Pakistan gunmen kill policeman guarding polio vaccination team 

A health worker administers polio vaccine drops to a child during a vaccination campaign in Peshawar, Pakistan on May 22, 2023. (AFP/File)
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Updated 01 December 2023
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Pakistan gunmen kill policeman guarding polio vaccination team 

  • The incident occurred in a tribal border region that was once a haven for Taliban militants 
  • Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan are only two countries where polio remains endemic 

PESHAWAR: A Pakistani policeman was killed when militants attacked a polio vaccination team on Friday, police said, the latest casualty in the country’s long campaign against the crippling disease. 

Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan are the only two countries where polio remains endemic and vaccination teams are frequently targeted by militants. 

The latest incident occurred in Malik Din Khel, part of the former tribal border region that was once a haven for Taliban militants. 

“Two gunmen riding a motorbike opened fire on policemen guarding a two-member polio vaccination team,” district police chief Saleem Khan Kulachi told AFP. 

“One policeman died at the scene while another sustained a minor injury,” he said. 

One of the gunmen was shot dead by police. 

Local police official Zahir Ahmed Afridi also confirmed the details, adding that the health care workers were unhurt. 

Pakistan initiated a week-long nationwide polio vaccination campaign on Monday, with the goal of inoculating more than 44 million children across much of the country. 

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack but Islamist militants, including the Pakistani Taliban, have killed scores of polio vaccination workers and their security escorts in the past. 

Islamist opposition to inoculation grew after the US Central Intelligence Agency organized a fake vaccination drive to help track down Al-Qaeda’s former leader Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad. 

Pakistan has reported five cases of polio this year, while 20 were reported last year, according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. 


In a first, Pakistan to select assistants for Hajj 2024 through National Testing Service exam 

Updated 03 March 2024
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In a first, Pakistan to select assistants for Hajj 2024 through National Testing Service exam 

  • Pakistan selects hundreds of assistants, doctors every year to facilitate Pakistani pilgrims during the Hajj pilgrimage
  • Religious Affairs Minister Aneeq Ahmed says picking Hajj assistants via NTS will ensure transparency, better performance

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will be selecting assistants for this year’s Hajj pilgrimage through the National Testing Service (NTS) exam for the first time in its history, the country’s caretaker religious affairs minister said on Sunday.
Pakistan selects hundreds of assistants and doctors every year to facilitate local pilgrims in Saudi Arabia in performing rituals of the annual pilgrimage.
The individuals who intended to assist pilgrims during this year’s Hajj sat the NTS exam on Sunday to be able to proceed further.
“An important work is starting today. The selection of Hajj assistants is being done for the first time through the National Testing Service,” Religious Affairs Minister Aneeq Ahmed said, after witnessing the examination process at an NTS center in Islamabad.
“Keeping transparency in mind, selection is being done through NTS for the first time in history.”
Last year, Pakistan selected 794 Hajj assistants, while this year the country intends to pick 625 individuals to facilitate the pilgrims, according to the minister.
There will be 540 doctors on Hajj duty this year, who would be providing medical attention to pilgrims.
“Those passing the written test will perform better during the Hajj pilgrimage,” Ahmed said, promising to facilitate the pilgrims to the best.
Hajj is an annual Islamic pilgrimage that has been in practice for over 1,400 years. It is one of the five pillars of Islam, and requires every adult Muslim to undertake a journey to the holy Islamic sites in Makkah at least once in their lifetime, if they are financially and physically able. This year’s pilgrimage is expected to run from June 14 till June 19.
Saudi Arabia last year restored Pakistan’s pre-pandemic Hajj quota of 179,210 pilgrims and abolished the upper age limit of 65 years. More than 81,000 Pakistani pilgrims performed Hajj under the government scheme in 2023, while the rest used private tour operators.
In December, Pakistan announced the results of a draw for Hajj 2024, with more than 63,000 applicants selected for the pilgrimage under the government scheme. The remaining candidates will apply through private tour operators.
Last month, the South Asian country began Hajj 2024 training workshops and educational sessions, designed by the government to educate pilgrims about the rituals and procedures of performing the pilgrimage.


