3 killed as navy helicopter crashes in southwestern Pakistan

The picture shared by Pakistan Navy on September 4, 2023, shows a Pakistani Navy helicopter flying above a sea. (Photo courtesy: Pakistan Navy)
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Updated 04 September 2023
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3 killed as navy helicopter crashes in southwestern Pakistan

  • Two Pakistan Navy officers, a soldier killed as helicopter crashes in southwestern city of Gwadar
  • Pakistan Navy starts investigation into crash, says technical fault may have caused accident

ISLAMABAD: Two Pakistan Navy officers and a soldier were killed on Monday when a helicopter crashed in the country’s southwestern city of Gwadar, the navy said in a statement. 

The helicopter was on a routine training flight in Gwadar when it crashed, the statement said, adding that a possible technical fault during the flight could have caused the accident. 

“Two Pakistan Navy officers and a soldier achieved martyrdom due to the accident,” the statement said. “Pakistan Navy has started an investigation into the accident.”

Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar expressed sorrow over the helicopter crash, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said in a statement. 

“The prime minister expressed grief and regret over the martyrdom of three Pakistan Navy personnel and prayed for patience for families of the martyrs,” the PMO said. 

Former president and Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) leader Asif Ali Zardari expressed his condolences over the helicopter crash and the loss of lives. 

“Asif Ali Zardari expressed condolences with the families of the martyrs,” the PPP wrote on the social media platform X. 

Pakistan’s National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervez Ashraf expressed sorrow and regret over the incident. 

“The sacrifices by Pakistan’s armed forces for the country and the nation will always be remembered,” Ashraf was quoted as saying by the National Assembly’s official account on X. 


Islamabad banned Zainebiyoun Brigade after it became threat to Pakistan’s security — experts

Updated 12 April 2024
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Islamabad banned Zainebiyoun Brigade after it became threat to Pakistan’s security — experts

  • The Zainebiyoun Brigade comprises Pakistanis allegedly trained by Iran for fighting in Syria alongside Bashar Assad’s forces
  • Islamabad’s move comes days before Iranian’s president’s expected visit, aimed at repairing ties after tit-for-tat strikes in Jan.

KARACHI: Pakistan designated the Zainebiyoun Brigade, an Iran-backed militant group comprising Pakistani nationals that has been active in Syria, as a “terrorist” organization after it became a potential threat to the country’s security, experts said on Friday.

The Pakistani government had reasons to believe that Zainebiyoun Brigade was engaged in certain activities “prejudicial to the peace and security of the country,” read a notification, issued by the country’s interior minister on March 29, which emerged on Thursday. Subsequently, Pakistan’s National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) updated its official list of proscribed organizations, placing the Iran-backed group at 79th spot.

The development came a day after Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warned that Israel “must be punished and will be punished,” following an April 1 attack that destroyed Iran’s consulate building in Damascus and killed seven Revolutionary Guards, including two generals. Some analysts believe Tehran might be planning an attack on Israeli interests in the world and could move the Zainebiyoun Brigade for this purpose.

Since the US Treasury added the Zainebiyoun Brigade to its financial blacklist in Jan. 2019, Pakistani authorities have arrested several militants affiliated with the group, notably in the country’s commercial hub of Karachi, a significant recruitment hub for the militant outfit, along with three other regions – Parachinar, Quetta and Gilgit Baltistan.

Security experts say Islamabad moved to outlaw the Zainebiyoun Brigade due to the threat it posed to Pakistan’s security in the current scenario.

“Its [Zainebiyoun’s] activities may trigger major sectarian conflict as it used to be in Pakistan sometimes ago as retaliation by Sunni extremist groups may further complicate the environment,” Abdullah Khan, an Islamabad-based security expert, told Arab News.

Previously, Zainebiyoun members fighting in Syria and Iraq were considered an “indirect threat,” but now the group’s members have reportedly returned to Pakistan and replaced banned sectarian outfit Sipa-e-Muhammad “as the main militant group targeting opponents,” according to Khan. The Zainebiyoun Brigade has now become “a very serious threat to Pakistan’s sectarian harmony.”

A Pakistani official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the decision to designate Zainebiyoun Brigade as a proscribed entity was made after Iran’s attacks inside Pakistan.

“The decision, implemented on March 29, was taken in a high-level meeting following Iran’s attack inside Pakistan,” the official told Arab News. “Increasing attacks in Balochistan by militants based in Iran further pushed for the implementation of this decision.”

