Floods sweep future from Pakistan schoolchildren

In this picture taken on October 28, 2022, students walk across a metal girder atop floodwaters in Chandan Mori, in Dadu district of Sindh province. (Photo courtesy: AFP/File)
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Updated 16 November 2022

Floods sweep future from Pakistan schoolchildren

  • Cataclysmic floods destroyed 27,000 schools this summer across Pakistan
  • Pakistan estimates economic losses of over $30 billon due to floods

CHANDAN MORI: Pakistani three-year-old Afshan’s trip to school is a high-wire balancing act as she teeters across a metal girder spanning a trench of putrid floodwater, eyes fixed ahead.

After record monsoon rain flooded her classroom in the southeastern town of Chandan Mori, this is the route Afshan and her siblings now traverse to a tent where her lessons take place.

“It’s a risky business to send children to school crossing that bridge,” Afshan’s father, Abdul Qadir, 23, told AFP.

“But we are compelled... to secure their future, and our own.”

In Pakistan, where a third of the country lives in hardship on less than $4 a day, education is a rare ticket out of grinding poverty.

But this summer, floods destroyed or damaged 27,000 schools and spurred a humanitarian disaster which saw 7,000 more commandeered as aid centers, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund.

The education of 3.5 million children has been disrupted as a result, the charity said.

“Everything has gone away, we lost our studies,” said 10-year-old Kamran Babbar, who lives in a nearby tent city since his home and school were submerged.

Before the rains, which have been linked to climate change, Afshan followed her sisters to a lime green schoolhouse.

Some two-and-a-half months after they finally abated, her school remains swamped by standing water.

More than 300 boys and girls have decamped to three tents where they sit on floors lined with plastic sheeting, answering teachers’ questions in chorus.

As midday approaches the tents are baked by the sun, and students fan themselves with notebooks — quenching their thirst with mouthfuls of cloudy, polluted floodwater.

Many cannot summon the strength to stand when called to answer questions by teacher Noor Ahmed.

“When they fall sick, and the majority of them do, it drastically affects attendance,” he said.

In this conservative corner of Pakistan, many girls are already held back from school, groomed for lives of domestic labor.

Those students that were enrolled had their prospects dampened by hunger and malnutrition even before the monsoon washed away vast tracts of crops.

And over the past two years, the Covid-19 pandemic saw schools shut for 16 months.

The floods — which put a third of Pakistan underwater and displaced eight million — are yet one more hurdle many will not overcome.

“We are nurturing an ailing generation,” Ahmed said.

In the nearby town of Mounder, the monsoon storms tore the roof off the government school.

The walls are cracked and crumbling, and students now congregate outside, fearful of a collapse.

The boys learn under the shade of a tree in the courtyard, while the girls gather nearby in a donated tent.

“Such events will leave an everlasting traumatic impact on the girls,” teacher Rabia Iqbal said.

“If we want to make them mentally healthy, we will have to immediately move them from tents to proper classrooms,” she added.

But the return to school is unlikely to be swift.

Analysis suggests the bill for the reconstruction of schools and recovery of the education system will be nearly $1 billion — the total repair bill is close to $40 billion — in a nation already mired in economic turmoil.

Undaunted by the difficulties ahead, the girls of Chandan Mori’s high school trudge every day to a temporary classroom three kilometers (two miles) away.

“We will not be defeated by such circumstances,” 13-year-old Shaista Panwar said.

One person dies in stampede for free flour as Ramadan begins in Pakistan

Updated 7 sec ago

One person dies in stampede for free flour as Ramadan begins in Pakistan

  • Eight others were injured during free flour distribution in northwestern Pakistan's Charsadda city
  • Decades-high inflation in Pakistan has pushed prices of basic food items out of many people's reach

PESHAWAR: One person was killed and eight others injured during a stampede for free flour in inflation-wracked Pakistan on Thursday, the first day of the holy month of Ramadan.
The price of basic food items has rocketed in recent months, with inflation at a near 50 year-high as the country grapples with a balance of payments crisis that has seen it forced back into negotiations with the International Monetary Fund.
“Nine people were trampled and were taken to hospital where one person died,” said Muhammad Arif, police chief for Charsadda in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province where the incident happened.
Arif said hundreds of people gathered at the local market for the handouts, one of hundreds of distribution points set up by the government during Ramadan.
Millions of low income families across the country are registered under the scheme.
In a nearby district, a man died and four others were injured when a wall they were sitting on collapsed as crowds amassed for free flour.
Authorities told AFP it was not clear why the wall collapsed.
Pakistan’s finances have been wrecked by years of financial mismanagement and political instability — a situation exacerbated by a global energy crisis and devastating floods that left a third of the country under water last year.
The South Asian nation is deeply in debt, and needs to introduce tough tax and utility price increases to unlock another tranche of a $6.5 billion IMF bail-out and avoid defaulting.

