For Pakistan’s Afghan refugees, Eid brings agony of being away from loved ones

Afghan elders greet each other after offering Eid prayers at the Afghan refugee camp in Nowshera, Pakistan, on May 2, 2022. (AN Photo)
Short Url
Updated 06 May 2022

For Pakistan’s Afghan refugees, Eid brings agony of being away from loved ones

  • Pakistan is home to more than 1.4 million Afghan refugees
  • Most of the refugees live in camps in the country’s northwest

PESHAWAR: For Khan Olas Babar, among hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan, Eid Al-Fitr this year was bittersweet at best: though he was able to pray and enjoy a meal with his family in relative peace, he also suffered the agony of being away from loved ones left behind in war-ravaged Afghanistan.
Eid Al-Fitr marks the end of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, when Muslims arrange elaborate feasts, and meet and greet family and friends during three-day celebrations. But for most of Pakistan’s Afghan refugees who live in camps in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, there was little chance this year of scraping together the meals that are traditionally the centerpiece of the festival.
In some parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, such as Nowshera, authorities also imposed a restriction on the nighttime movement of Afghan refugees for 48 hours of Eid, citing security reasons.
Pakistan was already home to over 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees until last year, when at least 100,000 more Afghans arrived after the withdrawal of the United States-led forces from Afghanistan. The number of undocumented Afghans is much higher.
“For me, Eid only reopens old wounds, Eid without relatives is meaningless for me,” said Babar, who runs a medical store in a refugee camp in Nowshera. “Though we observed fasts, offered Eid prayers and enjoyed food, we celebrated it half-heartedly, remembering relatives in our home province of Jowzjan.”




Afghan refugees are to about to have food on Eid outside their camp in Nowshera, Pakistan on May 2, 2022. (AN Photo)

Rehmatullah Safi, 49, a refugee who owns a clothing store in Tank district, said Eid held “no meaning” without the friends and friends left behind in Afghanistan.
“Which Eid! We celebrate it with endless trial, grief and sorrow because every family has relatives lost or left behind,” he said. “For me, Eid has no meaning at all. Every year, I hope this Eid will be my last in Pakistan.”
“I often think Afghans are meant for suffering, not for celebrating Eids or other festivals,” Safi added.




Afghan children sell toys on Eid Al-Fitr at a makeshift shop at the Afghan refugee camp in Nowshera, Pakistan, on May 2, 2022. (AN Photo)

Eid Al-Fitr also brought little joy for Irfanullah Noori, a 46-year-old Afghan daily-wager in Tank, who said he preferred the fasting month of Ramadan over Eid because his family couldn’t afford to serve Eid guests.
“We would exchange food the whole day and enjoy attan (traditional Pashtun dance) at night,” he said about Eid back in his hometown in the southwestern Afghan province of Paktika. “We live in hope that good days will come again, that we will go back.”




Afghan children play outside their camp on Eid Al-Fitr at the Afghan refugee camp in Nowshera, Pakistan, on May 2, 2022. (AN Photo)

Hazrat Khan Ahmadzai, a refugee from Afghanistan’s Balkh province, said Eid was a “rare occasion” to get together with family and friends but refugees had to observe it far from their loved ones.
Still, he was grateful for a peaceful Eid in Pakistan, which he said was “better than an uncertain one in Afghanistan.”
A powerful explosion ripped through a mosque in the Afghan capital of Kabul last week, killing at least 10 people, the latest in a series of blasts amid relentless attacks across the country.
Similar attacks on mosques have recently targeted the country’s minority Shiite Muslims and were claimed by the Daesh group’s regional affiliate, known as IS-K, which has stepped up its attacks across Afghanistan to become the primary enemy of the Taliban since their takeover of the country last August.
Despite Taliban claims to have routed Daesh from its headquarters in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, the militant group’s renewed assaults on mosques, schools and buses underscore the intransigent threat it poses.
“You enjoy Eid when there is peace and I think Eid in Pakistan is far better than in Afghanistan because there is uncertainty and insecurity there,” Ahmadzai said. “What will you do if there is no peace?”


