In Pakistan’s Gwadar, role of women ‘like oxygen’ in keeping month-long protests alive

In this undated photo, 70-year-old Zainab Baloch is seen with protest leader Maulana Hidayat-ur-Rehman during a demonstration in Gwadar, Pakistan. (Photo Courtesy: Sameera Siddique)
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Updated 19 December 2021

In Pakistan’s Gwadar, role of women ‘like oxygen’ in keeping month-long protests alive

  • Zainab Baloch, a widow with three children, is a local poet whose melodious verses have inspired thousands
  • Women of Gwadar played a vital role in prolonging movement for basic rights, acted as human shields for men

GWADAR: While Maulana Hidayat-ur-Rehman, a cleric from Gwadar, became the face of a month-long protest movement in the port city, it was a local woman poet who inspired thousands with her melodious verses and was the first to come out in protest against projects in the area that locals believe have robbed them of their livelihoods.
Gwadar is home to China’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative port project in Pakistan’s impoverished southwestern province of Balochistan, a sparsely populated, mountainous, desert region bordering Afghanistan and Iran. Despite its strategic significance, the locals of Balochistan — and Gwadar — have long complained Chinese presence and investment in the area has done little to improve their lives.
In mid-November, Gwadar erupted in protests against illegal trawling, a growing drugs trade and the lack of basic facilities like health and education. The movement continued under the banner of “Give Gwadar its Rights,” with daily sit-ins and demonstrations taking place for nearly a month — until this Thursday when protesters called off the movement after assurances from the provincial government that their demands would be met.
Women, locals and analysts say, have been instrumental in the success of the movement.
Earlier this week, it was the 70-year-old poetess Zainab Baloch, affectionately called Massi or Amma Zaini in the port city, who acted as a human shield to protect Hidayat-ur-Rehman when police tried to arrest him while he was leading a demonstration.
“Amma Zaini has always motivated women through her poems,” Sameera Siddique, a teacher and local leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party to which Hidayat-ur-Rehman belongs, told Arab News, saying the poet was a widow with two married daughters and an unemployed son who lived with her. “She has a following among both the elderly and young women of the area.”

Hundreds of women participate in a protest in Gwadar, Pakistan, on December 10, 2021. (AN Photo/Naveed Muhammad)

According to Siddique and other local intellectuals, Baloch was the first to object to the construction of an expressway to connect the port to a major coastal highway, for which authorities “dug up a trench, which made the sea inaccessible to local fishermen.” 
“Amma Zaini started protesting and recorded a message for the Maulana who was traveling to Quetta. This is how the protest actually kicked off,” Siddique said, “on a woman’s call who does not have any political affiliations.”
Locals and experts say life has become more difficult for Gwadar residents as the emergence of Chinese infrastructure development projects increased the presence of security forces in the area and of the number of check posts, which have restricted the movement of locals. 
Residents say the Chinese project also robbed them of their primary source of livelihood, fishing, as giant fishing trawlers have come in through the Arabian Sea, resulting in the closure of a majority of fish processing factories. China has said it is willing to work with the Pakistan government to ensure the benefits of CPEC projects trickle down to locals.
Speaking to Arab News, poetess Baloch said it was due to these factors that people came out of their homes and a protest movement was launched. 
“Give us our sea, give us our livelihood,” she said. “We don’t need anything else.” 

In this ariel view of Gwadar, Pakistan, women can be seen marching on Marine Drive Road, a major thoroughfare in the city, on November 30, 2021. (AN Photo/Naveed Muhammad)

Asked about her role in the movement, she said her strength were other women of the city and region.
“When the police started closing in on protesters at one point, I summoned the women who have always accompanied me,” she said. “Most of them have always been at the forefront of protests to secure people’s rights and have stood shoulder to shoulder with men.”
For example, thousands of women stepped out of the comfort of their homes on December 10 and came to the site of a sit-in to prevent authorities from removing the camp and arrest protesting men who had been occupying a major thoroughfare that runs parallel to the seashore.
“It was the fear of hunger that brought women out in such large numbers,” Siddique told Arab News. “They could see that their men were rendered workless by the authorities.”
Local analyst Nasir Rahim Sohrabi said women served as a key part of the protests because women in the coastal districts, especially Gwadar, were more educated and aware than in other areas of Balochistan province.
“The protesting women belong to different backgrounds, but a large number of them were teachers and students,” he said. “Even the women who have not gone to school in Gwadar are equally well informed.”
Young women of Gwadar were also a vital part of the movement, skillfully using social media to amplify the protesters’ demands. 

