The Hindu – Gunmen attack Pakistan stock exchange in Karachi, seven killed

The gunmen attacked the building with grenades and guns, media reported.

Karachi – Sindh – Pakistan 29 June 2020. Gunmen attacked the Pakistan Stock Exchange building in the city of Karachi on Monday killing two guards and a policeman before security forces killed all four of the attackers, police said.

Separatist insurgents from Balochistan province, the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), claimed responsibility in a post on Twitter but Reuters was not able to verify the authenticity of the claim and spokesmen for the group were not available for comment.

“We locked ourselves in our offices,” Asad Javed, who works at a brokerage in the stock exchange building, which is in a high security zone that also houses the head offices of several banks, told Reuters.

Javed said he was on the ground floor when he heard gunfire and an explosion and people scattered for safety.

The police chief in Pakistan’s biggest city and financial hub, Ghulam Nabi Memon, told Reuters the gunmen attacked with grenades and guns after pulling up in a silver Corolla car.

They threw a grenade at security men posted outside the compound then opened fire on a security post. The four were killed when security forces posted there responded.

Their car was abandoned where they left it.

Two guards and a policeman were killed and seven people were wounded, Deputy Inspector General of Police Sharjil Kharal told media.

A counter-terrorism official told Reuters the attackers were carrying significant quantities of ammunition and grenades in backpacks.

The BLA claimed responsibility in a brief message on a Twitter account set up shortly before the raid, describing it as a “self-sacrificing” attack carried out by its Majeed brigade.

The account was suspended a short time after the attack.

Separatists have been fighting for years in resource-rich Balochistan, complaining the southwestern province’s gas and mineral wealth is unfairly exploited by Pakistan’s richer, more powerful provinces.

The BLA’s Majeed brigade also took responsibility for an attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi in 2018. Several projects linked to China’s Belt and Road initiative are in Balochistan.

This month, three explosions on the same day claimed by a little-known separatist group killed four people including two soldiers in the southern province of Sindh, of which Karachi is capital.

The Pakistan Stock Exchange did not suspend trading during the attack. Its main KSE-100 index dropped 220 points but it later recovered and was 200 points higher at 0830 GMT.

Islamist militants have also launched attacks in Karachi and elsewhere in Pakistan over the years but their violence has become less frequent after military operations against various factions in strongholds on the Afghan border.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/pakistan-stock-exchange-in-karachi-attacked-several-killed/article31943253.ece?homepage=true

Dawn – Decoding of PIA plane’s black box completed: investigators

The Newspaper’s Staff Reporter

Karachi – Sindh – Pakistan, 06 June 2020. French investigators probing the 22 May Pakistan Intern­ational Airlines (PIA) plane crash have announced that downloading and decoding of the black box of the ill-fated aircraft has been completed.

The French Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety (BEA) on Friday said in a tweet that downloading and decoding of the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder, the two components of the PK-8303 black box, “has ended. Analysis will continue”.

It said that the Pakistan’s Aircraft Accident and Investigation Board (AAIB) “will publish at a later date a preliminary statement on the event based on downloaded data/Pakistan’s AAIB is leading the investigation/current communication on their behalf”.

Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan had already announced that the preliminary report of the plane crash would be tabled in parliament on June 22.

Ninety-seven of the 99 passengers and crew members onboard the PIA flight were killed when the plane crashed into houses in Karachi’s Model Colony area on May 22. A teenage girl also lost her life on ground.

Airbus, being the manufacturer of the A320 aircraft had sent an 11-member team to Pakistan to offer technical assistance to AAIB investigators.

The team had earlier this week left for France along with the FDR and CVR of the aircraft. AAIB President Air Commodore Usman Ghani also accompanied the French team.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1561627/decoding-of-pia-planes-black-box-completed-investigators

Dawn – Survey to assess damage caused by plane crash in Model Colony begins

Imran Ayub

Karachi – Sindh – Pakistan, 24 May 2020. As rescue workers, security officials and local volunteers completed the tiring job of retrieving bodies from the rubble of the ill-fated Pakistan International Airlines plane that crashed on Friday afternoon, authorities on Saturday start assessing the damage caused by the incident on the ground and counted some 19 houses in Model Colony whose structures had been damaged badly.

