‘Babies are suffering’: Afghans fear for kids at crowded border crossing

‘Babies are suffering’: Afghans fear for kids at crowded border crossing
Afghan children refugees arrive on trucks from Pakistan at the Afghanistan-Pakistan Torkham border in Nangarhar province on November 1, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 01 November 2023
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‘Babies are suffering’: Afghans fear for kids at crowded border crossing

‘Babies are suffering’: Afghans fear for kids at crowded border crossing
  • Islamabad issued an ultimatum last month to illegal immigrants: leave before Nov. 1 or face deportation
  • At least 29,000 Afghans crossed into Afghanistan on Tuesday, making it difficult for Taliban authorities to keep up

TORKHAM, Afghanistan: Khalida’s young son fell ill while they were on the road to Afghanistan, racing to leave Pakistan under threat of deportation.

But while they reached their home country before a November 1 deadline set by Islamabad, they could barely get enough food or water to keep up the boy’s strength, let alone the proper medication.

“We don’t have anything to feed him, we got some vegetables yesterday and today so far he has only had a cup of green tea. There is no milk,” said the 25-year-old, holding her son Abdullah, who is under two years old.

“Money talks, but we don’t have any. What can we do?“




Afghan refugee children gesture as they prepare to depart for Afghanistan, at a holding centre, in Landi Kotal on November 1, 2023. (AFP)

She and her other children sat next to a brightly painted truck, one in a sea of vehicles stacked with belongings clustered near the Torkham border crossing, where thousands of Afghans have returned from Pakistan in recent weeks.

Islamabad issued an ultimatum in early October to 1.7 million Afghans it says were living illegally in Pakistan: leave voluntarily or face arrest and expulsion.

In the week before the deadline, a stream of Afghans heading home has turned into a flood, with authorities working from dawn till dusk to register the new arrivals but struggling to keep up.

The number of returnees has mounted daily — at least 29,000 people crossed into Afghanistan on Tuesday alone — sparking an “emergency situation” at the border post, a border official said.

Conditions deteriorated rapidly in just a few days ahead of the deadline, AFP journalists saw, with many parents expressing worry for children who had fallen ill after sleeping out in the cold.




An Afghan child refugee sleeps above a truck as he arrives from Pakistan at the Afghanistan-Pakistan Torkham border in Nangarhar province on November 1, 2023. (AFP)

“He (Abdullah) has diarrhea. We took him to the doctor,” Khalida said. “This woman’s child is sick but she said, ‘Let him be, God will heal him’,” she added, gesturing under her pale pink burqa to a woman nearby.

Taj Mohammad, who traveled from Peshawar just across the border and was waiting to register with the government before going to nearby Jalalabad, said his two-month-old son had developed a chest infection.

“Babies are suffering from flu and chest infections, not only mine but every baby. The weather is cold at night and there are not enough resources.”

Diapers littered the area around the sea of trucks, people and industry that has sprung up around the ad hoc camp, but most people have nothing to clothe their small children in, and human excrement was everywhere.

The government and UN agencies have scrambled to provide services and support, including mobile toilets, water tanks and other supplies, but “we need it to be more,” said Mohammad.

Frustration has mounted with the bottlenecked process. Food and water remain scarce.




Afghan refugees arrive in a truck at a holding centre as they prepare to depart for Afghanistan, in Landi Kotal on November 1, 2023. (AFP)

“There are fights, people are losing patience. I am young, I will somehow bear this situation but how can a child bear all this?” said Mohammad Ayaz, 24, who crossed the border with 10 family members.

Najla Dilnaz, 25, said she was saving all the water they had for drinking, even as her children’s clothes and skin accumulate dirt from the dusty riverbed near the crossing.

“We don’t wash their hands or feet, there is just some (water) for drinking, we are surviving with that,” she said.

“We drink little and we don’t wash at all.”




