Pakistani man completes 50-day motorbike ride to realize ‘dream,’ perform Umrah

Pakistani man completes 50-day motorbike ride to realize ‘dream,’ perform Umrah
Pakistani biker and vlogger Abrar Hassan performs Umrah at the Grand Mosque in Makkah, Saudi Arabia, on April 6, 2022. (Abrar Hassan)
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Updated 18 May 2022

Pakistani man completes 50-day motorbike ride to realize ‘dream,’ perform Umrah

Pakistani man completes 50-day motorbike ride to realize ‘dream,’ perform Umrah
  • Biker, vlogger Abrar Hassan has traveled to over 80 countries, 13 on his motorcycle
  • “Warm welcome” received in Makkah, Madinah compelled him to explore other Saudi cities

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani biker and vlogger Abrar Hassan had already traveled to more than 80 countries, at least 12 of them on his motorcycle, by the time he decided this year it was time to pursue possibly his greatest dream — a bike ride to Saudi Arabia to perform the Umrah pilgrimage.

On Feb. 9, Hassan set out from his hometown of Nankana Sahib in Pakistan’s Punjab province, embarking on a journey that entailed crossing three continents and riding for 50 days before he arrived in Madinah on March 27. From there, he went to Makkah, Islam’s holiest city, and performed Umrah.

Pakistani biker and vlogger Abrar Hassan visits the Prophet's Mosque in Madinah, Saudi Arabia, on April 5, 2022. (Abrar Hassan)

“It was always my dream (to travel to Saudi Arabia on a motorbike) and it came true this year,” Hassan, a mechanical engineer with a German automotive company, told Arab News in video messages from Madinah.

“There are probably some feelings you can’t describe in words ... So, everything has been surreal for me, and I absolutely loved every single moment of it.”

Hassan, who has loved adventure and photography since he was a child, said it was an “amazing experience” to cross multiple borders and meet so many people along the way. But he pointed out that the special blessing was to arrive in Madinah just a few days before the beginning of the fasting month of Ramadan and keep the first fast of the year there.

Pakistani biker and vlogger Abrar Hassan visits Wadi Al-Baida in Madinah, Saudi Arabia, on May 10, 2022. (Abrar Hassan) 

And he thanked the people of Saudi Arabia for the “warm welcome” given to him and the love he had received. He noted that one memorable experience had taken place soon after he entered the Kingdom and involved a group of women selling tea.

“When they came to know that I was traveling on a motorcycle from Pakistan to perform Umrah, they didn’t take any money from me and said, ‘you are our guest,’” he said.

Pakistani biker and vlogger Abrar Hassan passes through the Iraqi city of Uruk on his way to Makkah, Saudi Arabia, on March 11, 2022. (Abrar Hassan)

A video of Hassan’s interaction with the women went viral on the internet and gained him fame in the country. “Whenever I go out with my motorcycle ... the support and love I am receiving right now is just incredible,” he added.

The affection compelled Hassan to extend his stay in the Kingdom and explore other cities.

“I have visited Riyadh, Madinah, and Makkah so far, but in the next few days I am starting my travel to different cities of Saudi Arabia,” he said. “I am going to Jeddah, Abha, Al-Bahah, Jazan, and AlUla near the Jordan border.”

At least 50 killed in twin transport mishaps in Pakistan 

At least 50 killed in twin transport mishaps in Pakistan 
Updated 11 sec ago

At least 50 killed in twin transport mishaps in Pakistan 

At least 50 killed in twin transport mishaps in Pakistan 
  • A passenger bus fell into a ravine and caught fire in Balochistan’s Bela area, killing at least 40 people 
  • In second mishap, 10 children were killed after their ferry capsized in country’s northwest on Sunday 

KARACHI: At least 50 people were killed in two separate transport tragedies in Pakistan on Sunday, officials said, renewing a debate about poor transport safety protocols in the South Asian country.  

In the first incident, a passenger bus fell into a ravine and later caught fire in the Bela area of Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province, where road accidents claim thousands of lives annually.   

