‘World where no child feels hopeless’: Pakistani families, experts urge empathy as suicides rise

The undated photo shows Emad posing for a picture with his mother. (@SyedIHusain/Twitter)
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Updated 11 September 2022

‘World where no child feels hopeless’: Pakistani families, experts urge empathy as suicides rise

  • Suicide is illegal in Pakistan, there is no access to prevention programs and little attention paid to mental illnesses
  • Clinical psychologist Atia Naqvi lost her son Emad to suicide, believes suicides preventable with familial and medical attention

KARACHI: When Atia Naqvi and her husband spoke to their son Emad on May 18, 2018, he sounded “cheerful.” 

The family was scheduled to leave for Boston the next morning to attend Emad’s upcoming graduation from the University of Massachusetts.

Within a few hours, however, the Naqvis’ world turned upside down. An American police official called the family and said Emad had died after hanging himself at a local train station. He was two months short of his 25th birthday.

One in every 100 deaths worldwide is the result of suicide. Between 1999 and 2019, the suicide death rate in the United States increased 33 percent. In Pakistan, where Emad grew up, the World Health Organization estimated there were 19,331 suicides in 2019, with a rate of 8.9 percent per 100,000. 

The WHO also estimates that, globally, for one death there are between 10 and 20 attempts. Based on these numbers, there may be between 130,000 and 260,000 suicide attempts annually in Pakistan, a rising trend. Suicide is also illegal in Pakistan and there is no access to prevention programs and little attention paid to mental illnesses such as depression.

To this day, Emad’s parents say they saw “nothing on the radar” to reveal that their son, a football enthusiast and engaged member of the community, was struggling with mental illness. But a two-hour long video recorded by the young man to explain his reasons convinced the parents otherwise. 

“He was peaceful, he was very loving, but he had a warped theory that he had been born into privilege,” Naqvi, a clinical psychologist herself, told Arab News in a Zoom interview earlier this month ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10.

Emad is pictured during a soccer match in Boston, US, in 2017. (Photo Courtesy: Atia Naqvi)

Her son, she said, had come to believe he was “not worthy” of the opportunities life had afforded him.

“Then, he came up with anecdotes from his past that ‘I had lied, and I’m not worthy of this, and I’m not good enough’,” Naqvi said, sharing details of Emad’s video message.

“It didn’t seem that [anything big] happened in those few hours [after Emad’s phone conversation with parents],” she said. “It seemed that it was a well thought-out [action]. He had been struggling … for months. In that video, he says that ‘I wanted to speak to you guys, but I didn’t want to make you unhappy’.”

The eldest among the Naqvi children, Emad was born in New York, but grew up in Karachi where he attended the elite Karachi Grammar School and the Lyceum School before moving to the United States for a bachelor’s degree. His greatest passion was football and he was among the first members of the now highly-acclaimed Karachi United Football Club (KUFC).

In this undated photo, Emad Naqvi (right) is seen with his younger siblings. (Photo courtesy: Atia Naqvi )

After moving to Boston for college, Emad began working as a football coach for children at Super Soccer Stars. He also taught disabled students at Ivy Street School, and went on to get two FIFA licenses. His dream — after he became an established FIFA Coach with all six licenses — was to start a football academy in Lyari, a Karachi neighborhood where football has for years been a big hit.

Though Emad could not fulfill his dream, his parents have set up the Coach Emad Foundation (CEF) to carry forward Emad’s “legacy of love for football and service to the community.”

A picture posted by Emad's father, Azfar Naqvi, on January 1, 2019 shows his family posing with the students at Coach Emad Foundation (CEF) in Lyari, Karachi. (@azfarnaqvi16/Twitter)

But while the Naqvis’ have embraced Emad’s story, there is widespread social stigma attached to suicides in Pakistan, where it is a criminal offense under the Pakistan Penal Code. Many doctors and academics say the criminalization of suicide makes it difficult to get a clear picture of its prevalence and of wider incidences of mental illness.

Naqvi said a Muslim prayer leader advised her family to cover up the true nature of her son’s death or else he would not perform his last rites, but she and her husband decided against it.