In January, Iran targeted two suspected bases of the Jaish-ul-Adl militant group in Pakistan with missiles, prompting a rapid military riposte from Islamabad targeting what it said were separatist militants in Iran.

The tit-for-tat strikes were the highest-profile cross-border intrusions by the two countries in recent years and raised alarm about a wider conflict.

“Iran-Pakistan relations have been strained since the Iranians fired missiles in Pakistan earlier this year, which has triggered questions about Iranian relationship with various armed groups active in Pakistan, including the Zainebiyoun,” Dr. Asfandyar Mir, a senior expert at the US Institute of Peace, told Arab News.

“Even if not a decisive factor in Pakistani calculus to designate Zainebiyoun, it is difficult to separate the decision from the state of Iran-Pakistan bilateral ties.”

Pakistan’s designation of the Zainebiyoun Brigade as a militant outfit also comes days before an expected visit by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in the third week of April and is likely to put pressure on Tehran in the talks later this month.

Abdul Sayed, a Sweden-based independent scholar on militancy, politics and security, concurred the move was also linked to “growing tensions” between the two countries.

“Recently, amid growing tensions between Pakistan and Iran, this move can be interpreted as Pakistan’s attempt to thwart potential sectarian attacks aimed at destabilizing the country,” he said.

“Iran has accused Pakistan of harboring sanctuaries for Jaish-ul-Adl [militant group] and has threatened repercussions.”

Sayed said the group had emerged as a “dangerous” organization as significant number of youths previously associated with other outfits had joined its ranks.

“Its militants have also been implicated in terrorist attacks against rival sects within Pakistan,” he added.

In January this year, the counter-terrorism department (CTD) in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province said they had apprehended Syed Muhammad Mehdi, a suspected militant associated with the Zainebiyoun Brigade who had been involved in an assassination attempt on Mufti Taqi Usmani, a top Pakistani cleric, in Karachi in 2019. The attack had killed two of Mufti Usmani’s guards.

In July 2022, then Pakistan interior minister Rana Sanaullah Khan told the Senate that Zainebiyoun Brigade members were among the militants “found actively involved in terrorist activities” in the country in 2019-2021.

In recent years, Pakistani authorities have announced the arrest of a number of suspects who they said were affiliated with the Zainebiyoun Brigade and were trained in Iran.

In Nov 2020, an Associated Press report said a number of Pakistanis were among 19 pro-Iran militia fighters killed in eastern Syria.

In March 2020, a senior official told Arab News that up to 50 Pakistani fighters were killed by the Turkish army and Syrian forces in a major rebel stronghold in the northwest of Syria.


Victoria buggies, remnants of colonial times, trot on during Ramadan, Eid days in Karachi

Updated 12 April 2024
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Victoria buggies, remnants of colonial times, trot on during Ramadan, Eid days in Karachi

  • Overtaken by cars, buses, rickshaws and motorbikes, horse-drawn carriages were once popular Karachi transport
  • Drivers say portside metropolis had over 7,000 buggies until few decades ago, now less than 100 in city of 20 million

KARACHI: Fazal Aman led his horse Pappu out of a stable in the Soldier Bazaar area of Karachi and clasped it to the British-style Victoria carriage adorned with fairy lights, before setting off on a five-kilometer journey to the port city’s posh Bahadurabad neighborhood in search of passengers.

Remnants of Pakistan’s colonial past, the doorless, four-wheel open carriage named after Queen Victoria and drawn by one or two horses, has a coachman’s seat at the front and a retractable roof over the passenger bench. The carriages used to be among the main modes of transportation in Karachi around a century ago and then remained in use in the older areas of the city around Gandhi Garden, Ajmel Colony, Parsi Colony off M.A. Jinnah Road and adjoining areas. Today, there are less than 100 buggies left on Karachi’s roads, mostly used for sightseeing tours throughout the year or by holiday revelers during festive seasons like Ramadan and Eid.

Indeed, Ramadan in particular brings some respite for carriage drivers, who say they sit idle for the rest of the year. The carriage fee is up to Rs10,000 ($36) for a full day tour but in Ramadan, drivers charge around $18-20 a ride.

“During Ramadan, our business thrives,” Aman said as he finished a ride near the city’s famous Chaar Minaar roundabout. “We manage our expenses, our horse feed expenses are covered, and our children have a good Eid.”

