From Instagram messages to marriage vows, a love story survives India-Pakistan border restrictions 

Special From Instagram messages to marriage vows, a love story survives India-Pakistan border restrictions 
The still image taken on May 4, 2023, from the wedding video of Sanjugata Kumari and Mahendra Kumar shows the couple posing for a photo. (Photo courtesy: Mahendra Kumar)
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Updated 04 May 2023
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From Instagram messages to marriage vows, a love story survives India-Pakistan border restrictions 

From Instagram messages to marriage vows, a love story survives India-Pakistan border restrictions 
  • Pakistani banker Sanjugata Kumari and Mahendra Kumar, an Indian lawyer, met on Instagram in 2019
  • After four years, multiple visa rejections and several canceled plans, the couple wed in Pakistan this week 

KARACHI: It was love at first sight when Pakistani banker Sanjugata Kumari and Mahendra Kumar, an Indian lawyer, found each other on Instagram in 2019. 

But it took the couple from the rival nations four years in a long-distance relationship, multiple visa rejections, and several canceled wedding plans before they were finally able to get married in Pakistan this May.

Relations between nuclear-armed neighbors Pakistan and India have been fraught for years and they have fought three wars, two of them over the Muslim-majority Himalayan region of Kashmir, which they both claim in full but rule in part.

In 2019, the year Kumar and Kumari met online, Pakistan also downgraded its diplomatic relations with India and suspend bilateral trade after New Delhi stripped its portion of the contested Kashmir region of special status.

Due to growing political tensions, border restrictions and difficulties in getting visas, the couple met for the very first time in Dubai in 2022, where they exchanged rings and vowed to get married. But even as their love for each other grew, so did the uncertainty over where to hold the wedding and whether a wedding would even take place. 

“It’s equal love from both sides but we [were] unable to cross the border,” Kumari, the Pakistani bride, told Arab News in an interview, discussing the difficulties she had to endure to make it to her wedding day.




The still image taken on May 4, 2023, from the wedding video of Sanjugata Kumari and Mahendra Kumar shows the couple performing Hindu rituals during the marriage ceremony. (Photo courtesy: Mahendra Kumar)

“When you fix a wedding date and all the preparations are underway, everything is being done in a sequence, and when you finally realize that something’s not [going as planned], you get stressed,” she added.

Kumari said there were times when it felt as though things were never going to work out, but the Dubai meeting changed everything: “Trust developed that things would be okay, there may be some possibility [of a future together].”

After the Dubai meeting, Kumari started applying for visas to India, with no luck.

Kumar, the groom, said his first online interaction with Kumari was through Instagram which led to live chats and video calls that cemented their relationship. But the problems began when the couple decided to make their relationship official.

“Our communication began in 2019. In 2020 a [coronavirus] lockdown started and borders got closed. In 2021, the borders remained closed so we were clueless as to how to meet and take things ahead,” Kumar told Arab News.

“Ultimately in 2022, we met in Dubai and in Dubai we exchanged rings and decided to marry.”

This came after Kumar’s visa applications to visit Pakistan had been rejected three times.

“After the third cancelation, we decided that we should at least meet once in a third country to decide how we should proceed ahead,” Kumar said, adding that there was still confusion as to where the wedding would take place.

Kumari shared that uncertainty:

“We thought that all bookings have been done, halls have been booked, but what will happen if a visa is not issued? Finally, we got it and then we went ahead with everything.”

The couple tied the knot in Sukkur city in Pakistan’s southern province of Sindh this week.

With the wedding behind them, the newly wed Kumari said she was content with how things had worked out. And along the way, she added, even in moments of deep uncertainty, the couple tried to never lost hope.

“Then we would get hope from the government or such a solution would be found that we could get back on track and say, ‘let’s start again’,” she said.

Finally, the father of the groom Ramdas Kumar traveled along with his family from India for the marriage in May. Before that, the family’s visas had been rejected several times.

“The program which happened [this] May was supposed to happen in February of last year, so more than a year has passed,” the groom’s father said, adding that his family had a lot of apprehensions about whether a wedding would ever be possible.

Now, the newlyweds are making plans for Kumari to travel to India. 

“When I go from here, obviously it will take some time to adjust to the new environment,” she said. 

And while Kumari still has to experience a new life in India, visiting Pakistan has been a “wonderful” experience for her Indian husband. 

“I felt very good, people were very friendly,” Kumar said, “and I felt at home.”


