Rising tensions on Pakistan-Afghanistan border threaten trade of prized ‘Kandahari’ pomegranate

Special Rising tensions on Pakistan-Afghanistan border threaten trade of prized ‘Kandahari’ pomegranate
In this photo, taken on November 22, 2023, customers stand at a shop to buy the Kandhari pomegranate in Quetta. (AN Photo)
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Updated 24 November 2023
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Rising tensions on Pakistan-Afghanistan border threaten trade of prized ‘Kandahari’ pomegranate

Rising tensions on Pakistan-Afghanistan border threaten trade of prized ‘Kandahari’ pomegranate
  • Locally known as ‘Kandhari Anaar,’ the red-skinned fruit has juicy, blood-red seeds intricately fixed to a soft, white inner cover
  • Many people in Pakistan and Afghanistan call the special variety a ‘fruit from the heaven’ because of its unique taste

QUETTA: As Syed Ahmed, 42, arranges shining, red-colored pomegranates under a small bamboo roof, the sight of the prized fruit stops customers at his shop in the heart of southern Pakistani city of Quetta. The pomegranates, imported from Afghanistan, are considered a prized seasonal fruit in Pakistan, particularly in the Balochistan province, however, the recent tensions between the two neighbors have threatened its trade, with Pakistani buyers worrying for tons of merchandise stuck on the border.

Locally known as ‘Kandhari Anaar,’ or Kandahari pomegranate, the red-skinned fruit has juicy, blood-red seeds intricately affixed to a soft, white inner cover, and is full of nutrition. Many in Pakistan and Afghanistan call it a ‘fruit from the heaven’ because of its unique taste that they say is superior to all other varieties of pomegranate.

However, the import of the prized fruit from Afghanistan’s Arghandab, Bala Jar and Parwan areas, has lately been threatened by rising tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan and has traders worrying for the consignments in Pakistan’s Balochistan province.

“We are in the middle of pomegranate season that will last till the end of December, but due to the recent Pak-Afghan trade closure at Chaman border, a huge stock of pomegranate is now stranded at [Afghanistan’s] Spin Boldak border crossing,” Ahmed, who runs a fruit shop in Quetta’s Pishin Stop area, told Arab News on Thursday.




In this photo, taken on November 22, 2023, fruitseller Syed Ahmed (left) unboxes fresh stock of the Kandhari pomegranate in Quetta. (AN Photo)

“I am very much concerned about my 30 tons of pomegranate which I ordered from Arghandab in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province. If I don’t receive my order timely, it will get damaged and I could face a severe loss for this season.”

Over the last two years, Pakistan has closed its northwestern and southwestern border crossings with Afghanistan several times, following deadly skirmishes between border troops of the two countries. Ties between the two neighbors hit a new low after Pakistan last month asked all undocumented foreigners, mostly Afghans, to leave the country by Nov 1, and imposed a strict visa regime at all border terminals.

Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province shares a long, porous border with Afghanistan and a large amount of fruit and vegetables produced in Afghanistan crosses into Pakistan through the Chaman border crossing in the province. But trade activities in the Chaman border town remain suspended for the last three days after thousands of protesters blocked the transit route to protest the government’s new visa policy.




This photo, taken on November 22, 2023, shows the Kandhari pomegranate at a shop in Quetta. (AN Photo)

Hajji Nanai, 65, a farmer cultivating pomegranates in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province for the last 50 years, says more than 400 trucks loaded with pomegranates and other fruit are currently stranded at the Spin Boldak border crossing, which connects with Chaman, due to the trade route closure.

“Local pomegranate farmers and traders are worried about their production because there is a massive quantity of Kandahari Anaar at orchards in different villages of Kandahar province waiting to be exported to Pakistan and India through the Chaman border,” he told Arab News over the phone.

Pakistan imported Kandahari Anaar worth more than Rs500 million ($1.7 million) through the Chaman border in the last winter season (October to December), according to Hajji Jalat Khan Achakzai, an ex-president of the Chaman Chambers of Commerce.

Since the start of this season, Afghan farmers have exported pomegranates worth Rs181 million ($379,218). A 20-kilogram box of Afghan pomegranates currently sells between Rs1,000-1,500 ($3-5) in Balochistan. The price varies in other parts of the country.




