Opposition alliance announces anti-government march on Pakistan Day

Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman (R), Bilawal Bhutto Zardari (C), Maryam Nawaz Sharif (L) leaders of the Pakistan Democratic Movement, an alliance of opposition parties, attend a rally in Peshawar on Nov. 22, 2020. (AFP/File)
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Updated 26 January 2022

Opposition alliance announces anti-government march on Pakistan Day

  • The Pakistan Democratic Movement says it will march on Islamabad to register protest against rising inflation
  • The alliance asks the country’s election body to disqualify the prime minister, disband his political party

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani opposition alliance on Tuesday announced its decision to march against inflation and bring down the government by entering the country’s federal capital on Republic Day on March 23.
The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) alliance was formed by 11 opposition factions in September 2020 against Prime Minister Imran Khan’s administration.
It held several anti-government rallies across the country but developed differences over its political strategy and lost two of its members.
The PDM mostly focused on political issues while managing its campaign, though it has now started paying greater attention to the economic issues.
“People will start moving toward Islamabad from every corner of the country on March 23,” Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the alliance president, told journalists after consulting other political parties in a meeting held in the federal capital. “This will also be the last nail and bring an end to the rule of the current administration.”
Rehman blamed the government for the present economic turmoil of Pakistan, saying it was playing with the financial well-being of the people.
Discussing the recent supplementary finance bill passed by the National Assembly earlier this month, he said it had burdened Pakistan’s ordinary citizens by raising the prices of all essential items.
The PDM president said the opposition alliance rejected the “mini-budget” and wanted the government to take it back.
Rehman also accused the government of creating circumstances that would allow international financial institutions to influence the country’s central bank on the pretext of offering it greater autonomy.
“This will end Pakistan’s [economic] sovereignty,” he maintained, adding that it seemed the country was moving toward colonization once again.
“Our independence is dear to us and we will not allow any ruler to compromise it,” he continued.
Referring to a recent report compiled by the Election Commission of Pakistan’s scrutiny committee which showed the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party received funding from foreign nationals while concealing several of its bank accounts, he asked the election regulatory authority to disqualify the prime minister and disband his party.
Rehman noted it was important to bring down the government since it was creating economic deprivations among people of the country.


Woman killed, scores injured in blast in Pakistan's Karachi

Updated 16 May 2022

Woman killed, scores injured in blast in Pakistan's Karachi

  • The blast occurred in the densely populated Kharadar area of the city
  • The bomb, planted on a motorbike, appeared to target a police patrol

KARACHI: A woman was killed and nearly a dozen others were wounded in a bomb blast in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi, police said on Monday. 

The blast occurred in the densely populated Kharadar area of the city, according to eyewitnesses. It appeared to target a police patrol. 

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but a senior police official said it could have been carried out by the same group that claimed last week’s blast in the nearby Saddar area.  

“Similar method and explosives have been used in both blasts and the law enforcement has remained the target in congested markets,” Raja Umar Khattab, a senior counter-terrorism police official, told Arab News. 

Security officials inspect the site after a bomb blast in Karachi, Pakistan, on May 16, 2022. (AN Photo)

The bomb was planted on a bike parked next to a police mobile, said S M Alim, chairman of the local market association, who was present at the site.  

"It went off at around 9:50pm and injured 12 people," Alim said. 

The injured persons were immediately rushed to Civil Hospital after the blast, which damaged the police vehicle and nearby shops. 

Security officials inspect the site after a bomb blast in Karachi, Pakistan, on May 16, 2022. (AN Photo)

On May 12, a similar attack killed one person and wounded 13 others in the busy Saddar area, just a few kilometers away. The Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army (SRA), a shadowy secessionist organization that wants Sindh to break away from the Pakistani federation, claimed the Saddar attack.

Sindh Chief Secretary Sohail Rajput imposed an emergency at Civil and Jinnah hospitals after the blast. 

