Pakistan says 'happy to host' SAARC summit subject to conditions

Flags of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries flutter outside the venue of the SAARC summit in Islamabad, 01January 2004. (AFP/ File)
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Updated 10 April 2021

Pakistan says 'happy to host' SAARC summit subject to conditions

  • Foreign Office spokesperson says onus now on India to create environment for Kashmir oriented talks
  • Says fate of this year’s summit ‘hangs in balance’

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan foreign office on Friday said it was ‘happy to host’ Indian and other regional leaders at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) scheduled for October, but only if ‘artificial obstacles’ were removed, in a veiled reference to New Delhi.
The original 19th SAARC summit was to be held in Islamabad in 2016, but was boycotted by Indian PM Narendra Modi in the wake of the Uri militant attacks. Following this, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka also pulled out, which led to the regional summit’s postponement.
“Pakistan considers SAARC an important organization for enhancing regional cooperation. As we have ascertained earlier, whenever artificial obstacles created in the way of SAARC summit are removed, we will be happy to host,” Foreign Office spokesman Zahid Hafeez Chaudhry told a press briefing on Friday.
He further said the onus was now on India to create a conducive environment for result-oriented talks between the two countries.
“We believe that durable peace, security and development in the region hinge on peaceful resolution of the long-standing Jammu and Kashmir dispute,” the spokesman said.
India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir, and the disputed Himalayan region has been the focus of an increased flare-up between the two countries since 2019.
On Aug. 5, 2019, Modi’s government took away Jammu & Kashmir state’s special privileges, provoking anger in the region and especially in neighboring Pakistan.
Jammu & Kashmir was until then the only Muslim-majority state in mainly Hindu India.
“The spirit of the SAARC Charter is violated when a member state casts the shadow of its bilateral problems on the multilateral forum for regional cooperation,” Pakistan had said in 2016 in response to India’s pull-out from the summit.
For now, the FO spokesman said, the fate of this year’s SAARC summit ‘hangs in the balance.’

From remote Baloch towns, young Pakistani creators of humanoid bot unveil ‘Bolani’

Updated 13 May 2021

From remote Baloch towns, young Pakistani creators of humanoid bot unveil ‘Bolani’

  • Shahwani and Rodini are physics students at the University of Balochistan
  • Say the self-funded robot took them six months to make from scratch with ‘zero support’

QUETTA: It’s an unlikely trio in an unlikely place-- two smart young Baloch students stand proudly outside their university in Quetta with an all-white, five feet, four inches tall humanoid robot between them. 
Aziz Ullah Shahwani, 24, and Mukhtiar Ahmed Rodini, 25, are students of physics at the University of Balochistan, and the robot they created, named Bolani, is their final project.
“I didn’t take any interest in technology-related experiments till I graduated school due to the absence of a physics teacher in my native district Kalat... but when I came to the University of Balochistan for my master’s degree in physics I decided to invent something new, something no other student in the history of UoB has done,” Shahwani told Arab News, as he proudly unveiled Bolani outside the Physics department of his university.

Five feet, four inches tall humanoid robot Bolani is ready for a walk at the Physics Department of the University of Balochistan, Quetta, May 4, 2021. (AN photo)

Coming from the remote Kalat and Sorab districts in Pakistan’s restive southwestern Balochistan province, Shahwani and Rodini are largely self-taught, and said they had received close to no financial support during their endeavour from their university or the government of Balochistan.
The two boys from these distant Pakistani towns worked for six months to conquer the impossible, working on advanced 3D softwares, even welding and painting the body of their robot themselves.
“While making Bolani, I learned the use of new software and 3D printing,” Shahwani said. 
“Because I have designed Bolani by myself on solid work software, it was an unforgettable experience,” he continued.
Bolani is named after the famed mountain pass Bolan, roughly 127 km from the capital Quetta, south of the Hindu Kush mountains. 
For now, Bolani can move forward and backward, he can move his eyes, neck and jaw and can shake hands with human beings when Shahwani, gives him the command through an app installed in his mobile phone.

