Top Pakistani, Afghan clerics meet in Makkah, agree to set up coordination council

Scholars, politicians, and other dignitaries take part in the "Declaration of Peace in Afghanistan" conference held in Makkah, Saudi Arabia, on June 10, 2021. (SPA)
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Updated 11 June 2021

Top Pakistani, Afghan clerics meet in Makkah, agree to set up coordination council

  • The online meeting arranged by the World Muslim League brought together Pakistan and Afghan religious scholars to discuss peace in the region
  • Pakistani prime minister’s advisor on religious harmony describes the online interaction as 'logical and fruitful'

ISLAMABAD: A group of leading religious scholars from Pakistan and Afghanistan decided to set up a coordination council during an online interaction arranged by a Makkah-based organization on Thursday, said a senior advisor to the Pakistani prime minister while talking to Arab News.
The conference was held by the World Muslim League to focus on peace in Afghanistan and brought together several high-profile speakers from the two countries to discuss tolerance, moderation and reconciliation in Islam.
“The event went very well, and discussions were logical and fruitful,” Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Religious Harmony and the Middle East Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi told Arab News. “It ended with a resolve to work together for peace and stability in Afghanistan and decided to form a Pak-Afghan ulema council for coordination.”

 

 

Pakistan’s Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri, who participated in the event from Makkah, praised Saudi efforts for peace in Afghanistan.
“Much like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia has always been committed to the cause of peace in Afghanistan,” he said. “The two countries [Pakistan and Saudi Arabia] have joined hands with each and everyone, especially with the Afghan people, to reach that objective.”
Apart from Qadri, the opening session of the conference was also attended by the secretary general of the World Muslim League, Sheikh Dr. Muhammad bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, and Afghan minister for Hajj, endowments and guidance, Sheikh Muhammad Qasim Halimi.
Senior religious scholars, diplomats and other officials of the two countries also participated in the gathering.
Ashrafi expressed gratitude to the World Muslim League for taking the initiative of bringing together Pakistani and Afghan religious scholars.
“The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi scholars and leaders, Prime Minister Imran Khan and our [Pakistani] political, military and religious leadership are all working hard for peace in Afghanistan and our efforts will continue,” he said.
Ashrafi maintained that all stakeholders would have to cooperate and make serious efforts to bring about peace in the region.
“Just as we want that Afghan stability should not be undermined by any external force or group,” he continued, “no one should be allowed to derail Pakistan’s peace and stability as well.”


Pakistani PM rules out military bases for US for post-withdrawal operations in Afghanistan

Updated 20 min ago

Pakistani PM rules out military bases for US for post-withdrawal operations in Afghanistan

  • Prime Minister Imran Khan tells an international channel his government will not allow any ‘action from Pakistani territory into Afghanistan’
  • The Pakistani PM has been a known critic of his country’s decision to join the US-led war on terror which he once called the greatest blunder

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan has reiterated his government’s position over lending Pakistani military bases to the United States to monitor the situation in Afghanistan in an interview to a foreign television channel, reported the Associated Press of Pakistan on Saturday.
“Absolutely not,” Khan responded emphatically during an interview to Axios on HBO channel. “There is no way we are going to allow any bases, any sort of action from Pakistani territory into Afghanistan.”

The Pakistani prime minister has remained a staunch critic of his country’s decision to join the US-led war on terror in 2001, describing it as “one of the biggest blunders” that not only led to the killings of tens of thousands of Pakistanis but also proved costly in economic terms.
He slammed previous administrations for allowing the Americans to use Pakistani air bases to operate their drones that killed dozens of militant leaders in the Af-Pak region while also resulting in collateral damage in his country’s tribal territories.
Some recent media reports suggested Pakistan was willing to offer military bases to US forces, though the country’s foreign office said no “such proposal [had been] envisaged.”
The country’s foreign minister and national security adviser also ruled out the possibility of allowing the US to use Pakistani military bases, though speculation regarding a conversation between Washington and Islamabad over the issue did not fade away.
The prime minister’s interview is scheduled to be aired on HBO Max on Sunday.

