Destiny by design: COVID-19 a ‘blessing in disguise’ for Pakistani truck artist

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Siyar Khan's ornamental work on lanterns, kettles and teacups is on display at his workshop in Sarband on the outskirts of Peshawar. (AN photo)
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Siyar Khan at his shop in Sarband on the outskirts of Peshawar. (AN photo)
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Updated 19 October 2020

Destiny by design: COVID-19 a ‘blessing in disguise’ for Pakistani truck artist

  • Forced out of work by pandemic, Siyar Khan says one of his life-changing orders came from the house of Peshawar commander, which he was asked to decorate with truck-art motifs

PESHAWAR: A truck artist from northwestern Pakistan, who was put out of business after the coronavirus disease outbreak, has seen his prospects change with a little bit of artistic innovation.

For 25 years, Siyar Khan was one of many artisans painting the traditional bright trucks that add color and humor to Pakistani roads.

But when the pandemic came, and virus-related restrictions ensued, small workshops like his were forced to shut down — and Khan was forced to look beyond the canvas of trucks. 

“Coronavirus almost ruined my small earnings when the truck stands closed,” Khan told Arab News at his small shop in Sarband, on the outskirts of Peshawar.

“During that very hard time, one day, I painted teacups, a kettle and also children’s shoes and posted on social media. I got immense response and orders.”

One of the orders came from the home of the Peshawar Corps’ commander, where Khan was asked to decorate the walls of a guest hall with truck-art motifs.

Recently, the artist completed an assignment at Peshawar’s Pearl Continental Hotel, and is now receiving requests to decorate other properties.

Middlemen have also started to approach Khan for projects in Islamabad and Lahore.

“I recently painted a rickshaw for an American restaurant and a motorcycle for a German diplomat, a bicycle for another customer and dozens of kettles. More orders are pending” he said.

“I can paint each and everything that exists in this world.”

Khan learnt the traditional craft when he quit school after the seventh grade, and his uncle brought him to a truck artist’s store on Peshawar’s Ring Road.

“For nine years, I was an apprentice with the truck artist, and then, with his permission, I began my own truck art profession in a small shop,” he said.

“For years, I was earning a meagre amount, and I would paint a truck every two or three days.”

For each truck, Khan used to earn about 4,000 rupees ($25). But with his new projects, he said, he can make up to 10,000 rupees in a single day, which allows him to pay for his children’s school.

For Khan, the pandemic came as a blessing in disguise.

“It was an opportunity in the toughest challenge. I coped successfully, and now I am very happy ... and also very busy.”

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Afghan security forces confirm killing of top Al-Qaeda leader

Updated 26 October 2020

Afghan security forces confirm killing of top Al-Qaeda leader

  • Egyptian national Abu Muhsin Al-Masri was on the US most wanted terrorists list
  • Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) said he was killed in a special operation in Ghazni province

KABUL: Afghan security forces have confirmed the killing of a senior Al-Qaeda leader in Ghazni province, eastern Afghanistan, prompting the country's president to accuse the Taliban of having links with the terrorist network.

Egyptian national Abu Muhsin Al-Masri, alias Husam Abd-al-Ra’uf, was on the US list of most wanted terrorists. The US issued a warrant for his arrest in December 2018.

Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) in a tweet late on Saturday said that Al-Masri was killed “in a special national security operation.”

Following the announcement, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani accused the Taliban of having links with the terrorist group.

"The killing of this significant leader of Al-Qaeda's terroristic network proves that there is still the threat of terrorism and Taliban have ties with terrorists," he said on Sunday afternoon.

According to NDS sources in Kabul and Ghazni, he was one of the most senior leaders of Al-Qaeda.

“Al-Masri was one of the most senior Al-Qaeda authorities and was a financial and logistical facilitator of the network and had meaningful ties with Taliban,” the source in Kabul said on condition of anonymity.

He added that an Afghan affiliate of Al-Masri was arrested during the raid.

An NDS officer in Ghazni said that Al-Masri was killed in Andar district, where scores of foreign militants have settled in recent years and have been “protected by the Taliban.”

The Taliban deny the claim.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Arab News that Al-Qaeda has had “no ties with the Taliban” since the historic US-Taliban peace accord in late February. In accordance with the deal, the Taliban pledged to sever ties with foreign militants and deter them from using territories under the group’s control.

The US invaded Afghanistan and in late 2001 ousted the Taliban government, which refused to hand over Al-Qaeda leaders accused of being behind the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 that killed 3,000 Americans.

The terrorist network has been decimated over the years, but US officials believe its fighters are still operating in Afghanistan and some have deep ties with the Taliban.

Al-Masri’s reported killing comes a year after the NDS announced that in a joint raid with US troops it had killed Asim Omar, the leader of Al-Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent. Omar was reportedly killed in southern Helmand province — a Taliban stronghold.

A former Afghan spy master, Rahumatullah Nabil, in a tweet said that Al-Masri and some other members of Al-Qaeda were frequently traveling between Ghazni and other parts of Afghanistan and a tribal region in Pakistan’s north in recent months.

The head of the US National Counter-Terrorism Center, Chris Miller, confirmed Al-Masri’s death in a statement, saying that his “removal” was “a major setback to a terrorist organization that is consistently experiencing strategic losses facilitated by the United States and its partners.”

According to Afghan analysts, however, a replacement for Al-Masri will soon be found within the terrorist group’s ranks.

“The killing will have some impact on the network’s activities and the war in Afghanistan, but not a drastic one as new leaders will jump up to fill the gap,” security analyst Ahmad Saeedi told Arab News.

The development comes as an uptick in deadly violence has been observed in Afghanistan despite ongoing talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar to yield a lasting peace and end decades of conflict in the war-torn country. 

At least 20 people were killed at an educational center Kabul on Saturday, hours after a roadside bomb killed nine civilians east of Kabul. Officials blamed the Taliban for the roadside attack.