Pink 'soul refresher,' Rooh Afza, unites wilting Indians and Pakistanis

In this photograph taken on May 25, 2022, a vendor prepares to serve Rooh Afza watermelon beverages to customers along a roadside stall in Karachi. (AFP/File)
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Updated 09 June 2022
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Pink 'soul refresher,' Rooh Afza, unites wilting Indians and Pakistanis

  • Rooh Afza first sold in 1907 in Old Delhi by traditional healer Hakim Hafiz Abdul Majeed, company split into two at partition
  • In Pakistan, the drink is a particular favourite in holy month of Ramadan, when it is served as thirst-quencher with Iftar feast

NEW DELHI: Pakistan and India have fought three wars and countless skirmishes, but as summers get hotter with climate change, their peoples are united by love for a cooling 115-year-old pink libation with a secret recipe.

The ultra-sweet concoction of herbs and fruits, Rooh Afza -- which translates as "refresher of the soul" -- has not only survived the 1947 partition of the two countries but thrived on both sides of the border.




In this photograph taken on April 28, 2022, a vendor displays Rooh Afza beverage bottles to customers at a market in Karachi. (AFP/File)

On a furnace-hot recent day in Old Delhi, the formidable vendor Firoza chops up in a metal cauldron an ice block delivered to her by motorbike down the tight alleyways.

She then stabs the top of a bottle of Rooh Afza and squeezes in the viscous, lipstick-red concentrate before attacking a milk carton and adding that too, along with pieces of watermelon.

This is the 50-year-old's own special version, "Sharbat e Mohabbat" ("Drink of Love") -- every vendor has their own -- which she sells for 20 rupees ($0.25) per plastic goblet.

"We use more than 12 bottles of Rooh Afza and 20 boxes of milk, even 30 at times, and up to 40 when business is good," she told AFP in her booming voice, hoarse from hawking her elixir.

"I took over this shop a decade ago when my husband passed away. He started selling Rooh Afza here some 40-50 years ago. It's my only source of income."

In Pakistan, the drink is a particular favourite in the holy month of Ramadan, when it is served as an evening thirst-quencher with the Iftar feast, when Muslims break their fast.

But served in desserts, milk and custards, it remains popular throughout Pakistan's summer season, during which temperatures hit 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) earlier this year.




In this photograph taken on May 25, 2022, a vendor prepares to serve Rooh Afza watermelon beverages to customers along a roadside stall in Karachi. (AFP/File)

At one roadside stall in the megacity of Karachi, owner Muhammad Akram handles a hectic cash flow of dog-eared banknotes proffered by eager customers.

"A homeless man once suggested that if I blended Rooh Afza with diced watermelon it would be delicious," he told AFP. "The taste was marvellous."

At the same stall, Abdul Qahar works 12-hour shifts commanding a dozen staff serving tankards of Rooh Afza brimming with chunks of ruby watermelon, topped with a date and speared with a straw.

"It soothes the spirit," said 25-year-old housewife Neelam Fareed, who travelled five kilometres (three miles) on a moped with her husband just for a drink.

Rooh Afza was first sold in 1907 in Old Delhi, the congested heart of the Indian capital, by Hakim Hafiz Abdul Majeed, a traditional healing practitioner.

In 1947, with the partition of British India, one son stayed in Delhi while the other upped sticks for the new Pakistan.

They set up factories in each country -- as well as one in East Pakistan, which became Bangladesh in 1971 after a bloody independence war -- under two firms, Hamdard India and Hamdard Pakistan.

Hamid Ahmed, the great-grandson of the founder, who runs the Indian business, said the recipe had not changed in the last 115 years.

"It's a big secret; even the people at the factory will not know it... There would be, I think, three people who would know it," the 45-year-old told AFP with a chuckle.

Apart from being served ice cold, the drink's blend of fruits and herbs is thought to help with the northern subcontinent's dusty summer winds, known as the loo.

Since South Asia is suffering ever-hotter summers, a phenomenon blamed on climate change, the future is bright -- for Hamdard's business prospects at least.

"I think with global warming, temperatures are increasing... the relevance of Rooh Afza is not going anywhere soon," Ahmed told AFP. "Sales are increasing."


International report highlights polio eradication challenges in Pakistan, other countries

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International report highlights polio eradication challenges in Pakistan, other countries

  • There have only been seven cases of wild polio reported this year, five in Afghanistan and two in Pakistan
  • Experts say outbreaks linked to vaccine-derived polio are more challenging and have paralyzed more children

LONDON: The global effort to end polio is likely to miss two key targets this year on the path toward defeating the virus, according to an independent strategic review.

