Pakistani minister threatens to boycott polio campaign amid rising militant activities in tribal districts

A police officer stands guard while a health worker administers a polio vaccine to a child, in Peshawar, Pakistan, on February 28, 2022. (AP/File)
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Updated 13 August 2022

Pakistani minister threatens to boycott polio campaign amid rising militant activities in tribal districts

  • The religious affairs minister’s warning was issued after a local leader of his political faction was recently gunned down
  • The country has recorded 13 polio cases this year despite routinely carrying out vaccination drives to immunize children

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s religious affairs minister Maulana Abdul Shakoor threatened to boycott polio vaccination campaign in the country’s tribal districts in a recent video clip if the provincial administration of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and security institutions failed to protect people amid rising militant activity in the region.

The minister’s warning came just a few weeks after a local leader of his political faction, Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), was gunned down in North Waziristan tribal district.

His statement mentioned the anti-polio campaign in the country where 13 cases of the virus have so far been recorded since the beginning of the year.

Among these cases, 12 were reported from North Waziristan district.

“We want to make it clear that if the government and security institutions fail to provide us peace, the people of [former] Federally Administered Tribal Areas will not accept the government’s activities and boycott polio [vaccination],” the minister said in the video clip.

It is not clear when the statement was recorded.

The federal government has also not reacted to the development, though it threatens to undermine the anti-polio drives which are routinely carried out across the country to immunize millions of children.

Militants have targeted dozens of health workers administering polio drops in Pakistan where many parents routinely refuse to get their children inoculated against the crippling disease.

The recent polio cases have dealt a blow to the South Asian nation’s efforts to eradicate the disease which can cause severe paralysis in children.

Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only two countries in the world where polio remains endemic. In 2021, Pakistan reported only one case, raising hopes it was close to eradicating the disease.


‘Mindboggling’ how Babar Azam handled relentless pressure, criticism — Shadab Khan

Updated 7 sec ago

‘Mindboggling’ how Babar Azam handled relentless pressure, criticism — Shadab Khan

  • Pakistan vice-captain Shadab Khan backs Babar Azam ahead of triangular series
  • Pakistan to play New Zealand, Bangladesh in coming days before T20 World Cup 2022

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan cricket team’s vice-captain Shadab Khan on Wednesday threw his weight behind skipper Babar Azam, praising him for handling “relentless pressure” and “sometimes unfair criticism” as the green shirts prepare for their triangular series against New Zealand and Bangladesh. 

Azam, widely regarded as the best T20I batter in world cricket today, has been criticized by fans over Pakistan’s recent losses in the Asia Cup 2022 and in the home series against England. At times, fans have questioned Azam’s captaincy decisions, his playing XI choices and blamed him for the team not batting aggressively. 

Pakistan have a hectic T20 schedule ahead of them in the coming days and weeks. Azam’s team are scheduled to play Bangladesh on Friday and New Zealand on Saturday for the triangular series. On October 23, they kick off their T20 World Cup campaign with a clash against arch-rivals India.

Khan, in a blog published on the Pakistan Cricket Board’s website, said the more he learns from Azam, the more his admiration for the 27-year-old grows. “The way this 27-year-old, who is relatively new to the leadership role, has handled relentless pressure and sometimes unfair criticism while ensuring his own performance doesn’t slip, is simply mindboggling,” he wrote. 

“He has stood like a rock for his players and fully backed them. This is the hallmark of a leader, this is how you earn respect from your players and this is how you develop your team,” Khan added. 

Khan said Azam had thrown his weight behind every member of the team, adding that it is up to them to rise to the occasion. “If we have to make our captain stand tall and be proud, then we have to convert our potential into performances,” he added. 

Khan responded to the backlash after Pakistan’s 4-3 loss at home to England, saying the team had “only two poor days in the office” if the series was properly analyzed. 

“But we understand and accept the anger and frustration of the fans and public: they’ve once again started to pin hopes on us after what we have achieved as a team in the past 12 months,” he added. 
 


In a first, women avail free-of-cost bus service in Pakistan’s north

Updated 10 min 4 sec ago

In a first, women avail free-of-cost bus service in Pakistan’s north

  • Three 44-seater buses will cover routes in Gilgit and Skardu, official
  • GB government says will triple number of buses by January or February 2023

KARACHI: In a first, women in Pakistan’s northern Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) region availed a free-of-cost bus service on Wednesday, dedicated exclusively for women’s transport. 

GB Chief Minister Khalid Khurshid launched the ‘Pink Bus Service’ on Tuesday, October 4 to ensure women could avail free and safe transport in the region. 

