Work on ‘Digital Silk Route’ link connecting Pakistan to Egypt to start in March

In this photo, fiber optic cable, 24 Tbps SEA-ME-WE-5 (high speed submarine cable) is being deployed at Transworld landing station Hawke's Bay Karachi, Pakistan on September 23, 2016. (Photo courtesy: Khizan photography)
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Updated 09 February 2021

Work on ‘Digital Silk Route’ link connecting Pakistan to Egypt to start in March

  • Pakistan all set to be connected with rest of the world by year end via China’s Digital Silk Route land and submarine cable network
  • Initiated under Belt and Road Initiative, the high-speed, 15,000 km subsea cable system will offer high-capacity, low-latency routes connecting China, Europe and Africa

KARACHI: Pakistan is all set to be directly connected with the rest of the world by the end of this year via the Digital Silk Route (DSR), a land and submarine cable network initiated by China under its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Pakistani officials said, with cable deployment work on the most vital final link that will connect Karachi, Pakistan, with Zafarana, Egypt, to start next month. 
The network, called the Pakistan and East Africa Connecting Europe (PEACE), is a high-speed, 15,000 km subsea cable system that will offer high-capacity, low-latency routes connecting China, Europe and Africa. In addition to France, the cable will land in Malta, Cyprus, Egypt, Djibouti, Kenya, Pakistan and other countries and regions, with onwards terrestrial connectivity to China.
A majority of the work on the project has been completed, a top official in charge of the project told Arab News on Monday.
“All approvals have been granted by the government,” said Maroof Ali Shahani, Chief Operating Officer of Cybernet, the cable landing partner for PEACE in Pakistan, said. “Work on the deployment of cable will start in March (2021).” 
“Everything is on track. The work on the cable landing station is already underway in Karachi,” Shahani said adding: “The project is slated to be completed in the fourth quarter of the current year.”
The cable will be laid in the Arabian Sea by a consortium comprising telecom companies from Pakistan, Africa, France, Egypt, and Hong Kong. The consortium is headed by the Hengtong Group, China’s leading cable manufacturer.
The PEACE cable in Pakistan will be connected with the China-Pakistan Cross Border Fibre Optical Cable which has already been completed under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) initiative. The fiber optic cable, covering an area of 820 km, connects China with Pakistan through Gilgit Baltistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Punjab. It was completed back in 2018 at a cost of $37.4 million. The existing terrestrial network will be utilized to connect the cable with PEACE in Sindh for onward link, according to official documents. 
In November 2020, the first cable loading for the Mediterranean Segment (PEACE Med) was successfully achieved and work on the Egypt-France route was started. 
In the first phase, PEACE will connect the three most populated continents in the world and provide critical interconnection to the economic corridors of Asia, Europe, and Africa. 
A total capacity of 96 Tbps (terabits per second) will be added to Pakistan’s Internet infrastructure through the project, officials said. The round trip delay between Karachi and Marseilles (Pakistan-France) would be 89 millizecond.
“PEACE is offering better speed, better capacity and giving direct route,” Pervaiz Iftikhar, a member of the prime minister’s task-force on IT and Telecom, told Arab News. “Since it is direct it means latency, the time for the flow of data will be less.”
“It [PEACE] would drastically improve the data transmission performance and help to accelerate digital transformation in the participating nations on an unprecedented scale,” said Dr. Muhammad Khurram Khan, the founder and CEO of the Global Foundation for Cyber Studies and Research in Washington DC.
However, he warned that global reliance on submarine cables could exacerbate cybersecurity concerns.

“Though such cables have very strong resilience against accidental or natural damages,” Khan said, “but risks associated with cyberattacks, data theft, and sabotage by state and non-state actors should never be overlooked.”