‘Once in a lifetime’: Pakistani volunteers relish FIFA World Cup experience in Qatar

Updated 19 min 21 sec ago

‘Once in a lifetime’: Pakistani volunteers relish FIFA World Cup experience in Qatar

  • Qatar spent over $300 billion in 10 years to build hotels and stadiums for World Cup
  • Pakistani interns, volunteers share views about diversity, inclusion of women, in Qatar

ISLAMABAD: With the FIFA World Cup 2022 in full swing, authorities in Qatar have their hands full with organizing the event. Pakistan has contributed plenty to the tournament from its ‘Made in Pakistan’ footballs to security personnel and even volunteers, who are relishing the experience of helping ensure the tournament, arguably the biggest sports event in the world, goes smoothly.

Since being awarded the right to host the tournament in 2010, the tiny gas-rich country has splurged billions to build luxury hotels and stadiums across Qatar to welcome over a million fans in the country.

To host the World Cup in the Gulf country, FIFA needed interns and volunteers to help organize such a huge event. Many Pakistanis signed up for the opportunity.

Syed Hasan Danish, 26, was working in Pakistan till July this year when his organization, Airlift, shut down. With his family in Qatar, Danish moved to the country and was hired as an operations analyst by ‘Mowasalat,’ which operates public transport in Qatar.

“I have always been a huge football fan and have been following club football since childhood,” Danish told Arab News over the phone this week. “Being in Qatar you need to be part of something to give back to Qatar and football,” Danish told Arab News this week.

“So many nationalities gathering at one place, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

In this undated photo, Pakistani volunteer Syed Hasan Danish poses for a picture at the Al Thumama Stadium in Qatar. (Photo courtesy: Syed Hasan Danish)

Posted at Qatar’s Al-Thumama Stadium, Danish helps out spectators by guiding them to their seats, helping them find the prayer areas and similar places in the venue and helps them with other issues.

His selection came after a “rigorous” process, according to the volunteer.

“Firstly, you fill a detailed, four-page online form from an app if you want to register as an international volunteer,” Danish said.

“Then, you are asked to appear for an online test in which they analyze your skills via multiple games and judge your decision-making and stress-handling skills.”

Once selected, FIFA handles transport, accommodation and food for international volunteers. They just have to arrange for the air fare.

Rimsha Khalid, 25, a student of Islamic Arts at Qatar’s Hamad Bin Khalifa University, described her experience as an assistant commentary intern as an “exhilarating one.”

This undated photo shows the Commentary Control Room of Education City Stadium in Doha, Qatar. (Photo courtesy: Rimsha Khalid)

“The work environment is professional,” Khalid said.

“We work hard but also have breaks in between and the chemistry between the team members also helps lift up the mood.”

As a woman, Khalid said, she never felt she was being discriminated against: “I would like to say that the general work environment in Qatar for women is quite safe and women are treated with the utmost respect that they deserve.”

Khalid said her team comprise interns from South Korea, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Zambia, Sudan, India, UK, Belgium and Pakistan.

“[The diversity provides an excellent opportunity for cultural exchange, growth, exposure and helps you to learn better things about other nations and their work ethics which can prove to be helpful in the future,” she added.

Maryam Khalid, 27, a commentary assistant intern at Qatar’s Education City Stadium in Al-Rayyan, told Arab News the work experience was “excellent.”

“There is a lot of responsibility here as there is no room for error,” she told Arab News.

“However, you also get a lot of support from people here as well.”

In Pakistan, she said, the biggest hurdles that women faced were harassment and reservations from families.

“However, here it is so safe that you don’t even think about any such problems here. Qatar is one of the safest countries in the world for women,” Maryam said.

