Traditional Afghan ‘goat-pulling’ sport draws crowds in Pakistan’s Balochistan

Haneef Pehlwan, the captain of the Khurasan Buzkashi Club, carries the national flag before the start of the goat pulling sport at Quetta’s Hockey Ground Stadium on March 11, 2022. (AN Photo)
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Updated 12 March 2022

Traditional Afghan ‘goat-pulling’ sport draws crowds in Pakistan’s Balochistan

  • Buzkashi, which translates roughly as “goat pulling,” has been played for centuries across Central Asia
  • The game was introduced in Pakistan’s Balochistan province by Afghan refugees about four decades ago

QUETTA: Hundreds of fans showed up at a hockey ground in the southwestern city of Quetta this week to watch a game of buzkashi, Afghanistan’s national sport — a test of horse-riding skills and warrior spirit imported to Pakistan by refugees from the neighboring country over four decades ago.
Buzkashi, which translates roughly as “goat pulling,” has been played for centuries across Central Asia, handed down from the time of Genghis Khan, the founder of the Mongol Empire, in the 13th century.
The live body of a defeated enemy was used as the ball in the game’s original version, historians say, but today, two teams win points by throwing a headless goat or calf carcass to a scoring area. The animal is slaughtered the previous night and filled with sand, sewn up, and soaked in water to make it heavy.
So popular is the game in Afghanistan that it lived on amid foreign invasions, civil wars, militant attacks, and today, the resumption of Taliban rule, with thousands of Afghans always showing up to cheer on their favorite riders.

A Buzkashi player on his white horse at Quetta’s Hockey Ground on March 11, 2021. (AN Photo)

In Pakistan’s Balochistan province, which shares a border with Afghanistan and is home to close to 800,000 Afghan refugees, buzkashi has always been a crowd puller. In the spring season, games become a regular feature of community entertainment.

Spectators enter the ground to cheer their favorite players during a buzkashi match at Quetta’s Hockey Ground on March 11, 2022. (AN Photo)

On Friday, a match between two local clubs played out in a square hockey ground under the large craggy mountains that brood upon Quetta, the provincial capital.
On the field, more than a dozen horsemen, many of them wearing traditional Uzbek hats and robes, beat and savaged one another for control of the beheaded goat as a crowd cheered on loudly.
The match was organized by the sports department of the government of Balochistan “in connection with Pak-Afghan friendship,” according to the provincial minister for sports.
Under the harsh fundamentalist rule the Taliban imposed in the 1990s, buzkashi was banned. However, players returned to the buzkashi grounds after the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Buzkashi players from the Khurasan and Arayana clubs were seen on their horses at Quetta’s Hockey Ground on March 11, 2022. (AN Photo)

As US forces withdrew from Afghanistan last year, fears arose the Taliban would ban the sport again but national league matches resumed on February 24 for the first time since the Taliban took over in August last year.
Zabihullah, 21, a spectator of Friday’s match in Quetta, said buzkashi was a “tradition of my forefathers” who migrated to Quetta in the nineties from Kunduz province in Afghanistan.
“Today my uncle has been participating in the event as a player, hence I have come here to cheer for him,” Zabihullah said, adding that he hoped the government would popularize the sport in other provinces of Pakistan also.

Buzkashi players from the Khurasan and Arayana clubs were seen on their horses at Quetta’s Hockey Ground on March 11, 2022. (AN Photo)

“We request the government to organize a buzkashi match between Afghan and Pakistani players,” he said.
Ghaffar Pehalwan, 60, the only buzkashi player in Balochistan who is a Pakistan national, told Arab News the game was as famous in Afghanistan as cricket was in Pakistan.

Buzkashi players from the Khurasan and Arayana clubs were seen on horses at Quetta’s Hockey Ground on March 11, 2022. (AN Photo)

“When the Afghan refugees came to Pakistan, they first introduced this sport in Quetta back in the 90s,” he said on the sidelines of Friday’s game, which was won by Pehalwan’s club. “I used to ride my own stallion in Quetta and started watching and practicing buzkashi with Afghan nationals.”
Sahibzada Rafi Ud Din, a joint secretary at the Buzkasi Association Pakistan, said buzkashi events in Pakistan would strengthen relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as the Central Asian region.

Buzkashi players from the Khurasan and Arayana clubs on their horses at Quetta’s Hockey Ground on March 11, 2022. (AN Photo)

“Though we don’t have a permanent ground for buzkashi, yet we have been organizing some events to encourage players,” he said. “The Buzkashi Association Pakistan seeks to promote this sport across Pakistan in order to attract Pakistani nationals to start playing the historical Afghani sport.”
As Friday’s match wound down, the faces of the winning team’s players glowed. The best part came now, they said, when after the game they would roast the bedraggled goat and have a feast.