Women gather in protest in Gwadar, Pakistan, on November 30, 2021. (AN photo/Naveed Muhammad)

“It was not the first time that I highlighted the issues of my province, especially my city Gwadar, on social media platforms,” Zainab Aslam, a young teacher at a private school, told Arab News. “My sisters and I tried to create awareness about our movement and enlist the support of other women and young people.”
“The role of women in keeping our movement alive,” she added, “was like oxygen.”

Pakistan concludes Hajj flights, all 83,312 pilgrims arrive in Saudi Arabia

Updated 7 sec ago

Pakistan concludes Hajj flights, all 83,312 pilgrims arrive in Saudi Arabia

  • 34,453 pilgrims traveled under government scheme and over 48,000 through private operators
  • 52 flights have utilized the Route to Makkah immigration facility at Islamabad airport this year

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s director-general of Hajj in Jeddah said on Tuesday the country’s Hajj flight operation was complete and all 83,312 Pakistani pilgrims had arrived in Saudi Arabia. 

One of Islam’s five main pillars of faith, the Hajj was restricted over pandemic fears to only 1,000 people living in the Kingdom in 2020 and to 60,000 domestic participants last year, compared with the pre-pandemic 2.5 million pilgrims annually. 

This year, after Saudi Arabia lifted COVID-19 restrictions, the kingdom will welcome one million domestic and foreign pilgrims. A quota of 81,132 pilgrims was initially allocated for Pakistan this year, which was later increased by 2,000.

“Our Hajj flights have been completed and all 83,312 Pakistani pilgrims have arrived in Makkah,” DG Hajj, Abrar Ahmed Mirza, told Arab News over the phone from Makkah.

He said 34,453 pilgrims had traveled under the government scheme and over 48,000 through private operators.

“We are now giving them training on Hajj rituals which are starting from Wednesday especially preparing them for Mina, Arafat, and Muzdalifah where pilgrims from all over the world move at the same time,” Mirza said.

Haseeb Ahmed Siddiqui, the director of the Hajj Complex in Islamabad, said 52 flights had utilized the Route to Makkah facility at Islamabad airport this year. 

The Route to Makkah initiative allows pilgrims to fulfil all immigration requirements at the airport of origin. This saves them several hours upon reaching the kingdom since they can enter the country, having already gone through immigration at home. 

“17,077 pilgrims proceeded to the Kingdom under Route to Makkah project using 52 flights this year,” Siddiqui told Arab News.

Adeel Ahmed, a pilgrim from Rawalpindi, said he had no words to express his happiness at being selected for the pilgrimage.

“My name was not part of the first draft and I got a chance at the last moment,” Ahmed told Arab News. “I am unable to share my feelings and happiness as Allah has granted me this privilege to fulfill my dream.” 

Sumera Kiran, another pilgrim from Rawalpindi, expressed satisfaction with arrangements at the airport.

“The [Saudi] government and Pakistani authorities have done very good arrangements at the airport,” she said, adding that she had received her luggage at the hotel.

Pakistan central bank may raise rates by 125 bps to tame 13-year high inflation

Updated 05 July 2022

Pakistan central bank may raise rates by 125 bps to tame 13-year high inflation

  • The South Asian nation is wrestling with economic turmoil, a fall in reserves and a weakening currency
  • Another hike would increase government debt servicing costs as well as hurt industries, says an economist

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s central bank looks set to raise its key policy rate by 125 basis points at its review on Thursday, as it attempts to tackle 13-year high retail inflation, according to the median estimate in a snap poll of 10 economists and market watchers. 