“We venture out here often at very late times in the night, for cinemas and at beaches or to attend festivals. Never once does anyone touch people or harass anyone or even stare at them.”

Danish rubbished international media’s “wrong reporting” on Qatar and its treatment of women as well.

“There is a lot of diversity here, minor issues are being [deliberately] played up,” he said. “There is a 60-40 ratio of men and women here in Qatar.”

He said “every type of woman” could be found working in Qatar.

“From full abaya-wearing women to women dressed in European clothing. It’s all a nice, mixed-up environment here,” he said.

“There is a lot of openness and you get to learn other people’s culture here.”


Pakistan 'nowhere near default,' will fulfill international obligations — finance minister

Updated 55 min 10 sec ago

Pakistan 'nowhere near default,' will fulfill international obligations — finance minister

  • Citing Bloomberg data, Ishaq Dar says Pakistan’s one-year probability of default was at 10% as against Khan’s claims
  • Central bank chief says Pakistan will be repaying $1 billion international bond three days in advance on Dec 2

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's Finance Minister Ishaq Dar on Friday said the South Asian country was “nowhere near default” and would fulfill its international financing obligations on time, denying former prime minister Imran Khan’s claim that the country was on the verge of a default. 

Khan, who was ousted in a parliamentary no-trust vote in April, last week said he had already predicted six months ago that his ouster would adversely impact the country’s economy and destroy its ability to service its debts. Khan's comment came amid Pakistan's rising credit default swap (CDS) rating that serves as a form of insurance against default. 

But the Pakistani central bank chief said a day earlier that the country would be repaying a $1 billion international bond on December 2 — three days before its due date. The statement set aside growing uncertainty about Pakistan’s ability to meet external financing obligations amid an economic crisis further aggravated by this year's devastating floods. 

Citing data from Bloomberg, Dar told a Pakistani news channel that Pakistan’s one-year probability of default was at a low of 10 percent as against Khan’s claims. 

"I assure you — and by the grace of God, whatever I say always proves to be true — that Pakistan is nowhere near default and it will fulfill all of its liabilities," the finance minister told the 24 news channel Friday night. 

“I was disappointed to see Khan tweeting that the country was about to default. Whatever he said was not in the country’s interests as he was joining negative forces who want to damage Pakistan’s economy." 

Dar’s claim was backed by financial analysts and experts earlier this week, who downplayed historic growth of the Pakistani five-year bond’s credit default swap. 

CDS is a financial derivative that lets an investor offset their credit risk with that of another investor. To swap the risk of default, the lender buys a CDS from another investor, who agrees to reimburse them the amount in case the borrower defaults. 

Pakistan’s CDS had been steadily rising in the last few days, mainly due to lower foreign exchange reserves and political turmoil in the South Asian country.  

The higher CDS rate was equated with the country’s default on payments of its five-year bonds, including $1 billion of the Third Pakistan International Sukuk bonds maturing on December 05, $1 billion of the Pakistan Government International Bond maturing in 2024, and $500 million of the Pakistan Government International Bond maturing in 2025.


Pakistan signs €150 million loan agreement with ECO Trade and Development Bank in Turkey

Updated 36 min 8 sec ago

Pakistan signs €150 million loan agreement with ECO Trade and Development Bank in Turkey

  • The agreement was signed during PM Sharif’s meeting with the bank president in Istanbul
  • The prime minister also urged Turkish investors to help enhance bilateral trade to $5 billion

ISLAMABAD: The Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) Trade and Development Bank on Saturday signed an agreement with Pakistan in Istanbul to provide a soft loan of €150 million for flood relief efforts and support import of fuel by the South Asian country.

Pakistan’s prime minister Shehbaz Sharif arrived in Turkey on Friday on a two-day visit that he said would unpack the “untapped potential” of bilateral ties between the two countries.

He held a bilateral meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and also inaugurated one of the four MILGEM corvette ships for the Pakistan Navy at the Istanbul shipyard.

