Pakistanis protect homes against devastating floods; aid arrives

Flood affected people work to avoid flood waters entering their damaged houses following heavy monsoon rains at Shikarpur in Sindh province on August 30, 2022. (AFP/File)
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Updated 25 September 2022

Pakistanis protect homes against devastating floods; aid arrives

  • Global aid began arriving, carrying planeloads of tents, food and medicine from UAE, China and Turkey
  • UN has appealed for $160 million to help with what it calls an “unprecedented climate catastrophe”

SHIKARPUR: Residents in southern Pakistan used sandbags to shield their homes from surging floodwaters that inundated a major highway on Wednesday, as global aid began arriving with food, medicine and tents to help alleviate a major national disaster.

Abnormal heavy monsoon rains and melting glaciers triggered floods that have submerged a third of the country and killed at least 1,191 people, including 399 children. The United Nations has appealed for $160 million to help with what it calls an “unprecedented climate catastrophe.”

In Dadu, a district of the southern province of Sindh, residents gathered to form new dikes and reinforce existing ones using sandbags near a major highway that was deluged by water overnight.

“We have been working to make and reinforce this dike since early morning,” Damshad Ali, 20, told Reuters, vowing to stay in the flood-stricken area with his family.

Nearby, another man called for help.

“I appeal to all young men to come join the dike strengthening, God willing we will save the city of Mehar from the flood waters,” he said from a mound of sandbags, as local residents joined the effort.

FLOODING SET TO WORSEN

Wednesday’s flooding was caused by water gushing down from nearby mountains between the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan. Residents feared the situation could worsen as water from flooding in the north had yet to reach the southern province of Sindh and could do so in the coming days.

Global aid began arriving, carrying planeloads of tents, food and medicine from China, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates as the scale of the devastation unfolded, the foreign office said.

Hundreds of thousands of displaced people are in urgent need shelter, food and clean water, with the threat of more flooding to come on Wednesday.

Pakistan has received nearly 190 percent more rain than the 30-year average in the quarter through August this year, totalling 390.7 mm (15.38 inches). Sindh province, with a population of 50 million, was hardest hit, getting 466 percent more rain than the 30-year average.

Major rivers, the Indus and the Kabul have reached “high to very high flood” levels that are likely to continue rising over the next 24 hours, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said.

It said 480,030 displaced persons were transferred to refugee camps.

Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari accompanied diplomats from 20 countries on a flight over the flooded regions which Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman said comprised a third of the country.

International aid agencies have asked for a relaxation on imports of food from Pakistan’s old rival and neighbor India, Finance Minister Miftah Ismail said.

“It will take a long time to bring the situation under control,” Rehman told a news conference, adding that clean drinking water was scarce and “diseases are spreading.”

6.4 MILLION IN NEED OF AID

Villager Fayyaz Ali, 27, in Sindh’s hard-hit Shikarpur district, managed to get his family to safety but had little hope of saving his small home.

“The house is going to fall at any moment. It’s inundated,” Ali told Reuters as he sat on higher ground.

Like many others, Ali said he had yet to receive any help.

Main roads running above the fields have become refuges, with people, together with their belongings and farm animals, seeking shelter from the sun and rain under makeshift plastic tenting.

The World Health Organization said over 6.4 million people were in dire need of humanitarian aid.

“Access to health facilities, health care workers and essential medicines and medical supplies remain the main health challenges for now,” WHO said in a statement.

Some 888 health facilities have been damaged, it added.

Army helicopters have been plucking stranded families from rooftops and patches of dry land and dropping food in inaccessible areas, mainly in northern and southwestern Pakistan.

Colossal volumes of water are pouring into the Indus river, spilling out along its length and leaving vast tracks of land submerged.

Flash floods have swept away homes, businesses, infrastructure and crops. The government says 33 million people, or 15 percent of the 220 million population, have been affected.

The floods have also washed away standing and stored crops that officials say will likely lead to a food shortage, with prices of edible items surging in a South Asian country already suffering from 24.9 percent inflation.

General Akhtar Nawaz, chief of the national disaster agency, said more than two million acres (809,371 hectares) of agricultural land have been flooded.

“The rice crop has been washed away,” Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif told reporters after visiting northern Pakistan. “Fruit and vegetables are gone.”

