Fear and mourning in southwestern Pakistani city a day after deadly attack on Prophet’s birthday celebration

Residents carrie the body of Haji Muhammad Rafique Lehri who was killed a day earlier in a suicide bombing that attacked congregation marking Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH) birthday in Mastung, Pakistan on September 30, 2023. (AN photo)
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Updated 01 October 2023
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Fear and mourning in southwestern Pakistani city a day after deadly attack on Prophet’s birthday celebration

  • The death toll in Friday’s suicide blast surged to 60 after seven more seriously wounded people succumbed to injuries
  • Bereaved families criticized the government for not doing enough to strengthen security despite another attack this month

MASTUNG: Fear and outrage gripped residents of Mastung in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province on Saturday, as they convened at Haji Muhammad Rafique Lehri’s residence, mourning his death along with 15 other family members in a suicide attack targeting Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) birth celebration a day ago.
Situated near the provincial capital of Quetta, Mastung is mostly mentioned in the news due to incidents of sectarian violence, insurgency and militant attacks. The security situation in the area has been volatile for years and it is widely considered as one of the more sensitive districts in Balochistan from a security perspective.




Noor Zaib, center, offers prayers during his father's funeral who was killed a day earlier in a suicide bombing that attacked congregation marking Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH) birthday in Mastung, Pakistan on September 30, 2023. (AN photo)

“My elder brother Haji Muhammad Rafique Lehri decided to move forward and approached the chief guest of the rally when I heard a powerful explosion and found my brother bleeding on the ground,” Haji Saifullah Lehri said in a conversation with Arab News.
“We lost 15 family members in the Friday attack,” he continued. “The terrorists who attacked people celebrating the birth anniversary of the Prophet (PBUH) cannot be Muslims.”




The street in Mastung, Pakistan decorated with flags during the celebrations of Prophet Muhammad's birthday on September 30, 2023. (AN photo)

The provincial counterterrorism department (CTD) lodged a police complaint against “unknown terrorists” a day after the bombing. Meanwhile, health officials confirmed the death toll from the incident had surged to 60 after seven seriously wounded people succumbed to their injuries.
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, though Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) denied involvement in the violent incident.
Another proscribed entity, Daesh is known for attacks in Pakistan and beyond on religious gatherings and minorities. The group has strong footprints in the country’s southwestern Balochistan province which shares its borders with Afghanistan and Iran, particularly in Mastung district.




Locals gather to attend the funeral prayers of Haji Muhammad Rafique Lehri who was killed a day earlier in a suicide bombing that attacked congregation marking Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH) birthday in Mastung, Pakistan on September 30, 2023. (AN photo)

Daesh also targeted a key Pakistani religious leader, Hafiz Hamdullah, on September 14, though he survived the attack.
Caretaker Federal Interior Minister Sarfaraz Ahmed Bugti announced the state had decided not to tolerate those perpetrating militant violence.
“The state will establish its writ at any cost and we will not spare anyone – whether they are the facilitators or sympathizers [of militants],” he said while addressing a news conference in Quetta.
Meanwhile, Noor Zaib, who lost his father, uncle and cousin in the blast, told Arab News there was limited presence of security personnel during the Eid Milad ul Nabi celebrations on Friday morning.
He said the people of his district had witnessed two blasts within a one-month span, adding the government could not be seen anywhere.
“My ears were ringing after the powerful bang of the suicide blast,” he recalled. “Three of our family members were killed on the spot. That is when we brought their bodies home instead of taking them to hospital.”
“We don’t know who was involved in the blast,” Zaib said. “Only God knows who attacked people celebrating the Prophet's birth anniversary. But the government must try to arrest the perpetrators of the attack.”


President of ex-PM Khan party released from prison after nearly a year in custody

Updated 21 May 2024
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President of ex-PM Khan party released from prison after nearly a year in custody

  • Pervaiz Elahi was arrested on June 1 in a case relating to alleged illegal appointments in Punjab Assembly
  • His party says the anti-corruption watchdog failed to prove Elahi had accepted any money against recruitment

ISLAMABAD: Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, president of former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, was released from prison on Tuesday after the Lahore High Court granted him bail in a case relating to alleged illegal appointments, the PTI said.
Elahi was arrested on June 1, 2023 after being accused of getting results of the testing service changed to have the candidates of his choice appointed in the Punjab provincial assembly.
Justice Sultan Tanvir of the Lahore High Court accepted his bail petition while presiding over a hearing of the case on Tuesday and ordered his release.
“The anti-corruption body filed the case after a delay of two years,” the PTI said in a statement. “Anti-corruption body failed to prove that Mr. Elahi had accepted any money against recruitment or his involvement in the recruitment procedure.”
Elahi has twice served as the chief minister of Pakistan’s most populous Punjab province and dissolved the provincial assembly in January 2023 on Khan’s instructions, in a bid to force early nationwide elections.
His arrest on June 1 came amid a crackdown on Khan’s PTI party after violent clashes and attacks on government and military installations over Khan’s brief arrest in May 9.
Khan, who was ousted in a parliamentary no-trust vote in April, has been in jail since last August and convicted in multiple cases. Arguably Pakistan’s most popular politician, Khan says all cases against him are politically motivated to keep him out of politics.