Respite for residents as trade activities resume at Pakistan-Afghanistan border in Chaman

Updated 32 min 6 sec ago
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Respite for residents as trade activities resume at Pakistan-Afghanistan border in Chaman

  • The border was closed in Nov. 2023 amid protests over Islamabad’s move to restrict travel to those with valid documents
  • It comes as number of Afghans repatriated to their country reaches 500,000 after Islamabad ordered illegal foreigners to leave

ISLAMABAD: The resumption of trade activities between Pakistan and Afghanistan at the Chaman-Spin Boldak border crossing have brought respite to people living on either side, Pakistani state media reported on Sunday, citing residents.
Pakistani authorities closed the Chaman border in the southwestern Balochistan province in Nov. 2023 amid protests over Islamabad’s decision to limit cross-border travel to only those with valid passports and visas.
Border between the two neighbors has witnessed frequent closures of crossings in recent years over skirmishes between border forces amid heightened tensions between the two countries.
Trade activities through the Chaman-Spin Boldak border crossing resumed this week reportedly to facilitate the movement of goods for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which starts in March.
“The people have expressed great satisfaction over the resumption of trade activities between Pakistan and Afghanistan through Chaman-Spin Boldak border,” the state-run Radio Pakistan broadcaster reported.
“The local people have appreciated the endeavors of Pakistan Army and the government in this regard.”
Tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan soared amid a spike in militant attacks, including suicide bombings, in Pakistan’s northwestern and southwestern regions that border Afghanistan.
Islamabad said last year the attacks involved a number of Afghans and ordered all illegal foreigners, mostly Afghan nationals, to leave the country by Nov. 1, 2023.
While Kabul denies the allegation and foreign government as well as rights groups have urged Pakistan to reconsider its decision, the repatriation of Afghan nationals, some of them living in Pakistan for decades, continues from different parts of Pakistan.
“So far, more than five hundred three thousand Afghans have been repatriated to Afghanistan,” the Radio Pakistan said in a separate report.
“Over five thousand Afghan nationals returned to their country over the last one week.”


Police make arrest in rare case of teacher throwing acid on female student in Karachi

Updated 03 March 2024
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Police make arrest in rare case of teacher throwing acid on female student in Karachi

  • The police say they are ascertaining the motive behind the attack in Gulshan-e-Iqbal area of city
  • Despite decline in recent years, acid attacks persist as tool of violence against women in Pakistan

KARACHI: Police in southern Pakistani city of Karachi have arrested a teacher for attacking his female student and two of her relatives with acid, an official said on Sunday.
The horrifying incident occurred when the student, who had just completed a certificate course at the Sahil IT Institute in the Gulshan-e-Iqbal area, this week showed up along her two uncles to collect her certificate which the teacher had refused to hand over after a heated exchange of words between the two a day earlier.
“When she arrived with her two uncles on Friday, the teacher, identified as Iftikhar, attacked them with acid, causing burns to all three of them” Qurban Ali, in-charge of the Aziz Bhatti police station, told Arab News.
The victims were taken to hospital and the police later arrested the suspect, according to the official.
“Investigation is underway but it has been established that the teacher had planned the attack as he had already arranged acid with the intention to harm the girl,” Ali said, adding the police were ascertaining the motive.
Dr. Summayia Syed, the Karachi police surgeon, said the student had sustained 13.5 percent burns while her uncles, Faizan Rasheed and Nauman Rasheed, sustained 14 and 9 percent respectively.
There had been a significant decrease in acid attacks in Pakistan since the enactment of a legislation criminalizing acid and burn violence in December 2011, according to a 2017 report by the Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF) rights group.
Between 2007 and 2016, there were 1,108 reported acid attacks in Pakistan, affecting 1,375 individuals. The severity of the issue was underscored by a surge in reported cases between 1999 and 2005, which peaked in 2002 (494 cases) and 2003 (417 cases), according to the report.
However, there has been a noticeable decline in such cases in recent years. In 2014, there were 153 acid attacks targeting 210 victims, followed by 69 in 2015 and 73 in 2016. The trend continued in 2017 with a further drop in the number of incidents to 39.
Despite the decline, acid attacks persist as a tool of violence against women and young children in Pakistan.
On Jan. 9, a 22-year-old woman schoolteacher was injured in an acid attack in the eastern city of Lahore after refusing a marriage proposal.


Opposition PTI says will cooperate with Pakistan government but continue protests against ‘rigging’ 

Updated 03 March 2024
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Opposition PTI says will cooperate with Pakistan government but continue protests against ‘rigging’ 

  • Coalition partner PPP says supporting government for sake of democracy and but will hold it to account
  • PM Sharif’s PML-N says he will prioritize fixing the economy, creating jobs for young unemployed Pakistanis