The agreement with the bank was signed during a meeting between the Pakistani delegation led by Sharif and the ECO Trade and Development Bank delegation led by its president Yalçın Yüksel.

“The ECO Trade and Development Bank will provide a soft term loan of Euro 150 million to the Government of Pakistan,” the Prime Minister’s Office announced in a statement. “The financial package will contribute to flood relief efforts as well as provide financial support for import of fuel.”

The statement added the overall financial assistance to Pakistan since the inception of the bank would reach about $1 billion after the disbursement of the committed amount.

In a separate meeting with the Pakistan-Turkey Business Council, the prime minister invited Turkish companies to invest in Pakistan as the two countries signed a memorandum of agreement to enhance bilateral trade volume to $5 billion in the next three years.

“We have signed a memorandum of agreement to enhance our trade volume from a very small amount of less than $1.5 billion to $5 billion in the next three years,” Sharif said, adding that Turkey’s international trade was somewhere around $250 billion and its bilateral trade with Pakistan was just a fraction of it.

“It’s not a big task at all and let’s resolve and commit today that we will do everything to achieve this target in three years – rather double it in three years,” he continued.

He vowed that his government would fully provide a hassle- and red tape-free environment to them: “My government would no longer tolerate any snags and impediments in the way of investment from foreign investors, including the Turkish brothers and sisters.”

To further promote bilateral trade and business ties, the prime minister said, the Turkish president had assured him that work on a “trade and goods agreement” between the two brotherly countries would be expedited.

“President Erdogan has instructed his minister to expedite its approval from the Turkish parliament,” he said.

Sharif said his government had resolved to cut down on the expensive oil and petroleum imports.

“Last year we had to spend $27 billion to finance imports of our petroleum [products] which we simply cannot afford,” he said.

“Therefore, we have rolled out our vision of 10,000 megawatts solar investment projects before local and international investors about one and a half months ago.”

He expressed his commitment to complete this scheme in letter and spirit, through investments from Saudi Arabia, Turkiye, China, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

“So please be ready with your coffers open and come to Pakistan as I am going to hold a special conference for Turkish investors,” he added.

The premier said the Pakistani government would also ensure payments to investors within 60 days without, in a transparent manner and without the involvement of a third party.


Pakistan’s army bid farewell to Gen Nadeem Raza in transition of military leadership 

Updated 26 November 2022

Pakistan’s army bid farewell to Gen Nadeem Raza in transition of military leadership 

  • Raza will be succeeded by Lt Gen Sahir Shamshad Mirza as new head of Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee 
  • Mirza, who comes from Sindh Regiment, has had illustrious career and served in multiple leadership roles 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s army on Friday bade farewell to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC) General Nadeem Raza, the Pakistani military said, in a transition of military leadership which put to rest widespread speculation earlier this week. 
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday picked Lt Gen Sahir Shamshad Mirza as the CJCSC and Lt Gen Asim Munir as the new chief of the country’s all-powerful army, ending uncertainty surrounding the high-profile appointment that caused months of political instability in Pakistan. 
The office of the army chief is arguably the most influential position in Pakistan, given the country’s turbulent history of civil-military relations. Pakistan’s military has ruled the country for around half of its 75-year history and enjoys extensive powers even under civilian administrations. 
To bid farewell to the outgoing CJCSC, a special ceremony was held at the Pakistani military’s Joint Staff Headquarters, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the military’s media wing, said in a statement. The ceremony was attended by former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and senior officials of the tri-services. 
In his farewell address, General Raza thanked the Almighty for enabling him to discharge his duties to the best of his abilities and applauded the sacrifices rendered by the armed forces in the defense of Pakistan. 
“[The] defense of the country is impregnable and gallant soldiers will not hesitate in making it even more formidable,” he was quoted as saying by the ISPR. 
The outgoing CJCSC was also presented a ‘Guard of Honour’ by a smartly turned out tri-services contingent at the venue. 
The Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee works for coordination among the three branches of the military, while its chairman also serves as the principal military adviser to the prime minister. 
CJCSC-designate Mirza will be taking over the office after the retirement of Gen Raza following his 41 years of military service. Mirza, who comes from the army’s Sindh Regiment, has had an illustrious career and has served in multiple leadership roles in the army. 
He came into the spotlight after he became the director-general of military operations in the last two years of former army chief Raheel Sharif’s tenure. 
Since his elevation to the rank of a three-star general, Mirza has served as the chief of general staff — the second-most powerful position in the army after the chief himself — and then the commander of the army’s 10th Corps. 
In accordance with the constitutional procedures, President Arif Alvi ratified the appointments of the CJCSC and the army chief Thursday evening, with some experts expressing concerns Alvi might not immediately ratify the prime minister’s summary to prolong the process. 
The fears were raised in the backdrop of ex-prime minister Imran Khan, a chief rival of Sharif, saying in an interview on Wednesday the president, a close aide and member of Khan’s party, was in contact with him and would consult him on the appointments on the top slots.