In this photo, taken on November 22, 2023, a customer, Shabir Ahmed, holds Afghanistan's Kandhari pomegranate to buy at a local market in Quetta. (AN Photo)

Shabbir Ahmed traveled from the Mastung city, some 50 kilometers away from Quetta, to buy the special variety of pomegranate for his family and as a gift for one of his friends in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province. He said the fruit was full of nutrition, with a deliciously sweet taste.

“Despite the growing price, we buy Kandahari Anaar because we can’t spend the pomegranate season without eating them,” Shabbir told Arab News.

While mounting tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan have already affected business activities in border markets, local traders in the Pakistani border town of Chaman fear the ongoing protest and closure of Pakistan-Afghanistan transit trade route might result in huge losses to the cross-border fruit and vegetable trade.

“If the trade route remains suspended for a long time at Chaman and Spin Boldak points, pomegranate and other fruit and vegetable trade will be affected more than 50 percent,” Achakzai, the former Chaman Chambers of Commerce president, told Arab News.

“Thousands of people in Chaman and Balochistan are linked with pomegranate business, if they don’t get enough seasonal stock, their economic situation will be tarnished.”




This photo, taken on November 22, 2023, shows Afghanistan's Kandhari pomegranate at a shop in Quetta. (AN Photo)

 


Major Pakistan parties reach consensus to form coalition government after Feb. 8 indecisive vote

Major Pakistan parties reach consensus to form coalition government after Feb. 8 indecisive vote
Updated 20 February 2024
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Major Pakistan parties reach consensus to form coalition government after Feb. 8 indecisive vote

Major Pakistan parties reach consensus to form coalition government after Feb. 8 indecisive vote
  • The agreement between ex-PM Sharif’s PML-N and Bhutto-Zardari’s PPP is expected to end days of political uncertainty
  • Sharif’s PML-N party bagged 75 seats, while the PPP secured 54 seats in Feb. 8 election that failed to present a clear winner

ISLAMABAD: Former foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari announced on Tuesday that his Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) had reached an agreement with three-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) to form a coalition government after this month’s national election in Pakistan failed to present a clear winner.

The PML-N bagged 75 seats in the National Assembly, lower house of Pakistan parliament, while the PPP managed to grab 54 seats in the Feb. 8 national election, according to official results.

The agreement between the two major political parties is expected to end days of political uncertainty in the South Asian country that is facing an economic meltdown and security challenges.

Speaking at a press conference in Islamabad, Bhutto-Zardari confirmed that Shehbaz Sharif, the PML-N president and a former premier, would be their joint candidate for prime minister, and his father, Asif Ali Zardari, will be the candidate for president.

“The numbers of Pakistan Peoples Party and Muslim League-Nawaz have been completed and God willing, we will now act on government formation,” he said. “It is hoped that God willing, Shehbaz Sharif sahib will soon become the prime minister of the country once again.”

He said they all prayed for the success of the new government, which faces a daunting task of reviving the struggling $350 billion South Asian economy.

Pakistan is currently treading a tricky path to economic recovery under a caretaker government after it narrowly escaped a default in June last year, thanks to a last-gasp $3 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout.

However, the current IMF program expires next month and the new government will have to quickly secure another bailout to keep the economy afloat.

Speaking on the occasion, Shehbaz thanked the PPP for its support for the government formation.

“With the help of the PPP, we have the required numbers to form the government,” he said, promising to support Zardari in his bid for the presidency.

To a question, Shehbaz said decisions regarding appointments on different constitutional positions like the Senate chairman, speaker and provincial governors would be made after consultation.

In his brief comments, Zardari said they made the alliance for the sake of the country and its future generations.

“We reassure everyone our struggle is for Pakistan and future generations,” he said.

While the announcements are expected to end political uncertainty regarding the government formation, fears still loom large of some political instability in the future as independent candidates, most loyal to jailed former premier Imran Khan, have the highest 101 seats in the National Assembly, but they cannot form the government on their own, having run as individuals and not a party.

To form the government, a party or a coalition needs at least 169 members in the 336-member National Assembly to elect a prime minister.

To keep its chances of returning to power alive, Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party this week said that independent candidates backed by it would join the minority Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) party to secure reserved seats for women and minorities in Pakistan parliament, which are only allotted to political parties based on their representation in the assembly.

