As Israel bombs Gaza, Palestinians in Pakistan worry for loved ones back home

Special As Israel bombs Gaza, Palestinians in Pakistan worry for loved ones back home
Participants of a rally protest in solidarity with the people of Gaza in Islamabad, Pakistan on October 26, 2023. (Photo courtesy: @AWPIsbRwp/X)
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Updated 27 October 2023

As Israel bombs Gaza, Palestinians in Pakistan worry for loved ones back home

As Israel bombs Gaza, Palestinians in Pakistan worry for loved ones back home
  • Palestinian woman speaks of suffering from ‘sleepless nights’ due to Gaza bombing
  • Palestinian authorities say Israeli air strikes have killed over 8,400 in Gaza since Oct 7

ISLAMABAD: As Israel continues to relentlessly bombard Gaza, Palestinians in Pakistan have said they are in an agonizing state, worrying constantly about the well-being of their friends and families besieged in the densely populated area. 

Israel has rained bombs on Gaza for what it says is retaliation for a full-pronged attack launched by Hamas, which governs Gaza Strip, on Oct. 7. According to Israel, over 1,300 people were killed in the attack and hundreds were taken hostage by Hamas fighters. Hamas says the attack was in response to desecration of the Al-Aqsa Mosque by Israeli forces and increased settler violence. 

Smoke and fire rise from a leveled building as people gather amid the destruction in the aftermath of an Israeli strike on Gaza City on October 26, 2023. (AFP)

Israel has since then imposed a blockade on Gaza, refusing to allow Palestinian civilians access to food, medicines and relief items. Meanwhile, Tel Aviv has continued to strike targets in the area, reducing thousands of structures to debris, as the world scrambles to arrange a cease-fire. 

The Gaza Health Ministry says over 8,400 Palestinians, among them women, children and the elderly, have died since Oct. 7 as Israel continues to bombard Gaza. 

Basma Al-Masharqa, a Palestinian woman who operates a catering business from her home, spoke of suffering from “sleepless nights” as she witnessed the crisis unfolding in Gaza. A resident of Islamabad, Al-Masharqa hails from Hebron city in the West Bank. 

“That’s right, we are here and we are so far, but believe me, we cannot sleep, we cannot eat, we cannot do anything as we are worried and we keep the TV on,” she told Arab News last week. 

“We are always trying to keep in touch with the people there as we want to hear any good news that they are still safe, they are still alive.” 

Several displaced people sheltered at a church compound in Gaza were killed and injured after an Israeli strike struck the compound last week, the Palestinian interior ministry said. 

The church is not far from the Al-Ahli Arab hospital, which was hit by a deadly airstrike on Oct. 17. Hamas accused Israel of hitting the hospital during its massive bombing campaign. At least 471 died in the strike, according to Palestinian authorities. 

Al-Masharqa, who has lost a number of loved ones in the recent Israeli attacks, said any delay in contacting relatives and friends in Gaza makes her fear for their safety. 

“If they are late, we are so afraid, because it means something has happened,” she said. “I have my friend’s full family with four kids and husband, and the lady, she is between 25 to 26 years old only, and she and her husband, children, mother-in-law, were all killed by the Israeli attack.” 

She said the ongoing violence in Gaza and other Palestinian territories was impacting civilians, including children and women. “It is not a normal thing, it’s a different thing this time,” she added. 

Nadir Al-Turk, deputy head of the Palestine mission in Pakistan who hails from Gaza, says his mother, sisters and in-laws are currently living in the city amid heavy Israeli bombardment. 

“In the last two weeks, we didn’t get the opportunity to even text them, maybe every four or five days, we receive a letter,” he told Arab News on Wednesday. “Only they mentioned, ‘Alhamdulillah, we are still alive.’” 

Dr. Fuad Ahmad, a Palestinian businessman and journalist in Islamabad who belongs to Hebron, agreed with Al-Masharqa that it was a “much hostile situation” in Gaza this time. 

Ahmad said he was worried about his extended family and friends living in Gaza. He said Palestinians were fighting for the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which did not solely belong to them but to every Muslim around the world. 

“My message to the Muslim world is that today it is we who are suffering, tomorrow it can be you, so please help Gaza, help human beings there,” he said last week. 

Samer Adnan, a Palestinian student from Gaza who is currently in the second year of a Masters in Electrical Engineering program in Islamabad’s COMSATS University, said Israel had not only attacked Gaza, but cut off water, food and electricity supplies to the area. 

