Pakistanis organize hike to demand ‘concrete steps’ for ceasefire in Gaza, aid delivery

Participants chant slogan as they walk through Margalla Hills trail during “Save Gaza” campaign hike in Islamabad on April 21, 2024. (AN Photo)
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Updated 21 April 2024

Pakistanis organize hike to demand ‘concrete steps’ for ceasefire in Gaza, aid delivery

  • The event, organized by Save Gaza Campaign, was attended by politicians, civil society members, journalists and students
  • Organizers demand Pakistan demarche US envoy for supporting Israel in committing ‘war crimes’ against innocent Palestinians

ISLAMABAD/KARACHI: Pakistanis on Sunday organized a hike in the federal capital of Islamabad to reiterate their demands for the government to take “concrete steps” to pressure Israel for a ceasefire in Gaza and the establishment of a humanitarian assistance corridor to the war-torn territory.

The development came as the Palestinian health ministry said at least 34,097 people had been killed during more than six months of Israel’s war on Gaza. Another 76,980 people had been wounded in the Gaza Strip since the war began when Hamas militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7.

The hike at Islamabad’s Trail 3 was organized by the Save Gaza Campaign, a civil society movement that advocates for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, and attended by a large number of Pakistanis, including politicians, civil society members, journalists and students.

“Today, we have organized this hike through which we want to give this message that we will talk about Gaza,” Humaira Tayyaba, one of the organizers of the event, told Arab News.

“We are hiking to raise awareness about the real issue and to what extent we can go for this issue, so they [Pakistani youth] can know of it through this informal way.”

The organizers said their protests had been entirely peaceful and had drawn the attention of Pakistanis across the country.

“Our campaign, Save Gaza, started on 13th November and we have been continuously organizing peaceful protests,” Tayyaba said. “Our campaign is moving forward with more Pakistani people joining and emotionally connecting with Palestine.”

Mushtaq Ahmed, a former Pakistani senator, speaks ahead of the Save Gaza campaign walk through Margalla Hills trail in Islamabad on April 21, 2024, to demand a "ceasefire" in the Gaza Strip. (AN Photo)

Mushtaq Ahmed, a former Pakistani senator, demanded the Pakistani government raise the issue of Israel’s alleged war crimes against the Palestinians in the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

“We also demand the government of Pakistan demarche the American ambassador in Pakistan because recently the Americans announced that they are giving $17 billion aid to Israel, which will be used for aircraft, missile technology, tanks and ammunition to kill the innocent Palestinians,” he told Arab News.

Maryam Nazir, media director of the Save Gaza Campaign, said their primary demand was an immediate ceasefire in the besieged territory.

“South Africa is in the International Court of Justice at the Hague for a ceasefire. At least, [Pakistan] should submit a declaration [in the ICJ] of intervention against Israel,” she told Arab News.

Nazir said their efforts would continue and the Pakistani government would have to respond to their demands.

Pakistan does not recognize the state of Israel and maintains its support for an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, based on pre-1967 borders.

The South Asian country has repeatedly raised the issue of Israel’s war on Gaza at the United Nations through its permanent representative, Ambassador Munir Akram.

Children hold posters, saying "Free Palestine," as Mushtaq Ahmed, a former Pakistani senator, speaks ahead of the Save Gaza campaign walk through Margalla Hills trail in Islamabad on April 21, 2024, to demand a "ceasefire" in the Gaza Strip. (AN Photo)

‘Martyrs of Gaza Conference’

In the southern Pakistani city of Karachi, hundreds of people attended a rally, titled ‘Martyrs of Gaza Conference,’ on Sunday to urge the international community to halt Israeli strikes against the Palestinians. The conference was organized by the Pakistan Markazi Muslim League (PMML) party.

“Two hundred days have passed since the Israeli bombardment began in Gaza, while the entire world has become a silent spectator. I urge them to stop Israel from committing genocide against Palestinians,” said Nadeem Awan, the PMML Karachi general secretary.

“We believe that Pakistan, along with other Muslim states, can play a crucial role in raising the voice for Palestine.”

Isaar Babar, a 27-year-old teacher, said he participated in the rally to let the Palestinians know that Pakistanis stood by them.

“As you know, injustice prevails, and we are here to express solidarity with the people of Palestine, so that our brothers and sisters may know that their Pakistani counterparts stand with them,” he said.

Shaista Noor, another attendee, said Pakistanis couldn’t go to Palestine, but they could support Palestinians by boycotting Israeli products and companies that supported the Jewish state.

“We can boycott Israeli products. We can boycott products that help Israel in one way or another,” she added.

