Amid 'chronic' suicides in northern Pakistan district, youth call for mental health services

In this undated photo, a man walks in a street in Ghizer, Gilgit-Baltistan.(GhizerGilgitBaltistan/Facebook)
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Updated 22 June 2022

Amid 'chronic' suicides in northern Pakistan district, youth call for mental health services

  • Since 2001, police in Gilgit-Baltistan have recorded 412 incidents of suicide, 294 in Ghizer district 
  • Nineteen people in Ghizar have taken their lives since the beginning of the year, four in June alone

GHIZER: Over seven hundred people, local youth and officials, gathered in the picturesque Ghizer district in northern Pakistan last week for a Grand Youth Marka with a single-point agenda: to campaign for access to mental health services in an area where the prevalence of suicide has for years alarmed authorities and residents alike. 

Ghizer district lies about 70 km from Gilgit, the capital of Gilgit-Baltistan, an impoverished, and remote part of the larger Kashmir, which, despite being the gateway to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, has so far reaped few rewards from the multibillion-dollar infrastructure and energy plan.

With nearly 170,000 inhabitants, Ghizer comprises less than a tenth of Gilgit-Baltistan’s population, but the number of suicide cases it reports is more than double that of the whole region.

Since 2001, police in Gilgit-Baltistan have recorded 412 incidents of suicide — 294 in Ghizer.

“There are 10 districts in Gilgit-Baltistan and the trend of committing suicide in Ghizer district is very high,” Ghizer Superintendent of Police Shah Mir Khalid told Arab News. “The average number of suicide cases per year is 20 to 25.”

This photo shows a student of Karakoram International University from Ghizer who took his life by jumping into River Gilgit on June 15, 2022. (Social Media)

Nineteen people in Ghizar have taken their own lives since the beginning of the year — four in June alone.

Khalid said police were working with social welfare organizations and had established a local response center, but he could not pin down the main reason for the high suicide rate in the district.

“There are different reasons in all cases, we can’t attribute a single reason,” he added. “But domestic violence, poverty, high literacy rate with lack of opportunities are the causes of suicide.”

After last Sunda’s Grand Youth Marka, Gilgit-Baltistan chief minister Muhammad Khalid Khurshid issued an order to establish a special committee to investigate “the chronic issue of suicides” in the district.

While the committee is expected to submit its report in the next two weeks, residents said the most immediate need was for the government to set up a mental health facility in the area. 

“Establishment of an asylum in Ghizer district is an urgent need,” Qasim Shah, a journalist from the district, told Arab News.

Social activist Hajjida Parveen, who has been monitoring the problem for the past 10 years, said she believed the main cause of suicide in the district was mental illness, and it needed to be investigated why people in the region were prone to the condition.

“Despite the mental health issue, there is no psychologist in the whole district,” she added.

There is no forensic laboratory either, which may be resulting in murder cases being reported as suicides, Israruddin Israr, the Gilgit-Baltistan coordinator for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said.

“Proper investigation should be conducted to separate murder and suicide cases. And for this purpose, the presence of a forensic lab and medico-legal expert is necessary,” he told Arab News.

“Causes of suicide should be identified and diagnosed through a scientific way,” he said. “To find the real causes of suicide, a team for in-depth research should be constituted, incorporating experts of different disciplines.”

No Afghan ‘reintegration’ without progress on rights — UN

Updated 5 sec ago

No Afghan ‘reintegration’ without progress on rights — UN

  • Since their 2021 return to power, Taliban authorities have not been formally recognized by any nation
  • Taliban’s edicts on women’s freedoms have been described by United Nations as “gender apartheid“

