With big dreams, Pakistani woman hockey player braves perilous sea voyage, dies in shipwreck

Pakistani player Shahida Raza's friend Sumiaya stands near her awards and pictures in Quetta, Pakistan on March 2, 2023. (AN photo)
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Updated 03 March 2023

With big dreams, Pakistani woman hockey player braves perilous sea voyage, dies in shipwreck

  • Shahida Raza was among 67 illegal migrants killed as wooden boat sank near Italian coast on Sunday
  • Raza had left Pakistan after being unable to find a job or proper treatment for her handicapped son

QUETTA: In October last year, Pakistan’s national hockey and football player Shahida Raza got on a flight from Pakistan to Turkey, her first stop on a journey to Europe to find a better life for herself and her son.

After staying in Turkey for three months, Raza was among up to 200 migrants who got on an overcrowded wooden boat at Izmir in western Turkey on Feb. 22 and arrived near Italy after about four days of navigation. According to Italy's Guardia di Finanza Police, each of the migrants had paid traffickers about 8,000 euros ($8,540) to make the perilous sea journey.

But last Sunday, the boat crashed into rocks while trying to land in Crotone, a port city in southern Italy, breaking into pieces and sinking in rough seas. At least 67 people were killed. Pakistan’s foreign office said 17 Pakistanis had been rescued, two were missing and two had been killed. Raza was among the dead.

The 30-year-old woman's family knew she had gotten on the boat and heard about the shipwreck on media on Sunday.

Gul Zewar, mother of Shahida Raza, left, sits with her late daughter's friend Sumaiya in Quetta, Pakistan on March 2, 2023. (AN photo)

Gul Zewar, Raza’s mother, said she last spoke to her daughter on Friday, two days before the accident.

“She phoned me and said, ‘Mother, I have reached,’” Zewar told Arab News at her home in Quetta.  

“Her voice was so sweet, so sweet, don’t ask. She said, ‘Mother, I have reached, we will get off [the boat] soon, god willing.’ Then her mobile was shut. On Sunday, we got word that the boat sank.”

Raza, a member of Pakistan’s ethnic Shia Hazara community, had represented Pakistan in various national and international hockey and football events that took her to China, Malaysia, Iran, Qatar, and Sri Lanka as a member of Pakistan’s national squads.

But one reason for leaving Pakistan was that after two decades of playing for her country, the single mother was unable to find a job.

Shahida Raza's family displays her trophies and national sports uniform inside her room in Quetta, Pakistan on March 2, 2023. (AN Photo)

“She tried a lot to get a job, living in Balochistan, in her city Quetta, she really tried but she got no response,” Raza’s friend Sumiya Muhstaq told Arab News, standing next to a table lined with Raza’s medals, trophies and certificates. 

“She took this decision [to get on an illegal migrant boat] out of a lot of desperation. No one takes this kind of decision happily.”

But the main reason Raza undertook the desperate journey was her disabled son, now living with his paternal grandmother in Quetta, her sister Sadia Raza said.

It was unclear who would care for him permanently in Raza's absence.

“She always used to pray that 'Oh god, for the sake of my child make my journey successful. Get me there for my son so that I can call him there, I can get his treatment done,'” Sadia told Arab News. “Over here doctors had lost all hope.”

Hazaras have for years faced persecution in Pakistan and hundreds have been killed over the last two decades in attacks, including bombings in schools and crowded markets and brazen ambushes of buses along Pakistani roads. In Balochistan, the community mostly lives inside sealed-off neighborhoods for their own safety.

“Being an international sportswoman, she requested many government officials for job opportunities because she was an independent mother. But despite many requests, the provincial government didn’t support her and forced her to take the risky step, which took her life,” Mushtaq said. 

Shahida Raza's photos displayed inside her room in Quetta, Pakistan on March 2, 2023. (AN photo)

Gathered at Raza's mother's home on Thursday, her family and friends all remembered her as “very passionate about sports since childhood,” fighting family restrictions to become a sportswoman “because she wanted to play for Pakistan.”

The Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) expressed its condolences over Raza's death, saying the news had “shocked the entire football fraternity in Pakistan.”

“The news of the death of a former international football star player in an accident is extremely painful," Haroon Ahmed Malik, chairman of the FIFA Normalization Committee, said in a statement, adding that Raza was a part of the national women's football team for several years and had participated in numerous international events.

“The football family shall always remember her contribution to this beautiful game.”

Mushtaq, her friend, said there was “no match for Shahida.”

“She proved herself in every field, whether it was football or hockey,” she said.

Now all that Raza’s loved ones want is that the Pakistan embassy make “quick arrangements” to bring her body home.

“Our embassy in Rome [is] actively engaged with the Italian authorities for the welfare of the Pakistani survivors and the transportation of the mortal remains of the deceased,” Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, spokesperson for Pakistan’s foreign office in Islamabad, told reporters on Thursday.

“I request the Pakistani government to send my daughter’s body back to Pakistan for burial,” her mother said in a message to authorities.

“We want to see her face one last time and complete her rites as per Islamic customs,” her sister Sadia said as she covered her face with a black shawl and began to sob. 