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the country’s main opposition party, said on Sunday it would cooperate where ‘required’ with the new government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif but would continue protests against what it says was the rigging of last month’s elections and manipulation of vote counts.
Sharif beat Omar Ayub Khan, the candidate backed by jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s PTI, who secured 92 votes. The PTI and a spattering of others parties have rejected the result of the Feb. 8 elections, alleging widespread rigging and carrying out nationwide protests since. The election commission denies the vote was manipulated in the run up to polls or during the counting process. 
“We would be putting the government to account for its deeds and we will cooperate with the government where it is so required,” PTI chairman Gohar Khan, who is also Imran Khan’s lawyer, told Arab News, saying his party would participate in all assembly sessions and “actively” play the role of the opposition. 
He said the PTI would not obstruct the functioning of parliament.
“We say we will definitely participate in the process and would actually like the government to move forward and we would like to actually participate in the legislation,” Gohar said. “But what we say is, until and unless our mandate is restored, we will continue our protests.”
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), a coalition partner of Sharif’s government, stressed the need for the new government to hold a dialogue with “all of Pakistan.”
“I ask the PTI [Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party of ex-PM Khan] to fight for their rights legally and not to fight democracy,” the MQM’s Aminul Haque said, saying the country needed political stability for economic stability.
The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), a coalition partner of the government which has so far refused to take any cabinet positions, said it was supporting the government for the sake of democracy and rule of law but would hold it to account where needed.
“We know that we are facing many challenges in the country like internal and external law and order issues. We have a big issue of inflation and millions of people are suffering below the poverty line,” Dr. Mahreen Bhutto, a member of the PPP Central Executive Committee, said. 
“We are supporting the PML-N right now but we will raise all these issues of the people of Pakistan in parliament with confidence and we will try to convince the government to take measures that are necessary to address all these relevant issues.”
Sharif is set to take oath on Monday. This will be his second term as PM, with the first one running from April 2022 to August last year.
The new PM’s PML-N party said Sharif had helped save the country from sovereign default in June last year by negotiating an IMF deal and would work again to improve the economy. 
“This is good news for all Pakistanis and for Pakistan,” Marriyum Aurangzeb, the party’s information secretary, told Arab News. “The youth who were unemployed will get employment again as the journey of progress will begin, the economy will prosper.”


Pakistani parliament to meet on Mar. 9 to elect new president, Asif Ali Zardari front-runner

Updated 03 March 2024
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Pakistani parliament to meet on Mar. 9 to elect new president, Asif Ali Zardari front-runner

  • A Pakistani president is elected by members of the Senate, National Assembly and all four provincial assemblies 
  • Asif Ali Zardari, who served as president from 2008-2013, is set to secure a second term in office after March 9

ISLAMABAD: The speaker of Pakistan’s National Assembly on Sunday summoned a meeting of the lower house of the parliament on March 9 to elect a new president, an official notification said. 

A president in Pakistan is elected through an electorate that comprises legislators from both houses of Pakistan’s parliament, the Senate, and the National Assembly, as well as the country’s four provincial assemblies. 

Elected for a five-year term, the president is a ceremonial head of state that has limited powers. The prime minister of the country, who heads the government, has more executive powers to manage the affairs of the country. 

“In exercise of the powers conferred by clause (b) of Rule 9 of the Presidential Election Rules, 1988, the Speaker has been pleased to summon the meeting of the members of the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) in the Parliament House, Islamabad, on Saturday the 9th March, 2024, at 10:00 a.m. for the purpose of election to the office of the president of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan,” a notification by the National Assembly Secretariat read. 

Backed by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) coalition, former president Asif Ali Zardari is set to secure another term in office. He will contest the election against Mahmood Khan Achakzai, a veteran politician supported by the Imran Khan-backed Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) party. Achakzai also heads the Pashtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP). 

Zardari, who is also the co-chairman of the PPP, served as president of Pakistan from 2008-2013. The government led by his party from 2008-2013 was the first one to serve a full term. 

However, after becoming president in September 2008, Zardari presided over a country gripped with militancy as it underwent a turbulent relationship with Washington. His government also went through an uneasy relationship with Pakistan’s powerful military and had to contend with nationwide flooding in 2010. 

Shehbaz Sharif, the coalition’s candidate for prime minister, was elected to office for a second time on Sunday after he secured 201 votes against the SIC-backed Omar Ayub, who polled 92 votes from legislators. 

The election on March 9 takes place months after the end of incumbent Pakistani President Arif Alvi’s term as the 13th president of Pakistan. President Alvi’s five-year term ended in September last year, but in Pakistan, a president may continue to stay in office constitutionally until his successor is elected to the presidency.

The PPP and the SIC both submitted nomination papers for Zardari and Achakzai as their candidates on Saturday. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) said on Friday that a returning officer, appointed by the ECP, will scrutinize the nomination papers of the candidates’ documents by March 4.