Amid pandemic, Pakistani cities gear up for year’s largest women’s rights event

Updated 20 sec ago

Amid pandemic, Pakistani cities gear up for year’s largest women’s rights event

  • In the past, there has been an uproar in conservative circles over slogans like “My body, my choice”
  • The march is attended by tens of thousands of participants each year

KARACHI: Aurat March, Pakistan’s largest country-wide women’s rights event will take place across different cities on Monday-- international women’s day-- with organizers releasing details of routes and protocols on Sunday evening to ensure safety and social distancing in the backdrop of rising coronavirus cases.
For the last three years, the march has been attended by tens of thousands of participants, and made headlines around the world when slogans and posters raised by Pakistani women and minorities became the subject of intense national debate, leading to countless reports of online harassment, including murder and rape threats.
“Violence against women has increased during COVID-19 and if women’s oppression hasn’t ended in the pandemic then why should we suspend our resistance?” Qurat Mirza, an organizer of the Karachi leg of the event, told Arab News on Sunday.
“We remind the state that our protection is our constitutional right, providing which is the duty and responsibility of the state,” she said, and added that strict health guidelines would be followed to ensure social distancing and COVID-19 protocols this year.

On Sunday evening, Aurat March organisers from Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, said on Twitter that in light of the pandemic, there would be an Aurat Dharna (sit-in).
"6 foot ki doori, Magar inqilab zaruri [Please ensure 6-feet distance but the revolution is crucial]," they said on their official Twitter page.
Broadly, the theme for this year’s march are women’s healthcare struggles and is further divided into 15 demands, which highlight patriarchal violence and discrimination faced by women and sexual minority groups when accessing healthcare in Pakistan.
“We have added a sit-in to the march to press for our demands. We will come out on the roads again for our rights if they are not fulfilled by authorities,” Sheema Kermani, one of the pioneers of the Aurat March, told Arab News on Sunday.

Last year, a court in Lahore was petitioned to place restrictions on the event, which the complainant said had an agenda of spreading ‘anarchy, vulgarity, blasphemy and hatred’ against Islam, but the march was given a conditional go-ahead.
In the past, there has been an uproar in conservative circles over slogans used including, “My body, my choice.”
Global watchdogs have expressed concern in recent years over what they see as a growing clampdown on rights campaigns in Pakistan, and in 2020, local police submitted a report to the court stating that the event faced a threat from militant groups including Pakistani Taliban militants.
During the Aurat March rally in the capital Islamabad last year, hundreds of men and women consisting of several local militant groups staged a rival rally just across from the women’s march venue. 

Medical panel to investigate spread of coronavirus in Pakistan Super League

Updated 07 March 2021

Medical panel to investigate spread of coronavirus in Pakistan Super League

  • Infectious disease experts will explore why the PSL players’ and staff’s bio-secure bubble failed
  • The hugely popular PSL was postponed mid-league after six players and a staff member tested positive for COVID-19

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Cricket Board has formed a two-member fact-finding panel to investigate how players were infected with coronavirus in the bio-secure bubble, leading to the postponement of the country’s premier Twenty20 league.
The Pakistan Super League was indefinitely postponed on Thursday after six players and a support staff member — including Australian legspinner Fawad Ahmed — tested positive for COVID-19.
The two-member panel is made up of Pakistan’s infectious disease experts Dr. Syed Faisal Mahmood and Dr. Salman Mohammad Abbas, who will review the bio-secure bubble protocols put in place for the PSL. They will submit a report to PCB chairman Ehsan Mani by March 31.
The PCB said in a statement on Sunday that the independent panel has also been tasked with identifying shortcomings of the bio-secure bubble and “advise as to the reasons why the bio-secure environment did not remain COVID-19 free.”
Mani said that both doctors will also speak with all the relevant PSL stakeholders, including players, event and hotel staff as well as medical and compliance officers attached to all six teams.
“The independent panel of two distinguished experts has been appointed with the sole purpose of an honest, constructive and objective review,” Mani said.

Pakistani doctors warn of third COVID-19 wave after restrictions relaxed

Updated 07 March 2021

Pakistani doctors warn of third COVID-19 wave after restrictions relaxed

  • Pakistan on Sunday saw the highest daily number of new COVID-19 cases in one month
  • Authorities relaxed most of coronavirus-related restrictions last week

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's decision to relax COVID-19 restrictions may lead to a third coronavirus wave, Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) warned on Sunday as infection figures are surging again.

Pakistan reported 1,780 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, the highest daily number of new COVID-19 cases in over a month, health ministry data showed on Sunday. The total number of infections rose to 590,508, with 13,205 deaths.

The increase in COVID-19 cases comes after the National Command and Operation Center, which oversees Pakistan’s coronavirus response, on Feb. 24 eased most of virus-related restrictions, allowing commercial activities and workplaces to function at full strength. Regular five-day classes restarted at schools from March 1.

