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

(L-R) The collage of image shows Chief Minister Gilgit-Baltistan Khalid Khurshid (right) and Chief Secretary Gilgit-Baltistan Mohyuddin Ahmad Wani pose for pictures at the launch of the women-only bus service in Gilgit-Baltistan and newly-launched bus parked at Chief Minister of Gilgit-Baltistan's office in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan, on October 4, 2022. (@csgbpk/Twitter)
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Updated 05 October 2022

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, 27, 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.

After beating floods, one man in Sindh adopts ‘paradoxical farming’ to increase crop yield

Updated 03 December 2022

After beating floods, one man in Sindh adopts ‘paradoxical farming’ to increase crop yield

  • Farmer named Bhom Singh Sodho uses organic method that combines raised bed cropping and hardpan breaking
  • Method was pioneered by a local agronomist and is now being promoted by Pakistan’s planning commission

UMERKOT: At a time when Pakistan is reeling from major agricultural losses due to worst-ever floods this summer that washed away thousands of acres of crops, a man in the southern Sindh says he is earning substantial cotton, sugarcane, and vegetable crop yields by using an innovative farming method that promises massive profits for agriculturalists.

Paedar Qudrati Nizam-e-Kashtkari (PQNK) – a term sometimes described as “paradoxical farming” – was pioneered in 2008 by a Lahore-based agronomist, Asif Sharif, who encouraged growers to adopt natural means to increase agricultural production.

Paradoxical farming combines farming practices like hardpan breaking, no tilling, raised beds, precision planting, and organic mulching to invent an effective cropping system.

It is this technique that is being used by Bhom Singh Sodho, a farmer from the district of Umerkot in Sindh where much of the agricultural land was submerged during the recent floods.

Sodho combined raised bed cropping, which helped reduce excess surface water, as well as hardpan breaking, which increased the absorption capacity of his land in the absence of thick agrochemical layers.

“The floods devastated thousands of acres of agricultural land which were using traditional production methods around my farm,” Sodho told Arab News. “However, PQNK saved me from incurring any losses. In fact, I earned substantial profit and was even preparing to cultivate my next crop when a majority of farmers were trying to drain water from their fields.”

This picture shows an agricultural land which is still submerged by flood water in Umerkot, Pakistan, on November 17, 2022. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

Official estimates suggest the catastrophic floods in Pakistan inflicted more than $30 billion in economic losses while the agricultural sector suffered $3.7 billion in damages. Sindh was the worst-hit province, where a large number of farmers lost both crops and livestock.

Sodho said that he shifted to the new production method two years ago when he decided to employ it over 11 out of his 55 acres of land. The year 2022 was the best for him in terms of cotton, sugarcane, and vegetable crops even amid the unprecedented floods, he said. 

Farmers in Umerkot mostly complain of water shortages and Sodho’s decision to switch to the new farming technique was also prompted by the same reason since the innovative method could help him grow the crops by using much less water than was otherwise required for conventional farming. 

Speaking to Arab News, Sharif, the 71-year-old founder of the system, said PQNK was a “low-cost, sustainable agricultural technique.”

“This is a self-funded initiative and there is no commercial angle involved in it,” Sharif, who is also the founding chairman and chief executive of Pedaver Private Limited, said over the telephone.

He said his method did not employ agrochemicals “which are poisonous for the microbes in the soil.” With an emphasis on organic food production, a farmer’s yield can also be sold at much higher rates in the international market. Apart from that, the new method “helps reduce the seed and water requirements by about 80 percent each.”

He said local soil had developed hardpan layers of chemical pesticide and fertilizer deposits of seven to 19 inches since the green revolution in the 1960s in conventional agriculture farming. Hardpan, he said, was largely impervious to water and restricted the growth of plant roots which lowered crop productivity and decreased the nutrition level.

“PQNK is a permanent low-cost solution for water scarcity and flooding,” he said.

“Breaking hardpan means increasing the capacity of the soil to absorb water. The recent floods caused massive devastation which could have been avoided if there had been a breaking of the hardpan on a larger scale. This also becomes clear when we see Bhom Singh Sodho’s farms since he applied the same method.”

Pakistan’s planning commission, the apex policymaking body, endorsed the new agricultural mechanism in 2021, rebranding it as Regenerative Agricultural Production System (RAPS).

According to Dr. Hamid Jalil, who works with the commission as a member of food security and climate change, “RAPS is a climate-smart agricultural production system.”

“We are scaling up RAPS in the country and introducing it in all public sector research centers and universities for authentication trials,” he told Arab News.

“We have already had success in getting international recognition for it when the World Bank evaluated RAPS in April this year and included it in the upcoming agricultural projects in Pakistan.”

