PESHAWAR: Thousands of people held demonstrations in two main towns of Swat Valley in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Friday, after reports of Pakistani Taliban militants’ presence in the area.
The Pakistani Taliban — known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) — have carried out some of the bloodiest attacks inside Pakistan since 2007, including a 2014 assault on a school in which 134 students were killed. The group is not directly affiliated with the Afghan Taliban, but pledges allegiance to them.
Pakistan has since 2007 launched a number of military operations against the TTP, but despite reducing the militant group’s footprint — with most fighters fleeing to neighboring Afghanistan — it has not been able to fully stop attacks, which had begun to rise again along its western border in recent months.
In June, the TTP extended a ceasefire with the government, after talks facilitated by the Afghan Taliban.
As peace negotiations continue, local media over the past couple of days have been reporting that the TTP has been present in Swat Valley, which used to be the group’s bastion until a 2009 army offensive drove them out. Thousands of families in the region were displaced during the military operation.
Demonstrators took to the streets of Kabal and Khwazakhela towns in Swat chanting: “We want peace on our land and we denounce terrorism on our soil”.
Fawad Khan, one of the protest leaders in Kabal, said that security situation in the area started deteriorating when the government resumed peace talks with the TTP resumed.
“Through our today’s demonstration, we made it clear not to allow the repetition of a situation that Swat had experienced a decade ago when militants were beheading people and blowing up educational institutions,” he said.
“We’re denouncing militancy and demanding peace. We have observed militants are forcing their way into Swat. But this time around, we’ve pledged to protect our people and land with our blood.”
Ikram Hussain, a civil society member in Khwazakhela, told Arab News there was “a fresh cycle of violence to sabotage our peaceful life again.”
“We’ve demonstrated our resolve not to allow anyone to play with our lives,” he said.
Provincial government spokesperson Muhammad Ali Saif said his administration was monitoring developments in the region.
“We’re aware of protests in Swat. We’ve directed local authorities to tackle demands of the people,” Saif told Arab News. “We will not allow elements to sabotage peace. We’ve decided to deal with those challenging the writ of the government with iron hands.”
ISLAMABAD: More than 3.4 million children in Pakistan are facing chronic hunger, with an estimated 76,000 children in flood-hit areas now experiencing acute food shortages and at the risk of severe malnutrition, Save the Children has said.
Earlier this week Pakistan and the United Nations jointly launched a humanitarian appeal of $816 million, revising it up five-fold from $160 million, as water-borne diseases and fear of growing hunger pose new dangers after weeks of unprecedented flooding in the South Asian nation that has left 33 million people struggling to survive.
Hundreds of children have died in the deluge that has devastated large parts of Pakistan’s southern provinces of Sindh and Balochistan, either drowned as waters flooded homes or struck by diseases, some of them water-borne.
According to official figures, 632 of the 1,700 killed so far in the floods have been children. In the aftermath, as flood waters begin to recede, which officials say may take two to six months, the regions have become infested with diseases including malaria, dengue fever, diarrhea and skin problems.
“The number of people going hungry has soared by an alarming 45 percent since floods wreaked havoc across much of the country, rising from 5.96 million people before the floods hit to 8.62 million people now facing crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity – the majority of them in flood-affected regions,” Save the Children said in a statement, warning that hunger levels were expected to rise further with the onset of winter, putting millions of young lives at risk if urgent action was not taken.
The floods have devastated crops and livestock and, with goods scarce, prices have sources in Pakistan. The cost of basic food items has spiked since the floods, making them unaffordable for many families scrambling to survive after losing their homes and incomes.
“New research to be published next week by Save the Children found that 86 percent of families surveyed have lost their incomes since the floods, leaving them unable to afford food,” the statement added.
On Thursday, Pakistan’s foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said about 50 percent of the water had receded in the country’s worst-hit southern Sindh province, hoping that farmers would be able to sow wheat in a first step toward returning to normal life.
The government estimates damages caused by the floods, that have swept away homes, roads, bridges and livestock, are at least $30 billion.
UAE, Pakistan reject motion, UN votes down debate on China's treatment of Uyghur Muslims
Defeat, 19 against, 17 for, 11 abstentions, is only second time in UN rights council's history that motion has been rejected
China says motion an attempt by US and West to "use the UN human rights body to interfere in China's internal affairs"
Updated 10 min 48 sec ago
GENEVA: The UN rights council on Thursday voted down a Western-led motion to hold a debate about alleged human rights abuses by China against Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang in a victory for Beijing as it seeks to avoid further scrutiny.
The defeat - 19 against, 17 for, 11 abstentions - is only the second time in the council's 16-year history that a motion has been rejected and is seen by observers as a setback to both accountability efforts, the West's moral authority on human rights and the credibility of the United Nations itself.
The United States, Canada and Britain were among the countries that brought the motion.
"This is really disappointing," said Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress, whose mother died in a camp and whose two brothers are missing.
Qatar, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan rejected the motion, with the latter citing the risk of alienating China.
