Heat wave cancels lessons for half of Pakistan’s schoolchildren

Students use an umbrella to protect themselves from heat as they travel on a bike after attending their school, in Lahore, Pakistan, on May 21, 2024. (AP)
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Updated 23 May 2024
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Heat wave cancels lessons for half of Pakistan’s schoolchildren

  • Some 26 million students will be out of lessons from Saturday in Punjab as temperature soars
  • Met Office has forecast three heatwaves, one underway and two set to hit in early and late June

LAHORE, Pakistan: Half of Pakistan’s pupils will be shut out of schools for a week as the nation takes crisis measures to lessen the effect of a series of heat waves, officials said Thursday.

Some 26 million students will be out of lessons from Saturday in Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, which has ordered schools to close for the summer break one week early because of the soaring temperatures.

The early closure was confirmed by a spokesperson for Punjab’s Education Department.
Pakistan’s meteorological office has forecast three heat waves — one already underway and two more set to hit in early and late June.

Temperatures in Punjab are currently six to eight degrees Celsius above normal, the disaster management agency said, with the provincial capital Lahore due for 46 degrees Celsius (111 degrees Fahrenheit) at the weekend.

The government’s Coordinator on Climate Change and Environment told journalists in Islamabad on Thursday that “global warming is causing a sudden change in weather patterns.”

Parts of Pakistan are facing power cuts of up to 15 hours as demand for fans and air conditioning surges, leaving students sweltering at their desks.

The Save the Children NGO said the 26 million Punjabi schoolchildren with lessons canceled account for 52 percent of pre-primary, primary and secondary students in Pakistan.

“Prolonged exposure to intense heat impacts children’s ability to learn and to concentrate and this puts their education at risk,” country director Muhammad Khuram Gondal said.

“Excess heat is also potentially lethal to children.”

The UN children’s agency UNICEF said more than three-quarters of children in South Asia — or 460 million — are exposed to temperatures above 35C (95F) for at least 83 days per year.

It warned that children are at risk of “dehydration, higher body temperature, rapid heartbeat, cramps... and coma.”

Pakistan is responsible for less than one percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

However, the nation of 240 million ranks high among countries vulnerable to extreme weather events, which scientists have linked to climate change.

A third of Pakistan was submerged by unprecedented monsoon rains in 2022 that displaced millions of people.

It was also battered by above-normal rainfall last month that killed at least 144 people in the wettest April recorded since 1961, with more deluges forecast this summer.

Lahore’s students also saw lessons cut this winter when schools were shut as the megacity was enveloped by choking smog.


Mob kills man accused of desecrating Qur’an in Pakistan’s Swat valley after storming police station

Updated 5 sec ago
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Mob kills man accused of desecrating Qur’an in Pakistan’s Swat valley after storming police station

  • Police took the local tourist from Pakistan’s Sialkot city in custody after the accusation was made against him
  • Chief Minister Ali Amin Gandapur takes notice of the incident, demands an inquiry report from province’s top cop

PESHAWAR: A man accused of desecrating the Holy Qur’an was killed on Thursday by a furious mob in Pakistan’s picturesque Swat valley after storming a police precinct where he had been detained, confirmed a senior police official while sharing details of the incident.

Swat, known for its tourism, hosts thousands of visitors from different parts of the country during the Eid holidays.

Madyan, the location of the incident, is a major tourist destination alongside nearby areas such as Kalam, Bahrain, Saidu Sharif and Marghazar.

Speaking to Arab News, District Police Officer (DPO) Dr. Zahid Ullah said a man named Suleman Khan from Pakistan’s Sialkot city was killed by the mob, adding that he had been staying at a local hotel since June 18.

“A tourist from Sialkot was accused of desecrating the Qur’an and was surrounded by people in the marketplace outside his hotel in Madyan,” he said.

After learning about the incident, the police took the man into custody at Madyan Police Station, but this did not pacify the large crowd that soon gathered, broke down the door and stormed in.

“The mob pelted stones at the police station and tortured the accused before taking him outside and burning him at a nearby bridge,” the DPO said.

“The angry mob also set fire to the goods and vehicles at the police station,” he continued, adding that 11 people got injured during the mayhem.

Blasphemy, including the desecration of the Holy Qur’an, constitutes an incendiary charge in Pakistan, where just an accusation can lead to mob violence.

Chief Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Ali Amin Khan Gandapur took notice of the incident by ordering an inquiry report from the Inspector General of Police and expressed his regret over the incident.

He instructed the police to the police to take necessary measures to bring the situation under control.