Karachi Commissioner Iftikhar Ali Shallwani said that a committee assigned by him was conducting a survey and had almost completed its job.

He replied in the affirmative when asked about any compensation to the owners of the damaged houses, but said the final assessment report would determine the details.

“None of the houses was completely destroyed or damaged,” the commissioner told Dawn. “Parts of some house, 15 or so, were damaged. In most of the cases, upper parts of the houses were damaged where their concrete structure was hit by the crashed plane. Fortunately, the structures mostly remained intact.”

He said there were also some vehicles parked in the street of the particular Model Colony area where the PIA crashed. A team would also take their details into account while compiling a report, he said.

Commissioner says government to provide compensation to repair damaged houses

Meanwhile, he requested all bereaved families of the victims of the crash to visit the International Centre for Chemical and Biological Sciences (ICCBS), Karachi University, for DNA sampling. First priority is to be given to parents of the victims, second to their children and third to their siblings, he added.

Governor, aviation minister visit

Earlier, Sindh Governor Imran Ismail and Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan visited the site of the plane crash in Model Colony and inspected the damage caused due to the incident.

PIA chief executive officer Arshad Malik, members of the National and Sindh assemblies were also with him.

The governor met with the locals and volunteers engaged in rescue and relief work. PIA chief Arshad Malik informed the governor that all bodies were recovered from the wreckage while two persons were rescued alive after the crash.

He appreciated the quick response of the armed forces and Pakistan Rangers carrying out rescue work.

“On the directions of Prime Minister Imran Khan Qasr-e-Naz and Airport Hotel of the PIA have been reserved for legal heirs of crash victim and families who lost their houses in the incident for their accommodation,” he said while talking to reporters.

“On PM’s directives, Rs one million each would be given to the heirs of deceased, while the amount of insurance compensation would also to be paid. It is a miracle that no life was lost on the ground despite the fact that plane crashed in a thickly-populated area.”

Later, the Sindh governor visited the Askari-IV residence of Ansar Naqvi, a senior journalist and director news of a private TV channel, who was among the victims of the plane crash.

“The Sindh governor expressed his condolences to Shehryar and Shazin, sons of the deceased journalist,” said a statement issued from the Governor House.

“The plane crash is a big tragedy and is a great shock especially to the families of the victims. Ansar Naqvi was a senior journalist as well as a very good man who was always ready to teach his juniors.”

He also visited the residence of Yahya Polani, the owner of Polani Travels, and offered condolences to him on the death of his nephew Zain Polani, his wife and three children in a plane crash.

“It’s a great shock to the Polani family as an entire family has [been] affected in the incident,” the statement quoted Governor Ismail as saying.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1559208/survey-to-assess-damage-caused-by-plane-crash-in-model-colony-begin

The News – PIA plane crash: Punjab Forensic Science Agency teams arrive in Karachi

Karachi – Sindh – Pakistan, 22 May 2020. Three teams from the Punjab Forensic Science Agency arrived in Karachi on Saturday to collect DNA samples from the victims of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) plane crash, reported Geo News.

All but two of the 99 people on board the PIA plane were killed when it crashed into Karachi’s Model Colony neighbourhood, a residential area near the airport.

Among the survivours were the chief executive of the Bank of Punjab and a young engineer. No casualties were reported on the ground.

Head of the Punjab Forensic Science Agency Dr Tahir Ashraf told Geo News three teams comprising forensic scientists were in Karachi to collect DNA samples from the plane crash victims.

“The teams will start collecting samples from today,” Dr Ashraf said.

He added, the teams will collect samples from the bodies and the victims’ parents, siblings or children to identify the victims.

“As soon as the samples reach Lahore, we will work day and night to get the result out as soon as possible. The result of the DNA test will be available in 24 hours,” he said.

Earlier on Saturday, the Sindh Health Department confirmed that 66 bodies had been shifted to Jinnah Hospital, of which 20 bodies were of women and 43 of men. Three bodies of children had also been brought to the hospital.

The provincial health department said 50 bodies at the hospital were yet to be identified, while 16 bodies had been identified.

The health department further said that the remaining 31 bodies had been moved to Civil Hospital, of which six bodies were of women and 25 of men. It said 28 of bodies kept at the hospital have yet to be identified while the process of identification had been completed for three.