Pakistan drafting fuel pricing scheme despite IMF concerns – minister

Updated 21 min 37 sec ago

Pakistan drafting fuel pricing scheme despite IMF concerns – minister

  • PM Sharif last week announced government's plans for fuel pricing scheme to help poor
  • Package envisages charging affluent consumers more for fuel, reducing prices for the poor

KARACHI: Pakistan is drafting a fuel pricing scheme aimed at helping the poor, the petroleum minister said, a programme that some economists fear could hinder a crucial International Monetary Fund pay out needed to prevent economic collapse.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif first announced the government's plans for fuel pricing last week.

Petroleum Minister Musadik Malik told Reuters his ministry had been given six weeks to draft the relief package, which envisages charging affluent consumers more for fuel and using that money to reduce prices for the poor who have been hit hard by inflation, which in February was at its highest in 50 years.

"It is not a subsidy. It is a pricing scheme. It is a relief programme for the poor," Malik said. A ministry spokesman said the price difference would be in the range of 100 Pakistani rupees (around 30 U.S. cents) a litre for the rich and the poor.

With enough foreign reserves to only cover about four weeks of necessary imports, Pakistan is desperate for the IMF agreement to disperse a $1.1 billion tranche from a $6.5 billion bailout agreed in 2019.

The government has implemented several fiscal measures, including devaluing the rupee, lifting subsidies and raising energy prices as preconditions for the agreement, which the finance minister said this month was "very close".

The resident IMF representative, Esther Perez Ruiz, said this week that the government did not consult the fund about the fuel pricing scheme.

She said the fund would ask the government for more details about the proposal, including how it will be implemented and what protection would be put in place to prevent abuse.

Asked about the IMF's concerns, Malik said the scheme was not a subsidy. "We haven't heard any concerns from the IMF," he said. "It is same like we did in the gas sector, and that was okay with the IMF," he added.

Earlier this year, the government implemented different prices for natural gas based on the amount of fuel consumed.

Economists said the scheme could derail the progress Pakistan had made so far in negotiations with the IMF.

"It seems this was not discussed with the IMF and, therefore, could delay the staff level agreement," said former central bank deputy governor Murtaza Syed.

($1 = 282.7200 Pakistani rupees)

Babar Azam becomes youngest recipient of Sitara-e-Imtiaz award from Pakistan government

Updated 40 min 32 sec ago

Babar Azam becomes youngest recipient of Sitara-e-Imtiaz award from Pakistan government

  • Cricketer Bismah Maroof, ex-captain of national women’s team, gets Tamgha-e-Imtiaz
  • Blind Pakistani cricketer Masood Jan bestowed with the Pride of Performance award

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan captain Babar Azam was awarded the Sitara-e-Imtiaz, or star of excellence, by the government of Pakistan on Thursday for his services in the field of cricket, making him the youngest person ever to get the award.

The Sitara-e-Imtiaz is the third-highest honor and civilian award in the state of Pakistan, usually given out each year at a ceremony held on March 23, a day celebrated annually to commemorate the adoption of the Lahore Resolution in 1940 which called for the creation of an independent sovereign state for the Muslims of India.

“Immense honor to have received Sitara-e-Imtiaz in the presence of my mother and father,” Azam, 28, wrote in an Instagram post. “This award is for my parents, fans, and the people of Pakistan.”


A post shared by Babar Azam (@babarazam)

“Congratulations on being conferred with civil awards,” the Pakistan Cricket Board wrote in a congratulatory post for Azam on Twitter.

Azam debuted as an international player on May 31, 2015. In November 2020, Pakistan named him their new test captain, putting the batsman in charge of teams across all formats.

In April 2021, while playing against South Africa in the first one-day international (ODI), Babar scored his 13th ODI century in his 76th innings, making him the quickest player to reach this mark. At the end of the series, he broke Indian batter Virat Kohli’s record with 865 points to become the world’s number-one batter, retaining the position for 1,258 days.

On April 14, 2021, Azam scored his maiden T20I century (122), in a winning cause against South Africa at the Centurion Stadium. On April 25, 2021, in the third T20I against Zimbabwe, he became the fastest batsman in terms of innings to score 2,000 runs in T20Is, doing so in his 52nd innings.

Azam has won several accolades during his career, including the ICC Men’s ODI Cricketer of the Year 2021 and 2022, and the ICC Cricketer of the Year (Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy) 2022.

Pakistani cricketer Bismah Maroof, the ex-captain of the national women’s team, was also awarded the Tamgha-e-Imtiaz, or the medal of excellence, for her services in the field of cricket on Thursday. 

The government also recognized blind Pakistani cricketer Masood Jan and bestowed him with the Pride of Performance award. The title recognizes people with notable achievements in the fields of art, science, literature, sports, and nursing.

