Some hesitancy in Pakistani capital but most residents eager for COVID-19 jabs

Senior citizens wait to receive a Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine against the Covid-19 coronavirus, at a vaccination centre in Islamabad on March 10, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 20 March 2021

Some hesitancy in Pakistani capital but most residents eager for COVID-19 jabs

  • In Islamabad this week, seven out of ten people interviewed by Arab News said they would take the vaccine if given an opportunity
  • According to a Gallup poll from January, 49% Pakistanis said they would not get the vaccine even if it were free

ISLAMABAD: Is it affordable? Is there a vaccination center close by? Is the purpose to eliminate Islam? Does more charity help stave off disease?
These were some of the questions about COVID-19 vaccines that residents of the Pakistani capital raised this week in interviews with Arab News when asked if they would get vaccinated given the opportunity — with a majority of respondents saying they were open to being inoculated. 
Though Pakistan’s COVID-19 vaccination drive has been underway since February, with health care workers as priority, a poll of medical workers conducted by Gallup Pakistan and a national physicians’ association last month showed that just over half of Pakistan’s health workers had received a COVID-19 shot by the first week or March and nearly half had concerns over China’s Sinopharm, the only vaccine available in Pakistan so far. 
Another Gallup poll released in January said 49% Pakistanis said they would not get the vaccine even if it were free.
But in Islamabad this week, seven out of ten people interviewed said they would take the vaccine if given an opportunity. The three respondents who said they did not want to be vaccinated, however, said the vaccine should be administered to those who had contracted the virus, indicating that they did not understand that a vaccine was a preventive, rather than a curative, measure. 
“If given the opportunity to get vaccinated then we would like to avail it,” said Shahmim Bibi, a 50-year-old housewife who was shopping in Islamabad’s middle-income Aabpara neighborhood. “If it’s affordable and a center is close by, then I would get it [vaccine].”
When asked if she had a message for people concerned about possible “adverse side effects” of the vaccine, Bibi said: “If it’s [vaccine] harmful, then why are they giving it to doctors? No such thing would come into Pakistan that is harmful to its people.”
Pakistan on Wednesday received 500,000 doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine, bringing the country’s total supply to one million shots — all of them donations. The South Asian nation of 220 million people launched a COVID-19 vaccination campaign for the public on March 10, starting with the elderly. 
Virus infection numbers have also sharply risen this month in the majority Muslim nation that has had a problematic history with vaccination, and where vaccine misinformation and mistrust is rampant.
Indeed, polio vaccination drives in Pakistan — the only country besides Afghanistan where the disease is still endemic — have had to grapple with militant attacks and conspiracy theories that the shots are a Western ploy to sterilize Muslims.
“According to our standpoint, the [coronavirus] vaccine should not be taken,” a customer at a bakery who only gave his first name, Rauf, told Arab News. “Because according to the culture surrounding the polio vaccine .. if its purpose is not to eliminate the disease but to eliminate Islam, then it should not be taken.”
Another resident who preferred not to be vaccinated, Aftiaz Abbasi, said it was because he had not come in contact with anyone who had gotten the disease and hence he did not need to be inoculated. 
“I will not take [the vaccine],” Abbasi said. “I do not need it because Alhamdulillah no one from our village has contracted corona[virus].”
Abbasi added that it was god, not vaccines, that protected against viruses, saying moving away from religion and an overindulgence in “worldly deeds” exposed people to dangers such as disease. 
A daily wage laborer who only gave his first name, Saleem, said he was in good health and did not need the vaccine, urging people to be more charitable and take care of the poor as this would help eliminate the coronavirus. ​
“Zakat and charity,” he said, “they can eat up a thousand demons. And they will eat up this [coronavirus] also. If there is more charity, if there is more care taken of poor people, automatically this affliction will leave us. I have faith in this.”
But others said it was the responsibility of citizens to get vaccinated when they knew COVID-19, a highly contagious disease, was killing millions of people around the world.
“I will definitely get it [vaccinated],” Muhammad Riaz, a 63-ear-old bookseller in Islamabad’s upmarket F-6 neighborhood, told Arab News. “People are dying a lot because of coronavirus, getting affected … if this medicine has come for humans, then we will definitely take it, and everyone should take it.”
When asked about vaccine hesitancy due to possible “harmful effects” of the vaccine, Riaz referred to a Phase III clinical trial for a Chinese vaccine candidate at Islamabad’s Shifa International Hospital, saying there were no reports of adverse side effects among the thousands who had participated in the program. 
“So if this [vaccine] is coming [to Pakistan] so we can eliminate a disease,” Riaz said, “then people should definitely take it.” 


