Meet Pakistani polio survivor on a mission to plant ‘10 million trees’

In this undated handout photo polio survivor Khizar Wali Chishti (left) stands as volunteers planting tree seed in Pakpattan, Punjab. Chishti is on a mission to plant 10 million trees in his hometown. (Courtesy: Khizar Wali Chishti)
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Updated 14 June 2024
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Meet Pakistani polio survivor on a mission to plant ‘10 million trees’

  • 33-year-old Khizar Wali Chishti says he has planted over 152,000 saplings across Pakistan since 2014
  • Chishti was recognized this month by Plant 4 Pakistan project of government’s Green Pakistan Initiative

ISLAMABAD: Khizar Wali Chishti was a young boy when he lost a leg to polio, and though he continued his early education in his hometown of Pakpattan in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province, an enduring memory of his childhood was spending time in the solace of a large neem tree in the courtyard of his home.
Years later, when the tree was cut down to create more living space in the house, the loss had a lasting effect on the young boy. By the time he was in his twenties, Chishti had a purpose: to plant trees and wage a fight against climate change in Pakistan, one of the countries most vulnerable to climate threats.
Since 2014, Chishti has traveled across Pakistan and planted 152,000 plants all over the country, aided by an organically driven network of students, teachers and other volunteers mobilized using social media.
On June 4, Chishti was among 20 individuals recognized for their work by ‘Plant 4 Pakistan,’ a flagship project of the government’s Green Pakistan Initiative that focuses on ecosystem restoration, climate change combat, social and agricultural plantations, and community engagement in environmental conservation.
“Before recognizing Chishti, we have checked and vetted his work with our staff in different cities and are impressed by his tree plantation efforts and follow-up on the plants,” Khawaja Mazhar, the coordinator of the Plant 4 Pakistan project, told Arab News.
“He has a good model of planting trees, mostly in government and private institutions, by urging them to take care of the plants so they do not go to waste. I have seen him planting trees for the last five years and working on building teams, motivating communities to contribute to the Green Pakistan [Initiative].”
Chishti, now 33 and a schoolteacher with a Master’s degree in Geography, leads a team of nearly 1,000 volunteers, mostly students from across Pakistan, who assist him in planting trees in their native villages, towns and cities, a mission he began in 2014. The young man also owns a nursery that distributes around 100,000 saplings annually and maintains a log of trees planted by his team on his Facebook profile.
“I have dedicated my entire life to planting trees and aim to achieve the monumental goal of planting 10 million in my lifetime,” Chishti, now a father of two, told Arab News this week. “I have planted 152,000 plants all over Pakistan. I have a nursery to give plants free of cost.”
Chishti said he had traveled to various cities to engage teachers and students to join his mission.
“They register with me and are added to regional WhatsApp groups where we coordinate plantation drives, transport saplings, and collaborate with local activists to source free plants,” he said.
“My next target is to visit 400 cities nationwide to train 10,000 children in indoor kitchen and rooftop-gardening.”
To ensure sustainability, Chishti primarily plants trees in government institutions, such as schools, after signing formal agreements.
“We planted saplings in schools, hospitals, and institutions that signed agreements to care for them, and we maintained our activities on my social media page, which serves as an automatic log of our plantation campaigns and motivates others to join us,” he said, adding that if any plant died, his team replanted it to maintain its commitment to the mission.
“INSPIRATION”
Pakistan is ranked the fifth most vulnerable country to climate change globally, with nearly 10,000 deaths and $3.8 billion in economic losses between 1999 and 2018, according to the Global Climate Risk Index. Climate-induced rains and subsequent flooding in the 2022 monsoons submerged a third of the South Asian country, killing around 1,700 people and affecting more than 33 million — almost the entire population of Canada. The country is also beset by frequent heat waves and droughts.
To raise awareness about climate threats and solutions, Chishti has been organizing an annual tree festival in Pakpattan since 2020, where he invites experts from various regions to educate attendees on the significance of planting native trees and provide insights on kitchen-gardening techniques.
And even as Pakistan baked under heatwave conditions this May and well into June, Chishti continued his work without sponsorships, bearing the expenses of planting trees solely from his salary as a schoolteacher.
“I allocate a portion of my salary for this cause,” he explained. “My students also contribute, and friends often gift me trees, enabling me to continue my mission.”
A backbone of the effort are Chishti’s “SHajjar Dost” groups on WhatsApp through which he mobilizes and engages young people in different cities using motivational messages, never asking for funding other than contributions to plantation drives.
Mehvish Sultana, a skills training professional from Lahore, joined Chishti’s team as a volunteer after learning kitchen-gardening during one of his plantation drives.
“I joined his team as a volunteer around two years ago, and there are about 300 other members in our [online] group,” she told Arab News. “All of us are motivated by Chishti and work without any reward, simply to contribute to making Pakistan green.”
Sultana said her group had planted around 4,000 saplings in Lahore’s Kinnaird College, two graveyards, and institutions affiliated with Punjab Group of Colleges.
“He (Chishti) has many such volunteers in different SHajjar Dost WhatsApp groups, who willingly work with him,” she added.
Mazhar, the Plant 4 Pakistan coordinator, said he had visited Chishti’s nursery where he grew native plants to distribute them free of cost.
“He (Chishti) indeed is doing tremendous work and logging it on Facebook to motivate others,” he said, describing Chishti as an “inspiration” for others.