Balochistan, a mountainous, desert region bordering Afghanistan and Iran, is Pakistan’s largest but most impoverished province, with a staggering 40,000-km network of road infrastructure.   

According to the motorway police, 6,000 to 8,000 people die each year in accidents across the Balochistan province, mainly on single-lane roads that have infamously come to be known as “killer highways.”   

“A bus going from Quetta to Karachi plunged into a ravine and caught fire at around 3 a.m.,” Hamza Anjum Nadeem, the Bela assistant commissioner, told Arab News. “At least 39 bodies have been recovered and a search for others is underway.”  

Anjum later confirmed the death of another passenger, taking the count to 40. Of these, 38 dead bodies were being moved to the southern port city of Karachi, 177 km away from Bela, for medico-legal formalities, Karachi Police Surgeon Dr. Summaiya Syed told Arab News.  

Balochistan is the epicenter of the $64 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a road and infrastructure development plan, which aims to ultimately provide the shortest route for Chinese cargo headed for the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia. 

Major roads are slated for construction under the CPEC, including the road from Balochistan’s Khuzdar district to the Chinese-funded, deep-water port of Gwadar. But for now, the absence of dual carriageways, inadequate training of drivers, and a lack of highway patrols mean thousands continue to die on these roads each year. In another incident, 10 children died when their boat capsized in Tanda Dam lake near Kohat in the country’s northwest, according to police.  

All of the dead recovered so far were aged between 7 and 14 years, local police official Mir Rauf told the AFP news agency. Rauf said 11 children had been rescued from the water, with six in critical condition. The boat was carrying between 25 and 30 students on a day trip from a local madrassa when it overturned.  

“A rescue operation is underway,” Rauf said. Mass drownings are common in Pakistan when aged and overloaded vessels lose their stability and pitch passengers into the water. In July, 18 women drowned when an overcrowded boat carrying a wedding party across the Indus river in Punjab province capsized.  

The South Asian country also has poor road safety controls, and thousands of lives are lost to road crashes each year, particularly in the southwestern Balochistan province.  

According to the National Road Safety Strategy 2018-2030, a report administered by the Asian Development Bank that cited police data, 6,548 people died at the scene of an accident on Pakistan’s roads in 2016. Of these, 355 fatalities happened on national highways and 6,003 on provincial roads.  

At least seven people were killed and 15 others were injured after a passenger bus collided with a truck in Balochistan’s Killa Saifullah district this month. In June last year, 22 people were killed when a passenger bus veered off a narrow road and fell into a ravine in the same district.

Taliban raise concerns over ‘problems’ faced by Afghan refugees in Iran 

Taliban raise concerns over ‘problems’ faced by Afghan refugees in Iran 
Updated 45 min 56 sec ago

Taliban raise concerns over ‘problems’ faced by Afghan refugees in Iran 

Taliban raise concerns over ‘problems’ faced by Afghan refugees in Iran 
  • About 3 million Afghans are living in Iran, most of whom are undocumented 
  • Afghan refugees in Iran face many hardships, including abuse by Iranian authorities 

KABUL: The Taliban administration has raised concerns with Tehran over difficulties faced by Afghan refugees in Iran, an official said on Sunday, as reports of mistreatment continue to emerge from the neighboring country.

Iran has for decades hosted millions of Afghans fleeing armed conflict in their country.

Nearly 600,000 Afghan passport holders live in Iran and about 780,000 are registered as refugees, according to 2022 data from UN High Commissioner for Refugees, while 2.1 million Afghans remain undocumented.

The number of Afghans crossing into their western neighbor has increased since 2021, when the Taliban took control of the country and international sanctions slapped on their administration shattered the economy. Many have since been forcibly expelled back to Afghanistan, and reports of their abuse at the hands of Iranian security forces have been on the rise.

This month, videos circulated on social media shed new light on the ordeal faced by Afghan refugees in Iran. At least one clip showed topless Afghan men chained together and kneeling on the sand, crying and pleading as they are whipped with a belt. Other footage has emerged since last year, with reports of abuse not only by the Iranian police but also by criminal gangs and human traffickers.