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif condemned the incident and extended his heartfelt sympathies to the families of the victim and injured persons, PM’s office said. 

He directed authorities to immediately arrest the perpetrators, assuring the Sindh government of the federation’s full support. 


Pakistan says it foiled suspected suicide attack against Chinese nationals

Updated 16 May 2022

Pakistan says it foiled suspected suicide attack against Chinese nationals

  • Arrest comes weeks after a woman suicide bomber killed three Chinese teachers, their Pakistani driver
  • Police arrested the militant in southwestern Balochistan province that borders Afghanistan and Iran

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani police arrested a would-be suicide bomber who planned to blow herself up near a convoy of Chinese nationals along the China Pakistan Economic-Corridor (CPEC), a police statement said. 

Monday's arrest came two weeks after a woman suicide bomber blew herself up on a university campus in the southern port city of Karachi, killing three Chinese teachers and their Pakistani driver. 

Police arrested the militant in southwestern Balochistan province that borders Afghanistan and Iran, the statement said. 

She belongs to the separatist Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), which has started using women militants as suicide bombers, police said, a new phenomenon for counter-terrorism police who are more used to dealing with such attacks by militants. 

"The woman wanted to target a convoy of Chinese nationals," police said, adding the attack was planned along a route of China Pakistan Economic-Corridor (CPEC). 

Police recovered explosives and detonators from the woman and investigated her, revealing her plans to target Chinese nationals. No other evidence was produced to support their accusation. 

The Karachi suicide bomber was also a member of the BLA, the police statement said. 

China is a close Pakistan ally and the CPEC is $65 billion-plus investment in infrastructure in Pakistan, part of Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative to seek road and sea trade routes to connect with the rest of the world. 

Balochistan is home to a deep-water port in Gwadar city, which Beijing is developing under the CPEC. 

Baloch separatist guerrillas say they've been fighting for decades for a greater share in regional mine and mineral resources. 

They attack gas plants, infrastructure, security forces and Chinese interests, which they say amount to the occupation of their land and resources in the name of development. 

Their attacks against Chinese nationals have increased since the fall of the Afghan capital to the Taliban in August last year. 

The Taliban deny Pakistan's accusations that the insurgents use Afghan soil to train the militants and plan the attacks. 

Islamabad also blames arch-rival neighbouring India for backing the insurgents, a charge New Delhi denies. 


Bloodbath at Pakistan stock exchange, rupee hits another historic low

Updated 16 May 2022

Bloodbath at Pakistan stock exchange, rupee hits another historic low

  • Pakistan Stock Exchange shed 819 points on Monday, dropping to its lowest since December 2020
  • Experts point to lack of clarity on political front, position on IMF program and the future roadmap

KARACHI: Pakistan’s stock and currency markets witnessed another bloodbath on Monday, traders and economists said, after weeks of indecisiveness of the country’s new administration to implement prior actions demanded by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and a lack of clarity on the future roadmap.

The benchmark KSE100 index of the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) shed more than 1,000 points in the early trading before closing at 42,667 level, losing 819 points.  This brought the stock market down to its lowest since December 2020. 

However, the trading volume increased from 208.1 million shares to 250.4 million shares, while the average value rose by 27.8 percent to $45.9 million against $35.9 million.

The currency market continued to experience a declining trend as the rupee hit another all-time low against the United States (US) dollar. The greenback closed at Rs194.18 in the interbank market.

Financial experts believe the stock and currency markets suffered the losses due to the government’s inaction on the economic front, including the decision to not withdraw fuel subsidies, a prior action to resume talks with the IMF for the completion of seventh review of the $6 billion program. 

“The stocks were down due to uncertainty surrounding the IMF program as no steps were taken to adjustment oil prices and the investors expected some decisions yesterday,” said Khurram Schehzad, chief executive officer of the Alpha Beta Core financial advisory firm. 

The government “needs to move fast and take the markets and investors into confidence if there is any alternate plan, otherwise the outcomes are scary,” he said.  