“I didn’t want to lie, I wanted to be truthful,” Emad’s mother added. “This was my last service to my child.”

Sindh Mental Health Authority chairman Dr. Karim Ahmed Khawaja, who is also a senator and presented a private member’s bill in 2017 to decriminalize suicide, described the existing law as a colonial hangover. 

“The UK has scrapped it, India also got rid of it a few years back, but we still have not ended it,” he told Arab News. “Instead of such laws, we need to work toward ending depression, which is an illness.”

Naqvi also said she believed suicides were preventable with the right kind of familial and medical attention, lamenting that her family had been “just so focused on being happy and healthy and functional and successful” that they were not able to recognuze Emad’s struggles.

“Let us create a world where no child feels hopeless enough to end their life, where every child realizes how wonderful, how beautiful, how worthy they are,” Naqvi. “Each one of us can do it.”

Pakistan PM says soft states cannot gain investor confidence, calls for robust response to militancy

Updated 26 min 36 sec ago

Pakistan PM says soft states cannot gain investor confidence, calls for robust response to militancy

  • Shehbaz Sharif calls it a ‘grave mistake’ only to expect the armed forces to deal with the issue of militant violence
  • He asks the provinces to play their role, saying it was their joint responsibility after the eighteenth amendment

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Saturday emphasized the necessity of developing a strong and comprehensive response to the challenge of militant violence in Pakistan, saying it was not possible for a “soft state” to strengthen its economy since it tends to lose confidence of potential investors.
Sharif made the observation while addressing the National Action Plan’s Apex Committee, a high-level forum that includes members such as the army chief, provincial chief ministers and heads of major civil and military law enforcement agencies.
The committee oversees and coordinates comprehensive national efforts to combat militant and other security threats within the country.
The prime minister’s statement comes just a day after senior Chinese politician Liu Jianchao said in Islamabad that Pakistan’s security challenges were undermining the confidence of investors from his country.
Liu’s statement reinforced concerns raised by authorities in Beijing following several attacks on Chinese nationals working on energy and infrastructure development projects in Pakistan, including a suicide bombing in March this year that killed five of them.
“For sustainable development in Pakistan, stability and the rule of law are essential,” said the prime minister. “It is our collective responsibility to enforce the writ of the state with full force and without exception.”
“A soft state can never earn the confidence of investors, whether they are domestic or foreign,” he continued. “Therefore, a healthy and strong economy cannot be envisaged in an unstable state plagued by terrorism.”
Sharif maintained fighting militant violence was the joint responsibility of all institutions of the state.
“We have very easily left this matter to the officers and soldiers of our armed forces,” he added. “The provinces and governments have completely absolved themselves of this responsibility. This is the dangerous approach that has developed over the past years.”
The prime minister noted this was not the way Pakistan could “end terrorism.”
“After the 18th amendment in the constitution, the provincial governments have a significant role in this effort and have also been provided resources,” he said. “Therefore, I expect that the provinces will play an active part in combating terrorism. Together, God willing, we will eradicate this scourge.”
He said it was important for everyone to take the ownership of the war against militancy, adding that leaving it to just one institution of the state would be a “grave mistake.”
Earlier in the day, Pakistan’s interior minister Mohsin Naqvi also held a meeting to review the security measures for foreign nationals, particularly the Chinese workers in the country.

‘Sacrifice won’t go to waste,’ Pakistan PM says as five soldiers killed in IED blast 

Updated 22 June 2024

‘Sacrifice won’t go to waste,’ Pakistan PM says as five soldiers killed in IED blast 

  • IED blast targeted vehicle carrying security forces in Kurram district in northwestern province
  • Top officials attend funeral of Sepoy Haroon William, Christian soldier who was killed in latest blast 