Gandapur also urged the citizens to remain peaceful.


US backs direct India-Pakistan talks following PM Sharif’s congratulatory message to Modi

Updated 57 min 10 sec ago
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US backs direct India-Pakistan talks following PM Sharif’s congratulatory message to Modi

  • State Department’s Matthew Miller says the ‘pace, scope and character’ should be determined by the two states
  • He highlights ‘a series of US-Pakistan military-to-military engagements’ to combat militant groups like TTP

ISLAMABAD: The United States said on Thursday it would support direct engagement between India and Pakistan after Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif congratulated his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi for securing a third term in office earlier this month.

The diplomatic relations between India and Pakistan have deteriorated significantly since August 5, 2019, when New Delhi revoked the special constitutional status of the disputed Himalayan region of Jammu and Kashmir, leading to heightened tensions and a series of retaliatory measures.

The two nuclear-armed neighbors expelled each other’s ambassadors and limited bilateral trade relations, as Modi’s administration decided to integrate the only Muslim-majority region with the rest of the Indian union and imposed a strict curfew and communication blackout in the area.

Pakistan and India have fought wars and a limited conflict over Kashmir since their independence in 1947. Both countries claim Kashmir in full, but control only parts of it.

“We value our important relationships with both India and Pakistan,” State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller said during a media briefing in Washington while responding a question about the recent exchange between the top political leaders of the two South Asian states.

“As we have said, we support direct discussions between India and Pakistan, but the pace, scope and character should be determined by those two countries, not by us,” he added.

Miller was also asked about Pakistan’s interest in advanced US weapons to fight the proscribed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militant network whose operatives have used American military equipment handed over to the Afghan National Army before the withdrawal of international forces. However, he simply mentioned the shared US-Pakistan interest in fighting against such groups.

“The United States and Pakistan have a shared interest in combating threats to regional security,” he said. “We partner with Pakistan on security through our high-level counterterrorism dialogue, including several counterterrorism capacity building programs, and we support a series of US-Pakistan military-to-military engagements.”

“We are in regular communication with the Pakistani leaders as a part of our partnership on CT [counterterrorism] issues, and we will continue to discuss regional security in detail, including through our annual counterterrorism dialogue and other bilateral consultations,” he added.

Pakistan’s interest in US weapons was recently expressed by its envoy to Washington, Ambassador Masood Khan.

Other Pakistani diplomats and officials have also raised concern over the use of automatic assault weapons and night-vision devices by TTP militants in the past.


Google partners with Pakistan to create smart classrooms, digitally transform education system

Updated 21 June 2024
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Google partners with Pakistan to create smart classrooms, digitally transform education system

  • Search engine giant partners with Pakistan to set up local assembly of over 500,000 Chromebooks by 2026
  • Pakistan has a staggering population of over 26.2 million out-of-school children, second-highest in the world 

ISLAMABAD: Google and Pakistan’s education ministry on Thursday announced they were partnering up to provide access to education for millions of students across the country, digitally transform Pakistan’s education system and build smart schools, state-run media reported. 

Pakistan has a staggering population of 26.2 million out-of-school children, the second highest in the world, according to Unicef Pakistan. 

Last month, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif declared an education emergency in the country, hoping to ensure access to education for these out-of-school children and improve educational opportunities for them. 

On Thursday, PM Sharif met a high-level delegation of Google for Education headed by its Managing Director Kevin Kells in Islamabad. 

“Ultimately, Google’s collaboration with the Ministry of Federal Education aims to drive a large-scale digital transformation of Pakistan’s education system, creating smart classrooms and fostering a healthy learning ecosystem,” the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) said in a report. 

The state media said Google, through its Google for Education’s country partner Tech Valley, will work with the Pakistani government to establish a local assembly of over 500,000 Chromebooks by 2026. It would also provide access to digital tools and resources for students and teachers in Pakistan.

Chromebooks are a type of laptop or tablet that runs on Google’s Chrome OS operating system and are more cost-effective than regular laptops. 

“As part of the collaboration, Allied, an Australian manufacturer of Google Chromebooks, will establish an assembly line in Pakistan to locally assemble Google Chromebooks, making them more affordable for educational purposes,” APP said.

It said the goal of such an agreement is to ensure that every student in the country has access to “cutting-edge classroom technology” to enhance their learning experience.

“Under the agreement, the teachers would be trained how to use technology effectively in the classroom, develop and implement innovative learning programs that leverage technology,” it said. 