International drivers from Saudi Arabia, Iran, US, rev up for Pakistan Cholistan Desert Rally

International drivers from Saudi Arabia, Iran, US, rev up for Pakistan Cholistan Desert Rally
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International drivers from Saudi Arabia, Iran, US, rev up for Pakistan Cholistan Desert Rally

International drivers from Saudi Arabia, Iran, US, rev up for Pakistan Cholistan Desert Rally
  • The annual 19th Cholistan Desert Jeep Rally started in Bahawalpur this week
  • Over 150 racing enthusiasts from Pakistan and abroad are participating this year

ISLAMABAD: The annual 19th Cholistan Desert Jeep Rally started in Bahawalpur this week, with over 150 racing enthusiasts from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran and other countries participating.

The Cholistan Desert in southern Punjab forms part of the Greater Thar Desert, which extends to Pakistan’s southern Sindh province and the Indian state of Rajasthan. Cholistan was once a center for caravan trade, leading to the construction of numerous forts in the medieval period to protect trade routes, of which the Derawar Fort in Bahawalpur is the best-preserved example.

The 19th edition of the desert rally, which spreads over 500 kilometers, started on Tuesday. Drivers from Saudi Arabia, the UK, Afghanistan, Iran, and the US are participating this year, Managing Director of Tourism Development Corporation of Punjab (TDCP) Humaira Akram told state-run APP.

“The women’s category has been made more active,” the official said. “The event will highlight the history and culture of the Cholistan Desert, the historical palaces of Bahawalpur, historical buildings, historical backgrounds, tourism, and culture through beautiful cultural dances in addition to light and sound shows.”

A qualifying round was held in Cholistan on February 22, followed by the first round of prepared cars on February 23, and a stock category race along with a dirt bike race on February 24, followed by a cultural show.

“On February 25, the prepared category race and truck race will take place, followed by the prize distribution ceremony,” Additional Deputy Commissioner Headquarters Sumera Rabani told media. 

“The Cholistan Fort will be adorned with beautiful decorations during the Cholistan Rally. The Sports Department will organize competitions including Kabaddi, traditional wrestling, volleyball, and tug of war.”


Pakistan Supreme Court defends ruling on minorities after backlash

Pakistan Supreme Court defends ruling on minorities after backlash
Updated 19 min 31 sec ago
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Pakistan Supreme Court defends ruling on minorities after backlash

Pakistan Supreme Court defends ruling on minorities after backlash
  • Ruling by chief justice related to blasphemy has sparked online backlash, led to thinly veiled death threats
  • CJ Qazi Faez Isa ordered the release of a man from Ahmadi sect, considered heretical by Muslim scholars

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Supreme Court has defended its top judge after a ruling he issued related to blasphemy that sparked an online backlash and led to thinly veiled death threats.

The campaign targeting Supreme Court Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa began after he ordered the release of a man from the Ahmadi religious sect, considered heretical by hard-line Muslim scholars.

The man had been accused of disseminating a forbidden Ahmadi text, which firebrand clerics consider tantamount to blasphemy, a hot-button issue in Muslim-majority Pakistan where even unproven allegations of offending Islam have sparked violence.

The Supreme Court issued a statement on Thursday evening defending the ruling, denying that it went against the Islamic constitution.

“This impression is absolutely wrong,” it said. “The organized campaign against judiciary and judges is unfortunate.”

Isa’s ruling first went unnoticed two weeks ago, before it was highlighted by social media accounts linked to the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan party which has been behind violent anti-blasphemy protests.

The Pakistani chapter of the Taliban militant group — known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) — called Isa “an enemy of Islam” and “a damned man.”

Ahmadis have been discriminated against and persecuted for decades in Pakistan. The second amendment of Pakistan’s constitution, made in 1974, declares Ahmadis non-Muslims. The law also prohibits them from professing to be Muslims or spreading their faith, and allows the death penalty for those found guilty of insulting Islam.

In his judgment, Isa ruled that according to the constituion, “every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice and propagate his religion.”

“Freedom of faith is one of the fundamental tenets of Islam. But sadly, in matters of religion, tempers flare up and the Qur’anic mandate is forsaken,” he added.

He also said the book allegedly disseminated by the accused had not been outlawed at the time of the alleged crime in 2019.

Cleric Fazlur Rehman, the influential leader of the conservative religious party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, said Isa’s reasoning was “false and based on bad intentions.”

