'Golden hand': Meet the Pakistani artist who has spent a lifetime painting UAE royals

An undated photo of Liaquat Ali Khan, a Pakistani artist, seen posing in front of a portrait he made of UAE's founding father and then ruler, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (Photo courtesy Liaquat Ali Khan)
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Updated 04 December 2020

'Golden hand': Meet the Pakistani artist who has spent a lifetime painting UAE royals

  • Liaquat Ali Khan went to the United Arab Emirates as a daily wage laborer but acquired the reputation of a skillful artist
  • He has now returned to Pakistan and set up an art academy in his hometown of Kohat

KOHAT: Four decades ago, a man traveled from Kohat in northwestern Pakistan to the United Arab Emirates in search of a better life. He was part of a group of daily wage laborers, all of them from poor families and looking for better prospects.

But one thing set Liaquat Ali Khan apart: his passion for art, which would go on to change the course of his life.

“I went to watch a Pashto film in Abu Dhabi,” Khan, now 70, told Arab News at his office in Kohat, recalling his time in the UAE in the early eighties. “On stepping out of the cinema, I saw a man who was struggling to paint a billboard. I walked up to him and volunteered to help.”

As Khan painted, another man, a bank executive, observed him for a while and then walked up to him and struck a conversation. The man wanted to know if the painter could draw portraits. He said yes. A few days later, the banker took Khan to see his boss, who commissioned a portrait of UAE’s founding father and then ruler, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, to be unveiled on UAE’s national day. 

Liaquat Ali Khan, a Pakistani artist, speaks to Arab News at his office in Kohat, Pakistan, on Dec. 1, 2020. (AN photo)

That moment marked a new beginning for Khan, who had a degree in fine arts from the University of Peshawar but never thought he could have a career as an artist. But his first portrait landed him a job with the Abu Dhabi Municipality where he went on to work for 29 years.

“I adorned my canvas with UAE royals and painted over a thousand portraits,” said Khan whose work has been displayed in public parks and along major thoroughfares in Abu Dhabi ahead of the UAE national day, celebrated each year on December 2.

Emirati officials also bestowed on him the title of “golden hand” as his reputation as an artist spread.

Liaquat Ali Khan, a Pakistani artist, writes an Urdu inscription at his office in Kohat, Pakistan on December 1, 2020. (AN Photo)

“Over a period of time, officials and locals began to recognize me through my work and started calling me the golden hand,“Khan said. “But it was a huge portrait of Sheikh Zayed that captured the attention of the royal family.”

In 1999, he was invited to meet the UAE ruler himself. 

“He was clearly interested in the world of art and knew a lot about it,” Khan said. 

Ten years after his meeting with Al Nahyan, Khan returned to Pakistan — not an ‘easy decision,’ he said — where he began teaching art at Kohat University. He also set up an art academy in his native town, where 17 students, both boys and girls, are currently studying.

Students of Liaquat Ali Khan, a Pakistani artist, seen practicing calligraphy at his art academy in Kohat, Pakistan, on December 1, 2020. (AN Photo)

“Creativity and art have brought me closer to nature and I am focused more on them than ever before,” said Omar Shahid, a second-year medical student who took up drawing as a hobby and joined the academy about a year ago.

Today, Khan says he is proud of his journey. The walls of his office in the art academy are decorated with photographs and shields. Some of the photos capture his interactions with high-profile Pakistani personalities such as former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf and ex-prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

The artist said he had also completed a 500-piece portrait of Pakistan’s founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and requested Musharraf to display it at Jinnah’s mausoleum. He smiled as he said he had no idea where that work had disappeared.

“He [Musharraf] agreed and instructed officials [to display the Jinnah portrait at his tomb],” Khan said. “But the painting has disappeared. It’s probably gathering dust in some government storage facility.”

Investors pin hopes on ‘Daronomics,’ outgoing finance minister to have ‘no role in government’

Updated 13 sec ago

Investors pin hopes on ‘Daronomics,’ outgoing finance minister to have ‘no role in government’

  • Ishaq Dar to take over as finance minister from Miftah Ismail, investors hopeful he will stabilize rupee and tame inflation
  • Dubbed Darnomics, Dar’s approach kept rupee stable between Rs98 and Rs105 against greenback during previous stint

KARACHI: Pakistan’s currency and equity markets on Monday celebrated the return of Ishaq Dar as the finance minister of Pakistan, with investors pinning hopes that a new era of “Darnomics” would stabilize the rupee and tame inflation, analysts and economists said. 

Dar is a member of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s ruling PMLN party and has already been finance minister four times.

