Pakistani artisans seek to preserve ancient art of stonecraft

Special Pakistani artisans seek to preserve ancient art of stonecraft
Pakistani women look at statues of Buddha on display in a museum at Taxila in Punjab province on April 3, 2012. (AFP)
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Updated 11 August 2022

Pakistani artisans seek to preserve ancient art of stonecraft

Pakistani artisans seek to preserve ancient art of stonecraft
  • History of stone carving goes back thousands of years in area that makes up modern-day Pakistan
  • Craftsmen struggle without government patronage after decades of militant attacks scare off tourists

KARACHI: The practice of stonecraft in the area that makes up modern-day Pakistan is as old as Buddhism itself, but without government support and after decades of militant attacks that scared off foreign buyers and halted exports, the ancient art is all but lost.

Now, a handful of artists and entrepreneurs are trying to preserve and restore the dying craft.

Ancient cities in Pakistan, including Taxila in the country’s eastern Punjab province and Thatta in the country’s south, were home to artisans skilled in the art of stonecraft, a technique in which stone is used as the primary material to build statues, buildings and structures, as well as day-to-day items, such as pots and utensils.

In Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Gandhara art focused on creating statues of Gautama Buddha, while Sindh’s Thatta city became famous for large stone structures that combined impressively carved decorative and floral motifs and arabesque patterns.

“From Karachi to Badin, you will see stone-carved graves of multiple tribes, their symbols engraved to differentiate them from one another,” anthropologist Zulfiqar Ali Kalhoro, told Arab News. “Particularly, Ghazi Tehsil in Haripur (city) has had remarkable stone carving until the 1970s. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa still has the tradition.”

However, the craft has declined over time due to lack of patronage, Kalhoro said.

“No one was willing to buy pieces from the artists which were made otherwise for clients living outside Taxila. With conversion, motifs also changed and this declined the craft. People bought those which depicted non-figural elements. Taxila was home to the stonecraft tradition. Many artists migrated to other regions and continued to produce as per demand by clients.”

Ilyas Muhammad Khan, a sculptor from Taxila, said that the 3,000-year-old center had long been referred to as the “City of Artisans” due to craftspeople who produced rich Gandhara art.

“Over the years, Taxila attracted tourists and foreigners, being an ancient city, and local sculptors began selling replicas of Gandhara’s famous artwork abroad as ‘antiques’ to make money,” Khan, a sculptor for over three decades, said.

“Back then, there were hardly three or four artists, but they taught the skill to their fellows and the number increased over time.”

A decline in the tourist industry, devastated by militant violence in Pakistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and Pakistan joining the war on terror, also threatened the ancient art.

Pakistan was last a prominent tourist destination in the 1970s when the “hippie trail” brought Western travelers through the apricot and walnut orchards of the Swat Valley and Kashmir on their way to India and Nepal.

But after 2011, deteriorating security chipped away at the number of foreign visitors. There were fewer buyers for stone artisans, who lost their livelihoods and left the trade.

Many are now making efforts to revive the lost art, including Shakoor Ali, a craftsman from the Shigar Valley in the mountainous Gilgit-Baltistan region, who is turning serpentine stone into handicrafts and decorative pieces.

Ali inherited the craft from his forefathers.

“They used to do all the work with (their) hands and I started the same, but now I have set up a machine and a small workforce which helps me create these pieces,” he told Arab News.

The award-winning stonemason recently displayed his work at the Gemstone and Mineral Exhibition 2022 in Islamabad.

Islamabad-based design label Noon and Co., spearheaded by Taimur Noon, is also working on the preservation and revival of stonecraft in Pakistan.

Before opening his Islamabad store last month, Noon traveled across the country, identified and acknowledged the skill of stonemasons in various areas, and felt he could elevate the design sensibility.

“The craftsmanship of our artisans is unparalleled,” he told Arab News. “I wanted to give them a design direction, designs that are in demand today.”