Afghan refugees climb a truck as they prepare to depart for Afghanistan, at a holding centre in Landi Kotal on November 1, 2023. (AFP)

The Pakistani government said its order in early October was to protect Pakistan’s “welfare and security” after a sharp rise in attacks it blames on militants operating from Afghanistan, which Taliban authorities deny.

The order and a crackdown by authorities spurred thousands of Afghans to hurriedly pack what they could and rush to the frontier, unwilling to risk police action or deportation.

For some, that meant abandoning their whole lives or handling the possibility of giving birth along the way, as at least 30 women have, a border official said Monday.

Rabia, a 32-year-old Pakistani, and her Afghan husband packed up their belongings in a rush and had been at Torkham for three nights already on Wednesday.

She is pregnant with her sixth child and due in a less than a week.

They have no home or land to go to, and there is nothing they can do for now but wait, she said.

“Whether it’s easy or hard, we are here now.”


Pakistan PM hails armed forces on fifth anniversary of downing Indian fighter jet in Kashmir

Pakistan PM hails armed forces on fifth anniversary of downing Indian fighter jet in Kashmir
Updated 13 sec ago
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Pakistan PM hails armed forces on fifth anniversary of downing Indian fighter jet in Kashmir

Pakistan PM hails armed forces on fifth anniversary of downing Indian fighter jet in Kashmir
  • Pakistan downed Indian MiG-21 aircraft and captured its pilot after New Delhi ordered airstrikes in Balakot in 2019
  • Caretaker PM Kakar says his country is capable of protecting its territorial integrity against external aggression

ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar praised the armed forces of Pakistan on the fifth anniversary of the downing of an Indian fighter jet in Kashmir on Tuesday, saying the incident demonstrated that his country was capable of protecting its territorial integrity in the face of any external aggression.

“Operation Swift Retort” was a military operation conducted by the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) on February 27, 2019, in response to the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) airstrike in Balakot a day earlier.

The Indian attack was said to be in response to an attack in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir, on February 14 which killed 40 of its paramilitary personnel.

The Indian authorities blamed the attack on its soldiers on a Pakistan-based militant group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, leading to heightened tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbors and the attack in Balakot.

“Today marks the completion of five years of ‘Operation Swift Retort,’” the PM office circulated Kakar’s message. “We pay tribute to the professional skill and determination of the Armed Forces of Pakistan, who on this day debunked India’s claims, falsely and wrongly, by practically demonstrating their operational superiority.”

“There should be no doubt that Pakistan is a peace-loving country, committed to protecting its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he added. “We will robustly respond to any aggression.”

During the operation, the PAF conducted airstrikes across the Line of Control (LoC) in the disputed Kashmir region, targeting non-military sites to demonstrate its capability and resolve while avoiding human loss and escalation to a full-scale war.

The operation included an aerial engagement between Indian and Pakistani fighter jets, resulting in the downing of an Indian MiG-21 aircraft and the capture of its pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, by Pakistani forces.

The pilot was later released as a gesture of peace by the administration in Islamabad.


Pakistan urges intending Hajj pilgrims to refrain from political activities in Saudi Arabia 

Pakistan urges intending Hajj pilgrims to refrain from political activities in Saudi Arabia 
Updated 27 min 45 sec ago
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Pakistan urges intending Hajj pilgrims to refrain from political activities in Saudi Arabia 

Pakistan urges intending Hajj pilgrims to refrain from political activities in Saudi Arabia 
  • Two Holy Mosques are places of worship and not arenas for political expression, Pakistan Ulema Council says 
  • Warns that raising slogans, flags or engaging in other irrelevant activities not allowed at Two Holy Mosques

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Ulema Council Chairman Hafiz Muhammad Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi has urged intending Hajj pilgrims to follow “codal formalities of Saudi Arabia in letter and spirit” during their pilgrimage and refrain from engaging in political activities while in the Kingdom, Radio Pakistan reported on Wednesday.

