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)
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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?”

Pakistan’s human rights record examined by UNHRC in Geneva

Updated 30 January 2023

Pakistan’s human rights record examined by UNHRC in Geneva

  • State minister Hina Rabbani Khar presents Pakistan’s human rights record at Human Rights Council in Geneva
  • UN member states urge Pakistan to abolish the death penalty, suspend its use and end early child marriages

ISLAMABAD: The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on Monday examined Pakistan’s human rights record, with the country’s state minister for foreign affairs, Hina Rabbani Khar saying Pakistan’s human rights record is “overall on an upward trajectory.”

The UNHRC conducts a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the human rights record of all UN member states. In it, each state is provided the opportunity to declare actions they have taken to improve the human rights situation in their countries and fulfill human rights obligations. 

“Mr. President, today I am pleased to report that my country’s human rights progress is overall on an upward trajectory,” Khar told the 42nd UPR review in Geneva. “We continue to aspire for a pluralistic and progressive society, which puts a high premium on the respect of human rights for everyone.”

Khar said Pakistan is proud of a “vibrant civil society, with our independent judiciary and legal community.” She said Pakistan had enacted the Anti-Rape Act 2021 and established courts against gender-based violence against women. 

She mentioned how devastating floods in 2022 affected 33 million people and left thousands dead and injured. Khar said an astounding 8 million people had been displaced by the deluges while over 2 million houses had been either damaged or destroyed. 

Khar said Pakistan was taking due care of the rights of minorities in the country. “Individuals belonging to various religions are equal citizens of Pakistan and as a responsible state, we are fully committed to protecting and promoting their fundamental rights and freedoms,” she added. 

She said Pakistan has taken safeguards against the misuse of the blasphemy law in the country, citing Section 211 of the Pakistan Penal Code which calls for action against any person who falsely accuses another person of blasphemy.

In response, UN member states urged Pakistan to enact a bill criminalizing rape and enact the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act. Member states also urged the country to reinstate the national commission on human rights and abolish the death penalty and suspend its use. 

They also called on Pakistan to make further efforts to end enforced and early (child) marriage and increase the legal age of marriage to 18. 

KSRelief distributes food aid in Pakistan, Lebanon and Niger

Updated 30 January 2023

KSRelief distributes food aid in Pakistan, Lebanon and Niger

  • The Saudi charity distributed 1,960 food packages for 13,720 Pakistanis in Sindh
  • KSRelief also distributed 3,125 food parcels in Niger and Lebanon's refugee camps

RIYADH: King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief) distributed food aid to floods victims in Sindh Province, Pakistan.

The Saudi charity distributed 1,960 food packages, benefiting 13,720 people.

Elsewhere, KSRelief also distributed  3,025 food parcels to Syrian and Palestinian refugees in several Lebanese regions, benefiting 15,125 people.

In Niger, 100 food packages were also distributed, benefiting 768 people.

KSRelief also carried out a project to empower young people to improve the living conditions in Al-Mahrah Governorate, Yemen.

A total of 1,250 young people in eight governorates have benefited from the projects through vocational courses in 11 fields.

Ex-president sends legal notice to Imran Khan over 'fabricated' assassination allegations

Updated 30 January 2023

Ex-president sends legal notice to Imran Khan over 'fabricated' assassination allegations

  • Ex-president Asif Ali Zardari sends Rs10 billion legal notice to Imran Khan for 'scandalous' allegations
  • In televised address last week, Khan accused Zardari of devising a plan to assassinate him

ISLAMABAD: Ex-Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari sent a legal notice to former prime minister Imran Khan on Monday for making “fabricated, scandalous” allegations against the former of hatching a plot to assassinate him.

Zardari, Khan’s political rival and leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), served as Pakistan’s president from 2008 to 2013. Tensions between the two escalated last week when Khan, during a televised address, told his supporters Zardari had devised a plan “behind closed doors” to have him assassinated. 

Khan also maintained that Zardari was guilty of accumulating ill-gotten wealth and had paid “a terrorist group” to assassinate him. The allegations have been vehemently denied by PPP and Zardari.

Ousted via a parliamentary vote of confidence in April last year, Khan received gunshot wounds during an anti-government rally in Pakistan’s Wazirabad city in November 2022. He blamed Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, and a senior intelligence official for orchestrating the attack, without providing proof. The military and government both strongly rejected Khan’s allegations. 

On Monday, Zardari’s legal representative Farooq H. Naek sent an Rs10 billion notice to Khan for making “false, fabricated and scandalous remarks/statements” against the former president. “That through your baseless accusations of malicious and defamatory nature you have tried to defame our client nationally as well as internationally,” the notice read. 

The notice said Khan had tried to create a link between Zardari and militant organizations, reminding him that the former president’s wife, Pakistan’s first woman prime minister Benazir Bhutto, was also assassinated by militants. 

