Ancient spring festival kicks off in Pakistan’s Chitral, drawing crowds with traditional music and dance

Kalash tribe women wearing traditional dresses arrive to take part in the 'Chilam Joshi' festival celebrating the arrival of spring at Bumburet village on May 15, 2022. (AFP/File)
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Updated 15 May 2024
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Ancient spring festival kicks off in Pakistan’s Chitral, drawing crowds with traditional music and dance

  • Chilam Joshi festival is celebrated by the Kalash people, often described as pagan due to their religious practices
  • The annual event is integral to the identity of the Kalash community and the continuity of its ancient traditions

PESHAWAR: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Tourism Authority on Tuesday announced the beginning of a popular cultural festival in Pakistan’s northwestern Chitral region, saying the event had attracted large numbers of foreign and local tourists like in the past.

The Chilam Joshi festival is celebrated by the Kalash people, who are often described as pagan due to their religious beliefs and practices involving the worship of multiple gods and spirits, to mark the arrival of spring and celebrate the bounty of nature.

Known for music, dance, and colorful clothes, the festival is also associated with the preparation for new crops, symbolizing hope and prosperity for the community.

“The ancient Kalash festival ‘Chilam Joshi’ has kicked off in full swing,” the KP tourism authority said in a statement. “Young women of Kalash danced to the beat of drums while wearing intricately embroidered garments, enhancing the colors of the festival.”

The statement added that district administration officials, members of the Kalash Development Authority and a large number of domestic and foreign tourists were also attending the festivity.

“The district administration has arranged foolproof security for the festival,” it added. “Tourism police are also providing services for the guidance of tourists.”

Chilam Joshi is said to be the oldest festival of the Kalash tribe. It involves various rituals, the most well-known being the one where people dance with walnut branches in hand.

The festival will last for three days in the area known for its rugged terrain and scenic beauty. The annual event is considered integral to the identity of the indigenous Kalash community and the continuity of its ancient traditions.
 


Pakistani real estate tycoon claims raid on company offices, alleges political pressure amid corruption probe

Updated 8 sec ago
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Pakistani real estate tycoon claims raid on company offices, alleges political pressure amid corruption probe

  • Malik Riaz was declared a proclaimed offender in the Al Qadir Trust case against ex-PM Khan in January this year
  • He says he will not become ‘an approver’ and retain his ‘long-standing stance of neutrality’ in political matters

ISLAMABAD: A leading Pakistani real estate tycoon said on Tuesday the country’s anti-graft body raided his company offices in Rawalpindi, taking away cash, project files, computers, vehicles and nine employees, as he blamed state institutions for putting him under pressure to advance their “political agenda.”
Malik Riaz, the owner of Bahria Town, which has a presence in several Pakistani urban centers, shared video footage of the alleged raid on his social media account, though its authenticity could not be verified independently.
Riaz, known for his strong connections with influential politicians and officials across the country, is involved in the Al Qadir Trust case against former prime minister Imran Khan, centered around land transactions and the misuse of political authority. The case gained attention after the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency transferred £190 million to Pakistan, obtained from Riaz after investigating him for acquiring assets with illicit funds.
Khan and his wife, Bushra Bibi, were suspected of taking illicit benefits from Riaz after the money was sent to the Supreme Court accounts as a settlement in financial cases the tycoon faced in Pakistan and he donated a piece of land to the Al Qadir Trust, established by them to set up a university.
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) is actively investigating the matter against Khan, who has been in prison since last August on multiple charges.
“Malik Riaz will not become an approver,” he wrote in a post on platform X. “Do whatever oppression you want on me.”
“As Chairman of Bahria Town, I assure you, such bullying will not deter me from my stand I have already made public,” he continued. “This arm twisting isn’t hurting me only, it’s crippling the real estate investment in Pakistan. You’re not demolishing my business, your actions are locking up the economic growth of the country. If this is the real agenda behind this witch-hunt, let the people of Pakistan see for what this really is.”