The aim in 2023 was to interrupt the transmission of wild polio in the two countries where it is still endemic, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and do the same for a variant form of polio known as “vaccine-derived” that is causing outbreaks elsewhere.

The Independent Monitoring Board, a group of polio experts who oversee the work of the UN-backed Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), said neither target would be hit this year.

The GPEI agreed on both counts, citing insecurity in key locations as one of the remaining challenges and stressing in a statement responding to the review that ending the vaccine-derived outbreaks is likely to take the most time.

Wiping out polio, a viral disease that can cause paralysis, has been a key global health aim for decades. Cases have been reduced by more than 99 percent since 1988 thanks to mass vaccination campaigns, but making polio the second infectious disease ever to be completely eradicated, after smallpox in 1980 – has proved more difficult.

“But it can be done. And we need to make sure we finish the job,” said Aidan O’Leary, director of polio eradication at the World Health Organization, a GPEI partner alongside governments and funders like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

There have only been seven cases of wild polio reported this year, five in Afghanistan and two in Pakistan.

O’Leary said interrupting transmission of this form of polio was likely to happen by early 2024, just a few months after the target.

This meant the hope of a conclusive end to polio by 2026 remained alive, at least for wild polio, he said in a phone interview with Reuters on Thursday.

However, outbreaks linked to vaccine-derived polio are more challenging, he said. This form of polio can occur when children are immunized with a vaccine containing a weakened version of the live virus. They are protected, but the weakened virus excreted by these immunized children can spread and mutate among an unvaccinated population, ultimately becoming harmful.

Such viruses have recently paralyzed nearly 50 times more children than wild poliovirus, the monitoring board review said.

The GPEI aims to focus its vaccination and surveillance efforts on the areas where these kinds of polioviruses are concentrated: the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, north western Nigeria, south-central Somalia, and northern Yemen, O’Leary said.

“This is what is needed to shift the game,” he said. “Clearly the timelines are under review ... but we can do what has to be done.”


Pakistan army chief meets Saudi counterpart to discuss defense ties, security cooperation

Updated 39 min 42 sec ago
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Pakistan army chief meets Saudi counterpart to discuss defense ties, security cooperation

  • Pakistan, Saudi Arabia’s militaries have a history of extensive defense cooperation
  • Two nations often participate in joint military exercises, Pakistan army trains Saudi cadets

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s army chief, General Asim Munir, on Friday held a meeting with the leader of Saudi Arabia’s armed forces, General Fayyadh Bin Hamed Al Ruwaili, and discussed strengthening bilateral cooperation in defense and security affairs, the army’s media wing said.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia share strong defense ties and security cooperation. An annual tradition involves cadets from the Kingdom, along with counterparts from other Middle Eastern nations, visiting Pakistan to undergo specialized army training. The two nations regularly engage in joint military exercises.

On September 9, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia launched a joint naval exercise near the Kingdom’s Al Jubail city and in August the two countries launched an inaugural joint special forces exercise to benefit from each other’s counterterrorism expertise.

“During the meeting, both sides deliberated upon various areas of mutual interest and bilateral cooperation, including defense and security matters,” the army’s media wing said of the meeting between the two generals.

A day ago, General Al-Ruwaili visited Pakistan’s Naval Headquarters in Islamabad and met a senior Pakistan Navy official.

“The visiting dignitary appreciated and acknowledged Pakistan Navy’s efforts and commitments in support of collaborative maritime security in the region,” a statement from the Navy said on Thursday.

Riyadh and Islamabad also enjoy close cooperation in trade, economy, culture, information, and investment. Pakistani expats living in Saudi Arabia are the largest source of remittances to the South Asian nation.
 


Pakistan open to welcoming Mohammad Amir to World Cup squad — chief selector

Updated 22 September 2023
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Pakistan open to welcoming Mohammad Amir to World Cup squad — chief selector

  • Fast bowler retired from international cricket in 2020 citing discrimination, ‘mental torture’
  • Chief selector says if Amir to be considered for World Cup is willing to play domestic cricket

