In remote Pakistani city, young women break taboos with hockey sticks

In this photo shared on social media in November 2021, Erum Baloch, founder of Stars Women Hockey Academy, poses during training at a pitch in Shikarpur, Sindh, Pakistan. (Photo courtesy: Erum Baloch)
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Updated 07 March 2022

In remote Pakistani city, young women break taboos with hockey sticks

  • Many women in impoverished and conservative rural areas of Sindh province remain barred from sports 
  • Established by girls, Stars Women Hockey Academy is the first sports club for women in Jacobabad region

JACOBABAD, SINDH: When Erum Baloch’s hope of becoming a professional hockey player was shattered by social norms, she started to dream even bigger and promised herself to create an environment where the dreams of other girls could come true.
For many girls in Jacobabad, a city of 200,000 in an impoverished rural area of southern Pakistan’s Sindh province, sports remain a taboo and a source of stigma.
“It was very difficult for me to proceed,” Baloch told Arab News. “Girls could not join sports.”
But in 2017, when she was only 23, she established the Stars Women Hockey Academy Jacobabad. The club she and her friends founded from their own savings was the first such academy for women in the region.
“It became my dream to establish a hockey academy, so that girls who wanted to play would not find themselves in the situations like those that I faced,” Baloch said.
Orphaned by her father at the age of four, and having lost her only brother to a bomb blast in 2015, Baloch found all support in her mother, Asifa Begum, who allowed her to pursue the childhood dream in hopes that it could heal her from trauma.
“My son’s death was a tragedy for the whole family. One way for Erum to come out of it was to concentrate on her childhood dream of running a hockey club,” Begum said.
“Despite pressure from extended family and friends, I let her do what she wanted.”
In the beginning, it was not easy.
“People were not mentally prepared for how girls play, so they started creating hurdles. Many also threatened us. But we didn’t stop,” Baloch said.




 In this photo shared on social media in November 2021, Erum Baloch, founder of Stars Women Hockey Academy in Jacobabad, Sindh, Pakistan, holds a hockey stick during training in nearby Shikarpur. (Photo courtesy: Erum Baloch)

The girls struggled to find a pitch, but eventually were permitted to play at a sports ground of a girl’s college.
They still spend their own savings on the club, but recently have also started to receive small donations to keep the academy running.
Eighteen of their players have been participating in provincial and national-level tournaments, including Nabeela Bhayo, 21, one of the cofounding members of the club, who now plays for the provincial Sindh Hockey Team as a goalkeeper.
Bhayo is also one of the four Jacobabad girl hockey players who were admitted to study at Punjab University under its sports quota in 2019 and completed her Master of Commerce degree.




In this photo shared on social media on Feb. 20, 2022, Stars Women Hockey Academy members pose for a photograph at a pitch in Shikarpur, Sindh, Pakistan. (Photo courtesy: Erum Baloch)

“Back home, people are so conservative that they object to us wearing sports trousers and shirts,” she told Arab News. “I am thankful that my family is supportive.”
Bhayo’s has found the biggest supporter in her father, Nabeel Bhayo, who says it is an honor for him that his daughter is representing Jacobabad on the national level.
He has also been advocating among other parents to let their daughters play sports and achieve something in their lives.
“Jacobabad is a highly conservative area,” he said. “My daughter and her club members are breaking the taboo.”


Pakistan sets up panel to probe ex-PM's audio leaks on cypher 'missing' from PM's office

Updated 14 sec ago

Pakistan sets up panel to probe ex-PM's audio leaks on cypher 'missing' from PM's office

  • The cypher in question forms the basis of Khan's allegations that his ouster was orchestrated by Washington
  • Cabinet accuses Khan’s government of stealing the cypher from PM’s office after 'fraud, forgery and fabrication'

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif's cabinet on Friday decided to constitute a special committee to probe purported audio leaks of ex-premier Imran Khan about a diplomatic cypher, which he has described as proof of a "foreign conspiracy" to oust him and which the government says has gone “missing” from the PM’s office. 

Khan, who was ousted from power in a parliamentary no-trust vote in April, has said that his removal from the office was orchestrated by the United States (US). Washington and Khan's opponents, who are now in the government, have repeatedly denied the accusations. 

The matter once again became a topic of public debate after the emergence of another purported audio clip online on Friday, involving Khan, his then principal secretary Azam Khan and two top aides, Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Asad Umar. 

Also on Friday, PM Sharif presided over a key meeting of his cabinet, at which the participants expressed concern over the audio leaks and said they “exposed the criminal conspiracy of the previous government and prime minister Imran Khan.” 

“The whole matter should be carefully scrutinized and those responsible should be held accountable as per law,” the cabinet said in a statement after the meeting. 

The statement said a copy of the diplomatic cypher, based on a meeting between then Pakistani Ambassador to the US Asad Majeed and State Department official Donald Lu, was "missing" from the record of the PM's office. 

“A copy of the cypher sent to the former prime minister was duly received at the PM House, but it is missing from the official record,” it said. 

“The theft of the diplomatic cypher from the record is a serious matter.”  

The special committee of the federal cabinet will include representatives from the government's coalition partners as well as ministers of foreign affairs, interior and law, according to the statement. 

