Pakistan’s pigeon racing enthusiasts indulge their passion in Karachi skies

In this photograph taken on May 31, 2016, a Pakistani caretaker releases racing pigeons from their cage on the final day of the pigeon race national championship in Islamabad. (AFP/File)
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Updated 01 June 2023

Pakistan’s pigeon racing enthusiasts indulge their passion in Karachi skies

  • People in Ranchore Line neighborhood of Karachi organize pigeon racing tournaments biennially in May and October
  • Origins of pigeon flying in Karachi can be traced back to New Delhi, where there are entire neighborhoods dedicated to the sport

KARACHI: Whether it’s summer or winter, after 4pm on most days, even when he is unwell, Muhammad Shafiq Chando can be found on the roof of the six-story residential building in which he lives in the Ranchore Line neighborhood of Karachi.

The unwavering commitment owes to his passion for his pet pigeons, which he trains and prepares for a unique race organized biennially in May and October in Ranchore, turning the whole neighborhood into a festival of colors and noise. Many in the area maintain flocks of hundreds of pigeons but with over six decades of experience in the sport, Chando is considered a maestro of pigeon racing.

“Even when I am sick, if people come [to check on me] after 4pm, my family tells them that they have come in vain because I have gone to the rooftop,” Chando told Arab News as he signaled to his pigeons to fly.

“My hobby has reached a level of obsession. I am a 72-year-old father of four children, a maternal grandfather, and also a paternal grandfather, but this is my true passion.”

The still image taken from a video recorded on May 25, 2023 shows a pigeon racing enthusiast watching his birds feed from a rooftop in Karachi Pakistan. (AN Photo)

For each type of pigeon flying tournament, the finish line is their home, which pigeons find using some combination of the sun, magnetic fields and an olfactory map of familiar smells. And what makes them return home is how kindly they are treated, how well they are fed and how clean their accommodations are.

Humans have been capitalizing on pigeons’ homing abilities for centuries. Genghis Khan used pigeons to relay commands across Asia and Eastern Europe. These days, the fastest fliers tend to be highly bred and pedigreed, like racehorses. In May 2012, a pigeon named Usain Bolt — for the Olympic sprinting champion from Jamaica — was sold to a Chinese businessman for about $430,000. In 2020, a female racing pigeon named New Kim sold for around $1.9 million at an auction in Belgium.

The origins of the sport in Karachi can be traced back to India, particularly New Delhi, where there are still entire neighborhoods dedicated to the sport.

Chando’s own involvement in pigeon flying started when he met Nawab Maqsood, a migrant from India, from whom he learnt about the types of racing and the many tricks of the trade.

There are three types of pigeon tournaments held in Pakistan, said Shamroz Chando, who shares his father’s enthusiasm for the sport.

“One is high pigeon flying, which we call Kabuli,” he said. “The second is low pigeon flying, and the third type is Golay Bazi [roller flying].”

The still image taken from a video recorded on May 25, 2023 shows pigeons gathered on a rooftop in Karachi Pakistan. (AN Photo)

In the high-flying tournament, each team can fly eight pigeons who must remain in the air from 7am until 5pm. A pigeon has to return home by 5pm or else is disqualified from the tournament. Similar to the low-flying pigeon contest, in the high-flying contest, mostly held in winter, a pigeon’s duration in the air is counted, not the height the bird is able to reach.

In the low-flying tournament, being held this month in Chando’s neighborhood with 100 participating teams, the pigeons are tied with bands or ribbons. Again, each team can fly eight pigeons, but the score of a team is determined by the flying hours of the seven pigeons who flew for the longest duration. The top ten teams are declared winners, with one team receiving a prize, often something like a small car. In the low-flying tournament, the pigeon has to remain in sight. If the bird goes missing for more than 45 minutes, it is considered out of the tournament.

The still image taken from a video recorded on May 25, 2023 shows Muhammad Shafiq Chando, a pigeon racing enthusiast watching his birds feed at a rooftop in Karachi Pakistan. (AN Photo)

In Golay Bazi, also called Tukri, 50 to 500 pigeons from two teams fly, and when both teams mix, which is called a battle, the team that captures the largest number of pigeons from the opponent’s team is declared the winner .

Tahmoor Chohan, a tournament participant, said people in Karachi had made modifications to the rules of the sport introduced by migrants from India.

“Unlike in India, where they allow the wings [of these birds] to grow naturally, in Karachi, the birds’ wings are first clipped, and then they are prepared for racing,” he explained.