The sight and sound of the carriages pulling up are a source of joy for residents and tourists, particularly children who pile in and jostle for a place on the driver’s seat.

“I really enjoyed the experience. It’s an extremely amazing thing,” said Safa Cochinwala, 13, who took a ride with her siblings and grandfather. “The lights are very nice and the experience is just something else.”

Another resident, Jawad Jafrani, had taken his two kids for a ride after the iftar sunset meal.

“During Ramadan, these activities flourish,” the 36-year-old told Arab News as he helped his children onto a buggy. “Children nowadays are particularly attracted to carriages decorated with lights and insist on riding on those.

“Previously, children used to get to experience carriages at weddings and other special events, but now that trend has faded. Now cars have arrived, the expensive ones, and people drive in them but this [carriage ride] is still unique.”

Karachi resident Adeel Arif remembered a time when carriages were widely used to ferry children, including himself, to and from school and after school classes.

“I tell the children that when I was your age, I used to go for after school classes in this carriage’,” he said. “’While you ride them for leisure, we used to travel in them for studying.”

“SIT IDLE YEAR ROUND”

But despite the post-iftar rides bringing business, Aman worries about the months ahead when he knows the work will once more dry up. When Aman’s father and grandfather were coachmen, there were over 7,000 carriages running on Karachi streets, a number now down to down to less than 100 in a city with a population of more than 20 million people.

This decline has led many, including Aman’s elder brother, to abandon the profession.

“Apart from Ramadan, we usually sit idle, waiting for bookings. When bookings come, we go out of home. If they don’t come, we sit idle for months,” Aman said.

Inflation has also hit the business.

“Many people are leaving the carriage business due to inflation and due to the high prices of horses and even horse feed,” Aman said. “A carriage is prepared at a cost of at least Rs450,000 [$1,618] while I have bought the horse separately for Rs210,000 [$755].”

But despite the challenges, Aman does not want Victoria carriages to die out.

“I want my family legacy to not end. This is an asset of Pakistan, may it always remain so,” he said, wistfully. This is the identity of the city of Karachi, let’s not let it fade away.”


Pakistan, other Asia-Pacific states get new weapon in fight against drug-resistant TB

Updated 12 April 2024
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Pakistan, other Asia-Pacific states get new weapon in fight against drug-resistant TB

  • The region had most of world’s estimated 10.6 million new TB cases in 2022, according to WHO
  • A major challenge in treating drug-resistant TB is to get patients to take the full medication course

MANILA: A faster and vastly more effective treatment for drug-resistant tuberculosis is being rolled out in the Asia-Pacific region, raising hopes of a “new era” in tackling one of the world’s deadliest infectious diseases.

The region had most of the world’s estimated 10.6 million new TB cases in 2022, and more than half of the 1.3 million deaths, World Health Organization (WHO) figures show.

While TB can be successfully treated with antibiotics, more than three percent of new TB patients are resistant to commonly prescribed drugs.

Until recently, treatment for these patients involved daily painful injections or a fistful of pills for 18 months or longer, while some endured severe side effects such as nausea and, in extreme cases, blindness.

Many people prematurely quit their treatment, which had a success rate of 63 percent or lower.

Now, a new drug regimen involving fewer pills and side effects is being rolled out in the Asia-Pacific, including the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia, where trials have shown a more than 90 percent cure rate after six months.

The treatment, known as BPaL, combines the antibiotics bedaquiline, pretomanid and linezolid, and has received regulatory approval in more than 60 countries since 2019, according to the non-profit TB Alliance, which developed it.

The WHO updated its guidelines in 2022 to allow BPaL to be used with or without a fourth antibiotic called moxifloxacin.

BPaL has been life-changing for Filipino cook Efifanio Brillante, who was diagnosed with drug-resistant TB in June 2022 and initially went on an older form of treatment.

Brillante, 57, was swallowing 20 tablets a day, but it left him feeling so nauseous that he couldn’t work or eat.

He stopped the medication after two weeks even though he knew the decision could be fatal.

“It’s very difficult. You’re always in bed,” Brillante told AFP about his experience of having TB.

“Sometimes I couldn’t even breathe.”

The following month, Brillante joined a BPaL trial at the Jose B Lingad Memorial General Hospital in Pampanga province, north of the Philippine capital Manila.