Pakistan police arrest man for chopping off donkey’s legs in fresh animal brutality case 

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Pakistan police arrest man for chopping off donkey’s legs in fresh animal brutality case 

  • Donkey’s owner says local landlord punished animal for wandering into his property in Muzaffargarh city 
  • Animal abuse caught spotlight last month when landlord allegedly chopped off camel’s leg in Sanghar district

KARACHI: Police in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province on Wednesday arrested a man on charges of chopping off a donkey’s legs after it strayed into his employer’s land, highlighting the latest case of animal brutality in the country. 

Animal abuse in Pakistan caught the spotlight last month when a local landlord in the southern Sanghar district was accused of chopping off a camel’s leg after it strayed into his fields for grazing. The story, which triggered uproar on mainstream and social media, led to the camel being transported to an animal shelter in Karachi for treatment. Six suspects were arrested by the police. In another incident in the southern Umerkot district last month, a camel was found dead with its legs amputated. 

Bashir Ahmed, a resident of Punjab’s Muzaffargarh city, said his donkey suffered severe leg injuries after wandering onto the property of local landlord Khalil Jatoi on Monday. Local police arrested Sajjad Hussain, Jatoi’s employee, in connection with the crime. 

“We have arrested Sajjad Hussain, who has been nominated in the case,” Muhammad Saleem, the investigating officer, told Arab News. “He will be produced before the court soon.”

Police filed a complaint against Hussain under Section 429 of the Pakistan Penal Code, which prescribes imprisonment of up to two years, or a fine or both, for anyone who “commits mischief by killing, poisoning, maiming, or rendering useless any animal or animals.”

However, Ahmed said the prime suspect was Jatoi, whom he said remains at large and was pressurizing him to drop the charges.

“While his employee Sajjad has been arrested, Khalil Jatoi has not yet been apprehended and he is threatening me to withdraw the case,” Ahmed alleged.

Ahmed said he used to sell fruits and vegetables on a cart that was pushed by the donkey.
 
Arab News could not independently verify whether Ahmed had received threats or not and Jatoi could not be reached for comment. The landlord has also not been nominated in the police complaint.

As per the complaint, Ahmed found the back legs of the donkey chopped off. The complaint also mentioned an eyewitness, Azfal Hussain, who informed police that Hussain had wounded the donkey.

Ahmed said the animal, which was undergoing medical treatment arranged by the provincial government, was the only source of his income for a family comprising five people. 

“I’m hurt not only financially but emotionally as well since I’ve been caring for the donkey,” Ahmed added.

Pakistan’s existing animal cruelty laws, rooted in the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1890, prohibit various forms of animal cruelty, including beating, overdriving, and mutilation. The legislation also prescribes penalties for breaches of these anti-cruelty provisions, which can include fines and imprisonment, though these are not always effectively enforced.

And despite the laws, officials themselves poison hundreds of dogs yearly in an effort to curb a population of strays that attack thousands of people.


Protesters in northwestern Pakistan demand judicial inquiry into Bannu rally shooting

Updated 24 July 2024
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Protesters in northwestern Pakistan demand judicial inquiry into Bannu rally shooting

  • At least two were killed, 20 injured in northwestern Bannu city last week after gunfire triggered stampede at peace rally
  • Pakistan’s military spokesperson blamed “negative elements” in the march, accusing them of resorting to firing, pelting stones

Peshawar: The president of a 45-member committee leading a large sit-in protest in Pakistan’s northwestern Bannu on Wednesday called for a judicial inquiry to probe a shooting incident that killed at least two people in the city last week. 

Thousands took part in a rally in Bannu last Friday to protest the government’s announcement to launch a new military operation against militants in the country. Participants of the rally demanded peace and an end to militancy in the country, which has killed thousands of people in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province and displaced hundreds of thousands. 

Tensions flared when at least two persons were killed and more than 20 injured after gunfire triggered a stampede at the rally, prompting thousands to stage a sit-in protest that continues to date.