He said floodwaters had swept away 700,000 livestock.

Early estimates have put the flood damage at more than $10 billion, the government has said, appealing to the world to help it deal with what it has called a man-made climate catastrophe.


After months of acrimony, ex-PM Khan’s party says wants to improve ties with army

Updated 05 December 2022

After months of acrimony, ex-PM Khan’s party says wants to improve ties with army

  • PTI had a particularly tense relationship with the military since Khan was ousted from power in April last year
  • PTI confirms “informal communications” had begun with federal government on announcement of snap polls

ISLAMABAD: A top leader of former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) said on Monday the party wanted to improve its relations with the country’s all-powerful army, confirming that discussions on early elections were ongoing with the federal government. 

Khan was ousted from the office of prime minister in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence in April. He has since blamed his removal on a conspiracy hatched by the United States, the country’s military, and his political opponents, all of whom deny the charge. 

The ex-premier particularly criticized former army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa for not blocking his ouster and backing the new collation government of PM Shehbaz Sharif instead. However, after Bajwa retired last month and a new army chief, General Asim Munir, was appointed, Khan expressed hope of an end to what he called a “prevailing trust deficit between the army and the public.”

The army has ruled Pakistan for nearly half its 75-year history and plays a central role in internal politics and foreign policy. 

Speaking at a presser in Lahore, PTI’s Senior Vice President Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said the Sharif government was trying to sabotage the PTI’s recent repeated attempts to mend ties with the army.

“While we are trying to lessen the tension that has existed between the PTI, the armed forces, and the judiciary for the last few months, some people, the federal government precisely, is trying to derail that process,” he said.

However, Hussain said the PTI wanted to move on toward general elections, confirming that “informal communications” between the PTI and the federal government on announcement of snap polls had begun.

“Either they can sit with us and talk, give us a date for the general elections ... or else we will dissolve our assemblies,” Hussain said, reiterating the PTI’s warning it would dissolve assemblies in the two provinces, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, where the party is in majority. 

“We have tried to make them understand that no system other than elections can bring stability in the country,” Hussain told reporters.

PM Sharif has so far rejected the demand for snap polls, saying the election would be held as scheduled late next year.


Five militants, soldier killed in shootout in Northwest Pakistan – army

Updated 05 December 2022

Five militants, soldier killed in shootout in Northwest Pakistan – army

  • Pakistani Taliban said their fighters killed a soldier during a raid by troops on their hideouts in North Waziristan
  • In a statement Monday, the group said it foiled the military raid but didn’t say whether it suffered any casualties

PESHAWAR: Security forces raided a militant hideout in a former Pakistani Taliban stronghold near the border with Afghanistan, triggering a shootout that killed five insurgents and a soldier, the military said Monday.

The shootout happened in North Waziristan, a district of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, according to a military statement. It did not say when the fighting took place or provide details about the slain alleged militants. A message left with a military spokesperson was not immediately returned.

The Pakistani Taliban, known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, said their fighters killed a soldier during a raid by troops on their hideouts in North Waziristan. In a statement Monday, the group said it foiled the military raid but didn’t say whether it suffered any casualties.

The Pakistani Taliban are a separate group but are allies of the Afghan Taliban, who seized power in Afghanistan a year ago as US and NATO troops were in the final stages of their pullout. The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has emboldened the Pakistani Taliban.


Husband, mother-in-law indicted in grisly murder of woman with dumbbells in Islamabad

Updated 05 December 2022

Husband, mother-in-law indicted in grisly murder of woman with dumbbells in Islamabad

  • The court calls on the prosecution to summon witnesses on December 14, trial to be conducted by same judge who heard grisly murder case of Noor Mukadam 
  • 37-year-old Sarah Inam was allegedly murdered by husband on September 23 after she traveled to Pakistan when Shahnawaz Amir asked for divorce over text messages

ISLAMABAD: A district and sessions court on Monday indicted Shahnawaz Amir and his mother Sameena Shah in the grisly September murder of Pakistani-Canadian Sarah Inam, calling on the prosecution to summon its witnesses on December 14, the Inam family lawyer said.

