Karachi sees ‘alarming’ increase in acid attacks as incidents on the decline nationwide

In this photograph taken on February 12, 2013 Pakistani plastic surgeon Hamid Hassan (R) talk with acid attack survivor, Naziran Bibi prior to her eye surgery at the Hassan Surgical Clinic in Rawalpindi. (AFP/ File)
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Updated 17 October 2021

Karachi sees ‘alarming’ increase in acid attacks as incidents on the decline nationwide

  • At least six people, including a TikTok star and a transwoman, suffered acid attacks within a span of 45 days in Karachi
  • Activists say the state must act to regulate the sale and purchase of acids in the country to prevent the possibility of such attacks 

KARACHI: Despite an overall decline in acid attacks in Pakistan, such incidents have surged in Karachi in recent weeks, making officials and experts describe the emerging trend as “alarming.” 

According to media reports, six acid attacks were reported in different parts of the city in the last 45 days in which four women, one transwoman and a man were targeted by their spouses, acquaintances or partners. 

The most recent acid attack victim was a transwoman, Saima, who was shifted to a local hospital after the incident, though she died during her treatment earlier this month. 

According to police, Saima lived with another transgender person, Qaiser, who threw acid on her after an argument broke out between them. 

“This surge in acid attacks in Karachi is alarming,” said Nuzhat Shireen of the Sindh Commission on the Status of Women (SCSW) on Wednesday. 

She maintained the incidents of violence against women were usually underreported in the country, though she acknowledged that there was an overall decline in acid attack cases. 

“The SCSW, which ensures legal action in cases of violence against women, will also look into this matter,” she added. 

The acid attack incidents since August involved a burqa-clad woman who targeted the first wife of her husband. 

Two men also poured acid on their wives while a woman gave burn wounds to her former husband who refused to remarry her. 

In August, a 19-year-old TikTok star, Rimsha, died after her former husband doused her with acid. In her statement to the police, she mentioned how she was chased by him before he grabbed her and emptied a bottle of acid on her. 

According to Wasim Shahmalak, a senior official of the Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF) in Sindh, more than 150 acid attack victims had been treated in Karachi since 2014, adding the number still showed a decline in these instances. 

An ASF report in 2017 mentioned a significant drop in such cases following the enactment of a legislation criminalizing acid and burn violence in December 2011. The organization maintained that 1,108 acid attacks had taken place in Pakistan between 2007 and 2016 which targeted 1,375 people. 

In 2014, however, 153 acid attacks targeting 210 victims were recorded while this number further declined to 69 in 2015 and slightly increased to 73 in 2016. 

Shireen said certain actions by the Sindh Commission on the Status of Women, including a joint WhatsApp group where senior police officials shared progress in the cases of violence against women, had resolved the issue of legal inaction. 

“We have drafted an amendment bill which will ensure better implementation of the existing laws since both federal and Sindh Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Acts have lacunas,” she said, adding that these loopholes made out-of-court settlements possible in such cases. 

“In one instance, I traveled from Karachi to Nawabshah, but the victim did not show up in the court,” she informed. “Later, the police said that the victim had resolved the matter without involving the judicial authorities. In one case, a victim married her attacker.” 

Musarrat Misbah, a Pakistani beautician and philanthropist who founded Depilex Smileagain Foundation for the treatment of acid attack survivors, speculated that COVID-19 could be one reason behind the sudden surge in such attacks since there was evidence that the pandemic had increased domestic violence in different parts of the world. 

“In our society, the pressure is mostly directed toward the weak,” she said. “Women frequently become victims of domestic violence which, in its worst form, can take the shape of an acid attack.” 

She noted that while there were several laws to deal with the menace, these were not fully implemented. 

“If we have to address this problem, we will have to punish the preparator of these crimes and the state will have to take responsibility for that,” she added. “The state must also regulate the sale and purchase of acids.” 

Speaking to Arab News, Muhammad Akram, father of the deceased TikTok star Rimsha said that her daughter’s alleged murderer had been thrown behind bars, though he added that he did not know the exact status of her case. 

“I lost my daughter since she got married to a wrong man,” he said. “While the accused’s family has not asked me for an out-of-court settlement, they have been threatening me indirectly to back off. I am a poor man who is totally shattered by his daughter’s death. It is hard for me to pursue this case, but I cannot give up either.”


UN refugee agency calls on Pakistan, other countries to accept Afghan asylum-seekers

Updated 01 December 2021

UN refugee agency calls on Pakistan, other countries to accept Afghan asylum-seekers

  • The world body says Afghanistan's neighboring countries should open their borders even to those without documentation
  • The UN refugee agency calls for a halt to deportations, saying Afghan nationals may face persecution in their homeland

GENEVA: Afghans seeking to flee abroad face escalating risks as the domestic situation deteriorates, the United Nations refugee agency said on Wednesday in a plea to neighboring countries to open their borders even to those without documentation.