Noon said that stonemasons in Pakistan produce stonecraft by hand, while the workforce in developed countries employs machines. Innovation and diversification in stonecraft are key, he said, adding that the process of selecting and fashioning the stones was “quite challenging.”

But Noon hopes his work can keep the conversation around stonecraft alive “so that the revival and preservation of the ancient craft stays in motion.”

“I want to show people in Pakistan and beyond what we are capable of, make this skill commercially viable and turn it into a career for artisans,” he said.


Taiwan president resigns as party leader after election loss

Taiwan president resigns as party leader after election loss
Updated 10 sec ago

Taiwan president resigns as party leader after election loss

Taiwan president resigns as party leader after election loss

TAIPEI: Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen resigned as head of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party following local election losses on Saturday suffered by
her party.

Voters in Taiwan overwhelmingly chose the opposition Nationalist party in several major races across the self-ruled island in an election in which lingering concerns about threats from China took a backseat to more local issues.

Tsai had spoken out many times about “opposing China and defending Taiwan” in the course of campaigning for her party. But the party’s candidate Chen Shih-chung, who lost his battle for mayor of Taipei, only raised the issue of the Communist Party’s threat a few times before he quickly switched back to local issues as there was little interest, experts said.

Tsai offered her resignation on Saturday evening, a tradition after a major loss, in a short speech in which she also thanked supporters.

“I must shoulder all the responsibility,” she said. “Faced with a result like this, there are many areas that we must deeply review.”

While international observers and the ruling party have attempted to link the elections to the long-term existential threat that is Taiwan’s neighbor, many local experts do not think China — which claims the island as its territory to be annexed by force if necessary — has a large role to play this time around.

“The international community has raised the stakes too high. They’ve raised a local election to this international level, and Taiwan’s survival,” said Yeh-lih Wang, a political science professor at National Taiwan University.

BACKGROUND

While international observers and the ruling party have attempted to link the elections to the long-term existential threat that is Taiwan’s neighbor, many local experts do not think China has a large role to play this time around.

During campaigning, there were few mentions of the large-scale military exercises targeting Taiwan that China held in August in reaction to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit.

“So I think if you can’t even raise this issue in Taipei,” Wang said. “You don’t even need to consider it in cities in the south.”

Candidates from the Nationalist party won the mayoral seat in Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, as well as in Taoyuan, Taichung and New Taipei city.

Taiwanese were picking their mayors, city council members and other local leaders in all 13 counties and in nine cities. There was also a referendum to lower the voting age from 20 to 18, which was defeated, according to local media.

Chiang Wan-an, the new Taipei mayor, declared victory Saturday night in a large rally. “I will let the world see Taipei’s greatness,” he said.

Not all votes had been formally counted by the time of his speech, but Chiang and the other candidates’ numerical lead allowed them to declare victory.

Kao Hung-an, a candidate in the relatively new Taiwan People’s Party, won the mayoral seat in Hsinchu, a city home to many of Taiwan’s semi-conductor companies.

Campaigns had resolutely focused on the local: air pollution in the central city of Taichung, traffic snarls in Taipei’s tech hub Nangang, and the island’s COVID-19 vaccine purchasing strategies, which had left the island in short supply during an outbreak last year.

The defeat for the ruling DPP may be partly due to how it handled the pandemic.


5-year-old Yusuf Mahmud Nazir dies after UK hospital refuses admittance

5-year-old Yusuf Mahmud Nazir dies after UK hospital refuses admittance
Updated 26 November 2022

5-year-old Yusuf Mahmud Nazir dies after UK hospital refuses admittance

5-year-old Yusuf Mahmud Nazir dies after UK hospital refuses admittance
  • Rotherham General Hospital staff said ‘there are no beds and not enough doctors’
  • Uncle: ‘We begged and begged and begged for help. We couldn’t get it’

