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Asia News PAKISTAN World News

The Baloch people are alienated: Today so are the Pashtuns in Pakistan

Returning to the alienation of Pashtuns it may be mentioned that today they need to carry special travel documents to move across the border which once a free movement zone. Many Pashtuns shared their property; and families lived on both sides of the Durand Line without any problem. Trade across the border was normal. Now all that has changed permanently because the Pakistan Army and its state believe that Pashtuns can no longer be trusted and so a fence has been built all along the Durand Line in the name of security … writes Dr Sakariya Kareem

If there was a moment in Pakistan’s history, when another Bangladesh could occur, it is now. The reasons for this lie in the complete and total alienation of the Pashtuns living in Pakistan. Once seen as the closest ally of Punjabis in Pakistan, the Pashtuns today face deportation and humiliation to a point of no return. The Pakistan Army which they used to serve with great pride, has become the enemy. Like the Baloch people, victims of the Army’s jackboot policy, Pashtuns are out on the streets today to protest and express their anger. No place provides greater evidence of this angst than in the border town of Chaman, where for the past six months, local Pashtuns have been sitting, in protest against Pakistan’s new policy of dividing the Pashtun community spread across the Durand Line. Is this the last straw for the creation of a Pakhtunistan or Pashtoonistan?

Recall also that the Baloch people have been the target of the Pakistani state for several decades now for seeking a more autonomous way of life. For those interested in the current situation, reference is made to the monthly report of Paank, a human rights group of the Baloch National Movement. The report outlines the various human rights abuses committed in Balochistan, including incidents of enforced disappearances, protests by families of missing Baloch individuals for their safe return, and the staged killing of two Baloch individuals previously detained in Karachi. Protests have also occurred in Pasni for Abdul Raziq; in Daki Bazar, Kech, for Shoaib Ahmed and Balach; in Jhao, Awaran, for Tahir Baloch and Zafar Akbar; and in Mastung against the enforced disappearance of Ameer Hamza, where protestors blocked the Quetta-Karachi highway.

Returning to the alienation of Pashtuns it may be mentioned that today they need to carry special travel documents to move across the border which once a free movement zone. Many Pashtuns shared their property; and families lived on both sides of the Durand Line without any problem. Trade across the border was normal. Now all that has changed permanently because the Pakistan Army and its state believe that Pashtuns can no longer be trusted and so a fence has been built all along the Durand Line in the name of security.  The distrust became sharper during the recent elections in which the Army carried out a systematic campaign to oust popular leaders like Mohsin Dawar through targeted attacks and the manipulation of the poll process. Officially, the winner in the North Waziristan NA-50 constituency was Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUIF) candidate Mufti Misbahuddin. However, he was declared winner four days after the elections, a telling sign of the Army’s duplicitous games.

The PTI-backed independent candidate Aurangzeb Khan was the runner-up with 33,852 votes while Mohsin Dawar, National Democratic Movement’s candidate secured the third place with a close 32,768 votes. A firing inci­dent occurred during a protest by NDM workers against the de­lay in election results in North Wa­ziristan, resulting in the deaths of two individuals and injuries to six others, including NDM Chairman Mohsin Dawar. To ensure that the Pakistan Army’s candidate was declared winner in any case, pliable government staff were posted as presiding officers to stage-manage the results. Primary schools which were declared as polling centres, had two rooms combined as polling stations for both male and female voters. This ensured that women did not come to vote. Even where these measures failed, the polling staff were taken to the nearest Army and Frontier Corps barracks and forced to sign blank Form 45, which is the document used to officially declare the election result. There could be no better word for this than ‘rigging’.

Thousands rally in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa demanding durable peace.(Photo :facebook.com/PashtunTM)

Back in Balochistan, the March 2024 Paank report raises serious concerns about the rise in enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. March 2024 saw 24 cases of enforced disappearances, with 21 individuals returning home from detention. However, two men picked up by security forces in Karachi were killed in a staged encounter, and their bodies were discarded. Pakistani security forces abducted two men from Karachi’s Lyari area on 15-17 August 2023. Identified as Zaman Baloch and Shoaib Ali, they were later killed in a staged encounter near Manghopir’s Northern Bypass, falsely claimed as an armed confrontation. Paank said its workers reached out to the families of the deceased, who were assured by the Sindh Police of their return before Eid. Tragically, the families only received their bodies riddled with bullets. The report concludes that the figures on social media about Baloch missing persons and enforced disappearances only show a fraction of the reality.

It is well known that the Pakistani state has used enforced disappearances as a tool to suppress Baloch resistance. This practice has intensified over the past two decades, targeting educated Baloch youth, the Paank report said. The report also details various protests and demonstrations by families of missing persons. It recalls the case of Abdul Raziq Baloch from Surab, who was returned 16 hours after his disappearance. This happened after his family and the public blocked a highway in protest. However, Khudadad Siraj, a medical student remains missing, despite his family and peers’ protesting for his safe release. The list of those who have disappeared is never-ending and, it is likely, there will be more to come.  Enforced disappearances and staged encounters exacerbated the climate of fear and terror in Balochistan.