“It’s a first in the history of Pakistan that a free-of-cost bus service has been launched for women in Gilgit-Baltistan,” Mohyuddin Ahmad Wani, GB chief secretary, told Arab News in a telephonic conversation on Wednesday. 

Wani said it took him only 10 days to launch the service, from conceiving the idea to its execution. “We renovated the buses we already had, but I plan to buy new ones in the future,” he added. 

Wani recalled how he disliked seeing young women suffer as they waited for transport on various roads in GB to commute in the mornings. He said males were forced to drop women at various locations and as a result, had to pay fares for multiple people. 

“The Pink Bus Service improves access, reduces financial burden and provides security,” he explained. “It is spacious with 44 seats and covers 80 percent of the routes while it will be operating in rush hours,” Wani added. 

Delving into the details of the project, Wani said three buses will travel in the Gilgit and Skardu regions. He said the government plans to expand the service to more areas in the region. 

Buses will travel twice a day and between four routes. The Pink Bus Service timings are 06:00 am to 09:00 am and then from 01:00 p.m. to 03:00 pm. 

“Students, doctors, teachers, lawyers, and women from various fields of work will benefit from the service,” Wani said. “I have directed the traffic police to facilitate these buses on the roads and I am gathering feedback from women using the service to be able to expand the service,” he added. 

“I will triple the number and routes by January or February 2023,” Wani said. 

He said women who attended the inauguration and used the buses felt comfortable and secure. 

“There has never been such an initiative or a bus service for the general public [in Gilgit Baltistan], let alone women,” Muheen Zaman, a 23-year-old journalist, told Arab News. 

“Women in GB used taxis or Suzuki [vehicles] to commute which is quite unsafe and expensive. It’s a good initiative from the GB government,” Zaman added. She hails from GB’s Ghizer District. 

Journalist Kiran Qasim, 29, told Arab News women often faced harassment while commuting in vans as two women often had to share the front seat with the driver. 

Qasim, who is from Gilgit, said while no action was taken against harassment complaints, it is a relief that women can now travel safely in spacious buses. “The routes are also quite good as women have long commutes for work so they can have a comfortable ride,” she added. 

While the bus was launched officially yesterday, the service has begun its operations from today, Wednesday. 

Shereen Karim, a freelance journalist based in GB, appreciated the initiative. However, she said the timings aren’t suitable for professionals other than teachers. 

“The timings aren’t suitable for working women; these timings, I suppose, are fixed for college and university students,” Karim told Arab News. 

“So, it’s a good facility for students who cannot afford transport but not for working women. It would be good if the timings can be extended,” she added.


In tent classroom, teachers in flooded Pakistani valley race to keep kids at school

Updated 11 min 25 sec ago

In tent classroom, teachers in flooded Pakistani valley race to keep kids at school

  • Floods destroyed 3,000 schools in Balochistan, locking nearly 390,000 students out of the classroom
  • 400 children of Government Boys School in Hanna Urak are attending classes in makeshift tents

QUETTA: As they stood up when their white-bearded maths professor entered a tent on Teacher’s Day on Wednesday, students in flood devastated Urak valley showed their respect not only for his role in their education, but in getting them back to class. 

The sole Government Boys School in Hanna Urak, some 40 km Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan, was destroyed when the floods, caused by abnormal monsoon rains and glacial melt, have submerged huge swathes of the South Asian country since mid-June. 

The southwestern province was one of the worst hit by the deadly floods, which destroyed homes and more than 3,000 schools, locking nearly 390,000 students out of the classroom. 

In Urak, children could not return to their damaged school when floodwaters subsided. And as the building is no longer usable, many parents gave up on their education, asking them to help rebuild their ruined households instead. 

Students are learning at a makeshift tent classroom in Hanna Urak, Balochistan, Pakistan, on Oct. 5, 2022. (AN Photo)

As concerns are already rising of a lost generation of Pakistani children, who again are unable to reach the classroom after already missing out on schooling during the coronavirus pandemic, the maths teacher, Abdul Aleem, reached out to their parents to allow them to attend classes in tents. 

“I believe education in bad circumstances is better than stopping the children from school,” he told Arab News. 

“We have met the parents and students to convince them to education, and resumed the classes.” 

A teacher attends to his students at the Government Boys High School in Hanna Urak, Balochistan, Pakistan on Oct. 5, 2022. (AN Photo)

As most of the parents have agreed and classes resumed last month, Aleem who has been teaching for the past four decades, said it kept his “hopes alive for the educational future of our country.” 

Nadeem Shair Tareen, the school’s principle said he knows that it is hard now for the students and was doing his best to make sure they do not drop out. 

The children know it and they appreciate the efforts. 

