Fighting militants and mistrust, Pakistan marks one year polio-free

In this picture taken on January 24, 2022, a health worker administers polio vaccine drops to a child during a door-to-door polio vaccination campaign on the outskirts of Mardan, in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. (AFP)
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Updated 27 January 2022

Fighting militants and mistrust, Pakistan marks one year polio-free

  • The last infection of the wild poliovirus was recorded on January 27, 2021, according to officials
  • Pakistani media has reported as many as 70 polio workers killed in militant attacks since 2012, mostly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

MARDAN: Bathed in crisp morning light, Sidra Hussain grips a cooler stacked with glistening vials of polio vaccine in northwest Pakistan.
Watching over Hussain and her partner, a policeman unslings his rifle and eyes the horizon.
In concert they begin their task — going door-to-door on the outskirts of Mardan city, dripping bitter doses of rose-colored medicine into infants’ mouths on the eve of a major milestone for the nation’s anti-polio drive.
The last infection of the wild poliovirus was recorded on January 27, 2021, according to officials, and Friday marks the first time in Pakistan’s history that a year has passed with no new cases.
To formally eradicate the disease, a nation must be polio-free for three consecutive years — but even 12 months is a long time in a country where vaccination teams are in the crosshairs of a simmering insurgency.
Since the Taliban takeover of neighboring Afghanistan, the Pakistan version of the movement has become emboldened and its fighters frequently target polio teams.
“Life or death is in God’s hands,” Hussain told AFP this week, amid a patchwork of high-walled compounds in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
“We have to come,” she said defiantly. “We can’t just turn back because it’s difficult.”




In this picture taken on January 24, 2022, a health worker marks the finger of a child after administering a polio vaccine as a policeman (top) stands guard during a door-to-door polio vaccination campaign on the outskirts of Mardan, in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. (AFP)

Nigeria officially eradicated wild polio in 2020, leaving Pakistan and Afghanistan as the only countries where the disease — which causes crippling paralysis — is still endemic.
Spread through faeces and saliva, the virus has historically thrived in the blurred borderlands between the South Asian nations, where state infrastructure is weak and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have carved out a home.
A separate group sharing common heritage with the Afghan Taliban, the TTP was founded in 2007 and once held sway over large swathes of the restive tribal tracts of Pakistan.
In 2014 it was largely ousted by an army offensive, its fighters retreating across the porous border with Afghanistan.
But last year overall militant attacks surged by 56 percent according to the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies, reversing a six-year downward trend.
The largest number of assaults came in August, coinciding with the Taliban takeover of Kabul.
Pakistan’s newspapers are regularly peppered with stories of police slain as they guard polio teams — and just this week a constable was gunned down in Kohat — 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of Mardan.
Pakistani media has reported as many as 70 polio workers killed in militant attacks since 2012 — mostly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Still, a TTP spokesman told AFP it “never attacked any polio workers,” and that security forces were their target.
“They will be targeted wherever they perform their duties,” he said
Mardan deputy commissioner Habib Ullah Arif admits polio teams are “a very soft target,” but says the fight to eradicate the disease is entwined with the security threat.
“There is only one concept: we are going to defeat polio, we are going to defeat militancy,” he pledged.




In this picture taken on January 24, 2022, a health worker administers polio vaccine drops to a child during a door-to-door polio vaccination campaign on the outskirts of Mardan, in  Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. (AFP) 

Pakistan anti-polio drives have been running since 1994, with up to 260,000 vaccinators staging regular waves of regional inoculation campaigns.
But on the fringes of the country, the teams often face skepticism.
“In certain areas of Pakistan, it was considered as a Western conspiracy,” explained Shahzad Baig — head of the national polio eradication program.
The theories ranged wildly: polio teams are spies, the vaccines cause infertility, or contain pig fat forbidden by Islam.
The spy theory gained currency with the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011, whose hideaway in Abbottabad was revealed to the United States — unwittingly or otherwise — by a vaccine program run by a Pakistani doctor.
“It’s a complex situation,” said Baig. “It’s socio-economical, it’s political.”
The porous border with Afghanistan — a strategic crutch for the TTP — can also keep polio circulating.
“For the virus, Pakistan and Afghanistan were one country,” said Baig.
In Mardan, 10 teams — each comprising two women and an armed police guard — fan out across the city’s suburbs as morning turns to afternoon.
The teams chalk dates on the homes they visit and smear children’s fingers with indelible ink to mark those already inoculated.
On Monday they delivered dozens more doses to add to the nationwide tally.
“We have the fear in mind, but we have to be active to serve our nation,” said polio worker Zeb-un-Nissa.
“We have to eradicate this disease.”




