In dark longing, Arooj Aftab expands soundscape of Pakistan and has the world listening

Musician Arooj Aftab, right, performs at Resonant Bodies Festival in New York on June 5, 2019. (Photo courtesy: Resonant Bodies Festival)
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Updated 27 June 2021
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In dark longing, Arooj Aftab expands soundscape of Pakistan and has the world listening

  • Aftab’s third album “Vulture Prince” featuring ghazals was released in late April and has already gained critical acclaim
  • Pitchfork magazine, a barometer of the independent music scene, has praised her “technical skill and compositional fearlessness” 

RAWALPINDI: Though Arooj Aftab has lived in the United States for nearly two decades since she left Pakistan for Boston to study at the Berklee College of Music, she says her music owes a large debt to her hometown, Lahore, and the music and the poetry of her country of origin.
The musician’s third album, “Vulture Prince,” was released by New Amsterdam Records in late April and features ghazals, poems of beauty in longing. The collection has already gained critical acclaim, with Pitchfork magazine, a barometer of the independent music scene, praising Aftab’s “technical skill and compositional fearlessness” in blending Pakistani classical music with jazz and trance to create her singular sound.

The 36-year-old began to make headlines in 2018, when the National Public Radio (NPR) listed her “Lullaby” as one of the 200 Greatest Songs by 21st Century Women+ and the New York Times celebrated her “Island No 2” among the Best Classical Music Tracks of 2018.
“I’ve inherited a lot of different types of music, and they’ve created a route inside of me,” she told Arab News in an interview this week. “I will always have my relationship with Lahore and with Pakistan, our culture and our heritage, our poetry, our music, our style of being.”
“I don’t think you can ever erase that and it’s still real life for me even though I am not physically spending time there. It’s not a memory — it’s definitely a part of where I am. I don’t think it can go away.”
That part seems to have entered a new cycle of life with Aftab’s recent album. The “vulture” in the title spreads its wings over all seven tracks.




In this undated photo, musician Arooj Aftab is performing at Highline Ballroom in New York. (Photo courtesy: Social Media) 

“Vulture is kind of like mystical, exalted kind of almost feared type of bird,” she said.
In the Zoroastrian tradition of South Asia’s Parsis, vultures connect the world of the living and the afterlife. The bodies of the deceased are placed for burial in “towers of silence” where the birds come to consume them.
“I had been thinking about how, how beautiful and how dark is the Zoroastrian tower of silence, and the role that vultures play in returning us back into the cycle of life,” Aftab said. “They eat the deceased and then, in that way, your loved ones, their energy goes back into the earth and the world, and the cycle continues.”
“I find that insane, and also really beautiful.”
Many in South Asia will recognize that same nostalgia in the lead single “Mohabbat.”

The ghazal, written by Hafeez Hoshiarpuri in the 1920s, is one the most famous classical Urdu poems, an ode to the devouring sadness of loss, separation and longing that is “equal to the sadness of all the world.”
Performed by greats such as Mehdi Hassan and Iqbal Bano, the longing in the song at some point reaches its peak, but not in Aftab’s version. She had completely transformed it, making the sadness burn slowly, at multiple levels.
“It has dual modes, it has multiple modes, it has multiple feelings going on, you can feel a lot of things through it,” she said. “It can be interpreted in so many different ways.”
It can also heal.
“Music has always been a personal healing tool for me. It always came to me that way,” Aftab said. “That’s always been my base: to use music as a therapy for myself.”


 


Pakistan’s Sindh province suspends human milk bank, refers initiative to Islamic Ideology Council

Updated 22 June 2024
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Pakistan’s Sindh province suspends human milk bank, refers initiative to Islamic Ideology Council

  • Pakistan’s first human milk bank was set up earlier this month by Sindh Institute of Child Health and Neonatology
  • Facility was established in collaboration with UNICEF, described as “significant milestone in maternal health”

ISLAMABAD: The Sindh Institute of Child Health and Neonatology (SICHN) said this week Pakistan’s first human milk bank established earlier this month had been suspended pending further guidance from the Council of Islamic Ideology.

A human milk bank, breast milk bank or lactarium is a service that collects, screens, processes, pasteurizes, and dispenses by prescription human milk donated by nursing mothers who are not biologically related to the recipient infant. For women who are unable to breastfeed or produce enough milk, pasteurized donor breast milk can be an effective approach to feeding.