"Xinjiang-related issues are not human rights issues at all, but issues of counter-terrorism, de-radicalisation and anti-separatism," said China's foreign ministry late on Thursday.
The motion was an attempt by the United States and some Western countries to "use the UN human rights body to interfere in China's internal affairs," said the foreign ministry in a post on its official website.
China's envoy had warned before the vote that the motion would create a precedent for examining other countries' human rights records.
"Today China is targeted. Tomorrow any other developing country will be targeted," said Chen Xu, adding that a debate would lead to "new confrontations". read more
The UN rights office on Aug. 31 released a long-delayed report that found serious human rights violations in Xinjiang that may constitute crimes against humanity, ramping up pressure on China.
Rights groups accuse Beijing of abuses against Uyghurs, a mainly Muslim ethnic minority that numbers around 10 million in the western region of Xinjiang, including the mass use of forced labour in internment camps. The United States has accused China of genocide. Beijing vigorously denies any abuses.
The motion is the first time that the rights record of China, a powerful permanent Security Council member, has been on the council's agenda. The item has stoked divisions and a diplomat said states were under "enormous pressure" from Beijing to back China.
Countries like Britain, the United States and Germany, vowed to continue to work towards accountability despite Thursday's outcome.
MIRPURKHAS, SINDH: Nasir Khan, a 40-year-old laborer from the southern Pakistani district of Mirpurkhas, stood outside the Civil Hospital last week, complaining of anxiety and feelings of sadness and hopelessness.
In August, Khan’s home and livestock were washed away in deadly floods that have affected at least 33 million people in Pakistan since mid-June and killed nearly 1,700. The father of four has since been living with his family at a relief camp in Sindh, the province worst-hit by the floods, where water and vector borne diseases are now rampant and a return to normalcy is months, if not years, away.
Last year, the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London said intensifying climate change impacts, from fiercer heatwaves to flooded homes, were driving a growing mental health crisis around the world.
“Before the floods, I did not have any psychiatric issues,” Khan told Arab News, describing sleepless nights spent swatting mosquitos and days with little food. “Now, I feel scared for mine and my family’s future.”
Pakistan’s minister for climate change, Sherry Rehman, has highlighted the need for urgent medical supplies to protect against fast-spreading water-borne diseases due to stagnant water, urging the developed world to accelerate funding for a disaster that she has said had no parallel in known history.
But little to no attention is being paid to the psychological toll of the catastrophe.
Already, the damage from the floods is reflected in a jump in the number of people reporting mental health problems. Over 2,000 people came to the Civil Hospital Mirpurkhas between June and September this year to seek psychiatric treatment, at least a 10 percent increase from the past four months, according to data from the facility.
“At Civil Hospital Mirpurkhas, the number of patients coming to the psychiatric outpatient department has increased by 10 percent as compared to the average number of patients in the previous four months,” Dr. Lakesh Khatri, the district psychiatrist, told Arab News. “The increased number of cases are flood-affected people who have faced trauma due to the widespread devastation.”
Mental health patients, a majority of them male, were also arriving at the hospital from the nearby Sanghar and Umerkot districts, Khatri added. Diagnosed mental health problems were caused by financial stressed, as well as a lost sense of security.
The Sindh Mental Health Authority (SMHA) said the surge in mental health cases was mostly due to uncertain and deteriorating socio-economic conditions in the wake of the floods. It would take months, according to the body, to quantify the exact damage to mental health in the province where over 750 people have been killed, 2,045,349 homes damaged and 435,173 livestock lost.
Officials say more than two million acres (809,371 hectares) of agricultural land has been flooded countrywide, destroying most standing crops and preventing farmers from sowing new ones.
“This monsoon and floods affected farming communities’ dual crops, standing and upcoming. It also washed away their houses and uprooted them,” SMHA chairman Dr. Karim Ahmed Khawaja told Arab News last week.
At this stage quantifying the number of mental health patients related to Sindh flood devastation is difficult and the SMHA will conduct a study after the flood water recedes close to the end of the year.”
Due to stagnant floodwater in agricultural fields, a large number of farmers were likely to miss the upcoming winter cultivation season Khawaja said. As the next cultivation season would begin in March 2023, many farmers would have no livelihood for at least the next six months, a worry that was triggering mental health problems.
Referring to a 2020 mental health study in Sindh focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, Khawaja said the prevalence of depression was assessed at 42 percent, while 85 percent of the 1,494 people surveyed had anxiety. Among the participants, 10 percent were reported to have received a psychiatric diagnosis.
“Since the COVID pandemic is still continuing and so are its impacts, the devastation from floods has added to the mental health impacts [already] present in the society,” the SMHA chairman said.
“Floods have caused depression and anxiety among survivors,” he added. “They find their future bleak because of poor health, economic and livelihood conditions.”
The province also does not have the requisite number of doctors to deal with the surge in mental health concerns, Khawaja said.
“Sindh has a total of 145 psychiatrists,” he said. “Out of 30 districts in the province, more than 20 districts do not even have a single psychiatrist.”