United Nations, United States: Restrictions on women’s rights continue to prevent Afghanistan’s “reintegration” into the international community, a senior UN official said Friday, adding that the Taliban’s participation in upcoming talks in Doha was not a legitimization of the isolated government.
Since their 2021 return to power, Taliban authorities have not been formally recognized by any nation and apply a rigorous interpretation of Islam, leading to a suppression of women’s freedoms that the United Nations has described as “gender apartheid.”
Restrictions on women and girls, particularly in education, “deprive the country of vital human capital” and lead to a brain drain that undermines the impoverished country’s future, Roza Otunbayeva, head of the UN mission in the country, UNAMA, told the Security Council.
“By being deeply unpopular (the restrictions) undermine the de facto authorities’ claims to legitimacy,” she said.
“And they continue to block diplomatic solutions that would lead to Afghanistan’s reintegration into the international community.”
Last year marked the start of a process in Doha to consider strengthening the world community’s engagement with Afghanistan.
The first Doha talks included foreign special envoys to Afghanistan under the aegis of the United Nations, and in the presence of the country’s civil society, including women.
The Taliban had been excluded from the opening talks and refused to take part in the second round if other representatives from the country were involved.
The third round of talks is set for June 30 and July 1 in Doha, and the Taliban has given assurances it will attend.
“For this process to truly begin, it is essential that the de facto authorities participate at Doha,” Otunbayeva said, warning however that high expectations “cannot realistically be met in a single meeting.”
“It cannot be repeated enough that this sort of engagement is not legitimization or normalization,” she stressed.
Responding to criticism over the absence of Afghan civil society representatives, notably women, at the talks that include the Taliban, Otunbayeva said those groups would be present in Doha for a separate meeting on July 2.
“This is what is possible today,” she said.
Afghanistan’s UN ambassador Naseer Ahmad Faiq, who still represents the government that preceded the Taliban’s rise to power, called the absence of civil society and women at the table in Doha “disappointing.”
He also expressed concern the agenda does not include discussions on the political process and human rights in Afghanistan, saying “this will be perceived as a shift away from issues deemed essential to the people of Afghanistan.”

Pakistan’s Sindh province suspends human milk bank, refers initiative to Islamic Ideology Council

Updated 39 min 14 sec ago

Pakistan’s Sindh province suspends human milk bank, refers initiative to Islamic Ideology Council

  • Pakistan’s first human milk bank was set up earlier this month by Sindh Institute of Child Health and Neonatology
  • Facility was established in collaboration with UNICEF, described as “significant milestone in maternal health”

ISLAMABAD: The Sindh Institute of Child Health and Neonatology (SICHN) said this week Pakistan’s first human milk bank established earlier this month had been suspended pending further guidance from the Council of Islamic Ideology.

A human milk bank, breast milk bank or lactarium is a service that collects, screens, processes, pasteurizes, and dispenses by prescription human milk donated by nursing mothers who are not biologically related to the recipient infant. For women who are unable to breastfeed or produce enough milk, pasteurized donor breast milk can be an effective approach to feeding.

SICHN earlier this month announced its human milk bank facility, Pakistan’s first, established in collaboration with UNICEF, describing it as a “significant milestone in maternal health.”

“A recent revised fatwa issued by Darul Uloom Karachi dated 16ht June 2024 has prompted us to discontinue the functionality of the Human Milk Bank. This decision is in compliance with the updated religious guidance and reflects our ongoing commitment to operate within the framework of Islamic jurisprudence,” SICHN said in a statement dated June 21. 

“Moving forward, we will seek further guidance on this issue from both Darul Uloom Karachi and the Council of Islamic Ideology,” the statement added, referring to a religious body that advises the government on the compatibility of laws with Islam.

SICHN said the milk bank was initially set up after seeking and receiving a fatwa from the Darul Uloom Karachi, “which provided us with the necessary religious endorsement to proceed.” 

“This fatwa was critical in ensuring that our efforts were in harmony with Islamic teachings, providing reassurance to the community and stakeholders involved,” the institute said. 

The fatwa cited certain pre-conditions to establish the milk bank including that Muslim children should only be provided milk from Muslim mothers.

Iran is currently believed to be the only country in the Muslim world with a network of milk banks. In general, Islam makes the practice tricky. The opposition centers on a tenet called milk kinship, which states that a parent-child bond is formed when a woman gives milk to a baby who isn’t biologically related to her. 

To avoid future incestuous marriages between so-called milk siblings, the tenet says, the foster relationship must be clearly delineated. Since milk bank donors are typically anonymous and the donations are often combined, the practice is rejected in most of the Muslim world.

Pakistani PM vows to continue ‘war against terrorism’ as five soldiers killed in IED blast 

Updated 22 June 2024

Pakistani PM vows to continue ‘war against terrorism’ as five soldiers killed in IED blast 

  • IED blast targeted vehicle carrying security forces in Kurram district in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
  • 65 police officials killed, 86 wounded in 237 incidents of terrorism in the province in the past five months

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Friday his government would continue its “war on terrorism” as five Pakistani soldiers were killed in an improvised explosive device (IED) blast in northwestern Pakistan.

The IED blast targeted a vehicle carrying security forces personnel in Kurram district in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, the Pakistan army’s media wing said in a statement, amid a rise in terror attacks mostly by the Pakistani Taliban, known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, an ally of the Afghan Taliban but a separate group, which has stepped up its assaults in the region since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in 2021. Pakistan says the TTP uses Afghan soil for attacks in Pakistan, a charge that Kabul denies. 