ISLAMABAD: Chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq said on Friday Pakistan was ‘open’ to the possibility of welcoming former fast bowler Mohammad Amir back into the squad ahead of the World Cup if he consistently performed well in domestic competitions.
Amir announced his retirement from international cricket at the age of 28 in December 2020, claiming he could no longer play in an atmosphere where he did not feel welcome in the national team.
Amir, who was jailed in 2011 for his part in a spot-fixing scandal, served three months in prison and a five-year ban from all forms of cricket before returning to the Pakistan squad in January 2016.
The left-arm bowler excelled in limited-overs cricket after that, helping Pakistan to the Champions Trophy title in 2017, but was dropped from the squad to tour New Zealand in 2020.
Questioned about the chance of Amir returning to the squad for the upcoming cricket World Cup starting next month in India, the chief selector said “the doors are open for everyone, including Amir.”
“Aamir is a great cricketer and he had decided to retire,” the official said.
“If he wants to play for Pakistan, the doors are open for everyone. If he comes back and plays first-class cricket and performs well, he will definitely be considered … I have said this before, neither the PCB (Pakistan Cricket Board) nor the selection committee closes the door [of opportunity] for anyone.”


In an interview with a local news channel when he retired, Amir said he had been “mentally tortured by the team management, subjected to frequent taunts, and felt deliberately sidelined.” 
Asked if he was leaving the sport altogether he said: “No, I’m not going away from cricket. If you have seen the atmosphere here and the way I’ve been sidelined, I got a wake-up call when I was not selected in the 35-man squad,” Amir had told Samaa TV.
“I don’t think I can play cricket under this management. I think I should leave cricket this time. I am being tortured mentally. I don’t think I can tolerate any more torture now.
“I’ve experienced a lot of torture from 2010 to 2015. I was away from the game and sentenced for my mistake. I’m being tortured again and again...”
Amir, who has 259 wickets across all formats, had retired from test cricket in 2019 to focus on the white-ball game.
He was the pick of the Pakistan bowlers in the 2019 50-overs World Cup in England with 17 wickets as they missed out on a semifinal spot.
 


248% surge in US visa applications from Pakistan between 2021-2022 — Gallup

Updated 22 September 2023
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248% surge in US visa applications from Pakistan between 2021-2022 — Gallup

  • ‘Overwhelming increase’ in 2022 could be attributable to lifting of coronavirus travel restrictions
  • US consulate said this week it had expedited visa application process amid ‘unprecedented’ demand

ISLAMABAD: Gallup Pakistan said in a report published this week visa applications from Pakistan for the United States increased by 248 percent percent between 2021 and 2022, likely owed to the lifting of travel restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic.
The analysis draws data from the United States Department of State and covers a substantial timeframe, starting from 1998 and extending up to 2022. A primary focus of the analysis was to assess the overall volume of visa applications from Pakistanis for the United States, including a detailed examination of the numerical figures, highlighting both high and low points over the years.
The United States consulate in Karachi said this week it had expedited the US visa application process for Pakistanis and was working to reduce wait times amid “unprecedented” demand.
“Applications increased in the past decade compared to the previous one, with a notable 248 percent surge in 2022,” Gallup said in its report.
“The overwhelming increase in applications in 2022 could be attributable, among other things, to those who could not travel in the 2019-2021 period due to Covid19. The average applications decreased from 65,385 in 2015-2015 to 37,913 in 2019-2021. Once the pandemic restrictions were lifted, it would be plausible to assume that those who were intending to go to the US for business or education purposes over the past three years, applied for visas at their earliest.”
Looking at data 1998 onwards, the highest applications were received in the years 2000 (88,791), after which they saw a steep decline until the 2010s. The second highest point in application frequency was reached in 2016 (76,637), followed closely by 2022 (72,082). The average over the past 20 years, represented by the trendline, remained 47,566 applications.
“The steep decline in 2020 and 2021 may be attributed to the travel restrictions and lockdowns that were imposed due to Covid-19,” the Gallup report said. “Other than this period, Pakistan’s visa applications to the US were lowest in 2003 (24,092), followed by 2004 (24,934).”
Among different visa types, in immigrant visas, K-visa applications spiked between 2003 and 2010 while E-visa applications remained consistently low.
In non-Immigrant Visas, B-1/B-2 visas had the most applications, with a dip in 2021 followed by a rebound to 58,152 in 2022. F1 visa applications showed a rising trend, reaching 3,540 in 2022. H-visa applications fluctuated over the years, with the highest in 2001 (5,555) and the lowest in 2020 (704). A-category visa applications increased from 2008 to 2020, surpassing H-visa applications during this period.
The US consulate in Karachi said on Tuesday the demand for US visas was the highest it had ever been in the South Asian country and it was “working hard” to bring down visa appointment wait times.
“We have expedited thousands of non-immigrant visa appointments. More than ten thousand Pakistani visa applicants originally scheduled for 2024 at the US Consulate General in Karachi are receiving notice that their appointments have been rescheduled in 2023, some as early as next week,” the consulate said in a statement.
“To create added flexibility for Pakistani travelers, visa applicants can rebook appointments at either the Consulate General in Karachi or US Embassy in Islamabad.”
Starting September 25, the US consulate said, it would also start accepting new interview waiver applications for some applicants who had previously been issued US visas.
“These steps demonstrate how deeply the United States values the relationship between our two countries,” it added.