US defense secretary holds call with Pakistan army chief to discuss regional developments

Updated 13 sec ago

US defense secretary holds call with Pakistan army chief to discuss regional developments

  • A statement issued in Washington says the two officials ‘discussed areas of mutual interest’
  • The Pakistan army’s media wing has not issued a statement to share details of conversation

ISLAMABAD: United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin held a phone call with Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Asim Munir, a brief statement issued in Washington announced on Tuesday night.

The US statement did not share details of the conversation between the two officials, though their exchange comes at a time when both countries are trying to rebuild relations that came under strain during the government of former prime minister Imran Khan.

The ex-premier accused the administration in Washington of orchestrating his downfall in a no-trust vote since he was trying to pursue an independent foreign policy. The US official have, however, repeatedly denied the claim.

“Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III spoke by phone today with Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff Gen. Asim Munir,” Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a brief statement. “Secretary Austin and Gen. Munir discussed areas of mutual interest as well as recent regional developments.”

Pakistan army media wing, ISPR, is yet to issue a statement about the phone call.

However, the caretaker administration gave a deadline to all illegal immigrants, mostly Afghan nationals, to leave the country by the end of the month.

The decision was announced after two militant attacks on a mosque and a religious procession left more than 60 people dead in the country’s western provinces bordering Afghanistan.

Officials in Islamabad have frequently blamed the proscribed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), whose leadership is said to be based in the neighboring state, for launching such attacks.

The country’s caretaker interior minister Sarfaraz Bugti also blamed Afghan nationals for their involvement in several militant attacks during a media briefing.

“From January till now, there have been 24 suicide bombings [in Pakistan],” he said. “Of those 24, 14 suicide bombings were carried out by Afghan nationals. They were Afghans who attacked us.

Pakistan imposes 10 percent fee on Afghan transit trade items

Updated 04 October 2023

Pakistan imposes 10 percent fee on Afghan transit trade items

  • The decision comes amid an intense crackdown against smugglers and hoarders to bolster the weakening economy
  • Officials say the move will prevent items destined for Afghanistan to be brought into Pakistani markets by traders

PESHAWAR: Pakistan announced on Tuesday to impose a 10 percent processing fee on several items imported from Afghanistan under a transit trade agreement in a step that has been viewed as an attempt to stop illegal entry of goods into the country from the neighboring state.
The government launched an intense crackdown against smugglers and black marketers last month to bolster the country’s weakening economy and bring down the prices of essential items in the market.
The counter smuggling operation prevented the flight of foreign currencies from Pakistan, leading to the stabilization of its value somewhat subsiding the inflationary pressure in the economy.
“In exercise of the powers conferred by section 18D of the Customs Act, 1969 (IV of 1969), the Federal Government is pleased to impose processing fee at the rate of 10 percent ad valorem on the following Afghan transit Commercial goods imported into Afghanistan in transit via Pakistan,” said a customs department notification while listing down the items.
These included confectionaries and chocolates, footwear, mechanical and electrical machinery, blankets and home textiles, and garments.
Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported customs officials “suspect that certain goods, though destined for Afghanistan, are clandestinely rerouted back into Pakistan, prompting this latest measure.”
However, the official notification said goods declarations filed prior to the decision on Tuesday would be exempt from the processing fee.
Pakistan has also announced to crack down on illegal immigrants, mostly Afghans, residing in the country, asking them to leave before the end of the month.

Pakistani cybersecurity expert leads King Saud University in winning US AI-based biometrics patent

Updated 04 October 2023

Pakistani cybersecurity expert leads King Saud University in winning US AI-based biometrics patent

  • The university says it such research projects can help transform the kingdom into a knowledge-based economy
  • Muhammad Khurram Khan, who led the research team, has set up a cybersecurity think tank in the United States

KARACHI: King Saud University has won a patent from the United States by developing a biometrics-based iris recognition system after carrying out a project led by an accomplished Pakistani expert who is also the founded of an independent and non-partisan cybersecurity think-tank in Washington.
According to a post shared on the university’s website, the new system uses artificial intelligence and employs deep learning-based methods for extracting discriminant features from biometric traits obtained from eyeball images.
Muhammad Khurram Khan, who carried out and supervised the research, is a distinguished professor of cybersecurity from the Center of Excellence in Information Assurance and the founding CEO of the US think tank, Global Foundation for Cyber Studies and Research.
“The invention provides an innovative method based on multi-algorithm, multi-biometric, and multi-instance approaches to a single biometric source that enhances security and performance of the identification process at significant level,” the Saudi university announced.
“The invented technology has widespread applications, which are not only limited to areas such as immigration and border control, health care, banking and finance, consumer electronics, smart mobility, and military and defense, etc.,” it added.
The university website also proclaimed that Khan and his research team held a number of US patents in cybersecurity and had also published numerous high-impact research papers in flagship journals.
It also highlighted its own commitment to such research and development projects to transform the kingdom into a knowledge-based economy under Vision 2030.

