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
A car steers through the desert at the annual 19th Cholistan Desert Jeep Rally in Bahawalpur, Pakistan on February 21, 2024. (Photo courtesy: APP)
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Updated 23 February 2024
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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.”


Pakistani police search for gunmen who killed 9 passengers in restive southwest

Pakistani police search for gunmen who killed 9 passengers in restive southwest
Updated 57 sec ago
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Pakistani police search for gunmen who killed 9 passengers in restive southwest

Pakistani police search for gunmen who killed 9 passengers in restive southwest
  • Gunmen killed 9 bus passengers in Balochistan on Friday, alleging they were spies from Pakistan’s Punjab province
  • Outlawed Balochistan Liberation Army, which offered no evidence to support its allegations, claimed responsibility for attack 

QUETTA, Pakistan: Pakistani police searched for gunmen who killed nine people after abducting them from a bus on a highway in the country’s southwest. The same attackers earlier killed two people and wounded six in another car they forced to stop.

The abductions took place on Friday in Balochistan province, which has long been the scene of an insurgency by separatists fighting for independence.

The outlawed Baloch Liberation Army claimed responsibility for the attack. It said it had information from sources that plain-clothed spies were on the bus, according to a statement from the group. 

The gunmen killed the nine men after checking their ID cards to ensure they were intelligence officers.

The group offered no evidence to support the allegation that spies were on the bus.

Earlier Saturday, deputy commissioner of police Habibullah Mosakhail said the gunmen had set up a blockade, then stopped the bus and went through the passengers’ ID cards. They took nine people with them, all from the eastern Punjab province, and fled into the mountains, he said.

Police later recovered nine bodies under a bridge about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the highway.
On Friday, the same gunmen had opened fire at a vehicle that failed to stop for their blockade, killing two and wounding six, police said.

A search for the perpetrators was underway, Mosakhail said. The bus was heading from the provincial capital of Quetta to Taftan, a town bordering Iran.

Witness Sajjad Ahmed, who was a passenger on the bus, said there were 70 people on board. Masked men stopped the vehicle near the city of Nushki, took away nine people and told the driver to continue the journey, he told reporters.

“We heard the armed men open fire on those people as we drove away,” said Ahmed. “We heard the sounds of firing. The driver took the bus to the closest police station. We didn’t know if those people were alive or not.”

Another passenger, Mohammad Tahir, said the gunmen who boarded the bus had targeted people from Punjab. “They said, ‘Get up from your seats whoever is from Punjab,’” said Tahir.

They asked the standing passengers if they were from that province and then swore at them.

 “’You kill our children,” said Tahir, quoting the gunmen. ‘“You do bad things to us.’“

An initial police report said that 19 of the passengers were traveling to Iran on their way to Western countries as migrants. The report, shared with The Associated Press, said that two of those abducted and killed were human smugglers. 

Punjab has emerged as a hotspot for Pakistanis trying to make the perilous journey to Europe hoping for a better life there.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif condemned the attack, expressing his “deep sorrow and regret over this shocking incident.” He offered his condolences to the families of the victims and said he stood by them in their hour of grief, according to a statement from his office.

“The perpetrators of this incident of terrorism and their facilitators will be punished,” Sharif said.

Abductions are rare in Balochistan, where militants usually target police forces and soldiers or infrastructure.

Although the government says it has quelled the insurgency, violence in Balochistan has persisted and the bus attack is the latest incident in the restive region.

Authorities are also struggling to contain militancy in other parts of the country.

In the northwest province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the army said Saturday that two soldiers were killed in a gunfight with militants in Bunar district.

In a statement, the army said a high-profile Pakistani Taliban commander was also killed. He was involved in activities against security forces, extortion and the targeted killing of civilians, according to the statement.

A spokesperson for the Pakistani Taliban, Muhammad Khorasani, paid tribute to the slain commander.