Separately, rescue officials said some bodies had later been shifted from the Civil and Jinnah Hospitals to an Edhi morgue in Sohrab Goth and the Chhipa morgue at FTC.

“DNA samples were taken from the bodies before being shifted to the morgues,” officials said, adding that 96 bodies were at the morgues, while one had been handed over to the deceased’s relatives.

https://www.thenews.com.pk/latest/662761-pia-plane-crash

Dawn – Favouritism, political infighting mar Covid-19 relief operations in Sindh

Distribution of rations and other relief goods have become highly politicised in the province as political parties are criticising each other for the sake of point scoring.

Imtiaz Ali

Karachi – Sindh – Pakistan, 20 April 2020. According to witnesses and officials, political infighting and favouritism have severely affected the relief activities in Karachi and other parts of Sindh.

A security official, who wished not to be named, told Dawn that the prime minister’s Ehsas social safety programme had become ‘highly politicised’ as rival political parties using it ostensibly for some political gains.

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leaders claimed that the programme belonged to them while Pakistan Peoples Party leaders insisted that it was the same Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) under which several monthly instalments were being given to the poorest of the poor.

At certain places in Karachi and other parts of Sindh, people with strong political connections had virtually hijacked the distribution of cash among poor women.

The officer recalled that in district South a known political figure linked to the PTI insisted that his supporters/voters should be given cash. Same was the situation witnessed in rural areas of the province. Thus, the cash distribution among the poor under Ehsas programme was increasingly becoming a new source of ‘political infighting’.

The second issue pertained to alleged favouritism in the distribution of ration bags as the chairmen of union committees/councils, who were supposed to look after the distribution process, were openly accusing that the ruling parties had been ignoring poor residents belonging to other parties.

Recently, several UC chairmen of district West had openly criticised the Sindh government over ration distribution. These UC chairmen are affiliated with different political parties including the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Jamaat-i-Islami, Awami National Party and Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan.

During a recent press conference, they alleged that the PPP-led Sindh government was allegedly ignoring them during the process of distribution of rations. They said that it was being done on favouritism by violating their mandate.

They pointed out that the provincial government had already announced that rations would be distributed through the UC chairmen for which a committee had already been constituted.

The UC chairmen said that they had already written a letter to the Sindh chief secretary around 12 days ago and raised their concerns over the issue of ration distribution.

Criteria of Ehsas programme criticised

Jamil Khan, a social activist of Keamari, told Dawn that the chairman of UC-3 Keamari had distributed 170 ration bags among the poor in his area. He opined that as the handout was ‘insufficient’ because a large number of the poor lived in the locality, philanthropists launched relief activities at a much big scale in the area.

He said that the Jaffaria Disaster Cell (JDC) on April 17 had set up its first centre in Keamari and they distributed rations among 40 poor families on Saturday. The JDC planned to distribute rations among 40 families on a daily basis, he added.

Dawa Khan Sabir, vice chairman of Metroville UC, pointed out that there were estimated 16,000 poor/beneficiaries of Ehsas/BISP programme in SITE and Orangi Town and 11,000 of them had received cash under the social safety programme.

Regarding distribution of rations, Mr Sabir said that the DC-West had called a meeting of UC chairmen around one week ago and intended to give 40 ration bags to each UC chairman. He said that the UC chairmen refused to take the bags stating that such a small quantity was not sufficient even for residents of a single Ward.

He also claimed that philanthropists intervened in helping the poor and they were providing cooked food to around 300 families on a daily basis in the said areas. He disclosed that the philanthropists now planned to increase the number of families from 300 to 400 by providing them cooked food.

Ikram, a social activist in the Landhi area, said that the Ehsas programme should be named as ‘Ghair Ehsas’ (without compassion) as its mechanism or eligibility criteria was extremely wrong.

He said that there were estimated 50 private schoolteachers in Muzafarabad Colony, Majeed Colony, Sherpao Colony and Gul Ahmed area of Landhi and Quaidabad, who were allegedly not being given their salary by school administration due to closure of educational institutes, could not get benefit from the Ehsas programme since they used internet beyond the criteria for beneficiaries of the programme.