Iran, Pakistan and Tajikistan have deported increasing numbers of Afghans since August, following the Taliban takeover, it said.

The UNHCR called for a halt to deportations saying Afghans may face persecution in their homeland where religious and ethnic minorities and activists have been targeted.

"UNHCR urges all countries receiving Afghan new arrivals to keep their borders open to those in need of international protection," the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement.


Pakistan urges OIC to help address Afghanistan's urgent humanitarian needs

Updated 01 December 2021

Pakistan urges OIC to help address Afghanistan's urgent humanitarian needs

  • The Organization of Islamic Cooperation will be holding an extraordinary session on Afghanistan later this month
  • Pakistan's foreign secretary says 60 percent of Afghan nationals can face 'crisis level of hunger' that may lead to mass refugee exodus

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's foreign secretary Sohail Mahmood said on Wednesday the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) should play a role in helping the people of Afghanistan who were facing a serious humanitarian crisis.

Afghanistan witnessed a major political change in August when the Taliban seized control of its capital city, Kabul, while the international community was still in the process of pulling out its troops.

The political change exposed the economic vulnerabilities of the country, however, which required substantial foreign assistance after being in a state of war for several decades.

The top official of Pakistan's foreign office briefed the Islamabad-based heads of OIC missions on the prevailing situation in Afghanistan ahead of the group's proposed extraordinary session on the subject later this month.

"The Foreign Secretary emphasized that as the collective voice of the Islamic Ummah, the OIC, can and must play its part in helping address the urgent humanitarian and economic needs of our Afghan brethren," said an official statement released by the foreign office in Islamabad. "In addition, he underlined, OIC’s leadership could help galvanize other international actors to come forward and extend a helping hand to the Afghan people currently in dire need of international support and solidarity."

The Pakistani official informed that the OIC extraordinary session was organized after Saudi Arabia took the initiative last month, adding that the administration in Islamabad welcomed the decision and offered to host the foreign ministers of OIC nations on December 17.

Quoting the United Nations estimates, he said that 60 percent of Afghanistan's 38 million people faced "crisis level of hunger," adding there was a risk of acute malnutrition among Afghan women and children along with the problem of internal displacement.

The foreign secretary maintained a potential economic collapse in Afghanistan could not be ruled out.

"This would not only be a humanitarian tragedy but also exacerbate the security situation, spur instability, and lead to a mass exodus of refugees," he said, adding: "This would have grave consequences for international peace and stability."

Pakistan has also urged the international community in the past not to adopt a policy of disengagement toward Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover since it would have negative consequences for the people in the war-battered country along with the rest of the region.


President Alvi signs bill to safeguard rights of journalists in Pakistan

Updated 01 December 2021

President Alvi signs bill to safeguard rights of journalists in Pakistan

  • The Pakistani president says the new law increases the responsibility of the government and media owners
  • The Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Bill, 2021, will deal with issues like harassment, torture and arbitrary arrests

ISLAMABAD: President Arif Alvi on Wednesday endorsed the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Bill, 2021, which was passed by parliament last month to safeguard the rights of the media community in the country.

The bill requires the government to take all possible measures to protect journalists and media professionals from all forms of harassment, abuse, violence and exploitation at the hands of any individual, institution or authority.

It also authorizes the government to establish a commission to look into complaints against threats, acts of torture, killings, violent attacks, enforced disappearances and arbitrary arrests.

“I am feeling happy to sign this Journalists and Media Professionals Bill, 2021, which was drafted through consensus of all stakeholders after a lot of hard work,” the president said during the signing ceremony at the Presidency in Islamabad.

He maintained there was uniformity of opinion regarding the rights of journalists, adding that the new law had increased the responsibility of the government and media owners in the country.

Alvi said the bill had eight points that covered different aspects of the media industry to ensure the protection of journalists.

“It’s third act of part two provides the right to life and protection. It is essential for journalists because they work with neutrality despite facing acute dangers,” he said while noting that Article 4 was about the right to privacy and source nondisclosure “which remained a big issue in the past.”

“There is protection against abusive, violent and intolerant behavior,” he continued. “There is also a clause about an independent media commission which is very essential.”

The president said while the society had the responsibility to demonstrate tolerance toward journalists trying to perform their duties, the media community should also report developments objectively and within the right context.

The country’s information minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain described the legislation as a leap forward while hoping it would provide all the rights to Pakistani journalists which were available to media communities in developed states.

“The media enjoys freedom in Pakistan,” he said. “The government stands by working journalists and will act to provide them employment protection.”