Over 1,000 relief camps set up as Pakistan braces for heatwave

Updated 21 May 2024
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Over 1,000 relief camps set up as Pakistan braces for heatwave

  • The Pakistan Meteorological Department said temperatures are expected to hit as high as 50°Celsius in parts of rural Sindh
  • Extreme heat in Pakistan is often coupled by deficit in power supply, with some areas experiencing 15-hour daily loadshedding

KARACHI: Over 1,000 camps have been set up across Pakistan’s southern province of Sindh in anticipation of a severe heatwave, disaster management officials said Tuesday.
The Pakistan Meteorological Department said temperatures are expected to hit as high as 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) in parts of rural Sindh.
“These camps have been set up to provide relief to affected people, and to help reduce instances of heatstroke and other heat-related diseases,” Ajay Kumar assistant director of the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) told AFP.
“They are also equipped with places of rest, water and glucose to give to people as and when these are needed,” he added.
The heatwave will affect much of the country, building over the next week.
Extreme heat in Pakistan is often coupled by deficit in power supply, with some areas experiencing up to 15 hours a day of loadshedding, according to local media.
Pakistan increasingly vulnerable to extreme weather events, which scientists have linked to climate change.
Schools in the province have already postponed annual examinations scheduled for this week, including in the mega port city of Karachi, home to more than 20 million people.
PDMA Chief Meteorologist Sardar Sarfaraz said that “women who spend most of their time in the kitchen and in the fields in rural areas are the hardest hit.”
The heatwave also raises concern about the survival of livestock, Kumar added.


Pakistan religion minister applauds Saudi Arabia for innovation in facilitation of Hajj pilgrims

Updated 21 May 2024
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Pakistan religion minister applauds Saudi Arabia for innovation in facilitation of Hajj pilgrims

  • Hajj is one of five pillars of Islam and requires every Muslim to undertake the journey at least once
  • Around 26,711 Pakistani pilgrims have arrived in Saudi Arabia ahead of the next month’s pilgrimage

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Religious Affairs Minister Chaudhry Salik Hussain on Tuesday met with Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Tawfiq bin Fawzan Al-Rabiah and commended the innovative reforms implemented by the Saudi authorities to facilitate Hajj pilgrims, the Pakistani religious affair ministry said.
Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and requires every adult Muslim to undertake the journey to the holy Islamic sites in Makkah at least once in their lifetime if they are financially and physically able.
According to Pakistan’s religious affairs ministry, 26,711 Pakistani pilgrims have arrived in Saudi Arabia ahead of next month’s Hajj, less than two weeks after Pakistan kicked off its pre-Hajj flight operation.
Hussain arrived in Saudi Arabia last week to review Pakistan’s arrangements for Hajj pilgrims and has since toured various departments as well as met with Saudi authorities.
“Hussain appreciated the innovative and exemplary reforms of the Saudi authorities for the facilitation of Hajj pilgrims arriving in the Kingdom from across the globe,” Pakistan’s religious affairs ministry said in a statement.
The two figures had a detailed discussion regarding bilateral relations and arrangements for Hajj 2024, according to the statement. Hussain lauded the Kingdom for extending the best facilities and excellent support to the pilgrims.
He described the progress on new Pakistan Houses, which house the country’s Hajj missions, in Makkah and Madinah as “positive.”
“Saudi companies responsible for providing services under the leadership of the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah are doing a good job,” Hussain was quoted as saying in the statement.
Hussain also discussed the matter of pending transport contracts for 40,000 Pakistani Hajj pilgrims facilitated by private tour operators, to which the Saudi minister assured him the matter would be resolved within the next few days.
“Pakistan’s Hajj group operators should reform and follow Saudi directives,” Hussain urged, saying his ministry would take action if pilgrims faced inconvenience due to private operators.
Pakistan has a Hajj quota of 179,210 pilgrims this year, of which 63,805 people will perform the pilgrimage under the government scheme, while the rest will use private tour operators. This year’s pilgrimage is expected to run from June 14 till June 19.


Buttler keen for England to show their mettle at T20 World Cup

Updated 21 May 2024
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Buttler keen for England to show their mettle at T20 World Cup

  • Buttler’s men went to the one-day international World Cup in India in October as double world champions but lost six of their nine matches
  • A four-match T20 series against Pakistan, whom they defeated in T20 World Cup final in Melbourne in 2022, starts at Headingley on Wednesday