He said that around 700 daily wage earners, who used to work in industrial areas of Landhi/Quaidabad and they had been rendered jobless because of the continued lockdown, could not benefit from the Ehsas programme because they had bank accounts.

He opined that the provision of rations was also not sufficient as only 150 bags were provided to the poor residents of Muzaffarabad Colony despite the fact that thousands of the poor, mostly labourers and factory workers, lived there.

PPP denies charges

However, senior PPP leader and Chief Minister’s aide Waqar Mehdi, denied charges of favouritism in distribution of rations.

He said that a six-member committee comprising representatives of deputy commissioner, UC chairman concerned (irrespective of his/her party affiliation), NGO, lady councillor/social activist, notable of the area and local zakat committee chairman had been formed for distribution of rations among the deserving persons.

He said as per government policy, they avoided social distancing and tended to distribute rations among the poor between 3am and 7am at people’s doorsteps in the presence of assistant commissioner concerned, police and Rangers.

Mr Mehdi said that Rs40 million had been provided to each DC in the Sindh province for distribution of ration bags, which contained flour, rice, pulses, oil, teabags, etc.

One bag being provided to each family of five was sufficient for 15 days, he said, adding that 300-400 bags were being distributed for each UC and the supply of food was continued.

He said so far around 275,000 ration bags had been distributed among the needy across Sindh. He said that this help was not for government employees, beneficiaries of zakat/BISP programme.

He claimed that the government had adopted ‘transparency’ during distribution of rations and if there were any complaints, the same were being addressed by a ‘monitoring committee’ led by provincial minister Imtiaz Shaikh.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1550601/favouritism-political-infighting-mar-covid-19-relief-operations-in-sindh

Dawn – Comment: Daniel Pearl’s murderers can’t be allowed to escape justice

Joel Simon

Karachi – Sindh – Pakistan, 12 April 2020. Last Thursday, taking advantage of a world overwhelmed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Sindh High Court ordered the release of four men convicted of participating in the 2002 murder and kidnapping of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

Among them was Omar Saeed Sheikh, a British-Pakistani national who orchestrated Pearl’s abduction.

While the four men will remain in custody for 90 days as state prosecutors appeal the decision to Supreme Court, they could soon go free. That would be a devastating setback for justice that would also send a dangerous message to militants in Pakistan and around the world, who have systematically targeted journalists in 18 years since Pearl was killed.

To understand what’s at stake, one must look to the origins of the crime.

The day after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, Pearl, who was the Journal’s South Asia bureau chief, travelled from his base in India to Pakistan, where he eventually got on to a story about Richard Reid, who would come to be known as the shoe bomber.

In December 2001, Reid tried to blow up an aeroplane with plastic explosives moulded into his sneakers. Pearl believed that Reid had a relationship with a reclusive leader named Mubarak Ali Shah Gilani.

As word spread that Pearl was looking to interview Gilani, Sheikh saw an opportunity.

Sheikh, 28 at the time, was a graduate of the London School of Economics, and had an air of ease and sophistication. He had deployed his wiles before. In 1994, Sheikh had organised the kidnapping of four Western tourists in India. He was convicted of that crime but freed after militants in Pakistan hijacked a plane and demanded his release.

On 11 January, Pearl met Sheikh in Islamabad. Sheikh told the reporter he could arrange a meeting with Gilani in Karachi. Ten days later, Pearl flew there, accompanied by his pregnant wife Mariane.

Sheikh, meanwhile, had used the time to assemble a kidnapping team made up of two dozen militants and criminals recruited from Karachi’s underworld.

On 23 January, Pearl asked his taxi driver to drop him at a popular restaurant in Karachi. He was later seen climbing into a red Suzuki that he believed would take him to Gilani. Instead, he was brought to a house, where he was chained to a car engine in a cinder block outbuilding.

Sheikh himself had already left Karachi, so he could deny connection with the crime. He called the kidnappers and instructed them to send photos of Pearl to the media along with demands to release prisoners held by the US military at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the Al Qaeda operations chief who had masterminded the 9/11 attacks and who had fled to Karachi, read about the kidnapping in newspapers.

Exactly what happened next is not clear. But sometime in late January or early February 2002, Mohammed, known as KSM, showed up with two other men, a shopping bag of knives, and a video camera.