Dubbed Darnomics, Dar’s approach kept the rupee stable between Rs98 and Rs105 against the greenback during his last stint in office from 2013-2017 but he was widely criticized for deliberately undervaluing the rupee by pumping dollars in the market. 

The Pakistani rupee gained in value by 1.11% or Rs2.63 to close at Rs237.02 against the United States dollar in the interbank market on Monday, and gained Rs6.90 to trade at Rs237.50 in the open market following the reports of Dar’s return. Dar is expected to take charge this week.

While media has reported now former finance minister Miftah Ismail will remain part of the government’s economic team, the outgoing official told Arab News on Monday: “I will have no role in the government.”

Speaking to local media before departing for Pakistan from London where he has lived in exile since 2017 when he was disqualified from office by a court in a corruption case, Dar said:

“I am returning to the same office that I left five years back. This is Allah’s blessing … This will be my aim, to bring Pakistan’s [economy] back on track. The economy is constantly faltering and we will try to change its direction.”

Dar takes over as the economy faces one of its worst balance of payment crises, and recent floods are estimated to have cost it nearly $30 billion.

Earlier this month, the government cut its GDP growth forecast below 3% from a 5% budgetary target for 2022-23.

“Ishaq Dar is known for keeping the exchange rate stable for stronger currency, that is why the currency market has strongly reacted to his return resultantly the rupee gain some strength,” Samiullah Tariq, Director Research at Pakistan Kuwait Investment Company, said.

Economists said Dar’s return would bring some “comfort” to the currency market and tame increasing inflation, which is at a 47-year high at 27.3%.

“Ishaq Dar is being brought back by the coalition government keeping in view his past track of keeping the exchange rate under control,” Dr. Sajid Amin, Deputy Executive Director at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), told Arab News.

“The first priority of the coalition government is to bring stability in the value of rupee as the national currency has fast eroded its value against the US dollar despite International Monetary Fund (IMF) program revival,” he added.

Economists said the coalition government of PM Shehbaz Sharif had paid the political cost of much-needed measures taken by the outgoing finance minister, including the withdrawal of fuel subsidies and fast depreciation of the rupee.

“When the rupee depreciates, the public attributes it to the performance of the economic managers. As a political party this has been the discourse at some level and the decision to bring Dar has been taken in order to show economic performance and improve the image in the eyes of the public.”

The government’s decision to replace Ismail with the Dar reflected the coalition government’s need to immediately “showcase” performance “due to the short time available to the election next year,” Amin said.

“Government wants to go into the election with a new image, with a new market and public feelings that it has improved things … exchange rate and inflation, two key indicators,” he added.

But many economists said Dar’s return would have little effect.

“Changing faces may have limited impacts as we are facing both global and domestic recessions,” Khurram Schehzad, CEO at Alpha Beta Core, a startup investment advisory platform, told Arab News. “Options are limited and the economic situation is challenging. So expecting something extraordinarily different from another person would not be prudent.”

Pakistani industrialists said the incoming finance minister would have to deal with a plethora of issues, chief among them political instability.

“Pakistan is facing a very difficult time at the time when Ishaq Dar is coming back … current account deficit, trade deficit, debt repayments, high inflation, and rupee dollar parity are among them,” Zubair Motiwala, chairman of the Businessmen Group at the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), told Arab News.

“The big problem is political stability ... instability is the mother of all economic evils in Pakistan so he will have to deal with it. Our best wishes are with him and we pray for the speedy improvement of the issues the country is facing right now.”

Pakistan stocks closed bullish with the benchmark KSE100 index settling at 41,151 level, up by 531 points or 1.31%.

“Bullish activity witnessed on strong rupee recovery amid decision over the appointment of a new finance minister, which is likely to stabilize economic uncertainty,” Ahsan Mehanti, CEO of Arif Habib Corporation, said.

Islamabad court extends custody of journalist Ayaz Amir, son in beating death of Canadian woman

Updated 36 min 28 sec ago

Islamabad court extends custody of journalist Ayaz Amir, son in beating death of Canadian woman

  • Sarah Inam was allegedly killed by her husband Shahnawaz Amir “with dumbbells” last week
  • Police say Inam’s family is expected to arrive in Islamabad from Canada by Tuesday to pursue case

ISLAMABAD: An Islamabad district court on Monday extended the custody of veteran journalist Ayaz Amir and his son Shahnawaz Amir in the case of the murder of the latter’s wife in Islamabad last week.