Families have been protesting in Kech, Gwadar, Jhaoo, Surab, and Mastung for the safe release of their relatives. Despite these protests and international condemnation from human rights groups, the Pakistani state’s stance remains unchanged, Paank observed. The unrepresented psychological and mental anguish of thousands of families affected by these disappearances remains untold. Paank highlights the plight of Baloch missing persons, and states they are subjected to long-term confinement and torture. A few are eventually released, but they often suffer from mental trauma. Pertinently, the State continues to exert control over their thought processes even after their release. Consequently, these individuals are compelled to choose between self-exile or apathy towards the suffering. It is precisely this apathy that is today the bane of the Pashtuns too.

Since the announcement of the election results in North Waziristan, protests have erupted, and in clashes with the police, two persons were killed and, six others narrowly escaped being assassinated. Blatant manipulation in the February elections was really the last straw, leaving Pashtuns angry and disheartened. Pakistan has just added a few more million disgruntled citizens on the streets in protest. Adding fuel to the fire is the plight of the Baloch people, who seem to get no respite. In a real sense, societal alienation in Pakistan has intensified with the Pashtun seeking ways to get redressal of their grievances, knowing fully well that the Pakistani state has no longer any trust in the community.

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Columns Education PAKISTAN

28 Million Out of School: Pakistan in Throes of a Education Crisis

Pakistan’s education crisis is marked by a shockingly large number of out-of-school children, very low learning outcomes, wide achievement gaps and inadequate teacher efforts, writes Dr. Sakariya Kareem

Recently Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai expressed concern over Pakistan’s education crisis.  In a letter to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, she wrote “Currently, 26 million children — predominantly girls in the poorest districts of Pakistan — remain out of school. Furthermore, more than 200,000 teachers’ seats are vacant nationwide.” “This gap is severely affecting the functioning of schools and negatively impacting student retention and quality of schooling. Our collective aim should be to design a measurable, realistic plan to bring these numbers down significantly over the course of your term,” she added.

Although through her letter Malala has highlighted the crisis in Pakistan’s education sector, the actual number of out-of-school children in the country stands at a startling 28 million, somewhat more than what she has quoted.  Despite tall claims made by successive governments to enroll out-of-school children, the number of such kids continues to grow at a rapid pace.

Pakistan’s education crisis is marked by a shockingly large number of out-of-school children, very low learning outcomes, wide achievement gaps and inadequate teacher efforts.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif speaks in an interaction with foreign media in Islamabad, Pakistan. (Photo by Ahmad Kamal/Xinhua/IANS)

In January this year, a report on the performance of the education sector was released by the Pakistan Institute of Education, a subsidiary of the education ministry revealed a lack of funds, poor pupil-teacher ratio, missing basic facilities as well as 26 million Out of School children (OOSC) in  Pakistan. The report highlighted that an alarming 26.21 million – basically, 39 percent of children in Pakistan are out of school. OOSC are defined as children of school going age that are not going to school. The compulsory range of school going age is stipulated as five to 16 years under article 25-A of the Constitution. The number of  OOSC stands at  11.73 million in Punjab, 7.63m in Sindh, 3.63m in KP, 3.13m in Balochistan, and 0.08 million in Islamabad. The percentage of out-of-school children decreased from 44 percent in 2016-17 to 39 percent in 2021-22.

More than 50 per cent of all school going age children are out of school in 17 out of 28 districts in Balochistan. District Shaheed Sikandarabad has the highest proportion of OOSC in Balochistan at 76 per cent, with Sherani following at 70 percent of out of school children between the ages of five and 16 years.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, district Kohistan has the highest proportion of OOSC at 60 per cent.

The results from key assessments conducted by the National Assessment Wing, specifically the Trends in International Mathematics & Science Study (TIMSS) and the National Achievement Test (NAT), highlighted the urgent need to improve learning outcomes among students. The report said that in 2021-22, spending on education remained 1.7percent of GDP.

In terms of enrolments, these happen later than required, with a lack of emphasis on early childhood education leading up to class 1. Drop outs start to happen between 9-11 years of age.  The dropout ratio rises steadily with age. However, the proportion of children who have never attended school remains overwhelming at all age levels.

A teacher attends a class at a makeshift school set up in a public park in Islamabad, capital of Pakistan. (File pic: Xinhua/Ahmad Kamal/IANS)

Large schools across Pakistan simply lack toilets, potable water among other basic facilities. As per the report, only 23 percent of primary schools in Balochistan have access to potable water. Only 15 percent schools in Balochistan have electricity. In terms of toilet facilities  scarce in all primary schools, across Pakistan, Balochistan fares worst with 77 percent primary schools, 31 percent middle schools, and four percent high schools not having toilets for students. In Sindh, 43 percent primary schools do not have toilet facilities. In Balochistan, the situation is alarming.  In Azad Kashmir, 58 percent primary, 34 percent middle, and 23 percent high schools do not have this facility.