He appealed to the world to come forward and save Gaza for the “sake of humanity.” 

“I am super worried about the situation back in Gaza, my city, my family, friends, people, all are being attacked by Israeli forces, and especially children,” he said last week. 

Pakistan to make ‘no compromise’ on security of Chinese workers, says PM

Pakistan to make ‘no compromise’ on security of Chinese workers, says PM
Updated 17 April 2024

Pakistan to make ‘no compromise’ on security of Chinese workers, says PM

Pakistan to make ‘no compromise’ on security of Chinese workers, says PM
  • A deadly suicide bombing last month in northwestern Pakistan left five Chinese citizens dead
  • PM Sharif meets Shanghai Electric delegation, assures Chinese investors would be facilitated

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s government will make “no compromise” on the security of Chinese workers in the country, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Wednesday, as the South Asian country grapples with militancy that has often resulted in attacks on foreigners. 
 A suicide bomber last month rammed his vehicle into a convoy of Chinese engineers working on a hydropower project at the northwestern Dasu town in Pakistan. Five Chinese engineers and their Pakistani driver were killed in the attack. 
The attack was the third major one in a little over a week on China’s interests in the South Asian nation, where Beijing has invested over $65 billion in energy, infrastructure and other projects as part of its wider Belt and Road initiative.
Following the attack, Pakistan’s government said it has taken steps to enhance Chinese citizens’ security in the country. 
“Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif on Wednesday assured that the government would make no compromise on the security of the Chinese workers in Pakistan,” the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan reported. 
The premier was speaking to a delegation of the Shanghai Electric Group, APP said. Sharif told the delegation that the government would ensure all possible facilitation to Chinese investors to further expand ongoing projects between the two countries.
“Citing cordial and time-tested ties with China, Prime Minister Shehbaz said that Pakistan desired to further promote its friendly ties and strengthen economic partnership with the country,” the state-run media said. 
Pakistan is home to an insurgency launched by ethnic Baloch separatists who seek secession from the central government in the country, blaming it for the inequitable division of natural resources in the southwestern Balochistan province. The government denies this.
Chinese interests in Balochistan have also been under attack primarily by the militants, who seek to push Beijing out of mineral-rich Balochistan.

Saudi FM’s visit to lead to investment worth billions of dollars in Pakistan — PM Sharif

Saudi FM’s visit to lead to investment worth billions of dollars in Pakistan — PM Sharif
Updated 43 min 17 sec ago

Saudi FM’s visit to lead to investment worth billions of dollars in Pakistan — PM Sharif

Saudi FM’s visit to lead to investment worth billions of dollars in Pakistan — PM Sharif
  • Saudi foreign minister arrived in Pakistan on Monday for a two-day visit to discuss economic cooperation, investment deals
  • Pakistan’s information minister describes Saudi FM’s visit as “positive,” says discussions on investment be implemented 

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Wednesday that the recent visit of a high-powered Saudi delegation, led by the Kingdom’s foreign minister, will lead to investment worth billions of dollars to Pakistan, state-run media reported. 
Prince Faisal arrived in Pakistan on Monday on a two-day visit aimed at enhancing bilateral economic cooperation and pushing forward previously agreed investment deals. His trip came a little over a week after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in Makkah and reaffirmed the Kingdom’s commitment to expedite investments worth $5 billion.
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy strong trade, defense and cultural ties. The Kingdom is home to over 2.7 million Pakistani expatriates and the top source of remittances to the cash-strapped South Asian country.
“Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has expressed the confidence that the visit of Saudi delegation will lead to investment worth billions of dollars in Pakistan,” Radio Pakistan said in a report. 
The comments were made by Sharif during a meeting of the federal cabinet he chaired. Sharif thanked Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the delegation’s visit and praised members of the Pakistani federal cabinet and authorities for making the visit a success. 
Sharif stressed that the same dedication from officials was needed to ensure the arrival of the Saudi investment in Pakistan and the completion of the projects.
Separately, Information Minister Ataullah Tarar said the Saudi delegation had expressed “seriousness” about investing in Pakistan. 
“Several matters were discussed with them regarding investments in refineries, natural resources and tourism sector, which are being implemented,” Tarar told reporters during a news conference. 
“This was a very positive and successful visit.”
He said another high-level delegation from the Kingdom would visit Pakistan to sign important agreements and ensure these projects are implemented. 
Tarar said another delegation of Saudi investors from the private sector would “soon” visit Pakistan. He said both Islamabad and Riyadh would play their role to facilitate the Saudi investors’ delegation’s visit. 