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Saturday the sacrifice of Pakistan army soldiers killed in an improvised explosive device (IED) blast in northwestern Pakistan this week wouldn’t go to waste, as he vowed to continue the South Asian nation’s ‘war against terrorism.’
The IED blast targeted a vehicle carrying security forces personnel in Kurram district of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, the Pakistan army’s media wing said in a statement. 
The blast comes amid a rise in terror attacks mostly claimed by the Pakistani Taliban, known as the 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 to launch attacks in Pakistan, a charge that Kabul denies. 
On Saturday, Sharif and other top government and military officers including the army chief attended the funeral prayers in Islamabad of Sepoy Haroon William, a Christian soldier who was killed in the Kurram IED blast. 
“The army’s history is filled with such sacrifices. In yesterday’s unfortunate incident, Haroon William sacrificed his life for the motherland,” Sharif said as he addressed the funeral service. “Me, army chief and everyone hail their sacrifice for the nation, I believe this sacrifice will not go to waste.”
A day earlier, Sharif had vowed to continue “the war against the menace [of terrorism] 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. In another major attack, five Chinese nationals were killed in a suicide bombing on their convoy in March.
Earlier this month, a report by the provincial counter-terrorism department (CTD) said 65 police officials were killed and 86 wounded in 237 incidents of terrorism in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the past five months. Police had killed 117 militants and arrested 299 others in a series of operations, the report added. 
Pakistani authorities often say Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers are providing shelter to TTP fighters across the two nations’ shared border. The Afghan Taliban government insists it doesn’t allow anyone to use Afghan soil for violence in another country. The TTP has also said it is not using Afghan soil to target troops in Pakistan.

Pakistani city of Peshawar hints at ‘complete ban’ on e-cigarettes, vapes

Updated 22 June 2024

Pakistani city of Peshawar hints at ‘complete ban’ on e-cigarettes, vapes

  • Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government bans public vaping in Peshawar district for 60 days
  • Sale of e-cigarettes prohibited within 100 meters of educational, health facilities 

PESHAWAR: Hinting at a complete ban on vaping devices, Pakistan’s northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has imposed interim measures prohibiting the public use of e-cigarettes, vapes and nicotine products in Peshawar district for 60 days, according to a notification issued earlier this month.

The World Health Organization (WHO) lists e-cigarettes as harmful and while their long-term health effects are not fully known, they do generate toxic substances, some of which are known to cause cancer and increase the risk of heart and lung disorders.

“It is requested to order the following interim measures till the complete ban on e-cigarettes, vapes, and nicotine pouches by the KP government to safeguard the health of people from the devastating impact to the extent of Peshawar,” the city’s deputy commissioner said in a notification dated June 13. 

“This order shall come into force forthwith and shall remain enforced for 60 days unless modified or withdrawn.”

The interim measures include a ban on the usage, advertisement and sale of e-cigarettes, vapes and nicotine pouches in public places and on public transport. Additionally, nicotine products cannot be sold within 100 meters of any education or health facility or parks. The sale of e-cigarettes to people under the age of 21 has also been banned. 

The notification said violators of the order would be punished under Section 188 of the Pakistan Penal Code, which relates to disobedience of orders promulgated by a public servant.

In 2019, the US reported 18 deaths due to a mysterious lung illness linked to e-cigarettes.

The WHO says high quality epidemiology studies consistently demonstrate that e-cigarette use increases conventional cigarette uptake, particularly among non-smoking youth, by nearly 3 times. 

“Evidence reveals that these products are harmful to health and are not safe. However, it is too early to provide a clear answer on the long-term impact of using them or being exposed to them,” according to the WHO website. 

Besides causing cancer and increasing the risk of heart and lung disorders, electronic delivery systems have also been linked to a number of physical injuries, including burns from explosions or malfunctions, when the products are not of the expected standard or are tampered with by users, the WHO says. 

Over 620,000 Afghans expelled from Pakistan since deportation drive launched last year

Updated 22 June 2024

Over 620,000 Afghans expelled from Pakistan since deportation drive launched last year

  • Almost 14,000 Afghan nationals repatriated in last ten days
  • These included 5,014 men, 4,087 women and 4,714 children

ISLAMABAD: A deportation drive targeting illegal foreigners living in Pakistan is continuing, with more than 13,000 Afghan nationals expelled over the last ten days, state broadcaster Radio Pakistan said on Saturday, bringing the total number of Afghans deported to over 620,000.