 


Pakistan’s national air carrier launches scenic air safari for tourism promotion

Updated 19 June 2021

Pakistan’s national air carrier launches scenic air safari for tourism promotion

  • Named after the country’s iconic high-altitude mountaineer, Sadpara Air Safari will take tourist from Islamabad to Skardu and fly over K2 and Nanga Parbat
  • Tour operators believe the initiative will help the residents of Gilgit-Baltistan who mostly rely on tourism for livelihood

KHAPLU, Gilgit-Baltistan: The Pakistan International Airlines launched Sadpara Air Safari on Saturday to benefit the tourism industry in the country’s northern areas by offering passengers a spectacular view of some of the world’s tallest snowy mountains, glaciers and lakes.
Named after Pakistan’s iconic high-altitude mountaineer Muhammad Ali Sadpara, who tragically lost his life earlier this year while attempting a winter ascent of K2, the air safari will take tourists from Islamabad to Skardu and charge them a one-way fare of Rs24,000.
“Our flight will depart from the Islamabad International Airport and fly over K2, Nanga Parbat, Gasherbrum peaks, Deosai Plain and the famous Saif-ul-Malook Lake where every passenger will wonder at the beauty of the air safari from their personal window seat,” said the airline’s official statement.
While most flights to Gilgit-Baltistan offer a clear view of the world’s ninth tallest Nanga Parbat mountain, not many people get a glimpse of K2, also known as “Savage Mountain,” which hides in a remote corner of the region.
Hundreds of domestic and international tourists have already started visiting Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region in the north after the government eased the COVID-19 restrictions and opened the tourism sector on May 24.
“People living abroad usually fear security deficit while planning a trip to Pakistan,” PIA spokesperson Abdullah Hafiz Sheikh recently told Arab News over the phone. “Many of them are not aware of the beautiful and scenic locations of the country. Once they experience the air safari and fly over these places, they will surely come back to explore them again.”
Sheikh informed that the airline would only sell window seats.
“The return flight will depart from Skardu after two hours of arrival,” he continued. “It will be entirely up to our passengers if they want to take the same flight back to Islamabad or prolong their trip to the region to experience more magical moments.”
Asghar Ali Porik, who leads the Pakistan Association of Tour Operators, applauded the initiative, saying it would positively impact Pakistan’s image.
“Allowing travelers to decide when to get back after experiencing the air safari will also help the residents of Gilgit-Baltistan since they mostly rely on tourism to make a living,” he said.
“Like the air safari, the authorities should also start a helicopter service for backpackers in Skardu because that is what most foreigners demand in the area. If the helicopter service is launched, it will also make things easier for international climbers who will be able to reach Concordia, K2’s basecamp, in a short span,” he added.

 

 


Tribesmen in northwestern Pakistan refuse to bury 'assassinated' elder, continue protest for twentieth day

Updated 46 min 38 sec ago

Tribesmen in northwestern Pakistan refuse to bury 'assassinated' elder, continue protest for twentieth day

  • The Janikhel tribe had resorted to a similar protest in March after four teenage boys were brutally killed and dumped
  • Deal brokered with authorities then had required action against militant outfits, crackdown against illicit weapon possession in the area

PESHAWAR: Members of a Pashtun clan from a small settlement in Pakistan’s northwest have threatened to march on Islamabad after unidentified gunmen assassinated a tribal elder last month, confirmed senior representatives of the protesting community while talking to Arab News on Friday.
Residents of Janikhel have staged a sit-in for the last 20 days without burying the corpse of Malik Naseeb Khan who was murdered on May 30.
The Pashtun clan also planned a similar demonstration in Islamabad last March after finding mutilated bodies of four teenage boys belonging to the community who had gone out for hunting. Later, they called off their protest after reaching an agreement with the government.