OOSC in Pakistan can be compared to that in the Sub-Saharan countries. It is one of the major challenges faced by the education sector of the country. Poverty and lack of awareness were major factors behind this issue. According to a teacher from Islamabad, “In most of the cases, the kids do labour work to help their families and the children will not be able to join schools till this issue is resolved.” Governments have highlighted very slow progress on education participation, completion and closing of the gender gap”, and successive cabinets have approved plans for bringing OOSC to schools, but practically no serious steps have been taken to handle this crisis.

Furthermore in terms of the quality of education. Consider this statistic. The result of the last CSS examination, announced on September 18, 2023 reflects the quality of graduates being produced by our higher educational institutions (HEIs). The Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) conducts a competitive examination, commonly known as CSS, for recruitment of officers at the starting stage in the civil services of Pakistan. As per the FPSC, at least 20,000 candidates attempted the written part of the examination, of whom only 393 candidates, or 1.94 percent, passed.This reflects the falling standards of Pakistan’s education over several years. One of the FPSC  reports states that many of the candidates were not even familiar with elementary mathematics. Many candidates “did not even know the direction of a simple compass, confusing north with south and east with west.” Almost all its reports complain about the absence of analytical skills among the candidates who mostly reproduce “crammed knowledge.”

A student writes “Yes I am Malala” on the blackboard at a government school in southwest Pakistan’s Quetta. (File Photo: Xinhua/Irfan/IANS)

An inclusive education does not discriminate by gender, language, religion, etc. On gender, discrimination is manifest at the outset when income constrained families spend more to educate sons than daughters. Children whose home language is not English or Urdu cannot acquire elementary education in their own language even if their parents want. The exclusion of languages such as Sindhi and Balochi means not only their slow death but also the withering of their associated cultures and identities.The religious content of one religion is diffused throughout textbooks prescribed for secular subjects. This practice is justified by the argument that Pakistan is overwhelmingly Muslim (97.5 per cent), which makes it alright to propagate predominantly Islamic content.

Thus, Pakistan’s school education is neither inclusive nor equitable and is departing further from these objectives. Because Pakistan’s ruling elite is just playing along with the UN? One of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) obligates the country to provide inclusive and equitable education for all. The SDGs were preceded by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for 15 years. None were attained in Pakistan without any analysis of the reasons for the failure. Instead, the country signed on to a new set of goals with a fresh lease of 15 years during which officials would continue to hold meetings and participate in conferences. Meanwhile, the people in whose name the exercise is being conducted are largely excluded from the conversation.

ALSO READ: Understanding Pakistan’s Struggle with Terrorism

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Asia News Columns PAKISTAN

Understanding Pakistan’s Struggle with Terrorism

Terror attacks have surged in Pakistan in tandem with the resurgence of the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan, writes Dr. Sakariya Kareem

Pakistan’s relationship with Afghanistan, a complex and turbulent one, is driven by its geopolitical ambitions and strategic concerns. Historically, Pakistan has pursued policies aimed at diminishing India’s influence in the region, often at the expense of stability in Afghanistan. This intricate strategy has involved supporting radical factions within Afghanistan, including groups like the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network, through various means such as intelligence cooperation, the provision of weaponry, and offering sanctuary. Despite pressure from international actors, notably the United States, Pakistan has persistently been reluctant to alter its approach, even as sporadic attempts at fostering strategic partnerships through economic aid have been made.

The motivations underlying Pakistan’s actions are multifaceted. Firstly, Pakistan is apprehensive about the prospect of an unstable Afghanistan becoming a safe- haven for anti-Pakistani militant groups, thereby escalating regional instability. Consequently, Pakistan views maintaining ties with the Taliban as strategically imperative, albeit reluctantly, considering the group as a necessary ally among Afghanistan’s political actors.

Furthermore, Pakistan faces internal challenges in countering terrorism, particularly in its Punjab heartland, where targeting militant groups aligned with Afghanistan could incite retaliatory attacks. This underscores Pakistan’s limited control over the militants it has historically supported, a reality it hesitates to acknowledge due to potential domestic and international ramifications.

Security personnel examine the blast site in southwest Pakistan’s Quetta. (File Photo by Asad/Xinhua/IANS)

Additionally, Pakistan is wary of the emergence of a robust Afghan government aligned with India, perceiving it as a strategic threat that could encircle Pakistan. This apprehension was accentuated in President Trump’s 2017 speech on Afghanistan, where he hinted at leveraging India’s influence to pressure Pakistan, primarily through economic means. Despite assurances recognising Pakistan’s legitimate interests in Afghanistan, Pakistan remains cautious of India’s expanding role, including perceived support for Baluchi separatist groups within Pakistan. Consequently, gestures from the United States to improve India-Pakistan relations may inadvertently heighten Pakistan’s concerns about India’s regional influence.

