‘My duty’: Pakistani policewoman negotiates with crowd to save woman from blasphemy mob

Special ‘My duty’: Pakistani policewoman negotiates with crowd to save woman from blasphemy mob
Syeda Shehrbano Naqvi, an assistant superintendent with Punjab police speaks during an interview with AFP at her office in Lahore on February 27, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 28 February 2024
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‘My duty’: Pakistani policewoman negotiates with crowd to save woman from blasphemy mob

‘My duty’: Pakistani policewoman negotiates with crowd to save woman from blasphemy mob
  • 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.”


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 39 min 49 sec ago
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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
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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).
 


Heavy rains kill 32 in northwest Pakistan in six days

Heavy rains kill 32 in northwest Pakistan in six days
Updated 17 April 2024
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Heavy rains kill 32 in northwest Pakistan in six days

Heavy rains kill 32 in northwest Pakistan in six days
  • PDMA warns of another spell of heavy downpours from April 17-21
  • Rs160 million released for assistance of families of deceased people

PESHAWAR: At least 32 people were killed and another 42 injured in the last six days as heavy rains and floods have thrashed Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) said in a report on Wednesday. 

The rains started last Friday and have caused large-scale damage in different parts of KP while the PDMA has warned of another spell of heavy downpours in the province from April 17-21. 

The report issued by PDMA on Wednesday morning said the 32 casualties in KP included 15 children, 12 men, and 5 women while the injured comprised 6 women, 28 men, and 7 children. A total of 1370 houses had also been damaged, 160 of them completely.

The country’s national and provincial disaster management authorities said on Tuesday almost 60 people had been killed throughout the country due to the current spell of rains and resultant floods. 

Residents stand near the flooded waters outside their homes following heavy rains in Charsadda district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on April 17, 2024.(AFP)

“Further heavy rains are expected to cause flash floods in low-lying areas [of KP] and have raised concerns about landslides in hilly regions,” PDMA spokesperson Ihsan Dawar told Arab News. 

“The district administrations should take proactive and immediate measures before the second spell of the rains begins … and ensure the availability of small and large machinery.”

Some of the districts where loss of life and property took place are Khyber, Upper and Lower Dir, Chitral Upper and Lower, Swat, Bajaur, Shangla, Mansehra, Mohmand, Malakand, Kurram, Tank, Mardan, Peshawar, Charsadda, Nowshera, Buner, Hangu, Batagram, Bannu, North and South Waziristan, Kohat, Dera Ismail Khan and Kozai.

A displaced man waits for assistance outside his tent at a makeshift camp after fleeing from his flood hit home following heavy rains in Charsadda district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on April 17, 2024. (AFP)

Relief activities have been launched in several affected areas and the PDMA has released over Rs160 million for families of those who have died due to rain-related incidents, according to the PDMA spokesperson. 

“The loss of precious human lives in various incidents resulting from the rains is deeply saddening,” the chief minister of KP said in a statement.

The eastern province of Punjab has reported 21 lighting- and collapse-related deaths, while Balochistan, in the country’s southwest, reported 10 dead as authorities declared a state of emergency following flash floods.

On Wednesday, Balochistan was bracing for more rains amid ongoing rescue and relief operations, as flash floods inundated villages near the coastal city of Gwadar.

In 2022, downpours swelled rivers and at one point flooded a third of Pakistan, killing 1,739 people. The floods also caused $30 billion in damages, from which Pakistan is still trying to rebuild. Balochistan saw rainfall at 590 percent above average that year, while Karachi saw 726 percent more rainfall than usual.


Pakistan has world’s highest number of viral hepatitis C infections, WHO report says

Pakistan has world’s highest number of viral hepatitis C infections, WHO report says
Updated 17 April 2024
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Pakistan has world’s highest number of viral hepatitis C infections, WHO report says

Pakistan has world’s highest number of viral hepatitis C infections, WHO report says
  • Pakistan among ten nations that collectively shoulder nearly two-thirds of the global burden of hepatitis B and C
  • Hepatitis is second leading infectious cause of death globally with 1.3 million deaths yearly, same as tuberculosis

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has the highest number of viral hepatitis C infections in the world, around 8.8 million, and accounts for 44 percent of all new hepatitis C infections attributed to unsafe medical injections, a new report from the World Health Organization released this month says.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) 2024 Global Hepatitis Report, the number of lives lost due to viral hepatitis is increasing, with the disease being the second leading infectious cause of death globally with 1.3 million deaths per year, the same as tuberculosis, a top infectious killer.