The economists, analysts and senior professors surveyed were widely split on the quantum of increase by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), with views ranging from 50 to 200 basis points. 

Two respondents did not see a need for a rate increase. 

The central bank raised the benchmark interest rate by 150 bps in May, taking the total increase to 400 bps so far this year to counter rising inflation. 

The South Asian nation is wrestling with economic turmoil, a fall in reserves and a weakening currency. 

Data on Friday showed consumer prices in June leapt 21.3 percent from a year earlier, largely on account of a 90 percent spike in fuel prices since the end of May after the government scrapped costly fuel subsidies. 

With the current policy rate at 13.75 percent and inflation running well above, real interest rates in the economy have turned sharply negative. 

“The last monetary policy committee statement is proof that the State Bank of Pakistan is way behind the curve on anticipating inflation,” said Yousuf Nazar, an economist who writes for various publications and formerly with Citigroup. 

“Another hike would increase government debt servicing costs as well as hurt industries. 

It is not going to have much of an impact on exchange rate or overall demand,” he added. 

Most believed a hike was inevitable, given persistently high global energy prices, the abrupt ending of fuel subsidies as well as the need to control demand after SBP said in its last policy statement the economy had rebounded much more strongly than anticipated. 

“The overall policy mix is geared toward stabilization and demand management,” CEO of Macro Economic Insights Sakib Sherani said, adding that this will induce a sharp slowdown in the economy, possibly a recession, in the short run. 

But Fahad Rauf, head of research at Ismail Iqbal Securities, said he does not see the need to increase rates further. 

“The economy is already slowing down. The layoffs have started and are expected to increase further. 

Further cost pressures would only enhance the burden on industries and workers,” Rauf said. 

“The fiscal arm is working now, tough measures have been taken. SBP needs to wait for the results before further tightening,” he added. 

With Pakistan expecting a restart of the much-awaited bailout package from the International Monetary Fund after the country agreed on some tough economic policy adjustments to promote stability, the SBP’s decision is being closely watched. 

Dubai-bound Indian airline plane makes ‘emergency landing’ in Karachi

Updated 05 July 2022

Dubai-bound Indian airline plane makes ‘emergency landing’ in Karachi

  • India’s SpiceJet airline says plane diverted to Karachi due to indicator light malfunctioning
  • The B737 aircraft landed at Karachi airport at around 9am where it’s currently being repaired

ISLAMABAD: A Dubai-bound Indian airline plane on Tuesday made an “emergency landing” in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi, the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) said. 

The B737 aircraft flew from New Delhi for Dubai this morning, according to the PCAA. The pilot requested Pakistani aviation authorities for an “emergency landing” because of a fuel leak. 

“An aircraft of SpiceJet going from Delhi to Dubai sought permission for emergency landing which was granted and the aircraft with 138 passengers on board landed at Karachi airport after 9am today,” PCAA spokesman Saifullah told Arab News. 

“The aircraft was diverted to Karachi airport for landing after fuel leakage.” 

SpiceJet, however, said the plane was diverted due to “indicator light malfunctioning.” 

“No emergency was declared and the aircraft made a normal landing. There was no earlier report of any malfunction with the aircraft,” the airline said in a series of tweets. 

“A replacement aircraft is being sent to Karachi that will take the passengers to Dubai.” 

The PCAA spokesman said all passengers had been moved to the transit longue of the airport, where they were provided food and refreshments. 

“The aircraft is currently being repaired,” Saifullah added. 

England to tour Pakistan for first time in 16 years from September 15

Updated 05 July 2022

England to tour Pakistan for first time in 16 years from September 15

  • England and Wales Cricket Board security team expected in Pakistan later this month to assess arrangements
  • Tour originally scheduled to be played in Rawalpindi last October but England had called off their visit

ISLAMABAD: Lahore and Karachi are likely to host seven T20Is between Pakistan and England from September 15 to October 2, ESPN cricinfo reported on Monday, quoting the Pakistan Cricket Board chairman. 

PCB is yet to announce the fixtures for the series, which will be the first instance of England touring Pakistan in 16 years. 