“There is no doubt that Afghans have faced a number of problems in neighboring Iran,” Abdul Mutalib Haqqani, spokesman for the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation, told Arab News on Sunday.

“We have talked to Iranian officials…and shared such concerns and problems of Afghans with them,” Haqqani added. “One of the problems is that a big number of Afghans have been forcibly expelled from Iran.”

Iranian security forces have “unlawfully killed” at least 11 Afghans, according to a report by Amnesty International published last August, which also documented the forced returns and torture of Afghans.

Last April, viral footage showing the mistreatment of Afghan refugees in Iran prompted a wave of protests targeting Iranian diplomatic missions in Kabul and Herat.

Those reports, however, have not deterred Afghans from seeking a better life in Iran, said social activist Dr. Azad, who is based in the western province of Herat.

“About 80 percent of Herat residents have been living in poverty and economic problems,” he told Arab News. “Almost one member of each family from Herat province is traveling to neighboring Iran to find work until they can provide food for their family.

“Those who have passports and those without any documents have all had to face different problems with the Iranian authorities.”

But problems faced by Afghan refugees in Iran are multifaceted and do not always directly involve Iranian officials, said Attaullah Khogyani, an Afghan activist based in Tehran.

“Afghan refugees have a lot of problems in Iran. Sometimes they are arrested and beaten very badly, and after the arrest, they are forcibly expelled to Afghanistan,” Khogyani, whose work focuses on refugee rights, told Arab News in a phone interview.

“There are some groups who abduct Afghans and then ask them to pay money, taking away their passports and other legal documents too,” he added.

“Our neighbors are not treating us well at all and haven’t given us support or help,” he said. “Afghans are suffering a lot now.” 

First Palestinian American to win Illinois state seat sworn into office

Cook County commissioners Frank Aguilar and Donna Miller, State Rep. Abdelnasser Rashid, and Samantha Steele. (AN photo)
Cook County commissioners Frank Aguilar and Donna Miller, State Rep. Abdelnasser Rashid, and Samantha Steele. (AN photo)
Updated 29 January 2023

First Palestinian American to win Illinois state seat sworn into office

Cook County commissioners Frank Aguilar and Donna Miller, State Rep. Abdelnasser Rashid, and Samantha Steele. (AN photo)
  • Abdelnasser Rashid seeks social, economic aid for all citizens
  • Vows to tackle Israeli military, US police brutality and killings

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS: Abdelnasser Rashid, the first Palestinian American to win a seat in the Illinois General Assembly, was sworn into office Saturday before a gathering of prominent state and local officials, and Arab American community leaders.

After taking the oath, Rashid demanded justice for “innocent victims of violence everywhere.” This includes Palestinian civilians being targeted by the Israeli military, and also African Americans like Tyre Nichols who died three days after being beaten by police during a routine traffic stop in Memphis on Jan. 7.

Rashid said the rights of Palestinians and African Americans were just as important as the issues that every US citizen faces including improved education for their children, more jobs, a stronger economy, and support for their families.

“I am honored to be the first Palestinian to be elected to the Illinois General Assembly along with my sister, Nabeela Syed. Let’s (give) her a round of applause,” said Rashid who represents the 21st State House District. Syed, a Muslim, was also elected with Rashid in the Nov. 4 General Election and represents the north suburban 51st State Legislative district.

“We recognize the high stakes of the moment that we are in. I had planned to give a celebratory speech that was focused almost exclusively on the progress we are making. But to be honest I couldn’t only speak about progress after seeing the video of Tyre Nichols being brutally murdered by five officers in Memphis Tennessee. A video that reminds us of just how much we still have to do. And videos from Gaza and the West Bank where Palestinians continue to suffer under brutal Israeli occupation.”

Rashid said these issues of African American and Palestinian rights were just as important as the nation’s broken healthcare system and the region’s housing crisis, and he demanded that “we build durable coalitions to fight for justice and equity” for everyone.

A Democrat, Rashid’s district includes parts of the state’s growing Palestinian American population based in the southwest suburbs of Chicago including in Bridgeview and Burbank.

