Pakistan promises reform after videos of surgeries on live animals at universities spark outrage

In this photograph taken on August 17, 2016, Pakistani animal rescuer Syed Mustafa Ahmed, gestures beside stray dogs at the Edhi Animal Home on the outskirts of Karachi. (AFP/File)
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Updated 10 June 2022

Pakistan promises reform after videos of surgeries on live animals at universities spark outrage

  • Animal rights activists and veterinary students call the practices ‘unjust and inhumane’
  • Veterinary graduates describe the exercise as necessary to learn surgical techniques

ISLAMABAD: A senior official said this week the government would introduce reforms within ten days to put an end to the practice of using live animals to teach surgical skills at veterinary schools, after viral videos sparked outrage over ‘inhumane’ practices at universities across Pakistan.

Since last month, videos have circulated on social media showing animals in various states of distress after being operated upon by veterinary students. Activists and members of the public have widely condemned the practices and called for action. 

At veterinary schools around the world, the practice of using live animals to teach surgery has been on the decline in the last decade.

"We are going to roll out thorough reforms in a week or ten days to put an end to surgeries and experimentation on live animals in all our universities," Salman Sufi, head of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif's Strategic Reforms Unit, told Arab News on Thursday. 

"The present practice of students training on live healthy animals is cruel and we are working on alternatives to educate our veterinary students in line with best international practices," he added. "The proposed reforms may include house jobs and paid internships for vet students to learn the necessary skills like incision and surgery in teaching hospitals." 

Arab News interviewed about a dozen veterinary students belonging to Arid Agriculture University in Rawalpindi, the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences in Lahore, Riphah International University in Islamabad and Sindh Agriculture University, Tandojam.

All students and graduates interviewed said they were aware that surgeries and experiments were performed at their institute on live animals but that anesthesia was administered. 

“This is a common practice in veterinary departments of all universities,” Muhammad Amir Hamza, a graduate of the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, told Arab News on Wednesday. 

He said that surgeries were performed on dogs, cats and rabbits to spay or neuter them and to deal with medical issues. At least twenty percent of the animals died during or after the procedures, he added. 

“Students take care of the animals after the surgeries, keep them in shelters and leave them back on streets after full recovery,” Hamza said. “We now feel that universities should help students conduct surgeries on dummies because experimentation on live animals is cruel and inhumane.”

Some university students explained that students had to identify and arrange animals themselves for surgeries and had to pool in money to feed the animals, with the whole process costing over Rs30,000 ($150) per surgery. Veterinary universities, they said, did not even have the budgets to arrange animals for them. 

“Our teachers divide students into groups of eight to ten to perform these surgeries,” Asim Akhtar*, a student at Riphah International University, Lahore, told Arab News. “It is the responsibility of students to arrange a stray dog for surgery and then bear all expenses for experimentation, treatment and feed.”

Akhtar said the students had to take care of the animals post-surgery also, and any medical complications or casualty could have an adverse effect on their grades.

Afnan Abdullah*, a student at the Sindh Agriculture University, said many students had complained to teachers about the "unethical and cruel" procedures but were told it was an “important practice to learn.”

“Even if an animal is killed during a surgery, you don’t need to worry about it,” he said, quoting one of his course instructors. “If a life is wasted today due to experimentation, keep in mind that you will be saving thousands of lives tomorrow when you learn how to do it properly.”

Wasif Shamshad, a veterinary graduate from Pakistan now pursuing a postgraduate degree in Public Health at the University of Northampton in England, said students were taught incision, surgery and stitching on dummies in the United Kingdom.

“Here in the UK, veterinary students are given three years to do practicals at teaching hospitals before they qualify for their degrees,” he told Arab News. “In Pakistan, they are neither allowed house jobs nor paid internships in civil veterinary hospitals to learn the skills.”

Shamshad defended the practice of performing surgeries on live animals in Pakistani universities as vital and shared his own teaching experience at a veterinary department of a Pakistani university, saying strict protocols were followed during such operations and animals were given post-surgery treatment.

Nadeem Malik, a spokesperson for Arid Agriculture University, Rawalpindi, said surgery on small animals was part of the curriculum for the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree, and students initially trained using animal parts bought from slaughter houses.

“Students are given practical training of surgery on animals under the supervision of well-trained and competent teachers as per international standards,” he told Arab News.

Malik said the university’s surgical department was working in collaboration with the Rawalpindi district administration’s trap, neuter, vaccinate and release program that was in line with international standards and ensured the welfare of dogs.

“Under this program, surgeries [to neuter and spay] are performed only on stray dogs, and this practice has been widely hailed by both the district administration and the public,” he said. “Some people have levelled baseless allegations against the university and veterinary faculty for their vested interests which are hurting the prestige of the university, especially the veterinary faculty.”

Animal rights activist Sarah Javed Khan said surgeries on live animals should not be part of the DVM curriculum.