However, Jalil said the biggest challenge in adopting the farming mechanism on a mass level was the provision of seed-sowing planter machines.

“With the assistance of Pro Nature Alliance, the planning commission manufactured four planter machines recently on an experimental basis whose testing was successful,” he added. “Pakistan needs 20,000 planter machines across the country to adopt RAPS. We have made PC-1 [or project feasibility report] that after approval will allow starting local production of planter machines. We can make the required number of machines in five years.”

Sharif added that the farming system could help Pakistan “generate an estimated $20 billion exportable food surplus in just a few years, provided that the country takes well-planned initiatives.

“At present, I have millions of followers across the world who are learning PQNK techniques online,” he said. “In Pakistan, there are about 100,000 farmers who are linked with PQNK and their number is increasing.”

Saudi development agency extends term of $3 billion deposit with Pakistan's central bank

Updated 02 December 2022

Saudi development agency extends term of $3 billion deposit with Pakistan's central bank

  • The deposit originally aimed to help Pakistan deal with financial repercussions in the wake of COVID-19
  • The Saudi Development Fund hopes the decision will help Pakistan handle external sector challenges

KARACHI: Pakistan's central bank said on Friday the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD) had extended the term of a $3 billion deposit to shore up the country's economy which is currently going through a rough patch.
The deposit was made under an agreement signed between the State Bank of Pakistan and the Saudi development agency in November 2021 to support the South Asian state's dwindling foreign exchange reserves.
The Pakistani central bank announced in a Twitter post last September the SFD had confirmed the deposit's rollover for another year.
"The extension of the term of deposit is a continuation of the support provided by the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan," the State Bank said in a statement.
It noted the deposit originally aimed to help Pakistan deal with financial repercussions in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Saudi development agency also hoped in a Twitter post that its decision would make it easier for Pakistan "to meet external sector challenges & achieve sustainable economic growth."
According to Pakistan's central bank, the country's total liquid foreign reserves stood at $13.4 billion on November 25. The foreign exchange held by the State Bank amounted to $7.5 billion while the rest of it was with various commercial banks.
"It is a crucial development for Pakistan's economy since the amount of $3 billion is quite considerable," Dr. Khaqan Najeeb, former advisor to the finance ministry, told Arab News. "With $7.5 billion on November 25, Pakistan needs to ensure that the money deposited by all friendly countries is rolled over."
The development was also applauded by people from other walks of life, including the country's religious community that said Saudi Arabia had always cooperated with Pakistan.
"As a result of the meetings held between Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, it is clear that investment and cooperation from Saudi Arabia in Pakistan will further increase in the coming days," said chairman of the Pakistan Ulema Council Hafiz Muhammad Tahir Ashrafi.
He added the country was expected to hear "good news in the near future" from other Muslim countries like the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Turkey.

PM Sharif condemns 'assassination attempt' on Pakistan diplomat after embassy in Kabul comes under attack

Updated 02 December 2022

PM Sharif condemns 'assassination attempt' on Pakistan diplomat after embassy in Kabul comes under attack

  • The foreign office says a security guard was 'critically injured' while trying to save Pakistan's head of mission
  • Pakistan has demanded investigation into the incident while calling for security of its diplomatic personnel

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif condemned an "assassination attempt" against his country's head of mission in Afghanistan after Pakistan's embassy in Kabul was attacked on Friday.
The foreign office said in a statement a Pakistani security guard got "critically injured" while trying to protect the head of mission, Ubaid-ur-Rehman Nizamani, during the attack.
The statement also urged the Afghan interim administration to thoroughly investigate the incident, apprehend the culprits and hold them to account.
Prime Minister Sharif also expressed shock at the development while applauding the bravery of the security guard.
"I strongly condemn [the] dastardly assassination attempt on [Pakistani] Head of Mission [in] Kabul," he wrote in a Twitter post. "Salute to brave security guard, who took bullet to save his life."
"I demand immediate investigation & action against [the] perpetrators of this heinous act," he added.

While it is not clear who launched the attack, Pakistan's interior minister Rana Sanaullah said on Thursday Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a proscribed militant network, was enjoying "all sorts of facilities in Afghanistan."
Sanaullah issued the statement after a recent suicide bombing in the southwestern Balochistan province that targeted police providing security to polio workers.
The TTP claimed responsibility for the attack in Balochistan, making the Pakistani minister say it should be "a matter of concern" for the government in Kabul since the top leadership of the group was based in Afghanistan.
The Pakistan foreign office also asked the administration in Kabul to "take urgent measures to ensure the safety and security of Pakistani diplomatic personnel and citizens in Afghanistan."

