India, UAE win big at Bridge Federation of Asia and Middle East Championship in Lahore

UAE players gesture during the semifinals of the bridge championship in Lahore on May 12, 2023. (Photo courtesy: Pakistan Bridge Federation)
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Updated 14 May 2023
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India, UAE win big at Bridge Federation of Asia and Middle East Championship in Lahore

  • India win gold, UAE silver, and both win a ticket to the world championship in Morocco later this year
  • Remarkable story of the tournament was Palestinian women’s team, which made it to the semifinals

LAHORE: India and the UAE were big winners of a major Asia and Middle East bridge championship held in Lahore this week, with 78 foreign players including a Palestinian women’s team that made it all the way to the semifinals. 

The 22nd biennial Bridge Federation of Asia and Middle East (BFAME) Championship 2023 took place from May 5 to 13 and was hosted by Lahore for the very first time. It has previously been held in Karachi in 1985 and 2007.

The tournament was held at the Pearl Continental Hotel and featured 102 players including 24 from India, 24 from Jordan, 18 from the UAE, and six each from Palestine and Bangladesh. It also featured four categories, Open, Women, Mixed, and Seniors (aged 60 plus). Six senior players from Saudi Arabia were unable to make the journey due to medical reasons.

India won gold in all categories and the UAE won silver. As a result, both qualified for the Bermuda Bowl — the world championship named after the island that hosted the inaugural tournament — to be held in Morocco this August.

“I was surprised to learn that so many people from different countries were coming to this event,” Chief Minister Punjab Mohsin Raza Naqvi told Arab News after BFAME’s closing ceremony on Saturday evening.

“I feel honored to be welcoming players from the Middle East. I thank everyone for coming to Lahore and I hope they’ll come again.”

“This was one of the most successful zonal championships [the UAE has] had,” Taimur Edis, part of the UAE’s silver winning Mixed team, told Arab News.




Hazem Ghoneim (top right), the silver-winning Open player from the UAE, is playing in the semi-final against Pakistan, in Lahore, on May 12, 2023. (Photo courtesy: Pakistan Bridge Federation)

“We made the finals and will play in the world championship. It was a wonderful experience,” he added, citing Lahore as being a great host city. “Many great memories to take from here.”

While it was Edis’ first time in Pakistan, Hazem Ghoneim of the successful UAE Open team said he had been to Karachi before, almost twenty years earlier. He has played more tournaments than he can keep track of.

“Most people don’t understand that bridge is a very competitive game. It’s very big in the Middle East,” he said.




UAE's silver-winning Open team at the bridge championship in Lahore with Khaled Hassan (middle) and Hazem Ghoneim (to his right) on May 12, 2023. (Photo courtesy: Pakistan Bridge Federation)




UAE's silver-winning Mixed team at the bridge championship in Lahore with Taimur Edis (far left) on May 12, 2023. (Photo courtesy: Pakistan Bridge Federation)

Samer Alrawashdeh, part of Jordan’s Mixed team, explained: “Bridge is very big in Amman. There are a lot of clubs, a lot of tournaments.”

This was his first time playing in Pakistan.

Played in pairs — two versus two — bridge is a card game that involves bidding. The bids you make tell your partner what kind of hand you have been dealt. 

Khaled Hassan, Ghoneium’s teammate, said he had been been playing competitive bridge since his early 20s. “The popular misconception is that bridge is an old man’s game,” he told Arab News.

“We do have a separate championship for people under 26, though they can compete in the older brackets as well.”

India’s gold-winning women’s team members were Kalpan Gurjar and Vidhya Patel, 23 and 22 years old respectively. Gurjar said she had been playing bridge for ten years now, ever since her middle school days.

“Even in our villages in Madhya Pradesh, we saw a lot of people play bridge in the evenings, in the cities it’s mostly at member’s clubs.”

She said the game utilized the brain, just like chess. “You have to track all 52 cards in the deck, plan moves in advance.”

The head of the Indian mission, Ranjhan Bhattacharya, was elated with his delegation’s performance:

“We’ve shown India to be a formidable opponent [in bridge] and how seriously we take it … Pakistan have always been regional rivals, sometimes we come out on top, sometimes they do.”

Perhaps the most remarkable story was that of the Palestinian women’s team, which made it to the semifinals despite being the only entrants from the country. The six-member delegation included Laila Khalid Haddadin and Hanan Al Bitar.

The very well-traveled pair have played tournaments all across the Middle East, twice in India and also in Pakistan, Poland, and China. They reside in Jordan.

“We moved to Amman at a very young age. I remember there was a ladies club in my neighborhood, they played bridge every evening,” Bitar told Arab News on Friday.