Sarah Inam, a 37-year-old economist, had wed Shahnawaz around three months ago and was allegedly murdered by her husband at the suspect’s mother’s home in Islamabad on Friday. The murder took place a day after Inam had returned from Abu Dhabi where she works.

The police arrested Shahnawaz from the crime scene on Saturday morning while his father was arrested late on Sunday night.

The police on Monday presented both suspects before judicial magistrate Amir Aziz Khan after their physical remand expired.

A deputy superintendent of police Hakim Khan said Inam’s family was expected to arrive in Islamabad from Canada tonight, Monday, to pursue the case.

“The police will record their statements, and if necessary, some more sections could be included in the already registered FIR,” he told Arab News. “The police will be fully cooperating with the victim’s family to take this case to the logical conclusion.”

During Monday’s hearing, the investigation officer in the case, Inspector Habib-ur-Rehman, requested the court to extend police custody of the suspects as officers had yet to complete their investigation.

The judge inquired about Ayaz’s role and the inspector said he had been nominated by the victim’s uncle and aunt. He said the victim’s parents lived in Canada and would reach Pakistan by tomorrow, Tuesday.

“We need to determine the role of Ayaz Amir in the nikah [marriage contract], therefore the court should grant extension in his remand,” the inspector said.

Addressing the judge, Amir said he was “traumatized.”

“I had informed the police about the incident and even guided them to the farmhouse where the murder took place,” the journalist said. “Police have not asked me anything during the remand … Have they got any new evidence against me [to seek the remand extension]?”

The journalist questioned why the police were trying to link him to the murder. “Can you [the police] furnish any evidence of my involvementt?”

The court extended Shahnawaz’s remand for three days, while Ayaz’s remand was extended for a day.

Earlier in the day, additional sessions judge Sheikh Sohail granted interim bail to Shahnawaz’s mother, Sameena Shah, for three days and directed her to be part of the investigation.

In her bail petition to the court, Shah said her son Shahnawaz had informed her about the murder on Saturday morning in a phone call. She said she had no connection with the murder and was willing to cooperate with the police in the investigation.

According to the first information report, registered on the complaint of Shahzad Town Station House Officer Nawazish Ali Khan, Shahnawaz’s mother called police on September 23 and informed them that Shahnawaz had murdered his wife “with a dumbbell.”

“My son is present in the house and has hidden the body,” the FIR quotes Sameena as saying, adding that the police subsequently raided the house.

“He had locked himself up in his room. When they broke inside, there were stains of blood stains on Shahnawaz’s hands and clothes,” the police said in the complaint. “He then confessed that he had repeatedly hit his wife with a dumbbell during an argument and then hid her body in the washroom’s bathtub.”

Shahnawaz also said he had “hidden” the murder weapon under his bed, which police subsequently found and sent for a forensics examination.

Southern Pakistani province plans to move thousands of flood-hit people to ‘tent city’

Updated 26 September 2022

Southern Pakistani province plans to move thousands of flood-hit people to ‘tent city’

  • The tent city in Karachi’s Malir district includes 1,300 tarpaulin camps to house flood-affected people currently staying at Karachi schools
  • Floods have inundated around 15,000 schools Sindh, while education activities remain suspended at another 5,000 facilities housing affectees

KARACHI: Authorities in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province on Monday said they were moving thousands of people displaced by catastrophic floods to a “tent city” on the outskirts of the port city of Karachi.

Torrential rains and floods have killed more than 1,600 people and affected 33 million across Pakistan since the beginning of monsoon season in mid-June. The deluges have forced 1.45 million people out of homes in the southern Sindh province, washing away most of their crops.

The provincial government has accommodated these displaced people in 5,000 government-run schools across the province, with 30 schools housing the affectees in Karachi.

Local authorities have decided to move these thousands of affectees from government-run schools in Karachi’s East district to hundreds of tarpaulin camps in the Malir district on the outskirts of the megapolis.

“About 7,000 people living in our relief camps would be shifted and the schools will be vacated,” said Raja Tariq Chandio, deputy commissioner of the East district, where most of the schools sheltering displaced people are situated.

Irfan Salam, deputy commissioner of the Malir district, said authorities had erected 1,300 shelters along the Malir link road, while K-Electric, the city’s sole power distributor, was also laying a power transmission line to supply electricity to these camps.

“In the tent city, flood victims will have safe drinking water and cooked meals. It has 20 washrooms and a hospital with men and women doctors and paramedics,” Salam told Arab News.

“It will take at least 10 days for K-Electric to set up the power transmission line, but we will start providing electricity through generators as we plan to move flood victims within the next two days.”