 
He said he believed in Pakistani law was facing all cases on legal forums. Riaz also added he did not want to become part of any “power game” in the country, saying he was reiterating his “long-standing stance of neutrality” and resist pressure tactics to pick a side.
He did not name the Al Qadir Trust case in his social media post, though he was declared a proclaimed offender in it earlier this year in January and has been staying abroad.
So far, there has been no official statement from NAB in response to Riaz’s claims.


In Pakistan’s largest city, women are bound by a common misery: no public toilets

Updated 51 min 30 sec ago
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In Pakistan’s largest city, women are bound by a common misery: no public toilets

  • Public toilets are a rare sight in Karachi, city of 20.3 million, which activists say severely impacts women’s mobility, safety
  • Sindh High Court this month ordered local authorities to construct bathrooms in markets, parks, hospitals, other public places

KARACHI: For the past eight years, Mariam Hassan’s biggest concern while out doing her work as a TV health reporter in Karachi has been to limit her water intake lest she has to use the toilet.
Hassan’s problem speaks to one of Pakistan’s most serious public health concerns: public toilets. World Bank data shows 79 million people in the country do not have access to a proper toilet while a recent UNICEF study says 25 million people still practice open defecation.
The lack of toilets for public use is not just a matter of public health but also about safety, women’s rights and human dignity, rights advocates and urban planners say. Indeed, the problem is especially difficult for women, who are not allowed to use the same toilet facilities as men in the conservative Muslim country.
“There is no place available for women and the places that are available are so dirty that you can’t even imagine going there,” Hassan told Arab News, echoing the sentiment of dozens of women interviewed on the subject this week in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city and home to over 20 million people.
She recounted an instance in 2018 when she worked tirelessly from 7am until 10 at night covering a protest in the city’s Azizabad area without being able to find a single public restroom in the surroundings.
“At last our cameraperson took me to his relative’s house which was quite embarrassing as you’re going to a stranger’s house just to use the restroom,” Hassan said.
The Sindh High Court, troubled by how many Pakistanis don’t have access to public toilets in the country’s commercial hub, has ordered the government to build new facilities and do maintenance work on existing ones. During the proceedings of the case earlier this month, it was revealed that none of the 182 graveyards, 33 prominent markets, 42 roads, 970 bus stops and 133 hospitals in the city has public toilets on their premises.
Asked about the issue, Karachi Mayor Murtaza Wahab Siddiqui, whose Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has been ruling the Sindh province since 2008, acknowledged that access to toilets was an issue that had not received due attention in the provincial capital.
“Whether they are public parks, public spaces, buildings or shopping malls, these washrooms were part of the original plan,” he told Arab News. “And as an end result, today, it is evident that this basic necessity is not available to the public the way it should be in public areas.
“The existing toilets and washrooms that have either been encroached upon or converted [into other structures], we will speak to the relevant building associations through the Sindh Building Control Authority so that those washrooms can be reactivated to ensure that people have access to this basic necessity.”
Siddiqui said even before the high court’s ruling, steps had been taken by the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) to refurbish old toilets in the city’s zoo and two parks and there were plans to construct washrooms along Karachi’s main thoroughfares and redo washrooms in shopping areas that had fallen into disrepair or been turned into shops or other facilities.
MOBILITY
Rights activists say public toilets are essential infrastructure for cities to guarantee citizens’ right to sanitation and their comfort to circulate in public spaces. In Karachi, the lack of public toilets has particularly impeded women’s ability to go about their daily business, whether as working women out in the field and traveling to jobs or housewives out for shopping or other errands.
“Women also need to travel, women can also go to the market, do shopping, and go to their jobs,” Muhammad Toheed, an urban planner and geographer, said. “Whether women are going on a trip or going to the market, they should mentally prepare themselves that they may not find a restroom facility along the way.”
Javed Ahmed, a city dweller in his 60s, reminisced about a time around three decades ago when the city used to have public toilets but said they had gradually disappeared due to a lack of maintenance and “societal conduct.”
“Later on, perhaps they also introduced mobile toilets. I have seen those vehicles that used to roam around, but they have vanished also,” he said, adding that people from the working classes, especially laborers and rickshaw and taxi drivers, and women, gravely required access to restrooms in public spaces.
“Throughout the city, if I may say, public toilets are nowhere to be seen, and if they are present somewhere, half of them are locked or closed,” Summaiya Khursheed, a working professional, said as she shopped at a local market.
“Just like water and food are your basic necessities, toilets are also among your basic needs. Entire markets have been built for women, but it’s not considered that toilets are also a basic necessity for women.”
Housewife Uzma Hassan outlined the steps women had to take before leaving home, knowing they would not be able to find usable toilets.
“It’s stressful that we have to do it before leaving. We mentally prepare ourselves before leaving, thinking that there won’t be any toilets available. [We worry about] what we would have to do and what not to do, and we shop hurriedly so we may get free quickly to go back home,” she told Arab News.
“There are so many markets open in Karachi, with all kinds of people living here but there should be toilets in these markets and parks. The Sindh government should think about this because it is a very big issue, especially for women.”