Terror attacks have surged in Pakistan in tandem with the resurgence of the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, over 1,500 people were killed in terrorist attacks in Pakistan in 2023, marking a 50% increase from 2021 and triple the number in 2020. The Islamic State Khorasan (ISKP), an affiliate of the Islamic State, has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks, including the bombing targeting the convention of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), an Islamist political party within Pakistan’s coalition government. Paradoxically, while sharing ideological similarities with the TTP, the JUI’s participation in constitutional-democratic processes has led to its condemnation by the Islamic State as “hypocrites.”

Pakistan’s struggle with terrorism traces back to the late 1990s when local veterans of the U.S.-backed mujahideen in Afghanistan redirected their focus to domestic issues. Despite Pakistan’s apparent alliance with the United States in the Global War on Terror post-9/11, it failed to dismantle jihadist groups operating within its territory fully. The toll of this approach has been devastating, with over 16,225 terror attacks reported since 2000, resulting in 66,601 deaths, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal.

(Xinhua/Huang Zongzhi) (syq)

Groups like the Afghan Taliban have received substantial support from the Pakistani government despite their ties with Al-Qaeda. This support stems from Pakistan’s military objectives to secure more significant influence in Afghanistan relative to its rival, India, following the U.S. withdrawal. Concurrently, Pakistani authorities have taken a hardline stance against international terror groups such as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, as well as groups perpetrating sectarian violence or insurgency against Pakistani authorities.

While Pakistani officials may draw distinctions between various jihadist factions, militants often operate without such nuance. Despite theological differences, their commitment to jihad remains steadfast. The discovery of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad before his death in a U.S. operation in 2011 underscores the resilience of Pakistan’s jihadist infrastructure. Although Pakistan collaborated with the U.S. in apprehending other Al-Qaeda leaders between 2001 and 2011, bin Laden’s ability to evade detection for years highlights potential support from non-priority jihadi groups.

Under former Prime Minister Imran Khan, Pakistan initiated a ceasefire agreement with the TTP, which later collapsed amid allegations of military aggression. The subsequent government rejected the TTP’s demands for implementing Islamic law in bordering districts, attributing terror attacks to its splinter factions. While Pakistan’s military leadership has pledged a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy targeting all violent extremist groups, its implementation remains pending. Without decisive action, new offshoots and splinter groups of existing jihadist movements will continue to emerge, perpetuating a cycle of violence.

A Pakistan Elite Police Force commandos takes part in a drill to fight against militants at a school in northwest Pakistan’s Peshawar. (Xinhua/Ahmad Sidique/IANS)

In conclusion, Pakistan’s intricate relationship with Afghanistan, shaped by strategic imperatives and historical alliances, has contributed to regional instability and a persistent terrorism threat within its borders. Despite external pressures and intermittent attempts to recalibrate its approach, Pakistan’s reluctance to sever ties with certain militant groups underscores the complexities of navigating its security landscape. Addressing these challenges demands concerted efforts from Pakistan, its regional neighbours, and international partners to confront terrorism comprehensively and foster stability in the region.

ALSO READ: Pakistan Army doing a ‘Balochistan’ in Pashtun-majority areas

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Arab News Asia News PAKISTAN

Pakistan Army doing a ‘Balochistan’ in Pashtun-majority areas

Once considered the closest allies of Punjabi Pakistan, the Pashtuns today face deportation and humiliation for no fault of their own. The army, which they used to serve with great pride, has become the enemy. Like the Baloch, victims of the army’s jackboot policy for decades, the Pashtuns are on the streets to protest and express their anger … writes Dr Sakariya Kareem

The Pakistan Army is now set up on demolishing the great Pashtun community by killing many of the young leaders under the guise of counter-terrorism since 2001, then calling the protesting Pashtuns as enemies and now snatching their only right to a just share in federal politics by intimidation and manipulation of the election process. They are repeating a Balochistan in Pashtun-dominated tribal areas.

The anger against the army has been growing for years in these areas abutting the controversial Durand Line. Millions of Pashtuns live on either side of the disputed border with Pashtuns refusing to accept the British-drawn boundary line, cutting through their community. Scores of them have homes and hearth on both sides of the border. Many cross and return across the border for trade, family functions and other daily rituals. For the past two years, everything has changed.

Pashtuns have been dubbed as foreigners. They need travel documents to live and move about in their homeland. Trades have stopped. Family ties are broken. There is mounting anger among the Pashtuns who had been nursing a grouse since 2001 when their homes were bombed and they were uprooted in the name of counter-terrorist operations conducted by the Pakistan Army on behalf of the United States.