Palestinian semi-finalists Hanan Al Bitar (2nd from right) and Laila Khalid Haddadin (to her left) at the bridge championship in Lahore on May 12, 2023. (Photo courtesy: Pakistan Bridge Federation)

It wasn’t a smooth sailing to their semifinal berth and the team kept hearing about turmoil back home: “We got news from the West Bank [in between]. Bad news. [But] we carried on. We want to raise the flag of Palestine everywhere we go.”

Haddadin, speaking of her first experience in Lahore, said:

“It’s been wonderful. The organizers made sure everything was catered to. The people are very nice.”

The President of Pakistan Bridge Federation and popular anchorperson, Mubasher Lucman, put the successful hosting of a week-long championship in Lahore down to “good fortune” and his team of organizers.

“It was never going to be easy. Getting some of the finest bridge players in the world under one roof,” he told Arab News. “But we’ve done it. Now we are going to bid for the Bermuda Bowl 2029 in Islamabad.”




Indian team gestures for a group photo during the semifinals of the bridge championship in Lahore on May 12, 2023. (Photo courtesy: Pakistan Bridge Federation)

 


Pakistani star Sajal Aly wants latest drama to raise awareness on family planning, women’s health

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Pakistani star Sajal Aly wants latest drama to raise awareness on family planning, women’s health

  • ‘Zard Patton Ka Bunn’ revolves around the themes of population control, women education and health
  • The drama went on air this month, stars Aly alongside Hamza Sohail, Samiya Mumtaz and Rehan Sheikh

LAHORE: Pakistani actor Sajal Aly, who is currently starring in drama serial ‘Zard Patton Ka Bunn,’ has said that it is important to talk about population growth, need for family planning, and women’s education and health in Pakistan, hoping that the audiences would understand the “message” in her latest television show.
Set against a rural background, the first episode of the drama, which highlights the significance of family planning and its impact on women and their health, went on air on May 12. It is a co-production of Pakistani entertainment channel Hum TV and Kashf Foundation, a Pakistani microfinance company that provides financial services to women from low-income areas.
Apart from Aly, Zard Patton Ka Bunn stars Hamza Sohail, Samiya Mumtaz and Rehan Sheikh in key roles. Two episodes into it, the drama, which airs every Sunday at 8pm, has hinted at multiple story tracks that will be unfolding in the upcoming episodes.
Aly plays the role of Meenu in the drama who tries to challenge the status quo in a rather conservative society she is part of. Meenu, an advocate for women’s education, has a supportive father, while most men around her wish to cut her feathers.
“In our project [Zard Patton Ka Bunn], there are heavy scenes but we have tried to portray it in a simple manner. These day-to-day talks should take place, but we [as a society] shy away from it,” Aly told Arab News at the official launch of the drama in Lahore on Friday.
“When we do [talk about such issues], it hurts people’s ego. I hope people like it and also understand the solution we have tried to provide through this story.”
Aly, along with the rest of the cast, attended the event in Lahore to raise awareness around women’s education, empowerment and maternal health as well as population growth and control.
“There is a dire need to shed light on these issues,” she said. “There is nothing better if we can talk about such issues, besides entertainment, and get to perform in such stories.”
Roshaneh Zafar, founder and managing director of Kashf Foundation, said media had a “huge” role in highlighting such issues.
“Media has a huge reach. If you want to bring change in the society, your reach will come from drawing rooms or the households,” Zafar said. “Our purpose really was to bring real-life stories of women on to the screen. A lot of research goes into every script that we develop.”
This is the foundation’s sixth TV project that strives for a “social change,” according to Zafar. Their previous projects have tackled themes of child abuse and human trafficking that rarely feature on screen.
“Zard Patton Ka Bunn is about the growing population, its impact on women and children, and the impact it has on people’s future. This is how it starts off but you have to make the story interesting at the same time too,” Zafar told Arab News.
“On one end, you want to educate [viewers] while on the other hand, you want to entertain them. There are other tracks too [in the drama].”
Speaking of the potential of such narratives and their impact on audiences, Zafar said the society did not talk much about these things. “When you bring them to the screen, it initiates a dialogue,” she explained.
Highlighting the role of men in empowering such narratives, Hamza Sohail, who plays the male lead in the drama, shared that he signed the project without “thinking twice.”
“I said yes to it with my eyes closed because I feel, being a man in our society, there is a huge responsibility on us in current times to advocate for such topics,” Sohail told Arab News on Saturday.
“Being a media person and being an artist where I have a platform where I can create awareness in my humble way, I think it’s very vital to make whatever contribution I can [make].”
Sohail plays the role of Dr. Naufil who, according to the actor, is a “man of principles.”
“He is someone who stands up for injustice and speaks against it. He speaks up against any wrongdoing or anything illicit. Eventually, you will see how his and Meenu’s paths meet and how they come across each other,” the actor said.
“Then, the real story begins. Then is when they come together to serve something that is being promoted in Zard Patton Ka Bunn.”