They beheaded Pearl and used the macabre footage to create a 4-minute video entitled The Slaughter of the Spy-Journalist, the Jew Daniel Pearl that included a statement from Pearl made under duress and reiterated demands for the release of Muslim prisoners. The video of Pearl’s murder was actually a reenactment, since the camera jammed on the first take.

Prior to the Pearl murder, Al Qaeda had a very different relationship with the media. Like countless radical organisations throughout history, the group cultivated journalists. When Osama bin Laden declared Jihad against the United States, he did so in a CNN interview with Peter Bergen and Peter Arnett, who asked him about his future plans.

“You’ll see and hear about them in the media, God willing,” Bin Laden responded. When I spoke with Bergen a few years back while researching a book on press freedom, he told me that as a journalist “once you came into bin Laden’s inner circle you never felt threatened. He did fairly active outreach with the media, and threatening journalists would have been counterproductive”.

As Lawrence Wright noted in The Looming Tower, his masterful history of Al Qaeda, “Publicity was the currency that bin Laden was spending, replacing his wealth with fame, and it repaid him with recruits and donations.”

Bin Laden’s approach to media relations may explain why he was upset with KSM following the Pearl murder, according to the findings of the Pearl Project, a masterful investigation into the crime carried out by journalism students at Georgetown under the guidance of former Journal reporter (and Pearl friend) Asra Nomani.

Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor for the Guantanamo Bay Military Commission, alleged in court documents that “Osama bin Laden was angry that KSM had slaughtered Pearl so publicly and brutally, arguing that the murder brought unnecessary attention on the network”.

“The murder sent a chill through so many journalists,” recalled Nomani. “It became open season on journalists in Pakistan and around the world.” Hundreds of journalists were kidnapped and killed by militants in the next two decades, mostly local reporters working in their own counties.

In Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Mali and elsewhere, kidnapping generated hundreds of millions of dollars in ransoms as well as videos used to gain publicity and recruits.

Al Qaeda, which was largely cut off from the traditional media following the Pearl murder, developed its own communication infrastructure that evolved as new technologies came online.

The group leaked video tapes to Al-Jazeera, and used a network of websites that published their press releases. The Pearl murder also created a new iconography.

The slickly produced snuff video as a media strategy reached its terrible apogee in Syria with the militant Islamic State group (IS). But the IS beheading videos, including those of James Foley and Steven Sotloff, were the direct descendants of the Pearl murder tape, and the process set in motion by Omar Saeed Sheikh in Pakistan.

For his role in the Pearl murder, Sheikh was sentenced to death. The punishment was never carried out, despite 18 years in custody. Meanwhile, KSM remains at Guantanamo. He has never been brought to justice for any of his terrible crimes.

The Sindh High Court, in ordering Sheikh’s release, determined that he was guilty only of kidnapping, which carries a sentence of seven years. “We were shocked, we did not expect this,” said Tamara Pearl, Danny’s sister. “The kidnapping clearly led to the murder.” Judea Pearl, Danny’s father, called the decision a “mockery of justice”.

Pakistan’s security services have long used their relationship with militants to apply pressure on India and as leverage in the proxy war in Afghanistan. The question now is whether, in the throes of a global pandemic, the media and the fractured international community can apply enough pressure on Pakistan to ensure that justice is not subverted.

What’s at stake is not only justice for Pearl, but the hundreds of journalists killed around the world by militants in the last two decades.

The writer is the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. The article was originally published in Columbia Journalism Review and is reprinted here with permission.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1548535/comment-daniel-pearls-murderers-cant-be-allowed-to-escape-justice

The News – Corona-virus lockdown: Woman SHO wounded as mob attacks police outside Karachi mosque

Karachi – Sindh – Pakistan, 10 April 2020. A woman SHO was injured on Friday after police came under attack while trying to stop people from praying in large numbers at a mosque in the city.

A video doing the rounds on social media features the Peerabad SHO, a woman police officer, who can be seen shouting at a large crowd of men exiting a mosque. “Record their video. They attacked me. They broke my glasses as well,” she can be seen shouting.

The incident took place in Peerabad, Orangi Town when police came under attack after attempting to stop a large number of people from offering prayers in a mosque over violation of Section 144. The police contingent came under attack when they were pelted with stones.