In this photo taken on June 17, 2021, protesters attend a sit-in in Janikhel, a remote town in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, to demonstrate against the killing of one of its tribal elders. (Photo courtesy: Latif Wazir)

“The non-implementation of our pact with the government has led to the target killing of a prominent elder of our clan,” Latif Wazir told Arab News over the phone. “The incident has forced us to stage another sit-in without burying his body.”
The deal between the two sides required the Pakistani authorities to act against militant outfits and launch a crackdown against illicit weapons in the area. The government also promised to compensate the bereaved families of the teenagers, investigate their killings and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Apart from that, a special development package had to be announced for Janikhel where residents live an impoverished life.
Last month’s killing was followed by another round of negotiations between the provincial transportation minister, Shah Muhammad Wazir, who belongs to the same clan and the angry protesters.
Wazir asked the mourning demonstrators to bury their leader, though his personal assistant, Amir Khan, told Arab News that the Janikhel community refused to heed his advice.
“The minister even assured the protesters during the meeting that their demands would be met within three days,” Khan said. “He also promised that either a high-powered government delegation would visit them in their own town or their delegation would be invited to Peshawar [the provincial capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa] to discuss the matter.”
Rahimullah Yusufzai, a senior analyst, described the concern of protesters regarding growing insecurity in their area as legitimate, adding there was definitely a presence of militants and armed groups in Janikhel region.
“However, this trend [of not burying the dead and protesting with their corpses] is painful,” he added. “This is against the basic teachings of Islam and our tradition, though it seems that the bereaved families believe they need to protest as forcefully as possible to make the government act.”
Yusufzai said it was the prime responsibility of the government to be empathetic toward the demonstrators and take immediate measures to address their legitimate grievances.
Rafiullah Wazir, son of the slain tribal elder, told Arab News his father had no personal enmities and had played a constructive role for peace in the area.
“My father had been working for peace since 2009 and had escaped an assassination attempt in the past,” he said while referring to a phase when Pakistani tribal territories were widely described as the hub of religious militancy in the region.
However, the country’s security forces launched military operations in and around the area to target militant outfits and re-establish the state’s writ.
“Armed groups are still involved in creating mayhem and turmoil in Janikhel,” Yusufzai said. “It is the government’s responsibility to identify these groups. I think some coordination between the security forces, administration officials and local elders can help restore order in the area.”
 


In Pakistan's Mastung where Mulberry trade once blossomed, coronavirus-hit farmers seek government help

Updated 19 June 2021

In Pakistan's Mastung where Mulberry trade once blossomed, coronavirus-hit farmers seek government help

  • Dried mulberries produced in Balochistan’s Mastung district is particularly popular in neighboring Sindh province where they are mostly sold at Sufi shrines
  • Mulberry farmers say they have suffered significant losses due to restrictions on Sufi festivals during the coronavirus pandemic

QUETTA: Mulberry farming has been a popular occupation in Balochistan’s Mastung district for about four decades, though most people associated with the trade say they have suffered losses during the coronavirus pandemic.
Located some 43 kilometers south of Quetta, Mastung exports two different varieties of mulberries in their dried form to other provinces.
“Our elders knew little about preserving mulberries and probably never thought of selling them in market,” 56-year-old Hajji Khalil Ahmed, who has two orchards in the district, told Arab News on Friday. “But things changed when residents of the neighboring Sindh province started buying dried mulberries and we decided to enter the trade.”

A local farmer Haji Khalil Ahmed lifts mulberries from ground at one of his orchards in Mastung, Balochistan, on June 18, 2021. (AN Photo)

“Balochistan is famous for its peaches, apples and cherries,” he continued. “However, Mastung is the only place in the province which has nearly 900 mulberry orchards and supplies its yield to other provinces.”
Muhammad Ramzan, 30, who learned mulberry farming from his father said about 85 percent of the fruit was exported to Sehwan Sharif in Sindh where it was mostly in popular demand during an annual festival at the shrine of a 13th century Sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar.
However, he added that restrictions on such Sufi gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic had made things difficult for farmers like him.