India’s massive election faces heatwave challenge in penultimate phase

Updated 51 min 54 sec ago
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India’s massive election faces heatwave challenge in penultimate phase

  • The Election Commission has deployed paramedics with medicines and oral hydration salts at polling stations in Delhi
  • In Haryana, people residing near polling booths pitched in to help voters, handing out cold drinks, dry fruits and milk

NEW DELHI: The world’s largest election may become the hottest on Saturday, as Indians participate in the next-to-last phase of voting with temperatures forecast to surge to 47 degrees Celsius (117 degrees Fahrenheit) in the capital New Delhi.
More than 111 million people in 58 constituencies across eight states and federal territories are eligible to vote in the general election’s sixth phase, which recorded a turnout of 10.82 percent in the first two hours of the 11-hour poll.
The overall turnout in the same phase of the last elections in 2019 was about 63 percent.
“There is a concern, but we hope that people will overcome the fear of the heatwave and come and vote,” Delhi Chief Electoral Officer P. Krishnamurthy told Reuters.
Voting in the elections began on April 19 and will conclude on June 1, with counting set for June 4.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, leader of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who is favored to win a third consecutive term, also asked people to “vote in large numbers” in a message on social media platform X on Saturday.
The Election Commission has deployed paramedics with medicines and oral hydration salts at polling stations in Delhi, which have additionally been equipped with mist machines, shaded waiting areas and cold water dispensers for voters.
In some parts of the northern state of Haryana, people residing near polling booths also pitched in to help voters beat the heat, handing out cold drinks, dry fruits and milk free of cost.
Among those who cast their ballot early in Delhi were Rahul Gandhi, leader of the main opposition Congress party and Modi’s main rival, his mother Sonia Gandhi and sister Priyanka Vadra.
“We are keeping all our grievances aside and casting our vote for our constitution and democracy,” Vadra told reporters.
Opposition leader and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, whose bail after pre-trial detention of nearly two months in a graft case has given fresh impetus to the opposition campaign, also voted in the capital.
Price rise and unemployment were two of the major issues mentioned by voters to Reuters when asked about the factors that determined their ballot.
“The government boasts about fast economic growth but the reality on the ground is very different,” said Delhi voter Fazal, 46, who only gave his first name and works at a multinational corporation, adding he also voted to “save democracy.”
Ashok Ghana, a plumber in the eastern state of Odisha, who said he voted for the BJP, added that “price rise and the non-availability of jobs” were the issues he considered.
Among those who voted based on the situation in their region was property dealer Praveen Chauhan, 43, in Delhi.
“My main issues are clean water, electricity, access to good health care and education,” he said, adding that the Kejriwal-led Delhi government “has given us that till now.”
While the heatwave was a concern in Delhi, a cyclone that is expected to hit land tomorrow was being closely watched in eastern Odisha and West Bengal, parts of which are also voting on Saturday.


Pakistan plans to improve medical education framework, resolve issues of locals studying abroad

Updated 25 May 2024
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Pakistan plans to improve medical education framework, resolve issues of locals studying abroad

  • The development came days after hundreds of Pakistani medical students returned from Kyrgyzstan following last week’s mob attacks
  • Kyrgyz medical schools have over the decades become popular among aspiring doctors, thanks to affordable fees and living expenses

ISLAMABAD: Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar on Friday called for improving regulatory framework for medical education in Pakistan to make it at par with international standards and to resolve issues faced by Pakistani students studying abroad, Pakistani state media reported.
The decision was made at a meeting of a government committee on medical education in Islamabad, which was presided over by Dar. The committee reviewed medical education system, including fee structures, and identified key areas for improvement to align it with global standards.
The development came days after hundreds of Pakistani medical students returned from Kyrgyzstan following last week’s mob attacks on residences of foreign students studying in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek over an earlier brawl between several Kyrgyz men and some Egyptian students.
Medical schools of Kyrgyzstan have over the last few decades become popular among aspiring doctors from India, Pakistan and some other Asian and Arab countries, in part thanks to relatively affordable fees and living expenses.
“The Deputy Prime Minister underlined the need to establish coordination mechanism between medical institutions and the public and private sector to ensure uniform high-quality education in all provinces,” the Radio Pakistan broadcaster reported.
“The meeting decided to constitute a sub-executive committee to review the existing TORs [terms of reference], synergize the regulatory bodies, streamline procedures for foreign students in Pakistan and uniformity in curricula.”
PM Shehbaz Sharif constituted the committee on medical education on May 20. The committee, which includes representatives of the medical community, education sector and government officials, was set up to reform medical education, improve health care standards and ensure highest quality of medical training for future generations of health care professionals.
“The sub-committee will prepare its report with the objective to ensure that medical graduates in Pakistan are equipped with the knowledge and skills required to meet contemporary health care challenges,” the report read.