Interior minister asks ex-PM Khan to return to parliament, hold dialogue for early elections

Updated 26 November 2022

Interior minister asks ex-PM Khan to return to parliament, hold dialogue for early elections

  • Khan has asked his supporters to gather in Rawalpindi today, in a final showdown with government
  • Intelligence agencies have warned of a threat to Khan’s rally in Rawalpindi, interior minister says

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah on Friday asked former prime minister Imran Khan to return to parliament and hold a dialogue with the government and its allies for early elections, a day before the ex-premier is scheduled to hold a massive rally in a final showdown with the government.

Ex-PM Khan, who was ousted from power in a parliamentary no-trust vote in April, resigned from his parliamentary membership a day later. His resignation followed mass resignations of members of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party from parliament.

The former premier has since been agitating against the coalition government of PM Shehbaz Sharif and has held several rallies in a bid to pressure the government into announcing snap polls in the South Asian country, which are scheduled to be held in the latter half of 2023.

In a final showdown with government, Khan has urged his supporters to gather in the garrison city of Rawalpindi today, Saturday, for a massive protest against his ouster, but Sanaullah advised Khan to “act like a politician” in order to achieve his goal, instead of being “obstinate.”

“Don’t be obstinate. If you want a date for the election, then act like a politician, sit with other politicians [and] have a dialogue,” the minister said on Twitter.

He also told Khan that he should not pin his hopes on the country’s army, which even when not in power is the invisible guiding hand of politics in the country, as the army as an institution would not go beyond its constitutional role.

“Come back and become a part of the parliament. Let the political and democratic process go forward.”

Khan says his ouster was part of a United States-backed foreign conspiracy for pursuing an independent foreign policy for Pakistan. Washington and Khan’s opponents have repeatedly denied the allegation.

Late last month, he launched a march toward the Pakistani capital of Islamabad from the eastern city of Lahore, which was ended last week upon reaching Rawat town near the capital.

The former premier has also been increasingly critical of Pakistan’s powerful army and its outgoing chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, for not blocking his ouster and maintains he has been protesting for a “free” Pakistani nation.

Sanaullah also asked Khan not to pin his hopes on the country’s establishment, a term that is synonymous to the all-powerful army in Pakistan’s context, and said the army as an institution would neither step back from or go beyond its constitutional role.

Pakistan’s army has ruled the South Asian country for nearly half of its 75-year history, and even when not in power, it is seen as the invisible guiding hand in the country’s politics.

Sanaullah also asked the former prime minister to postpone his anti-government rally in Rawalpindi, saying intelligence agencies had warned that a militant attack could target the gathering.

Prior to that, the provincial government in Punjab, which Rawalpindi is a part of, said it had made arrangements to provide “foolproof” security to Khan and his protest rally.