It said that while Khan had accused Zardari of accumulating wealth through ill-gotten means, the PPP leader had spent almost eight years in prison on “false, fabricated, trumped up and concocted cases” that were never proven against him. 

“You, through your malicious accusations have injured and defamed our client with ulterior motives to get undue benefit in current political situation of the country,” it said. 

Zardari demanded an unconditional apology from Khan within 14 days, stating that if Khan doesn’t comply, he would be compelled to take legal action against the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chairman. The notice said Zardari would initiate legal proceedings against Khan in “the competent Courts of law and forums of Pakistan as well as of England, including but not limited to Suit for Damages for Rs.10,000,000,000/.”

The former prime minister has so far not responded to Zardari’s legal notice. 

At least 17 killed, dozens injured in blast targeting mosque in Pakistan’s Peshawar — officials

Updated 27 min 18 sec ago

At least 17 killed, dozens injured in blast targeting mosque in Pakistan’s Peshawar — officials

  • The explosion occurred when worshippers were offering prayers inside the Police Lines mosque 
  • Lady Reading Hospital management urges Peshawar residents to donate blood for the wounded 

PESHAWAR: At least 17 people were killed and dozens of others injured after a blast targeted a mosque in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar, officials said on Monday, fearing an increase in the number of casualties. 

The blast occurred inside the mosque at the Police Lines in Peshawar’s sensitive Red Zone area, according to Faizan Khan, a spokesman for Rescue 1122 service. Pakistan’s Geo News channel reported. 

The incident took place at a time when a large number of worshippers were offering prayers inside the mosque. The injured persons were being shifted to the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH). 

“So far 17 dead bodies and more than 60 injured persons have been brought to the hospital,” Muhammad Asim, an LRH spokesman, told reporters in Peshawar. 

The LRH management has imposed an emergency at the hospital and requested citizens to donate blood as a large number of wounded persons were under treatment at the hospital. 

Akbar Khan, an official of the Edhi Foundation rescue service, said the blast was so powerful that it brought down the roof of the mosque. 

“Most of the people are trapped under the rubble and the number of casualties could increase,” he said. 

Television footage showed several ambulances rushing to the site of the explosion, the exact nature of which has yet to be ascertained. 

No one has yet claimed responsibility for the blast, but the Pakistani Taliban have previously claimed such attacks in Pakistan’s northwest. 

Army soldiers and police officers clear the way for ambulances rushing toward a bomb explosion site, at the main entry gate of police offices, in Peshawar, Pakistan, on January 30, 2023 (AP)

Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province has witnessed an uptick in militant attacks in recent months, particularly after the Pakistani Taliban ended their months-long cease-fire with the government in Islamabad in November last year. 

The group has waged an insurgency in Pakistan over the past one and a half decade, fighting for stricter enforcement of Islamic laws in the country, the release of their members in government custody, and a reduction of Pakistani military presence in the country’s former tribal regions. 

US envoy on Afghanistan to discuss women’s rights during Pakistan visit

Updated 30 January 2023

US envoy on Afghanistan to discuss women’s rights during Pakistan visit

  • US Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas West to visit Pakistan, Germany, Switzerland from January 29 to February 4
  • West says will work with counterparts to ‘refine a unified regional and international response’ for women’s rights and access to aid 

Islamabad: US Special Representative for Afghanistan, Thomas West, announced on Monday he would be visiting Pakistan, Germany, and Switzerland from January 20 to February 4 to seek a “unified regional and international response” for women’s rights and access to aid in Afghanistan. 

Ever since seizing control of Kabul in August 2021, the Taliban have issued edicts that have restricted women from seeking education and employment in the country. 

In December 2022, the Taliban government banned women from working in non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on the pretext that female staff of NGOs had violated the dress code by not wearing hijab. The Taliban have also prevented women from entering parks and gyms, among other public places, in the country.

A couple of days before that, the Taliban banned women from attending universities and secondary schools across the country. The move sparked international outrage with Washington, United Nations, and several other countries including Pakistan, criticizing the move. 

“I will travel to Pakistan, Germany, and Switzerland Jan 29-Feb 4 to consult with partners, Afghans, and humanitarian relief organizations regarding extraordinary challenges we face in supporting the Afghan people,” West wrote on Twitter. 

West said that the Taliban’s recent decisions have posed “extraordinary challenges” for the international community as it seeks to support the Afghan people. 

“SRA West will work with counterparts to refine a unified regional and international response that reflects a collective commitment to Afghan women and girls’ rights and access to vital aid,” the US State Department website added. 

While Pakistan has expressed “disappointment” over Afghanistan’s edicts concerning women, it has called on the world to engage with the Taliban government rather than shun ties with it altogether. Islamabad has also called on the world to provide humanitarian aid to Kabul to stave off an imminent economic collapse of the country.