Inam, a 37-year-old economist who worked in Abu Dhabi, was murdered with dumbbells, according to police, by her husband Shahnawaz Amir at a suburban Islamabad home on September 23.

Inam got married to the Amir of her own choice on July 18 in his hometown of Chakwal. The parents of the couple were not present at the event. Inam’s family has said she had met Amir only thrice before the marriage and had told the parents about the relationship after the marriage.

The indictment was issued by sessions court judge Atta Rabbani after he dismissed Shah’s application seeking to be discharged from the case. 

“Both Amir and Shah have been charged in the murder case and have been informed about all the charges against them,” Inam's family lawyer, Rao Abdul Raheem, told Arab News.

Shah’s lawyer Nisar Asghar said both suspects had pleaded not guilty.

“Shah is charged with abatement to a crime under section 109 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and Amir is charged with murder under section 302 of the PPC,” Asghar told Arab News.

Raheem said the formal trial would now start and the court had asked the prosecutors to present witnesses on December 14.

“We expect that this would be a speedy trial like the Noor Mukadam murder case and the court will decide this case within three to five months,” he said. 

The judge hearing the case was the same one who heard the Mukadam case, the lawyer said, referring to the 27-year-old daughter of a diplomat who was beheaded by a male friend last year in a case that drew an outpouring of anger over femicides in the South Asian nation.

According to the first information report in the Inam murder case, Amir’s mother was present in the house at the time of the murder and had called the police on September 23 and informed them that her son had murdered his wife with a dumbbell. 

The police citation submitted by an investigation officer from Shahzad town police station said following an argument, Amir hit Inam with a showpiece and then hit her repeatedly with a dumbbell which caused her death. 

The police citation also said Amir had told police that after a fight with Inam over the phone while she was still in Abu Dhabi, the suspect had told her he wanted a divorce. This happened two days before the murder. 

Inam then traveled to Pakistan and arrived at Amir’s farmhouse in Chak Shehzad, Islamabad, from Abu Dhabi on September 22. The couple had an argument in Amir’s bedroom as Inam asked him about money she had wired him. The suspect subsequently beat her to death. 

After the murder, the accused dragged Inam’s body to the bathroom and hid it in the bathtub.

Speaking about the decision to indict Shah in the case, Raheem said:

“She [Shah] was present in the house at the time of the murder, and she is the owner of the house where CCTV cameras stopped working just two days prior to the incident.”

The lawyer added: “When she [Inam] was in Abu Dhabi, Amir divorced her through a message on WhatsApp and she then came to Islamabad to know the reasons behind divorcing her in such a way.”

Shah’s lawyer Asghar said the divorce was not finalized as it was just pronounced in a message while legal requirements had not yet been completed. 

“These are two different things, one is pronouncement of the divorce and the other is its completion, which requires issuance of a certificate by the same union council where Nikah took place,” he said.

“It does not mean that divorce has been completed as per the procedure given in the family laws of Pakistan. It was just pronounced but not confirmed and technically by the law, she was not divorced,” Asghar added.

Hundreds of women are killed in Pakistan every year, while thousands more suffer brutal violence. But few cases receive sustained media attention, and only a small fraction of perpetrators are ever punished or convicted by courts.

But Mukadam’s shocking murder, involving members of the privileged elite of Pakistani society, triggered an explosive reaction from women’s rights activists reckoning with pervasive violence.

It also increased pressure for a swift conclusion of the trial in a country known to have a sluggish justice system and where cases typically drag on for years.

Mukadam’s killer Zahir Jaffer received the death sentence in March but has appealed it in a higher court. The case is ongoing.


Pakistan says Russia to sell discounted crude, Iran to send LPG aid for winter

Updated 05 December 2022

Pakistan says Russia to sell discounted crude, Iran to send LPG aid for winter

  • Junior oil minister says Pakistan in talks with private Russian companies on possible LNG deal
  • Malik says Iran to provide additional two million pounds of LPG to Pakistan in next 10 days

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s state minister for petroleum Dr. Musadik Malik said on Monday Russia had agreed to sell petroleum products to Pakistan at discounted rates.

The announcement comes after Malik and the petroleum secretary flew to Russia last month to hold talks on several issues, with oil and gas supplies deals topping the agenda.