46 Afghan soldiers seek refuge in Pakistan after losing border military posts

Updated 26 July 2021

46 Afghan soldiers seek refuge in Pakistan after losing border military posts

  • Hundreds of Afghan soldiers and civil officials have fled to neighbouring Tajikistan, Iran and Pakistan in recent weeks
  • Taliban has escalated offensive since US announced it would withdraw troops by September, ending 20-year military presence

Forty-six Afghan soldiers sought refuge in Pakistan after losing control of military positions across the border following advances by Taliban insurgents, Pakistan’s army said on Monday.
Hundreds of Afghan army soldiers and civil officials have fled to neighboring Tajikistan, Iran and Pakistan in recent weeks after Taliban offensives in border areas.
The Afghan military commander requested refuge at the border crossing in Chitral in the north, the Pakistan army said in a statement, adding the soldiers were given safe passage into Pakistan on Sunday night after clearance from Afghan authorities.
“Afghan soldiers have been provided food, shelter and necessary medical care as per established military norms,” the statement said.
The move comes at a time of poor relations between the neighbors. Afghanistan recalled its diplomats from Pakistan after the brief kidnapping of the Afghan ambassador’s daughter in Islamabad earlier in the month.
Afghan officials did not respond to a request for comment.
The Taliban has escalated its offensive since the United States announced in April that it would withdraw its troops by September, ending a 20-year foreign military presence.
Washington has said it will continue to carry out air strikes to support Afghan forces facing insurgent attacks.
Afghan government and Taliban negotiators have met in Qatar’s capital, Doha, in recent weeks, although diplomats say there have been few signs of substantive progress since peace talks began in September.
Reeling from battlefield losses, Afghanistan’s military is overhauling its war strategy against the Taliban to concentrate forces around critical areas such as Kabul and other cities, border crossings and vital infrastructure, Afghan and US officials have said.
The Pakistan army said the soldiers who sought refuge will be returned to Afghanistan after due process, as had taken place in the case of another batch of 35 soldiers earlier in July. 


Scottish climber dies on Pakistan’s K2 

Updated 26 July 2021

Scottish climber dies on Pakistan’s K2 

  • Allen was killed after being hit by an avalanche while attempting a new route on the mountain over the weekend 
  • Allen’s death comes week after South Korea’s Kim Hong-bin was killed in a fall descending from nearby Broad Peak

ISLAMABAD: Scottish climber Rick Allen has died while attempting to summit Pakistan’s K2, his expedition team said, the latest death on the world’s second-highest peak.
Allen was killed after being hit by an avalanche while attempting a new route on the mountain over the weekend. His body was recovered on Sunday evening.
“After consulting with his family and friends, the legend will be buried this morning under the foot of Mighty K2,” Karakorum Expeditions wrote on Facebook Monday.
A charity that Allen was raising money for during the climb also confirmed his death.
“Rick died doing what he loved the most and lived his life with the courage of his convictions,” tweeted Partners Relief & Development, adding that two other climbers on the expedition survived the avalanche.
Allen’s death comes a week after South Korea’s Kim Hong-bin was killed after falling into a crevasse while descending from the nearby Broad Peak.
With Pakistan’s borders open and few other places to go due to the coronavirus pandemic, the country’s summer climbing season is attracting a large number of alpinists.
The summer season follows history being made in northern Pakistan as a team of Nepali climbers became the first to summit K2 in the winter.
But at least five other climbers died on K2’s slopes while a sixth went missing during an ascent on a nearby peak.
Known as “the savage mountain,” K2 has harsh conditions — winds can blow at more than 200 kilometers per hour (124 miles per hour) and temperatures can drop to minus 60 degrees Celsius (minus 76 Fahrenheit).
Unlike the world’s highest peak Mount Everest, which has been scaled by thousands of climbers young and old, K2 is much less traveled.


Pakistan welcomes resumption of Umrah for foreign pilgrims from August 10

Updated 26 July 2021

Pakistan welcomes resumption of Umrah for foreign pilgrims from August 10

  • Says will follow whatever mechanism Saudi government devises
  • Pakistani religious affairs and Saudi Hajj ministries coordinating

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special assistant on the Middle East, Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi, on Monday welcomed Saudi Arabia’s decision to resume the Umrah pilgrimage for international visitors, halted earlier due to the coronavirus pandemic.
According to Saudi media, the Kingdom has decided to resume International Umrah from the first of the Islamic month of Muharram, likely to fall on August 10 this year.
“We welcome the decision of resumption Umran for foreign pilgrims and whatever mechanism Saudi government will devise, Pakistan will follow that,” Ashrafi told Arab News. “Pakistani ministry of religious affairs and [Saudi] Ministry of Hajj and Umrah have contacts and if there will be any issues, both will coordinate on that.”
Media reports suggested COVID-19 vaccinations would be mandatory for all pilgrims.
Hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis would visit Saudi Arabia every year, mainly for Umrah and Hajj, before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Umrah is a pilgrimage which can be undertaken at any time of the year, in contrast to Hajj, which has specific dates according to the Islamic lunar calendar.
Saudi Arabia closed its borders last February to foreign Umrah pilgrims, and in March stopped its own citizens and residents from taking part. Last July, it allowed a limited number of domestic pilgrims to perform the Hajj. This year too, Saudi Arabia restricted the annual Hajj pilgrimage to its own citizens and residents for the second year running in response to the coronavirus pandemic.