A teacher attends to his students at the Government Boys High School in Hanna Urak, Balochistan, Pakistan on Oct. 5, 2022. (AN Photo)

“The teachers in this school are concerned about the students,” Sohail Khan, a Grade 10 student, one of the school's 400 pupils, told Arab News. 

“Despite the lack of classrooms, we have been getting an education.” 


During army chief’s US visit, Islamabad and Washington agree to improve ties through trade, investment

Updated 05 October 2022

During army chief’s US visit, Islamabad and Washington agree to improve ties through trade, investment

  • General Qamar Javed Bajwa is in US on a week-long visit to discuss bilateral ties and regional security
  • Washington has over the years worked closely with Pakistani army chiefs alongside civilian governments

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa met top US military and security officials during a week-long visit to Washington, with both sides agreeing on the need to boost bilateral ties by improving economic cooperation, trade and investment.

Washington has over the years worked closely with Pakistani army chiefs alongside civilian governments.

On Tuesday, Gen Bajwa called on US defense secretary General Lloyd James Austin III (Retired), national security adviser Jacob Jeremiah Sullivan, and deputy secretary of state Wendy Ruth Sherman.

“Both sides agreed that Pakistan-US have long history of bilateral cooperation and shall continue improving through economic ties, trade and investment,” the Pakistan army’s media wing said in a statement.

“Both sides had convergence on major international issues including Afghanistan and need for cooperation to avoid humanitarian crisis and improving peace and stability in the region.”

The army chief thanked the US for its assistance in the aftermath of recent floods and condoled over death and devastation in a hurricane in Florida.

Last month, Pentagon announced the US State Department had approved the potential sale of F-16 aircraft sustainment and related equipment to Pakistan in a deal valued at up to $450 million. The State Department subsequently said the equipment would sustain Pakistan’s “capability to meet current and future counterterrorism threats.”

The US-built F-16 aircraft are a critical part of the military arsenal of Pakistan, whose arch-rival India worries that the fleet could be used against it by its neighbor.

Officially for years allies in fighting terrorism, Pakistan and the United States have had a complicated relationship, bound by Washington’s dependence on Pakistan to supply its troops in Afghanistan but plagued by accusations Islamabad was playing a double game.

Tensions grew that militants that targetted American troops in Afghanistan were long allowed to shelter on Pakistani soil. Islamabad denies this.


Investment, climate cooperation with US key to reducing Pakistan’s growing reliance on China — study

Updated 05 October 2022

Investment, climate cooperation with US key to reducing Pakistan’s growing reliance on China — study

  • Study group released its findings during a visit to Washington by the head of Pakistan’s powerful military
  • Says US must move beyond leveraging aid to change Pakistan’s policies, a tactic that has been a proven failure

WASHINGTON: The United States needs to keep engaging Pakistan despite lingering distrust over Afghanistan, with investment and climate cooperation key to reducing the South Asian nation’s growing reliance on China, a study group recommended Tuesday.

The group released its findings during a visit to Washington by the head of Pakistan’s powerful military, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, a week after a trip by the civilian foreign minister, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

The study group, which did not involve the US government, included scholars and former US ambassadors to Pakistan Ryan Crocker, Cameron Munter and Robin Raphel, along with Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador in Washington.

Pakistan and the United States were partners in the Cold War and, officially, in the Afghanistan war. But American officials lost patience with Islamabad which they suspected of quietly maintaining support for the Taliban, who triumphed as US troops withdrew last year.

“Instead of allowing existing differences to define the partnership, it may be time to recognize that both sides need to understand the other’s interests so that they can then find a way to work on areas of mutual concern,” the study group said.

The United States must move beyond leveraging aid to change Pakistan’s policies, a tactic that has been a proven failure.

Islamabad, in turn, needs to accept “that all of Pakistan’s problems, especially terrorism and militancy, cannot be laid at the door of the US.”

Pakistan has forged increasingly close relations with China, triggering warnings from the United States that Beijing — seen as Washington’s key global competitor — will saddle the economically troubled nation with debt.

The study group said that after previously linking the Pakistan relationship to Afghanistan or its historic rival India, the United States should avoid now seeing ties through the lens of China.

Instead, the United States can “help build Pakistan’s capacity for transparency and compliance” on Chinese loans and can reduce reliance on China by encouraging investment by US companies and others, it said.

The United States can also focus on building climate resilience — a key challenge for Pakistan, which was recently devastated by floods.

While the United States wants to step back from Afghanistan, the study group said the need for counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan “has if anything increased” due to the loss of US intelligence assets on the ground.

“While Pakistan and the US often fail to see eye-to-eye when it comes to Afghanistan, China, or India, they do share mutual interests in seeking stability in the region, combatting the problem of extremism and averting armed conflict in nuclear South Asia,” it said.