility in its stance to end TLP protests as Prime Minister Imran Khan said in a televised address to the nation on Monday that breaking diplomatic ties with France would hit Pakistani exports to the European Union and fuel poverty, unemployment and inflation in the country.
“The biggest effect [of breaking ties with France] will be that after great difficulty our economy is rising, the large-scale industry is getting up after a long time, people are getting jobs, wealth is increasing in our country, our exports are rising and after a long time, our rupee is strengthening,” Khan said, adding that breaking ties with France would amount to severing relations with the entire European Union.
“Half of our textile exports go to the EU and that will be stopped, resulting in unemployment, devaluation of the rupee, increase in inflation and poverty,” Khan said. “We will be at loss but this won’t make any difference to France.”
Violent protests by the rightwing group rocked the country since last Monday when TLP chief Saad Rizvi was arrested in Lahore for threatening the government with rallies if it did not expel the French envoy to Islamabad over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) published in France last year.
The protests paralyzed major cities and highways all week, leading to the killing of six policemen, according to the government. Photographs of the police, with their heads, legs and arms heavily bandaged, were posted on social media by their captors through the week.
On Sunday, TLP said three of its members were killed during clashes outside the TLP headquarters in the eastern city of Lahore. The group also took a number of police officers and paramilitary troops hostage, releasing 11 policemen in the early hours of Monday after negotiations with the government.
The riots also prompted the French embassy last week to recommend all its nationals to temporarily leave the country.
Last week, the interior ministry said it was moving to have the TLP party banned for attacking police and paramilitary troops and disrupting public life during its protests. The interior ministry’s decision was approved by the federal cabinet, thought it needs to be ratified by the Supreme Court for the official dissolution of the group.
In October 2020, protests broke out in several Muslim countries, including Pakistan, over France’s response to a deadly attack on a teacher who showed the blasphemous cartoons to his pupils during a civics lesson. French President Emmanuel Macron defended the caricatures as freedom of expression.

Pakistan says UAE extends $2 billion loan repayment deadline

Updated 20 April 2021

Pakistan says UAE extends $2 billion loan repayment deadline

  • The decision was conveyed to Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi during his visit to the Arab country
  • Pakistan was previously required to pay the ‘aid loan’ from the Abu Dhabi Fund by April 19, 2021

ISLAMABAD: The United Arab Emirates has extended the repayment period of a $2 billion “aid loan” given to Pakistan from the Abu Dhabi Fund, said a statement issued by the foreign office of Pakistan on Tuesday.
The decision was conveyed to Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi by his UAE counterpart Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan during a meeting in Abu Dhabi.
Qureshi thanked his host for the “goodwill gesture” and described it as a sign of growing bilateral relations between the two countries.

Pakistan sought financial assistance from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates after Prime Minister Imran Khan won the 2018 general elections.
The country faced a significant balance of payment crisis when the two Arab states came to its rescue and shored up its foreign currency reserves.
The UAE had earlier set April 19, 2021, as the payment deadline, though it decided to extend it for Pakistan’s further economic convenience.
During a wide-ranging discussion, Qureshi thanked the UAE foreign minister for supporting the Pakistani community and taking special care of its workforce during the coronavirus pandemic. 
He also discussed visas issues with his Emirati counterpart and invited him to pay an early visit to his country. 
This was Qureshi’s second visit to the United Arab Emirates during the last four months, said the foreign office, reflecting “the growing bilateral relations and high-level contacts between the two countries.”

Pakistan urges Taliban to stay engaged in Afghan peace process

Updated 19 April 2021

Pakistan urges Taliban to stay engaged in Afghan peace process

  • FM Qureshi says Taliban will take their own decisions but Pakistan will convince them engagement in their national interest
  • Says troop withdrawal delays were always a possibility due to logistics but Taliban should show flexibility towards new Sept. 11 deadline

ABU DHABI: Pakistan on Monday urged the Taliban to remain engaged in the Afghan peace process after the armed group said it would now shun summits about Afghanistan until all foreign forces leave.

The decision was taken after the United States said last week it would withdraw all troops by Sept. 11 this year, later than a May 1 deadline set out by the previous administration.