Hajj, a once-in-a-lifetime religious duty for Muslims who are physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey, is expected to run from June 14-19 this year.

“Ashrafi emphasized the Two Holy Mosques are the places of worship and not arenas for political expression or displays of nationalism,” Radio Pakistan reported. 

“He warned that raising slogans, flags or engaging in any other irrelevant activity is not allowed at the Two Holy Mosques and guarding their sanctity is obligatory upon Muslims.”

In April 2022, some Pakistani pilgrims who hounded and chanted slogans at then Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his delegation at the Al-Masjid an-Nabawi in Madinah were arrested by Saudi authorities, the media director of the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Islamabad had confirmed at the time, saying protesters had “disrespected” the sanctity of the holy mosque.

Videos circulating on social media at the time showed Pakistani pilgrims at the mosque chanting slogans of “chor” (thieves) as the prime minister and his delegation passed by. In another video, pilgrims could be seen heckling and chanting abusive slogans at federal ministers Marriyum Aurangzeb and Shahzain Bugti as the pair were escorted by Saudi guards. A pilgrim could also be seen pulling Bugti’s hair from behind.

Since the incident, Pakistani leaders and Hajj officials have issued several warnings reminding the country’s nationals to follow rules and avoid political sloganeering and other activities while in Saudi Arabia.


Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces to hold inaugural assembly sessions today

Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces to hold inaugural assembly sessions today
Updated 39 min 51 sec ago
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Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces to hold inaugural assembly sessions today

Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces to hold inaugural assembly sessions today
  • Ex-PM Khan’s PTI party is in a comfortable position to form KP government for third consecutive terms after sweeping the polls
  • Pakistan’s other two provinces of Punjab and Sindh have already held their sessions and elected their speakers and chief ministers

PESHAWAR/QUETTA: The provincial assemblies of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan are scheduled to hold their inaugural sessions today, Wednesday, after voters in the two federating units elected their representatives in the national polls held earlier this month.

Independent candidates backed by former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party swept the provincial elections in KP by securing more than 90 seats and are in a strong position to form a government for a third consecutive term.

The election in the province was held on 111 general seats after the contest was postponed in two constituencies due to the death two candidates in them.

Khan has already nominated Ali Amin Gandapur to be his party’s candidate to be the province’s new chief minister.

“Governor Hajji Ghulam Ali has summoned the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly’s session on February 28,” said a notification from his office issued over the weekend. “The session has been called at 11 in the morning.”

The KP session will be followed by protests by Awami National Party (ANP) that only managed to secure one seat in the house and has leveled rigging allegations.

Authorities in the southwestern Balochistan province have also called the first session of the legislative assembly today for the oath-taking of its newly elected members.

“The house will meet at three in the afternoon,” said Radio Pakistan.

Pakistan’s other two provinces, Punjab and Sindh, have already held their sessions and elected their speakers, deputy speakers and chief ministers.


Pakistani ship captain detained on suspicion of smuggling Iranian missile components faces US trial

Pakistani ship captain detained on suspicion of smuggling Iranian missile components faces US trial
Updated 28 February 2024
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Pakistani ship captain detained on suspicion of smuggling Iranian missile components faces US trial

Pakistani ship captain detained on suspicion of smuggling Iranian missile components faces US trial
  • The vessel is said to have started its journey from Pakistan and had advanced conventional weaponry for Houthi rebels
  • The US Central Command says it is the first seizure of Iranian-supplied weapons to the groups since their strikes began

RICHMOND: A Pakistani national who US officials say was the captain of a ship carrying Iranian-made missile components to Houthi rebels in Yemen was ordered Tuesday to remain behind bars as he awaits trial on charges of attempting to smuggle a warhead and other weapons, and lying to US Coast Guard officers as they boarded the boat.