The trip comes amid a domestic gas supply crisis in the South Asian country, aggravated because of winter. Pakistan is also battling to contain a current account deficit swelled by energy payments, mostly for oil.

Speaking at a presser in Islamabad, Malik said Pakistan would now be able to receive crude oil, petrol and diesel at lower prices.

“Our visit to Russia turned out to be more productive than we had anticipated as the country has agreed to provide us with petroleum products at affordable rates,” Malik said.

He added that Pakistan was also negotiating with private Russian countries to strike a possible LNG deal as well as holding talks with Russia’s state-owned LNG plants.

The minister said the Pakistani delegation had also spoken with Russian authorities about projects related to the installation of gas pipelines.

Answering a question related to the ongoing gas supply crisis in the country, the junior oil minister said he had issued instructions to ensure the supply of gas to homes during morning hours and meal-preparation times.

He said state-owned Sui Southern Gas Company was trying its best to manage the load during the winter season.

“In remote areas of the country where SSGC cannot supply gas, the government is providing liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) there to meet the shortage,” he said, adding that as compared to December 2021, more gas was being supplied to different parts of the country this year.

“We are importing 20,000 tons of LPG per month to meet the country’s needs, while Iran has also announced that it would provide 2 million pounds of LPG to Pakistan ... in the next 10 days,” Malik said.

Pakistan’s Finance Minister Ishaq Dar last month said the country was considering buying discounted Russian oil, pointing out that neighbor India was purchasing oil from Moscow and Islamabad also had the right to explore the possibility.

Pakistan has been unable to procure Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) from the international market because spot prices remain out of its range and shipments under long-term deals remain insufficient to match rising demand.


Popular British High Commissioner Dr. Christian Turner to leave Pakistan

Updated 05 December 2022

Popular British High Commissioner Dr. Christian Turner to leave Pakistan

  • Turner posted to London as Director General Geopolitical at Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office
  • Position of Political Director, equivalent of Under Secretary of State, seen as UK’s second most senior diplomat

ISLAMABAD: British High Commissioner to Pakistan Dr. Christian Turner CMG has been posted to London as Director General Geopolitical at the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), the British Foreign Office said on Monday.

The position is equivalent to the Under Secretary of State.

Turner has been High Commissioner to Pakistan since December 2019 and is expected to depart the country and take up his new role in London by mid-January 2023. This follows the end of a standard three year diplomatic posting.

Over his three years as High Commissioner, Turner oversaw the UK’s COVID-19 repatriation efforts, welcomed a UK Foreign Secretary visit, lobbied for and secured direct flights from the UK to Pakistan, initiated a drive to double UK-Pakistan trade by 2025, ensured that the UK was at the forefront of the international Pakistan flood crisis response and played a pivotal role in the promotion of sports diplomacy and the return of the England Men’s cricket team to Pakistan following a 17-year absence.

“The last three years have been some of the most rewarding of my life, both professionally and personally,” Turner said in a statement. “I will continue closely to follow Pakistan’s future in my new role in London.”

The position of Political Director is traditionally seen as the UK’s second most senior diplomat who is responsible for bringing together the UK government’s cross-cutting geopolitical work on security, international architecture and alliances, as well as UK values.

No announcement has been made regarding the appointment of a new High Commissioner to Pakistan. The Deputy High Commissioner, Andrew Dalgleish, will take on the role of chargé d’affaires to cover the interim gap until a new High Commissioner arrives.

Prior to his appointment as High Commissioner to Pakistan, Turner was the Prime Minister’s International Affairs Adviser and Deputy National Security Adviser from April 2017 to July 2019. He previously served as the Director General, Political (Acting) and Director General for the Middle East and Africa, leading the UK organization of the London Syria Conference in February 2016.

From 2012 to 2015, Turker was British High Commissioner to Kenya, and from 2009 to 2012 he was FCO’s Director for the Middle East and North Africa. Between 1997 and 2008 he held various positions in the Foreign Office, the Cabinet Office and 10 Downing Street, including as Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, in the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit, as Secretary to the Economic & Domestic Committees of Cabinet, and as First Secretary in the British Embassy in Washington from 2002-2006.

Before joining the government, Turner made television documentaries, following the completion of his PhD. He is married with two children.