Pakistan PM extends greetings to Buddhists on Vesak Day, calls for celebration of ‘shared heritage’

Updated 8 sec ago

Pakistan PM extends greetings to Buddhists on Vesak Day, calls for celebration of ‘shared heritage’

  • Pakistan does not have a significant Buddhist population, though it is home to important centers of Buddhism
  • Vesak Day celebrates the birth, enlightenment and death of the founder of the Buddhist faith, Gautama Buddha

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday felicitated the global Buddhist community as its members observe Vesak Day, which celebrates the birth, enlightenment and death of Gautama Buddha, the founder of their faith.
Vesak Day is among the most sacred days in the Buddhist calendar, with its observance varying among different Buddhist traditions and cultures but generally falling on the full moon day of the ancient lunar month of Vesakha, which occurs in May or early June on the Gregorian calendar.
Although Pakistan does not have a significant Buddhist population, several parts of the country were historically important centers of Buddhism during the Gandhara period, from around the 1st century BCE to the 7th century CE.
The Pakistani government has sought to develop religious tourism in these areas, mainly concentrated in today’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and northern Punjab regions, and has regularly hosted Buddhist pilgrims and religious leaders in recent years.
“On this Vesakh Day, we extend warm wishes to our Buddhist friends worldwide,” the prime minister said in a social media post. “May this day bring peace, prosperity, and harmony to all.”
“Let’s celebrate our shared heritage and continue working toward mutual respect and understanding,” he added.

Pakistan has taken several initiatives aimed at improving its international image by enhancing its treatment of religious minorities and promoting religious tourism. One prominent example is the Kartarpur Corridor, inaugurated in November 2019, which provides visa-free access for Sikh pilgrims from India to visit the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan.
The site is highly significant in Sikhism as it is where Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, spent the last years of his life.
Despite its efforts, however, the country continues to face challenges, including occasional mob violence and discrimination against minorities, highlighting the ongoing struggle to ensure consistent protection and enforcement of minority rights.

Pakistani laborers sweat it out in sizzling heat wave

Updated 2 min 53 sec ago

Pakistani laborers sweat it out in sizzling heat wave

  • Met office has forecast heat wave conditions across the country throughout the week
  • Disaster Management Authority has asked public to stay indoors, take precautions

LAHORE: Pakistan continued to sizzle this week after the Met office forecast heat wave conditions across the country, with laborers at a construction site in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore speaking about the challenges of working in the “intense” heat.
The Met Office has predicted high temperatures throughout the week, followed by dust and thunderstorms over the weekend. The governments of Sindh and Punjab provinces have announced closure of schools for a week.
“We do construction work but the heat is so intense that after working for 10 minutes we cannot carry on any more, so we come and sit in the shade for a while,” laborer Mohammad Iqbal said as he took a break from construction work earlier this week.
“What can we do? We have to work for our children. Inflation is so high. If we don’t work what will we eat? How will we feed our children?“
Muslim Hussain said a more flexible work schedule was helping to beat the heat — to some degree.
“Since it’s very hot, we come to work an hour earlier in the morning and get off an hour early,” he said. “We get a couple of hours off during the day. This is the way we are continuing our work.”
The Disaster Management Authority (DMA) has said the heat wave is expected to last for at least 10 days and asked the public to take precautionary measures.
“To fight the heat, I soak this cloth and put it on my head. Sometimes I drink water. Sometimes I sit in the shade for a while and relax,” Shehbaz Khan said.
“We come for work early in the morning.”
But the heat also follows the workers home.
“We don’t get enough sleep after work because when we go home, there is load shedding [power cuts],” Mohammad Irshad said.
“Sometimes we go and sleep on the roof, but it is hot there too. And the mosquitoes keep biting us. The load shedding starts around midnight when it’s time for us to sleep, so we cannot get enough sleep.”

Over 31,000 Pakistani pilgrims in Saudi Arabia as special Hajj flight operation continues

Updated 7 min 28 sec ago

Over 31,000 Pakistani pilgrims in Saudi Arabia as special Hajj flight operation continues

  • Pakistan has so far operated 126 flights that have taken pilgrims to Madinah, with 12 more flights expected today
  • The country will start transporting pilgrims directly to Jeddah, about an hour’s drive from Makkah, from tomorrow

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Ministry of Religious Affairs announced on Thursday 31,057 Hajj pilgrims benefiting from the government scheme have reached Saudi Arabia since the launch of its special flight operation on May 9, with an additional 2,450 pilgrims scheduled to arrive in Madinah later in the day on 12 flights.
The country has so far operated 126 Hajj flights that have taken the pilgrims to the holy city of Madinah to spend the first few days in the kingdom before being transported to Makkah to perform Hajj rituals. However, the country will start direct Hajj flights to Jeddah – about an hour’s drive from Makkah – starting tomorrow.
Over 12,000 Pakistani pilgrims, who have completed their stay in Madinah, have already been driven to Makkah, with the ministry announcing the Aziziyah and Batha Quraish neighborhoods are beginning to bustle with them.
“Through 126 Hajj flights, 31,057 government-sponsored pilgrims have arrived in Saudi Arabia,” the ministry said in its statement. “Today, an additional 2,450 pilgrims will reach Madinah through 12 flights. More than 2,000 pilgrims under the private scheme have also arrived in the kingdom.”
The statement also informed the ministry had engaged 156 people to provide medical facilities pilgrims while 336 were responsible for arranging transport, accommodation and food.
It added the officials in the main control office in Makkah were also providing guidance and assistance to the pilgrims through the Pakistan Hajj cellphone app.
Pakistan has a Hajj quota of 179,210 pilgrims, of which 63,805 people will perform the pilgrimage under the government scheme, while the rest will benefit from private tour operators.
This year’s pilgrimage is expected to run from June 14 till June 19.