Pakistan's top cricket board official says lifeless wickets not good advert for test cricket

Updated 02 December 2022

Pakistan's top cricket board official says lifeless wickets not good advert for test cricket

  • Ramiz Raja says Pakistan needs to prepare drop-in pitches at home similar to the ones in Australia
  • PCB chairman praises England for developing 'new template in test match cricket' by playing aggressively

RAWALPINDI: A top official of the Pakistan Cricket Board says the lifeless wicket for the test against England is not a great advertisement for the longer format of the game and that Pakistan needs to look for drop-in pitches.
“Not happy at all (with the pitch),” PCB chairman Ramiz Raja told reporters on Friday. “We may just get a result, but it’s just not a great advert.”
In its first test in Pakistan in 17 years, England racked up a monumental 657 in its first innings at a rapid pace of 6.5 an over with four of its five top batters — Harry Brook, Zak Crawley, Ben Duckett and Ollie Pope — smashing centuries.
Raja said Pakistan needs to prepare drop-in pitches at home similar to the ones in Australia to challenge teams like England, which has been playing an aggressive brand of cricket since Brendon McCullum took over as coach in June.
“I think our way out is for drop-in pitches here because all the surfaces (in Pakistan) are more or less the same,” Raja said. “If you want to nail England, for example, on a spinning track then we’ve got to prepare a drop-in pitch that turns from ball number one, rather than having a half-baked pitch which is neither quick nor spin a lot.”
The Pindi Cricket Stadium pitch was criticized during Australia’s tour in March when ICC match referee Ranjan Madugalle rated the wicket as below average after only 14 wickets fell in five days.
Raja was impressed with England’s aggressive intent, which has seen the team beating New Zealand and South Africa at home this summer under McCullum’s fearless approach.
“We’re seeing a new template in test match cricket, which is taking the game to the opposition,” Raja said. “There’s been a solid planning and a solid thought behind the entire exercise. It’s not like the button has switched on where you suddenly produce four centuries and a score of 500 in a day.
“We want Pakistan to change course. Let’s see whether we are able to do that or not, but it will take time for sub-continent teams to have that kind of mentality.”

Abdullah Shafique and Imam-ul-Haq Haq give Pakistan solid start after England's 657

Updated 02 December 2022

Abdullah Shafique and Imam-ul-Haq Haq give Pakistan solid start after England's 657

  • The home team still need 277 runs to avoid the follow-on after scoring 181 runs without loss
  • Haq, who scored a hundred against Australia in March, completed 1,000 runs in his 17th test

RAWALPINDI: Pakistan's openers got among the runs on a placid pitch Friday as they took the home team to 181 without loss in reply to England's mammoth 657 in the first Test in Rawalpindi.
At close on day two, Imam-ul-Haq (90) and Abdullah Shafique (89) were approaching hundreds when umpires called stumps with 17 overs remaining.
The home team still need 277 runs to avoid the follow-on.
The pitch was again unresponsive to bowlers as the England attack, led by James Anderson, toiled in the same manner as the home side.
Shafique was lucky to survive a confident caught behind appeal by Ollie Pope off a rising delivery. Although umpire Joel Wilson gave a soft signal for out, television official Marais Erasmus over-ruled it.
Haq, who scored a century in each innings on the same pitch in a Test against Australia in March, pushed spinner Jack Leach for two to complete 1,000 runs in his 17th Test.
Shafique, who also scored a hundred against Australia in the March test, cracked two boundaries to reach his fifth half-century in his eighth Test, highlighting his rapid progress.
Haq followed suit soon after, taking a single off Joe Root for his fifth half-century.
Earlier, resuming at 506-4, England added 151 runs in 125 minutes, with Harry Brook taking his overnight score of 101 to 153 -- one of four centurions in the innings.
Skipper Ben Stokes (41), debutant Liam Livingstone (nine), and Brook were all dismissed by pacer Naseem Shah, who finished with 3-140.
Leg-spinner Zahid Mahmood conceded 235 for his four wickets -- the most by a bowler on a Test debut.
Previously, Sri Lankan off-spinner Suraj Randiv conceded 222 against India in Colombo in 2010.
England's total is their highest against Pakistan in all Tests, improving on their 589-9 at Manchester in 2016.
On Thursday England became the first team to score 500 runs on the opening day of a Test match, bettering Australia's 112-year-old record of 494-6 against South Africa in Sydney.
Zak Crawley (122), Ollie Pope (108) and Ben Duckett (107) were the other centurions in the innings.
The three-match Test series is England's first in Pakistan for 17 years, having declined to tour in the interim because of security fears.