Local residents and some Pakistani politicians accused security forces of shooting at the rally. Pakistan’s military spokesperson earlier this week rejected the allegations at a press conference, saying that “some negative elements” had joined the march and resorted to firing, pelting stones and chanting anti-state slogans.

“We demand a clear and transparent judicial inquiry through the Peshawar High Court into this incident,” Nasir Khan Bangash, president of the 45-member Bannu Aman Jirga and a senior member of the Bannu Chamber of Commerce, told Arab News. 

He rejected the military spokesperson’s allegations that the government’s efforts to launch a new military operation, “Azm-e-Istehkam” or Resolve for Stability, was being politicized. Bangash said the rally’s main was to demand peace. 

“The protest wasn’t political. Apart from white flags, there were no other flags [of other political parties] in the peace march,” Bangash said.

He said protesters wanted police to be empowered to deal with miscreants in the province, adding that they would not accept any military operations in KP. 

Arab News reached out to the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the military’s media wing, for its reaction to Bangash’s statement but did not get a response till this report was filed. 

’COMPREHENSIVE CAMPAIGN’

Past military operations have displaced hundreds of thousands of people and destroyed countless lives and livelihoods in Pakistan’s KP province, sparking a civil rights movement by ethnic Pashtuns.

The Pakistan army was able to effectively dismantle the Pakistani Taliban, or TTP, and kill most of its top leadership in a string of military operations from 2014 onwards in the country’s tribal areas, driving most of the fighters across the border into Afghanistan, where Islamabad says they have regrouped. Kabul denies this.

Islamabad says the new surge in violence is because Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers are not doing enough against militants using its soil to launch attacks on Pakistan. Kabul says rising violence in Pakistan is a domestic issue and it does not allow militants to operate on its soil.

Fears of more displacement have been raised after the government announced last month it would launch the Azm-e-Istehkam operation.

In his press conference this week, military spokesman Lt. Gen Ahmed Sharif Chaudhry clarified that the campaign was not meant to be a full-scale military operation.

“This is a comprehensive campaign against terrorism, which won’t just root out terrorism but which will lift up all of society,” he said.


Ex-Pakistan PM’s party lawmakers continue hunger strike in Islamabad for his release

Updated 24 July 2024
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Ex-Pakistan PM’s party lawmakers continue hunger strike in Islamabad for his release

  • Over two dozen lawmakers of Khan’s party have staged hunger strike outside Parliament House in Islamabad to demand his release
  • Khan’s party leaders vow to continue hunger strike for “as long as necessary,” resist any government move to ban the PTI

ISLAMABAD: Lawmakers belonging to former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party on Wednesday continued their hunger strike to demand his release from prison, vowing to “take on” the government’s plan to ban the party. 

Over two dozen PTI lawmakers, including the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Omar Ayub, have been holding a hunger strike outside the Parliament House in Islamabad since Tuesday to press for Khan’s release from prison. 

Khan has been in jail since August last year, even though all four convictions handed down to him ahead of a parliamentary election in February have either been suspended or overturned.

After being acquitted on the last of those four convictions, authorities rearrested Khan and his wife in an old corruption case on charges of selling state gifts unlawfully. He also faces an accusation of inciting his supporters to attack military installations in May last year. Khan denies all the accusations.

The hunger strike also takes place after Information Minister Ataullah Tarar announced on July 15 that the government plans to ban the PTI over the “proven” charge that the party received foreign funds from sources illegal in Pakistan, and because of rioting by its supporters last year that targeted military installations. 

“I think that we have to just laugh it off,” Ayub told Arab News from the PTI’s hunger strike camp, reacting to the government’s announcement to ban the party. 

He was sitting with other lawmakers of the party who held Khan’s portraits and placards inscribed with the words “Release Imran Khan.”
“They [the government] can’t beat us in the political arena, so they have resorted to this,” Ayub added. “We will take them on.”

The government’s announcement to ban the PTI came following the Supreme Court’s recent verdict in which it accepted the PTI as a legitimate political party and awarded it reserved seats for women and minorities in parliament. The verdict was a blow to the Shehbaz Sharif-led coalition government, causing it to lose its two-thirds majority in Pakistan’s parliament.

Ayub said the PTI had organized the hunger strike to not only demand Khan’s and his wife’s release from prison but also to protest against soaring inflation and militancy in the country.

“This hunger strike is geared toward or targeted toward getting Prime Minister Imran Khan, his wife and first lady Bushra Bibi and all our politically imprisoned prisoners who were imprisoned because of their political beliefs of supporting Prime Minister Imran Khan,” he said.

He described the government as an “illegal” one, holding it responsible for rising inflation and militancy in the country. Ayub called for fresh elections to overcome these crises. 