"This could lead, god forbid, to a third wave of COVID-19 in the country,” PMA secretary general Dr. Qaiser Sajjad told Arab News.

He added that the decision to lift the restrictions now was too hasty and should take place after most Pakistanis have been vaccinated.

"We suggested that after vaccination of at least 70 percent of the population, (the government) could start lifting restrictions."

The country of 220 million is however short of reaching the suggested vaccination rate.  

Pakistan began its COVID-19 vaccination program last month with 500,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine donated by China. Healthcare workers are being vaccinated in the first phase of the drive. Only 230,000 frontline health workers had received a shot so far.

The vaccination of citizens above the age of 60 is going to start on March 10, Planning Minister Asad Umar announced in a tweet on Sunday.

He added that more details would be shared on Monday.

About 5.6 million doses of coronavirus vaccines are expected to arrive by the end of March.

Pakistan has so far approved China’s Sinopharm and CanSinoBIO vaccines, the AstraZeneca vaccine developed with Oxford University and Russia’s Sputnik V for emergency use.

Gunmen kill Pakistan Navy personnel in ambush 

Updated 07 March 2021

Gunmen kill Pakistan Navy personnel in ambush 

  • Insurgent group Balochistan Liberation Army claimed responsibility for the attack
  • Attack came a day after a roadside bomb went off between in Balochistan, killing two

QUETTA: Gunmen ambushed a vehicle transporting security forces killing a sailor and wounding two others in the coastal town of Jewni in southwest Pakistan, officials said Sunday.

The Pakistan Navy vehicle came under attack Saturday evening while traveling from Jewni to the Ganz area, said Zahoor Buledi, a Balochistan provincial minister.

The insurgent group Balochistan Liberation Army claimed responsibility for the attack.

Two intelligence officials confirmed the minister’s account, saying unidentified attackers opened fire with automatic weapons on the vehicle, which was also carrying Quick Response Force troops.

The attack came a day after five laborers were killed and five others, including two security personnel, were wounded when a roadside bomb went off between the towns of Sibi and Harnai in the same province.

Intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity under policy, said a sailor was fatally shot while a barber and another sailor were critically wounded during an exchange of fire with the attackers.

Balochistan Liberation Army spokesman, Azad Baluch, in a message to reporters, said the group killed four Navy officers and wounded two others.

Buledi, the provincial minister, condemned the attack saying the insurgents were trying to demoralize security forces operating against them.

Officials said soon after the incident, security forces rushed to the scene and surrounded the area to try and locate the attackers.

Local administrator Athar Abbas said the body of the sailor and the wounded were shifted to the town hospital and there they were moved to Karachi.

Balochistan has been the locale of a long-running insurgency by Baloch separatist groups who want independence for the mineral and gas rich province that borders Iran and Afghanistan.

Nearly 90% Pakistanis in favor of compulsory Arabic classes — Gallup survey  

Updated 07 March 2021

Nearly 90% Pakistanis in favor of compulsory Arabic classes — Gallup survey  

  • Senate approved Compulsory Teaching of the Arabic Language Bill 2020 on Feb. 1
  • The bill makes Arabic classes mandatory at all primary and secondary schools in the federal capital

ISLAMABAD: Nearly 90 percent of Pakistanis are in favor of a senate bill that makes Arabic classes compulsory at school, a recent survey shows.

Pakistan’s upper house of parliament last month approved the Compulsory Teaching of the Arabic Language Bill 2020 which makes Arabic classes mandatory at all primary and secondary schools in the capital, Islamabad.

“Eighty-nine percent Pakistanis said that they are in favor of the approval of a Senate bill that calls for Arabic to be a mandatory part of the syllabus in educational institutions,” Gallup & Gilani Pakistan said in the study released on Friday.

The study was carried out on a sample of 1,503 men and women in urban and rural areas of 100 districts of all four provinces of Pakistan between Feb. 6 and Feb. 27.

To become law, the senate bill on Arabic teaching now requires approval by the National Assembly.

The lawmaker who presented the bill, opposition senator Javed Abbasi, argued that a command of Arabic, the official language of over 25 countries, would open up more job opportunities for Pakistanis in the Middle East, leading to lower unemployment and increased remittances.