“We want to bury her with our hands.”

Pakistan court rejects ex-PM Khan’s plea seeking withdrawal of appeal against disqualification

Updated 06 December 2023

Pakistan court rejects ex-PM Khan’s plea seeking withdrawal of appeal against disqualification

  • Court’s rejection could be a possible setback for Khan’s efforts to overturn a decision set to prevent him running in elections
  • Khan, who is embroiled in a string of legal cases since his ouster as PM last year, says charges against him are politically motivated

ISLAMABAD: An Islamabad court on Wednesday rejected former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s request to withdraw a key appeal so he could move it to a different court in the city of Lahore, his lawyer said, a possible setback in his efforts to overturn a decision set to prevent his running in elections next year.

Khan appealed last year in the Islamabad High Court against the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) decision finding that he had unlawfully sold state gifts.

However, in January, Khan sought to withdraw that appeal so that another appeal at the Lahore High Court could proceed.

Khan’s lawyer Naeem Panjutha said the Islamabad High Court on Wednesday turned down Khan’s request to withdraw his appeal.

The ECP inquiry in 2022 found Khan unlawfully sold state gifts during his tenure as prime minister from 2019 to 2022. Khan has denied his behavior was unlawful.

The Islamabad court has not yet released a decision on whether the ECP’s decision on Khan should be overturned.

Khan’s lawyers had sought to withdraw the Islamabad court appeal so a later appeal they saw as more likely to legally undermine his electoral disqualification could proceed in the Lahore High Court.

An Islamabad district court also convicted Khan over the sale of state gifts in August, resulting in his arrest. Khan has appealed the decision and a court later suspended his sentence but he remained imprisoned in a separate case.

The 70-year-old cricket hero-turned-politician has been embroiled in a string of court cases since he was ousted in a parliamentary vote of confidence last year after having fallen out with the powerful military.

Pakistan’s general election is set to take place on Feb. 8.

In second major blaze in two weeks, three killed in fire at Karachi shopping centre

Updated 06 December 2023

In second major blaze in two weeks, three killed in fire at Karachi shopping centre

  • Arshi Shopping Center in Karachi’s Ayesha Manzil neighborhood catches fire 
  • Karachi, Pakistan’s commercial hub, is known for its fragile firefighting system 

KARACHI: Three persons were killed on Wednesday after a fire engulfed a multi-story building in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi, a health official and rescue volunteer confirmed. 

The incident took place less than two weeks after another blaze in the metropolis killed 11 people and wounded several others after a shopping mall caught fire on Nov. 25. Pakistan’s largest city, which houses millions of residents, is known for its fragile firefighting system and poor safety controls. 

Local media channels showed black smoke billowing from the six-story Arshi Shopping Center located in Karachi’s Ayesha Manzil neighborhood on Wednesday evening. Rescue volunteers frantically scrambled to evacuate residents from the building as firefighters remained busy battling flames. 

According to local media reports, the fire was caused by a short circuit in one of the shops. The flames later spread rapidly and engulfed the entire building, which reportedly comprised 250 shops and 450 apartments. 

“At least three people have died in the fire,” Shahid Hussain, a spokesperson of the welfare organization Chhipa, told Arab News. “Their bodies are now being shifted to the Abbasi Shaheed Hospital.” 

Sindh Health Department spokesperson Shabbir Ali Babar confirmed in a statement that the bodies had been shifted to the hospital, adding that two others had been injured in the fire. 

“Two injured have been admitted to the Civil Hospital’s Burns Ward,” he said. “One of the persons who suffered 100 percent burns is in critical condition while another who suffered ordinary burns has been provided medical aid.” 

He said that an emergency has been imposed in Abbasi Shaheed Hospital, Civil Hospital, and other nearby hospitals as per the caretaker chief minister’s directives. 

In a post on social media platform X, Karachi Mayor Murtaza Wahab Siddiqui confirmed three persons had died in the blaze.

Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city and the country’s main commercial hub, is home to hundreds of thousands of industrial units and some of the tallest buildings in the South Asian country. 

But despite its magnitude, the city has only 22 fire stations, a little over a dozen functional fire tenders, few snorkels, and slightly more than a thousand firefighters — woefully inadequate for a megapolis that witnesses hundreds of fire incidents annually. 

In April, four firefighters died and nearly a dozen others were injured after a fire broke out in a garment factory, while 10 people were killed in a massive fire at a chemical factory in the city in August 2021. 

In the deadliest such incident, 260 people were killed in 2012 after being trapped inside a garment factory when a fire broke out. 

Pakistani talent, IT companies can play ‘important role’ in Qatar’s digitization— minister

Updated 06 December 2023

Pakistani talent, IT companies can play ‘important role’ in Qatar’s digitization— minister

  • Pakistan’s IT minister returns after leading the country’s first-ever IT delegation to Qatar
  • Says like Saudi Arabia and Emirates, Pakistan received ‘encouraging response’ from Qatar

ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Information Technology Minister Dr. Umar Saif said on Wednesday that Pakistan’s talented manpower and its IT companies can play an important role in Qatar’s digitization, upon his return from a four-day official visit to the Middle Eastern country. 