New data from 187 countries show that the estimated number of deaths from viral hepatitis increased from 1.1 million in 2019 to 1.3 million in 2022. Of these, 83 percent were caused by hepatitis B, and 17 percent by hepatitis C. Every day, there are 3500 people dying globally due to hepatitis B and C infections.

“This report paints a troubling picture: despite progress globally in preventing hepatitis infections, deaths are rising because far too few people with hepatitis are being diagnosed and treated,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. 

“WHO is committed to supporting countries to use all the tools at their disposal — at access prices — to save lives and turn this trend around.”

While Pakistan is the world leader according to the WHO report for hepatitis C infections, if the number of hepatitis B and hepatitis C cases are combined, Pakis­tan ranks fifth in the world, only trailing behind China, India, Indonesia and Nige­ria, with around 12.6 million cases reported in 2022.

Bangladesh, China, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, the Russian Federation and Viet Nam, collectively shoulder nearly two-thirds of the global burden of hepatitis B and C. 

Achieving universal access to prevention, diagnosis, and treatment in these ten countries by 2025, alongside intensified efforts in the African Region, is essential to get the global response back on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, according to the WHO.


Condolences from Pakistan as at least 66 killed in Afghanistan rains, flash floods

Condolences from Pakistan as at least 66 killed in Afghanistan rains, flash floods
Updated 17 April 2024
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Condolences from Pakistan as at least 66 killed in Afghanistan rains, flash floods

Condolences from Pakistan as at least 66 killed in Afghanistan rains, flash floods
  • Number of reported casualties has doubled since Sunday, many were killed when their homes collapsed 
  • Storms adding to challenges facing Afghanistan, still recovering from decades of conflict and natural disasters

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Tuesday offered condolences to neighboring Afghanistan as heavy rains and flash floods killed at least 66 people, damaged homes, infrastructure, and farmlands across provinces.

The storms, which started over the weekend, are adding to the challenges facing Afghanistan, which is still recovering from decades of conflict and natural disasters, including unprecedented droughts in the past four years, as well as a series of deadly earthquakes.

“The Government and people of Pakistan express deepest sympathies and condolences at the loss of precious lives and livelihoods and damage to properties caused by heavy rains and flash flooding in several provinces of Afghanistan,” the Pakistan foreign office said in a statement.

“We pray that the Almighty may grant patience and fortitude to the bereaved families to bear the irreparable loss and wish a swift recovery to the injured.”

Janan Sayeq, the spokesperson for the National Disaster Management Authority, told Arab News at least 66 people had been killed and 36 injured as per preliminary reports.

The number of reported casualties had doubled since Sunday, raising fears the actual toll could be higher. Many of the victims were killed when their homes collapsed on them.

Sayeq said 1,235 houses were destroyed.

Flash floods were reported in 23 of the country’s 34 provinces, damaging crops ahead of the harvest season, and badly hitting food security in the country as UN agencies estimate more than half of its population is in need of humanitarian assistance.

“The wheat crops will be ready for collection in a few weeks. But the rainfalls could destroy most of it,” said Gul Hussain, a farmer from the eastern Laghman province, which is one of the main agricultural regions.

The impact of drought, and now also floods, has been devastating for rural families struggling with access to water.

“The floods have had severe effects on the lives of people in the southeast, southwest and east of the country and have caused loss of life and damage to houses, as well as economic and agricultural effects as crops are destroyed and livestock are killed,” Najibullah Sadid, a hydromophologist, told Arab News.

The country’s mountainous topography and reduced vegetation are leaving little to no space for people to escape flood events, as preparedness and prevention in the face of the changing climate are almost nonexistent.

Water management infrastructure — such as check dams, trenches, terraces, and reservoirs that could help reduce flooding — is insufficient.

“For instance, Iran has 22 times more storage capacity and Pakistan 13 times more storage capacity than Afghanistan, making the country more vulnerable to floods during rainfalls,” Sadid said.

“Considering the increasing climate change effects as well as frequency and intensity of rainfalls, steps taken during the past two decades and now are limited and are not sufficient to control the situation.”