The still image taken from a video recorded on May 25, 2023 shows a pigeon racing enthusiast watching his birds from a rooftop in Karachi Pakistan. (AN Photo)

And the hobby isn’t cheap, with Chando saying he spent Rs50,000 ($170) a month on keeping the birds. 

Chando’s 400 pigeons live on a diet of around 10 kilograms of millet daily, which he described as the “secret” to their success. They also eat food supplements and a special pudding called “chiknao,” which resembles halwa, or locally made pudding, and is costly to prepare. 

“We have to ensure that [the birds] are fit and active in every way,” he said. “So, for that, we provide them with a special food called chiknao … It contains almonds, desi ghee, spices, and dough. We feed them things that we ourselves cannot afford to eat.”

When asked if he ever felt the urge to give up on pigeon racing, Chando said his victories brought him “tremendous joy,” but the close bond with his pigeons led to “immense pain” if a bird was lost, especially during tournaments, making him sometimes wish to abandon the sport.

“The pain is intense,” he said, “because it takes three years to raise a squab.”

The still image taken from a video recorded on May 25, 2023 shows a pigeon racing enthusiast feeding his birds on a rooftop in Karachi, Pakistan. (AN Photo)

When asked if he believed it was humane to raise pigeons for racing tournaments, Chando rebuffed the question, saying: “We feed them the things that we ourselves cannot afford to eat.”

The pigeons, being pigeons, were unavailable for comment.

Pakistan’s top court to take up review petitions in case involving military’s political role

Updated 5 sec ago

Pakistan’s top court to take up review petitions in case involving military’s political role

  • The court asked the government to act against military personnel involved in politics after the 2017 Faizabad sit-in
  • The protest demonstration was carried out by a rightwing religious party, forcing the then-law minister to resign

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court of Pakistan will take up review petitions against one of its own judgments on Thursday in which it directed the government to initiate action against armed forces personnel for violating their oath and supporting a religious party protesting on the outskirts of the federal capital.
Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) set up a protest camp at the Faizabad Interchange, the main gateway between Islamabad and Rawalpindi, in November 2017, contesting an amendment in the Elections Bill which it said had watered down the oath related to the finality of the Prophethood, a sensitive Islamic issue.
The sit-in, which paralyzed daily life in the twin cities for about 20 days and forced the law minister to resign, was widely viewed as an attempt by the country’s military to weaken the democratically elected government.
The controversy further deepened after the leaked footage of a senior official went viral on the social media in which he could be seen handing out money to demonstrators which encouraging them to disperse peacefully.
“The constitution emphatically prohibits members of the armed forces from engaging in any kind of political activity, which includes supporting a political party, faction or individual,” said the 43-page judgment by a two-member bench led by Justice Qazi Faez Isa, who is now the chief justice.
“The Government of Pakistan through the Ministry of Defense and the respective Chiefs of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force are directed to initiate action against the personnel under their command who are found to have violated their oath,” it added.
The judgment also directed all the intelligence agencies to not exceed their respective mandates or limit free speech by bringing media houses under pressure during such protests.
“They [the agencies] cannot curtail the freedom of speech and expression and do not have the authority to interfere with broadcasts and publications, in the management of broadcasters/publishers and in the distribution of newspapers,” the Supreme Court said.
“Intelligence agencies should monitor activities of all those who threaten the territorial integrity of the country and all those who undermine the security of the people and the State by resorting to or inciting violence,” it continued.
“To best ensure transparency and the rule of law it would be appropriate to enact laws which clearly stipulate the respective mandates of the intelligence agencies,” the judgment added.
Several political factions, including former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), intelligence agencies like the Intelligence Bureau and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and politicians like Sheikh Rashid Ahmad field review petitions against the judgment.
It is pertinent to mention that Pakistan’s powerful army has frequently toppled political administrations in the past, bringing the country under direct rule through periodic interventions.
Even when they are not in power, the top army generals are viewed to be influencing politics in Pakistan from behind the scenes.

Pakistan’s army chief vows to create favorable environment for economic development in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Updated 28 September 2023

Pakistan’s army chief vows to create favorable environment for economic development in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

  • The country’s northwestern province has experienced a surge in extremist violence after the government-TTP truce ended last November
  • General Asim Munir says women in KP faced multifaceted challenges due to a prolonged war against militancy in their province

ISLAMABAD: Chief of Army Staff General Asim Munir said on Wednesday the country’s armed forces would continue to play their role to create a safe environment in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province to ensure its economic progress.

The army chief made the statement during his visit to Peshawar where he was received by the top general and briefed about the overall security situation, including initiatives against smuggling, hoarding and drug trafficking.