Economists say the country’s economy is paying the price for the government’s indecisiveness as investors lack clarity of action. 

“The current crisis is not macroeconomics-driven, rather it stems from the government’s inaction because markets need clarity of action and a future roadmap,” Dr Sajid Amin, deputy executive director at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), told Arab News.   

“The government needs to swiftly declare its economic agenda, including its position on the IMF program and clearly inform about its tenure as to how long it is going to stay.” 

Pakistan and the IMF are currently negotiating the country's seventh review under the $6 billion Extended Fund Facility (EFF), which has so far disbursed $3 billion. Islamabad is expected to receive another $1 billion after the completion of the review. 

The review has been stalled since the previous government announced in February around $1.7 billion relief in energy prices, deviating from the objectives of the IMF program.   

Economists say the success of talks with the IMF would help the Pakistani currency regain some lost ground. 

“The dollar is expected to slide by Rs11-12 immediately once talks with the IMF are positively materialized,” Amin said. 

Pakistan officials and IMF representatives are expected to meet in Doha this week to draw a line of action for the completion of the South Asian country's seventh review. 

Pakistan's Finance Minister Miftah Ismail on Sunday said he was going to hold talks with the IMF, but the government did not raise the petroleum prices under its fortnightly schedule, contrary to expectations. 

“I think Pakistan is expected to talk to the IMF about keeping the fuel subsidies unchanged till June, as announced by the former government of prime minister Imran Khan,” Amin said. 

“Petrol subsidy given in March, April and May equals the BISP (Benazir Income Support Program) for the whole fiscal year 2020-21 and it could have saved Rs27 billion.”  

Analysts say the country has no other options but to avail the IMF program that is needed to stabilize the wobbling economic indicators. 


Record-breaking Pakistan heatwave leads to cases of acute kidney injury, diarrhoea, gastroenteritis

Updated 16 May 2022

Record-breaking Pakistan heatwave leads to cases of acute kidney injury, diarrhoea, gastroenteritis

  • PM constitutes task force to chalk out comprehensive plan to mitigate impacts of climate change
  • Met office says heatwave to continue till next week, temperatures to rise again from Wednesday

ISLAMABAD: The scorching spell of a record-breaking heatwave in Pakistan has led to an increase in acute kidney injury (AKI), diarrhoea and gastroenteritis cases among people, particularly in southern parts of Punjab and Sindh province, the National Institute of Health (NIH) said on Monday. 

A heatstroke is a medical emergency that can be fatal if not managed properly, the research facility said, describing it as a form of hyperthermia in which the body temperature is elevated rapidly. It results in the failure of the sweating mechanism and makes the body unable to cool down. 

Pakistan has been smothered by high temperatures since late April, in extreme weather the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has warned is consistent with climate change. The situation compelled Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to preside over an emergency session on Monday and constitute a task force to chalk out a comprehensive plan to mitigate the impacts of climate change. 

“In the wake of recent wave of high environmental temperatures in different parts of the country, the morbidity and mortality attributable to heatstroke may increase,” Dr. Mumtaz Ali Khan, a focal person at the NIH, told Arab News. 

In this picture taken on May 11, 2022, patients suffering from heat stroke are treated at a hospital in Jacobabad, in the southern Sindh province. (AFP)

As a heatstroke could result in death of a person or damage their organs, the NIH had issued instructions to all federating units to establish “heatstroke centers” at all hospitals and publicize their contact details for the public, he said. 

“It is a fact that a heatstroke can cause death or damage organs, including kidney, if it is not managed properly in time,” Khan said. 

“Some hospitals have set up these centers and some are in the process to establish them in order to deal with any emergency.” 

Diarrhoea and gastroenteritis are common diseases caused by dehydration amid extreme temperatures, according to Khan. A dehydrated person may not be able to sweat fast enough to dissipate heat, which causes the body temperature to rise. 

