At historic Karachi temple, Hindus eat, pray, dance during nine-day Navaratri festival

Hindu men and women worship Goddess Durga on the fifth night of Navaratari at the historic Shri Swaminarayan temple in Karachi, Pakistan on September 30, 2022. (AN Photo)
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Updated 03 October 2022

At historic Karachi temple, Hindus eat, pray, dance during nine-day Navaratri festival

  • In Pakistan, the Navaratri festival began on September 26 and will last till October 4, followed by Dussehra on the 10th day
  • The devotees honour nine manifestations of their goddess, Durga, for her strength, power and ability to protect the weak

KARACHI: Men, women and children greet each other at an open space around the Shri Swaminarayan temple in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi. The attendees have gathered at the brightly lit, 234-year-old temple to celebrate the annual Hindu festival of Navaratri.  

In Pakistan, the nine-day festival began on September 26 and will continue till October 4. During this period, the devotees honor nine manifestations of their goddess, Durga, who is revered in the Hindu mythology for her strength, power and ability to protect the weak.  

The Swaminarayan temple situated in the Serai Quarters area is not only frequented by Hindus living in the neighbourhood, but members of the community from elsewhere in the bustling megapolis too.   

A worship spot is set up at the center of the open space with seating for men and women on each side, segregated with a tent. The visitors worship the goddess, donate food and other things before joining the festivities.   

It starts with children, women and men playing Dandiya Raas (a traditional dance holding short sticks in hands that traces its root to India's Gujarat) around the worship spot. This is followed by a Ram Leela act, performed by men, even the roles of women characters.   

“We celebrate Goddess Durga in Navaratri,” Gunwanti Ramesh Verma, a housewife in her early 40s, told Arab News on the 5th night of the festival on Friday.  

“For nine days, we perform Dandiya Raas and worship [Durga], wear nice clothes, make delicious desserts and celebrate the occasion together.”   

 




A large number of women and children from the Hindu community gather to celebrate Navaratri at the Shri Swaminarayan temple in Karachi, Pakistan on September 30, 2022. (AN Photo)

After running through nine nights, Navaratri concludes with Dussehra on the 10th day.   

“When Lord Rama had a war with Ravana, Bhagwan (Lord Rama) needed a lot of force. Praise for Goddess Durga was held for two days, after which the goddess herself emerged,” Sunita Mukesh, a 31-year-old beautician, told Arab News.   

"The goddess then handed over the manual to Lord Shri Rama Chandra. Hence, we worship Goddess Durga for nine days and celebrate Navaratri with full zeal."  

Ravana is burnt on Dussehra, the 10th day of Navaratari, which signifies the triumph of good over evil.   




Women and girls form a circle to perform Dandiya Raas in an open space close to the Shri Swaminarayan temple in Karachi, Pakistan on September 30, 2022. (AN Photo) 

“On the 10th day, Ravana will be burnt here [Shree Swaminarayan Hindu Temple],” Jawaharlal Advani, a member of the managing committee at Shri Swaminarayan temple, told Arab News.   

"Ravana isn't burnt anywhere else in Karachi."  

As Navarati marks the celebration of the strength of Goddess Durga, it is often aligned with women’s empowerment. Hindu devotees worship their goddesses for nine days staring from Shailputri on day one, followed by Brahmcharini, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skandamata, Katyayani, Kaalratri, Mahagauri, and Siddhidhatri on day nine.   

“The way men and women walk side by side in today’s time, we worship these goddesses during the nine days and give importance to them,” said Roshni, a 24-year-old corporate employee who only gave her first name.   

For some, Navaratri is a time of religious reflection and fasting, while for others it is a time to dance, feast and celebrate. Among the fasting customs are observing a strict vegetarian diet and abstaining from alcohol and certain spices. 




The Shri Swaminarayan temple is lit up for Navaratari festivities, with men and women seated on either side of a tent in Karachi, Pakistan on September 30, 2022. (AN Photo)

“Throughout the nine nights, Navaratri is celebrated at all Hindu temples in Karachi, Pakistan and the entire world,” said Jyoti Maheshwari, a journalist by profession.   

"We observe fast for nine days, alongside worship, while men, women and children gather at the temple and perform Dandiya, Garba, etc." 


After six-year tenure, General Bajwa retires as Pakistan army chief today

Updated 13 sec ago

After six-year tenure, General Bajwa retires as Pakistan army chief today

  • Outgoing chief holds farewell meetings with PM Shehbaz Sharif, President Arif Alvi
  • Will pass baton to successor General Asim Munir at change of command ceremony

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa will be retiring today, Tuesday after completing a six-year tenure as head of Pakistan's all-powerful military, which has an outsized role in the governance and foreign policy of the nuclear-armed nation.

A change of command ceremony will be held at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi on Tuesday morning during which Bajwa will pass the baton to his successor, General Asim Munir, who will become the 17th army chief of the country.

Ahead of the handing over, Bajwa on Monday held farewell meetings with PM Shehbaz Sharif and President Arif Alvi, in which both leaders lauded the outgoing officer's services for Pakistan, particularly in the areas of defense, security, and geo-economics.

