Pakistan to close border with Iran, Afghanistan to ensure peaceful elections amid militant attacks

Pakistan to close border with Iran, Afghanistan to ensure peaceful elections amid militant attacks
Border security personnel of Afghanistan and Pakistan stand guard at the zero point Torkham border crossing between the two countries, in Nangarhar province on January 15, 2024. (AFP/File)
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Updated 07 February 2024
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Pakistan to close border with Iran, Afghanistan to ensure peaceful elections amid militant attacks

Pakistan to close border with Iran, Afghanistan to ensure peaceful elections amid militant attacks
  • The country’s foreign office says the border closure on Feb. 8 will affect both cargo and pedestrians
  • Pakistan plans to resume normal border operations a day after securing peaceful general elections

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Wednesday announced the shutdown of border crossings with its western neighbors, Iran and Afghanistan, for one day, tomorrow, to ensure peaceful general elections amid mounting security concerns following two consecutive bomb blasts in the southwest that killed 27 people earlier today.
Pakistani security forces have launched several intelligence-based operations against militant hideouts in the Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces to prevent attacks on uniformed personnel and campaigning politicians.
Most of these incidents occurred near Iran and Afghanistan, though security was also enhanced in other areas of Pakistan ahead of the national polls.
Earlier this month, Pakistan’s election commission discussed the issue in an assessment meeting before confirming that the general elections would proceed as scheduled on Feb. 8.
“To ensure full security during the general elections to be held in Pakistan on 8 Feb 2024, border crossings with Afghanistan and Iran, would remain closed both for cargo and pedestrians,” the country’s foreign office spokesperson, Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, announced in a statement.
“Normal operations would resume on 9 Feb 2024,” she added.
Pakistani officials have previously attributed several militant attacks to the banned armed network, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), whose leadership is believed to be based in Afghanistan.
In recent actions, the country’s military also launched missile strikes against the hideouts of Baloch separatist groups in Iran, accused of inciting violence in Balochistan.


Pakistan calls for ‘utmost restraint’ as Iran launches retaliatory strikes against Israel 

Pakistan calls for ‘utmost restraint’ as Iran launches retaliatory strikes against Israel 
Updated 17 min 27 sec ago
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Pakistan calls for ‘utmost restraint’ as Iran launches retaliatory strikes against Israel 

Pakistan calls for ‘utmost restraint’ as Iran launches retaliatory strikes against Israel 
  • Iran launched a swarm of explosive drones and missiles at Israel late on Saturday 
  • Pakistan watching situation in Middle East with “deep concern,” says foreign office

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s foreign office on Sunday expressed deep concern over the escalation of hostilities in the Middle East following Iran’s retaliatory strikes against Israel, urging all parties to exercise “utmost restraint” and work toward de-escalation of tensions. 

The statement comes in response to Iran launching a swarm of explosive drones and firing missiles at Israel late on Saturday in its first ever direct attack on Israeli territory, risking a major escalation in the Middle East. 

Israel’s military said more than 100 drones were launched from Iran, with security sources in Iraq and Jordan reporting dozens seen flying overhead and US officials saying the American military had shot some down.

Pakistan’s foreign office said in a statement that Islamabad was watching the situation in the Middle East with “deep concern.”

“It is now critically urgent to stabilize the situation and restore peace,” it said. “We call on all parties to exercise utmost restraint and move toward de-escalation.”

Iran launched the missiles and drone attacks against Israel for what it said was a retaliatory attack against an Israeli strike on its Damascus consulate on April 1 that killed seven Revolutionary Guards officers, including two senior commanders. 

The foreign office said Pakistan had pointed to the dangers of the attack on the Iranian consular office in Syria as a “major escalation” in an already volatile region.

“Today’s developments demonstrate the consequences of the breakdown of diplomacy,” it said.
“These also underline the grave implications in cases where the UN Security Council is unable to fulfill its responsibilities of maintaining international peace and security.”

The Gaza war between Israel and Hamas, now in its seventh month, has driven up tensions in the region, spreading to fronts with Lebanon and Syria and drawing long-range fire at Israeli targets from as far away as Yemen and Iraq.

Pakistan, which does not have diplomatic relations with Israel, has urged the international community to intervene and impose a ceasefire in the Middle East. 

Islamabad has consistently demanded a separate homeland for the Palestinians in accordance with their wishes, and with Al Quds Al Sharif as its capital.


