‘Double blessing’: Centenarian Pakistani woman reunited with Indian niece at Kaaba

The screengrab taken from the video shared by Nasir Dhillon on November 19, 2023, shows 105-year-old Pakistani woman, Hajjirah Bibi (right), meeting her Indian niece, Hanifan, in Makkah, Saudi Arabia. (Nasir Dhillon)
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Updated 29 November 2023
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‘Double blessing’: Centenarian Pakistani woman reunited with Indian niece at Kaaba

  • Hajjira Bibi was separated from her sister during partition of British-ruled India in 1947
  • Meets Indian niece Hanifan in Makkah during Umrah arranged by Pakistani YouTuber

ISLAMABAD: A 105-year-old Pakistani woman was reunited this month with her Indian niece at the Kaaba in a meeting the centenarian described as a “dream come true,” saying it was a “double blessing” that the late-life encounter took place during the Umrah pilgrimage in Makkah.

Hajjirah Bibi, like thousands of other families, was separated from her sister during the partition of 1947 and remained divided over three-quarters of a century after their countries were formed in the rupture of independence from British-ruled India. The partition triggered mass migration in both directions, marred by bloodshed and violence. About 15 million people changed countries, mainly based on religion, and more than a million were killed in religious riots, according to independent estimates.

Bibi’s journey to reconnect with her lost sister began when a letter reached her in the 1980s, over two decades after it had first arrived in Pakistan. Before this point, she had believed her sister had died during partition. 

When she told her neighbor, local Kabaddi player Amina Ashiq, about the letter last year, she connected Bibi to Pakistani YouTuber Nasir Dhillon, who used his channel, Punjabi Lehar TV, to locate her family in India and established phone contact. It was then that Bibi found out her sister had now passed away but she had a niece, identified only by her first name Hanifan, who still lived in India.

After both failed multiple times to get visas, Dhillon organized an Umrah visit for them and they met at the Kaaba on Nov. 15. The YouTuber’s Sikh friend from Canada, Sardar Paul Singh Gill, contributed to financing the travel of the three to Makkah.

“It is indeed a dream come true and I am truly grateful to Allah for the opportunity to meet my niece for the first time in life at the Holy Kaaba, which is a double blessing at this stage of my life,” Bibi told Arab News over the phone from Madinah.

“While I had initially assumed she [sister] might have passed away during the partition, in the 1980s, I received a letter that had been dispatched over two decades earlier to an address where I no longer lived.”

However, the family that lived at that address managed to get the letter delivered to Bibi two decades later. 

“I could not locate her [sister] at that time but had this last wish to see my lost family once before death,” Bibi said. “I am thankful to all those who tried to help me in this reunion.”

Last year, Bibi told her neighbor Ashiq about the letter from India, sparking her interest in facilitating a reunion.  

Ashiq, who served as the old lady’s caretaker during Umrah, described it as a “proud moment” in her life.

“With Dhillon’s assistance, we brought them to Makkah for Umrah, leading to their first-ever meeting, and witnessing their reunion brought tears to my eyes,” she added.  

The YouTuber said he had used his channel to help more than 300 such reunions take place in the last ten years.

“The sole purpose of creating this channel was to facilitate reunions of those who were separated during partition,” Dhillon told Arab News.

In Bibi’s case, he said, Ashiq contacted him, and he subsequently uploaded the story to his YouTube channel in December 2022.

“Initially we tried to arrange their meeting at Kartarpur but the Indian side did not allow Hanifan [to travel],” he said, “so, then we decided to arrange their meet up in Makkah.”


Major victory for ex-PM Khan as Pakistan top court rules party eligible for reserved seats

Updated 15 min 33 sec ago
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Major victory for ex-PM Khan as Pakistan top court rules party eligible for reserved seats

  • Khan’s PTI was denied 70 reserved seats which were allotted to parties now part of the PM Sharif-led ruling coalition
  • Supreme Court says the PTI was and is a political party and eligible for reserved seats for women and minorities