Several prominent elected officials attended the swearing-in citing Rashid’s election as proof that the system can change and become more representative.

Among those speakers was US Senator Dick Durbin, who during his term in office hired several Palestinian and Arab American staff members, including Reema Dodin who served as his deputy chief of staff in Washington D.C.

Dodin was tapped by President Joe Biden to serve as deputy director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs, the highest-ranking position to be held by a Palestinian American. Dodin’s parents immigrated to America from Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Newly elected Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias, whose former election campaign manager Palestinian American political consultant Hanah Jubeh is now the deputy secretary of state, praised Rashid as a symbol of the openness and inclusion that Illinois embraces.

“This community should be very, very proud of what Abdelnasser Rashid has accomplished ... the first Palestinian American and one of only two Muslims in the history of the General Assembly in the State of Illinois,” said Giannoulias, whose office is considered to be more powerful than that of the state governor.

“You represent the next generation, Abdelnasser. The people who came to this country with nothing. Who worked hard. Who were

discriminated against. Who made sacrifices and had challenges we couldn’t even fathom, are looking at you now as the reason why they came to this country and the reason why they made those sacrifices. They can point to you and say he is one of us. If he can do it, we can do it.”

Rashid defeated 14-year incumbent Democrat Michael Zalewski. Observers said Rashid’s success represents the growing influence of the Palestinian and Muslim American vote in the southwest suburbs of Chicagoland.

Trump kicks off White House campaign with events in New Hampshire, South Carolina

Trump kicks off White House campaign with events in New Hampshire, South Carolina
Updated 29 January 2023

Trump kicks off White House campaign with events in New Hampshire, South Carolina

Trump kicks off White House campaign with events in New Hampshire, South Carolina
  • Rob Godfrey, a Columbia-based political strategist, said many Republicans are holding off on a Trump endorsement because of the wide range of possible candidates who could run for the party's nomination

COLUMBIA, South Carolina: Former U.S. President Donald Trump hit the campaign trail on Saturday for the first time since announcing his bid to reclaim the White House in 2024, visiting two early-voting states and brushing aside criticism that his run was off to a slow start.
"I'm more angry now, and I'm more committed now, than I ever was," Trump, a Republican, told a small crowd at the New Hampshire Republican Party's annual meeting in Salem, before heading to Columbia, South Carolina, for an appearance alongside his leadership team in the state.
New Hampshire and South Carolina are among the first four states to hold presidential nominating contests, giving them outsized influence as candidates jockey for position.
In contrast to the raucous rallies in front of thousands of devotees that Trump often holds, Saturday's events were comparatively muted. In Columbia, Trump spoke to about 200 attendees, with Governor Henry McMaster and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina flanking him.
Once the undisputed center of gravity in the Republican Party, an increasing number of elected officials have expressed concerns about Trump's ability to beat Democratic President Joe Biden, if he decides to run again as is widely expected.
Numerous Republicans are considering whether to launch their own White House bids, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, widely seen as the biggest threat to Trump.
Several top Republicans in both states that Trump visited on Saturday - including New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley - are weighing presidential campaigns. Many high-ranking Republicans in New Hampshire, where Trump's 2016 victory confirmed his status as a top contender, say they are looking for an alternative.
There were several conspicuous absences in South Carolina, including the state party chairman, several Republican U.S. representatives from the state and South Carolina U.S. Senator Tim Scott, who has himself been floated as a potential Republican presidential candidate. Scott and others have cited scheduling conflicts.
Several Republican state lawmakers decided against attending after failing to gain assurances from Trump's team that doing so would not be considered an endorsement, according to a person with knowledge of the planning.
Rob Godfrey, a Columbia-based political strategist, said many Republicans are holding off on a Trump endorsement because of the wide range of possible candidates who could run for the party's nomination.
"I think there are a fair number of people that are keeping their powder dry because there's such a deep bench for Republicans this year," he said.
At both stops on Saturday, Trump echoed some of the themes that animated his first campaign, including railing against illegal immigration and China.
But he also emphasized social issues such as transgender rights and school curricula on race, perhaps in response to DeSantis, whose relentless focus on culture wars has helped build his national profile.
To be sure, Trump retains a significant base of support, particularly among the grassroots. While he loses in some head-to-head polls against DeSantis, he wins by significant margins when poll respondents are presented with a broader field of options.
Trump did not spent much time echoing his familiar grievances over the 2020 election, though he made allusions to his false claim that the election was stolen from him.
Since launching his campaign in November, Trump has maintained a relatively low profile. He called multiple conservative Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives in early January to persuade them to vote for Kevin McCarthy, an ally, for the new Speaker.
Most brushed off his entreaties, though McCarthy was elected to the position after a bruising battle.