The situation was brought under control when an additional contingent of police and Rangers personnel arrived at the scene. SSP South spoke to Geo News and said that action will be taken against those who attacked the police contingent.

As the number of corona-virus cases continue to rise throughout Pakistan, the Sindh government has banned more than five persons [Imam, Muazzin and other management] from offering prayers in a mosque.

Police registered a case for violation of Section 144 and rioting against the mosque’s management and unidentified persons. Police said that so far, no arrests in relation to the case have been made.

A complete ban on the movement of people and activities from 12:00 midday till 15:30 for Fridays only has also been imposed by the provincial government in order to ensure that people do not assemble in mosques and spread the infection.

The Pakistan Ulema Council has urged the public to offer prayers inside their homes and heed the warnings as well as safety precautions being issued by the government.

While the number of coronavirus cases in Pakistan increased to over 4,700 on Friday, the worldwide number of officially confirmed cases of the virus now stands at 1.5 million.

More than 90,000 people have died and positive cases have been reported in 213 countries and territories since the epidemic first emerged in China in December. Of these cases, at least 253,000 are now considered recovered.

https://www.thenews.com.pk/latest/642364-coronavirus-lockdown-woman-sho-wounded-as-mob-attacks-police-outside-karachi-mosque

Dawn – ‘Coronavirus is dangerous, but hunger is more so’: Afghan refugees in Pakistan seek help

Anadolu Agency

Karachi – Sindh – Pakistan, 03 April 2020. Nestled on the northern outskirts of Karachi is a dusty, sprawling locality with limited access to healthcare and basic sanitation which is home to nearly 250,000 Afghan refugees who were forced from their country by a lingering conflict.

Piles of garbage, sewage gushing from choked gutters and unclean water, which often causes diarrhea and other waterborne diseases in children, have turned it into a distressingly impoverished neighbourhood even by Karachi’s standards.

It is commonly known as an Afghan Basti (town), where extended families jam into small mud and concrete houses and even in tarpaulin shelters, making social distancing impossible. In addition, a lack of water and sanitation products make this neglected neighbourhood a perfect breeding ground for contagion.

But the people here are more worried about food rather than the formidable novel corona-virus, which has already infected and killed hundreds of thousands across the globe.

Apart from the government, scores of local and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are trying to provide food and rations to the inhabitants of the impoverished localities in the country of over 200 million people, but these refugees are rarely a priority.

Karachi is home to more than 300,000 Afghan refugees, most of whom work as labourers or own small shops mainly in Pashtun-dominated areas. But a crippling lockdown that the government imposed late last month in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus, known as Covid-19, has left tens of thousands of refugees jobless.

“The coronavirus is dangerous, but hunger is more so. That’s what we are more worried about,” Haji Abdullah, a leader of Afghan refugees, told Anadolu Agency.

“If you ask about masks and sanitisers here, people will talk about food, which is their top need.”

There are around 2.8 million documented and undocumented Afghan refugees living in Pakistan, making it the largest refugee population in the world after the Syrians in Turkey.

Only around half of the refugees are registered, with the rest to live without documents, mostly in northeastern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and southwestern Balochistan provinces which border war-infested Afghanistan.

Southern Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital, also hosts 500,000 Afghan refugees.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 3.8 million refugees have been repatriated to Afghanistan since 2002, but many returned to Pakistan due to ongoing violence, unemployment and a lack of education and medical facilities.

Depression

“This lockdown is increasing depression among us, especially youths. Their work has already dried up, and rations are depleting. But neither the government nor the NGOs care about us,” said a visibly emotional Abdullah.

Rahamat Wali, an Afghan refugee who runs a grocery business in Peshawar shared a similar tale.

“The lockdown has badly affected our businesses. For the last nine days, our shops remained closed, causing not only financial damage but leaving thousands jobless,” Wali told Anadolu Agency.

He has sent several of his employees back to their homes located in different parts of Peshawar.

“We had no other option but to send them home. People like me can bear the brunt of the lockdown for a few weeks, but how would these poor people do that?”

