UN agency warns of Afghans dying in harsh winter without proper shelter after leaving Pakistan

Afghan children play near their makeshift tents at Nayeb Rafi village in Zendeh Jan district of Herat province on December 10, 2023. (AFP/File)
Short Url
Updated 11 December 2023
Follow

UN agency warns of Afghans dying in harsh winter without proper shelter after leaving Pakistan

  • Almost half a million Afghans have left Pakistan since early October, when Islamabad ordered illegal foreigners to leave 
  • The majority of them are from neighboring Afghanistan, though Islamabad insists policy doesn’t target specific nationality 

KABUL: The UN refugee agency has warned that Afghans could die in harsh winter conditions if they don’t get adequate shelter once they cross the border from Pakistan. 

Almost half a million Afghans have left Pakistan since early October, when the Islamabad government announced it would arrest and deport foreigners it said were in the country illegally. The overwhelming majority of them are from neighboring Afghanistan, though Islamabad insists the policy doesn’t target a specific nationality. 

The forced returns are piling pressure on Afghanistan and aid agencies, which are providing the bulk of essential services like health care. Freezing temperatures are setting in and conditions at the border remain dire. 

“Many Afghan returnees are vulnerable, including women and children, who could lose their lives in a harsh winter if left without adequate shelter,” the UN refugee agency said in a report published Friday. “People arriving at the border are exhausted and require urgent assistance as well as psychosocial support.” 

Families told the agency they were worried that colder winter temperatures in certain areas, particularly mountainous regions, may prevent them from returning home right away. 

“Many are arriving with illness, for example bronchitis, as a result of the cold weather and the difficult journey from Pakistan,” the agency said in a message to The Associated Press on Sunday. “They may not have all their belongings, including clothing, and therefore be unable to protect themselves from the elements.” 

It said that among those returning to Afghanistan are families who have never lived in the country. They have been living in Pakistan for one or more generations and may not have homes or extended family to return to. 

Cash to pay rent is needed, while families with some existing social networks could stay with family or friends. Others may return to homes needing repair. The agency said it will provide tents to such households. 

“For those who have nowhere to go, with limited means, they may stay in camps, established near the border,” the refugee agency said. 

A Taliban committee said it is distributing food, water, SIM cards, clothing and cash at two key border crossings: Torkham and Spin Boldak. Families are also learning about Afghanistan, the Islamic system, temporary living arrangements, registration and relocation, the committee said Sunday. 

But extreme temperatures and limited access to clean water and sanitation have led to a surge in infectious diseases and malnutrition. 

UN Women said there are additional challenges for Afghan women and girls leaving Pakistan as they have to deal with Taliban restrictions that could affect their mobility and access to information and services if they don’t have a male relative. It expressed similar concerns after October’s deadly earthquakes in Afghanistan’s west. 

The agency said around 80 percent of Afghans returning through Torkham and Spin Boldak are women and children. 

In its latest report, also published Friday, it said many women have lived through “distressing experiences” in Pakistan including being the victims of illegal detention, witnessing their spouse or family members be arrested, or being separated from relatives and returning to Afghanistan alone. 

Women told UN agencies they were “compelled” to hand their possessions over in exchange for transportation, leave all their belongings behind or saw their income taken by Pakistani authorities. 

The crackdown is hugely controversial and has drawn condemnation from rights groups, the Taliban, aid agencies and the UN 


Pakistan’s most populous Punjab province to elect chief minister today 

Updated 9 sec ago
Follow

Pakistan’s most populous Punjab province to elect chief minister today 

  • Maryam Nawaz Sharif to contest chief minister’s election against Sunni Ittehad Council’s Aftab Ahmad Khan
  • Sharif’s PML-N party on Saturday clinched the coveted posts of speaker, deputy speaker in Punjab Assembly

ISLAMABAD: Legislators in Pakistan’s most populous Punjab province will elect their chief minister today, Sunday, a day after former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s party clinched the speaker and deputy speaker posts during a noisy session of the house. 

Malik Ahmed Khan, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) candidate for speaker, was elected as the custodian of the house against the Sunni Ittehad Council’s (SIC) candidate, Malik Ahmad Khan Bhachar, in the 371-member house on Saturday. Khan polled 224 votes while Bhachar secured 96. 

Meanwhile, the PML-N’s nominee Zaheer Iqbal Channar won the election for the deputy speaker’s post, defeating his opponent from the SIC, Moin Riaz. The election of the speaker and deputy speaker was held through secret ballot in the house.

“Tomorrow (Sunday) an election is going to be held and our nominated leader of the house could not come to the house to take the oath,” SIC legislator Bhachar said, referring to the party’s nominee for Punjab chief minister, Mian Aslam Iqbal. Iqbal is wanted by the Punjab police in multiple cases. He recently secured bail from the Peshawar High Court to take care of legal matters in Punjab.