Mastung is the only district in Balochistan that is famous for the harvest and export of mulberries to other provinces. Picture taken in Mastung on June 18, 2021. (AN Photo)

“Dried mulberries worth millions of rupees are currently stocked in our warehouses with no one to buy,” Ramzan said.
Asked about the provincial administration’s response to the situation, Ramzan said he was confident the Balochistan government did not know the fruit was produced in one of its districts or exported to other places like apples, cherries and peaches.
Back in 2012, the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) launched a livelihood project in Mastung to assist famers producing mulberries.

Mastung is the only district in Balochistan that is famous for the harvest and export of mulberries to other provinces. Picture taken in Mastung on June 18, 2021. (AN Photo)

The program lasted for three years during which the FAO trained the farmers how to pack and export the fruit to markets in other cities.
Ramzan said the project instilled a new business sense among people associated with the trade, though he added they were back on their own after the UN initiative ended in 2015.
The provincial administration of Balochistan, he maintained, should realize the business potential of mulberry farming and take necessary measures to increase the production of the fruit and create a bigger market for it across the country.
Masood Baloch, who works as director general at the provincial agricultural department, said the authorities were already conducting research on the trade while planning a project to help the farmers.

A sack of mulberries weighing 70 kilograms sold for Rs17,000 ($108) before the pandemic, though its present market rate is only Rs6,000 ($38). Picture taken in Mastung, Balochistan, on June 18, 2021. (AN Photo)

“Indeed, dried mulberries are in huge demand in other provinces, making its production lucrative for local farmers,” he told Arab News. “But the agricultural program for mulberry needs to be included in the provincial public sector development program [to receive the government’s assistance].”
Imran Khan, a mulberry contractor who has warehouses in Sehwan Sharif, informed that a sack of mulberries weighing 70 kilograms sold for Rs17,000 ($108) before the pandemic, though its present market rate was only Rs6,000 ($38).
“We have sold one kilogram of dried mulberries for about Rs500 ($3) during the annual festival of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar,” he said. “Now the same quantity is only sold for Rs130 ($.83).”


Dhani takes 4-5 to sink another Lahore run chase in Pakistan Super League

Updated 19 June 2021

Dhani takes 4-5 to sink another Lahore run chase in Pakistan Super League

  • Multan managed to put up a strong total of 169-8 despite fast bowler Shaheen Afridi’s brilliant performance for 3-23
  • Lahore’s four successive defeats have pushed the team in a tight corner in the race to the playoffs

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates: Multan Sultans fast bowler Shahnawaz Dhani grabbed 4-5 as Lahore Qalandars fumbled another run chase in losing by 80 runs in the Pakistan Super League on Friday.
The fourth successive defeat while chasing pushed last year’s finalist, Lahore, in a tight corner in the race to the playoffs.
Defending champion Karachi Kings could edge Lahore on better net run-rate if it beats bottom-placed Quetta Gladiators in its last league game on Saturday.
Despite fast bowler Shaheen Afridi’s brilliant performance for 3-23, Multan managed to put up a strong total of 169-8.
Lahore stumbled against Dhani’s pace to be bowled out for 89 in 15.1 overs, losing its last seven wickets for just 41 runs.
Sohaib Maqsood scored yet another brilliant 60 off 40 balls, but it was the little cameo by Twenty20 veteran Sohail Tanvir — 29 off 9 balls — that gave Multan’s total heft. Tanvir smacked Haris Rauf for three fours and two sixes in the last over.
In reply, Lahore lost its three key batsmen within the batting powerplay: Ben Dunk (5), Fakhar Zaman (13) and Mohammad Hafeez (14) all fell to pace.
When Imran Tahir had captain Sohail Akhtar (5) stumped in the 10th over, Dhani returned to take three more wickets and wrap up the innings quickly.
Islamabad United, which takes on Multan in its last league game on Saturday, and Peshawar Zalmi have already qualified for the playoffs. Peshawar is certain to finish among the top four as it has a better net run-rate than Lahore.