Girl footballers from remote Chitral bring their game to the Pakistani capital 

Chitral Women’s Sports Club football team training at Islamabad Sports Complex on January 26, 2021 (AN Photo by Sabah Bano Malik)
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Updated 27 January 2021

Girl footballers from remote Chitral bring their game to the Pakistani capital 

  • Chitral Women’s Sports Club founder Karishma Ali has organized a week-long training camp for girl athletes in Islamabad
  • Ali started the club two years ago with 60 girls, it now has over 150 members who ski, and play volleyball, cricket and football

RAWALPINDI: Forty young football enthusiasts in matching black tracksuits jogged down the cement bleachers framing the expansive football pitch of the Islamabad Sports Complex on Tuesday, egging one another on and cheering as they embarked on a new day of sports and fun.
While athletes of all kinds could be seen on the many fields and tracks of the complex, what made this particular sight unique was that all of the athletes are young girls from Pakistan’s northernmost, long neglected region of Chitral — brought to the capital by the Chitral Women’s Sports Club (CWSC), the brainchild of national football star Karishma Ali.
Running a football club for girls from poor families in a remote, mountainous area of Pakistan is not easy during a pandemic but Ali has not let the coronavirus stop her from pursuing her dream of helping girls in her native Chitral region.




Chitral Women’s Sports Club football team pose for a picture at the Islamabad Sports Complex on Jan. 27, 2021 (Photo courtesy: Chitral Women’s Sports Club)

“Usually when we do our activities, it’s kept secret and done far from their villages for security reasons,” Ali, 23, told Arab News on Tuesday on the sidelines of football practice at the Islamabad Sports Complex. “This is why I brought them down, to give them a more comfortable environment. You can already see the change in their confidence — how they are playing out in the open versus at home.”
Ali started her club two years ago with 60 girls aged between eight and 16. Now the club has over 150 members who ski, and play volleyball and cricket as well as football.
Ali hopes the club will help the girls overcome both sexual discrimination and poverty in a country where boys’ education, and sports, is prioritized. Her dream is to help the girl get sports scholarships in professional colleges in Pakistan and beyond.
“These girls have talent,” Ali, who has represented her country at international football tournaments, said. “If we get requisite support, we can have 1,000 girl footballers from Chitral.”
In Islamabad, the footballers are attending a week-long camp from January 23-29 under coach Jose Alonso who runs a Spanish Football Academy in the capital. The camp has also given them the opportunity to interact and play with other female football stars.




Chitral Women’s Sports Club football team training at Islamabad Sports Complex on January 27, 2021 (Photo courtesy: Chitral Women’s Sports Club)

“I am excited and happy because I see the girls smiling every day,” said Ali. “I haven’t seen a single upset face. They are getting the chance not only to play the way other athletes get to play and practice out in the open, but also to have fun.”
Indeed, for many of the girls, aged between 12 to 16, this is their first time away from home and in the capital.
“We do not get opportunities like this back home, just the opportunity to come and play every day has been really fun,” Zakira Nida, 14, said. “That’s what we lack the most: opportunities.”
“Boys get a lot of chances to play in our region,” said Mehek Sultan, a 15-year-old. “But our society does not just consist of boys. We are here, too. We should also get to play because participating in sports is good for everyone.”
The Pakistan’s women’s football team, which faced a FIFA ban due to inactivity in 2013, remained dormant even after the ban was lifted in 2017. Last year in October 2020, the Pakistan Football Federation began work to reviving the sport by organizing football camps.
Ali’s own passion for football began when she was nine years old and watched the 2006 FIFA World Cup with her father.
“I just knew this is the game for me,” she had said in media interviews last year.
But it was not easy — when the community discovered Ali’s football career, some were deeply hostile, and she received messages threatening to kill her if she continued.
“It was seen as inappropriate culturally because I would wear shorts, thereby baring my skin,” she told reporters.
The situation eased in 2019 when Ali was selected for Forbes magazine’s 30 Under 30 Asia list of rising stars and the community began to recognize her achievements.
Now, Ali says it’s high time people in Pakistani sports management begin to believe in women.
“Women’s teams are becoming famous all over the world,” she said. “In the US, they are winning the fight to get equally paid and we are still fighting for our right to play.”