He took between three and seven pills a day and was cured after six months.

“I’m very thankful that I was healed,” Brillante told AFP in his home.

“If I didn’t take that BPaL, I might already be buried in the cemetery.”

TB, once called consumption, is caused by a bacteria that primarily attacks the lungs and is transmitted through the air by infected people, for example by coughing.

While it is found in every country, poorer people living and working in overcrowded conditions are at higher risk of the disease.

Eight countries accounted for two-thirds of new TB cases in 2022: India, Indonesia, China, the Philippines, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

One of the biggest challenges of treating drug-resistant TB has been getting patients to take the full course of their medication.

Even in countries where treatment is free, patients face crippling travel costs to hospitals and loss of income, or even their job, due to the illness and side-effects of the drugs, leading many to stop taking their pills.

In Vietnam, most people diagnosed with TB are from low-income families, Hoang Thi Thanh Thuy from the Vietnam National Tuberculosis Program told AFP.

Nearly everyone with drug-resistant TB endured “catastrophic” expenses over the period of their treatment, she said.

“All of these difficulties can affect patient compliance and lead to poor treatment and increasing drug resistance,” Thuy said.

Identifying people with TB is also a challenge.

In Indonesia, some health care facilities are still not able to properly diagnose the disease, said Imran Pambudi of the health ministry.

Fear of social stigma from a positive diagnosis is also common.

“We’re trying to educate them that TB is a curable disease,” said Irene Flores, who led the BPaL trial at the Jose B Lingad Memorial General Hospital in the Philippines.

“If they come early, we can prevent complications.”

After years of decline, the number of people falling ill with TB and drug-resistant tuberculosis began increasing during the Covid-19 pandemic, which disrupted diagnosis and treatment, the WHO said previously.

After gargantuan global efforts to develop a vaccine against the coronavirus, the WHO has called for increased funding to fight TB.

“As TB stopped being a high income-country problem, motivation to invest in research and development for new TB drugs dried up,” said Sandeep Juneja, senior vice president of market access at the TB Alliance.

To help accelerate the rollout of BPaL, with or without moxifloxacin, the TB Alliance has set up a “knowledge hub” in Manila to provide training and assistance to other countries.

In India, where BPaL has been approved, there is growing impatience for it to be introduced into health clinics given the country’s world-beating caseload.

“BPaL should be rolled out soon because it will spare patients a lot of headaches and provide psychological relief too, besides reducing cost of treatment in the long run,” said Ravikant Singh, founder of advocacy group Doctors For You.

Juneja said the new regimen meant treating drug-resistant TB was no longer a guessing game of whether a patient would survive or not.

But more is needed to be done, he added.

“I hope this is... just the beginning of a new era of TB treatment where they will be even simpler, even shorter.”


Muslim World League secretary-general shares Eid joy with orphans in Islamabad

Updated 12 April 2024
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Muslim World League secretary-general shares Eid joy with orphans in Islamabad

  • Dr. Mohammad bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa arrived in Pakistan on Sunday on a nine-day visit
  • He visited Ali bin Abi Talib Orphanage, inaugurated new facilities, including a gymnasium

ISLAMABAD: Dr. Mohammad bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa, the secretary-general of the Muslim World League (MWL), on Thursday visited an orphanage in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, where he shared the joy of Eid Al-Fitr with orphaned children.

Dr. Al-Issa arrived in Islamabad late Sunday night on a nine-day trip aimed at fostering interfaith harmony and strengthening Saudi Arabia’s bilateral relations with Pakistan.

The MWL is a Makkah-based non-governmental organization that represents followers of Islam around the world.

“His Excellency Sheikh Dr. #MohammedAlissa, Secretary-General of the MWL, visited the Ali bin Abi Talib Orphanage, affiliated with the #MuslimWorldLeague in Pakistan,” the MWL said in a Facebook post.

“He celebrated Eid with the orphans and inaugurated new facilities, including a gymnasium and a training center.”

Dr. Mohammad bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa, the secretary-general of the Muslim World League (MWL), poses for a photo with children at the Ali bin Abi Talib Orphanage in Islamabad, Pakistan, on April 11, 2024. (Photo courtesy: Muslim World League)

The visit came a day after Dr. Al-Issa delivered the Eid Al-Fitr sermon at the Shah Faisal Mosque in Islamabad.