“The entire nation pays tribute to the martyrs and stands united against terrorism,” Sharif said after the latest attack, vowing to “continue the war against the menace till its complete elimination.”

Pakistan has witnessed a surge in militant attacks in recent years, predominantly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In January 2023 militants killed at least 101 people, mostly police officers, when a suicide bomber disguised as a policeman attacked a mosque in the northwestern city of Peshawar.

Earlier this month, the counter-terrorism department (CTD) of police in Peshawar issued a report, saying 65 police officials were killed while another 86 were wounded in 237 incidents of terrorism in the province in the past five months. It said police had killed 117 militants and arrested 299 others in a series of operations.

Pakistani authorities often say Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers are giving shelter to TTP fighters across the unruly border. The Afghan Taliban government insists it doesn’t allow anyone to use Afghan soil for violence in any country. The TTP has also said it was not using Afghan soil for targeting troops in Pakistan.

Pakistan police hunt mob that lynched local tourist accused of blasphemy

Updated 22 June 2024

Pakistan police hunt mob that lynched local tourist accused of blasphemy

  • A mob beat the man to death on Thursday night after accusing him of burning pages of the Qur’an
  • Lynchings are common in Islamic republic of Pakistan, where blasphemy can legally carry the death penalty

PESHAWAR: Pakistani authorities have begun an investigation to identify and arrest members of a mob that killed a local tourist accused of blasphemy, after they ransacked a police station holding him in protective custody, officials said on Friday.
A mob beat the man to death on Thursday night after accusing him of burning pages of the Qur’an. They set the police station in the country’s northwest ablaze and injured eight policemen, Malankand division’s regional police chief Mohammad Ali Gandapur told Reuters.
“After initially rescuing the man from a crowd, the police took him to the station in Madyan, but announcements from mosque loud speakers asked locals to come out,” Gandapur said, after which the mob stormed the station.
Lynchings are common in Pakistan, an Islamic republic where blasphemy can legally carry the death penalty.
Legal processes are frequently preceded by vigilante action based on rumors or complaints. 
Graphic videos of the latest incident, verified to Reuters by the police, showed a frenzied mob dragging a naked and bloodied body through the streets, and then setting it on fire. The footage went viral on social media and sparked outcry among Pakistani users.
Gandapur said the situation was under control and a case registered against the organizers of the mob. He added the man had been visiting the Swat Valley, a popular tourist destination, for the Muslim holiday of Eid-al-Adha.
Last month, a Christian man in his seventies was attacked by a mob on charges of burning pages of the Qur’an and later died of his injuries in eastern Pakistan.
In 2021, a Sri Lankan factory manager was lynched in one of the highest profile incidents in the country. Six people were sentenced to death for their part in the lynching after the incident sparked global outcry.

Pakistani court orders police to take action against smoke emitting vehicles in Lahore

Updated 19 min 46 sec ago

Pakistani court orders police to take action against smoke emitting vehicles in Lahore

  • Lahore consistently ranks among world’ most polluted cities every winter when heavy fog envelopes the city
  • Lahore High Court orders police to take action against people who burn crop residue and cause pollution

ISLAMABAD: The Lahore High Court (LHC) this week directed traffic police officials to impound vehicles emitting smoke and take stern action against people found burning crop residue in Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore, state-run media reported, in an attempt to curb pollution in the city. 

Lahore consistently ranks among the world’s most polluted cities every year during the winter season. Last year, toxic smog sickened tens of thousands of people during the winter season, with the thick smog causing flight cancelations and forcing authorities to close schools. The situation got so worse that in a first, Pakistani authorities deployed artificial rain in December 2023 to battle smog.

Lahore, capital of the Pakistan’s most populous Punjab province, is in an airshed, an area where pollutants from industry, transportation and other human activities get trapped because of local weather and topography so they cannot disperse easily. The Punjab government has also attributed pollution and smog to crop residue burnt frequently in neighboring India. 

“The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Friday once again ordered traffic police authorities to take strict action against smoky vehicles and impound them,” the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) said. 

Justice Shahid Karim passed the orders while hearing several identical petitions filed by citizens Haroon Farooq and others against the government’s ineffective measures to control smog. During the proceedings, the court observed that most incidents of crop residue burning took place in the vicinity of the motorway, which connects various cities of the country. 

“Motorway police should take action on the incidents of crop residue burning,” the judge said. “The inspector-general of National Highways and Motorways should ensure the implementation of the court orders.”

Subsequently, the court adjourned further proceedings until the next Friday, June 28.