Pakistan advises Hajj pilgrims to be careful about heatstroke risks during annual pilgrimage

Updated 29 May 2024
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Pakistan advises Hajj pilgrims to be careful about heatstroke risks during annual pilgrimage

  • This year’s Hajj is expected to take place on June 14-19, coinciding with peak of sweltering summer temperatures in region
  • The weather situation has raised concerns about well-being of millions of pilgrims gathering in Makkah from across the world

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Hajj Mission (PHM) on Tuesday advised Pakistani pilgrims to take all-possible precautionary measures against heatstroke, especially during the Hajj pilgrimage, Pakistani state media reported, following a severe heat warning issued by the Saudi National Center for Meteorology.
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.
This year’s Hajj is expected to take place from June 14 to June 19, coinciding with the peak of sweltering summer temperatures in the region and raising concerns about well-being of millions of pilgrims gathering in Makkah from across the world.
“We advise Pakistani pilgrims to avoid sun exposure, particularly during the five Hajj days in Mashair from 8-12 ZilHajj,” PHM Director-General Abdul Wahab Soomro told the state-run APP news agency.
“Drink plenty of water, preferably ORS (Oral Rehydration Salts), use umbrellas, and spend maximum time in air-cooled or air-conditioned tents and shaded areas/tracks.”
He emphasized that although the government of Pakistan had made timely and elaborate arrangements, including transport, accommodation, and catering in Mina, Arafat and Muzdalfa, there would be no homelike comfort in the tent villages.
“It will be a hard time amid millions of people and hot weather conditions, so be prepared for it,” he cautioned.
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.
Soomro noted that the mission and its supporting staff, including doctors, nurses and paramedics as well as local and Pakistan-based assistants, were performing duties to extend round-the-clock to the “guests of Allah Almighty.”
Around 40,000 Pakistani Hajj pilgrims have so far arrived in Madinah and Makkah through 164 flights under the government scheme, according to the official. The number of pilgrims who arrived under the private scheme stood at 5,500.
He said the mission was providing best possible facilities in the most cost-effective Hajj package in the region, including residence, round-the-clock transport from hotel buildings to the Grand Mosque, and three meals a day, besides efficient online monitoring of the overall Hajj operation.
“The PHM was in close contact with all the intending pilgrims through the ‘Pak Hajj App,’ two toll-free helplines, and four WhatsApp numbers to address their concerns round the clock,” Soomro added.