Pakistan has experienced a surge in militancy, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa which shares its western border with Afghanistan, after a fragile truce between the proscribed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the government in Islamabad collapsed in November last year.

The Pakistani administration is also trying to generate economic activity across the country to deal with tough financial challenges, though security challenges in places like the northwestern province and Balochistan have impeded its efforts.

Pakistan Army will continue to play its role in ensuring peace and stability in KPK to provide a secure environment for economic development

“We have to synergize our efforts for peace and prosperity of our beloved country,” the army’s media wing, ISPR, quoted him as saying during the visit. “Pakistan Army will continue to play its role in ensuring peace and stability in KPK to provide a secure environment for economic development.”

The army chief also had an interactive session with the women of the province at the “KPK Women Symposium, 2023.”

Addressing the participants of the gathering, he said that women had played a vital role in the progress of the country throughout Pakistan’s history.

He acknowledged that women of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had faced multifaceted challenges due to the country’s prolonged war against extremism in their province. However, he also applauded them for their “resilience, commitment and bravery” in the face of all odds.

The army chief also encouraged them to participate in the progress and development of their province and the newly merged tribal territories.

Pakistan PM arrives in Saudi Arabia for Umrah following diplomatic odyssey to United Nations

Updated 56 min 12 sec ago

Pakistan PM arrives in Saudi Arabia for Umrah following diplomatic odyssey to United Nations

  • Kakar and his administration are trying to convince foreign business leaders to explore investment opportunities in Pakistan
  • He praised the normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran during his speech at the UN General Assembly

ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday after wrapping up his official tour to New York where he addressed the 78th United Nations General Assembly session before flying to London for a few days.
Kakar and his administration officials have been trying to convince business leaders around the world to explore investment opportunities in Pakistan after the country set up the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC), a civil-military forum, to attract foreign funding amid mounting financial challenges.
He achieved a historic milestone as the first caretaker prime minister of his country to address the annual UNGA session in New York, where he tackled various global issues, spanning from extremist violence and relations with India to the escalating challenges of climate change and Islamophobia.
“Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar has reached Madinah Munawara on a private tour,” his office announced in a brief statement on Wednesday night.
“Governor of Medina Faisal bin Salman warmly welcomed him at the Royal Terminal of Medina Airport along with Ambassador of Pakistan Ahmad Farooq, other senior officers of the Pakistani embassy and consulate general in Jeddah,” it added.
The prime minister visited the Grand Mosque in Madinah and paid his respects at the shrine of the Prophet (PBUH).
He also toured the International Fair and Museum of the Prophet’s Biography and Islamic Civilization and applauded the Saudi authorities for preserving the rich heritage of Islam.
The management of the museum also presented him with a shield and books while he watched various items displayed at the facility.
The prime minister is scheduled to leave for Makkah today to perform Umrah. He is also expected to meet high-ranking Saudi officials during his stay in the kingdom.
It may be recalled that Kakar applauded the normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran while commenting on the overall strategic situation in the Middle East during his UNGA address.
“Pakistan welcomes the progress made toward ending the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, in particular we warmly welcome the normalization of relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he told the world body.

Pakistani company aims to boost soil, farmers’ harvests with ‘worm poop’ 

Updated 28 September 2023

Pakistani company aims to boost soil, farmers’ harvests with ‘worm poop’ 

  • Vermicomposting is the process of making worms devour manure and using the worms’ nutrient-rich waste as fertilizer
  • The technique cuts farmers’ water consumption by one-third, increases crop yield and plant health significantly, says company official

RAWALPINDI: Aniqa Sattar walked around large piles of bed-shaped, rectangular spaces filled with manure, and covered with large straws of hay. She hunched over and thrust one hand into one of the beds and closely inspected what it held: a few wiggling worms burrowing through the dung. 

Sattar is the co-founder of the Pakistani company Pak Organic Life in Rawalpindi produces nutrient-rich organic fertilizer via a process called vermicomposting. The process involves making worms devour manure. The nutrient-rich waste that worms excrete after eating manure— vermicompost— is used to boost crop health and yield. 

Agriculture forms the backbone of Pakistan’s economy, contributing 21.4 percent to the South Asian country’s gross domestic product. It employs 45 percent of Pakistan’s labor force and contributes to the growth of other sectors of the economy. According to a report published this year by the Pakistan Business Council, Pakistan’s food crop yield has stagnated over the years while its population has increased rapidly, posing food insecurity dangers. 

According to Sattar, vermicomposting does farmers a whole lot of good. 

“It reduces their [farmers] water consumption [by] about one-third and the taste of their vegetables, their fruits, whatever they are producing, it is enhanced,” Sattar told Arab News this week.