In Pakistan’s southern desert region, climate-change driven poverty linked to suicide spikes

Updated 5 min 5 sec ago

In Pakistan’s southern desert region, climate-change driven poverty linked to suicide spikes

  • At least 143 people took their lives in Thar Desert’s Tharparkar and Umerkot districts between 2016-2020
  • Extreme weather patterns are a frequent threat and major cause of poverty, now increasingly driving people to suicide

MITHI, SINDH: Last year, two cousins who wanted to marry each other in a town hemmed in the rolling dunes of Pakistan’s Thar desert took their own lives by hanging themselves from a tree because they did not have the money to arrange their wedding. Just a few years earlier, the girl’s father had also killed himself due to financial troubles. 
Earlier this month, at a bus stop near the multi-billion dollar Thar Coal Power Project, Amru Kohli, the couple’s 60-year-old grandmother waited in the scorching heat for the next bus to arrive, hoping to collect some charity — her only source of income in a region where climate-change driven poverty is increasingly pushing people to suicide.
“With no livelihood available and family in debt of over Rs100,000, I have no option but to beg,” Kohli told Arab News.

Amru Kohli, 60, collects alms on a highway in the Islamkot area, Tharpakar district, Pakistan, on April 2, 2021. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

Six people in her village had committed suicide in the last two years, she said: “The main reason was extreme poverty.”
The UNDP’s Multidimensional Poverty Index for Pakistan reports that 87% of the population in Thar lives in poverty. Climate change is now driving locals into more deprivation.
Between 2016 to 2020, the Sindh Mental Health Authority (SMHA), an arm of the provincial government, said 767 suicides were recorded in Sindh, out of which the highest number, 79 cases, occurred in Tharparkar district in the Thar desert and another 64 cases were recorded in the desert’s Umerkot district. With a total of 143 cases reported in Thar, one in every five suicides in Sindh occurs in the desert region, SMHA said.

A signboard marks Mataro Saand village next to a highway near Islamkot area in Tharpakar district, Pakistan, on April 2, 2021. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

The non-governmental organization, the Association for Water, Applied Education and Renewable Energy (AWARE), put total deaths by suicide in Thar at 348 between 2016-2020.
“With every day passing, suicide cases are rising in the desert,” Ali Akbar Rahimoo, AWARE executive director, told Arab News. “In the first three months of 2021, suicide cases in Tharparkar district reported in mainstream media were 20 cases, out of which 13 were women.”
While the SMHA report cites mental illness, domestic issues, and poverty as the main reasons for suicides across the province, researchers link the spike in suicide rates in the Thar region to climate change-driven droughts.
“After the 1970s, the area has witnessed prolonged droughts and famine coming more frequently than in the past,” Rahimoo said. “Nowadays, even if there are rains, they are erratic and delayed, which reduces their effects on the area whose economic cycle and agriculture is solely dependent upon rainfalls. Each drought takes locals five years back.”
Dr. Lakesh Khatri, a Mirpurkhas-based psychiatrist who has worked in Thar, said mental health issues linked to droughts and their effect on household incomes were contributing to rising suicide rates in the desert.
“Thar’s economy is dependent on rainfall as there is no comprehensive river water supply in the desert or any other major livelihood source,” the psychiatrist said. “Prolonged droughts shrink available means of income. Hence lack of livelihood opportunities and inaccessibility to resources triggers inhabitants toward depression, ultimately [to] taking their own lives.”
Locals have also protested Chinese-funded projects like the Thar Coal Power Project, with its estimated 175 billion tons of coal, saying the project will pollute their water and threaten their ancestral lands. But construction has continued. 
“Locals don’t see any trickle-down effect coming to them from the mega projects built on natural sources they are the owners of,” Rahimoo said. 

A villager poses for a photograph in Mataro Saand, Tharpakar district, Pakistan, on April 2, 2021. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

Marium Shabbir, a researcher at the Islamabad-based Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), said climate-change driven poverty was a new addition to the impoverished regions problems, with “extreme weather patterns” increasing people’s vulnerability. 
“It could be handled through pre-policy making,” Shabbir told Arab News. “If this is not addressed, it could turn into a political, social, and economic disaster of international scale.”