Aziz Ullah Shahwani and Mukhtiar Ahmed Rodini check Bolani's circuits at a lab of the Physics Department of the University of Balochistan, Quetta, May 4, 2021. (AN photo)

Mukhtiar Ahmed Rodini who assisted Aziz in building Bolani, said they wanted to create something new instead of submitting research papers like everybody else.
“We took assistance and guidance from our professors because after thorough searching we couldn’t find the robotic circuits and motors in Quetta... later we installed locally purchased motors in order to finalize Bolani,” Rodini told Arab News.
“Bolani cost us Rs.50,000 ($326) and due to the lack of financial assistance, we used iron and steel to shape the humanoid robot,” Rodini said. He added there had been ‘zero support’ from the university’s higher authorities and provincial government.
Shahwani and Rodini are now planning to upgrade Bolani with additional features like voice and face recognition censors that will allow the robot to talk.
Professor Ajab Khan Kasi, head of the physics department at the University of Balochistan supervised the students while they built Bolani and said their creation was a ‘milestone’ in the history of the university.
“It took six months to complete the robot and during this period, Aziz and Mukhtiar have done all the processes with their own hands... even the welding, coloring and mechanical work on Bolani,” Professor Kasi told Arab News.
“The humanoid robot has been working in 9 degree freedom which allows him to move his hands, neck and eyes,” he said.

Bolani can move his eyes, jaw and neck on commands sent to him via Bluetooth. (AN photo)

For now, Shahwani has said he will upgrade Bolani by installing motion sensors, and aims to continue his studies. He said he is now looking for support from the government and his university. 
But until that happens, he said, the two of them would not feel disappointed.
“Because we are inspired by Pakistan’s Nobel prize laureate Dr. Abdul Salam and the young Dr. Yar Jan Baloch who works as a space scientist in Cambridge University,” he added.
“We are following in their footsteps.”

Pink dominates this Eid as Pakistanis stay home and stay stylish

Updated 14 May 2021

Pink dominates this Eid as Pakistanis stay home and stay stylish

  • From style stars to entertainers and content creators, Eid was celebrated stylishly at home
  • Festive and public celebrations are muted by tighter coronavirus curbs on Eid holidays

RAWALPINDI: Pink was by far the top trend of Eid fashion in Pakistan, as celebrities shared their “stay at home, stay stylish” ensembles on social media at a time when festive and public celebrations are muted by tighter coronavirus curbs.
Bright saturated magenta hues were seen on Hania Amir, a fluorescent hot pink on Ayeza Khan and Saba Qamar Zaman whose all-white ensembles had pops of the season’s trendiest color.
Fashion blogger Mishael Arif wore a printed saree in pink and blue, and stylist Alishay Adnan opted for the same color combination. Fashion photographer turned content creator Muzi Sufi wore a full-length powder pink frock.
Other style stars chose to wear pastels.

Fashion blogger Mishael Arif shares her Eid look on her Instagram account from UAE on May 13, 2021. (Photo courtesy: Mishael Arif)

Actor Sarah Khan sported a pastel yellow and fine embroidery. YouTuber and content creator Maryam Aftab also went for a pastels but in light blue.
Another color choice Pakistan’s style influencers made to mark the end of the fasting month of Ramadan was green.
Fitness and fashion content creator Sarah Raseen Khan wore a mint green floral print ensemble, while fashion blogger Marjhan Kausar chose a neon green look. Both paired their outfits with white separates.

 Content creator Marjhan Khausar shares her Eid look on her Instagram account on May 13, 2021 (Photo courtesy: Marjhan Khausar)

The forever stylish Eid combination of white and gold was seen on creator Sophiya Khan, stylist Amal Qadri and content creator Zeenat Amin.

In Pakistan’s northwestern tribal territories, Pashtuns are losing appetite for traditional food

Updated 14 May 2021

In Pakistan’s northwestern tribal territories, Pashtuns are losing appetite for traditional food

  • Tribal elders in South Waziristan say many people in their settlements are abandoning their cultural traditions related to Eid Al-Fitr
  • More and more people are said to be replacing exotic tribal cuisine with fast food and light snacks

TANK, Pakistan: As the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan comes to an end and people start celebrating the Islamic festival of Eid al-Fitr, families across Pakistan’s northwestern tribal territories usually open their doors to invite friends, relatives and strangers as a gesture of hospitality and serve them traditional food.

A group of young people in Wana, South Waziristan, prepare mutton tikka on Eid al-Fitr on May 13, 2021. (Photo courtesy: Anwar Shakir Wazir) 

According to the region’s elderly residents, however, such tribal conventions are gradually fading away since most people prefer to celebrate the occasion within their limited circle and enjoy foreign cuisines.

“The decades-old tradition is on the verge of extinction,” Haji Nawaz Khan, an octogenarian, told Arab News on Thursday. “Many people in this settlement do not prefer their traditional food anymore. These social changes have followed the displacement of local families during the military offensive in this area.” 

Litai, another traditional tribal food, is prepared with rice and pulses before being served to guests with sweet soup and pure ghee. Picture taken in South Waziristan tribal district on May 13, 2021. (Photo courtesy: Anwar Shakir Wazir) 

Pakistan’s northwestern tribal belt, which borders Afghanistan, witnessed significant conflict after the United States sent its forces to the neighboring country in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. 