Unified global effort to repair Earth’s ozone layer infuses new life into climate change fight

Unified global effort to repair Earth’s ozone layer infuses new life into climate change fight
Updated 29 January 2023

Unified global effort to repair Earth’s ozone layer infuses new life into climate change fight

Unified global effort to repair Earth’s ozone layer infuses new life into climate change fight
  • Scientists say the hole in the planet’s shield, first detected in the 1980s, will return to normal by around 2066 
  • Same cooperation seen under the 1987 Montreal Protocol needed to slow global warming, say experts

LONDON: You cannot see it with the naked eye but high over your head, just above the altitude at which the highest-flying passenger jets cruise, there is a fragile layer of naturally occurring gas that shields all life on Earth from the deadly effects of the ultraviolet radiation emitted by the sun.

This is the ozone shield, a belt of gas — specifically ozone, or O3, which is made of three oxygen atoms — formed by the natural interaction of solar ultraviolet radiation with O2, the oxygen we breathe.

Without it, we’d all be cooked. In the words of the UN Environment Program’s Ozone Secretariat, “long-term exposure to high levels of UV-B threatens human health and damages most animals, plants and microbes, so the ozone layer protects all life on Earth.”

But now, after decades of battling to save it — and us — scientists have announced that the hole in the ozone layer, which was detected in the 1980s, is healing.

The announcement this month is a victory for one of the greatest international scientific collaborations the world has ever seen. And, as the world struggles to tackle climate change, it is a timely and hugely encouraging demonstration of what the international community can achieve when it really puts its mind to something.

As the nations of the world prepare to gather at the UN Climate Change Conference, COP28, in the UAE, where in November they will be expected to account for the progress they have made toward the climate-change goals set by the 2015 Paris Agreement, the brilliant success of the ozone-saving 1987 Montreal Protocol can only be an inspiration.

A scientist launches a research balloon at Australia’s Giles Weather Station. (Shutterstock)

The ozone layer, and its role in absorbing the sun’s ultraviolet radiation, was first identified by two French physicists, Charles Fabry and Henri Buisson, in 1913, but it was not until 1974 that an article in the journal Nature warned that we were in danger of destroying it.

Chemists F. Sherwood Rowland, of the University of California Irvine, and Mario Molina, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, discovered that human-created gases, such as the chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, used in appliances and products such as fridges and aerosols, were destroying ozone.

In 1995, Rowland and Molina, together with Dutch scientist Paul Crutzen, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry “for their work in atmospheric chemistry, particularly concerning the formation and decomposition of ozone.”

But, the Nobel citation continued, “the real shock came” in 1985, when scientists with the British Antarctic Survey, which had been monitoring the Antarctic ozone layer since 1957, detected “a drastic depletion of the ozone layer over the Antarctic.”

The size of the hole identified over the survey’s Halley and Faraday Antarctic research stations seemed to vary, which at first was a puzzle.

It is now understood, the BAS explains, “that during the polar winter, clouds form in the Antarctic ozone layer and chemical reactions in the clouds activate ozone-destroying substances.

“When sunlight returns in the spring, these substances — mostly chlorine and bromine from compounds such as CFCs and halons — take part in efficient catalytic reactions that destroy ozone at around 1 percent per day.”

The discovery “changed the world.” NASA satellites were used to confirm that “not only was the hole over British research stations, but it covered the entire Antarctic continent.”

This was the so-called “ozone hole” and, as Crutzen noted in his 1995 Nobel lecture, “it was a close call.”