According to data by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Pakistan, the South Asian country uses over 155 kilograms of conventional fertilizers per hectare and has a total cropped area of 23.3 million hectares. With such a large cropped area to fertilize, it only helps that the vermicompost is cheaper compared to conventional fertilizers: it costs Rs45 ($0.16) per kilogram while a fertilizer costs Rs300 ($1.05) per kilogram. 

But the process involves labor and takes months to complete.

Vermicomposting begins by first treating the animal waste, which Sattar’s company collects from farmers around Rawalpindi’s surrounding areas and dumps into an open field. The waste is sprayed with water for two weeks before it is spread into beds and the earthworms are added to it. 

“The worms eat the manure and they convert it into a very nutrient-rich thing,” Sattar explained. “It takes the complete dung to be converted into the vermicompost after a process of about two to three months,” she added. 

There are plenty of worms to go around, as Sattar’s company owns about 5,000 kilograms of them. For farmers who aspire to start their own business of producing vermicompost, she sells them worms for Rs5,000 ($17.5) per kilogram. Her company is currently rearing over two tons of worms per month and plans to increase it further in the coming months. 

The bulk of the company’s customers are from Pakistan’s southern Sindh province, including the cities of Karachi and Hyderabad. 

“Our customers are purchasing it [vermicompost], most of them have their own gardens, or they own some land on which they are producing something like food, vegetables, “Sattar shared. “The yield is increased [by the vermicompost] by about 10-15 percent.”

And if they were using vermicompost, Sattar said farmers wouldn’t need to use different fertilizers on their crops. 

“Here in vermicompost, we have all the 17 plant nutrients in the same fertilizer,” she said. “We don’t have to go for any second option.”
Abbas Ali, the manager of a plant nursery in Rawalpindi, has been using vermicompost for his seedlings and plants for the last two to three months. 

“At the moment, thanks to God, we are using the fertilizer on seasonal seedlings and the result is very good,” Ali told Arab News as he planted cabbage seeds in a flowerpot.

Pakistan’s government has been educating farmers about vermicomposting through the National Agricultural Research Center (NARC) in Islamabad. Here, scientists train farmers on vermicomposting and how to rear earthworms. 

“We are promoting this technology to end users because it is entrepreneurship at the house level,” Dr. Tariq Sultan, director of NARC Land Resources Research Institute in Islamabad, told Arab News. 
Sultan said he always recommended people start vermicomposting from a “small level” with a few worms and then increase it gradually. He said the process also reduces global warming as it triggers carbon sequestration.

And in times of staggering inflation, Sultan thinks vermicomposting could be very good for business.

“It is a very profitable business because at the time fertilizer rates are very high,” he said. “It is a high need of the time that this technology should be promoted in Pakistan.”

Pakistan’s digital banking transactions surged by 57 percent in FY23— central bank

Updated 28 September 2023

Pakistan’s digital banking transactions surged by 57 percent in FY23— central bank

  • In latest report, Pakistan’s central bank says paper-based transactions declined by over 4 percent during FY23
  • During FY23, number of transactions by Point of Sales, ATMs grew annually by 45 percent and 17 percent respectively

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s mobile and Internet banking transactions surged by a whopping 57 percent in volume and 81 percent by value during the fiscal year 2022-23, the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) said in a report on Wednesday. 

According to the Annual Payment Systems Review for the fiscal year 2022-23 released by the SBP, Internet banking users increased by 15.1 percent to 9.6 million in Pakistan while mobile phone banking users rose by 30.2 percent to reach 16.1 million in FY23. 

“The e-banking is attracting more customers due to its efficient and instant payment solutions, and its transactions are growing at a steady pace over the years,” the SBP said in the report. 

The report said paper-based transactions declined by over 4 percent during FY23 and cumulatively around 20 percent in the last five years. However, it added that the value of paper-based transactions increased by 20 percent in FY23.

The SBP report further said that as of June 30, 2023, there were 115,288 Point Of Sales terminals, 17,808 ATMs, 520 Cash/Cheque Deposit Machines and 6,889 e-commerce merchants to provide payments services to customers. 

“During the fiscal year, the number of transactions through POS (199.3 million) and ATMs (809.7 million) grew annually by 45 percent and 17 percent respectively,” it said. “Domestic e-commerce transactions using payment cards were 31.8 million which amounted to PKR 142 billion during the year.”

The report said that as of June 30, 2023, there were 58.1 million payment cards in circulation in Pakistan of which 44.5 million were issued by banks and Microfinance Banks, 10.8 million by branchless banks, and 2.8 million by EMIs.