Toronto police say Pakistani dissident's death not 'suspicious'

Pakistani activist Karima Baloch posted this photo on October 8, 2020 on her twitter account. (Photo Courtesy: Karima Baloch's Twitter)
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Updated 23 December 2020

Toronto police say Pakistani dissident's death not 'suspicious'

  • Authorities said the body of 37-year-old Karima Mehrab was found on Monday near Toronto’s downtown waterfront
  • Pakistan’s High Commission in Canada said in a statement it approached the Canadian government to find out the cause of death

TORONTO: Police in Toronto said Tuesday they are not treating the death of a prominent Pakistani dissident as suspicious.
Authorities said the body of 37-year-old Karima Mehrab was found on Monday near Toronto’s downtown waterfront, a day after she had been reported missing.
“It is currently being investigated as a non-criminal death and there are not believed to be any suspicious circumstances,” Toronto police spokeswoman Caroline de Kloet said.
Mehrab, also known as Karima Baloch, was granted asylum in Canada in 2016.
Police said she was known to frequent Toronto’s waterfront and island areas.
Mehrab was a vocal critic of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, which are often accused by human rights activists of abducting activists in the country’s Baluchistan province and elsewhere in Pakistan.
She for years had campaigned for those people who go missing in Pakistan, and her death alarmed human rights activists
“The death of activist #KarimaBaloch in Toronto, Canada is deeply shocking and must be immediately and effectively investigated. The perpetrators must be brought to justice without recourse to the death penalty,” Amnesty International South Asia said in a tweet.
Pakistan’s High Commission in Canada said in a statement it approached the Canadian government to find out the cause of death.


Washington condemns shooting at Pakistan embassy in Kabul

Updated 03 December 2022

Washington condemns shooting at Pakistan embassy in Kabul

  • Attack comes amid Islamabad's claims anti-Pakistan forces are organizing attacks from Afghanistan
  • PM Shehbaz Sharif calls the attack an 'assassination attempt' against Pakistan’s head of mission

England remove centurions Shafique and Haq as Pakistan reach 298-3

Updated 03 December 2022

England remove centurions Shafique and Haq as Pakistan reach 298-3

  • Will Jacks dismissed Shafique for 114, while left-armer Jack Leach had Haq for 121
  • Pakistan still need 160 runs to avoid follow-on after England finished with 657 Friday

RAWALPINDI: England spinners removed Abdullah Shafique and Imam-ul-Haq after they scored centuries Saturday as Pakistan reached 298-3 at lunch on the third day of the opening Test in Rawalpindi. 

Off-spinner Will Jacks dismissed Shafique for 114, while left-armer Jack Leach had Haq for 121. 

Pakistan still need another 160 runs to avoid follow-on after England finished with 657 Friday, their highest total ever against the home team. 

Despite three wickets falling in Saturday's first session, the much-criticised Rawalpindi Stadium pitch offered little to the bowlers. 

At the break, skipper Babar Azam was on 28 and Saud Shakeel yet to score. 

Azhar Ali was trapped leg-before by Leach on 27, but he could have gone more cheaply had Zak Crawley not dropped a sharp chance to his left at leg slip from pacer James Anderson's first over of the morning. 

The centuries by Shafique and Haq meant for the first time in 146 years of Test cricket the openers of both teams reached three figures in the first innings. 

Their 225-run opening stand -- a Pakistan record against England -- is also the first time in Test history that two 200-plus opening partnerships were made, following Crawley and Ben Duckett's 233-run partnership for the visitors. 

Pakistan started the day on 181 without loss and Shafique, 89 overnight, was the first to three figures with a sharp single off Joe Root. 

Haq, who started the session on 90, followed with a boundary off the same bowler to complete his century. 

They both now have three Test centuries and successive hundreds at the venue, having also reached three figures against Australia in March this year. 

The three-match series is England's first in Pakistan for 17 years. 


Pakistan's ninth review in order, IMF 'can't dictate' country — finance minister

Updated 03 December 2022

Pakistan's ninth review in order, IMF 'can't dictate' country — finance minister

  • Pakistan awaits a tranche of $500mln from IMF as part of its $7 billion loan program
  • The country is facing a myriad of economic woes and desperately needs forex inflows

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said on Friday that the ninth review of the country's $7 billion loan program was in order and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) "can't dictate" it measures for the release a $500 million tranche. 

The IMF review for the release of its next tranche of funding has been pending since September, which has left Pakistan in dire need of external financing. 

Dar told a Pakistani TV station that all targets for the IMF review had been completed and that withholding a tranche despite that would not make sense. 

"Our ninth review is totally in order... I have reminded them they should come and review and give Pakistan $500 million," the finance minister said. 

"[You] can't dictate." 