‘Enough is enough’: Ex-PM Khan asks supporters to wait for his call for street agitation from prison

Updated 23 May 2024

‘Enough is enough’: Ex-PM Khan asks supporters to wait for his call for street agitation from prison

  • Khan says the attack on his party’s information secretary reflects the government wants to quell dissenting voices
  • He says his party has remained silent despite ‘political persecution’ but will no longer tolerate being targeted

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Imran Khan on Wednesday instructed supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party to wait for his call for street agitation following an attack on one of its leaders and central information secretary Raoof Hassan outside the office of a private news channel earlier this week.
Hassan, who was roughed up by a group of unidentified transgender individuals on Tuesday, received a gash on his face when one of his attackers wielded a blade against him while others knocked him to the ground. The PTI described the incident as a bid on his life and accused the Islamabad Police of tampering with the complaint by omitting the terrorism charge mentioned in it.
As PTI leaders hinted at the possibility of the attack being carefully orchestrated for political reasons, the top Islamabad police official, Syed Ali Nasir Rizvi, announced the formation of a three-member special investigation team to probe the incident.
Reacting to the development, Khan, who has been in jail since his arrest last year in August, said his party was facing “political persecution” and would no longer tolerate it.
“During past two darkest years in Pakistan’s history, PTI’s political persecution was carried on with complete impunity,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “We were subjected to the prohibited war tool of collective punishment — our houses trespassed, our people killed and tortured, our businesses destroyed, even the elderly and children were not spared. For the sake of Pakistan, we have been very patient so far. But ENOUGH IS ENOUGH NOW!! The heinous attack on Rauf Hassan is very instigating and further demonstrates that the powerful are unwilling to accept dissent, preferring to resort to cowardly tactics rather than addressing the underlying problems.”
“I instruct all of you— my central party leadership, central, provincial and local party organization, members, workers, supporters and the common man to wait for my street agitation call,” he added.

Khan said he had repeatedly said it was not possible to reach economic stability without first working for political stability in the country.
He maintained the last two years had witnessed the worsening of the economic conditions of the common man since the ouster of his administration from power in a no-trust vote in April 2022.
The PTI has said it has been facing a state crackdown, especially after May 9, 2023, when riots broke out after Khan’s brief incarceration from an Islamabad court on graft charges.

Pakistan plans $6.7 billion railway upgrade and dry port development project under CPEC

Updated 23 May 2024

Pakistan plans $6.7 billion railway upgrade and dry port development project under CPEC

  • Planning ministry says the project will create high-speed transportation corridors connecting regional partners
  • The original railway tracks were built in late 19th century and were designed for low speeds and lesser axle loads

KARACHI: A key Pakistani committee operating under the planning ministry on Wednesday presented a modified project proposal for the upgrade of Pakistan Railways’ existing Main Line (ML-1) and the establishment of a dry port at a cost of $6.7 billion to the top economic oversight body for approval.
The ML-1 railway upgrade is among the biggest projects under the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), involving the rehabilitation and upgrading of the railway tracks from Karachi to Peshawar.
It is also viewed as a cornerstone of the CPEC initiative due to its scale and the significant impact it is expected to have on Pakistan’s infrastructure and regional economic connectivity.
According to a statement released by Pakistan’s planning ministry, the Central Development Working Party, which evaluates socio-economic development projects, presented a new document on ML-1 to the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) as Pakistan and China discuss the second phase of CPEC.
“The [ML-1] project is proposed to be financed through foreign funding under the CPEC framework agreement,” said the statement circulated by the ministry. “Pakistan Railways infrastructure is more than a century old and has outlived its useful life.”
“The original track which was built in late 19th century and early 20th century had been designed for low speeds and lesser axle loads which do not commensurate with the present-day loading patterns and desired speeds,” it added. “The Government of Pakistan aims to build necessary logistics facilities to support GDP growth and, in this regard, it intends to up-grade and modernize Pakistan Railways Network.”
The ministry said Pakistan Railways had become a financial burden on the national exchequer, adding that the $6.7 billion project could also make it a more financially and socially viable organization.
It maintained the project could ensure reduction in transportation costs, safety in mobility and effective connectivity between rural areas and markets in urban centers.
Additionally, it would integrate road and rail networks among various economic hubs, including air, sea and dry ports, while creating high-speed and -capacity transportation corridors connecting major regional trading partners.
“To achieve the government’s objective, a major up-gradation of the railway system has been planned, including increasing speed of passenger and freight trains, doubling of tracks of the main line sections, and increasing line capacity so as to facilitate rail linkages to Central Asian States, China and other neighboring countries,” it said.