He said: “Had Joe Farman and his colleagues from the British Antarctic Survey not persevered in making their measurements in the harsh Antarctic environment … the discovery of the ozone hole may have been substantially delayed and there may have been far less urgency to reach international agreement on the phasing out of CFC production.”

It was the work of the survey that led to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, an agreement, adopted in 1987, that regulated the production and consumption of nearly 100 man-made chemicals identified as “ozone depleting substances.”

“There had been suggestions in the 1960s and 1970s that you could put gases into the atmosphere which would destroy ozone,” atmospheric scientist Professor John Pyle, former head of chemistry at the University of Cambridge and one of the four international co-chairs on the Scientific Assessment Panel for the Montreal Protocol, told Arab News.

“At the time there was also concern about the oxides of nitrogen from high-flying supersonic aircraft, such as Concorde, which could destroy ozone.

This time-lapse photo shows the path of an ozonesonde as it rises into the atmosphere in the South Pole. (Courtesy of Robert Schwarz/South Pole, 2017)

“But after Rowland and Molina published their paper, suggesting that CFC gases could get high enough up into the atmosphere to destroy ozone, there was about a decade during which this was just a theoretical idea before, thanks to the British Antarctic Survey, the ozone hole was discovered.”

The global reaction, choreographed by the UN and the World Meteorological Organization, was almost startlingly rapid.

The British Antarctic Survey paper was published in 1985, and by 1987 the Montreal Protocol had been agreed. In the words of the UN Environment Program: “The protocol is considered to be one of the most successful environmental agreements of all time.

“What the parties to the protocol have managed to accomplish since 1987 is unprecedented, and it continues to provide an inspiring example of what international cooperation at its best can achieve.”

Without doubt, millions of people have lived longer, healthier lives thanks to the Montreal Protocol. In 2019, the US Environmental Protection Agency estimated that in the US alone the protocol had prevented 280 million cases of skin cancer, 1.6 million deaths, and 45 million cases of cataracts.

Combo image released by NASA's Earth Observatory on Dec. 1, 2009, showing the size and shape of the ozone hole each year in 1979 (L) and in 2009. (AFP file)

The battle is not over, however. It will take another four decades for the ozone layer to fully recover, according to the latest four-yearly report from the UN-backed Scientific Assessment Panel to the Montreal Protocol on Ozone Depleting Substances, which was published this month.

But according the “Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion: 2022” report: “The phase out of nearly 99 percent of banned ozone-depleting substances has succeeded in safeguarding the ozone layer, leading to notable recovery of the ozone layer in the upper stratosphere and decreased human exposure to harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun.”

If current policies remain in place, it adds, “the ozone layer is expected to recover to 1980 values” — that is, before the appearance of the ozone hole — “by around 2066 over the Antarctic, by 2045 over the Arctic, and by 2040 for the rest of the world.”

Ozone timelines from the UNEP's Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion report of 2022.

This is “fantastic news,” Meg Seki, executive secretary of the UN Environment Program’s Ozone Secretariat, told Arab News. And it has had an additional benefit in the fight against global warming.

In 2016, an additional agreement, known as the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, resulted in the scaling down of production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, the compounds that were introduced to replace banned CFCs but which were found to be powerful climate change gases. It is estimated that by 2100, the Kigali Amendment will have helped to prevent up to 0.5 degrees Celsius of global warming.

“The impact the Montreal Protocol has had on climate-change mitigation cannot be overstressed,” said Seki. “Over the past 35 years, the protocol has become a true champion for the environment.”

Delegates converse during the 28th meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol in Kigali, Rwanda, on Oct. 13, 2016. (AFP file)

It is also a shining example of what could be achieved in the battle against climate change.

Sept. 16 each year is the UN’s International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer. As Antonio Guterres, the UN’s secretary-general, said as he marked the occasion in 2021: “The Montreal Protocol … has done its job well over the past three decades. The ozone layer is on the road to recovery.”

He added: “The cooperation we have seen under the Montreal Protocol is exactly what is needed now to take on climate change, an equally existential threat to our societies.”