In 2011, the governor of eastern Punjab province was killed by his own bodyguard after calling for reforms to the stringent blasphemy laws.


Pakistani students show solidarity with Gazan children with exhibition of paintings and poems 

Pakistani students show solidarity with Gazan children with exhibition of paintings and poems 
Updated 23 February 2024
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Pakistani students show solidarity with Gazan children with exhibition of paintings and poems 

Pakistani students show solidarity with Gazan children with exhibition of paintings and poems 
  • Event organized by Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad with over 120 children participating 
  • Foreign diplomats, academics and dignitaries appreciate Pakistani students for taking a stand 

ISLAMABAD: Diplomats and envoys from various countries on Thursday condemned Israel for its “blatant and bold” war against Palestinians, as they attended an exhibition of poems and paintings by Pakistani students in support of children in Gaza.

The Institute of Strategic Studies, an Islamabad-based think tank, organized the event in which over 120 children aged between 5-12 from five schools in Islamabad took part. 

Almost 30,000 people have been killed in Palestine since Israel launched an aerial bombing and ground offensive campaign after Oct. 7 following a Hamas attack on Israel. About 70 percent of those who have been killed are women, 7,900, and children, 12,450. The head of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) told the United Nations Security Council on Thursday that medical teams in the Gaza Strip have come up with a new acronym, WCNSF, wounded child, no surviving family.

Despite calls from foreign governments and peace activists worldwide, Israel has vowed not to stop its bombing of the densely populated territory until it destroys the Palestinian group Hamas.

“This message given by Pakistani children should show the world that no one will forget Gaza and will not accept their dual standards,” Brian Witbooi, a counselor at the South African High Commission in Pakistan, told Arab News.

“The atrocities in Gaza are blatant and bold and for the entire world to see,“

Palestine’s ambassador to Pakistan, Ahmed Jawad A.A. Rabei, said the message of support from Pakistani children to the Palestinian people “means a lot to them.”

“They [Pakistani children] draw and write many important things that came from the heart, conveying that you [Palestinians] are not alone, we stand with you, and, God willing, we will witness your freedom,” he told Arab News. 

“I am very proud to see the hope for Palestinians, its children, students here [in Pakistan], and I am very proud of you in what you drew and wrote for children in Gaza.”

Ambassador of Morocco to Pakistan, Mohamed Karmoune, said Pakistanis’ support for Palestinians transcended generations.

“They [Pakistani children] are the future of the Muslim world and their support means a lot for the Palestinian children who are suffering inhuman violence,” he told Arab News.

 Zainab Mohmand, a grade five student, said she had written a poem for children in Gaza, who were on the brink of starvation. 

“The children of Gaza are living in such a hard situation,” she said. “They don’t have enough water to drink, they don’t have enough food. So, I wrote about this so that they can somehow get out of this situation.”


Bushra Bibi, wife of Pakistan’s Imran Khan, likely to be indicted in land graft case today — party 

Bushra Bibi, wife of Pakistan’s Imran Khan, likely to be indicted in land graft case today — party 
Updated 23 February 2024
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Bushra Bibi, wife of Pakistan’s Imran Khan, likely to be indicted in land graft case today — party 

Bushra Bibi, wife of Pakistan’s Imran Khan, likely to be indicted in land graft case today — party 
  • Khan and his wife are accused of receiving land as a bribe through the Al Qadir charitable trust set up in 2018
  • Bushra is already convicted in two other cases involving illegal sale of staff gifts and non-Islamic marriage to Khan

ISLAMABAD: Bushra Bibi, the wife of jailed former prime minister Imran Khan, was brought to a prison in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi on Friday for a hearing in a land graft case, with the ex-premier’s party saying indictment was “very much on the cards.” 

Bushra has been living under house arrest at her husband’s sprawling Bani Gala mansion, declared a sub-jail, in Islamabad since Jan. 31 when both were sentenced to 14 years in prison in a case that relates to accusations they undervalued gifts from a state repository and gained profits from selling them while Khan was prime minister from 2018-22. 

Earlier this month, Khan and his wife are also sentenced to seven years on charges they violated the country’s marriage law when they wed in 2018 — the fourth sentence so far for Khan and the second for his wife.

“Former first lady Bushra Bibi has been brought to Adiala Prison from Bani Gala sub prison for 190 million case trial,” the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party said in a message to reporters, referring to the Al Qadir Trust case. “Indictment very much on the cards today.”