Bangladesh win toss, bowl against Pakistan in tri-series opener
The two teams and tournament hosts New Zealand are playing two rounds of matches
New Zealand will play Pakistan on Saturday and Bangladesh on Sunday, both at the same venue
Updated 07 October 2022
CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand: Bangladesh captain Nurul Hasan won the toss and chose to bowl against Pakistan on Friday in the opening match of a Twenty20 tri-series in Christchurch, New Zealand — but only after snow was cleared.
The two teams and tournament hosts New Zealand are playing two rounds of matches and a final over the next week in preparation for the T20 World Cup in Australia.
The tourists will need to adjust to cold conditions in Christchurch, which is recovering from a cold blast this week that left ground staff sweeping snow from the covers and outfield at Hagley Oval on Thursday.
Temperatures had climbed to a relatively warm 12 degrees Celsius (54F) for the start of the match, to the relief of Pakistan skipper Babar Azam.
“It’s been a little bit cool, but today there’s sunshine,” Babar said after losing the toss.
“And conditions are a little bit different because in New Zealand there’s a little bit of bounce, but we’re ready for anything.”
Hasan confirmed usual captain and accomplished allrounder Shakib Al Hasan had arrived in Christchurch on Thursday, several days after his team-mates, and would miss the opening game.
He should be available for the remainder of the tournament.
New Zealand will play Pakistan on Saturday and Bangladesh on Sunday, both at the same venue.
Pakistan: Babar Azam (capt), Mohammad Rizwan, Shan Masood, Iftikhar Ahmed, Shadab Khan, Haider Ali, Asif Ali, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Wasim, Haris Rauf, Shahnawaz Dahani
Bangladesh: Sabbir Rahman, Mehidy Hasan, Afif Hossain, Mosaddek Hossain, Nurul Hasan (capt), Litton Das, Yasir Ali, Hasan Mahmud, Taskin Ahmed, Mustafizur Rahman, Nasum Ahmed
Pakistani FM says water receded 50 percent in flood-ravaged Sindh
An estimated 400,000 people are living in tents or relief camps in Pakistan's Sindh
Thankful to world community but we need more assistance, says foreign minister
Updated 06 October 2022
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s foreign minister on Thursday said that about 50 percent of the water has receded in the country’s worst-hit southern Sindh province, raising hopes that farmers will be able to sow wheat in a first step toward returning to a normal life.
“We are utilizing all of our resources for draining the remaining water in flood-affected areas in Sindh,” Bilawal Bhutto Zardari told a news conference. It was the first time that any official confirmed that the water had dropped 50 percent in Sindh, where 400, 000 people are living in relief camps or in tents.
Bhutto-Zardari’s remarks were a sign of hope for hundreds of thousands of farmers who had been uncertain about the sowing of the upcoming wheat crop, which usually starts in October.
Nearly 15 percent of Pakistan’s rice crop and 40 percent of its cotton crop were lost in this year’s flooding, according to officials. The waters wiped out the personal grain stores that many farming families rely on for food year-round.
On Thursday, international aid agency Mercy Corps warned that the approaching cold weather of the winter would pose further threats to disaster-ravaged areas of the country, even as the floodwaters recede. In a statement, Farah Naureen, the agency’s country director for Pakistan, said there was an urgent need for winterized tents and other items for survivors.
The record-breaking flooding, blamed in part on climate change, affected 33 million people, killed nearly 1,700, damaged more than 2 million homes and overall wreaked damage estimated at $30 billion.
Bhutto-Zardari said Pakistan alone cannot handle the devastation caused by climate change.
“We are thankful to the world community for helping us but we need more assistance,” he told reporters in Karachi, the capital of his Sindh province, where 760 people died in floods and 350 survivors later lost life due to the outbreak of diseases.
The latest remarks of Bhutto-Zardari also came two days after the United Nations — amid a surge in diseases in flood-hit areas of Pakistan — raised its aid appeal for Pakistan to $816 million from $160 million, saying recent assessments pointed to the urgent need for long-term help lasting into next year.
Bhutto-Zardari said Pakistan has witnessed its worst-ever flooding because of climate change since June, although his country contributes less than 1 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. August rainfall in the Sindh and southwestern Baluchistan provinces was eight and nearly seven times normal amounts, while Pakistan as a whole this summer had three-and-a-half times its normal rainfall.
Bhutto-Zardari criticized former Prime Minister Imran Khan for continuing anti-government rallies even during floods. “I cannot hold such rallies when my people are dying in the floods,” he said.
Khan was ousted from power in April through no-confidence in the parliament.
But he says he was ousted under a US plot, a charge Washington denies.
Bhutto-Zardari said Khan during his tenure strained Pakistan’s ties with many countries, including Washington.
His remarks came after Khan vowed to march on Islamabad soon to force Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif to hold snap elections which are due next year.
Bhutto-Zardari said Pakistan cannot afford to go to the elections when many areas are still submerged. He said Pakistan will first accomplish the task of helping people rebuild homes in flood-hit areas and return to their normal life.
“Elections will be held next year,” he said, amid threats from Khan for a march on Islamabad.