Major social media outlets blocked to ‘maintain public order’ — Pakistan telecoms authority

Updated 23 min 31 sec ago

Major social media outlets blocked to ‘maintain public order’ — Pakistan telecoms authority

  • “In order to maintain public order and safety, access to certain social media applications restricted temporarily,” PPTA spokesperson says
  • Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, TikTok and Telegram blocked on orders of PTA, Internet service provider says

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan blocked multiple social media apps temporarily on security grounds on Friday as part of what is believed to be a crackdown against a religious political party that has held violent nationwide protests this week, a telecommunications authority official said, while a major Internet service provider in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad sent text messages to its users apologizing for the “inconvenience.” 
Pakistan Internet users had difficulty accessing apps including What, Facebook, You tube and Twitter from late on Friday morning, Reuters said. 
The Internet blockade comes as Pakistan said this week it would outlaw the religious political party Tehreek-i-Labaik Pakistan after the arrest of its leader on Monday sparked major nationwide protests. Rizvi and his supporters are calling on the government to expel the French ambassador over cartoons published in France depicting the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
“In order to maintain public order and safety, access to certain social media applications has been restricted temporarily,” Khurram Mehran, a spokesperson for the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) told Arab News, without specifying which social media.
Internet, cable TV and phone service provider Nayatel, based in Islamabad, sent text messages to users saying:
“On directions by PTA, below mentioned social media platforms have been blocked. Twitter. Facebook. WhatsApp. YouTube. TikTok. Telegram. Inconvenience is regretted.”
Usama Khilji, a director at digital advocacy group Bolo Bhi, said it was “against the constitution to suspend people’s access to information by blocking social media just because of a group and in the name of law and order.”
“Also, this isn’t a wise security strategy to suspend Internet because this won’t send protesters home, instead it will project a bad image of our country abroad,” he told Arab News. 
Nighat Dad at the Digital Rights Foundation said: 
“What kind of national emergency we are dealing with that government banned entire social media temporarily? These arbitrary decisions of blocking and banning have never done any good instead opened ways to blanket bans.”


Chief of Tehreek-e-Labaik asks supporters to call off protests as Pakistan moves to ban party

Updated 26 min 50 sec ago

Chief of Tehreek-e-Labaik asks supporters to call off protests as Pakistan moves to ban party

  • Saad Rizvi tells supporters not to indulge in illegal activity, immediately clear roadblocks, return peacefully to homes and cooperate with authorities
  • Rizvi’s appeal comes a day after cabinet approved proposal by interior ministry to ban TLP and file a case with Supreme Court to dissolve the party

KARACHI: Saad Rizvi, the head of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan religious political party, has called on his supporters to “immediately” halt protests being held across the country against Rizvi’z arrest, the party chief said in a handwritten letter shared on Twitter on Thursday by a top government aide. 
TLP supporters have been holding violent nationwide protests since Monday when Rizvi was arrested for threatening to launch a major protest campaign against the government if it did not expel France’s envoy to Islamabad over blasphemous caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) printed in a French publication last year. 
“I am addressing all shura [TLP council] members and Tehreek-e-Labaik workers and appeal that no illegal activity should be done for the sake of people and in the better interest of the country,” Rizvi said in his note, which was tweeted by Dr. Shahbaz Gill, special adviser to Prime Minister Imran Khan on political communication.
“All protest demonstrations and roadblocks should be immediately cleared. All workers should return to their homes peacefully. Fully cooperate with the law enforcement agencies.”

Neither Rizvi himself, nor any of his party leaders, could be reached for comment on the note. Rizvi’s appeal comes a day after Pakistan’s federal cabinet approved a proposal by the interior ministry to ban TLP and file a case with the Supreme Court to dissolve the religious party, which is a registered political party with the Election Commission of Pakistan. The interior ministry says it is moving to have the party banned for killing two policemen, attacking law enforcement forces and disrupting public life during this week’s protests. 
“We have proscribed [the TLP] and the notification for that will be issued shortly,” federal interior minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told reporters on Thursday. “Tomorrow, we will send another summary to the cabinet to file a reference in the Supreme Court since we are moving toward [TLP’s] dissolution.” 
The TLP gained prominence in Pakistan’s 2018 federal elections, campaigning to defend the country’s blasphemy law, which calls for the death penalty for anyone who insults Islam. The party also has a history of staging protests and sit-ins to pressure the government to accept its demands. 
In November 2017, Rizvi’s followers staged a 21-day protest and sit-in after a reference to the sanctity of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was removed from the text of a government form. 
In the 2018 elections, the party managed to win two seats in the Sindh Assembly from Karachi and got a female member elected on a reserved seat of the assembly. 
Religious parties — some new, others long-established — fielded more than 1,500 candidates for national and provincial assemblies in Pakistan’s general election on July 25, 2018.