More than 20 killed by lightning strikes in Pakistan’s Punjab, Balochistan

More than 20 killed by lightning strikes in Pakistan’s Punjab, Balochistan
Updated 13 April 2024
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More than 20 killed by lightning strikes in Pakistan’s Punjab, Balochistan

More than 20 killed by lightning strikes in Pakistan’s Punjab, Balochistan
  • The deaths occurred in Muzaffargarh, Rajanpur, Lodhran, Bahawalpur, Dera Bugti and Pishin
  • Authorities advise masses to stay at safe places during bad weather, avoid unnecessary travel

ISLAMABAD: More than 20 people were killed by lightning strikes amid heavy rains and thunderstorms in Pakistan’s Punjab and Balochistan provinces, authorities said on Saturday.
The death toll from lightning strikes in Punjab’s Muzaffargarh, Rahim Yar Khan, Rajanpur, Lodhran, Bahawalpur and Bahawalnagar districts has risen to 17, according to the Punjab Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA).
PDMA Director-General Irfan Ali Kathia has directed deputy commissioners of these districts to provide best medical care to the injured persons.
“I am extremely sorry for the loss of human lives,” DG Kathia was quoted as saying by the PDMA. “Financial assistance will be provided to the families of the deceased.”
He said combating natural calamities was only possible through joint efforts and instructed all civic bodies to stay alert.
“The public is requested to stay in safe places during bad weather,” the official said. “Avoid unnecessary travel.”
In the southwestern Balochistan province, at least eight people were killed in similar incidents in Surab, Dera Bugti, Pishin and other areas, according to local media reports.
Rains, thunderstorms and gusty winds hit Balochistan, Punjab and Khyber Paktunkhwa (KP) provinces on Friday. Intermittent showers continued in these regions on Saturday.
In KP’s Lower Chitral district, a man died after roof of a house collapsed amid heavy rain, according to provincial authorities. The rains triggered landslides in multiple areas in the country’s northwest.
Pakistan has been prone to natural disasters and consistently ranks among one of the most adversely affected countries from the effects of climate change.
Last month, heavy rains in Pakistan’s Balochistan triggered urban floods in Gwadar and Kech districts, destroying nearly 100 homes and killing at least five people.
In 2022, torrential monsoon rains triggered the most devastating floods in Pakistan’s history, killing around 1,700 people. Over 33 million people were affected by the floodwaters — a staggering number close to the population of Canada.
Millions of homes, tens of thousands of schools as well as thousands of kilometers of roads and railways still need to be rebuilt.


Pakistan PM meets Muslim World League chief, lauds him for promoting Islam’s true image

Pakistan PM meets Muslim World League chief, lauds him for promoting Islam’s true image
Updated 13 April 2024
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Pakistan PM meets Muslim World League chief, lauds him for promoting Islam’s true image

Pakistan PM meets Muslim World League chief, lauds him for promoting Islam’s true image
  • MWL Secretary-General Dr. Mohammad bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa arrived in Islamabad on April 7 on a nine-day trip
  • The visit is aimed at fostering interfaith harmony and strengthening Saudi Arabia-Pakistan bilateral relations

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Saturday met with Muslim World League (MWL) Secretary-General Dr. Mohammad bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa and lauded him for his valuable contributions for the promotion of true image of Islam around the world, PM Sharif’s office said.
Dr. Al-Issa arrived in Islamabad on April 7 on a nine-day trip aimed at fostering interfaith harmony and strengthening Saudi Arabia’s bilateral relations with Pakistan. The MWL is a Makkah-based non-governmental organization that represents followers of Islam around the world.
In his meeting with the MWL secretary-general in Islamabad, PM Sharif thanked Dr. Al-Issa for visiting Pakistan on the occasion of Eid Al-Fitr and conveyed his best wishes for King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“He [Sharif’s] also acknowledged the critical role of Muslim World League in developing unity among the Muslim Ummah, advocating for Muslim causes around the world and in spreading the message of peace, tolerance and inter-faith harmony,” the PM’s office said in a statement.
“Extending his best wishes to the Secretary General for the success of his ongoing visit, the Prime Minister assured him of Pakistan’s continued support and partnership with the Muslim World League.”
Sharif underscored that Pakistan attached utmost importance to its strong fraternal ties with Saudi Arabia that were rooted in common faith, shared values and culture, according to the statement. The MWL secretary-general praised the prime minister for his commitment and efforts to further strengthen ties between the two countries.
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy strong trade, defense and cultural ties. The Kingdom is home to over 2.7 million Pakistani expatriates and serves as the top destination for remittances to the cash-strapped South Asian country.
Saudi Arabia has also often come to cash-strapped Pakistan’s aid by regularly providing the South Asian country oil on deferred payment facilities and offering direct financial support to help stabilize its economy and shore up its foreign exchange reserves.
During his ongoing visit to Pakistan, 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.