LONDON: Jos Buttler wants his England team to show they are still a force to be reckoned with at the T20 World Cup after last year’s shambolic 50-over title defense left them with “dented” pride.
Buttler’s men went to the one-day international World Cup in India in October as double world champions but lost six of their nine matches to exit with a whimper.
A four-match Twenty20 series against Pakistan, the team they defeated in the T20 World Cup final in Melbourne in 2022, starts at Headingley on Wednesday.
Both teams will then travel to the tournament in the West Indies and United States.
Reflecting Tuesday on the impact of their poor showing in India, England captain Buttler said: “The pride was obviously dented and it was a really disappointing competition.
“But life moves on, it’s a chapter in the book and there’s lessons you learn but we’re presented with a new opportunity now, in a different format.
“We go to the West Indies and want to give a better account of ourselves. It’s a real honor to go to another World Cup as defending champions again but it also feels like a new time.”
Buttler was a key voice in England’s decision to pull all of their squad members back from the Indian Premier League to prepare as a collective.
The hard-hitting batsman said the IPL should not clash with international cricket.
“As England captain, my main priority is to be playing for England,” he said. “It’s really important for us to spend this time together.
“Leading into a World Cup, your number one is performing for England and it feels like this is the best preparation.
“But it’s my personal opinion there shouldn’t be any international cricket that clashes with the IPL — these games have been in the calendar a long time.”
Two of England’s 15-man squad are unavailable for the opening fixture in Leeds, with Liam Livingstone and Mark Wood both working through knee problems.
Paceman Jofra Archer will make his first England appearance for 14 months but Buttler said it was important not to expect too much from a bowler who has been plagued by injuries.
“We all know what a superstar he has been, but let’s manage those expectations,” he said. “Don’t expect too much, too soon.
“A great success would be him coming through this series with a big smile on his face and his body holding up.”
There are questions over Buttler’s own availability in the coming days, with his wife Louise expecting the couple’s third child.
The vastly experienced Moeen Ali stands by to take the reins if required.
“My family comes first. I’ll be at the birth,” Buttler said. “I don’t think they quite tell you when they’re going to come, but we’ve got a plan in place and fingers crossed everything will go well.”
England launch the defense of their T20 World Cup crown on June 4 against Scotland in Barbados.


Journalists, activists decry ‘draconian’ Punjab defamation law aimed at regulating social media

Updated 21 May 2024
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Journalists, activists decry ‘draconian’ Punjab defamation law aimed at regulating social media

  • Punjab passed law on Monday, while federal government has constituted a body to propose similar amendments to existing laws
  • Journalists and digital rights activists have said the legislations are part of a “greater design” to curb dissent on social media

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani journalists and digital rights activists on Tuesday decried a “draconian” legislation aimed at regulating social media content in the country’s most populous Punjab province, calling it an attempt to “stifle the press” and demanding a thorough consultation with civil society to protect fundamental rights.
Amid opposition protests, the Punjab Assembly on Monday passed the Defamation Bill, 2024, which proposes a special tribunal to try those involved in drafting, publishing and/or airing “fake news.” The tribunal shall decide a case within six months and may impose a fine of up to Rs3 million ($10,776).
The development came as the federal government constituted a committee to discuss establishment of a Digital Rights Protection Authority by amending existing laws to promote “responsible” use of the Internet, which activists fear would be another attempt to regulate social media content and stifle the press.
Zohra Yusuf, a former chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), said the Punjab government was establishing a parallel judicial system through the defamation law to prosecute people, adding that it would be a violation of the fundamental rights of people.
“The federal and Punjab government are trying to pass the legislations to regulate content on the social media, stifle press freedom and restrict the dissenting voices,” she told Arab News.
“A slew of defamation laws and regulations already exist on violation of privacy, propaganda against the state institutions like army or judiciary. Therefore, there is no need to enact new laws.”
Punjab Information Minister Azma Bukhari and Federal Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar did not respond to Arab News’ request for a comment.
Successive governments in Pakistan have enacted different laws and introduced amendments in the existing laws to enhance their control over the social media content and discourage the dissent by filing cases against journalists and activists for violating the laws.
Usama Khilji, a digital rights activist, said the authorities had controlled the mainstream media, but social media was becoming a “problematic platform for them being an unrestricted media.”
“The government wants to intimidate people through the legislation that if you criticize them, you’ll be fined or sent to jail,” Khilji told Arab News, adding the legislation would have a “chilling effect” on the constitutional rights like the freedoms of expression and press.
In the past, he said, courts had intervened after such legislations were made by parliament and struck them down for being in violation of the constitution. “The whole world is decriminalizing defamation laws, but we are enacting new laws to crack down on the democratic rights,” he said.
Separately, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) on Tuesday staged nationwide protests against the Punjab defamation law, urging authorities to refrain from implementing the legislation that was bound to curtail press freedom and control social media content.
“We want to cooperate with the government in promotion of responsible use of the Internet, but we cannot allow them to enact censorship laws,” PFUJ President Afzal Butt told Arab News.
“The federal government has promised to engage in meaningful consultation with journalist bodies on the proposed digital rights protection authority, but this has yet to begin.”
He said the proposed legislations were “part of a greater design” to curb dissent on social media.
Farieha Aziz, a digital rights activist, said the federal government’s committee had not shared any draft law with relevant stakeholders for discussion and it would be a disaster if they passed the law by bulldozing public opinion.
“The government is obviously making Pakistan a pariah state through these legislations as they would end up withdrawing digital rights and facilities to entrepreneurs and start-ups, besides intimidating journalists and social media activists,” she told Arab News.