India ‘more likely’ under PM Modi to use military force against Pakistan — US report 

Updated 16 April 2021

India ‘more likely’ under PM Modi to use military force against Pakistan — US report 

  • Annual threat assessment report for 2021 prepared by US Director of National Intelligence and sent to Congress
  • Says Modi more likely than in the past to respond with military force to ‘perceived or real’ Pakistani provocations

ISLAMABAD: Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India was more likely “to respond with military force” to provocations from Pakistan, heightening the risk of conflict between the nuclear-armed neighbors, a US intelligence report sent to Congress this week said.
Ties between India and Pakistan have been frozen since the suicide bombing of an Indian military convoy in Kashmir in 2019 that India said was carried out by Pakistan-based militants (Islamabad denies state complicity) and because of which New Delhi sent warplanes into Pakistan. Islamabad shot down an Indian fighter jet and captured its pilot in a subsequent aerial dogfight.
In August of the same year, India’s prime minister withdrew Indian-ruled Kashmir’s autonomy in order to tighten his grip over the territory, provoking outrage in Pakistan and the downgrading of diplomatic ties and suspension of bilateral trade. Both India and Pakistan rule Kashmir in part but claim the Himalayan valley in full.
“Although a general war between India and Pakistan is unlikely, crises between the two are likely to become more intense, risking an escalatory cycle,” said the annual threat assessment report for 2021 prepared by the office of the US Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and sent to Congress.
“Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India is more likely than in the past to respond with military force to perceived or real Pakistani provocations, and heightened tensions raise the risk of conflict between the two nuclear-armed neighbors, with violent unrest in Kashmir or a militant attack in India being potential flashpoints.”
“The tensions between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan remain a concern for the world,” the report said, referring to regional conflicts that continue to fuel humanitarian crises, undermine stability, and threaten US persons and interests.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars and had tense ties since gaining independence from British colonial rule in 1947.
But in a rare sign of rapprochement, they held the first meeting in three years of a commission on water rights from the Indus River in March.
In February, the two nations announced a rare agreement to stop firing on the bitterly-contested border in Kashmir.
This week, the United Arab Emirates envoy to Washington said the UAE had played a role in getting longtime rivals India and Pakistan to agree to a cease-fire amid tensions over disputed Kashmir.
Speaking in a video released Wednesday by Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, Yousef Al-Otaiba acknowledged an Emirati role “in bringing the Kashmir escalation down.”
“We try to be helpful where we have influence with two different countries,” Al-Otaiba told H.R. McMaster, a former national security adviser to Trump. “India and Pakistan was the most recent one.”


Over 1.4 million Afghan refugees to get new 'proof of registration' smartcards

Updated 15 April 2021

Over 1.4 million Afghan refugees to get new 'proof of registration' smartcards

  • Supported by the UN refugee agency, the program will also help prepare targeted health, education and livelihood programs for refugees
  • The country conducted a similar documentation and verification survey about 10 years ago

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has launched a nationwide verification exercise for 1.4 million Afghan refugees to distribute new smartcards among them, said a statement issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on Thursday. 

The Documentation Renewal and Information Verification Exercise (DRIVE) was inaugurated in by Federal Minister for States and Frontier Region Mehboob Sultan in the presence of UNHCR Representative Noriko Yoshida. 

“Pakistan has been hosting Afghan refugees for four decades, and a lot has changed since the last verification exercise 10 years ago,” said the minister. “It’s crucial that we update the data of Afghan refugees to understand their situation better.” 

The UN refugee agency also highlighted the necessity of the program by mentioning its administrative significance.  

“The DRIVE exercise is a leap forward for everyone,” Yoshida noted. “This step will allow refugees to have better, faster and safer access to services, including schools, hospitals and banks.” 

The UNHCR representative added that the exercise will not only be helpful in verifying the existing data but will also record the skillsets of Afghan refugees, their education level and socio-economic circumstances to provide them more targeted health, education and livelihood support in Pakistan and Afghanistan. 

Meanwhile, Sultan urged all Afghans with Proof of Registration cards to fully participate in the exercise. 

Six hundred male and female staff – a combination of government and UNHCR personnel – will be working at some 35 DRIVE verification sites around the country. 

Measures have also been taken at all DRIVE sites to mitigate COVID-19 risks through enhanced hygiene, physical distancing and the scheduling of set numbers of appointments each day.