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s top court on Friday delivered a landmark verdict saying the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan was eligible for reserved seats in parliament, dealing a decisive blow to the ruling coalition of premier Shehbaz Sharif, which stands to lose its two-thirds majority in the house.
In Pakistan, parties are allocated 70 reserved seats — 60 for women, 10 for non-Muslims — in proportion to the number of seats won in general elections. This completes the National Assembly’s total 336 seats. Independents are not eligible for reserved seats.
After Feb. 8 general elections, the reserved seats were allotted to Sharif’s ruling coalition as the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) ruled the PTI-backed bloc was not eligible for the extra seats as its candidates had contested as independents.
A simple majority in Pakistan’s parliament is 169 out of a total 336 seats. Candidates backed by Khan had won the most seats, 93, in the polls but did not have the numbers to form a government. 
In March, both the ECP and Peshawar High Court in separate rulings said the PTI-backed candidates were not eligible for the reserved seats, dealing a blow to the embattled PTI’s governing prospects and proving to be a major setback for Khan, who has been in jail since last August. The verdicts were subsequently overruled by the Supreme Court which has since last month been hearing a set of petitions on the issue. 
On Friday, the Supreme Court set aside the Peshawar High Court verdict and said the ECP order declaring the PTI ineligible for reserved seats was “without lawful authority and with no legal effect.” 
“PTI shall be eligible for women and ministries reserved seats in parliament,” Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa said as he read the verdict in one of the PTI petitions, calling on the ECP to recalculate the number of reserved seats Khan’s party was entitled to. 
PTI’s Syed Shibli Faraz, currently serving as the leader of the opposition in the Senate, said this was a “historic” day in Pakistani politics. 
“Heartiest congratulations firstly to the Pakistani public and their leader Imran Khan,” Faraz told reporters after the court ruling was announced. 
The Sharif-led coalition has not yet commented on the court verdict but without the reserved seats, the government will lose its two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, without which it cannot push through constitutional amendments.
“PTI WAS AND IS A PARTY”
All candidates from Khan’s PTI party were forced to contest the February polls as independents after the party was stripped of its election symbol of the cricket bat by the ECP on the technical grounds that it did not hold intra-party elections, a pre-requisite for any party to take part in polls.
After the election, the PTI-backled candidates joined the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) party to claim a share of 70 reserved seats for women and minorities allotted in proportion to the parliamentary seats a party wins in elections. 
“It is declared that lack of denial of an election symbol does not in any way affect the right of a political party to participate in an election, “the court order in one of the PTI petitions said. “The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, PTI, was and is a party.”
The order said elected members of the PTI could not be declared independents or candidates of the SIC and gave the PTI 15 days to submit its list of reserved seats to the election commission. 
PM Sharif formed a weak coalition with other parties after the general elections produced a hung parliament. Sharif’s PML-N party’s 79 and the PPP’s 54 seats together made a simple majority in parliament to form a government at the center and they also roped in smaller parties in the coalition. 
Khan and his party have rejected the results of the elections, alleging widespread rigging, which the ECP denies.


PM calls for restructuring Pakistan wheat board weeks after import crisis protests

Updated 12 July 2024
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PM calls for restructuring Pakistan wheat board weeks after import crisis protests

  • Wheat has nine percent share in Pakistan’s agriculture sector and contributes 2.2 percent of GDP 
  • Pakistan saw weeks of protests by farmers demanding government stop wheat imports that had flooded market

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has called for the restructuring of the country’s wheat board and steps to enhance production of wheat and other crops, his office said on Friday, weeks after farmer protests over wheat imports. 
Pakistan saw weeks of protests this year by farmers in Punjab, the country’s largest province and “bread basket,” who demanded the government stop wheat imports that had flooded the market at a time when they expected bumper crops.
Pakistan’s wheat production during 2023-24 stood at 31.4 million tons as compared to 28.2 million tons last year, posting a growth of 11.6 percent. According to official data, the country had over 36 million tons of wheat stock by June, including carry-forward stock.
Wheat has a 9 percent share in Pakistan’s agriculture and contributes 2.2 percent of the GDP and is harvested in Pakistan from April to June, with peak vegetation development occurring between late March and early February.
Sharif, while presiding over a meeting of officials of the national food security ministry and other bodies, issued directives to include representatives of the Land Information and Management System and the Space & Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) in the wheat board.
“Farmer representatives should be included in the wheat board,” Sharif was quoted as saying in a statement issued by his office.
The prime minister urged authorities to devise an alternate strategy to purchase wheat and consult Gilgit-Baltistan, Azad Kashmir and provincial governments in this regard.
During earlier protests, farmers had said the import of wheat in the second half of 2023 and the first three months of this year had resulted in excess amounts of the commodity in the country, leading to reduced prices. 
Official data shows Pakistan spent over $1 billion to import 3.5 million tons of wheat from July 2023 till May 2024.
Agriculture is one of the most significant income sectors in Pakistan, making up nearly 23 percent of the GDP of the country.