The former premier and his wife are accused in the case of receiving land as a bribe through the Al Qadir charitable trust set up in 2018 when Khan was still in office. Pakistani authorities have accused Khan and his wife of receiving the land, worth up to 7 billion rupees ($25 million), from a property developer charged in Britain with money laundering. The bribe, authorities say, was in exchange for a favor to the property developer by using 190 million pounds repatriated by Britain in the money laundering probe to pay fines levied by a court against the developer.

Khan’s aides say the land was donated to the trust for charitable purposes. The real estate developer has also denied any wrongdoing.

“OTHER CASES”

Khan and most senior leaders of his party were rejected as candidates for Feb. 8 general elections in what they say was a state-backed campaign to thwart their participation. Khan, 71, was ousted in April 2022 after falling out with Pakistan’s powerful military leaders who are widely believed to have backed him into power in 2018. In opposition, he waged an unprecedented campaign of defiance against the military establishment which has directly ruled the nation for almost half of its history but says it no longer interferes in politics. 

Khan was also convicted last month for making public a classified cable sent to Islamabad by Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington in 2022, in what is commonly known as the Cipher case. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He denies the charge and has said the contents appeared in the media from other sources.

In August last year, he was convicted in the Toshakhana or state treasury case and handed a three-year prison sentence by the election commission for selling gifts worth more than 140 million rupees ($501,000) in state possession and received during his 2018-2022 premiership.

He has also been indicted under Pakistan’s anti-terrorism law in connection with violence against the military that erupted following his brief arrest related to the Al-Qadir case on May 9. A section of Pakistan’s 1997 anti-terrorism act prescribes the death penalty as maximum punishment. Khan has denied the charges under the anti-terrorism law, saying he was in detention when the violence took place.


Pakistani anchorman, recently released after four-month custody, rearrested over ‘anti-judiciary’ campaign 

Pakistani anchorman, recently released after four-month custody, rearrested over ‘anti-judiciary’ campaign 
Updated 23 February 2024
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Pakistani anchorman, recently released after four-month custody, rearrested over ‘anti-judiciary’ campaign 

Pakistani anchorman, recently released after four-month custody, rearrested over ‘anti-judiciary’ campaign 
  • Imran Riaz Khan was arrested from his home in Lahore, his brother confirmed on X
  • The prominent journalist was last picked up in May and returned home in September

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani anchorman Imran Riaz Khan was arrested from his house in Lahore, his brother said on Friday, less than five months after the journalist returned home after a nearly four-month long incarceration in which his whereabouts had been unknown.

The prominent TV journalist turned promoter of jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s political party was picked up from his home in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore late on Thursday night. Footage of police vans outside his house were widely shared on social media. 

Riaz, who has more than 5.5 million followers on X, had taken on the Pakistani military and its intelligence agencies after ex-PM Khan was removed from power in April 2022 and blamed the army for his ouster. He was picked up in May and returned home in September, with authorities giving no indication of where he had been.

“They have picked up my brother, it’s been seven hours,” Riaz’s brother Usman Riaz Khan, who is also a journalist, said on X early on Friday morning. “A cloth was placed over his head and he was dragged away.”

He said he hoped Riaz would be presented before a court and due process followed. 

Earlier this week, the Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) Cybercrime Wing had summoned Riaz over his alleged involvement in an anti-judiciary campaign on social media platforms. The issue revolves around a controversial judgment given by Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa that many political and religious leaders have viewed as insulting to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and blasphemous. 

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, for which there is widespread acceptance, are often misused against Pakistan’s tiny minority religious groups and even sometimes against Muslims to settle personal scores, critics say. Although no one has ever been executed, blasphemy convictions are common in Pakistan. Most convictions are thrown out on appeal by higher courts, but mobs have lynched dozens of people in vigilante attacks even before a case is put on trial.

In an X post on Thursday following the FIA summons, Riaz’s lawyer Mian Ali Ashfaq said his client had responded to the agency’s notice. 

“Such notices have come to dozens of journalists across Pakistan and after answering the first notice, Imran Riaz Khan has also answered this second notice,” the lawyer said. 

“More than two dozen such cases have been dismissed, this one will also be dismissed.”

Human rights groups have widely accused Pakistani security agencies of being behind the disappearances of political workers, leaders and rights activists, allegations that authorities deny.