During the sermon, Al-Issa called on Muslims to keep Palestinians close to their hearts and in their prayers as they celebrated Eid.

“As we rejoice in this joyous celebration, we do not forget the tragedy of our brothers in Gaza, afflicted by the aggression and arrogance. May the Almighty give a favorable outcome to their trials, may the crimes that have been committed turn against those who committed them,” he said.

He also spoke about the responsibility of Muslims to use their actions to project Islam in its true light.

Dr. Mohammad bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa, the secretary-general of the Muslim World League (MWL), interacts with children at the Ali bin Abi Talib Orphanage in Islamabad, Pakistan, on April 11, 2024. (Photo courtesy: Muslim World League)

Muhammad Umer Butt, a Pakistani government spokesperson, earlier told Arab News that during his nine-day visit, Dr. Al-Issa would hold high-level meetings with Pakistan’s president, prime minister and minister of religious affairs.

“The MWL secretary-general will sign an MOU [memorandum of understanding] with the government of Pakistan for the establishment of a state-of-the-art Seerat-un-Nabi Museum in the federal capital,” he said, adding the MWL secretary-general would also perform the groundbreaking ceremony for the museum after signing the MOU on April 15.

The museum will be the first of its kind in Pakistan dedicated to exhibiting relics related to the Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) life.


On Eid in Pakistan, cakes are a unifying staple 

Updated 12 April 2024
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On Eid in Pakistan, cakes are a unifying staple 

  • Pakistani bakeries mention a gradual shift toward modern culinary trend, with more people buying Eid cakes
  • Customers say children demand cakes instead of traditional sweets, though elder still prefer sheer khurma

KARACHI: Eid celebrations in Pakistan are increasingly featuring flavorful cakes alongside traditional sweets, a trend that has developed over the years, with shopkeepers reporting strong sales of these cakes even amid high inflation, indicating their establishment as a festive staple.
Eid Al-Fitr marks the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and is a time of joy, unity and reflection for the followers of Islam across the world. There is a long-held tradition among Muslims to celebrate the occasion by consuming different varieties of sweets.
In Pakistan, people prepare and share a variety of sweet dishes with family, friends and neighbors. The most popular one associated with the festival is sheer khurma, which blends together vermicelli, milk, sugar, dried fruits and nuts.
However, more recently, people have also started buying cakes, especially before visiting others.
“Cake sales are very high, it’s a running item,” Ahmed Ali, a salesman at Karachi’s United Bakery, told Arab News. “The sales significantly increase during Eid and we hardly get a moment to sit or stand still.”
Ali said many of his customers rush to buy cakes ahead of Eid since his outlet offers a wide variety of them.
“We have Coconut Lemon Layer Cake, which is very popular,” he continued. “We also offer Chocolate Fudge, Ferrero, Kit Kat and Cadbury cakes, all of which have high sales.”
The growing popularity of Eid cakes, particularly among children, is not merely a culinary trend but a reflection of evolving societal norms and cultural dynamics.
“Nowadays, children have become more modern,” Aftab Ahmed, a resident of Karachi’s Sultanabad, told Arab News at the Fresco Bakers. “They are shifting toward cakes and leaving behind [traditional] sweets.”
“I decided to buy these cakes in advances, keeping in mind my children’s preference,” he said, adding that cakes had still not completely replaced traditional sweets in Pakistan.
Muhammad Shabbir, a sales manager at Karachi’s famous Fresco Bakers, informed the demand for cakes significantly increases during Eid days.
“The demand doubles in comparison to regular days,” Shabbir said, adding the sales growth was somewhat subdued this time due to high inflation.
He said his customers preferred ice cakes to other verities of the confections during Eid.
“The demand for ice cakes surges during Eid Al-Fitr while the demand for other cakes remains normal,” he added.
Another cake buyer, Hina Rao, a housewife, said that her children also liked ice cakes as Eid treat.
“I like to buy cake from here because my children like pastries and ice-cakes,” she said while placing an order for Eid cakes at Bhashani Sweets at the Burns Road in Karachi. “So, on the occasion of Eid, I buy these cakes from here.”
The emergence of Eid cakes in Pakistan is not just about satisfying one’s passion for a sweet tooth but also about celebrating cultural diversity, fostering creativity and embracing the spirit of togetherness. Beyond the realm of personal celebrations, Eid cakes are also driving sales at local bakeries across Pakistan.