Pakistan orders probe after forest fires erupt at 15 locations on Islamabad’s Margalla Hills

Updated 28 May 2024
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Pakistan orders probe after forest fires erupt at 15 locations on Islamabad’s Margalla Hills

  • The forest fires initially erupted at three different locations on Hiking Trails 3 and 5 of Margalla Hills
  • Incidents come at time when Pakistan is experiencing heatwave, with temperatures soaring above 52°C

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi on Tuesday ordered an inquiry into forest fires that erupted at 15 different locations on Margalla Hills on the northern edge of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, the interior ministry said, amid a large-scale operation to douse the fires.

The forest fires initially erupted at three different locations on Hiking Trails 3 and 5 of Margalla Hills, according to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).

The authority said it had arranged helicopters after firefighters present on the ground faced difficulties in accessing the fire sites. The fires later erupted at nearly a dozen other locations.

Naqvi, while taking notice of the incidents, spoke to Islamabad Chief Commissioner Muhammad Ali Randhawa and called for a comprehensive probe into the matter, according to the Pakistani interior ministry.

“Investigation must be held to bring out the facts whether the fires were deliberately ignited or they erupted accidentally,” Naqvi was quoted as saying by his ministry.

“A committee should be immediately formed to investigate the fire incidents at 15 places in a single day.”

Smoke rises from a fire, which erupted in Margalla Hills forest amid rising temperatures on a hot summer day in Islamabad on May 28, 2024. (AFP)

On the directives of interior minister, the Islamabad chief commissioner and police chief have tasked officials with investigating the matter, according to the statement.

Margalla Hills, which are part of the Himalayan foothills, have an area of 12,605 hectares and several hiking trails that are frequented by hundreds of people on a daily basis and are famous with picnickers.

The fires have erupted at a time when Pakistan is witnessing a heatwave, with temperatures soaring above 52 degrees Celsius in parts of the country.

Pakistan has reported an increasing number of forest fire incidents amid increasingly hot weather, blamed on climate change, in recent years.

Earlier in the day, senior Islamabad officials visited the site of the forest fires to inspect efforts to extinguish them

“Firefighters are using all resources to put out the fires,” Islamabad Deputy Commissioner Irfan Nawaz Memon said in a statement.

“Assistance has also been sought from other agencies to put out the fires, which will soon be brought under control.”


After ICUBE-Q, Pakistan to launch modern communication satellite into space on May 30

Updated 28 May 2024
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After ICUBE-Q, Pakistan to launch modern communication satellite into space on May 30

  • The satellite will help usher in digital era in Pakistan by providing Internet to country’s remote areas, the national space agency says
  • The satellite launch from Xichang Satellite Launch Center (XSLC) will be broadcast live from agency centers in Islamabad, Karachi

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will be launching its latest modern communication satellite, PAKSAT MM1, into the space on May 30, Pakistani state media reported on Tuesday, weeks after it launched ICUBE-Qamar (ICUBE-Q) into the lunar orbit.

Pakistani satellite ICUBE-Q was launched on May 3 aboard China’s Chang’e-6 lunar mission from Hainan, China. A major milestone in Pakistan’s space exploration efforts, the satellite successfully entered the moon’s orbit on May 8, and shortly after began transmitting the first images from lunar orbit.

The Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (Suparco), Pakistan’s national space agency, now plans to launch the communication satellite with Chinese assistance on May 30.

“The satellite PAKSAT MM1 would be launched from Xichang Satellite Launch Center (XSLC), China,” the Radio Pakistan broadcaster reported.

“The SUPARCO MM1 Satellite is a result of the tireless efforts of Pakistani scientists and engineers and it is conceived keeping in sight the growing needs of the country in the broad spectrum of communication and connectivity.’

The satellite would help usher in a digital era in Pakistan by helping provide Internet to remote areas, the report read, citing Suparco officials.

The launch ceremony would be broadcast live from Suparco’s offices in Islamabad and Karachi.

Established in 1961, Suparco manages Pakistan’s space program, enhancing the nation’s capabilities in satellite communications, remote sensing and meteorological science.