In this picture taken on January 24, 2022, health workers administer polio vaccine drops to a child during a door-to-door polio vaccination campaign on the outskirts of Mardan, in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.  (AP)

 


PETA welcomes Lahore Safari Zoo’s decision to cancel lion auction

Updated 36 min 6 sec ago

PETA welcomes Lahore Safari Zoo’s decision to cancel lion auction

  • Zoo officials had set a reserve of 150,000 Pakistan rupees ($700) per cat, about the same price as a cow
  • Keeping lions, tigers and other exotic wildlife as pets is not uncommon in Pakistan, seen as status symbol

ISLAMABAD: The global animal rights group PETA said on Wednesday it welcomed a decision by the Lahore Safari Zoo to call off plans to auction 12 lions from its ever-growing pride to private buyers, saying it would instead create new enclosures for the big cats.

The auction planned for Thursday had drawn condemnation from the WWF, which urged authorities to instead rehome them with other government wildlife facilities.

“PETA welcomes Lahore Safari Zoo’s decision to cancel its auction of big cats – who would have been sold off like mere objects, likely destined to exist as living trophies in someone’s house – and to build a larger enclosure instead,” Elisa Allen, Vice President of UK Programmes and Operations, PETA Foundation UK, said.

“However, as long as this zoo continues to breed wild animals into captivity, it’ll only be a matter of time before it’s again faced with the prospect of having too many animals and not enough space.”

PETA called on the zoo to end its captive-breeding program immediately and focus on protecting animals in their natural habitat “because all the cages in the world certainly won’t save animals from extinction.”

“The main reason behind the auction was the lack of space,” deputy director Tanvir Ahmed Janjua told AFP, adding officials had decided to speed up work building two new enclosures. “Now that this issue is to be resolved soon, there is no need for the auction to take place.”

Set over 200 acres, Lahore Safari Zoo is considered one of the best in the country, where zoos are known for disregarding animal welfare.

The Lahore facility is currently home to 29 lions, six resident tigers and two jaguars.

Zoo officials had set a reserve of 150,000 Pakistan rupees ($700) per cat, about the same price as a cow, but hoped each would fetch around two million rupees at auction.

Keeping lions, tigers and other exotic wildlife as pets is not uncommon in Pakistan, and is seen as a status symbol.

Wealthy owners post images and video clips of their big cats on social media, and rent them out as props for movies and photoshoots.

Janjua denied opposition from animal rights activists had led to the decision to cancel the auction.

“Should the lions breed more, and we see we are running out of space once again, then we can easily hold another auction,” he told media.


Boxing federation confirms two Pakistani boxers missing after Commonwealth Games in UK

Updated 34 min 34 sec ago

Boxing federation confirms two Pakistani boxers missing after Commonwealth Games in UK

  • Pakistan Olympic Association forms four-member committee to investigate how Suleman Baloch and Nazeerullah Khan disappeared
  • Travel documents of both boxers with Pakistani officials, British government and police informed about the disappearance

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Boxing Federation (PBF) on Wednesday confirmed the disappearance of two national boxers in Birmingham, just days after the conclusion of the Commonwealth Games, local media reported. 

Geo News reported that the Pakistan Olympic Association has formed a four-member committee to investigate how Suleman Baloch and Nazeerullah Khan had disappeared after the Games. 

Secretary PBF Nasir Tang told Pakistan’s Dawn.com Baloch and Khan went missing a few hours before the team’s departure for Islamabad.

The travel documents of both boxers are with the PBF officials, he said, adding that the British government and police had been informed about the disappearance.

“We have seized the documents of the duo under the standard operating procedure,” Tang said, and he hoped the athletes would be found soon.