All eyes on Supreme Court of Pakistan after election regulator postpones polls in Punjab

Updated 23 March 2023

All eyes on Supreme Court of Pakistan after election regulator postpones polls in Punjab

  • Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies were dissolved in January by ex-PM Khan and allies to force early national polls
  • Pakistan’s constitution requires elections to be held within 90 days after dissolution of an assembly, a rule Supreme Court upheld last month

ISLAMABAD: Most Pakistani legal and political experts said on Thursday the election commission’s decision to postpone general elections in Punjab until October would deepen political instability in the country, calling on the Supreme Court to settle the matter.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Wednesday announced the postponement of provincial polls in Punjab from April 30 to October 8, infuriating the party of former prime minister Imran Khan, who has been demanding early national elections since his ouster from power in a no-trust vote in April last year.

Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and its allies dissolved the provincial assemblies of the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces in January to mount pressure on the government to hold snap national polls across the country.

Pakistan’s constitution requires elections to be held within 90 days after the dissolution of an assembly. Earlier this month, in a landmark ruling, Pakistan’s top court also said general elections in the two provinces should be held within 90 days. President Dr. Arif Alvi subsequently announced April 30 as the date for Punjab Assembly elections after much political wrangling and consultations in recent weeks.

However, the ECP said on Wednesday it was not possible to hold free, fair and peaceful elections in April for several reasons, including an uptick of militant attacks in the country in recent months. Pakistan’s information minister, Marriyum Aurangzeb, said in a statement released on Thursday that the postponement was in the “national interest.”

“The ECP decision will cause anarchy and lead the country to further instability and chaos,” Barrister Ali Zafar, a former law minister who has served as a lawyer for ex-PM Khan in many cases, told Arab News, saying the election commission had “deliberately” violated the constitution and defied a recent Supreme Court verdict to hold the provincial polls within the 90-day limit.

“It is now a defining moment in history, and the Supreme Court will be the last line of defense with the support of the public,” Zafar said. “The ECP does not have any jurisdiction to overrule the Supreme Court judgment or change the constitution.”

Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, the senior vice president of Khan’s PTI party, who is also a lawyer, also slammed the decision of the ECP.

“The Supreme Court judges must take a firm stance on the issue since the people of Pakistan will stand behind them,” he said. “If the superior judiciary fails to do that, it will be the beginning of a dark age in Pakistan.”

Political analyst Aasiya Riaz said the postponement would further exacerbate political chaos in the country, and the Supreme Court would have to step in again and push for a resolution as political parties had failed to resolve their differences.

“It is this very failure of engagement among political stakeholders that has brought us to this political crisis in the first place, which may have long-term consequences for the country,” she added.

However, Pakistan’s former attorney general, Irfan Qadir, who is currently a special assistant to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on legal reforms, endorsed the ECP’s postponement decision and said the body had not violated the constitution.

“Under the constitution, the responsibility for conducting elections rests with the ECP, which also needs to determine the appropriate election time,” he told Arab News, adding that general elections could also be held on the same day across Pakistan in October.

Qadir agreed that the constitution stipulated a 90-day timeframe for holding elections as a general rule, but it also allowed flexibility under “certain circumstances.”

“Article 254 of the constitution and the 14th paragraph of the Supreme Court verdict also said that if the 90-day period could not be met, elections should be held as soon as possible,” he added. “The ECP feels the earliest possible date for holding elections is in October, so it has not acted in contempt of court or violated the constitution,” he explained.

Ahmad Bilal Mahboob, the president of Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT), said that Section 58 of the Elections Act, 2017, authorized the ECP to alter or give a new election schedule in “extraordinary circumstances.”

“The ECP can invoke Section 58 only in extraordinary circumstances, and now it has to record reasons for changing the schedule and inform the Pakistani president, according to the law,” he told Arab News.

“In all likelihood, the Supreme Court will adjudicate whether such extraordinary conditions existed and whether Section 58 could be used for election postponement for six months.”

Biden expresses 'solidarity' With China's Muslim Uyghurs ahead of Ramadan

Updated 23 March 2023

Biden expresses 'solidarity' With China's Muslim Uyghurs ahead of Ramadan

  • Biden's highlighting of Uyghurs came at a time of strong tension between Washington and Beijing
  • Rights groups say Uyghurs subjected to mass incarceration in labor camps, banned from expressing culture

President Joe Biden expressed "solidarity" Thursday with China's embattled Uyghur minority in a message to Muslims around the world as they celebrate the holy month of Ramadan.

"Together with our partners, the United States stands in solidarity with Muslims who continue to face oppression, including Uyghurs in the People’s Republic of China, Rohingya in Burma, and other Muslim communities facing persecution around the world," Biden said in a statement.

"During this sacred time of reflection, the United States also reaffirms our support to Muslim communities suffering hardships and devastation," Biden said, referring to earthquake victims in Turkey and Syria, and flood victims in Pakistan.

"Today especially, we remember the universal human right to practice, pray, and preach our faiths peacefully and openly."

Biden's highlighting of the Uyghurs -- who the US government says are being subjected to genocide by the Chinese communist authorities -- came at a time of strong tension between Washington and Beijing.

According to rights groups, Uyghurs are subjected to mass incarceration in forced labor camps and banned from expressing their culture. Beijing says the ethnic minority is not being repressed and that any security measures in their northwestern region of Xinjiang are a response to a terrorism threat.