Two Navy SEALs drowned while boarding the unflagged vessel in the Arabian Sea on Jan. 11 in the wake of continued Houthi attacks on commercial and military ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
In court documents, federal prosecutors said the boat’s captain, Muhammad Pahlawan, refused to slow the ship when the US Navy began its boarding attempt and “shouted for the crew to burn the boat before the Navy could board it.”

The ship was described as a dhow.

“Rather than turn the engine off, however, Pahlawan told crewmembers not to stop the dhow while the Navy was approaching,” court documents stated. “In fact, Pahlawan tried to make the dhow go faster. Finally, another crewmember, not Pahlawan, stepped up to the engine and stopped the boat.”

US officials said Navy Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Christopher J. Chambers slipped into the gap created by high waves between the vessel and the SEALs’ combatant craft.

As Chambers fell, Navy Special Warfare Operator 2nd Class Nathan Gage Ingram jumped in to try to save him, according to US officials familiar with what happened. The SEAL who jumped in after the other operator in a rescue attempt was following protocol, according to court documents.

Efforts to find and rescue the two SEALs were unsuccessful and they were later declared dead by the Navy.

During a detention hearing in US District Court in Richmond, Virginia, on Tuesday, FBI Special Agent Lauren Lee testified that Pahlawan initially said he was the boat’s engineer and that the captain had gotten off the ship. He also said he was not aware of any cargo on the ship, Lee said. She said he later contradicted himself, saying, “I am in command of the boat.”

Assistant US Attorney Troy Edwards Jr. argued that Pahlawan should remain in custody pending trial because he is a danger to the community and poses a serious risk of flight. Edwards said Pahlawan has no ties to the US and that the most serious charge against him — intentionally transporting a warhead knowing it would be used by Houthi rebel forces — constitutes a federal crime of terrorism and carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.

The charge of making material false statements carries a maximum of five years in prison.

Pahlawan’s attorney, Assistant Supervisory Federal Public Defender Amy Austin, suggested that the interpreter used by US officials when they were questioning crew members on the boat may not have spoken Punjabi, Pahlawan’s language. Lee said she did not know which language the interpreter spoke, but she said Pahlawan answered questions posed to him by the interpreter during sometimes hours-long interviews.

During a search of the ship, US forces found and seized Iranian-made advanced conventional weaponry, including critical parts for medium-range ballistic missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles, a warhead, and propulsion and guidance components, an FBI agent wrote in an affidavit. The agent said the items found are consistent with weaponry used by Houthi rebel forces in recent attacks on merchant ships and US military ships.

The affidavit quoted US Central Command, which stated that it was the first seizure of “Iranian-supplied advanced conventional weapons” to the Houthis since their strikes began in November.

The rebels have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea and surrounding waters over Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. They have frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, imperiling shipping in a key route for trade among Asia, the Mideast and Europe.

Three other crew members were charged with providing false information to US Coast Guard officers. They were also ordered detained following detention hearings Tuesday.

Specifically, the men lied about Pahlawan’s identity as captain, the weapons on board and the ship’s departure from Iran, court documents stated. The men had claimed their voyage’s origin was Pakistan.

Their attorneys have declined to comment.

Another 10 crew members are being detained under the federal material witness law. It allows courts to issue warrants for the arrest and detention of a person if their testimony is “material in a criminal proceeding,” and if it “may become impracticable to secure the presence of the person by subpoena.”

The FBI affidavit states that crew members had been in contact multiple times by satellite phone with a member of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.


Pakistani policewoman, lauded for rescuing woman from blasphemy mob, says ‘it was my duty’

Pakistani policewoman, lauded for rescuing woman from blasphemy mob, says ‘it was my duty’
Updated 28 February 2024
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Pakistani policewoman, lauded for rescuing woman from blasphemy mob, says ‘it was my duty’

Pakistani policewoman, lauded for rescuing woman from blasphemy mob, says ‘it was my duty’
  • The woman was surrounded in a Lahore restaurant by men who wrongly claimed her shirt was adorned with verses from Holy Qur’an
  • Blasphemy is an incendiary charge in ultra-conservative Pakistan, where mobs have lynched people they deem to have insulted Islam 

LAHORE: A Pakistani policewoman, who has been recommended for a gallantry award for rescuing a woman from a blasphemy mob, said on Tuesday she went to the site of the incident to protect an innocent life as “it was my duty” and nothing more.