Pakistan’s Education Minister Dr. Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui praised the development, saying it was an important step in ensuring educational access to children. 

“We believe that technology can play a vital role in improving learning outcomes and preparing our students for the future,” he said. 

Farhan S. Qureshi, Google Pakistan’s country director, said access to digital tools will ensure Pakistani children get acclimatized to the digital economy. 
“Also, creating a local assembly of over 500,000 Chromebooks will help Pakistan’s manufacturing industry grow and attract more investments in technology,” Qureshi said.
 


Pakistan’s president advocates ‘political dialogue’ for Balochistan’s stability during Gwadar visit

Updated 21 June 2024
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Pakistan’s president advocates ‘political dialogue’ for Balochistan’s stability during Gwadar visit

  • Balochistan is viewed as strategically vital for Pakistan but has witnessed separatist and militant violence for decades
  • President Asif Ali Zardari calls for improved law enforcement capacity, better prosecution system to counter violence

ISLAMABAD: President Asif Ali Zardari on Thursday emphasized political dialogue for peace, development and prosperity in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan region, which has been recognized as vital for the country’s strategic interests but has also witnessed prolonged militant and separatist violence.

Pakistan’s largest province by area, Balochistan holds a strategic position that borders Iran and Afghanistan, making it pivotal for regional connectivity and central to the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which aims to strengthen the ties between Pakistan, the Middle East and Central Asia. The government has also taken initiatives to tap the province’s vast mineral and natural resources that largely remain underexploited, hoping to utilize them for the country’s economic growth.

However, Balochistan has witnessed a low-level insurgency carried out by Baloch nationalist groups who have long accused Pakistani governments of profiting from the province’s natural resources while leaving the region underdeveloped for its own residents.

Zardari, who went to the region’s strategic Gwadar port city on a daylong visit, chaired a meeting on the security situation in Balochistan on Thursday.

“Political dialogue is the way forward to bring prosperity, development and peace to Balochistan,” he was quoted as saying by his office after the meeting.

However, the president also spoke about enhancing the capacity of law enforcement agencies (LEAs) in the area, emphasized the deployment of “competent officers” in the province and called for a better prosecution mechanism to counter violence in Balochistan.

“Compensation for the families of martyrs of LEAs in Balochistan should be enhanced, bringing it at par with the rest of the provinces,” he said.

He also instructed the authorities to take necessary measures for the safety of religious tourists from other province who travel to the Middle East from Balochistan.

The president also maintained it was necessary to focus on skill development of people, adding that trained human resources should be equipped with foreign language skills to help them find jobs in other countries.

“There is a need for providing financing and equipment to local fishermen, apart from promoting sustainable fishing practices and checking the production of illegal fishing nets,” he added while speaking about one of the leading livelihood sources for people in Gwadar.

The meeting was also attended by Pakistan’s interior minister Mohsin Naqvi, Balochistan’s chief minister Sarfaraz Bugti and senior military officials.


Crowd in Pakistan’s northwest kills man accused of burning Qur’an – police

Updated 21 June 2024
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Crowd in Pakistan’s northwest kills man accused of burning Qur’an – police

  • The mob took the man away from a police station in Swat where he had been detained for his protection
  • The police say they fired warning shots into the air to disperse the crowd, but it further angered the people

PESHAWAR: A Pakistani man accused of desecrating the Holy Qur’an was slain and burned Thursday by a crowd that removed him from a police station where he had been detained for his protection, authorities said.

“On the evening of the 20th, locals in the Madian area detained a man, alleging he had burned the Qur’an. The police intervened, rescued him, and took him to the local police station,” a police source in Swat told AFP, noting the man was not from the area.

But the crowd, urged on by local mosques, converged on the police station and pelted it with stones.

“To disperse the angry mob, police fired warning shots into the air, which further incited the crowd. The mob overpowered the police, dragged the man out, and beat him to death with sticks,” the source said.

Later, some people poured oil on his body and set it ablaze, the source added.

A local official confirmed the incident, saying: “After killing the man, the enraged protesters started stoning the police, forcing them to abandon the station.”

The situation in the area remained tense, with protesters blocking the main road, according to the official.

Blasphemy is a highly sensitive subject in majority Muslim Pakistan, where even accusations without evidence can stir up anger among crowds and spark outbreaks of violence.

In late May, a Christian accused of burning pages of the Holy Qur’an was also lynched by a mob in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab region, before succumbing to his injuries in early June, according to police.

Also in Punjab, in February 2023, a crowd beat to death a Muslim accused of having desecrated the holy book.