Pakistan, Chinese firm sign $200 mln deal to convert thermal power plant on solar energy

Pakistan, Chinese firm sign $200 mln deal to convert thermal power plant on solar energy
Updated 13 April 2024
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Pakistan, Chinese firm sign $200 mln deal to convert thermal power plant on solar energy

Pakistan, Chinese firm sign $200 mln deal to convert thermal power plant on solar energy
  • Pakistan has been struggling with a balance of payments crisis, record inflation and steep currency devaluation
  • To cut its energy import bill, Islamabad is looking for cheaper imports and alternate ways for power generation

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has signed a $200 million agreement with a Chinese firm for the conversion of a thermal power plant on solar energy, Pakistani state media reported on Saturday.
The agreement, which was realized through Pakistan’s Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC), would help upgrade an existing thermal power plant to a 300-megawatt solar power plant, the state-run Radio Pakistan broadcaster reported.
“The project will generate 400 million units of electricity per year at a significantly lower cost, reducing the cost from forty-five rupees to fourteen rupees per unit,” the report read.
“The project will eliminate the need for Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO).”
The conversion of the project on solar energy is estimated to save $44 million annually due to a reduction in import bills and offer attractive returns to stakeholders.
Cash-strapped Pakistan lacks adequate resources to run its oil- and gas-powered plants and imports most of its energy needs. The South Asian country is struggling with a balance of payments crisis, record inflation and steep currency devaluation.
In order to deal with the problems, Islamabad is currently looking to secure cheaper energy imports and find alternate ways to lessen the cost of power generation.


Over 3,000 Indian Sikh pilgrims arrive in Pakistan for Baisakhi festival

Over 3,000 Indian Sikh pilgrims arrive in Pakistan for Baisakhi festival
Updated 13 April 2024
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Over 3,000 Indian Sikh pilgrims arrive in Pakistan for Baisakhi festival

Over 3,000 Indian Sikh pilgrims arrive in Pakistan for Baisakhi festival
  • Sikhs are small minority based in Punjab region divided between Muslim-majority Pakistan, Hindu-majority India
  • The Baisakhi festival marks the beginning of the Sikh New Year and symbolizes renewal and spiritual rejuvenation

ISLAMABAD: More than 3,000 Sikh pilgrims arrived in Pakistan from India on Saturday to celebrate the Baisakhi harvest festival, Pakistani state media reported.
Sikhs are a small minority based in the Punjab region that is 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 Hasan Abdal, some 45 kilometers northwest of Islamabad.
“Over three thousand Sikh yatrees [pilgrims] from India arrived [in] Pakistan through Wagha border today,” the state-run Radio Pakistan broadcaster reported. “The officials of Evacuee Trust Property Board received the yatrees.”

Sikh pilgrims chant slogans before leaving for Pakistan to celebrate ‘Baisakhi’, a spring harvest festival, in Amritsar on April 13, 2024. (AFP)

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.
Vaisakhi 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 be visit their religious places in Hasan Abdal, Nankana Sahib, Narowal, Eminabad and Badami Bagh in Lahore, according to the report.
The EPTB has finalized all arrangements for the pilgrims, including accommodation, security and transport.

Sikh pilgrims chant slogans before leaving for Pakistan to celebrate ‘Baisakhi’, a spring harvest festival, in Amritsar on April 13, 2024. (AFP)