This was a good year for Pakistan at the Commonwealth Games as javelin athlete Arshad Nadeem won a gold medal and became the first Pakistan to achieve the feat.

Nadeem snatched the title in a fifth-round throw of 90.18 meters, breaking a new record at the Games where he now holds the title of the biggest throw recorded by a South Asian athlete.

Pakistan won a total of eight medals at this year’s Games.


Ex-PM Khan says ‘conspiracy’ being hatched to pit his party against Pakistan army

Updated 10 August 2022

Ex-PM Khan says ‘conspiracy’ being hatched to pit his party against Pakistan army

  • Khan’s comments come after his chief of staff was arrested on Tuesday over comments in a TV show seen as “seditious”
  • Khan and his supporters have variously expressed disappointment military did not support him in vote of no-confidence in April

ISLAMABAD: Former Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Wednesday the government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had hatched a “conspiracy” to pit his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party against the country’s army.

Khan’s comments come after his chief of staff, Dr. Shahbaz Gill, was arrested on Tuesday over comments in a TV show advising army officers not to follow the orders of their top command if they were “against the sentiments of the masses.” The government and the national media regulator, PEMRA, have said the remarks were tantamount to inciting mutiny within the Pakistan army. The TV channel on which Gill made the comments, ARY News, has also since been taken off air by PEMRA.

Khan was ousted from power in April in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence that he blames on a foreign conspiracy hatched by the United States in collaboration with rival politicians. Both deny the charge. Khan and his supporters have also variously expressed disappointment that the military and army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa did not support him against the alleged foreign plot.

Following Khan’s ouster, anti-army trends have become a common occurrence on social media. A hashtag calling for Bajwa to step down as army chief regularly trends online and recently, a smear campaign was also launched against military officers who died in a helicopter crash last week. The government has announced a probe into the campaign.

In a press conference on Wednesday, Khan dismissed claims his party was against the military, and said the impression was being created as part of a “plot” to decimate the PTI. He also did not distance his party from, or condemn, the comments by Gill.

“The party is at the federal level, it is in all the provinces, the largest vote bank is of this party … it is the largest party in Pakistan right now,” Khan said in a televised address. “A conspiracy is being hatched and it is being hatched by those people who are involved in the foreign conspiracy, collaborators … It is being portrayed that we and the army are against each other.”

He added: “This conspiracy is so dangerous that if we try to pit the largest political party of a country against its army and it creates differences within, nothing else can harm the country as much.”

Khan then gave the example of 1971 when, as per his account, differences between the largest political party in East Pakistan at the time and the country’s military led to a war that saw the break up of Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh.

“Attempts are being made to break the biggest party of the country, they are also trying to break our people so that they [PTI] become so weak by the [next] elections,” the ex-PM said.

Khan’s party is also facing legal challenges currently, with Pakistan’s top election body ruling last week on an 8-year-old case against the PTI, saying the party received millions of dollars in illegal funds from foreign countries including the United States, the United Arab Emirates, the UK, and Australia. The party denies any wrongdoing.

The Election commission has issued a notice to Khan and ordered him to appear personally on August 23 at the hearing of what is popularly known as the “foreign funding case.”

Earlier on Wednesday the PTI challenged the Election Commission’s ruling in the Islamabad High Court (IHC), seeking a cancelation of the order.

The ECP’s verdict could lead to a ban on Khan and his PTI which rose to prominence on an anti-corruption agenda.


Pakistan’s currency and stocks recover losses on expected IMF disbursement, UAE $1billion investment

Updated 10 August 2022

Pakistan’s currency and stocks recover losses on expected IMF disbursement, UAE $1billion investment

  • Pakistani rupee posted another gain of 0.96 percent, or Rs2.13, against USD in the interbank market to close at Rs221.91
  • Following the rupee, stocks also closed bullish with the benchmark KSE-100 index closing at 42,494 points, up by 398 points

KARACHI: The national currency and stocks continued bullish trajectories on Wednesday as Pakistan nears approval by the International Monetary Fund board for the disbursement of a $1.17 billion loan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has expressed interest in investing $1 billion in Pakistan, traders and analysts said. 