He said a charity had committed to provide breakfast, lunch and dinner for the displaced people, for which a kitchen was being set up.

The Sindh education foundation would also set up a school to impart education to children of these flood-affected people, Salam added.

The deadly floods have inundated around 15,000 schools across the southern Pakistani province, while education activities remain suspended at another 5,000 institutes housing the affected masses.

Around 2.5 million students enrolled at these 20,000 schools may drop out this year as the province lacks resources to make educational facilities functional soon after floodwater recedes from marooned areas, according to Sindh Education Minister Sardar Ali Shah.

After the relocation of affected masses to the Malir district, officials say classes will resume at 30 government-run facilities housing them in Karachi’s East district.

Javed Shah, a teacher at the Government Boys Primary School in the district, told Arab News the local administration had communicated to them that the schools would be vacated this week, but it would take another few days to make arrangements for resumption of classes.

“We are happy that classes are going to resume soon,” Shah told Arab News. “We will bring the schools to order to resume classes.”

Dubai's DP World announces $2.5 million in flood assistance to Pakistan

Updated 26 September 2022

Dubai's DP World announces $2.5 million in flood assistance to Pakistan

  • The logistics firm's chief announced last week he planned to set up industrial parks in Pakistan
  • Sheikh Sultan bin Sulayem said Pakistan had a huge investment potential and human resource

ISLAMABAD: DP World, one of the world’s largest logistics and port terminal operators headquartered in Dubai, has announced donating $2.5 million to Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) embassy said on Sunday, after massive floods caused widespread death and destruction in the South Asian country. 

Cataclysmic floods have killed at least 1,638 people, displaced more than 33 million and inundated a third of Pakistan since the onset of monsoon season in mid-June. 

The deluges have damaged millions of homes, swept away livestock and standing crops, causing an estimated loss of $3 billion to the South Asian country, already grappling with an economic crisis. 

The announcement of $2.5 million donation came after DP World Chairman Sheikh Sultan bin Sulayem's meetings with Pakistan President Arif Alvi and Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa. 

"DP World supports the relief efforts in the aftermath of floods and torrential rains that hit large parts of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and announces to donate $2.5 million dollars to the Pakistan Army's Flood Relief account," the UAE embassy in Islamabad said on Twitter. 

The DP World chairman arrived in Pakistan on Friday to assess the scale of the disaster, which officials have blamed on human-driven climate change. 

Sheikh Sultan said he was interested in setting up industrial parks in Pakistan, which had a huge investment potential and availability of human resource.  

“The vision I have is to open industrial parks in Pakistan which will be equipped with modern infrastructure,” he said at a press conference in Karachi on Friday.  

"Human resource is no problem in Pakistan as the country has many highly educated engineers, who will work in these industrial parks."  

The Dubai-based logistics firm already operates a container terminal at the Karachi port. 

Pakistan and the UAE have close fraternal relations and bilateral cooperation in a range of fields. The UAE is also Pakistan’s largest trading partner in the Middle East and home to more than 1.6 million Pakistanis.   

Pakistan floods raise fears of hunger after crops wrecked 

Updated 26 September 2022

Pakistan floods raise fears of hunger after crops wrecked 

  • Pakistan’s agricultural sector had been growing in recent years, allowing country to export some wheat and rice 
  • Cotton losses could hurt biggest export, textiles and clothes, which brought in more than $20 billion annually 

KHAIRPUR: Like every year, Arz Mohammed had planted his little patch of land in southern Pakistan with cotton. The crop would earn him enough so that, as he puts it, his family of five wouldn’t be reduced to begging. Then came the deluge. 

Pakistan’s massive floods this summer collapsed Mohammed’s home and destroyed his four acres of cotton, wiping out most of his income. 

On top of that, his land and that of his neighbors remain underwater, three months after the heaviest rains stopped. Like many farmers across southern Pakistan, he may not be able to plant his next crop — wheat — in time. 

That could spell trouble for the country’s food supply. 

“These rains have destroyed everything for us,” said Mohammed, who lives in a tent with his wife and children near his wrecked house in Khairpur, one of the country’s hardest-hit districts. “We don’t even have anything to eat.” 

This summer’s flooding, caused by monsoon rains nearly triple the usual ferocity, wiped out huge swaths of crops, leaving already impoverished families struggling to obtain food. Farmers and officials warn that Pakistan could now face serious food shortages at a time when the government is strapped for cash and world food prices are high. 