Members of former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party who won the polls had joined the SIC to claim their share of the reserved seats in the assembly. But the issue is pending before the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) which is yet to make a decision on the matter.

As Iqbal could not take oath in the Punjab Assembly as a legislator on Saturday, the PTI announced it has nominated the SIC’s Aftab Ahmad Khan to run for the office of chief minister of Punjab against the PML-N’s candidate, Maryam Nawaz Sharif. 

“After consulting Mian Aslam Iqbal, the party leadership and Aslam Iqbal have decided to nominate Aftab Ahmad Khan for the chief minister’s election,” the PTI said on social media platform X. 

The Punjab Assembly is the largest elected house in the country comprising 297 general seats and 74 reserved seats.

Today’s election will likely see Maryam Nawaz Sharif, the daughter of three-time former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, make history as the first woman chief minister of Punjab.

Maryam, 50, plays an influential role in her father’s PML-N and has been presented by him as his political heir apparent. She is senior vice president of the party.


Pakistan’s religious affairs minister calls pilgrims ambassadors of country at Hajj training workshop

Updated 23 min 51 sec ago
Follow

Pakistan’s religious affairs minister calls pilgrims ambassadors of country at Hajj training workshop

  • Aneeq Ahmed asks them to uphold the country’s prestige while carrying out spiritual journey to Saudi Arabia
  • The minister asks pilgrims to pray for the peace and stability of the country while visiting Islam’s holiest cities

ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Minister for Religious Affairs Aneeq Ahmed highlighted the role of pilgrims as Pakistan’s ambassadors to Saudi Arabia while addressing a training workshop in Karachi’s Hajji Camp on Saturday, emphasizing the importance of upholding the country’s prestige.
Ahmed visited the kingdom in recent months to make Hajj preparations for his country where he met several Saudi officials to discuss the possibility of expanding facilities for pilgrims departing from the Pakistani cities of Lahore and Karachi.
He also evaluated the arrangements for the annual Islamic pilgrimage with catering and accommodation representatives and discussed with private Hajj operators how to maximize the provision of services.
“Aneeq Ahmed said that Pakistani pilgrims should increase the prestige of Pakistan during their stay in Saudi Arabia,” said a press release. “All pilgrims are ambassadors of Pakistan. Pilgrims should also pray for peace and stability in their country.”
The minister informed the participants of the workshop a cellphone app had been launched for pilgrims to make their journey more convenient. He also said pilgrims would be given free SIMs, briefcases and abayas for women by the government.
The Associated Press of Pakistan news agency reported the complimentary SIMs would offer 180 minutes of talk time for pilgrims to connect with family back home.
Hajj 2024 training workshops, educational training sessions designed by the government to educate pilgrims about the rituals and procedures of performing the pilgrimage, kicked off in Pakistan earlier this month.
Hajj, a once-in-a-lifetime religious duty for Muslims who are physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey, is expected to run from June 14-19 this year.


X platform disrupted in Pakistan for full week after disputed election

Updated 24 February 2024
Follow

X platform disrupted in Pakistan for full week after disputed election

  • NetBlocks calls Pakistan’s use of network shutdowns and restrictions to overtly target political parties unprecedented
  • Internet monitors say the situation is restricting citizens’ ability to engage in online discourse, express dissenting opinions

ISLAMABAD: Nationwide disruption to social media platform X passed the one-week mark in Pakistan on Saturday, with digital rights monitors warning outages were quashing dissent after an election marred by rigging claims.
The platform, formerly known as Twitter, was downed last Saturday after a senior government official made a public admission of vote manipulation in the February 8 poll.
Over the past week, it has been operational only intermittently, with access varying depending on the Internet service provider.
“Pakistan’s directed use of network shutdowns and restrictions to overtly target political parties and the reporting of election irregularities is unprecedented,” Alp Toker of the NetBlocks web watchdog told AFP.
AFP staff reported that X remained disrupted in the capital Islamabad as well as the megacities of Lahore and Karachi on Saturday.
Pakistan’s telecommunication authority declined to comment while the interior ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
Jailed former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party called for nationwide protests after the admission of vote-rigging last week.
“Protesting political parties have actively been using X for freedom of expression, access to information, to assemble online and for other associated rights,” said web monitor Bytes for All.
The disruption “restricts citizens’ ability to engage in online discourse, share information, and express dissenting opinions,” the organization wrote in a report published Friday.
In the months leading to the polling day, PTI suffered a crackdown restricting canvassing and forcing candidates to run as independents.
Its campaign moved mostly online where social media events were censored by numerous nationwide blackouts of X as well as Instagram, TikTok, Facebook and YouTube.
Outages were blamed on “technical difficulties” by the government.
Despite the restrictions, PTI-backed candidates gained more seats than any other party. But it has been unwilling to ally with rivals, paving the way for the military-backed Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) to form a government.
Mobile Internet services were cut across the country on the election day, with the interior ministry citing security reasons.
The blackout, coupled with a long delay in issuing voting results, gave rise to allegations of rigging.