Khan said the NIH had advised provincial governments and all public hospitals to ensure enough stockpile of supplies, including intravenous fluids, to deal with issues like heatstroke in their respective areas. 

“We are continuously advising public to stay hydrated,” he said, adding the issue of heatstroke would automatically subside with the drop in temperatures in the coming weeks. 

Dr. Zaheer Babar, a director at the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD), said the current spell of hot weather would persist in southern parts of Punjab and Sindh over the next week, with temperatures rising 7-9 degrees Centigrade above the normal. 

“People should avoid direct sun exposure and keep hydrated to avoid the sunstroke,” he told Arab News. 

Babar said temperatures were expected to drop a bit in central Punjab this week, mainly due to dust storms/gusty winds, and rain-thunderstorms at scattered places, but they would rise again next week. 

“Day temperatures are likely to rise again from Wednesday,” he said. “We are issuing advisories to general public and all public and private institutions to keep them abreast of the latest on heatwave and its possible impacts on our daily lives.” 


Pakistani, ophthalmologist by day, IT freelancer by night, shoots to internet fame

Updated 16 May 2022

Pakistani, ophthalmologist by day, IT freelancer by night, shoots to internet fame

  • Muhammad Farhan Saleem practices as an eye surgeon in Bahawalpur and freelances as a programmer
  • His American employer last week revealed his double profession in viral Twitter post, called him a “hero”

KARACHI: For years now, Muhammad Farhan Saleem has lived a double life.

In his hometown in Pakistan’s Bahawalpur, he has worked as an eye doctor since he finished medical school in 2009.

But for Kriss Berg, an American entrepreneur based in Colorado, 36-year-old ‘Mu,’ as he calls him, was a IT expert working on his business since 2011 when they connected through an American freelancing platform.

Last week, in a series of Twitter posts that have since gone viral, Berg revealed Saleem’s “amazing story,” catapulting him to Internet fame.

As the two worked together and grew closer over the years, Berg learnt that the freelancer who helped him daily with all of his programming needs was also a full-time ophthalmologist who passionately worked at a much lower salary than his freelancer fee to help people see.

“He was literally helping people SEE every day at his clinic. Cataracts, eye diseases, horrific injuries... this dude was a hero,” Berg wrote on Twitter. “But here’s the thing. In some countries, doctors and nurses are paid like laborers. There simply isn’t enough money in health care. He’s been making about $1000/month RESTORING PEOPLE’S VISION.”

He makes about three times more by “helping us fix our dumb websites,” Berg added.

Saleem’s double professional life was not only a surprise for Berg, but also his closest family.

When Saleem got married in 2018, his wife, also an ophthalmologist, did not believe he was an accomplished programmer.

“Initially, I didn’t tell her that I am also a freelancer,” Saleem told Arab News in a Zoom interview. “So, when she came to know that I’m a freelancer, she thought that I’m lying … She did her own research work on me and it came through that I’m a freelancer and a successful freelancer. She’s very happy with both professions.”

Saleem pursued coding despite opposition from his family, many of them doctors. In high school, he said, he was not even allowed to have a computer.

But he persisted and without his parents’ knowledge visited Internet cafes to browse websites and view their source codes.

“I came to know how websites works and how the websites are designed and how the coding is done,” he said.

Today, Berg has asked Saleem to move to the US and pursue medicine there.

“We’re going to help Mu get his green card so he and his family can become Americans,” he said on Twitter. “He’s going to be an American eye surgeon and out-earn all of us in time … I can’t think of a better way to reward such a talented, selfless man.”

Berg’s offer is one Saleem said he is considering: “I was astonished. I showed some interest that I am willing to come to the United States.” 

But for now, he is satisfied to have recently collaborated with Berg to develop a project that combines IT and medicine, Saleem’s two professions and passions.

“Never give up your passion,” he said. “If you are in any profession and you have different passions, you can achieve them if you have the will.”