Balochistan rocked by Pashtun and Baloch protests.(photo:IN)

Once considered the closest allies of Punjabi Pakistan, the Pashtuns today face deportation and humiliation for no fault of their own. The army, which they used to serve with great pride, has become the enemy. Like the Baloch, victims of the army’s jackboot policy for decades, the Pashtuns are on the streets to protest and express their anger.

There is no place more telling about the Pashtun anger than the border town of Chaman, where for the past six months the local Pashtuns have been sitting on protest against Pakistan’s new policy of dividing the Pashtun community spread across the border. The Pashtuns now need special travel documents to move across the border which once was merely a walk across the border. Many of the Pashtuns shared the border in their property; families lived on both sides of the Durand Line without any hitch; trade across the border was normal. Now all that has changed permanently because the Pakistan Army and its state believe that Pashtuns can no longer be trusted.

The distrust between the army and the community became sharper during the recent elections in which the army carried out a systematic campaign to oust popular leaders like Mohsin Dawar through targeted attacks and manipulation of the poll process during the recent elections.

How the election results were declared showed the brazen manner in which the army manipulated the results. The winner was Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUIF) candidate Mufti Misbahuddin. He was declared winner four days after the elections, a telling sign of the army’s duplicitous games during the elections.

In the protests since then, two persons have been killed and six others have escaped assassination attempts by a thread. When the killings and targeted attacks on Pashtun leaders failed, the army posted pliable government staff as presiding officers so that the election process and results could be managed without fail. The next step was to declare primary schools, often two rooms, as combined polling stations for both male and female voters, a clever ploy to prevent women from voting. Even when these measures failed, the polling staff in some areas were taken to the nearest army and Frontier Corps barracks and they were forced to sign blank Form 45.

These blatant manipulations in the February elections have been like the last straws on the back of the already burdened camel, leaving Pashtuns angry and disheartened. Pakistan has added a few more million disgruntled citizens on the streets in protest.

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-Top News China PAKISTAN

Shehbaz Orders Fool-Proof Security For Chinese Workers

This comes after a terrorist attack resulting in the death of five Chinese nationals in Pakistan, reports Asian Lite News

Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has directed all the security agencies to ensure fool-proof security arrangements for the Chinese citizens working on various projects in Pakistan following a recent terrorist attack in Shangla district on March 26, as reported by Geo News.

The terrorist attack had targeted a vehicle, resulting in the killing of a woman five Chinese nationals, and a Pakistani driver.

Subsequently, work on the hydropower project has been suspended since the attack, as per Geo News.

The victims were killed when an explosive-laden vehicle hit the bus carrying them on the Karakoram Highway in the Bisham area on March 26.

While chairing a meeting in Islamabad focused on the nation’s security, he emphasised the need for stringent security measures to safeguard Chinese nationals involved in various projects across Pakistan.

According to Geo News, PM Sharif said that he had decided to personally review the meetings concerning the overall security of the country, especially the security of Chinese citizens.

Additionally, he stated that the war against the menace of terror will continue until its eradication from the country.

He directed the interior ministry to increase collaboration with the provinces to further improve the provincial anti-terrorism departments.

Security personnel are seen at the incident site after five Chinese nationals were killed in a suicide attack in Shangla, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. (Photo: IANS)

The PM also directed to chalk out a comprehensive strategy for the regular audit of the security standard operating procedures (SOPs).

The meeting was attended by the federal interior minister, heads of security institutes and relevant authorities. PM Shehbaz was briefed about the comprehensive security situation in the country. He vowed to continue waging war against terrorism until its annihilation.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Home Department asked relevant authorities to upgrade the security for Dasu Hydropower Project amid the terrorist attack.

Chinese engineers are currently working on several projects in Pakistan, with Beijing investing over USD 65 billion in infrastructure works as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) under Beijing’s wider Belt and Road initiative.

In a letter, the KP Home Department asked the inspector general of police, Upper Kohistan deputy commissioner, project director and other relevant authorities to provide security so that work could be resumed on the dam project.

The News on March 29 reported that civil work at the sites of the Dasu and Diamer-Bhasha Dams had been temporarily suspended by the Chinese companies overseeing operations due to security concerns, a day after work was also suspended at the Tarbela 5th Extension Hydropower Project.

Around 991 Chinese engineers were working on both projects, while the local staff had been told to stay at home till further instructions, an official working on the project confirmed to the publication.

Around 741 Chinese and 6,000 locals are working on the 4,320 MW Dasu Dam in District Upper Kohistan.

Work on the Mohmand Dam in KP remains ongoing, with Chinese engineers continuing their operations at the site.

Similarly, the General Manager of Diamer-Bhasha Dam (DBD), Nazakat Hussain, also confirmed that the Chinese company had suspended work on the dam.

“Around 500 Chinese nationals were engaged in DBD but the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) staff continues to work. Around 6,000 locals are busy with dam construction,” He said.

He hoped that the situation would normalise in a few days, leading to the return of Chinese employees. The Diamer-Bhasha Dam would produce 4,800 MW of electricity through hydropower generation.

