Arabic, a popular language not spoken in Pakistan

“Arabic is the language of heaven,” said 21-year-old Zohina Shabbir when asked what compelled her to learn the language. Picture taken at NUML University’s Arabic department on September 19, 2019. (AN photo by Sana Jamal)
Updated 22 September 2019

Arabic, a popular language not spoken in Pakistan

  • Experts say Arabic can further strengthen people-to-people contact between Pakistan and the Middle East
  • NUML has done several seminars, cultural activities in collaboration with the Saudi embassy to promote the language

ISLAMABAD: Arabic is deeply revered in Pakistan for its religious significance, though it is not spoken or understood in the country. However, a bunch of students can be seen at the Department of Arabic at the National University of Modern Languages (NUML) who are passionately devoting their time and energy to master the subject.
“Arabic is the language of heaven,” 21-year-old Zohina Shabbir said while explaining what compelled her to learn the language. “The Qur’an was revealed in this language, making it extremely special for us.”
Shabbir also described Arabic as a “very comprehensive and interesting” medium of communication.

The Department of Arabic at National University of Modern Languages in Islamabad was established in 1973. One of the oldest language facilities in the country, it offers multiple programs ranging from 6-month short courses to doctorate in Arabic. Picture taken on September 19, 2019. (AN Photo by Sana Jamal)

It is not surprising that it has traditionally been learned to fulfill one’s religious obligations in Pakistan. A large number of educated Pakistani can read Arabic since their national language, Urdu, uses the same script.
While Shabbir and some of her friends are learning the language to improve their understanding of Islam, many among the 180 students enrolled in the department are doing it to secure better employment opportunities.
“Most of them become Arabic teachers after completing their course or degree,” informed Dr. Kafait Ullah Hamdani, head of the Arabic language department at NUML. “Some of our students have found jobs at foreign missions. Others are working as interpreters or white-collar workers in the Middle East.”

Dr Kafait Ullah Hamdani, head of Arabic language department at NUML, calls for educational and cultural exchange programs between NUML and the Arab world. Such programs were halted after 9/11. Picture taken on September 19, 2019. (AN Photo by Sana Jamal)

Established in 1973, NUML’s Arabic department is one of the oldest that offers multiple programs that range from 6-month short courses to doctorate in Arabic.
“It is a matter of great pride for us that our armed forces personnel serving in the Arab world have completed their language courses from NUML,” he said. Most of what is taught at the department is standard Arabic, also known as Fusha.
Besides NUML and International Islamic University (IIUI), there are a number of institutions, such as the Multan-based Wifaq Ul Madaris Al Arabia that enrolled about 377,575 students in 2019.
In recent years, NUML’s Arabic department has also witnessed an interesting trend.
“Almost 70 percent of students currently enrolled in the master’s program are Chinese,” said Dr. Kafait.
He believes this owes to the $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that promises to change the region’s economic geography and may give Beijing direct access to Middle Eastern markets.

Dr Abu Bakar Bhutta, assistant professor at NUML, says the Arabic department lacks opportunities and incentives for students and teachers that are available to university departments. (AN Photo by Sana Jamal)

“This trend is an example for Pakistanis how should understand how language proficiency in Arabic can enhance our trade and business ties with the Arab world,” he added. “The importance of Arabic, which is spoken by roughly 400 million people, is also growing due to the rising economic and political importance of the Gulf region.”
Almost a block away from the department, however, one can see Chinese, Korean and German language centers that are abuzz with students. Compared to them, the Arabic section looks rather quiet.
According to one faculty member, this can be explained on the basis of people’s passion to go to Europe or China for better employment opportunities. Besides, there are better scholarship facilities available for students proficient at those languages.
“This is something the Arabic department is missing. To stimulate interest, the government should create better opportunities and incentives for both students and teachers,” said Dr. Abu Bakar, who has been teaching at the facility for the last 19 years.

Most students at NUML’s Arabic department say they are learning the language for better employment opportunities. However, there are several others who are learning it for better understanding of religion. (AN photo by Sana Jamal)

Another key factor for declining admissions in the department, he added, was the compulsion of language certificate by some countries, such as South Korea. Arab states, he noted, did not have such requirements.
“Basic Arabic skills that can be covered in a month would benefit both Pakistani job seekers and Middle Eastern companies,” he said.
NUML has conducted seminars and arranged cultural activities in collaboration with the Saudi embassy since 2016. “One of the most fruitful of these activities was a teacher training program in 2018 which was conducted by professors from Saudi Arabia and Egypt,” Dr. Abu Bakar said, adding that such exchange programs, which came to a halt after September 11, 2001, were quite helpful in promoting the language.