Pakistan’s human rights minister Shireen Mazari said the new law defined the term “media professional” and would let the authorities deliberate on journalist welfare schemes.

“It is now a legal obligation of media owners to provide insurance and training to media professionals,” she said.

Mazari informed that women would also be given representation in the commission to be formed under the Act.

“An independent commission will be formed for the first time in the country which will address the complaints of journalists,” she added.

A representative of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists Pervaiz Shaukat welcomed the new law, though he emphasized its implementation.

“We talked to the information minister that the government should ensure its implementation,” he told Arab News. “Otherwise, this will become useless like many other laws.”


China says Gwadar protests deliberately played up by media outlets

Updated 01 December 2021

China says Gwadar protests deliberately played up by media outlets

  • A senior foreign ministry official in Beijing denies the presence of any Chinese trawlers near the Pakistani deep-sea port
  • Gwadar is located in Pakistan's sparsely populated Balochistan province where people are mostly associated with the fishing business

ISLAMABAD: A Chinese foreign ministry official said on Tuesday some media outlets had launched a smear campaign against the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) by playing up protests in Gwadar, reported Pakistan's APP state-owned news agency.
Gwadar is at the heart of the multibillion-dollar economic corridor project that aims to provide China a shorter, more secure trade route, via Pakistan, to the Middle East and beyond, while also boosting Pakistan’s economy.
Despite its strategic significance, the residents of the area have been demanding basic rights and action against illegal trawling in the Arabian Sea which they say has rendered local fisherfolk and others jobless.
The issue has also been reported by the international media.
"China firmly rejects certain media's attempts to smear the CPEC building and China-Pakistan relations," the spokesperson of the Chinese foreign ministry, Zhao Lijian, was quoted as saying by the APP agency. "This is completely fake news. Certain media's hyping up of the protests against China in Gwadar region lacks factual basis."
The APP report said Lijian denied the presence of any Chinese trawlers near Gwadar, adding that CPEC was not only focusing on development work but also trying to contribute to the livelihood of people.
Gwadar is located in Pakistan's sparsely populated southwestern Balochistan province where a large number of people are associated with the fishing business.


'Longest' supply cut to CNG stations in Pakistan may jeopardize over 20,000 jobs, warn stakeholders

Updated 01 December 2021

'Longest' supply cut to CNG stations in Pakistan may jeopardize over 20,000 jobs, warn stakeholders

  • The Sui Southern Gas Company has started suspending gas supply to all CNG stations in Sindh and Balochistan until February 15
  • Owners of CNG pumps say frequent supply cuts to manage the demand of gas in the country will gradually wipe out the sector

KARACHI: The suspension of gas to fuel stations across the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan not only risks the employment of over 20,000 people associated with the business but is also likely to exert further pressure on the country’s import bill, said traders and stakeholders on Tuesday.
The state-owned Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) announced the decision to suspend gas supply to the compressed natural gas (CNG) sector for two and half months from December 1 to meet the demand of domestic consumers during winter.
According to a notification released by the company earlier this week, the gas supply will remain suspended to “all CNG stations across Sindh and Balochistan from December 1, 2021, until February 15, 2022.”
However, the business community warned such decisions could wipe out CNG stations in in the country.
“We fear that about 20,000 people who are directly or indirectly associated with the CNG business will be affected along with their families,” Samir Najmul Hussain, convener of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry’s standing committee on CNG, told Arab News. “It will also deprive the government of much needed revenue, exert pressure on the import bill, and add to the environmental woes.”
Owners of CNG stations also voiced concern over the decision.
“This practically amounts to driving CNG station owners out of business since this is the longest gas supply cut,” Shabir Sulemanji, chairman of the CNG Forum, said while talking to Arab News.
He informed that about 520 CNG stations out of 630 were operational in the two provinces and employed an average of 15 to 20 workers each.
Pakistan faces a chronic shortage of gas during winter, as demand for heating increases. The situation is mostly managed by the authorities by resorting to such load management mechanisms.
The country is expected to face a shortage of about 2,281 million cubic feet per day (mmcfd) between December 2021 and February 2022 due to a decline in local gas production, according to various estimates.
Given the frequent supply cuts to manage the gas demand in the country, CNG traders believe the sector is gradually being phased out.
“The number of CNG station across Pakistan has declined by about 3,300 to around 16,000,” Sulemanji said.
The country introduced CNG in the 1990s as a form of green fuel for ordinary people, though traders believe the concept is now coming to an end. “The concept of this being a cleaner fuel is gradually over,” Sulemanji said.
Pakistan stopped issuing CNG licenses in 2008, though it lifted the official ban last year and allowed people to set up new stations where they could only sell re-gasified natural gas (RLNG).