Once completed, the Mohmand Dam will generate 740 MWs of hydroelectricity, irrigate 15,100 acres of land and control floods downstream. (ANI)

ALSO READ: Chinese Workers in Pakistan Face New Realities

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India News PAKISTAN Politics

PDP Entry Shifts Focus to BJP’s Anantnag-Rajouri Pick

Anantnag-Rajouri constituency is the only Lok Sabha constituency in J&K that is spread on both the Jammu division and the Valley…reports Asian Lite News

After former J&K Chief Minister and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) President Mehbooba Mufti announced to field the candidates for the the Lok Sabha seats in the Kashmir Valley, the most interesting contest is going to be in the Anantnag-Rajouri constituency.

With 18,30,294 voters including 93,0379 male, 89,9888 female and 27 third gender, the Anantnag-Rajouri constituency is the only Lok Sabha constituency in J&K that is spread on both the Jammu division and the Valley.

The Election Commission (EC) is setting up 2,338 polling stations, 225 in urban areas and 2,113 in rural areas for the voters of this constituency.

Rajouri and Poonch districts in Jammu division, and Anantnag and Kulgam districts in the Valley, are the voting segments of the constituency.

The voters including the Kashmiri-speaking Muslims of the Valley, the Gujjar/Bakarwal Muslims of Poonch and Rajouri in addition to large numbers of the Pahari community and Hindus in the latter two districts.

Diverse topography, different vocations and priorities make the voters of this constituency as diverse as their likely voting preferences.

The constituency is presently represented by Justice (Retired) Hasnain Masoodi of the National Conference (NC).

After the districts of Rajouri and Poonch were made voting segments of this constituency during the fresh delimitation of constituencies, the NC has decided not to field its sitting candidate.

Instead, the senior Gujjar/Bakarwal religious and political leader, Mian Altaf Ahmad has been nominated by the NC as its candidate for the Anantnag-Rajouri seat.

Given his stature and respect among the Gujjar/Bakarwal community, Mian’s choice as the NC candidate was a foregone conclusion.

Yet, the decision of Mehbooba Mufti to field a PDP candidate in this constituency has added a twist to the tail for the NC.

PDP insiders say that Mufti will fight the Lok Sabha elections herself from this constituency.

She belongs to Bijbehara town of Anantnag district which is her ancestral home.

Her late father and former Chief Minister, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed belonged to Bijbehara. Anantnag district in particular and other south Kashmir districts in general have been seen as traditional strongholds of the PDP.

This is true, despite Mufti’s defeat at the hands of the NC candidate in the 2019 general elections.

Former senior Congress leader, Ghulam Nabi Azad, who formed his own political party, the Democratic Progressive Azad Party (DPAP), is also fighting elections from this constituency.

A natural outcome of Mehbooba Mufti’s decision to join the electoral battle in this constituency is the PDP’s direct confrontation with the NC.

Azad is not a political force to reckon with in this constituency and yet as a former senior Congress leader, he is likely to get a fairly good number of votes.

Without hazarding a guess on winners and losers, the fact remains that the NC, PDP and the DPAP will cut into each other’s vote bank.

After the abrogation of Article 370 and downgrading of J&K into a union territory, it is naive to talk of unflinching voter support to any of these three political parties in the constituency.

Voters have different considerations and priorities, with peace, development, education, healthcare and employment being the real voter priorities now.

The BJP is yet to announce its candidate for this constituency. There is little doubt that the BJP has a large number of Pahari community support in Poonch and Rajouri, especially after the grant of ST status to this community.

BJP has made inroads in many parts of Anantnag and Kulgam districts, but its major chunk of votes is likely to come from across the Pir Panjal mountain range in Poonch and Rajouri districts.

The key to BJP giving its rivals a tough time and formidable challenge lies in the party’s choice of candidate for the constituency.

There are reports that the party is seriously considering the name of a serving IAS officer belonging to the Poonch district. The other name doing the rounds as the BJP candidate is the party’s J&K unit president, Ravinder Raina.

It is generally believed that if the BJP chooses an ST candidate for the constituency, the party will give its rivals a run for their life.

The constituency goes to vote on May 7 and all contesting parties are preparing to give their best shot to the elections in this constituency because the winner would have proved public support in both the divisions of the UT.

Omar: NC, Cong will fight LS polls jointly

Former J&K Chief Minister and Vice President of National Conference (NC) Omar Abdullah said on Thursday that NC and Congress will fight the upcoming Lok Sabha elections jointly.

A day after Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) announced its decision to field candidates for all 3 Lok Sabha seats in the Valley, Omar Abdullah told reporters that his party and the Congress will fight the Lok Sabha elections jointly.

He said that the NC President Farooq Abdullah is campaigning for the Congress candidates in the Jammu division and that the Congress has assured support to the NC in the Valley.

He said that the picture would be clear in a few days since Congress is likely to come up with an announcement in this regard.