“There is a need to update our animal cruelty laws,” she said, “and hold all those accountable who are involved in this inhumane and callous practice at veterinary departments.”

Names marked with * have been changed to protect identities

Italy ends search after Feb 26 migrant shipwreck that killed Pakistanis among 94 people 

Updated 10 sec ago

Italy ends search after Feb 26 migrant shipwreck that killed Pakistanis among 94 people 

  • The wooden migrant boat had set off from Western Turkey with around 180 people aboard 
  • Italian authorities, however, say they would reactivate the search if any bodies were sighted 

ROME: Italian authorities on Tuesday said they were ending the search for bodies after a deadly shipwreck on Feb. 26 off the southern town of Cutro that claimed at least 94 lives. 

The wooden migrant boat had set off from Western Turkey with around 180 people aboard, but smashed apart in stormy weather off the shore of Calabria in Italy's southern toe. 

Eighty people survived the disaster, suggesting around six people might still be missing. 

The government provincial office in the nearby city of Crotone said it was shutting down a search coordination centre, but would reactivate the unit if any more bodies were sighted. 

It said 48 of the recovered bodies were flown to Afghanistan for burial. Other bodies were repatriated to Tunisia, Iran, Palestine and Pakistan, while some were buried in Finland, Germany and Italy. 

Top Punjab police official denies mistreatment of ex-PM Khan’s female party supporters in prison

Updated 37 min 2 sec ago

Top Punjab police official denies mistreatment of ex-PM Khan’s female party supporters in prison

  • Punjab Inspector General Police Usman Anwar criticizes individuals for ‘lying about their own state institutions’
  • Khan accused the government of mistreating female PTI supporters who were taken into custody after his arrest

ISLAMABAD: The top Punjab police official on Tuesday denied any mistreatment of female prisoners belonging to former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, stating that only women police employees were allowed to interrogate them.

The statement was issued after Khan accused the government of mistreating female PTI supporters who were taken into custody by law enforcement agencies in the wake of violent protests that followed his arrest on corruption charges on May 9.

Several social media users also raised similar concerns, attempting to depict police high-handedness by sharing graphic images.

In response to the allegations, Punjab Inspector General Police Usman Anwar criticized individuals for “lying about their own state institutions.”

He presented images that had been circulated on various social media platforms, maintaining that they had been doctored.

“The state is responsible, and the country knows what to do,” he said during a news conference in Lahore. “We are going to protect our institutions and installations, but we are not going to compromise on human rights, and we will adhere to whatever is written in the UN Declaration of Human Rights.”

Addressing the condition of the Kot Lakhpat jail in Lahore, he added, “There are lady doctors, female gynecologists, and psychologists in the jail. There are 150 cameras installed [at the facility]. The portion for women is completely separate.”

The IG police stated that only female officials were allowed to interrogate women inmates.

The caretaker administration of the Punjab province recently formed a committee that included SSP Investigation Dr. Anoosh Masood and Lahore Deputy Commissioner Rafia Haider to visit the jail and assess the treatment of PTI prisoners.

The two officials interacted with PTI supporters at the prison and reported that they were being treated well.

They also affirmed that no male staff member at the jail was allowed to enter the section designated for female inmates.

Global Islamic finance company AAOIFI to work with Pakistan to develop Shariah-compliant capital market

Updated 30 May 2023

Global Islamic finance company AAOIFI to work with Pakistan to develop Shariah-compliant capital market

  • Development comes day after Pakistan organized an inaugural Islamic Capital Markets Conference
  • The country has second-largest Muslim population in the world with very low banking penetration

ISLAMABAD: A leading Bahrain-based international non-profit, aimed at developing the global Islamic finance industry, has showed interest in enhancing collaboration with Pakistan on promoting the Islamic capital market in the South Asian country, the Pakistani finance ministry said on Tuesday, a day after the inaugural Islamic Capital Markets (ICM) Conference in Islamabad.

The conference was jointly organized by the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) and the Accounting & Auditing Organization for Islamic Financial Institutions (AAOIFI), the Bahraini firm responsible for the development and issuance of standards in the areas of Shariah, accounting, auditing, ethics and governance for international Islamic finance globally.

On Tuesday, Sheikh Ebrahim Bin Khalifa Al-Khalifa, who is the chairman of the AAOIFI Board of Trustees, held a meeting with Pakistan's Finance Minister Ishaq Dar in the Pakistani capital and exchanged views with him on mutual collaboration in the field of Islamic finance.

The two figures discussed "enhancing mutual collaboration with Pakistan in social welfare, business & financial sectors," the Pakistani finance ministry said in a statement.

"And promoting Islamic finance industry and capital market in Pakistan."

Pakistan has the second-largest Muslim population in the world with very low banking penetration. The government seeks to increase financial inclusion through promoting Islamic finance, as part of the National Financial Inclusion Strategy. Only 21 percent of the adult population had a bank account in 2017, with 13 percent of adults citing religious reasons for not having them, according to the World Bank.