Since his ouster, Khan, who remains in jail on a slew of charges, has waged an unprecedented campaign of defiance against the country’s powerful military, which he blames for his removal in a parliamentary no-trust vote in April 2022. The ex-premier has lately refused to share power with Sharif’s PML-N and the Bhutto-Zardari-led PPP.

Speaking at the presser, Bhutto-Zardari said the Sunni Ittehad Council party would not have the required numbers in parliament to form the government. The assertion was echoed by PM’s candidate Shehbaz.

According to Pakistan’s constitution, a session of parliament has to be called by Feb. 29 after which a vote for the new prime minister will take place.


Pakistani forces kill militant in restive northwest — military

Pakistani forces kill militant in restive northwest — military
Updated 20 February 2024
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Pakistani forces kill militant in restive northwest — military

Pakistani forces kill militant in restive northwest — military
  • The militant was killed in an intelligence-based operation in Dera Ismail Khan district
  • The military said it was combing the area to neutralize any other threats present there

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s security forces on Monday killed a militant in an operation the country’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, the Pakistani military said.

The intelligence-based operation was conducted in Dera Ismail Khan district, according to the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the military’s media wing.

“The killed terrorist remained actively involved in numerous terrorist activities against the law enforcement agencies as well as target killings of innocent civilians,” the ISPR said in a statement.

A sanitization operation was being conducted to neutralize any other threats in the area, it added.

Pakistan’s northwestern and southwestern regions that border Afghanistan have witnessed a surge in militancy in the last more than a year. The attacks particularly increased in the run-up to Feb. 8 national elections.

At least five policemen were killed in a bomb blast and firing on a patrol in the Kulachi area of the same district on the election day.

The attacks initially spiked after the Pakistani Taliban called off their fragile, months-long truce with the government in Islamabad in Nov. 2022.

The subsequent rise in militancy last year prompted Islamabad to order all illegal immigrants, mostly Afghans, to leave the country.


Rescue teams reach site of deadly Afghanistan landslide close to Pakistan border

Rescue teams reach site of deadly Afghanistan landslide close to Pakistan border
Updated 20 February 2024
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Rescue teams reach site of deadly Afghanistan landslide close to Pakistan border

Rescue teams reach site of deadly Afghanistan landslide close to Pakistan border
  • Snowfall overnight Sunday caused rubble, earth and snow to rip through the village of Nakre in Nuristan province, killing at least 25
  • Images on social media from the site showed dozens of men standing between giant fallen boulders, using bare hands to remove rocks

KABUL: Rescue teams on Tuesday reached the remote valley where a landslide buried dozens of people in eastern Afghanistan, a provincial official said, after responders were slowed by snow and blocked roads.

Snowfall overnight Sunday caused rubble, earth and snow to rip through the village of Nakre in mountainous Nuristan province, killing at least 25 people.

“There were no facilities yesterday but today there is the military’s equipment,” said provincial information and culture head Jamiullah Hashimi.

“The rescue operation might speed up. The biggest problem is that the fallen rocks are huge and the area is mountainous,” he told AFP.

Images circulating on social media from the site showed dozens of men standing between giant fallen boulders, using their bare hands to remove rocks and dig out the piled earth.

Disaster ministry spokesman Janan Sayeq said his ministry, the public works ministry and non-governmental groups had reached the area with medical teams and other equipment.

On Monday, he put the death toll at 25 people but warned it could rise.

Hashimi said 16 bodies had been pulled from the rubble and around ten more people were still buried, presumed dead.

Another 10 people had been injured and about 20 houses were damaged or destroyed, he added.

Nuristan province, which borders Pakistan, is mostly covered by mountainous forests and hugs the southern end of the Hindu Kush mountain range.

Mountainous areas of Afghanistan have long been vulnerable to landslides and floods, but in recent years risks have increased due to deforestation and drought, worsened by climate change, experts say.


Senate rejects bill seeking long-demanded public hangings of rapists in Pakistan

Senate rejects bill seeking long-demanded public hangings of rapists in Pakistan
Updated 20 February 2024
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Senate rejects bill seeking long-demanded public hangings of rapists in Pakistan

Senate rejects bill seeking long-demanded public hangings of rapists in Pakistan
  • Senator Mushtaq Ahmad Khan of Jamaat-e-Islami party tabled the bill which was rejected by 24 against 14 votes
  • Members of former PM Nawaz Sharif’s, former FM Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s and other parties opposed the proposal

ISLAMABAD: The Senate, upper house of Pakistan parliament, has rejected a bill seeking public hangings of rapists and sex offenders, which has been a longstanding public demand in the South Asian country.