Meanwhile, Jammu & Kashmir Apni Party headed by Syed Altaf Bukhari on Thursday announced its candidates for 2 Lok Sabha seats in the Valley.

A spokesman of the Apni Party said that Mohammad Ashraf Mir will fight Lok Sabha elections for the party from the Srinagar constituency while Zafar Iqbal Manhas will be the party candidate for the Anantnag-Rajouri constituency.

The party has not announced any candidate for the north Kashmir Baramulla constituency.

With the Apni Party announcing candidates for Srinagar and Anantnag-Rajouri constituencies, the Lok Sabha election battle in these constituencies has become interesting.

NC has fielded senior Gujjar/Bakarwal leader Mian Altaf Ahmad for the Anantnag seat while Omar Abdullah is likely to fight from the Srinagar constituency.

Mehbooba Mufti, former Chief Minister and President of PDP is also likely to stand for the Anantnag-Rajouri seat.

ALSO READ-Karnataka MP Sumalatha to join BJP

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-Top News PAKISTAN

Corruption Scandal Rocks Walton Airport Sale

AOOA also highlighted the historical value of the Walton Airport, terming it a national asset as the founder of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, landed at this airport in 1947…reports Asian Lite News

In a major expose of corruption scandal in the sale of land of Walton Airport in Pakistan’s Lahore cantonment area; the Aircraft Owners & Operators Association (AOOA) has written a letter to the Federal Aviation Minister detailing the illegal sale of Walton airport’s land worth Rs 350 billion in exchange of rural land and Rs 50 million.

“Selling of the land of Walton Airport, Lahore is a perfect case of violation of rules, regulations and proceeds done through deception. The land of Walton airport is evaluated to be worth 350 Billion PKR or more which has been sold against the written rules and regulations/laws of Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in exchange of a rural land at Mureedke and 50 billion PKR,” the letter from Capt Wg Cdr (Rtd) Muhammad Nawaz Asim, General Secretary AOOA Pakistan to Federal Ministry of Aviation/Defense stated.

“The worst thing is that our of 50 billion PKR only one billion PKR is received in the account of PCAA (Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority). Where has the rest of the money gone? Who is the beneficiary, and who has been used as a rubber stamp to facilitate such corruption?” the letter added.

AOOA also highlighted the historical value of the Walton Airport, terming it a national asset as the founder of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, landed at this airport in 1947.

“The national asset and valuable historical airport has been reportedly destroyed by land mafias colluding with the DG CAA and Government officials. The destruction of the national asset where Quaid-e-Azam landed in 1947 is a clear case of systematic collapse through the greed of a few,” read AOOA’s letter to Defence Minister Khawaja Asif.

“The Walton gate scandal is a symbol of mala fides on the part of the CAA officials and this is how the Aviation industry is being ruined as the Walton Airport was a hub of General Aviation in Pakistan, which requires Judicial intervention and NAB investigation,” the letter added.

It should be noted that the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) notified a permanent closure of the Walton airport in the year 2021.

Taking note of the AOOA letter, the CAA has notified all flying clubs to ground their planes, shutting down the airport for all operations.

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Asia News PAKISTAN World News

$62 BILLION INVESTMENT AT STAKE: Challenges for China in Pakistan

China’s substantial investment of $62 billion in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) underscores the strategic significance of the relationship between the two nations. The recent attack on Chinese nationals in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) underscores the vulnerability of the security architecture in Pakistan… writes Sanchita Bhattacharya

The recent attack on Chinese nationals in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) underscores the vulnerability of the security architecture in Pakistan, which poses a threat to its strategic alliance with China in the context of the highly anticipated China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project. The latest attack followed several prior incidents targeting Chinese citizens across Pakistan, raising serious concerns about the safety and security of foreign nationals working on big-ticket infrastructure projects. The repercussions of such attacks go beyond immediate casualties, leading to project disruptions, diplomatic strains, and economic setbacks.

During ten days from March 16 to March 26, Pakistan experienced five separate attacks, three in the north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province and two in the southwestern Balochistan province, which resulted in the tragic deaths of at least 18 people, including 12 military personnel, five Chinese nationals, and one Pakistani citizen. These highlight the severity of the security threats faced by Pakistan and the inadequacy of its security establishment. The attacks targeted Chinese interests, highlighting a new chapter in Pakistan’s struggle against armed groups.

In the restive province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) five Chinese nationals and their Pakistani driver were killed in the latest explosion in the Bisham area of Shangla district on March 26. An explosives-laden vehicle rammed into a convoy of Chinese engineers in transit from Islamabad to their camp in Dasu in KP.