‘We can’t wait another year’: disaster-hit nations call for climate aid

Updated 12 July 2024
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‘We can’t wait another year’: disaster-hit nations call for climate aid

  • This year has witnessed a string of catastrophes on multiple continents, from floods and landslides to heatwaves and wildfires
  • Unprecedented flooding in Pakistan in 2022 killed over 1,7000, caused more than $30 billion in damages and economic losses

PARIS: Countries on the frontlines of climate change have warned they cannot wait another year for long-sought aid to recover from disasters as floods and hurricanes wreak havoc across the globe.

The appeal came during a meeting of the “loss and damage” fund that will conclude Friday amid concerns it is unlikely to be able to approve climate aid until 2025.

“We cannot wait until the end of 2025 for the first funds to get out the door,” Adao Soares Barbosa, a board member from East Timor and a long-standing negotiator for the world’s poorest nations, told AFP.

“Loss and damage isn’t waiting for us.”

Nearly 200 nations agreed at the UN COP28 summit last November to launch a fund responsible for distributing aid to developing countries to rebuild in the wake of climate disasters.

That historic moment has given way to complex negotiations to finalize the fund’s design, which some countries worry will not move at a pace or scale that matches the tempo of extreme-weather disasters afflicting their people.

“The urgency of needs of vulnerable countries and communities cannot be left until we have every hair in place for this fund,” said Barbosa.

Damage bills for climate disasters can run into the billions and there is barely enough cash set aside for loss and damage at present to cover just one such event, experts say.

This year has witnessed a string of catastrophes on multiple continents, from floods and landslides to heatwaves and wildfires.

Delegates met in South Korea for the second meeting of the loss and damage fund this week as Hurricane Beryl left a trail of destruction across the Caribbean and North America.

The “massive” destruction witnessed in recent weeks “puts immense pressure on us to deliver on our work,” Richard Sherman, the South African co-chair of the board steering the negotiations, told the meeting.

The fund said it wanted money approved “as soon as possible, but realistically by mid-2025,” according to an official document seen by AFP.

In an appeal for faster action, Elizabeth Thompson, a board member from Barbados, said Hurricane Beryl alone had caused “apocalyptic” damage worth “multiple billion dollars.”

“In five islands of the Grenadines... 90 percent of the housing is gone... Houses look like packs of cards and strips of wood, roofs are gone, trees are gone, there is no food, there is no water, there is no power,” she said.

“We cannot keep talking while people live and die in a crisis that they do not cause.”

Thompson said the fund needed to reflect “the urgency and the scale required to respond to... the risk, the damage and the devastation faced by people across the world who need this fund.”

Wealthy nations have so far pledged around $661 million to the loss and damage fund. South Korea contributed an additional $7 million at the start of this week’s meeting.

“That would hardly cover the likely losses from one major climate-related disaster,” Camilla More, of the International Institute for Environment and Development, told AFP.

Some estimates suggest developing countries need over $400 billion annually to rebuild after climate-related disasters. One study put the global bill at between $290 billion and $580 billion a year by 2030, and rising after that.

In one example in 2022, unprecedented flooding in Pakistan caused more than $30 billion in damages and economic losses, according to a UN-backed assessment.

Developing nations had been pushing for a specific fund to distribute aid to recover from climate impacts for 30 years, and the agreement struck in November was hailed a major diplomatic breakthrough.

“(But) ee can’t have a fund without money,” said Brandon Wu from ActionAid.

Technical discussions are taking place this year over the details of the loss and damage fund, including with the World Bank which will house the fund on an interim basis.

The Philippines was chosen this week to host the fund’s board.

Contentious discussions remain to decide how the money is allocated and in what form it should be made available to countries.