Pakistani security forces launched a military campaign against militant outfits taking shelter in the craggy mountainous terrain to reclaim the territory, though the ensuing violence uprooted the local residents and forced them to migrate to nearby towns. 

A family in South Waziristan prepares mutton tikka on light heat on May 13, 2021. (Photo courtesy: Anwar Shakir Wazir) 

With the security situation improving, Pakistani tribesmen have returned to their homes. Many of them were seen greeting one another after offering their Eid prayer on Thursday.

While young male residents of the tribal districts traditionally participated in the “attan” dance that originated in Afghanistan to cherish the day, the tight coronavirus restrictions this year precluded the possibility of such public gatherings. 

“There are very few families that continue to keep the old tradition alive by serving the traditional Pashtun cuisine to their guests,” Khan continued while discussing the "social transformation" around him. “For many others, this has been replaced by fast food or simple snacks.”

Waishalay, a home-cooked bread, is served to people on Eid al-Fitr along with yoghurt and pure ghee in Pakistan’s South Waziristan tribal district on May 13, 2021. (Photo courtesy: Anwar Shakir Wazir) 

Anwar Shakir Wazir, a tribal elder from Wana in South Waziristan district, agreed. 

“The food in our region is not too spicy,” he said. “Our traditional tribal cuisines seem to be on the verge of extinction. Some of us continue to enjoy ‘painda’ which is made of rice or baked bread and is placed in a bowl before being served to seven or eight people who sit around it in a circle. However, there are other forms of traditional food that have almost disappeared.” 

Painda, a traditional tribal dish, is ready to be served to guests in Wana, the central settlement of South Waziristan district, as people celebrate Eid al-Fitr on May 13, 2021. (Photo courtesy: Anwar Shakir Wazir)

Wazir recalled how the close-knit tribal community in tiny settlements operated in the past. 

“People were more eager to entertain uninvited guests or strangers than those they were expecting,” he continued. “One could visit any house in the neighborhood without hesitation and was always received with warm hospitality.” 

Muhammad Farhan, a resident of South Waziristan who is enrolled in a college in Lahore, said he was fed up with packaged food. 

“I always have a craving for our traditional food on special occasions like Eid,” he told Arab News. “However, it has become difficult to find these dishes in our native towns or other parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province these days. I find that a little tragic.” 

Woven together, the rise and fall of southern Pakistan’s incredible Banarsi sari

Updated 14 May 2021

Woven together, the rise and fall of southern Pakistan’s incredible Banarsi sari

  • Banarsi silk is a luxurious handmade, hand woven fabric once famous in Sindh’s Khairpur city
  • No official data exists on the history of the industry and the stories are told by the weavers themselves

KHAIRPUR, SINDH: At Banarsi Silk Weavers Colony in Sindh’s Khairpur city, 47-year-old merchant Zafar Abbas Ansari was waiting, hoping for a few additional orders of silk Banarsi saris as Eid Al-Fitr approached.
The sari is a garment native to South Asia, where a long piece of cloth is wrapped elaborately around the body — usually in cotton or silk — and worn with a matching blouse.
Although the city does not make Banasri any longer due to the downfall of the industry that originally shifted here from India, customers still come to the city to purchase the fabric — now made in Karachi, more than 400 km away.
Inside the deserted 70-year-old market — once a bustling place — Zafar’s shop is among the last three Banasri shops left. His family is one of the 40 weaver families who migrated from India to Khairpur in 1952.
“It has been almost two decades that Khairpur stopped producing Banarsi sari after the industry’s collapse. However, even today, the brand is popular among customers. They keep demanding Khairpur’s brand,” Zafar told Arab News. 
During the heydays, Khairpur’s Banarsi sari became synonymous with luxury, with vendors supplying the fabric not only locally but also exporting to Pakistani families living in the UK and other European countries. 
Inside Zafar’s shop, unstitched pieces of colorful saris — the blouse, the petticoat and main sari fabric — are displayed. The shop shows off different verities of saris including the traditional katan-- a plain woven fabric with pure silk threads-- chiffon, as well as synthetic fabrics.

A combination of photos shows Banarsi sari collection at Merchant Zafar Abbas Ansari's shop in Banarsi Silk Weavers Colony in Khairpur, Sindh, May 1, 2021. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

“Banarsi sari has a distinction and standing,” Zafar said proudly.
“It is known for royal families’ dressing because of its grace and elegance. In some families it is an essential part of the bridal trousseau,” he added. 
According to vendors, the price of a sari depends upon its type. The most expensive sari fabric available in the Khairpur market currently, is worth Rs45,000 a piece ($300).
Khairpur’s colony, “Banarsi Silk Weavers Colony,” is named after India’s Banaras city (now Varanasi) because of the silk weavers who migrated from India.