It said the cypher was given “self-serving meanings” for political mileage that hurt the national interest, and it was “stolen after fraud, forgery and fabrication.” 

“This is severe violation of the constitutional oath, relevant laws and regulations, especially the Official Secrets Act,” it said. 

“This is an unforgivable crime against the state as political interests were given preference over the key interests of the state.” 

In the second cypher-related leak on Friday, Khan, his then principal secretary Azam Khan, and two members of his party, Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Asad Umar, could purportedly be heard strategizing the "foreign conspiracy." 

The clip making the rounds on social media features a conversation between Khan and other aforementioned individuals about the cypher that the former premier has labelled as evidence of his “foreign conspiracy” claims. 

A similar audio clip of a purported conversation between Khan and his principal secretary had surfaced earlier this week too. 


US extends debt relief to Pakistan after floods

Updated 30 September 2022

US extends debt relief to Pakistan after floods

  • Pakistan faces plethora of economic woes, including balance-of-payment crisis, widening current account deficit
  • Devastating floods meanwhile engulfed large swathes of country in August, causing damage estimated at $30 billion

ISLAMABAD: Washington on Friday rolled over an agreement to suspend service payments on $132 million of Pakistan's debt, the US embassy in Islamabad said, as the South Asian nation faces an economic crisis exacerbated by devastating floods. 

Pakistan's economy is facing a balance of payments crisis, a widening current account deficit, a slide in its currency to historic lows, and inflation crossing 27%. 

Devastating floods meanwhile engulfed large swathes of the country in late August, killing more than 1,500 people and causing damage estimated at $30 billion, fanning fears that Pakistan would not meet its debt obligations. 

The US ambassador to Pakistan Donald Blome signed the agreement to extend the loan relief under the G20 debt service suspension initiative, the embassy said in a statement, adding: "Our priority is to redirect critical resources in Pakistan." 

US ambassador to Pakistan Donald Blome signs agreement to extend the loan relief under the G20 debt service suspension initiative on September 30, 2022. (Photo courtesy: @USEmbIslamabad/Twitter)

The rollover is related to the Paris club agreement in April 2020 to support 73 lower income countries during COVID, under which the United States provided relief on $128 million in debt to Pakistan. 

The agreement to suspend payments on that debt, plus an additional $4 million, has now been rolled over again. 

Pakistan's outgoing finance minister Miftah Ismail said last week that Islamabad was seeking debt relief from bilateral creditors in the wake of flooding, but emphasised the government was not seeking any relief from commercial banks or Eurobond creditors. 

The country's bonds had slumped to just half their face value, after the Financial Times said a United Nations development agency was urging the cash-strapped country to restructure its debt. 

Ismail said the $1 billion bond would be paid on time and in full due later this year. 


In meeting with Saudi envoy, Pakistan president urges for steps to increase bilateral trade

Updated 30 September 2022

In meeting with Saudi envoy, Pakistan president urges for steps to increase bilateral trade

  • President Arif Alvi expresses gratitude for the Kingdom's support after deadly floods in Pakistan
  • The president also appreciates Saudi Arabia's role in OIC, highlighting Palestine and Kashmir issues

ISLAMABAD: Saudi Arabia's Ambassador Nawaf bin Said Al-Malki on Friday met with Pakistan's President Arif Alvi, the presidency said, with the latter calling for effective steps to increase bilateral trade between the two brotherly countries. 

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy cordial relations, with over 2.5 million Pakistanis living in the Kingdom who are one of the biggest sources of remittances to the South Asian nation.  

Both countries enjoy strong political, cultural and defence ties with each other, while the Kingdom has often helped Pakistan with economic aid in difficult times.  

"The current bilateral trade volume of $4.6 billion between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia needs to be further increased," President Alvi was quoted as saying in a statement issued from his office. 

"The current trade volume does not fully reflect the depth of the relationship between the two brotherly countries," he told the Saudi ambassador. 

The Pakistan president appreciated the Kingdom’s support in providing an air bridge for relief assistance to flood affectees in Pakistan. 

Saudi Arabia has so far dispatched at least 10 flights and 100 emergency relief trucks, carrying hundreds of tons of food items to flood-ravaged districts in Pakistan.  

The deadly floods have killed more than 1,600 people, affected 33 million and caused the South Asian country an estimated $30 billion in losses. 

President Alvi also appreciated Saudi Arabia's role in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), highlighting the issues of Palestine and Kashmir as well as matters relating to Afghanistan.


England crush Pakistan by eight wickets in their 6th T20 encounter

Updated 20 min 28 sec ago

England crush Pakistan by eight wickets in their 6th T20 encounter

  • Pakistan handed T20I debut to wicketkeeper Mohammad Haris
  • England rested pace duo of Mark Wood and Chris Woakes

LAHORE: England captain Moeen Ali won the toss and sent Pakistan in to bat in the sixth Twenty20 international at Gaddafi stadium in Lahore on Friday. 