Four Pakistani soldiers die in road accident in Azad Kashmir

Updated 26 July 2021

Four Pakistani soldiers die in road accident in Azad Kashmir

  • The soldiers were in the semi-autonomous region to police local parliamentary polls
  • Their vehicle plunged down a ravine off a curvy mountain road in Azad Kashmir

ISLAMABAD: Four Pakistani soldiers died on Sunday when their vehicle plunged down a ravine off a curvy mountain road in Azad Kashmir, the part of the disputed Himalayan region administered by Pakistan, the military said in a statement.
The soldiers were in the semi-autonomous region to police its local parliamentary polls, it added. Another three soldiers and the driver were injured in the accident.
Violence has marred the voting, with local administration officials saying two supporters of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party were shot and killed at a polling station.
The shooting involved supporters of the rival Pakistan People’s Party, once led by former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was killed in 2007 as she campaigned.
Pakistan and neighbor India each control part of the former princely state of Kashmir. Both countries claim a united Kashmir as their own. They have fought two wars over Kashmir and have come close to another on more than one occasion.


Hundreds light candles in Pakistan for murdered ex-diplomat’s daughter 

Updated 26 July 2021

Hundreds light candles in Pakistan for murdered ex-diplomat’s daughter 

  • Noor Mukadam was killed and beheaded last week by suspect Zahir Jaffer at his house in Islamabad
  • Protests and candlelight vigils held in major Pakistani cities, including Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Multan

ISLAMABAD: Protests and candlelight vigils were held on Sunday in major Pakistani cities, including Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore and Multan, over last week’s killing of 27-year-old Noor Mukadam, the daughter of former Pakistani Ambassador to South Korea, Shaukat Mukadam.
Mukadam was allegedly killed and beheaded on Tuesday night, the eve of Eid Al-Adha, by suspect Zahir Jaffer at his house in Islamabad’s posh F-7/4 sector. Jaffer, his parents and two members of their household staff have been arrested in connection with the murder.
The protest in Islamabad on Sunday was organized by the Women’s Democratic Front (WDF) and the women’s rights organization, the Aurat Azadi March, with hundreds of demonstrators gathering in solidarity over violence against women in Pakistan.
“We demand an end to state impunity against patriarchal violence,” Ismat Shahjahan, WDF president, said, addressing protesters. “We want a complete overhaul in the very structures of the state and society that are contributing to femicide in Pakistan.”

Women holding posters against brutal killing of 27-year-old Noor Mukadam, daughter of former Pakistani Ambassador to South Korea, Shaukat Mukadam, Pakistan on July 25, 2021. (AN Photo)

Last week, Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi expressed “my absolute condemnation of the recent violence and brutality against women.”

Protestors gather outside to protest brutal killing of 27-year-old Noor Mukadam, daughter of former Pakistani Ambassador to South Korea, Shaukat Mukadam at Islamabad Press Club in Islamabad, Pakistan on July 25, 2021 (AN Photo)

“This has no place in our society, lives, religion or culture,” he said. “We must work harder and do more for prevention & for justice.”

“For Saima, for Quratulain, for Noor,” he added, naming two other recent women murder victims.

Protestors gather outside to protest brutal killing of 27-year-old Noor Mukadam, daughter of former Pakistani Ambassador to South Korea, Shaukat Mukadam at Islamabad Press Club in Islamabad, Pakistan on July 25, 2021 (AN Photo)

A candlelight vigil in Islamabad’s Swiss Avenue Park followed Sunday evening’s protest. Similar vigils have also been held in Canada and Ireland where Mukadam spent many years growing up.

People light candles at a vigil to protest brutal killing of 27-year-old Noor Mukadam, daughter of former Pakistani Ambassador to South Korea, Shaukat Mukadam at Islamabad Press Club in Islamabad, Pakistan on July 25, 2021 (AN Photo)

Renowned rights activist Tahira Abdullah addressed the crowd at the vigil, standing beside the Mukadam family and leading chants of “Justice for Noor.”

The candlelight vigil held to protest the killing of 27-year-old Noor Mukadam, daughter of former Pakistani Ambassador to South Korea, Shaukat Mukadam, Pakistan on July 25, 2021. (AN Photo)

Ali Khan, a resident of Islamabad who attended the vigil with his family, said he had come out as part of “a drive for justice.”
“We need to show our support,” he said, “and we need our numbers to show we will not rest [until justice].”