'No food left in the sea': Pakistani fishermen fearful as Chinese trawlers dock at Karachi port 

Updated 19 October 2020

'No food left in the sea': Pakistani fishermen fearful as Chinese trawlers dock at Karachi port 

  • Fisherfolk forum says government plan to allow Chinese to carry out deep-sea fishing in territorial waters could render millions jobless 
  • Federal government says bottom trawling will not be allowed under new fishing policy

KARACHI: A pressure group that represents Pakistani fishermen has said a government plan to allow Chinese companies to carry out deep-sea fishing in the country’s territorial waters could threaten the survival of at least three million people who depend on the sea for livelihood.
Last month, 12 Chinese deep-sea trawlers docked at the port of Karachi, unleashing fear among local fishermen who say commercial fishing vessels and bottom-trawling would deplete fish stocks in the exclusive federal sea zones off the Sindh and Balochistan provinces. 
Bottom trawling - dragging nets across the sea floor to scoop up fish - stirs up the sediment lying on the seabed, displaces or harms some marine species, causes pollutants to mix into plankton and move into the food chain and creates harmful algae blooms or oxygen-deficient dead zones.
The coastal line of Sindh and Balochistan is 1,050 km long, Mohammad Ali Shah, Chairman Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, told Arab News last week, saying around three million fishermen relied on the sea to survive. 
A new fishing policy is expected but yet to be revealed by the government, he said. 
“The deep-sea trawler policy has not yet been approved but before that they [China] have brought these trawlers,” Shah said, calling the arrival of the Chinese vessels at Karachi port last month ‘illegal.’ 

In this undated photo, fishing vessels of Fujian Fishery Company move from the Gwadar port towards Karachi, Pakistan (Photo courtesy: Fishermen Cooperatives Society)

In 2018, the government enacted a deep-sea fishing licensing policy that both fishermen's representative bodies and provincial government bodies opposed, calling it a constitutional violation and an encroachment on the livelihoods of fishermen in the coastal provinces.
Fears about foreign fishing companies eating up local communities are not new.
For years, fishermen in the southwestern city of Gwadar in Balochistan province - a flagship of the $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor - have protested against foreign trawlers. 
Tensions first began to mount when the Fisheries Department disclosed its plan to issue licenses to various foreign fishing vessels to operate in an exclusive economic zone in 2016.
But last week, the federal minister for maritime affairs, Ali Haider Zaidi, told Arab News the country’s new deep-sea fishing policy would not allow Chinese trawlers to engage in unregulated deep-sea fishing. Bottom trawling, he said, would be banned under the new policy.
“Importing boats is not illegal,” he said. “How you use them has to be regulated.”
Pakistan divides its sea into three zones, where zone-3 (from 20 to 200 nautical miles) is controlled by the federal government. Up to 12 nautical miles (zone-1) is the domain of the provinces Sindh and Balochistan and between 12 to 20 nautical miles the sea is declared a buffer zone. 

Fishermen remove fish from a net at the Clifton beach in Pakistan's port city of Karachi on Oct. 6, 2020. (AFP/File)

Local fishermen are not allowed to fish in zone-3 and foreign fishing vessels are not permitted to fish in the other two zones under the existing policy.
The Fishermen's Cooperative Society (FCS), which issued the permit to the Chinese trawlers, said the Chinese fishing vessels would not use the destructive bottom trawling method and instead help ‘upgrade’ Pakistan’s fishing industry and export.
Official figures put the annual value of Pakistan’s fish exports at roughly $450 million.
“Bringing Chinese trawlers for deep sea fishing is in line with the government’s deep-sea fishing policy and aimed at upgrading and modernizing fishing, besides providing job opportunities to local fishermen,” Abdul Berr, Chairman of the Fishermen's Cooperative Society, told Arab News.
“Around 3,500 fishermen will get employment opportunities with the arrival of the world’s latest fishing boats and modern small boats,” Berr said. 
He added: “First, 70 percent of the staff at trawlers and processing facilities will be local. There will be no fishing in provincial territorial waters. The trawlers will bring all their catch to Karachi where it will be processed in factories and then exported.”
Small local fishermen would receive modern fiber boats on ‘easy instalments,’ Berr said, a step towards replacing their obsolete boats.
But Sindh’s minister for livestock and fisheries, Abdul Bari Pitafi, said the mega fishing ships would wipe out sea-life, even if they were only operating in the federal government’s zone-3.
“We will...also oppose its [trawlers’] operations in zone-3 because they will just wipe out sea-life including the fish’s seed,” Pitafi told Arab News.
In 2016, a survey carried out by the Food and Agriculture Organisation revealed that more than 72 percent of the fish stock in Pakistan’s coastal areas had already declined.
“One trawler does a catch that is equal to a catch by 100 of our fishing boats,” Younus Khaskheli, a fisherman, said. “And their fishing net is the most dangerous one, because it hunts thousands of tons of fish.” 
Tens of thousands of fishing boats are registered in Pakistan, he said, with fishermen from Sindh, Balochistan, Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and even Bangladesh fishing in these waters.
“Our sea stock will end; the country will lose the income of billions and our fishermen will become jobless,” Khaskheli said. “There won’t be any food left in the sea.”