Pakistan secured a $6 billion bailout in 2019 under an Extended Fund Facility (EFF), that was topped up with another $1 billion earlier this year. 

The minister said Pakistan's foreign reserves, currently at $7.5 billion, would be shored up with a $3 billion financing from a friendly country in the next two weeks. 

But the reserves at the moment are barely enough for a month of imports for the South Asian nation, facing a widening current account deficit and balance-of-payment crises as well as depreciation of national currency. 

Asked about a delay in the visit of an IMF delegation to Pakistan, Dar said he "didn't care" and he did not want to plead for the visit. 

"If it (money) doesn't come, we will manage, no problem," the minister added. 


Pakistani startup using AI for breast cancer detection eyes FDA approval, Middle East expansion

Updated 56 min 37 sec ago

Pakistani startup using AI for breast cancer detection eyes FDA approval, Middle East expansion

  • Xylexa’s technology has gone through clinical trials at several medical facilities in Pakistan and abroad
  • Startup recently got its first contract in Lebanon and is now looking into opportunities in UAE, Saudi Arabia

ISLAMABAD: An award-winning Pakistani startup that uses artificial intelligence and cloud-based tools for breast cancer detection is now working on getting approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and pursuing expansion into Arab countries, the founders of the firm said this week.

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), Pakistan has the highest breast cancer rate in Asia, with one out of nine Pakistani women now facing a lifetime risk of the disease. The country also has one of the highest breast cancer mortality rates globally.

Known as Xylexa, the Islamabad-based startup was founded in 2018 by entrepreneurs Shahid Abbasi, Shahrukh Babar, and Neda Nehal who met each other by chance at an IT industry event in 2017.

The three individuals thus embarked on a mission to fight the disease by empowering radiologists — medical doctors that specialize in diagnosing and treating injuries and diseases using medical imaging procedures — with tools and technologies that would render improved clinical outcomes for the patients.

“We have developed a decision support program for interpretation of medical images which use cutting edge technologies like artificial intelligence, computer vision, and deep learning that would help radiologists attain better clinical insights,” Abbasi, the co-founder of the startup, told Arab News in an interview in Islamabad this week.

Xylexa team poses for a picture after receiving the Pasha Technology of the Year Award in Islamabad, Pakistan on September 7, 2018. (Photo courtesy: Xylexa)

The inspiration to do something for breast cancer patients came when a close relative was diagnosed with the disease at a very late stage, he said.

“We got together as a group and decided to do something about it and use technology as a medium to save more lives,” Abbasi added.

The first set of algorithms that Xylexa developed was for the detection of breast cancer using mammography, he said, and its clinical evaluation was successfully concluded after the hard work of three and half years.

“We are not just stopping at mammography but now we are focused on developing support for 14 different diseases that require chest x-rays and have also developed algorithms for protection of blockages within the arterial system,” Abbasi said.

 Lieutenant General Nigar Johar, Surgeon General Pakistan Army (2nd right) is visiting Xylexa office in Islamabad, Pakistan on September 13, 2021. (Photo courtesy: Xylexa)

The entrepreneur said his company’s product delivered results with an up to a 95 percent accuracy ratio, thus giving 24 percent better results than traditional radiology examination.

“If you look at the market data available for the accuracy of radiologists’ readings, it ranges anywhere between 71 percent to 82 percent. On the other hand, the accuracy rates of three algorithms that we have developed for mammography, chest x-ray, and peripheral artery disease detection ranges anywhere between 89 percent to 95 percent,” he added.

After developing an AI and cloud-based platform to provide support for breast cancer detection, Xylexa put it through clinical validation at various medical facilities in Pakistan and abroad.

According to StartUs Insights, an Austrian company that has evaluated almost 359 companies across the globe using artificial intelligence in health care, Xylexa was among the top five performers in this domain.

Babar, another co-founder of the startup, said the team was now applying for approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States after completing clinical trials.

“We ran a trial in Pakistan with Fouji Foundation Hospital, Islamabad Diagnostic Center, and Epiphany Labs,” he said, adding that the startup was also expanding to Arab countries.

“Recently, we got our first contract in Lebanon and we are looking at a few opportunities in Saudi Arabia too. We have already carried out trials with the King Fahad Hospital in the Kingdom and now are in talks with a few potential partners in Dubai as well.”

Babar said breast cancer could be successfully cured with early detection.

“If breast cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, chances of survival are 90 percent,” he said. “If it is diagnosed at a later stage, then chances of survival remain 25 percent or even less.”