Karachi Kings clinch thrilling victory over Lahore Qalandars in PSL nail-biter

Updated 24 February 2024
Follow

Karachi Kings clinch thrilling victory over Lahore Qalandars in PSL nail-biter

  • Qalandars gave 176-run target to the Kings, but it seemed slightly low for a batting track
  • Karachi struggled against Lahore’s pace attack, yet they reached the target in the last over

ISLAMABAD: The storied rivalry between Karachi Kings and Lahore Qalandars culminated in an electrifying Pakistan Super League (PSL) showdown at Qaddafi Stadium, Lahore, with the former’s decision to bowl first after winning the toss playing a crucial role in their two-wicket victory in the match.
The Qalandars faced an early setback when opener Fakhar Zaman was caught by Shan Masood with the team’s total at just 9. However, Sahibzada Farhan rose to the occasion with an unbeaten 72-run knock off 45 deliveries, including four 6s and four 4s.
Despite consistently losing wickets, Lahore managed to post 175/6 by the end of the first 20 overs. Contributions came from Rassie van der Dussen (26), Shai Hope (21) and George Linde (26), but the 176-run target seemed slightly low for the batting track.
Lahore’s pacers, however, put up a strong defense of the total, with all seasoned bowlers taking at least one wicket.
Zaman Khan stood out, dismissing two batters and finishing his four overs with an economy rate of 6.25.
The Kings faced challenges from Qalandar’s bowling but ultimately reached the 176-run target, clinching the match by two wickets.
Kieron Pollard was the standout batter for the Kings, scoring 58 runs off 33 balls.
“Pulled out a thriller,” Karachi exclaimed in a post on platform X. “Another win in the bag.”


Punjab Assembly elects speaker from majority party amid opposition clamor

Updated 24 February 2024
Follow

Punjab Assembly elects speaker from majority party amid opposition clamor

  • PML-N’s Malik Ahmed Khan secures 224 votes while his PTI-backed opponent gets 96 in 371-member house
  • The assembly is the largest elected house in the country and is scheduled to elect new chief minister on Sunday

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Punjab provincial assembly on Saturday elected Malik Ahmed Khan as speaker to run the legislature for the next five years with a thumping majority amid ruckus and sloganeering by the opposition.
Khan is a member of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party that secured the majority in the general elections in the country’s most populous province. The Punjab Assembly became the first house a day earlier to convene its opening session, out of five assemblies that went to the polls on Feb. 8.
The PML-N nominated Khan as its candidate for the speaker to contest against the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) candidate Malik Ahmad Khan Bhachar in the 371-member house. The Punjab Assembly is the largest elected house in the country comprising 297 general seats and 74 reserved seats.
“Malik Ahmed Khan has secured 224 votes and elected to the position of the speaker,” Sibtain Khan, the custodian of the outgoing assembly, announced after the vote count.
Bhachar, the candidate backed by former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, bagged 96 votes while two votes were rejected out of a total of 322. The PTI-backed winners had joined the SIC to claim their share of the reserved seats in the assembly, but the issue is pending before the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) which is yet to make a decision.
The process for the election of the deputy speaker in the house is currently underway. The election of the speaker and deputy speaker is held through secret ballot in the house.
The Punjab Assembly is scheduled to elect its chief minister tomorrow, Sunday, wherein the PML-N nominee, Maryam Nawaz, will contest against the SIC candidate, Mian Aslam Iqbal, who is yet to take oath as the assembly member. Iqbal is wanted by the Punjab police in multiple cases. He recently secured bail from the Peshawar High Court to take care of legal matters in Punjab.
“Tomorrow an election is going to be held and our nominated leader of the house could not come to the house to take the oath,” SIC legislator Bhachar said while speaking on the floor of the house and urging the speaker to let Iqbal take oath as member of the assembly.
“It will be your first good gesture for us,” he urged the newly elected speaker.
The speaker assured Bachar he would take a decision on the matter as per law.
“Don’t you worry about it,” he said. “I will ensure it as per law and traditions of the parliament.”
Earlier, the assembly session began with a delay of more than an hour and a half. The SIC members chanted slogans against the rival PML-N legislators who responded in kind.
The SIC lawmaker Rana Aftab termed the Punjab Assembly “incomplete” and vowed to challenge any move made by the house in the court.
He noted that 27 reserved seats for women and minorities were yet to be decided by the election commission.
The outgoing speaker Sibtain Khan said it was not his mandate to direct the election regulator to notify members on the reserved seats and suggested the aggrieved party to move courts if they were not given their share.
A heavy police contingent along with prison vans was also present outside the assembly to ensure the maintenance of law and order during the session.