SICHN earlier this month announced its human milk bank facility, Pakistan’s first, established in collaboration with UNICEF, describing it as a “significant milestone in maternal health.”

“A recent revised fatwa issued by Darul Uloom Karachi dated 16ht June 2024 has prompted us to discontinue the functionality of the Human Milk Bank. This decision is in compliance with the updated religious guidance and reflects our ongoing commitment to operate within the framework of Islamic jurisprudence,” SICHN said in a statement dated June 21. 

“Moving forward, we will seek further guidance on this issue from both Darul Uloom Karachi and the Council of Islamic Ideology,” the statement added, referring to a religious body that advises the government on the compatibility of laws with Islam.

SICHN said the milk bank was initially set up after seeking and receiving a fatwa from the Darul Uloom Karachi, “which provided us with the necessary religious endorsement to proceed.” 

“This fatwa was critical in ensuring that our efforts were in harmony with Islamic teachings, providing reassurance to the community and stakeholders involved,” the institute said. 

The fatwa cited certain pre-conditions to establish the milk bank including that Muslim children should only be provided milk from Muslim mothers.

Iran is currently believed to be the only country in the Muslim world with a network of milk banks. In general, Islam makes the practice tricky. The opposition centers on a tenet called milk kinship, which states that a parent-child bond is formed when a woman gives milk to a baby who isn’t biologically related to her. 

To avoid future incestuous marriages between so-called milk siblings, the tenet says, the foster relationship must be clearly delineated. Since milk bank donors are typically anonymous and the donations are often combined, the practice is rejected in most of the Muslim world.


Pakistani PM vows to continue ‘war against terrorism’ as five soldiers killed in IED blast 

Updated 22 June 2024
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Pakistani PM vows to continue ‘war against terrorism’ as five soldiers killed in IED blast 

  • IED blast targeted vehicle carrying security forces in Kurram district in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
  • 65 police officials killed, 86 wounded in 237 incidents of terrorism in the province in the past five months

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Friday his government would continue its “war on terrorism” as five Pakistani soldiers were killed in an improvised explosive device (IED) blast in northwestern Pakistan.

The IED blast targeted a vehicle carrying security forces personnel in Kurram district in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, the Pakistan army’s media wing said in a statement, amid a rise in terror attacks mostly by the Pakistani Taliban, known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, an ally of the Afghan Taliban but a separate group, which has stepped up its assaults in the region since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in 2021. Pakistan says the TTP uses Afghan soil for attacks in Pakistan, a charge that Kabul denies. 

“The entire nation pays tribute to the martyrs and stands united against terrorism,” Sharif said after the latest attack, vowing to “continue the war against the menace till its complete elimination.”

Pakistan has witnessed a surge in militant attacks in recent years, predominantly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In January 2023 militants killed at least 101 people, mostly police officers, when a suicide bomber disguised as a policeman attacked a mosque in the northwestern city of Peshawar.

Earlier this month, the counter-terrorism department (CTD) of police in Peshawar issued a report, saying 65 police officials were killed while another 86 were wounded in 237 incidents of terrorism in the province in the past five months. It said police had killed 117 militants and arrested 299 others in a series of operations.

Pakistani authorities often say Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers are giving shelter to TTP fighters across the unruly border. The Afghan Taliban government insists it doesn’t allow anyone to use Afghan soil for violence in any country. The TTP has also said it was not using Afghan soil for targeting troops in Pakistan.
 


Pakistan police hunt mob that lynched local tourist accused of blasphemy

Updated 22 June 2024
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Pakistan police hunt mob that lynched local tourist accused of blasphemy

  • A mob beat the man to death on Thursday night after accusing him of burning pages of the Qur’an
  • Lynchings are common in Islamic republic of Pakistan, where blasphemy can legally carry the death penalty