“Under the leadership of General Qamar Javed Bajwa, the army demonstrated exemplary services in effectively dealing with various challenges, including the country’s exclusion from the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) Grey List, COVID-19 pandemic, and the recent flashfloods,” the PM office said in a statement. 

“You had the honor of leading the best army in the world.”

In an interview published in an international media outlet on Sunday, Bajwa reiterated the army’s resolve to remain apolitical and, in an apparent reference to former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, said that a campaign had been launched against the armed forces because it refused to intervene in politics. 

“Despite some criticism and undue vilification of the armed forces through mass propaganda and meticulously crafted false narratives, the institutional resolve to remain apolitical will remain steadfast,” the outgoing army chief said in the interview.

“I am certain that this political quarantine of the armed forces will auger well for Pakistan in the long term by fostering political stability and strengthening the army-to-people bond.”

The army has ruled Pakistan for almost half of its 75-year history either through coups or as an invisible guiding hand in politics.

Munir's appointment coincides with a dispute between the military and former premier Khan, who blames the army for playing a part in his ouster earlier this year and who has been leading anti-government protests since then.


Pakistan minister heads to Russia for oil and gas talks

Updated 28 November 2022

Pakistan minister heads to Russia for oil and gas talks

  • Trip comes as the South Asian nation struggles to meet domestic gas supply needs as winter approaches
  • Finance Minister Ishaq Dar last month said that Pakistan is considering buying discounted Russian oil

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's junior oil minister and the petroleum secretary have flown to Russia for talks on issues including oil and gas supplies, two people close to the matter told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The trip comes as the South Asian nation struggles to meet domestic gas supply needs as winter approaches while battling to contain a current account deficit swelled by energy payments, mostly for oil.

Junior oil minister Musadik Malik did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.

The sources provided no further details, such as the exact agenda, who the Pakistani officials would meet in Russia or when the talks will take place.

Pakistan Finance Minister Ishaq Dar last month said that the country is considering buying discounted Russian oil, pointing out that neighbour India has been purchasing oil from Moscow and Islamabad also has a 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.

With dwindling local gas reserves, the country has begun to ration supplies to residential and commercial consumers. Local media has also reported that oil supplies remain tenuous owing to difficulties in paying for imports.


Ex-PM Khan's party announces it will dissolve provincial assemblies after Saturday

Updated 28 November 2022

Ex-PM Khan's party announces it will dissolve provincial assemblies after Saturday

  • Calls on new military leaders to review policy of carrying 'political dead bodies'
  • Pakistan appointed new army chief, chairman joint chiefs of staff committee last week

KARACHI: The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party of former Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday urged the country's new military leaders to review the policy of supporting the coalition government led by PM Shehbaz Sharif, announcing that the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial assemblies would be dissolved after Saturday this week to pave the way for general elections.

Sharif last week named General Asim Munir as chief of Pakistan's army, an organisation that plays a hugely influential role in the governance of the nuclear-armed nation. Gen. Sahir Shamshad Mirza was appointed chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee. 

The PTI has accused outgoing army chief General Qamar Bajwa, who retires tomorrow, Tuesday, of backing the coalition government and helping it come to power through a parliamentary vote of no-confidence that removed Khan from office in April. The army says it does not interfere in politics.

"There is a new dispensation [in the military]," close Khan aide Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said at a press conference after a meeting to deliberate on the PTI's recent announcement that its legislators would resign from the Punjab and Khyber Pakkhtunkhwa assemblies where the party is in majority. 

"The weight of the policies of the last seven months is bending you backwards," Hussain said, addressing the new military leaders. "Our establishment is carrying around the weight of Nawaz Sharif and Zardari's political dead bodies. You will not be able to carry this weight."

He was referring to Sharif's brother Nawaz, a former three time PM and head of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party, and former president Asif Ali Zardari, who heads the Pakistan Peoples Party. 

"Pakistan's public is expecting that you will change this policy and we will move forward."

At a rally on Saturday, Khan said he was consulting his party on the possibility of resigning from all provincial assemblies in a fresh bid to push for early elections. PTI has already resigned from the federal parliament, but remains in power in two provinces, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and two administrative units.

Speaking about Monday's meeting where the decision to resign from assemblies was discussed, Hussain said:

“The decision to dissolve both Punjab and Khyber Pakhunkhwa assemblies has been endorsed."

He said KP chief minister Mehmood Khan had already met Khan while Punjab CM Chaudhry Pervez Elahi would meet him on Tuesday.

"On Friday, a session of Punjab's parliamentary party [assembly] has been called and on Saturday a session has been called of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa [assembly]. After both sessions, these assemblies will be dissolved."

Speaking to Arab News, Hussain said the move to dissolve assemblies would force early elections, which has been Khan's main demand since April. 

“A large number of 568 seats will be vacated with dissolution of assemblies and resignations from national and two other provincial assemblies,” he said, adding that the government could not hold by-elections on so many seats. 