Social media platform X blocked in Pakistan over national security, ministry says

Social media platform X blocked in Pakistan over national security, ministry says
Updated 17 April 2024

Social media platform X blocked in Pakistan over national security, ministry says

Social media platform X blocked in Pakistan over national security, ministry says
  • Millions of users have reportedly faced problems using X in Pakistan since mid-February
  • Decision to ban X done to maintain public order, preserve nation’s integrity, says ministry

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s interior ministry said on Wednesday it blocked access to social media platform X around the time of February’s election on national security concerns, confirming a long-suspected shutdown.
Users have reported problems using X, formerly known as Twitter, in Pakistan since mid-February, but the government has made no official announcements.
The interior ministry mentioned the shutdown in a written court submission on Wednesday.
“It is very pertinent to mention here that the failure of Twitter/X to adhere to the lawful directives of the government of Pakistan and address concerns regarding the misuse of its platform necessitated the imposition of a ban,” said the report, seen by Reuters.
It said X had been reluctant to resolve the issue. X did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on Wednesday.
“The decision to impose a ban on Twitter/X in Pakistan was made in the interest of upholding national security, maintaining public order, and preserving the integrity of our nation,” the report said.
Access to X has remained limited since the Feb. 8 national election, which the party of jailed former prime minister Imran Khan says was rigged.
Among Pakistan’s political parties, Khan’s party is the most prolific user of social media platforms, particularly after the country’s traditional media began censoring news about the ex-cricket star and his party ahead of the polls. Khan has over 20 million followers on X, making him the most followed Pakistani.
Khan says Pakistan’s military was behind his ouster as prime minister in 2022 and that it helped his opponents form the current government, despite candidates backed by his party winning most seats in February’s polls. The military denies this charge.
He remains in jail on a number of convictions, most of which came days before the election.
Many government officials in Pakistan, notably Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, continue to use X — most likely through VPN software that bypasses the blocks.
The decision to temporarily block X was taken after considering confidential reports from Pakistan’s intelligence and security agencies, the report said.
It said “hostile elements operating on Twitter/X have nefarious intentions to create an environment of chaos and instability, with the ultimate goal of destabilising the country and plunging it into some form of anarchy.”

With keffiyeh at its heart, Pakistani artist’s new series spotlights Palestinian women’s resistance 

With keffiyeh at its heart, Pakistani artist’s new series spotlights Palestinian women’s resistance 
Updated 17 April 2024

With keffiyeh at its heart, Pakistani artist’s new series spotlights Palestinian women’s resistance 

With keffiyeh at its heart, Pakistani artist’s new series spotlights Palestinian women’s resistance 
  • Kuwait-born Annem Zaidi’s exhibition of white silhouettes on dark canvases is on display in Karachi until April 25
  • Zaidi says Palestinian women’s courage and resilience in the face of Israeli aggression inspired her latest series

KARACHI: The large white silhouette of a woman stood in sharp contrast to the black canvas. The faceless lady rested her head on her arm, the checkered keffiyeh around her neck spelling one word: resistance. 

The painting is part of the latest exhibition by Kuwait-born Pakistani artist Annem Zaidi at the Sanat Gallery in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi. Titled “From The River To The Sea,” the series is a tribute to Palestinian women and their courage in the face of Israel’s ongoing military onslaught in Gaza. 

The exhibition kicked off on Tuesday and will continue till April 25, featuring 14 paintings, all of which are white silhouettes painted on black canvases. 

Ten percent of the artist’s commission will be donated to the people of Gaza through the Pakistani charity Alkhidmat Foundation, Zaidi, who is Lahore-based, told Arab News.

The traditional Palestinian keffiyeh checkered scarf has lately come to symbolize Palestinian nationalism and solidarity worldwide and occupies a central place in Zaidi’s latest collection of paintings.

“In this latest body of work, it [keffiyeh] is representing the female strength,” Zaidi said at her exhibition on Tuesday. “It is a symbol of the Palestinian female strength, their resilience, their courage.”

Out of the 33,800 Palestinians killed since Israel launched an air and ground offensive in Gaza on Oct. 7, 10,000 are women. In a statement to mark International Women’s Day last month, the Gaza Health Ministry said over 60,000 pregnant Palestinian women were suffering from malnutrition, dehydration and lack of proper health care. With acute hunger now spreading across the enclave and virtually no food available, mothers and small children are the most vulnerable.