Pakistan PM uses New York visit to pitch new investment council to the world

Updated 22 September 2023
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Pakistan PM uses New York visit to pitch new investment council to the world

  • Pakistan in June set up Special Investment Facilitation Council, a civil-military forum, to attract foreign funding
  • SIFC has identified five sectors as priority namely IT, agriculture, defense, minerals and mining and energy

ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar is using his visit to New York this week to attend the UN General Assembly to meet business and thought leaders and stakeholders and make the case for improved business climate in Pakistan and its potential for foreign direct investment in a range of sectors.
Pakistan in June set up a Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) — a civil-military hybrid forum — to fast-track decision making and promote investment from foreign nations, particularly Gulf countries.
The council has identified five sectors as priority, namely agriculture, mining, information technology, defense production and energy, as the South Asian country deals with a balance of payments crisis and requires billions of dollars in foreign exchange to finance its trade deficit and repay its international debts in the current financial year.
“Attracting foreign investments in all sectors of Pakistan’s economy is the government’s top priority,” Kakar was quoting as saying in a statement released after he met a delegation of the US Pakistan Business Council (USPBC), on the sidelines of the annual session of United Nations General Assembly in New York on Thursday evening.

Pakistan's Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar addresses the SDG Summit Leaders Dialogue on the sidelines of the 78th UN General Assembly session at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on September 20, 2023. (Photo courtesy: PMO)


He told the group his government was focused on creating a business-friendly environment and would welcome all suggestions.
 “The government believes in no-holds-barred foreign investment regime, and has constituted the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) to facilitate foreign investors, bolster their confidence and expedite project implementation in priority areas of agriculture, IT, energy and minerals and mining,” a statement from Kakar’s office said.
He said the US corporate sector “must look at ways and means” to enhance its “very long and productive” relationship with Pakistan, identifying agriculture, IT, pharmaceuticals, health and digital banking as sectors where US companies could enhance investments in Pakistan.
Esperanza Jelalian, USPBC President, told Kakar the body would “continue to engage with the government of Pakistan to seek mutually beneficial ways of enhancing cooperation.”
Speaking earlier in the day at the Council on Foreign Relations, Kakar welcomed the revival of the Pakistan-US Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) after a gap of eight years, saying the forum should pave the way for enhanced investment in Pakistan.

“The United States is our largest export destination. Over the past year, Pakistan’s total exports to the US reached an impressive $ 8.4 billion,” Kakar said. “We need to work on US investment in Pakistan.”
As caretaker prime minister, Kakar said, he was making it a “priority” to improve Pakistan’s business climate and attract US capital and expertise.
“More than 80 US enterprises are already operating and thriving in Pakistan, contributing to our mutual prosperity. This constitutes a good infrastructure for investment on which we can build further investment partnership,” the PM added.
On Thursday, Kakar also met the CEO of Rio Tinto Group, a global leader in mining and minerals, and discussed investment opportunities in Pakistan.
He briefed Jakob Stausholm about the country’s vast untapped mineral reserves, valued at over $6 trillion, which include substantial deposits of gold, copper, and rare earth metals.
“The prime minister outlined Pakistan’s robust economic vision, emphasizing the government’s commitment to sustainable growth through efficiency enhancement, reduced business costs, regulatory improvements, increased productivity, and higher investments,” a statement from the PM’s office said.

In this handout photo, taken and released by the Prime Minister's Office, Pakistan Caretaker Prime Minister Anwar-ul-Haq Kakar (left) gestures during a meeting with Rio Tinto Group head, Jakob Stausholm, on the sidelines of the 78th UNGA Summit in New York on September 21, 2023. (Photo courtesy: PMO)

“He underscored the role of the Special Investment Facilitation Council, which acted as a single-window platform, simplifying procedures and fostering an investor-friendly environment.”
The prime minister invited Stausholm and his team to visit Pakistan and explore investment opportunities further.
“CEO of Rio Tinto Group thanked the prime minister for the invitation and assured that his team would liaise with the relevant authorities to explore investment opportunities in Pakistan’s mineral and mining sector,” the statement said.