PM Sharif vows to facilitate Sikh pilgrims visiting Pakistan for Baisakhi festival

PM Sharif vows to facilitate Sikh pilgrims visiting Pakistan for Baisakhi festival
Updated 40 min 32 sec ago
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PM Sharif vows to facilitate Sikh pilgrims visiting Pakistan for Baisakhi festival

PM Sharif vows to facilitate Sikh pilgrims visiting Pakistan for Baisakhi festival
  • Over 3,000 Sikh pilgrims arrived in Pakistan from India on Saturday for Baisakhi festival
  • Spring festival marks beginning of Sikh new year and symbolizes spiritual rejuvenation 

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Sunday promised his government at the center and provincial authorities in Pakistan would facilitate Sikh pilgrims visiting the country to mark the Baisakhi festival. 

More than 3,000 Sikh pilgrims arrived in Pakistan from India on Saturday to celebrate the Baisakhi harvest festival. Sikhs are a small minority based in the Punjab region divided between Muslim-majority Pakistan and Hindu-majority India, but several Sikh holy sites ended up being in Pakistan after the partition of the Subcontinent in 1947.

Baisakhi, the spring harvest festival primarily celebrated in Punjab and northern India, marks the beginning of the Sikh new year and symbolizes spiritual rejuvenation, with celebrations centered around Gurdwara Panja Sahib in the Pakistani city of Hasan Abdal, some 45 kilometers northwest of Islamabad.

“The government of Pakistan and all provincial governments are ensuring that Sikh pilgrims from all over the world who are visiting Pakistan’s religious sites to perform Baisakhi rituals, are provided all facilities,” Sharif said in a message shared by his office on X. 

The Pakistani prime minister said Baisakhi is a festival of love, affection and happiness, adding that Pakistan is a blend of different faiths and cultures. 

“On the occasion of Baisakhi, I want to send you all a message of peace and love,” Sharif said. “Let’s play our role in creating a peaceful world together.”

The shrine in Hasan Abdal is one of Sikhism’s holiest sites and it is believed that the handprint of the founder of the religion, Guru Nanak, is imprinted on a boulder there.

Baisakhi is also meant to mark the day when Gobind Singh, the 10th and final guru of Sikhism, established the discipline of Khalsa, through which the faithful can aspire to the ultimate state of purity.

During their stay in Pakistan, Sikh pilgrims will visit their religious places in Hasan Abdal, Nankana Sahib, Narowal, Eminabad and Badami Bagh in Lahore, according to Pakistani state media. 


Islamabad center rehabilitates hundreds of animals, including dancing bears saved from cruelty

Islamabad center rehabilitates hundreds of animals, including dancing bears saved from cruelty
Updated 26 min 55 sec ago
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Islamabad center rehabilitates hundreds of animals, including dancing bears saved from cruelty

Islamabad center rehabilitates hundreds of animals, including dancing bears saved from cruelty
  • Since its inception in Aug. 2021, center has rescued over 380 animals, including mammals, birds and reptiles
  • Management plans to expand the facility and turn it into a permanent sanctuary for rescued animals and birds

ISLAMABAD: Aneela, a five-year-old female black bear, growled inside a squeeze cage at the Islamabad Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center where attendants have been struggling for the last several days to alleviate her pain through medication, love and care.

Aneela is at the rehab center after being saved from a life of cruelty as a dancing bear in the Pakistani city of Gujranwala where wildlife officials carried out a raid last month. Aneela’s teeth and nails had been removed by poachers during captivity and a nose ring they had put on her continued to cause pain, with visible signs of distress and swelling all over her face when an Arab News team visited the site earlier this month.

Animal-keepers and vets at the Islamabad Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center have been treating Aneela for a week now and plan to remove her nose ring before moving her to a bigger cage.

The Islamabad Zoo, located in the foothills of the lush green Margalla Hills, was shut down in 2020 through a court order after an animal cruelty case. It has now been transformed into a facility where hundreds of rescued animals and birds are brought for rehabilitation.

A leopard cub photographed at the Islamabad Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center on April 5, 2024. (AN Photo)

Since its inception in August 2021, the center has rescued over 380 animals, including mammals, birds and reptiles. The facility is spread over eleven hectares of land where overgrown foliage and old trees give the animals a sense of being in a jungle, their natural habitat.

The center currently hosts black bears, two leopard cubs called Sultan and Neelu, monkeys, eagles and kites. The management has set up special shelters with a playing area for all animals and is building a special cage for Aneela’s rehabilitation.