The woman, who has not been named by authorities for security reasons, was surrounded by men in a restaurant in the eastern city of Lahore for wearing an Arabic-inscribed dress. The crowd claimed the shirt was adorned with verses from the Holy Qur’an.

Videos shared online showed the woman being sheltered in a shop, before a senior woman police officer, Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Shehrbano Naqvi, arrives at the scene and rescues her to safety.

ASP Naqvi of Punjab police has since been showered with praise by politicians, senior police officials and general public, and has been recommended by the provincial police chief for the highest gallantry award for law enforcement in Pakistan.

On Tuesday, the senior policewoman said while it was a great honor to be recommended for the Quaid-e-Azam Police Medal, she only did her duty by taking the woman out of harm’s way.

“This is of course a great honor, and something that everyone in the service looks forward to, to be recognized for their hard work,” Naqvi told Arab News.

“But really, it was just work, it was my duty. Nothing more. I didn’t go out there to make a name for myself, I went there to protect an innocent life, and defuse a situation that could have gotten very violent.”

Blasphemy is an incendiary charge in deeply conservative, Muslim-majority Pakistan, where even unproven allegations of insulting Islam and its noted personalities can provoke death at the hands of vigilantes. Politicians have been assassinated, lawyers murdered and students lynched over such accusations.

Naqvi recalled that the situation was quite tensed when the police arrived at the restaurant in Lahore’s Ichhra market, where the mob had surrounded the woman.

“We got an anonymous call around 1:30pm on Monday that a woman had been surrounded by a mob in Ichhra with rumors of something religiously offensive written on her dress,” she said.

“And this all was based on misinformation. They [mob] thought the dress had Qur’anic verses written on it but it was absolutely not the case. The narrative just came from certain segments of the religious community or certain people I would say.”

The dress had the word ‘Halwa,’ meaning dessert, written on it in the Arabic script, according to the senior policewoman.

When the mob started chanting death threats, Naqvi and other police personnel decided to briefly speak to the charged crowd and then whisked the woman to the Gulberg police station by covering her face with a piece of cloth.

The reason Naqvi was at the forefront when the incident unfolded was that she had encountered a similar situation before, in which a man made similar claims at the city’s Liberty Market during protests over former prime minister Imran Khan’s brief arrest on May 9.

“Whether a mob gathers for political, social or religious reasons, our duty is to follow certain SOPs (standard operating procedures). First of all, law and order must be maintained. Then there are secondary concerns after the accused’s safety. That nearby shops don’t get damaged in mob violence, that no bystander’s life is harmed,” Naqvi told Arab News.

“So, to do all that we have to initiate dialogue, go to the mob, talk to them, because they need a voice of reason. You also need to identify the instigators behind it all. Those who are the most vocal in the mob, remove them and then take the bystanders into confidence.”

Naqvi said the situation in Lahore could have worsened if it was allowed to simmer for some time amid a delayed response from the police, but fortunately, they were able to get to the spot on time and secure the woman and her husband.

Separately, Pir Afzal Qadri, secretary-general of the Majlis-Tahaffuz-e-Khatme Nabuwwat religious movement, visited the Gulberg police station on Tuesday and assured people that the incident was an outcome of a misunderstanding.

“Somebody read something wrong and then gathered a bunch of people, but I want to reiterate that nobody has the right to take the law into their own hands,” Qadri told Arab News.

He said he had helped calm down the mob on Monday as well: “This was wrong, unethical and illegal.”