On Tuesday, more than 350 nongovernmental organizations sent a letter to the fund’s board demanding that a substantial share of the money be made directly available as small grants to local communities and indigenous groups.


Pakistan says unaware Israeli nationals aboard plane that made emergency landing in Karachi

Updated 12 July 2024
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Pakistan says unaware Israeli nationals aboard plane that made emergency landing in Karachi

  • Flydubai flight to Colombo made emergency landing at Jinnah International Airport on Wednesday
  • Israeli media quoted the Israeli foreign ministry as saying flight was also carrying two Israeli citizens 

KARACHI: The Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) said on Thursday it was not aware of the reported presence of Israeli nationals on a flydubai flight that made an emergency landing in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi earlier this week.
Flydubai flight FZ-569 was en route to Colombo, Sri Lanka from Dubai, when a woman aboard the plane fell ill, forcing the plane to make an emergency landing at the Jinnah International Airport on Wednesday.
Israeli newspaper, The Times of Israel, reported the flight was carrying two Israeli citizens among passengers, citing the Israeli foreign ministry. The ministry said it had “worked, together with others, to ensure the welfare” of the Israelis, the report added. 
But a PCAA spokesperson, Saifullah Khan, said Pakistani authorities were unaware of the presence of Israeli nationals on the flight.
“The report about the Ffydubai flight 569 just had that it was en route to Colombo from Dubai and the condition of some woman [aboard] worsened and it landed at 11pm [on Wednesday] in Karachi,” Khan told Arab News.
“But she expired. Her body was sent to [Pakistani charity] Khidmat-e-Khalq Foundation in Malir and the plane left at 3am [on Thursday]. It was not mentioned [in the report] how many passengers were aboard and what their nationalities were.”
The woman, who later died on the plane, was a Sri Lankan national, according to Khan. Her body was flown to Sri Lanka on another flight.
Pakistan does not recognize nor have diplomatic relations with 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.
Since the beginning of Israel’s war on Gaza in October last year, Pakistan has repeatedly raised the issue at the United Nations and OIC and demanded international powers and multilateral bodies stop Israeli military actions in the Palestinian territory.
Pakistan’s foreign office spokesperson, Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, told The Independent’s Urdu service the flydubai flight was diverted to Karachi due to a medical emergency.
“The Sri Lankan woman aboard the plane was examined by a medical team and declared dead, after which the body was taken off the plane,” she said. “No other passenger got off the plane.”


Pakistan disaster authorities warn of heavy rains, floods over next two days

Updated 12 July 2024
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Pakistan disaster authorities warn of heavy rains, floods over next two days

  • Parts of Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, eastern Punjab provinces received heavy showers this week
  • At least four people were killed and 31 others were wounded in rain-related incidents in KP, provincial official said

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has warned of heavy rains and flash floods in upper and central parts of the country over the next two days, Pakistani state media reported on Thursday.
Parts of Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and eastern Punjab provinces received heavy showers this week, with rainwater inundating several low-lying areas.
The NDMA warned that if the rainfall exceeded 50-100 millimeter, it may lead to urban and flash flooding in local nullahs and river tributaries, the Radio Pakistan broadcaster reported.
“The areas likely to be affected include Gujranwala, Lahore, Sialkot and Rawalpindi [in Punjab], while Galiyat, Kashmir, Kohistan, Mansehra and Murree are prone to land sliding and flash flooding,” the report read.
The NDMA has asked provincial disaster management authorities and district administrations to closely monitor the situation and take appropriate measures to safeguard the people at risk, according to the report.
It has advised public to take precautionary measures while traveling to landslide-prone areas.
This week, at least four people were killed and 31 others were wounded in rain-related incidents in KP, a PDMA spokesperson said.
Earlier in April, heavy rains triggered landslides and flash floods in Pakistan, leaving 92 people dead and another 116 wounded.
Pakistan’s eastern province of Punjab also reported 21 deaths from lightning and roof collapses while the country’s southwestern Balochistan province reported at least 15 deaths from torrential rains.
The NDMA this month launched a community engagement app for Pakistanis ahead of the monsoon season. The ‘Pak NDMA Disaster Alert’ mobile app generates alerts and updates guidance for organizations and individual responders in national and provincial languages.