The Pakistani rupee posted another gain of 0.96 percent, or Rs2.13, against the United States dollar in the interbank market to close at Rs221.91. The rupee has gained by 7.8 percent or Rs 17.38 in an uptrend that has continued for two weeks, according to State Bank of Pakistan data.

The recovery in the currency markets comes after the government took steps to curtail imports and meet the preconditions of the IMF for the revival of a $6 billion program signed in 2019 to stave off a balance of payments crisis. 

“The current bullish trend in the currency market is mainly due to the nearing of IMF board meeting which is expected by the end of this month, August 2022,” Samiullah Tariq, Director Research at the Pakistan Kuwait Investment Company, told Arab News. 

“The confidence was further boosted by the expected investment of $1 billion from UAE companies in Pakistan that is vital for bridging a $4 billion financing gap pointed out by the IMF. The exporters are also selling dollars in market which is appreciating the rupee.” 

The IMF has reached a staff level agreement with Pakistan that would pave the way for a disbursement of $1.17 billion after board approval and subject to Islamabad convincing the fund about the availability of funds to fill a $4 billion financing gap. Pakistan hopes to fill the gap with funds from friendly countries in the form of deposits, investment in stocks and oil and gas deferred payment facilities.

Last week , the UAE’s state news agency said the country intended to invest $1 billion in Pakistani companies across various sectors, including gas, energy infrastructure, renewable energy and health care. The country needs another $3 billion, which will most likely come from Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Following the currency market, stocks also closed bullish with the benchmark KSE-100 index closing at 42,494 points, up by 398 points. Investor participation remained healthy as hefty volumes were witnessed in the main board and third tier stocks.

“Stocks showed another bullish session on strong rupee recovery and hints over UAE interest to invest $1bn through Pakistan Stock Exchange PSX,” Ahsan Mehanti, CEO of Arif Habib Corporation, told Arab News.

“$4.794 billion RDA (Roshan Digital Account) receipts and likely $1.5 billion ADB (Asian Development Bank) approval for support to overcome balance of payments crises upon IMF program board approval this month played a catalyst role in bullish activity.” 

Pakistan’s import bill declined from $7.8 billion in June 2022 to $4.8 billion in July 2022, mainly due to an import restriction imposed by the government. The import curb has not only reduced the trade deficit but also eased pressure on the rupee. 


Pakistan denounces India’s move to mark its independence day as ‘Partition Horrors Remembrance Day’

Updated 10 August 2022

Pakistan denounces India’s move to mark its independence day as ‘Partition Horrors Remembrance Day’

  • First-ever Partition Horrors Remembrance Day was announced by Indian PM Modi last year
  • Partition of colonial India into two states triggered one of the biggest mass migrations in history

ISLAMABAD: The foreign office said on Wednesday Islamabad “strongly” denounced the Indian government’s move to observe August 14, Pakistan’s Independence Day, as ‘Partition Horrors Remembrance Day.’

The first-ever Partition Horrors Remembrance Day was announced by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year and will be observed this Sunday. 

Pakistan marks August 14 as Independence Day each year to commemorate the birth of a new nation after the end of British Raj in 1947. 

“True to its characteristic revisionist agenda, the BJP-RSS led dispensation has again sought to hypocritically and one-sidedly invoke the tragic events and mass migration that occurred in the wake of Independence in 1947,” the foreign office said in a statement.

“It is deplorable that the BJP government, as part of its divisive political agenda, is wantonly attempting to play with the sentiments of the people through distorted interpretation of history.”

The foreign office said if Indian leaders really cared about the “agony, suffering and pain,” of partition, they would work to improve the conditions of the Muslims and other minorities in India.

“Today’s India is an undeclared ‘Hindu Rashtra’ that has no place or tolerance for other religious minorities, especially Muslims who are faced with discrimination, persecution and political and socio-economic exclusion,” the statement said. 

“The Government of India is advised to desist from politicizing the events related to Independence and instead sincerely honor the memories of all those who sacrificed for a better future for all.”

The partition of colonial India into two states, mainly Hindu India and mostly Muslim Pakistan, at the end of British rule triggered one of the biggest mass migrations in history.

About 15 million Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs swapped countries in the political upheaval, marred by violence and bloodshed that cost more than a million lives.