"They take their own decisions but we will do whatever we can to convince them that it is in their national interest to remain engaged," Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said of the Taliban in an interview with Reuters in Abu Dhabi.

The refusal has thrown the peace process into disarray with Turkey scheduled for Saturday to host a summit that diplomats had hoped could create new momentum towards a political settlement between the Taliban and Afghan government.

The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 when they were ousted by U.S.-led forces, but they still control wide areas.

Qureshi said withdrawal delays were always a possibility due to logistics but that the Taliban had largely succeeded in their objective for foreign troops to withdraw and so should show flexibility towards the new Sept. 11 deadline.

"The troops will be out and a date has been given and the process starts on the 1st of May and goes on until the 11th of September so there is a definite time frame," Qureshi said.

Sources have told Reuters Pakistan was putting pressure on the militants to come back to the table.

Qureshi said he believed the Taliban would benefit from staying involved but said he had no contact with the group.

Pakistan, which helped facilitate U.S.-Taliban negotiations in Doha that resulted in the initial May 1 withdrawal deal, wields considerable influence with the Taliban.

The insurgents have sanctuaries in Pakistan, whose main military-run intelligence service gives them support, according to U.S. and Afghan officials. Pakistan denies the allegation.

Qureshi said he feared violence could escalate if the peace process remains deadlocked, plunging Afghanistan into civil war and leading to an exodus of Afghans.

Pakistan, which hosts close to 3 million Afghan refugees and economic migrants, has built 90% of a fence along its disputed 2,500 km (1,500 mile) border with Afghanistan and would hopefully be completed by September, he said.

He also said Pakistan was ready to engage in direct dialogue with arch-rival India once Jammu and Kashmir statehood was restored, which New Delhi in 2019 split into territories.

"We are two atomic powers that cannot, should not go into a direct conflict. It would be suicidal," Qureshi said.

But he said he had no plans to meet with his Indian counterpart who is also in the United Arab Emirates this week.

Top intelligence officers from India and Pakistan held secret talks in Dubai in January in a new effort to calm military tension over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, sources have told Reuters

Pakistani PM to visit Saudi Arabia by end of Ramadan — aide

Updated 20 April 2021

Pakistani PM to visit Saudi Arabia by end of Ramadan — aide

  • Khan spoke on the telephone with Saudi crown prince last month and accepted an invitation to visit the kingdom
  • Visit will involve discussions on economy, trade, religious affairs, tourism and climate change

ISLAMABAD: On the invitation of Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, Prime Minister Imran Khan will visit Saudi Arabia by the end of Ramadan, Khan’s special adviser on religious harmony and the Middle East said on Monday.

Last month Khan spoke with the crown prince in a wide-ranging phone call and accepted an invitation to visit the kingdom “in the near future.”

“Prime Minister Imran Khan, on the invitation of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, will visit Saudi Arabia by the end of Ramadan,” Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi told Arab News. “All issues of bilateral relations will come under discussion during the visit, including cooperation in economy, trade, religious affairs, tourism and especially the green revolution. Prime minister will also perform Umrah during the visit.”

Ashrafi said a special focus of the visit would be to increasing Pakistani cooperation in the recently launched Saudi Green revolution project.

The crown prince last month called the leaders of Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Iraq, and Sudan to discuss a massive regional tree-planting project. The Saudi Green Initiative is part of the prince’s Vision 2030 plan to reduce its reliance on oil revenues and improve quality of life. The crown prince unveiled the ambitious campaign at the end of March that will see Saudi Arabia planting 10 billion trees in the coming decades and working with other Arab states to plant another 40 billion trees, reduce carbon emissions and combat pollution and land degradation.

“It is expected that big progress will be announced on the green revolution,” Ashrafi added. 

“Am delighted to learn of ‘Green Saudi Arabia’ & ‘Green Middle East’ initiatives by my brother, His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman!” Khan had written on Twitter last month. “Have offered our support on these as there are many complementarities with our ‘Clean & Green Pakistan’ & ‘10 Billion-Tree Tsunami’.”