There are no official records available, and the story of the garment comes from the weavers themselves. According to them, the history of the Banaras sari industry in Khairpur is linked with Ghulam Saddiquah Begum — the wife of Khairpur state’s then ruler, Mir Ali Murad Khan Talpur of the Talpur dynasty. 
Saddiquah Begum herself belonged to Bahawalpur state, and in 1949, the weavers said, during a visit to India’s Hyderabad Deccan, she offered Muhammad Yusuf Ansari — a sari trader from Banaras — to start manufacturing the brand in Khairpur. Both sides agreed as she also offered her state’s support for the establishment of the manufacturing units required. 
They said that around 1952, around 40 families of the Ansari clan had migrated from Banaras to Khairpur and sari manufacturing began through handlooms. Later, the saris were exported to other countries.
Arab News could not independently verify this information.

A boy walks past Banarsi Saree Market in Banarsi Silk Weavers Colony in Khairpur, Sindh, May 1, 2021. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

According to Anjum Sajjad Ansari, grandson of Muhammad Yusuf Ansari and a representative of the Banarsi Silk Weavers Association Khairpur, at its peak, there were 400 handlooms in Khairpur. Today, not a single handloom remains. 
“At Khairpur’s Banarsi Silk Weavers Colony, today there are 16 houses of traditional weavers. However only three are involved in this business of selling Karachi-made fabric,” Anjum told Arab News.
Like elsewhere, the Banarsi brand was associated with pure silk thread work. Initially, Khairpur used silk imported from China, but later the silk supply continued coming from Punjab’s Changa Manga as Pakistan developed hatching silkworms and silk fiber producing factories.
The whole family engaged in the manufacturing process, including silk weaving, dyeing, warping, and reeling at households where the role of women was vital. It took between two to three days of work to complete a single sari.
Weavers say that from Talpurs’ control to the 1960’s, the silk weaving industry was thriving. Then, the downfall began.
“In 1965, then President of Pakistan Ayub Khan visited the industry and gave incentives and subsidies that boosted the industry,” said Anjum. 
“However in the years to come, successor governments paid little heed to this industry. Ultimately, manufacturing units were shifted to Karachi by 2000,” he added.
For Anjum, this was a vital move to reviving the past glory of Khairpur. 
“We have given proposals to the government at different forums. But nothing has been done yet. The Banarsi sari has become a trademark for Khairpur,” he said.
“Khairpur’s distinction was to produce only handmade silk fabric unlike other areas where the machine is involved. If the government is sincere, factories could be re-established and skilled laborers could be recalled once more from Karachi,” he said.

Pakistan welcomes OIC emergency meeting on Jerusalem and Gaza

Updated 14 May 2021

Pakistan welcomes OIC emergency meeting on Jerusalem and Gaza

  • The meeting has been called on Saudi Arabia’s request and will take place on Sunday
  • Pakistan’s foreign office spokesperson urges all Muslim countries to stand united as Israel escalates its attacks on Gaza

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Friday welcomed the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s decision to hold an emergency meeting to discuss the situation in Jerusalem and Gaza on Saudi Arabia’s request.

Talking to Arab News, the country’s foreign office spokesperson highlighted the gravity of the situation and urged all Muslim countries to express solidarity with the people of Palestine.

“Pakistan welcomes this special OIC ministerial meeting on the Palestine issue,” said Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri. “We think that not only the OIC should take initiative on this issue but a special session of the United Nations General Assembly should also be summoned to address it.”

He maintained that Pakistani authorities were deeply concerned about the ongoing developments in the occupied Palestinian territories, adding that Prime Minister Imran Khan had taken up the issue with the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Turkey. 

“We think that the whole Muslim world should stand united on it,” Chaudhri continued. 

The meeting of foreign ministers of OIC member nations will take place on Sunday and address continuing Israeli attacks on Palestine which have escalated since the beginning of the week. 

Israeli troops were massing at the Gaza border on Thursday, while Hamas hit Israel with rockets in intense hostilities that have caused international concern and touched off clashes between Jews and Arabs in Israel. 

As fears grow that violence could spiral out of control into a full-blown war, the US announced Wednesday it was sending its envoy Hady Amr to the region. 

President Joe Biden said that the US was in contact with Saudi Arabia and Egypt to deescalate the situation in Gaza. 

Egypt, Tunisia and other countries in the region could play a short-term role in deescalating the current conflict, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Thursday.