The SECP and AAOIFI also signed an agreement at the conference for joint cooperation in areas of “common interest” that would support the development of the Islamic banking and finance industry.

In 2021, the government set a target of increasing the share of Shariah-compliant instruments in government securities to at least 10 percent by the end of 2022-2023. There are 22 Islamic banking institutions currently operating across the country.

The assets of Pakistan’s Islamic banking industry had posted a year-on-year growth of 29 percent in fiscal year 2022, Dar said as he addressed the ICM Conference on Monday.

Ex-PM Khan sends defamation notice to health minister after being accused of substance use

Updated 30 May 2023

Ex-PM Khan sends defamation notice to health minister after being accused of substance use

  • The former prime minister demands unconditional apology in 15 days while serving a Rs10 billion legal notice
  • The health minister recently shared Khan’s medical report with journalists while questioning his mental stability

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Imran Khan on Tuesday sent a Rs10 billion ($35.05 million) legal notice to Pakistan’s health minister Abdul Qadir Patel for making “false, disparaging and malicious” allegations in a recent news conference wherein he accused the ex-premier of substance use.

Last week, the health minister publicized Khan’s confidential medical report, allegedly prepared while he was taken into custody earlier this month, saying traces of alcohol and illegal drugs were found in the former PM’s urine sample. He also rebutted that Khan had endured a fracture to his leg after an apparent assassination attempt on him last November when he received gunshot wounds while leading an anti-government rally.

The minister shared Khan’s medical report while calling it a “public document” and maintained it also raised questions about the ex-premier’s mental stability.

“We act for and on behalf of Mr. Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi … who has instructed us to serve upon you the following legal notice under Section 8 of the Defamation Ordinance, 2002 … on account of dissemination and circulation of wrongful, baseless, false, misleading, erroneous, malicious and defamatory information/facts made against Our Client by you vide your Press Conference, dated 26.05.2023,” said the notice Khan’s legal team sent Patel.

The presser, as per the notice, was watched in Pakistan as well as all over the world through electronic media channels, YouTube, and various other social media platforms, while its details were also published in national and international newspapers.

The notice asked the health minister to retract his statements, tender unconditional apology, accept that he had misstated information, and pay Rs10 billion for defaming the former prime minister. It asked the minister to take these actions within 15 days, warning him that Khan would otherwise initiate legal proceedings against Patel.

It may be recalled that Khan was arrested by paramilitary Rangers on the instructions of Pakistan’s anti-graft body on May 9 in a corruption reference amounting to £190 million. He remained in the custody of authorities until his arrest and detention were declared “illegal” by the country’s judiciary that ordered his release.

Pakistan’s Khan gets bail on new charge of abetting violence — lawyer

Updated 30 May 2023

Pakistan’s Khan gets bail on new charge of abetting violence — lawyer

  • Ex-PM Khan’s May 9 arrest sparked violent protests, which saw military facilities ransacked
  • Khan has appealed for talks to end Pakistan’s political crisis, a demand rejected by the government

LAHORE: Pakistani former prime minister Imran Khan was on Tuesday granted bail on a new charge of abetting violence against the military by his protesting supporters after he was arrested and detained on May 9 in a corruption case, his lawyer said.

The embattled Khan, who says the corruption charges have been concocted, is embroiled in a confrontation with the powerful military, which has ruled Pakistan directly or overseen civilian governments throughout its history.

His May 9 arrest sparked widespread protests by his supporters who ransacked various military facilities, raising new worries about the stability of the nuclear-armed country as it struggles with its worst economic crisis in decades.

Khan, 70, was later freed on the orders of a court.

His lawyer, Intezar Hussain Punjotha, said an anti-terrorism court confirmed the bail on the new charge after the former premier appeared before it and submitted surety bonds.

Khan has denied the charge saying he was in detention when the violence took place.

The bail until June 2 on the new charge means he will not be detained on that charge.

The former international cricket star became prime minister in 2018 with the tacit support of the military, though both sides denied it at the time.

He later fell out with generals and was ousted as prime minister after losing a confidence vote in 2022.

Khan has since then been campaigning for a snap election, with rallies with his supporters across the country, but the prime minister who replaced him, Shahbaz Sharif, has rejected the call for an election before it is due late this year.

The turmoil has exacerbated Pakistan’s economic crisis with inflation at record highs, growth is anaemic amid fears of a sovereign default on external debts unless the International Monetary Fund (IMF) unlocks delayed disbursements.

Dozens of Khan’s supporters have been handed over to army authorities for trial in military courts.

A team of investigators looking into the May 9 violence summoned Khan on Tuesday for questioning but Punjotha said a member of his legal team would go instead.

Khan has appealed for talks to end the crisis. The government has rejected his call.