LONDON: A family in Britain who “begged and begged” for their nephew to be admitted to hospital have told Sky News the boy would still be alive if they had been listened to.
Five-year-old Yusuf Mahmud Nazir died on Nov. 21 after being refused admittance to Rotherham General Hospital as staff said “there are no beds and not enough doctors,” even though the doctor treating him described it as “the worst case of tonsilitis he had ever seen.”
Nazir first complained of a sore throat on Nov. 13, with his GP prescribing antibiotics, but as his condition worsened his parents took him to the Rotherham emergency department.
Nazir’s uncle Zaheer Ahmed told Sky News that the family waited all night to be seen by a doctor, who after examining the child sent him home despite Nazir struggling to breath, being unable to swallow and clearly in a distressed state.
Paramedics were called to the family home, but with the infection having spread to his lungs, he experienced multiple organ failure leading to a series of cardiac arrests that killed him.
Ahmed told Sky News that Nazir “stopped breathing, he stopped talking, when he was choking, he couldn’t breathe. He was struggling. And it’s led to his life being taken at 5 years old.
“If they would have treated him where we wanted him to be treated, he would be here with us now. He would have been here playing like he was.
“We’ve lost a beautiful child … It’s not his fault. We begged and begged and begged for help. We couldn’t get it. We just did not get the help we wanted, or we needed, or we should have got.”
Senior paediatric consultants have warned of unsustainable pressure on emergency children’s services.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “All children deserve the highest levels of care and we are taking urgent action to ensure no families have to experience these kinds of tragedies.
“Last week we announced up to £8 billion ($9.67 billion) for health and social care in 2024/25 and we’re giving an extra £500 million to speed up hospital discharge and free up beds.”


Bangladesh’s urea imports from Middle East up 15% as local supply dwindles

Bangladesh’s urea imports from Middle East up 15% as local supply dwindles
Updated 26 November 2022

Bangladesh’s urea imports from Middle East up 15% as local supply dwindles

Bangladesh’s urea imports from Middle East up 15% as local supply dwindles
  • Global energy price hike, gas crisis forces fertilizer companies to cut production
  • Country has imported over 1.1m tons from Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar this year

DHAKA: Bangladesh is relying more on Middle Eastern countries to meet its demand for urea, a state agency official said, as an ongoing gas crisis tightens local supply and raises concerns about food security in the South Asian nation.

With a population of about 166 million and an agriculture sector making up more than 11 percent of its gross domestic product last year, Bangladesh needs around 2.6 million tons of urea, a fertilizer widely used in food crops.

As local gas fields struggled to meet rising demand amid a global hike in energy prices sparked by Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, fertilizer companies in Bangladesh were either shut down or forced to cut their production, leading to a dwindling supply of urea. To resolve the supply gap, the Bangladeshi government has been importing more fertilizer from countries in the Middle East.

“We can say our fertilizer imports from Middle Eastern countries have increased around 15 percent due to the gas supply crisis in the local market,” Kazi Mohammad Saiful Islam, a director at the state-run Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corp., told Arab News in an exclusive interview.

He said more than 1.1 million tons of urea had been imported from three countries — Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar — and there were plans to increase that quantity later this year.

“Considering the present global situation, we have already confirmed the respective countries to buy this additional amount,” Islam said.

He added that Bangladesh normally imported about a quarter of the urea it needs, but since the start of the Ukraine invasion in February, the price per ton had more than doubled.

“Due to the ongoing Ukraine-Russia conflict, the global fertilizer market has turned very volatile,” agricultural economist and researcher Dr. Jahangir Alam told Arab News.

Due to its dwindling reserves of foreign exchange, he said Bangladesh should consider setting up a long-term contract with its foreign suppliers to buy urea “at a cheaper rate” and “pursue the urea purchase on a credit basis.”

Dhaka should also look to boost local fertilizer production, said Alam, who is a former vice chancellor of the University of Global Village in southern Bangladesh.