After beating floods, one man in Sindh adopts ‘paradoxical farming’ to increase crop yield

Updated 51 min 50 sec ago

After beating floods, one man in Sindh adopts ‘paradoxical farming’ to increase crop yield

  • Farmer named Bhom Singh Sodho uses organic method that combines raised bed cropping and hardpan breaking
  • Method was pioneered by a local agronomist and is now being promoted by Pakistan’s planning commission

UMERKOT: At a time when Pakistan is reeling from major agricultural losses due to worst-ever floods this summer that washed away thousands of acres of crops, a man in the southern Sindh says he is earning substantial cotton, sugarcane, and vegetable crop yields by using an innovative farming method that promises massive profits for agriculturalists.

Paedar Qudrati Nizam-e-Kashtkari (PQNK) – a term sometimes described as “paradoxical farming” – was pioneered in 2008 by a Lahore-based agronomist, Asif Sharif, who encouraged growers to adopt natural means to increase agricultural production.

Paradoxical farming combines farming practices like hardpan breaking, no tilling, raised beds, precision planting, and organic mulching to invent an effective cropping system.

It is this technique that is being used by Bhom Singh Sodho, a farmer from the district of Umerkot in Sindh where much of the agricultural land was submerged during the recent floods.

Sodho combined raised bed cropping, which helped reduce excess surface water, as well as hardpan breaking, which increased the absorption capacity of his land in the absence of thick agrochemical layers.

“The floods devastated thousands of acres of agricultural land which were using traditional production methods around my farm,” Sodho told Arab News. “However, PQNK saved me from incurring any losses. In fact, I earned substantial profit and was even preparing to cultivate my next crop when a majority of farmers were trying to drain water from their fields.”

This picture shows an agricultural land which is still submerged by flood water in Umerkot, Pakistan, on November 17, 2022. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

Official estimates suggest the catastrophic floods in Pakistan inflicted more than $30 billion in economic losses while the agricultural sector suffered $3.7 billion in damages. Sindh was the worst-hit province, where a large number of farmers lost both crops and livestock.

Sodho said that he shifted to the new production method two years ago when he decided to employ it over 11 out of his 55 acres of land. The year 2022 was the best for him in terms of cotton, sugarcane, and vegetable crops even amid the unprecedented floods, he said. 

Farmers in Umerkot mostly complain of water shortages and Sodho’s decision to switch to the new farming technique was also prompted by the same reason since the innovative method could help him grow the crops by using much less water than was otherwise required for conventional farming. 

Speaking to Arab News, Sharif, the 71-year-old founder of the system, said PQNK was a “low-cost, sustainable agricultural technique.”

“This is a self-funded initiative and there is no commercial angle involved in it,” Sharif, who is also the founding chairman and chief executive of Pedaver Private Limited, said over the telephone.

He said his method did not employ agrochemicals “which are poisonous for the microbes in the soil.” With an emphasis on organic food production, a farmer’s yield can also be sold at much higher rates in the international market. Apart from that, the new method “helps reduce the seed and water requirements by about 80 percent each.”

He said local soil had developed hardpan layers of chemical pesticide and fertilizer deposits of seven to 19 inches since the green revolution in the 1960s in conventional agriculture farming. Hardpan, he said, was largely impervious to water and restricted the growth of plant roots which lowered crop productivity and decreased the nutrition level.

“PQNK is a permanent low-cost solution for water scarcity and flooding,” he said.

“Breaking hardpan means increasing the capacity of the soil to absorb water. The recent floods caused massive devastation which could have been avoided if there had been a breaking of the hardpan on a larger scale. This also becomes clear when we see Bhom Singh Sodho’s farms since he applied the same method.”

Pakistan’s planning commission, the apex policymaking body, endorsed the new agricultural mechanism in 2021, rebranding it as Regenerative Agricultural Production System (RAPS).

According to Dr. Hamid Jalil, who works with the commission as a member of food security and climate change, “RAPS is a climate-smart agricultural production system.”

“We are scaling up RAPS in the country and introducing it in all public sector research centers and universities for authentication trials,” he told Arab News.

“We have already had success in getting international recognition for it when the World Bank evaluated RAPS in April this year and included it in the upcoming agricultural projects in Pakistan.”

However, Jalil said the biggest challenge in adopting the farming mechanism on a mass level was the provision of seed-sowing planter machines.

“With the assistance of Pro Nature Alliance, the planning commission manufactured four planter machines recently on an experimental basis whose testing was successful,” he added. “Pakistan needs 20,000 planter machines across the country to adopt RAPS. We have made PC-1 [or project feasibility report] that after approval will allow starting local production of planter machines. We can make the required number of machines in five years.”

Sharif added that the farming system could help Pakistan “generate an estimated $20 billion exportable food surplus in just a few years, provided that the country takes well-planned initiatives.

“At present, I have millions of followers across the world who are learning PQNK techniques online,” he said. “In Pakistan, there are about 100,000 farmers who are linked with PQNK and their number is increasing.”