Saif returned to Islamabad from Doha on Wednesday after leading Pakistan’s first-ever IT delegation to Qatar. His visit, which began on Saturday, was aimed at attracting investment and exploring opportunities for Pakistani software houses and freelance developers. 

During his visit, the minister led representatives of 30 leading Pakistani IT companies at meetings with officials of Qatari firms in Doha. 

“Talented Pakistanis and Pakistani IT companies can play an important role in Qatar’s digitization,” Saif said in a statement. 

He said Pakistani IT companies will be able to provide their professional services in Qatar after they are registered in the country.

“Like Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, [Pakistan’s IT delegation] has received a very encouraging response from Qatar as well,” Saif said. 

He thanked Qatari business groups and officials for their “excellent hospitality and professional response” toward the Pakistani delegation. 

In line with broader trends in the Gulf region, Qatar is actively diversifying its economy and focusing on the technology sector, taking smart city initiatives, launching tech start-ups and hosting technologically advanced events like the FIFA World Cup 2022. 

The strategic shift includes the adoption of advanced digital technologies, such as AI, cloud computing and cybersecurity, to transition into a knowledge-based economy.

Body found in big cat enclosure at Pakistan zoo

Updated 06 December 2023

Body found in big cat enclosure at Pakistan zoo

  • Man found dead in Bahawalpur’s Sherbagh Zoo in Punjab province
  • Pakistan’s zoos are frequently accused of disregarding animal welfare

LAHORE: A man was found dead inside a big cat enclosure at a Pakistan zoo on Wednesday by staff carrying out routine cleaning, officials said.

The body was found at Bahawalpur’s Sherbagh Zoo in the eastern province of Punjab after staff spotted a shoe in the mouth of one of the big cats.

“When they cleaned the zoo and the dens, they found the (animal) holding a shoe in its mouth,” Zaheer Anwar, a senior government official in Bahawalpur, told the media.

“The staff got suspicious and then they found a body inside the den,” he said.

The official described the big cat using a word that in Pakistan can mean tiger or leopard, and both are believed to be housed inside the zoo.

“Our assessment so far is that this appears to be a lunatic, because a sensible person would not jump into the den,” Anwar said.

“You can see that the den is secured. There are stairs behind the den, maybe he jumped from there.

“(The) staff are all accounted for.”

Zafarullah, an official of the rescue service 1122 in Bahawalpur, told AFP that the victim’s legs had been heavily mauled.

“It is yet not known who he is and how he got there. It is being investigated. The body looked several hours old,” said Zafarullah, who goes by one name.

He said forensic experts were examining the body.

The zoo is run by Punjab’s wildlife department, according to its website, and costs adults 50 rupees (18 cents) to enter.

The department has not commented.

Pakistan’s zoos are frequently accused of disregarding animal welfare.

Pakistani PM tasks authorities to prepare emergency polio eradication plan for 2024 

Updated 06 December 2023

Pakistani PM tasks authorities to prepare emergency polio eradication plan for 2024 

  • Caretaker PM Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar chairs high-level meeting of Pakistan’s task force on polio eradication 
  • PM notes recent cases of polio reported in Pakistan, calls for integrated anti-polio campaigns in high-risk areas 

ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar tasked authorities on Wednesday to prepare an emergency polio eradication plan for the next year to target high-risk areas, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said. 

Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by poliovirus mainly affecting children under the age of ten years. It invades the nervous system and can cause paralysis or even death. 

Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only two countries in the world where polio continues to threaten the health and well-being of children, with Pakistani authorities reporting six polio cases this year. 

Kakar chaired a meeting of Pakistan’s task force on polio eradication during which he stressed monitoring polio vaccination campaigns through technology, the PMO said in a statement. 

“The prime minister gave directions [to authorities] to prepare an anti-polio emergency plan for next year,” the statement said. 

Kakar called for the resumption of regular polio immunization campaigns across the country, emphasizing that best international practices and research be adopted for the use of Inactivated Polio Virus (IPV) vaccines. 

The prime minister said integrated anti-polio programs should be adopted in high-risk areas, the PMO said. Kakar said important stakeholders of Pakistani society such as parents, religious scholars and teachers should be included in polio awareness campaigns as well. 

He issued directions that a Ulema Convention should be held to shed light on the importance of the role of ulema in anti-polio campaigns, the statement added. 

Participants of the meeting were told polio teams are administering vaccines to children at Afghan repatriation camps in Peshawar, Nowshera, and Chaman cities. They were also briefed that Punjab, Balochistan, Azad Kashmir, and Gilgit-Baltistan were polio-free areas, whereas some union councils in southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province were more affected, the PMO said. 

Pakistan’s efforts to eradicate polio have encountered difficulties as many Pakistanis harbor suspicions about foreign entities that fund vaccination campaigns. Many believe in the conspiracy theory that polio vaccines are part of a plot by Western outsiders to sterilize Pakistan’s population. 

The masses’ doubts regarding polio campaigns were exacerbated in 2011 when the US Central Intelligence Agency set up a fake hepatitis vaccination program to gather intelligence on former Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.