Like millions of other people around the globe, these horrors have also hit Zaidi. 

“What’s going around in Palestine, being a mother, it is extremely upsetting,” she said. “It’s really taken a toll on my health, on my mental health.”

Scheherezade Junejo, the curator of the show, described Zaidi’s art as “dedicated to the plight of an oppressed people, symbolized through the use of a piece of fabric.”

“Rather than a blatant politicization of current events, this series shows a softer, more humane side of a people powerless in the face of genocide,” Junejo said. 

For Zaidi, the body language and the garments of the women in her latest series of paintings depicted confidence. 

“So, they’re not like your head-covered or women who look very, very oppressed,” she explained. “Because even though they [Palestinian women] are being oppressed, at the same time, I feel we should focus more on the strength that they have shown over the years.”

Zaidi, who has exhibited her work in Vienna, London, New Delhi, and Dubai previously, pointed to one painting that she said was her favorite: the silhouette of the woman resting her head on her arm. 

 “It’s like she’s just reflecting about the current events and whatever is going around,” Zaidi said, “and at the same time, the painting has got so much strength in it.”

MSF says ‘deeply concerned’ for Afghans as Pakistan prepares for second round of deportations

MSF says ‘deeply concerned’ for Afghans as Pakistan prepares for second round of deportations
Updated 17 April 2024

MSF says ‘deeply concerned’ for Afghans as Pakistan prepares for second round of deportations

MSF says ‘deeply concerned’ for Afghans as Pakistan prepares for second round of deportations
  • Pakistan had announced it would start expelling Afghans with state-issued citizen cards after Eid Al-Fitr 
  • Pakistan has already expelled around half a million ‘undocumented’ Afghan refugees since last November

ISLAMABAD: The international charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said this week it was “deeply concerned” as Pakistani authorities prepare for phase two of a ‘repatriation plan’ that has mostly targeted Afghans in the country since it was launched late last year.

Last month, the Pakistan government said it had started mapping Afghan nationals with Pakistan-issued citizen cards for deportation as part of phase two of its expulsion drive in which around half a million so-called undocumented Afghan refugees have already been expelled since November. The new campaign will mainly target 800,000 refugees who hold Pakistan-issued Afghan citizenship cards (ACCs).

“In the wake of the recent announcement by the Pakistani authorities that ‘Phase Two’ of the ‘repatriation plan’ of Afghans in the country will begin after Eid (15 April), Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is deeply concerned for the rights and welfare of those impacted by the latest round of deportations,” the charity said in a statement. 

“Many Afghans living in Pakistan have been there for decades and have spent more time in the country than their country of origin, without any legal recourse to remain in the only place they can effectively call ‘home,’” MSF added.

“For many Afghans, this ‘repatriation’ means packing up their belongings and carrying them on a horse, cart, car and bus and traveling en masse to a country that is already struggling with widespread poverty, inadequate health services and increased restrictions on women.”

In October 2023, Pakistan announced phase one of the ‘Illegal Foreigners’ Repatriation Plan’ with a 30-day deadline for “undocumented” Afghan refugees to leave the country or be subject to deportation, putting 1.4 million refugees at risk.

In phase two of the ‘repatriation plan,’ Pakistan-issued ACC holders will be expelled from the country after the Eid Al-Fitr festival, a major Muslim holiday that fell on April 10. Phase three is expected to result in the deportation of UNHCR-issued Proof of Registration (PoR) card holders.

Until November last year, before it began the deportation drive, Pakistan was home to over 4 million Afghan migrants and refugees, about 1.7 million of whom were undocumented, according to the government. Afghans make up the largest portion of migrants, many of whom came after the Taliban took over Kabul in 2021, but a large number have been present since the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

The expulsion drive started after a spike in suicide bombings last year which the Pakistan government — without providing evidence — said mostly involved Afghans. Islamabad has also blamed them for smuggling and other militant violence and crime.

At the time, cash-strapped Pakistan, navigating record inflation and a tough International Monetary Fund bailout program, also said undocumented migrants had drained its resources for decades.

Despite the challenges facing migrants, Pakistan is the only home many of them know and a sanctuary from the economic deprivation and extreme social conservatism that Afghanistan is grappling with.

While hundreds of thousands have left Pakistan since the expiry of a November 1, 2023 deadline, the South Asian country still hosts around 1.35 million registered Afghan refugees, with an additional 803,200 possessing ACCs, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).