Pakistan Taliban end cease-fire, order nationwide attacks

Updated 28 November 2022

Pakistan Taliban end cease-fire, order nationwide attacks

  • TTP agreed to a cease-fire with the Pakistan government in June
  • Both sides have repeatedly claimed the truce was ignored by the other

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Taliban said Monday they have called off a shaky cease-fire agreed with the government in June and ordered fighters to stage attacks across the country.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a separate entity from the Taliban in Afghanistan but sharing a similar Islamist ideology, have been responsible for hundreds of attacks and thousands of deaths since emerging in 2007.
They agreed to a truce earlier this year after Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers took a prominent role in brokering peace talks, but negotiations made little progress and there were frequent breaches.
“We... have shown our continued patience so that the negotiation process is not sabotaged,” the TTP said in a statement.
“But the army and intelligence agencies do not stop and continue the attacks, so now our retaliatory attacks will also start across the country.”
Less than two weeks ago the TTP claimed an ambush that killed six policemen in northwest Pakistan, claiming they were plotting a “raid” on their base in the area.
Since Friday the military has been patrolling the area in an attempt to root out militants, with helicopter gunships shelling their hideouts.
The TTP was founded in 2007 by Pakistani jihadists who fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan in the 1990s before opposing Islamabad’s support for American intervention there after 9/11.
For a time they held vast tracts of Pakistan’s rugged tribal belt, imposing radical Islamic law and patrolling territory just 140 kilometers (85 miles) from the Pakistan capital.
The Pakistani military came down hard after 2014 when militants raided a school for children of army personnel and killed nearly 150 people, most of them pupils.
Its fighters were largely routed into neighboring Afghanistan, but Islamabad claims the Taliban in Kabul are now giving the TTP a foothold to stage assaults across the border.
In the year since the Taliban took over Afghanistan, Pakistan has seen a 50 percent surge in militant attacks, according to the Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS).
Lawmakers and business owners in northwest Pakistan have also told AFP that instances of TTP blackmail in the area have increased.
The presence of militants in the area is a deeply sensitive topic for Islamabad, which has long struggled to establish a writ there.
Analyst Saad Khan, a Peshawar-based retired brigadier, played down the significance of the TTP statement saying the cease-fire was barely observed anyway.
“The Afghan Taliban have assured the whole world that they will not allow their territory to be used against any other country,” he told AFP.
“It is important to initiate serious negotiations with the Afghan Taliban on this issue and make them aware of the seriousness of the matter.”


Pakistan vs England Test: English skipper Ben Stokes to donate match fee to flood relief

Updated 28 November 2022

Pakistan vs England Test: English skipper Ben Stokes to donate match fee to flood relief

  • The three-match series, part of the World Test championship, starts in Rawalpindi on Dec. 1
  • PM Sharif thanks English skipper, says “empathy for suffering humanity greatest of all virtues”

RAWALPINDI: English cricket captain Ben Stokes on Monday announced he would donate his match fee from an upcoming Test series against Pakistan to the country’s flood relief efforts to “give something back that goes far beyond cricket.”

The English team is currently in Pakistan to play a three-match series against the host, starting in Rawalpindi on December 1. This is the first Test that England will be playing against Pakistan after a hiatus of 17 years. The second Test will be held in Multan from December 9-13 and the third in Karachi from December 17-21, respectively.

The Test series comes months after Pakistan was hit by floods which affected 33 million people.  The deluge killed more than 1,700 people and inflicted billions of dollars of damage. Pakistani authorities' estimates of the damage have varied from $10 billion to $40 billion.

“This is great to be in Pakistan for the first time for this historic series. To be back here after 17 years as a Test side is very exciting. There is a sense of responsibility amongst the playing and support group and to be here is special,” Stokes wrote on Twitter.

“The floods that devastated Pakistan earlier this year was very sad to see and has had a significant impact on the country and the people. The game has given me a lot in my life and I feel it’s only right to give something back that goes far beyond cricket.”

Appreciating the gesture, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif thanked the English team captain.

“Empathy for suffering humanity is the greatest of all virtues. His gesture epitomises the great British tradition of philanthropy.”

Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah also welcomed the English team to Pakistan after 17 years and thanked British High Commissioner to Pakistan Christian Turner for making the tour possible

“We welcome England team, who will be playing test matches on soil after such a long hiatus. It’s a result of the relentless efforts of all the ppl involved to make this happen, especially Chargé d'affaires Christian Turner. Hoping for a great contest btw the two quality sides,” Sanaullah wrote on Twitter.

Last year, England were due to visit Pakistan but pulled out after New Zealand abandoned their tour minutes before the first one-day international, citing security alerts.

There were fears of a similar pullout earlier this month following an attack on former prime minister Imran Khan during a protest march in Wazirabad, a city in Punjab province.

But England’s Test skipper Ben Stokes quashed all fears following positive security advice.

“It’s been a long time since England have played Test cricket in Pakistan,” Stokes said in Abu Dhabi on Friday.