The England and Wales Cricket Board’s three-member security team is expected to arrive in Pakistan later this month to assess arrangements, the cricket website said. 

The matches were originally scheduled to be played in Rawalpindi last October but England had called off their visit, following New Zealand doing the same at the last minute over security issues. 

Though Pakistan have Multan and Rawalpindi as other venues to consider, PCB chairman Ramiz Raja said the schedule is “very tight and we can’t go elsewhere.” 

The upcoming series is significant as England have not toured Pakistan since 2005 and two of Pakistan’s home series in 2012 and 2016 were forced to be played in the UAE. 

After England decided to withdraw their men’s and women’s teams from tours to Pakistan last year, Raja had hit out at cricket’s “western bloc.” 

The ECB cited bubble fatigue and “increasing concerns about traveling to the region” to pull out of the series. 

Following the series with England, Pakistan will depart for New Zealand on October 4 to participate in a T20I tri-series (also involving Bangladesh) in Christchurch from October 7 to 14.  

England, meanwhile, will return to Pakistan following the 2022 T20 World Cup for a three-Test series in November as part of the World Test Championship. 

England’s new white-ball captain Jos Buttler last week said he did not expect to have his best team available for the series due to fixture congestion. England’s red-ball players are unlikely to be available at the start of the limited-overs series in Pakistan, with England’s third Test against South Africa due to finish on September 12. 

Torrential rains kill nine, including women and children, in southwest Pakistan 

Updated 24 min 3 sec ago

Torrential rains kill nine, including women and children, in southwest Pakistan 

  • More than 300 mud houses were destroyed in Quetta after Monday’s downpours in southwestern Balochistan 
  • Five people, including two young girls, went missing after a flash flood hit the city’s Bhosa Mandi area 

QUETTA: At least nine people, including women and children, were killed as torrential rains wreaked havoc in the southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan on Monday, officials said. 

The rains, which came with the onset of monsoon season in southwest Pakistan, destroyed hundreds of mud houses in the provincial capital of Quetta. 

In an alert this week, the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) said strong monsoon currents, which were likely to prevail for 10 days, could trigger flash floods in Balochistan and southern Sindh provinces. 

“Seven people, including three children and two women, were killed after monsoon rains hit Quetta city on July 04, 2022, while more than 300 mud houses collapsed in different neighborhoods of the city,” Naseer Khan Nasir, director-general of the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), told Arab News. 

“We have recovered two bodies in the flood-hit Eastern Bypass area, while rescue operation is still continued in various areas affected by torrential rains.” 

He said more than 13 people were injured in different rain-related incidents, while two young girls among five others had gone missing after a flash flood hit Bhosa Mandi area of the city. 

Nasir said rescue teams were searching for the missing persons, while the district administration was distributing relief goods among people affected by the downpours. 

Sevak Kumar, who hails from Thul area of Sindh, lost six of his family members after a wall collapsed on their tent accommodation on Quetta’s Link Badini Road. 

“The family members were sitting inside the tent when the mud wall collapsed due to heavy rain,” said Kumar, who along with his family came to work as laborers. “The women and children were killed on the spot.” 

The rains affected telecommunication and power supply remained suspended for more than nine hours as 53 out of 90 electricity feeders tripped across the city. 

Hameed Khan Awan, a Quetta Electricity Supply Company (QESCO) official, said supply through major feeders in the city had been restored, but nearly two dozen feeders were still not functional and QESCO staffers were working on them. 

“The rains caused a breakdown in the city as dozens of electricity pylons collapsed in different areas,” Awan said. “Efforts are now under way to restore supply to areas on the outskirts of Quetta.” 

The Quetta district administration has established a flood emergency control room to monitor and address any emergency situation in the city and adjacent areas. 

According to the Met Office, Quetta has so far received 22 millimeters of rain. 

Provincial Minister Mir Zia Langove, who oversees the PDMA, said the government was making relief efforts during the monsoon spell. 

“PDMA teams have reached all major affected areas and distributed food and goods among people rendered homeless after Monday’s downpour,” he told reporters in Quetta.