Mini-Gulf: In Pakistani desert district, quarter of residents work in Middle East

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The exterior view of a travel agency located in Johi town in Sindh’s Kachho Desert, Pakistan. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)
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A farmer poses at a tube well installed at an agricultural field near the Wahi Pandhi area of Sindh’s Kachho Desert, Pakistan. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)
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Sanaullah Lashari, who returned from Saudi Arabia after working for six years, poses next to a water treatment plant, located in Kachho Desert’s Wahi Pandhi area in Sindh, Pakistan. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)
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A herdsman walks with camels near the Wahi Pandhi area of Sindh’s Kachho Desert, Pakistan. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)
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Updated 17 October 2020

Mini-Gulf: In Pakistani desert district, quarter of residents work in Middle East

  • People from Johi district started moving to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries in the 1970s after the Middle East oil job market boomed
  • Every household in the impoverished region has one or two family members living and working in Gulf countries, locals say

JOHI: One-fourth of the population of a remote desert district in southern Pakistan lives and works in Saudi Arabia or the UAE, throwing a lifeline to the inhabitants of the barren land and earning it the moniker of the “Mini-Gulf.”

Like other areas surrounding the vast Kachho Desert, Johi in Dadu district relies on rainwater for agriculture. But rains are rare and long spells of drought have often pushed local communities into hunger. Change, they say, came in the 1970s with a boom in the Middle East oil job market.

“Out of Johi subdistrict’s total estimated population of 300,000, there are around 60,000 to 80,000 people in the Gulf,” said Shahmeer Gadehi, who worked in the UAE for two decades and now manages a travel agency that specializes in sending people to the Middle East.

“It is the local-expat population ratio that has made Kachho’s Johi region earn the ‘Mini-Gulf’ title by the public,” he said.

Every household in the region, Gadehi said, had one or two family members living and working in Gulf countries.

The travel agent’s business, located near Jeddah Bazaar in Johi, has quickly picked up since Saudi Arabia relaxed coronavirus-related travel restrictions last month, and he has sent 400 workers to the Middle East since. Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, Gadehi said that he would send 50-60 workers abroad a day.

Most laborers from Johi who travel with Gadehi’s company go to Saudi Arabia, currently home to more than 3 million Pakistani expats.

One of them, a driver called Altaf Gadehi, said that he had secured a work visa and would be leaving for the Kingdom this week.

“At home, my earnings from driving are not enough to make ends meet,” said the 30-year-old, who supports his family and siblings.

“I have decided to try my luck at Saudi Arabia like many other people from the area.”

Many, such as Shaukat Ali Gedehi, also opt to move to the UAE.

After reaching Dubai, I will hunt for a job, taking the help of my Johi family and friends already present there.

Shaukat Ali Gadehi

“As visas are open now, many of my Johi friends have already reached Dubai again after a break,” said Gedehi, who worked in Dubai as a caretaker of racing camels before he lost his job to the coronavirus outbreak.

He said that he was sure he would find a new job in Dubai with the help of his “Mini-Gulf” community there.

“After reaching Dubai I will hunt for a job, taking the help of my Johi family and friends already present there,” Gedehi said.

Indeed, helping the community back home is a common story for Johi locals.

Haji Beero, 70, traveled to Saudi Arabia by ship in the early 1970s on an Umrah pilgrimage visa, which he later converted into a work visa.

He did odd jobs, and even worked as a watchman, but once he was settled he and 60 others from Johi helped others from their hometown to find work abroad.

“Lack of water and prolonged droughts brought joblessness  .... our agriculture sector was not flourishing. It brought extreme poverty,” Beero said.

“I used my reference to bring around 2,800 Johi locals to Saudi Arabia for jobs.”

There are also those who have returned home after years of working in the Gulf, wanting to give back to their parched hometown.

Sanaullah Lashari spent six years working as a driver in Jeddah and is now back in Johi where he oversees a government-owned groundwater pump in Peer Baksh Lashari village, which he says that he repaired using his own savings and donations from other locals.

“The government is not giving any help in this regard so we have to manage ourselves,” said Lashari, standing next to the pump wearing a traditional Saudi thobe.

“When I returned from Saudi Arabia, I saw the plant was dysfunctional. I spent 80,000 rupees from my remittance savings and collected money from other people in the area to make this pump run.”

 

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Two accomplices in Kenya’s Westgate attack jailed for 33 and 18 years

Updated 30 October 2020

Two accomplices in Kenya’s Westgate attack jailed for 33 and 18 years

  • Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hassan Hussein Mustafa, both 31, were found guilty on October 7 of conspiring with and supporting the four assailants
  • The convicted men were in regular contact with the attackers who at midday on September 21, 2013, stormed the upscale Westgate mall in the Kenyan capital

NAIROBI: A Kenyan court Friday handed prison terms of 33 and 18 years respectively to two men accused of conspiring with the Al-Shabab extremists who attacked Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall in 2013, killing 67 people.

Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hassan Hussein Mustafa, both 31, were found guilty on October 7 of conspiring with and supporting the four assailants from the Somalia-based extremist group who died in what was then Kenya’s worst terrorist attack in 15 years.

The accused asked the judge for leniency, saying they had already served seven years behind bars and had family to care for.

“Despite mitigation by their defense lawyers on their innocence, the offense committed was serious, devastating, destructive, that called for a punishment by the court,” Chief Magistrate Francis Andayi told a Nairobi courtroom.

He sentenced the men to 18 years for conspiracy and 18 for supporting extremists, but ordered they serve both terms together. Abdi was also given an additional 15 years for two counts of possessing extremist propaganda material on his laptop.

He will serve 26 years and Mustafa 11, taking into account their pre-trial detention.

The convicted men were in regular contact with the attackers who at midday on September 21, 2013, stormed the upscale Westgate mall in the Kenyan capital and began throwing grenades and firing indiscriminately on shoppers and business owners.

A four-day siege ensued — much of it broadcast live on television — during which Kenyan security forces tried to flush out the gunmen and take back the high-end retail complex.

Although there was no specific evidence Abdi and Mustafa had provided material help, the court was satisfied their communication with the attackers amounted to supporting the armed rampage, and justified the guilty verdict for conspiracy.

The marathon trial began in January 2014. A third accused was acquitted of all charges.
The Westgate attack was claimed by Al-Shabab in retaliation for Kenya intervening military over the border in Somalia, where the extremist group was waging a bloody insurgency against the fragile central government.

Kenya is a major contributor of troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which in 2011 drove Al-Shabab out of Mogadishu and other urban strongholds after a months-long offensive.

In a car the attackers drove to Westgate, police found evidence of newly-activated SIM cards used by the gunmen. Their communications were traced, including calls to Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hassan Hussein Mustafa.

A fourth defendant, Adan Mohammed Abdikadir, was acquitted in early 2019 for lack of evidence.

The Westgate attack was the deadliest incident of violent extremism on Kenyan soil since the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, which killed 213 people.

But since the assault on the shopping complex, Al-Shabab has perpetrated further atrocities in Kenya against civilian targets.

In April 2015, gunmen entered Garissa University and killed 148 people, almost all of them students. Many were shot point blank after being identified as Christians.

In January 2019, the militants struck Nairobi again, hitting the Dusit Hotel and surrounding offices and killing 21 people.

Al-Shabab warned in a January statement that Kenya “will never be safe” as long as its troops were stationed in Somalia, and threatened further attacks on tourists and US interests.

That same month, Al-Shabab attacked a US military base in northeast Kenya in a cross-border raid, killing three Americans and destroying a number of aircraft.