The government launched a deportation drive last year after a spike in suicide bombings which the Pakistan government, without providing evidence, has blamed on Afghan nationals. Islamabad also says Afghans are involved in smuggling, militant violence and other crimes. 

A cash-strapped Pakistan navigating record inflation, alongside a tough International Monetary Fund bailout program last year, had also said undocumented migrants had drained its resources for decades.

“Repatriation of illegal Afghan nationals continues and so far, 620,981 Afghans have returned to their country,” Radio Pakistan said in its tally on Saturday. 

“Between 11th to 21st of this month [June], total 13,815 Afghans returned to their country including 5,014 men, 4,087 women and 4,714 children.”

Until the government initiated the expulsion drive last year, Pakistan was home to over four million Afghan migrants and refugees, of which around 1.7 million were undocumented, as per government figures. 

Afghans make up the largest portion of migrants, many of whom came after the Taliban took over Kabul in 2021, but a large number have been present since the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Islamabad insists the deportation drive is not aimed specifically at Afghans but at all those living illegally in Pakistan.

In October 2023, Pakistan announced phase one of the “Illegal Foreigners’ Repatriation Plan” with a 30-day deadline for “undocumented” aliens to leave the country or be subject to deportation, putting 1.4 million Afghan refugees at risk.

In phase two of the “repatriation plan,” around 600,00 Afghans who held Pakistan-issued Afghan citizenship cards (ACCs) will be expelled while phase three is expected to target those with UNHCR-issued Proof of Registration (PoR) cards.

In April, the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) issued a notification validating the extension of the PoR card till June 30 this year.

Before the deportation drive, people used to daily cross the Pak-Afghan border back and forth for business and personal purposes.

The drive has led to a spike in tensions between Pakistan and the Taliban rulers in Afghanistan. The Taliban deny militants are using Afghan soil to launch attacks, calling Pakistan’s security challenges a domestic issue.

Pakistan urges UNSC to compel Kabul to sever ties with Pakistani Taliban

Updated 22 June 2024

Pakistan urges UNSC to compel Kabul to sever ties with Pakistani Taliban

  • Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to UN calls on UNSC to prevent TTP from carrying out cross-border attacks 
  • Kabul says rising violence in Pakistan is a domestic issue and it does not allow militants to operate on its territory

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Munir Akram, has urged the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to compel Taliban authorities in Afghanistan to sever ties with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and prevent cross-border attacks carried out by the group, state media reported on Saturday.

Islamabad blames the surge in attacks on neighboring Afghanistan, saying Pakistani Taliban, or TTP, leaders have taken refuge there and run camps to train militants to launch attacks inside Pakistan. Kabul says rising violence in Pakistan is a domestic issue for Islamabad and it does not allow militants to operate on its territory.

The TTP pledges allegiance to, and gets its name from, the Afghan Taliban, but is not directly a part of the group that now rules Afghanistan. Its stated aim is to impose Islamic religious law in Pakistan, as the Taliban have done in Afghanistan.

“I urge the UNSC to call on the Taliban government to sever its links with the TTP and its associates, prevent them from carrying out cross-border attacks against Pakistan, disarm the TTP terrorists, capture their leadership and hand them over to Pakistan,” the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) quoted Akram as saying in an address to the 15-member council to which the South Asian state was recently elected as a non-permanent member.

“The impunity which some of these terrorist groups seem to enjoy within Afghanistan poses a dire and direct threat to all of Afghanistan’s neighbors as well as to the international community.”

Akram said the Taliban government did not act “decisively” to halt the TTP’s militant activities despite assurances.

“The highest priority – for the international community, for Afghanistan’s neighbors and for Afghanistan itself – remains the elimination of terrorism within and from Afghanistan,” the envoy added. 

The TTP is responsible for some of the bloodiest attacks in Pakistan, including on churches, schools and the shooting of Malala Yousafzai, who survived the 2012 attack after she was targeted for her campaign against the Taliban’s efforts to deny women education.

Pakistani forces were able to effectively dismantle the TTP and kill most of its top leadership in a string of military operations from 2014 onwards in the tribal areas, driving most of the fighters into neighboring Afghanistan, where Islamabad says they have regrouped.