“Basically, this is a female black bear that was rescued from Gujranwala on March 26, and then our staff shifted her here to the Rescue Center,” Sakhawat Ali, the deputy director of research and planning at the center, told Arab News earlier this month.

“Currently, she is under the treatment process. She is being administered antibiotics and now her nose ring will be removed. She is in a squeeze trap now, so that the animal does not need to be sedated repeatedly [during treatment].”

Ali said the center’s main aim at the moment was to alleviate Aneela’s pain, since she was now unable to be released into the wild to hunt and survive as poachers had removed her teeth. 

“Since they cannot go into the wild now, we are trying to set up a sanctuary for these bears, we have a proposal for it, to release them there,” Ali added. 

“STOLEN FROM MOTHERS”

Dancing bears are captive or bred bears forced to perform tricks for entertainment. Their training methods include painful measures like hot metal plates and metal rings through sensitive noses and jaws, allowing owners to exert control over the bears.

A pair of black bear photographed inside the bear rescue enclosure at the Islamabad Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center on April 5, 2024. (AN Photo)

Another cruel and illegal practice is bear baiting in which animals are subjected to fights against trained dogs for entertainment. The fights inflict severe physical and psychological trauma on bears, often resulting in broken teeth, pierced snouts and the removal of claws.

Bear dancing and bear baiting are age-old traditions in the region, introduced as a sport by the British during their colonial rule. 

Rina Saeed Khan, the chairperson of the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board, told Arab News poachers stole cubs and infants from their mothers in the wild and then trained them to dance and perform tricks to please audiences and earn money for the owners.

“They pull out their nails, they pull out their teeth, they make them dance on hot stoves to teach them how to dance, so a lot of cruelty happens and then you see the dancing bears in the streets of Punjab and the gypsies earn money through that,” Khan said. 

The rehab center’s management was striving to develop more space to accommodate the increasing number of animals rescued from different parts of the country, Khan added. A sightseeing platform for visitors would also be set up inside the center in the future.

“We are trying to expand our space and we are now trying to go from a rescue center to a permanent sanctuary for the bears because international experts tell us that this is the ideal space right next to the Margalla Hills,” Khan said.

“The temperature is much cooler over here and we do already have about eight bears, so we want to build our capacity to take in more and that would be open to the public.” 

Earlier this month, a team of wildlife experts from the Four Paws charity arrived in Islamabad to help eight dancing and baiting bears rescued by local authorities and discuss the possibility of saving and relocating more such animals.

The team came in response to an urgent request by the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board to support local authorities with the veterinary treatment and neutering of the eight bears.

“It is crucial to assess the health of all bears and our priority to neuter them to prevent unwanted breeding,” Four Paws veterinarian Dr. Amir Khalil, who is leading the action in the country, said in a statement. “That way we can ensure ethical wildlife management going forward.”

“We are grateful for the trust of the Pakistani authorities in our expertise and committed to improve the lives of as many bears as possible,” he added. “We will also support the preparation of enclosures for the new arrivals at the rescue center and ensure proper care for all animals going forward.”

The organization’s president and CEO, Josef Pfabigan, welcomed the action by Pakistani government against cruel practices.

“We are happy to work together on this important cause,” he said. “With our successful collaboration, Four Paws aims to find sustainable long-term solutions for the animals and help law enforcement to effectively put an end to the illegal practices of dancing bears and bear baiting in Pakistan.”

“WHITE-BOOTED EAGLE”

The center has also set up a dedicated helpline where volunteers can alert the wildlife department about incidents of animal cruelty to help authorities launch swift rescue operations. 

The helpline is already helping, as one white-booted eagle was recently rescued from Rawal Lake because of a tip-off.

“Its owner had put a rope on its foot, and he would make it sit on the forearm and pose for photos [for paying clients],” Ali said. 

“Somebody complained to us that the eagle is being tortured like this, [with owners] taking its picture after making it sit on the arm and earning money by doing that.”

The rehab center’s team reached the area and rescued the bird, which was badly injured. 

“When we brought it here, its leg was hanging because [the owner] had wrapped the rope tightly on its claw for a long time, so the blood flow had stopped,” Ali added. 

“Now it has recovered quite a bit. It has slowly started putting its talon on the ground.”