Thousands of rape cases are reported in Pakistan annually and only a negligible percentage of sexual assault or rape cases results in convictions in the South Asian country, according to rights groups.

Women and children rarely speak out after violent assaults, fearing the shame it would bring on them and their families in the deeply conservative Muslim country of more than 241 million.

Pakistanis have long demanded public execution of rapists and sex offenders to keep potential offenders from committing such crimes against anyone.

On Monday, Senator Mushtaq Ahmad Khan of the Jamaat-e-Islami religio-political party tabled a bill in the Senate seeking public hanging of such offenders, but it was rejected by a majority of members.

“My bill to publicly hang rapists was rejected by the Senate by 24 votes [in opposition to the bill] against 14 [in favor],” Khan said on Twitter.

“In Pakistan, 12 children are sexually assaulted every day. If you carry out five public hangings in Islamabad and four provincial capitals, I guarantee that our boys and girls will be safe.”

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) parties completely opposed the bill, according to Khan.

Some parliamentarians of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) also voted in opposition of the bill.

In a statement, PPP Senator Sherry Rehman opposed the proposal to introduce public executions for rapists through amendments to the Pakistan Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code, calling it a “counter effective measure” in deterring sexual crimes.

“The Peoples Party has always had a principled stance against the death penalty, whether public or private. While the PPP staunchly condemns rape as a heinous and grave crime, calling for the death penalty or public executions, as seen in various countries, have not proven to be effective in deterring sexual crimes,” she was quoted as saying.

“We must prioritize enhancing prosecutions and investigations rather than resorting to barbarism and violence within society.”

Rehman noted that there had been attempts at public executions during former military ruler Zia-ul-Haq’s regime in Pakistan, which failed to reduce the crime.

“If public hanging is advocated for one crime, it will be demanded for other offenses as well. The PPP focuses on the importance of addressing the prevailing anger toward violence and sexual crimes through comprehensive measures, including improved funding for the police, enhanced criminal investigations, and better training for officers handling rape cases,” she said.

“There is a need for a nuanced and well-thought-out approach to address crimes against women, focusing on comprehensive legal reforms and cultural changes rather than resorting to public executions. In contemporary 21st-century society, we cannot revert to medieval practices, as public executions to eliminate crimes; instead, they will have other detrimental effects on society.”


X disrupted in Pakistan for third day

X disrupted in Pakistan for third day
Updated 20 February 2024
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X disrupted in Pakistan for third day

X disrupted in Pakistan for third day
  • The platform was downed on Saturday night when a senior official made a public admission of vote manipulation on Feb. 8
  • The application remained disrupted in the capital Islamabad as well as the mega cities of Lahore and Karachi on Tuesday

ISLAMABAD: Social media platform X was disrupted across Pakistan for a third day on Tuesday, after a general election marred by allegations of rigging.

The platform was downed on Saturday night when a senior government official made a public admission of vote manipulation in the February 8 polls.

“X has been inaccessible in Pakistan (since Saturday), because it is used by the public to protest,” Usama Khilji, a digital rights activist told AFP.

AFP staff reported that the app remained disrupted in the capital Islamabad as well as the mega cities of Lahore and Karachi on Tuesday.

Pakistan’s telecommunications and interior ministries did not respond to requests for comment.

Jailed former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party called for nationwide protests after the admission of vote rigging on Saturday, with a small number of supporters taking to the streets in urban areas.

PTI defied a months-long crackdown that restricted its campaigning and forced candidates to run as independents, with PTI-backed candidates gaining more seats than any other party.

But it has been unwilling to enter a coalition with its opponents, paving the way for the PML-N party to form the next government.

Mobile Internet services were cut across the country on polling day, with the interior ministry citing security reasons.

The blackout, coupled with a long delay in issuing results, gave rise to allegations of rigging.

PTI also faced online censorship in the build up to the election.

Pakistani Internet freedom watchdog Bytes For All recorded four separate hours-long social media shutdowns in January — cutting off access to TikTok, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube while Khan’s PTI live-streamed to its supporters.

Blackouts were blamed on “technical difficulties” by the government.

The party’s main website was also blocked in January and, within hours, a seemingly perfect duplicate appeared — except that it contained disinformation meant to confuse voters.