“This is a token hunger strike, and we will continue this as long as is necessary,” he vowed. 

‘DRAMA’

Meanwhile Senator Talal Chaudhry, a member of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, described the PTI’s hunger strike as a “drama.” 

He accused the PTI of always conspiring to weaken the country, saying that the party was always protesting whether through hunger strikes or “conspiracies to shut down Pakistan.”

“They will not get anything through these strikes,” he said. “What sort of a hunger strike is this that it begins after lunch and ends before the evening tea?“

The rise in tensions between the government and the PTI takes place after police raided the headquarters of Khan’s party in Islamabad earlier this week. 

The PTI’s senior media manager Ahmed Waqas Janjua and its information secretary Raoof Hassan were arrested by authorities on accusations they were pushing an “anti-state narrative” to undermine Pakistan’s sovereignty.

“The recent crackdown is because the government has lost all, I would say, legitimacy in the eyes of the people,” Ayub said. “They don’t have anything to offer.”


Pakistan Army rescues three foreign mountaineers stranded at K2 mountain 

Updated 24 July 2024
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Pakistan Army rescues three foreign mountaineers stranded at K2 mountain 

  • Foreign climbers from Singapore, Netherlands and Ecuador rescued in Pakistan Army helicopter
  • Two mountaineers fell on glacier while the third suffered from flu and severe cough

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Army on Wednesday rescued three foreign mountaineers after they encountered difficulties while attempting to summit the towering K2 mountain in the country’s northern region, the army’s media wing said. 

K2, the world’s second-highest peak which stands at 8,611 meters, lies in Pakistan’s Karakorum Range. It is nicknamed “the savage mountain” by high-altitude climbers who often encounter great difficulty in summiting it. 

The mountaineers, who hailed from Singapore, the Netherlands and Ecuador, were rescued by a Pakistan Army helicopter after they fell ill while climbing the mountain. 

“I’m Kim and I am from Holland. I had a big fall from a glacier and now the Pakistan Army is rescuing me from the glacier,” she said while sitting in the army’s helicopter. 

Another climber from Singapore, who did not mention her name, said she suffered from flu while attempting to summit the mountain. 

“I got really, really sick,” she said. “Thank you to the Pakistan Army for rescuing me.”

The third foreign climber from Ecuador had his arm in a sling, saying that he had fractured it while climbing the mountain. 

Home to some of the tallest peaks and stunning landscapes, Pakistan attracts foreign climbers and tourists from around the world in every mountaineering season, making it a premier destination for adventure enthusiasts.

According to official figures, over 8,900 foreigners visited the remote Gilgit-Baltistan region in 2023 where the summer climbing season runs from early June to late August.


Pakistan to complete road network to China, Central Asia to promote trade— minister

Updated 24 July 2024
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Pakistan to complete road network to China, Central Asia to promote trade— minister

  • Pakistan recently offered Central Asian countries to become part of its $65 billion energy and infrastructure corridor with China 
  • Islamabad has increasingly sought to position itself as a trade and transit hub connecting landlocked Central Asian states with the world 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will complete a large road network connecting it to Central Asian countries and China with the object of promoting trade and investment, the country’s privatization minister said on Wednesday, as Islamabad eyes regional connectivity to ensure economic growth. 

Pakistan has increasingly sought cooperation in terms of trade and investment with regional allies and financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in recent months to recover from a macroeconomic crisis. 

Pakistan recently offered Central Asian states to become part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project, under which Beijing has pledged around $65 billion in energy, infrastructure and other projects in Pakistan. Islamabad believes the corridor presents a strategic opportunity for landlocked Central Asian states to transport their goods more easily to regional and global markets. 

Privatization Minister Abdul Aleem Khan met French Ambassador Nicolas Galle in Islamabad on Wednesday to discuss trade and bilateral ties between the two countries. 

“He [Khan] said the road network to China and Central Asian countries will be completed to promote trade in the region,” state broadcaster Radio Pakistan reported. 

Khan said Pakistan was privatizing its loss-making public entities to strengthen its economy, adding that these institutions have the potential to perform better and earn profit. 

“The French envoy expressed his country’s interest in investing and business activities across various sectors in Pakistan,” the state broadcaster said. 

“They also discussed various proposals for enhancing bilateral trade between the two countries.”

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has repeatedly said Pakistan aims to seek regional alliances and mutually rewarding financial partnerships with allies, rather than loans, to steer its economy toward recovery. 

The South Asian country narrowly avoided a sovereign default last year when it secured a last-gasp $3 billion financial assistance package from the IMF. Pakistan’s economic crisis has seen its inflation reach double digit figures, foreign exchange reserves plummet to historic lows and its currency weaken significantly against the US dollar over the past two years.