Pakistan PM lays foundation stone of Saudi-funded museum depicting life of Prophet Muhammad

Pakistan PM lays foundation stone of Saudi-funded museum depicting life of Prophet Muhammad
Updated 14 April 2024
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Pakistan PM lays foundation stone of Saudi-funded museum depicting life of Prophet Muhammad

Pakistan PM lays foundation stone of Saudi-funded museum depicting life of Prophet Muhammad
  • Shehbaz Sharif says Seerat Museum will help counter Islamophobia, spread knowledge about teachings of Prophet Muhammad
  • The ceremony in Islamabad was attended by Muslim World League (MWL) secretary-general, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Saturday laid foundation stone of a museum that would exhibit relics related to the life of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), Pakistani state media reported.

The ceremony to lay foundation stone of the Seerat Museum in Islamabad was attended by Muslim World League (MWL) Secretary-General Dr. Mohammad bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa and Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to Pakistan Nawaf bin Said Al-Malki.

Speaking at the ceremony, PM Sharif said the museum would help counter Islamophobia and spread knowledge about the teachings and life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) among people living in Pakistan and abroad.

“The Seerat Museum would not only raise awareness about the life, character and teachings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) but would also educate people how to live their lives and manage relationships with other people,” he was quoted as saying by the APP news agency.

The prime minister thanked Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for extending their cooperation for Seerat Museum. He lauded the MWL secretary-general for his guidance and support for the project.

The development came during Dr. Al-Issa’s nine-day visit to Pakistan, aimed at fostering interfaith harmony and strengthening Saudi Arabia’s bilateral relations with Pakistan.

During his ongoing visit that began on April 7, Dr. Al-Issa has delivered the Eid Al-Fitr sermon at the Shah Faisal Mosque in Islamabad and visited an orphanage in the Pakistani capital, where he shared the joy of Eid Al-Fitr with orphaned children.

In his sermon, Al-Issa called on Muslims to keep Palestinians close to their hearts and in their prayers as they celebrated Eid. He also spoke about the responsibility of Muslims to use their actions to project Islam in its true light.


New Zealand cricket team arrive in Islamabad for T20I series against Pakistan 

New Zealand cricket team arrive in Islamabad for T20I series against Pakistan 
Updated 14 April 2024
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New Zealand cricket team arrive in Islamabad for T20I series against Pakistan 

New Zealand cricket team arrive in Islamabad for T20I series against Pakistan 
  • New Zealand will play five T20Is against Pakistan in Rawalpindi, Lahore from April 14-28
  • Black Caps will be led by all-rounder Michael Bracewell for the five-match Pakistan series

ISLAMABAD: The New Zealand cricket team arrived in Islamabad during the wee hours on Sunday to play a five-match T20I series against Pakistan, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) confirmed in a statement, as the two sides gear up to prepare for the upcoming T20 World Cup in June this year. 

New Zealand will be led by experienced all-rounder Michael Bracewell and will miss the likes of Kane Williamson and Mitchell Santner, who have opted to not play in the series and instead focus on their duties in the Indian Premier League. 

“New Zealand team have arrived in Islamabad for the five-match T20I series against Pakistan,” the PCB said in a statement. “New Zealand’s 14-day tour will run from April 14-28.”

The Black Caps will play three T20Is against Pakistan on April 18, 20 and 21 in Rawalpindi before playing two matches in Lahore on April 25 and 27.

The series will provide quality practice for both teams as they gear up for the T20I World Cup in June 2024 in the USA and West Indies. 

Pakistan’s selection committee this month grabbed headlines when it named pacer Mohammad Amir and all-rounder Imad Wasim to the squad for the New Zealand series. Both cricketers last month announced they were coming out of retirement and would be available for the World Cup. 

Pakistan also named Usman Khan in the squad, who switched allegiance from the UAE to play for his country of birth, while pacer Haris Rauf failed to make the cut due to a shoulder injury he sustained in this year’s Pakistan Super League tournament. 

Pakistan squad: Babar Azam (captain), Abrar Ahmed, Azam Khan, Fakhar Zaman, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Abbas Afridi, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohmmad Amir,, Muhammad Irfan Khan, Naseem Shah, Saim Ayub, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Usama Mir, Usman Khan and Zaman Khan.

Reserves: Haseebullah, Mohammad Ali, Mohammad Wasim Jr., Sahibzada Farhan, and Salman Ali Agha

New Zealand squad: Michael Bracewell (c), Finn Allen, Mark Chapman, Josh Clarkson, Jacob Duffy, Dean Foxcroft, Ben Lister, Cole McConchie, Adam Milne, Jimmy Neesham, Will O’Rourke, Tim Robinson, Ben Sears, Tim Seifert, Ish Sodhi