Farmers collect apples from remaining floodwaters due to heavy monsoon rains, at an orchard in Hanna Urak near Quetta, Pakistan, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. (AP)

Nearly 15 percent of Pakistan’s rice crop and 40 percent of its cotton crop were lost, according to officials. The waters also wiped out the personal grain stores that many farming families rely on for food yearlong. 

The flooding, blamed in part on climate change, killed nearly 1,600 people, damaged nearly 2 million homes and overall wreaked damage estimated at more than $30 billion. 

At the United Nations last week, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif told The Associated Press that crops on 4 million acres were washed away. “We need funds to provide livelihood to our people. We need funds to compensate for the loss of crops to our people, to our farmers.” 

The government says there is no immediate worry about food supplies. In a statement to the AP, the state disaster agency said wheat stock are enough to last through the next harvest and that the government is importing more. 

A farmer collects apples beside damaged trees caused floodwaters due heavy monsoon rains, at an orchard in Hanna Urak near Quetta, Pakistan, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. (AP)

However, the upcoming wheat crop has been thrown into uncertainty. Planting usually starts in October. In Punjab province, the country’s main wheat producer, fields suffered less damage and can be sown in time. But in southern Sindh province, the second largest producer, some 50 percent of the fields remain underwater, according to Jam Khan Shoro, a provincial irrigation minister in Sindh. 

Aerial footage in Sindh shows field after field still inundated. The province, in Pakistan’s southern lowlands at the downstream end of its major rivers, is where the floods hit hardest: 80 percent of the rice crop and 70 percent of cotton were destroyed, devastating the livelihoods of the small farmers who make up most the production. 

Altaf Hussain Marri, a larger and relatively well-off landholder in Khairpur, said he normally gives away wheat as a gift to friends and family. Now he’s worried about having enough for himself and his children, unsure if his 400 inundated acres will drain in time. The floods demolished his cotton and rice crops, worth around $40,000. 

“If we fail to grow wheat ... next year we might not have even wheat to eat,” Marri said. “It will create food insecurity in the country. The poor will suffer a lot. There will be no flour.” 

Pakistan’s agricultural sector had been growing in recent years, allowing the country to export some wheat and rice. 

Villagers works in flooded rice field caused by heavy monsoon rains, in Dera Allahyar area of Jaffarabad, a district of southwestern Baluchistan province, Pakistan, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. (AP)

“Now we will have to import wheat and other food items,” Pakistan’s Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal told the AP. 

Sharif, the prime minister, said Pakistan may have to import about a million metric tons of wheat, and it could come from Russia, but Pakistan is open to other offers if the price is right. 

Pakistan has already put out orders to import 500,000 metric tons of wheat, Planning Ministry officials say. There are contingency plans to buy as much 2.5 million tons over the next year, but officials are waiting to see how much wheat is planted, they said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the policy was not yet set. 

Ashfaq Ahmad, a senior economist, said the additional wheat needs to be brought in quickly, by next month. 

Otherwise, “I am seeing a food crisis in December,” he told the AP. “Any delay in the import of wheat will cause food shortage.” 

The flooding was also a blow to Pakistan’s important cash crops. Losses will mean lower exports of rice, which earned $2 billion in 2020. Cotton losses could hurt the country’s biggest export, textiles and clothes, which brought in more than $20 billion annually in recent years. 

But the greater damage and danger is likely to Pakistan’s poor, with no margin to endure losses in income and food. 

In Dasht, a remote district of Baluchistan province, hundreds of orchard owners worry about their future after losing crops of grapes, apples and other fruits. In parts of Baluchistan, piles upon piles of rotten apples can be seen in submerged areas. 

Even before the floods, some 38 million Pakistanis, more than 16 percent of the population, were living in moderate or severe food insecurity, meaning they were uncertain about being able to obtain food or at times have outright gone without eating, according to the World Health Organization. Nearly 18 percent of children were acutely malnourished. 

The blow to the food supply and incomes will tip those populations deeper into hunger, UN agencies have warned. The UN’s World Food Program has so far delivered food to 600,000 flood survivors. 

Iqbal, the planning minister, said Sindh province is the country’s biggest producer of vegetables for domestic markets. Those crops were lost, along with families’ personal stores of grains for themselves and feed for their livestock. 

“So, therefore we have a real food security challenge at hand,” he said. 

On the ground in Sukkur, another hard-hit district neighboring Khairpur, the local agricultural director Rasool Bux Junejo fears the worst. Farmers won’t be able to grow wheat or other key crops like sunflowers and mustard. 

“That will be a huge loss in the coming months. If you ask me as an agriculture worker, I foresee famine, God forbid,” he said. “We will be unable to provide food to our people.”