Abdul Wahid Afkari, a fruit seller from Islamabad, is another hard-hit victim of the lockdown. “I sell fruits on a handcart at a fruit market in Rawalpindi. But for the last seven days, I have been at home as the market is closed,” said Afkari, a father of four.

“I buy and sell fruits the same day. I have a limited amount to run my business. If I continue to stay home for some more days, that money will be exhausted and I will have no resources to continue my business, which is my only source of income.”

“I request the government and the charities to remember us in this difficult time. Like other poor Pakistanis, we too need their help in this critical time when the whole city is closed and we have no other source to arrange food for our families,” he said.

No discrimination

The government has requested the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to contribute to rationing for the Afghan refugees, particularly those living in 52 shelter camps across the country.

“It is earnestly requested that keeping in view of our national policies and our commitment to Afghan refugees, the provisioning for essential rations/food supplies during the lockdown period be arranged on an urgent basis,” Shehryar Afridi, the state minister for border affairs, said in a letter to the UNHCR.

Shehryar, with the help of the Shahid Afridi Foundation, an NGO run by cricket star Shahid Afridi, is distributing rations among the Afghan refugees in different parts of the country.

“Pakistan is playing a role, but this is a gigantic challenge to provide food and rations to the refugees. It is high time for the UN and the prosperous world to come forward to meet the food and other requirements of Afghan refugees, whose majority is daily wagers,” the state minister told Anadolu Agency.

“Around 80 per cent of the world’s total refugees are being hosted by countries like Turkey, Pakistan, Iran and Bangladesh,” Shehryar noted. “Now it’s the duty of the prosperous First World to join hands with us to meet their basic requirements at this critical juncture.”

He said Prime Minister Imran Khan had directed the authorities concerned to come up with an exclusive relief package for the Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

Iain Hall, the UNHCR’s deputy representative in Pakistan, said the agency was in contact with all of the relevant ministries to provide assistance regarding health, water and sanitation and risk communication to the Afghan refugees in this trying time.

He acknowledged that the agency was not providing rations to the Afghan refugees but had dispatched medical supplies and sanitation products in support of refugees and host communities across the country.

“We are in constant contact with the government and doing whatever we can to support the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic,” Hall told Anadolu Agency. He said neither the government nor the agency had “prioritised” any section of Pakistani society to provide aid.

“All the people in Pakistani society, including the Afghan refugees, are equal to us. There is no discrimination either from our part or from the government,” he said, adding the agency had recently donated five ambulances to the KP government to support its fight against the coronavirus outbreak.

Abdullah, the refugees’ leader, however, accused the UNHCR and other international bodies of not taking the issue seriously.

“I personally contacted the UNHCR people in Islamabad, who said they are looking into the matter.”

“I asked [them] how long would they continue to just look into the matter. Until everything will be finished?”

https://www.dawn.com/news/1546105/coronavirus-is-dangerous-but-hunger-is-more-so-afghan-refugees-in-pakistan-seek-help

The News – Mufti Taqi Usmani urges people to follow government orders to limit religious gatherings

Karachi – Sindh – Pakistan, 27 March 2020. Renowned religious scholar Mufti Taqi Usmani on Friday urged people to respect the decision of the federal government to limit the number of people in congregational prayers at mosques around the country in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, reported Geo News.

In a message posted on social networking platform Twitter early on Friday morning, the religious scholar said that people should follow the directives of the government for Friday prayers and also try to follow them in their daily prayer routines.

“Where people pray, they must also pray to the Almighty to rid the world of the pandemic,” Mufti Usmani urged his fellow Muslims. The cleric further added that those not attending the Friday prayers should arrange to pray at their homes.

Saving lives must be top priority: Qadri

Religious scholar Tahirul Qadri on Friday also threw his weight behind the decision of the federal government to limit congregational prayers amid the spread of the coronavirus, affirming that the situation had turned into an emergency where saving lives must be the top priority.

“Coronavirus can be transmitted from one infected person to many other persons. The situation is now akin to war and when saving lives must be the top priority. The virus spread throughout the world because of travel and gatherings,” the cleric said in a statement on Friday morning.

“Religious traditions also convey that no one must enter an area where an epidemic is raging and nor leave it,” Qadri added. “Both directives actually mean save lives,” he noted. Anyone who dies from a plague will be considered a martyr, according to tradition, he said.