Pakistan captain Babar Azam, center, tosses the coin as English skipper Moeen Ali looks on before the start of the sixth Twenty20 international at Gaddafi stadium in Lahore on September 30, 2022. (Photo courtesy: Pakistan Cricket Board)

Pakistan, who leads the seven-match series 3-2, handed a T20I debut to 21-year-old wicketkeeper batter Mohammad Haris as they rested Mohammad Rizwan. 

Fast bowler Haris Rauf is also rested, making way for Shahnawaz Dahani. 

England rested pace duo of Mark Wood and Chris Woakes to bring in Reece Topley and Richard Gleeson. 

The last match is also in Lahore on Sunday. 

TEAMS

Pakistan: Babar Azam (captain), Mohammad Haris, Asif Ali, Aamer Jamal, Iftikhar Ahmed, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Nawaz, Haider Ali, Shan Masood, Mohammad Wasim Junior, Shahnawaz Dahani 

England: Moeen Ali (captain), Dawid Malan, Harry Brook, Sam Curran, Ben Duckett, Reece Topley, Alex Hales, Adil Rashid, Phil Salt, Richard Gleeson, David Willey 


Pakistani currency gains 4.8% on appointment of new finance minister, hopes of IMF relief

Updated 30 September 2022

Pakistani currency gains 4.8% on appointment of new finance minister, hopes of IMF relief

  • Finance ministry says economic outlook is uncertain and growth will likely remain below target
  • As weekly inflation soars, government predicts inflows will remain elevated in current fiscal year

KARACHI: Pakistan’s national currency posted gains for the sixth consecutive day on Friday, currency dealers and analysts said, following the return of Ishaq Dar as the new finance minister and amid hopes that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) would ease off some harsh conditions. 

The 72-year-old financial wizard took oath as a federal minister on Wednesday, five years after he was ousted from the role in a corruption case. A member of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, Dar has already been the finance minister four times. 

Pakistan's currency market has shown some signs of stability after the change of command at the finance ministry, with the Pakistani rupee gaining 0.52 percent of its value against the US dollar on Friday. The greenback closed at Rs228.45 at the end of week. 

The Pakistani currency has appreciated 4.84 percent during the last six trading sessions and 4.7 percent since September 23, when the dollar was trading at Rs239.65, after the market sentiment changed following Dar's takeover of the finance portfolio. 

“The perception of Ishaq Dar as strict controller of exchange rate has changed the market sentiment. Exporters and individuals who were withholding dollars have come out to sell which has strengthened rupee,” Tahir Abbas, head of research at the Karachi-based Arif Habib Limited brokerage firm, told Arab News. 

“The expectation of around $3.5 billion additional inflows from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, and the hopes that IMF will ease off some of the targets set in the program as the country is facing flood disaster have strengthened the rupee.” 

Dar takes the driving seat of Pakistan’s economy at a time when the South Asian country is grappling with a balance-of-payment crisis, depleting foreign exchange reserves, high inflation and a weakened currency. 

On Friday, the finance ministry reiterated the country’s economic growth would remain below 3 percent from a 5 percent budgetary target for 2022-23, amid an uncertain outlook. 

“The economic outlook for Pakistan in the current fiscal year has become uncertain and will likely remain below the target,” the ministry said in its monthly economic report. "Macroeconomic imbalances may ease with the expected slowdown in the economic growth." 

Pakistani currency dealers suggest few steps to control the exchange rate and curb speculations in the currency market. 

“Dar has a reputation of strengthening rupee and improving economy and he seems confident to achieve his goals,” Malik Bostan, president of Forex Association of Pakistan who spoke to the new finance minter after he took over the office, told Arab News. 

“We have pinpointed few factors that were responsible for the rupee's depreciation, including organized maneuvering of exchange rate in the interbank market which is now being probed. He is upbeat for the economic turnaround.” 

The change at finance ministry comes at a time when the South Asian nation is reeling from the impacts of historic floods that have submerged a third of the country and inflicted around $30 billion in economic losses. 

The finance ministry conceded that the outlook of the country’s agriculture sector was not clear after the floods damaged winter crops, including cotton and rice. 

“The agricultural outlook is still not clear as the output of both important and other Kharif crops has suffered significantly due to recent floods and unprecedented heavy monsoon rains,” it said in the monthly economic report, adding that floodwater in agricultural areas might also affect the Rabi crops. 

While the full extent of damages is still being estimated, Islamabad is expecting a debt relief from the Paris Club and G-20 nations that will help strengthen the national currency. 

Apart from the currency's stability, the incoming finance minister has vowed to tame inflation that hit a 47-year high of 27.3 percent in August. 

However, the finance ministry has warned that the inflation will not ease off even after the fall in commodity prices in the global market. 

“Even if international commodity prices would mean-revert in the near future, domestic inflation may still suffer from delayed adjustments and second-round effects,” the ministry said in its report.  

"Also, the depreciation of the PKR continues to exert upward pressure on domestic prices." 

Pakistan’s weekly inflation once again increased by 0.94 percent during the week ending on September 29, after recording a decline of 8.11 percent the previous week, mainly due to the spike in the prices of food items, according to official data released on Friday. 

Pakistan’s stock market also closed bullish on Friday, with key stock index gaining 0.28 percent to close at 41,128.67 points.