PESHAWAR: Pakistani authorities have begun an investigation to identify and arrest members of a mob that killed a local tourist accused of blasphemy, after they ransacked a police station holding him in protective custody, officials said on Friday.
A mob beat the man to death on Thursday night after accusing him of burning pages of the Qur’an. They set the police station in the country’s northwest ablaze and injured eight policemen, Malankand division’s regional police chief Mohammad Ali Gandapur told Reuters.
“After initially rescuing the man from a crowd, the police took him to the station in Madyan, but announcements from mosque loud speakers asked locals to come out,” Gandapur said, after which the mob stormed the station.
Lynchings are common in Pakistan, an Islamic republic where blasphemy can legally carry the death penalty.
Legal processes are frequently preceded by vigilante action based on rumors or complaints. 
Graphic videos of the latest incident, verified to Reuters by the police, showed a frenzied mob dragging a naked and bloodied body through the streets, and then setting it on fire. The footage went viral on social media and sparked outcry among Pakistani users.
Gandapur said the situation was under control and a case registered against the organizers of the mob. He added the man had been visiting the Swat Valley, a popular tourist destination, for the Muslim holiday of Eid-al-Adha.
Last month, a Christian man in his seventies was attacked by a mob on charges of burning pages of the Qur’an and later died of his injuries in eastern Pakistan.
In 2021, a Sri Lankan factory manager was lynched in one of the highest profile incidents in the country. Six people were sentenced to death for their part in the lynching after the incident sparked global outcry.


Pakistani court orders police to take action against smoke emitting vehicles in Lahore

Updated 40 min 39 sec ago
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Pakistani court orders police to take action against smoke emitting vehicles in Lahore

  • Lahore consistently ranks among world’ most polluted cities every winter when heavy fog envelopes the city
  • Lahore High Court orders police to take action against people who burn crop residue and cause pollution

ISLAMABAD: The Lahore High Court (LHC) this week directed traffic police officials to impound vehicles emitting smoke and take stern action against people found burning crop residue in Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore, state-run media reported, in an attempt to curb pollution in the city. 

Lahore consistently ranks among the world’s most polluted cities every year during the winter season. Last year, toxic smog sickened tens of thousands of people during the winter season, with the thick smog causing flight cancelations and forcing authorities to close schools. The situation got so worse that in a first, Pakistani authorities deployed artificial rain in December 2023 to battle smog.

Lahore, capital of the Pakistan’s most populous Punjab province, is in an airshed, an area where pollutants from industry, transportation and other human activities get trapped because of local weather and topography so they cannot disperse easily. The Punjab government has also attributed pollution and smog to crop residue burnt frequently in neighboring India. 

“The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Friday once again ordered traffic police authorities to take strict action against smoky vehicles and impound them,” the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) said. 

Justice Shahid Karim passed the orders while hearing several identical petitions filed by citizens Haroon Farooq and others against the government’s ineffective measures to control smog. During the proceedings, the court observed that most incidents of crop residue burning took place in the vicinity of the motorway, which connects various cities of the country. 

“Motorway police should take action on the incidents of crop residue burning,” the judge said. “The inspector-general of National Highways and Motorways should ensure the implementation of the court orders.”

Subsequently, the court adjourned further proceedings until the next Friday, June 28.


Five Pakistani soldiers killed in IED blast in northwestern Pakistan

Updated 21 June 2024
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Five Pakistani soldiers killed in IED blast in northwestern Pakistan

  • IED explosion targeted security forces vehicle in northwestern Kurram district, says army 
  • President Asif Ali Zardari condemns blast, resolves to uproot “terrorism” from Pakistan 

ISLAMABAD: Five Pakistani soldiers were killed in an improvised explosive device (IED) blast in northwestern Pakistan on Friday, the army’s media wing said, as Islamabad grapples with rising militancy in the country’s western provinces bordering Afghanistan.
The IED blast targeted the vehicle carrying security forces personnel in Kurram district in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said in a statement.
The army said that a sanitization operation was being carried out in the area to eliminate any “terrorists” there, vowing to bring the perpetrators of the act to book.
“Security forces of Pakistan are determined to eliminate the menace of terrorism and such sacrifices of our brave soldiers further strengthen our resolve,” the ISPR said.
President Asif Ali Zardari strongly condemned the blast, state-run Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) said in a report. The president appreciated the martyrs’ sense of duty and patriotism, and the role of security forces in eradicating militancy from the country.
“He expressed the resolve to uproot the terrorism from the country’s soil, saying that the operations of the law enforcement agencies would continue till complete elimination of the menace,” APP reported.
Islamabad blames the uptick in attacks on neighboring Afghanistan, saying Pakistani Taliban, or the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leaders have taken refuge there and run camps to train militants to launch attacks inside Pakistan. Kabul has previously said rising violence in Pakistan is a domestic issue for Islamabad and it does not allow militants to operate on its territory.
The TTP has been waging a war against the state to try to overthrow the government for nearly two decades. It wants to run Pakistan as an Islamic state governed by its own harsh interpretation of Islamic laws.