“The purpose of staying at home is to avoid religious and social gatherings,” Qadri maintained.

https://www.thenews.com.pk/latest/635339-mufti-taqi-usmani-urges-people-to-follow-government-orders-to-limit-religious-gatherings

The Express Tribune – Babri Mosque, Lahore Gurdwara: Legal parallels, different outcome

Anadolu Agency

Karachi – Sindh – Pakistan, 09 November 2019. As Indian Supreme Court on Saturday handed over the site of 16th century Babri Mosque to Hindus for the construction of a temple, the Sikh community in Pakistan feels that the verdict should have taken a queue from Lahore’s Shahid Ganj Gurdwara (Sikh place of worship) case.

The two cases bear striking resemblance in terms of claims and litigation.

They also termed the timing of the verdict “surprising”, as it coincided with the opening of Kartarpur border between India and Pakistan to facilitate Sikh pilgrims to visit their places of worship.

“The two sites (Babri Mosque and Shahid Ganj Gurdwara) share a close resemblance in terms of litigation, but not in terms of the outcome,” Sardar Ramesh Singh, the chairman of Pakistan Sikh Council, told Anadolu Agency.

Ramesh gave credit to the Muslim community for conserving Shahid Ganj Gurdwara and not converting it into a mosque after the creation of Pakistan.

“The land of Babri Mosque has been taken away from Muslim minority in India, whereas the Gurdwara of the minority Sikh community still stands at the same site in Muslim-majority Pakistan,” he said.

The history of the building known as Shahid Ganj Gurdwara, also called Bhai Taru Singh (a Sikh religious scholar) Gurdwara, has striking resemblance with the dispute of Babri Mosque, demolished by a frenzied Hindu mob on 06 December 1992 and now its site has been handed over to Hindus for the construction of a mandir.

Constructed by Kotwal (Chief Police Officer) of Lahore Abdullah Khan, during the reign of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in 1653, Shahid Ganj was a mosque till 1799, till the Sikh Army under Maharaja Ranjit Singh captured the city by defeating Afghans. They converted it into a gurdwara and barred entry of Muslims.

In 1849, when British took control of Lahore by defeating the Sikh Empire, Muslims pleaded for the return of the mosque and knocked the court. But the court using law of limitations, rejected the plea and questioned the delay of 51 years for claiming the mosque.

The London-based Privy Council, the highest court of appeal during British era also rejected Muslim claim on May 2, 1940.

Gurdwara protected by local Muslims

“Only a few Sikhs were left in the surroundings of Gurdwara, following the huge Sikh exodus in 1947. If the local community had insisted its conversion into mosque, nobody would have stopped them”, said Ramesh.

Sardar Charanjeet Singh, a Sikh community leader in Peshawar said India should learn from Pakistan in terms of protecting places of worship for minorities.

“Another Gurdwara was also re-opened in Peshawar five years ago, with the assistance of local Muslims”, Charanjeet, who also runs a facebook page “Peshawari Singh”, told Anadolu Agency.

He was referring to Gurdwara Baba Biba Singh, named after a 17th century Sikh religious scholar.

The Gurdawra had been closed following migration of Sikhs from Peshawar to India in 1947.

Currently, Peshawar hosts the largest population of Sikhs in Pakistan, who started settling down here from adjoining tribal areas and other parts of the country in 1960s for businesses and jobs.

The number of Sikhs in Pakistan is estimated between 30,000-40,000 out of some 200 million population of this South Asian Muslim country.

Apart from Peshawar, he said, two other Gurdwaras had recently been re-opened in Mandi Bahauddin and Gujrat districts of Punjab with the help of local Muslims.

Both Ramesh and Charanjeet termed timing of the verdict as “surprising” and “unfortunate”, when Sikhs were celebrating 550th anniversary of their founder Baba Guru Nanak and the opening of pilgrim corridor, along Kartarpur border between India and Pakistan.

“The judgment had been pending for over a long time. The Supreme Court could have waited a bit more. But it chose to announce the verdict on this occasion, which could have been taken as a point for inter-communal harmony in both countries,” he said.

https://tribune.com.pk/story/2096739/1-babri-mosque-lahore-gurdwara-legal-parallels-different-outcome/