Pakistan PM admires Ireland’s decision to recognize Palestine in phone call with counterpart

Updated 25 May 2024
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Pakistan PM admires Ireland’s decision to recognize Palestine in phone call with counterpart

  • Ireland, Spain and Norway this week said they would formally recognize Palestine as a state on May 28
  • The additions have brought the total number of countries recognizing the Palestinian state to nearly 150

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Friday held a telephonic conversation with his Irish counterpart Simon Harris, in which he admired Ireland’s recent decision to recognize Palestine as a state, Sharif’s office said.
The Pakistan prime minister felicitated his Irish counterpart on his assumption of office and remarked that his youth and dynamism would bring major changes to Ireland, according to a statement issued from Sharif’s office.
He noted that Pakistan had always advocated that a two-state solution, in accordance with relevant United Nations (UN) resolutions, was the only way to bring lasting peace to the Middle East.
“Ireland’s decision would send a message of hope and solidarity to the innocent Palestinians who were suffering Israel’s brutal atrocities,” Sharif was quoted as saying by his office.
“It would also go a long way in promoting the Palestine cause and would urge other countries to follow Ireland.”
The prime ministers of Ireland, Spain and Norway said on Wednesday they would formally recognize Palestine as a state on May 28, following recent recognitions by Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas. The additions have brought the total number of countries recognizing the Palestinian state to nearly 150.
PM Harris said that Ireland had taken a principled decision in consultation with other European allies because the extent of Israel’s military action in Gaza could no longer be condoned in any way.
“The Irish felt that this decision was necessary to promote normalization in the occupied territories,” he was quoted as saying.
Sharif reaffirmed Pakistan’s strong commitment to the just struggle of the Palestinian people and lauded the decision of the International Court of Justice to order Israel to stop its assault on Gaza and Rafah.
Pakistan does not recognize the state of Israel and calls for an independent Palestinian state based on “internationally agreed parameters” and the pre-1967 borders with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital.
In recent months, the South Asian country has repeatedly raised the issue of Israel’s war on Gaza, launched last October, at the United Nations through its permanent representative, Ambassador Munir Akram.


Pakistani delegation to seek investments during Kuwait visit by month-end

Updated 25 May 2024
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Pakistani delegation to seek investments during Kuwait visit by month-end

  • The delegation will be led by Pakistan’s investment minister Abdul Aleem Khan and hold meeting with top officials
  • Khan says the visit will also help create greater employment opportunities for Pakistani workforce in the Gulf state

ISLAMABAD: A high-level Pakistani delegation is expected to visit Kuwait by the end of the month to strengthen bilateral cooperation and highlight business opportunities in the country amid renewed efforts to attract investment from the Gulf state.
Last year, the two countries agreed to deepen their economic and investment ties during the visit of interim prime minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar to the Arab state in late November. The visit was billed as a significant step in enhancing the relationship between the two countries, with the signing of various memoranda of understanding aimed at boosting cooperation in fields such as manpower, information technology, mineral exploration, food security, energy and defense.
Kakar’s visit to Kuwait came just a few months after the country established the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC), a civil-military hybrid body designed to oversee foreign financing with a specific focus on the Gulf region.
The upcoming visit of the Pakistani delegation, led by Federal Minister for Board of Investment, Privatization and Communications Abdul Aleem Khan, was announced in an official statement, although the exact dates were not specified.
“During the visit to Kuwait, there will be progress in providing employment to more workforce from Pakistan, especially health professionals and skilled labor,” Khan was quoted as saying in the statement.
“Pakistan will increase cooperation [with Kuwait] by taking on board its export companies for dairy farming, meat products, rice and other food items and move forward through accelerated measures,” he added.
The minister expressed optimism that the visit would mark the beginning of a new era of mutual cooperation, improvement in economic affairs and investment, for which the relevant departments were making preparations.
He presided over a meeting about the visit and told participants that Kuwait’s envoy had also been taken on board while making all necessary arrangements.
The delegation is expected to hold meetings with top officials of the Gulf country to discuss trade and business activities between the two countries.