“Producing urea locally is much cheaper for us. So, the authorities should try to increase the production ability in the country.”


March for Freedom for Afghan Women and Girls to take place in London

March for Freedom for Afghan Women and Girls to take place in London
Updated 26 November 2022

March for Freedom for Afghan Women and Girls to take place in London

March for Freedom for Afghan Women and Girls to take place in London
  • British government urged to create safe asylum route for those at risk
  • MP: ‘Those who supported the UK and others over the last two decades have been left behind’

LONDON: Thousands of marchers will descend on London on Sunday to demand that the UK government create a safe asylum route for Afghan women and girls at risk, The Guardian reported on Saturday.
Organized by the campaign group Action for Afghanistan, Sunday’s March for Freedom for Afghan Women and Girls follows MPs’ demands that Foreign Secretary James Cleverly renew the government’s focus on those left at risk after Britain’s 20-year military endeavor.
“The Afghan relocations and assistance policy isn’t working, and there isn’t a dedicated route for women and girls,” Liberal Democrat MP Wendy Chamberlain told The Guardian.
“It has been lost in the narrative around Ukraine, but also lost in the narrative around small boats.
“We’ve gotten to the stage where the Afghanistan situation is in the too-difficult basket and those who supported the UK and others over the last two decades have been left behind.”
The appeal follows a clampdown by the Taliban on women’s rights and freedoms, including the banning of girls from secondary school and the banning of women from parks.
Fawzia Koofi, the Afghan Parliament’s first female deputy speaker, said six women communicating with those planning the London march had been arrested in Kabul.
“I think it’s time for the UK to lead a feminist foreign policy, a human rights-centric foreign policy,” she added.
Chamberlain, who coordinated the appeal to Cleverly with an incoming all-party group, has urged the continuation of aid to Afghanistan, a consultation mechanism including Afghan stakeholders, and a dedicated asylum route.
Zehra Zaidi, a lawyer and co-founder of Action for Afghanistan, said a new settlement route would give hope.
Two resettlement schemes launched in 2021, which brought 7,000 eligible Afghans to the UK, came under intense scrutiny for failing to prioritize the most vulnerable, and was described by a House of Commons committee report as a “betrayal of our allies.”
Zaidi said those left behind in Afghanistan after the UK withdrawal “need to know people still care … They need to know that allies like the UK have not completely abandoned them.”
A Foreign Office spokesperson told The Guardian: “We remain committed to using all our diplomatic and development levers to support the Afghan people and protect the rights of women and girls.”
More than 40 civil society organizations are expected to attend the London march alongside Afghan politicians and activists.
Coordinated marches are also set to take place in Washington DC and four Canadian cities, with organizers saying they are expecting to see other countries follow suit after the UN said: “In no other country have women and girls so rapidly disappeared from public life.”


Wales fan dies in Qatar

Wales fan dies in Qatar
Updated 26 November 2022

Wales fan dies in Qatar

Wales fan dies in Qatar
  • Kevin Davies, 62, had not attended the Wales match against Iran after feeling ill
  • He was rushed to Doha Hamad General Hospital after ‘medical incident’ at apartment where he was staying

LONDON: The UK Foreign Office is supporting the family of a Wales fan who died in Qatar on Friday while attending the World Cup, Sky News has reported.
Kevin Davies, 62, from the Welsh county of Pembrokeshire, was rushed to Doha Hamad General Hospital on Friday following what is being described as a “medical incident” at the apartment where he was staying. He had not attended the Wales match against Iran after feeling ill.
A Foreign Office spokesperson said British officials are “supporting the family of a British man who has died in Qatar.”
Noel Mooney, CEO of the Football Association of Wales, tweeted: “So sorry to hear that one of our supporters has passed away here. Our condolences go to the family and of course we are here to support however we can.”
It is believed more than 2,500 Wales supporters have gone to Qatar for the World Cup — Wales’ first since 1958 — which has seen them draw with the US and lose to Iran.