Pakistan’s cotton production bounces back after last year’s losses, records 71 percent growth

Updated 04 October 2023

Pakistan’s cotton production bounces back after last year’s losses, records 71 percent growth

  • The country witnessed a massive decline of 34 percent in cotton production last year due to the floods
  • The government calls this year’s production level ‘momentous,’ expects a bumper crop of 12 million bales

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s cotton producers have made a remarkable comeback after suffering massive losses due to last year’s monsoon floods, with the commerce ministry announcing a 71 percent year-on-year growth in the ongoing year by issuing a brief statement on Tuesday.
Cotton is the main raw material of Pakistan’s textile sector which contributes about 60 percent to the overall exports of the country.
Torrential rains during monsoon last year triggered flash flood, destroying people’s houses and farmlands across much of the country.
The situation caused a huge setback to cotton production sector that experienced a 34 percent year-on-year decline, according to the official figures.
However, the ministry said in its statement that the “astounding 71 percent year-on-year growth” had “not only surpassed the previous year’s figures but also exceeded expectations.”
“Cotton arrivals crossing the 5 million bales mark on October 1, 2023, is a momentous achievement for Pakistan,” Dr. Gohar Ejaz, the interim commerce minister, said while commenting on the development. “Last year, our total crop was 5 million bales, and this year, we are anticipating a bumper crop of 12 million bales.”
“This remarkable growth showcases the dedication and hard work of our farmers and the resilience of our cotton industry,” he added.
The minister also promised to support and promote the cotton sector of the country, saying it had always played an “indispensable role” in Pakistan’s economic development and global competitiveness.
According to the textile industry stakeholders, the country’s cotton production has been shrinking in recent years.
“The cotton output in Pakistan is declining mainly due to the climate change-related issues and reduction in the cultivation area,” Chaudhry Waheed Arshad, a top official of Pakistan Cotton Ginners Association, told Arab News earlier this year in January.

Pakistan’s election regulator to invite international observers for upcoming polls

Updated 04 October 2023

Pakistan’s election regulator to invite international observers for upcoming polls

  • Election commission said last month polls in Pakistan would be held in January 
  • Ex-PM Khan and his party have accused the ECP of being biased against him

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s election regulator has decided to invite international observers to witness the upcoming polls slated to be held in the last week of January 2024, the state-run Radio Pakistan said in a report on Tuesday. 

Former prime minister Imran Khan, who was ousted from office via a parliamentary vote in April 2022, has accused Pakistan’s powerful military and ex-PM Shehbaz Sharif’s previous government of attempting to “dismantle” his political party owing to his widespread popularity. 

Khan, who is in jail, has said the various charges against him are politically motivated and has accused the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) of being part of a ploy to keep him out of politics. The ECP has rejected Khan’s allegations while Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar has said Khan’s party would be given a “level-playing field” to contest polls. 

“Election Commission of Pakistan has decided to write to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to invite international observers for upcoming general elections,” the report said. It added that the decision was taken during a meeting of the regulator chaired by its head, Sikandar Sultan Raja.

The report said ECP decided to expedite the process of international observers who have already requested to observe Pakistan’s electoral process. 

“The Election Commission accorded approval to the code of conduct for International Observers and also allowed to publish it on a priority basis,” Radio Pakistan said. 

Last month, the ECP said it would publish the final list of constituencies by Nov. 30 and that polls would be held in the country during the last week of January. 

In September, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said it was concerned about the scope for institutions to manipulate the electoral process in Pakistan.

“Apart from ensuring that free, fair and credible elections take place, the test of the current caretaker government is to see not only whether it will protect and respect people’s right to protest peacefully, but also whether it will respond to the issues that ordinary citizens are mobilizing around,” the HRCP said. 

Pakistan heads to the polls amid mounting challenges in the form of an economic meltdown and political instability that has depleted the country’s reserves and weakened its currency. The cash-starved South Asian nation has hiked fuel prices in recent weeks, leading to staggering inflation and more problems for its population.