After every such attack, Beijing usually warns Islamabad of serious penalties if the culprits of the attacks are not identified and punished. This time also, in a statement, the Chinese Embassy strongly condemned the terrorist attack. “The Chinese Embassy and Consulates General in Pakistan strongly condemn this terrorist attack, express deep condolences to the victims and sincere sympathy to the bereaved families, and are making every effort to handle the aftermath together with the Pakistani side,” it said. This time, however, Beijing has also called for a thorough investigation into the attacks, stressing the necessity of protecting Chinese interests in Pakistan. In response, the Pakistani government has committed to holding the culprits accountable and implementing measures to ensure the safety of Chinese nationals and projects.

China’s substantial investment of $62 billion in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) underscores the strategic significance of the relationship between the two nations.

This is not the first attack on Chinese citizens working inside Pakistan. Earlier, In August 2023, a Chinese envoy in Gwadar, Balochistan came under attack, although no one was hurt. In 2022, three Chinese teachers and their Pakistani driver fell victim to an explosion in Karachi, Sindh. Similarly, in July 2021 also, tragedy struck when nine Chinese nationals and four Pakistanis lost their lives, with around two dozen others sustaining injuries, in a shuttle bus explosion in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). These incidents serve as stark reminders of the persistent threats and risks associated with working on critical projects like the CPEC. They not only result in tragic loss of life but also disrupt essential infrastructure projects, strain diplomatic relations, and create an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty for foreign investors and workers.

The March 26 attack in the north was not claimed by any terror or militant group. The substantial escalation of threats has led to a reassessment of the safety of Chinese nationals living and working in Pakistan. For example, the March 26 assault in Bisham has resulted in the suspension of work on the Dasu and Diamer-Bhasha dams. There are concerns that 991 Chinese engineers may be planning to leave Pakistan. This trend of departure among Chinese nationals was earlier observed in April 2022, when 40 Chinese teachers left Pakistan in the wake of a violent incident at the Karachi University.

Unfortunately, despite repeated warnings, the Pakistan army seems to be unsuccessful in combating the terror attacks against the Chinese nationals. China’s frustration with Islamabad over repeated terror attacks on CPEC projects is evident. Besides cutting down on the proposed investment, and Chinese leaving Pakistan, Beijing has declined to include cooperation in the areas of climate change, energy, and water management, under the CPEC projects. Pakistan’s proposal for cooperation in cross-border tourism in Gilgit-Baltistan, KP, and coastal tourism, as well as the setting up a new Joint Working Group (JWG) and the inclusion of a 500kv transmission line from Hub to Gwadar to link the seaport city with the national grid, were all rejected by China.

Even though CPEC remains a lynchpin of Beijing’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), it would be a mistake for the Pakistani establishment to perceive the attacks as merely a security issue. They point to the broader vulnerability of Pakistan’s political-economy. Pakistan’s security issues, oscillating from its never-ending skirmishes with Afghanistan and the Baloch unrest in the west, require more than just a military response.

Pakistan’s leadership has placed a disproportionately high importance on CPEC projects. The dependence on China, along with its protracted financial crisis, has made Pakistan more susceptible on numerous other fronts.

The resurgence of violent incidents coinciding with the Afghan Taliban’s return to power and the involvement of assorted radical groups illustrate the multifaceted security challenges faced by Pakistan.

The persistent grievances in Balochistan against structural poverty and relentless resource extraction without any development in return have been studiously ignored. Addressing these issues requires prioritizing development, welfare, and local participation in decision-making processes in Balochistan. Failure to do so will only continue to hinder economic progress and security in the region.

The unclaimed attack in KP adds complexity to the security scenario, which underscores the multifaceted nature of security challenges faced by Pakistan. Addressing these challenges requires a comprehensive and multifaceted security strategy that goes beyond military responses. It necessitates enhanced intelligence-sharing mechanisms, robust border security, community engagement, infrastructure protection, and diplomatic collaboration. Moreover, public awareness and understanding of the importance of foreign investments and bilateral cooperation are crucial in fostering a conducive environment for economic growth and regional connectivity.

The collaboration between Chinese and Pakistani authorities in investigating the attacks and implementing security measures reflects a shared commitment to safeguarding mutual interests. However, sustained efforts and proactive measures are essential to mitigate security threats, promote stability, and protect foreign investments and personnel in Pakistan.

In conclusion, the recent attacks on Chinese nationals in Pakistan serve as a stark reminder of the complex security challenges confronting the nation. Pakistan must prioritize security and adopt a comprehensive approach to ensure the safety of foreign nationals, protect critical infrastructure, and preserve bilateral relations with key allies like China. Only through concerted efforts and effective strategies can Pakistan navigate these challenges effectively.

(Dr. Sanchita Bhattachayra is an eminent scholar of International Relations. She has been working on Pakistan for over a decade)

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-Top News PAKISTAN USA

Biden Writes to Pak PM for First Time in Tenure

Joe Biden, who till Friday, has carried a tradition of not engaging with any of the Prime Minister in Pakistan during his tenure, reports Hamza Ameer

In a first official communication, US President Joe Biden has broken with tradition and has written a letter to Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, expressing readiness to work together for regional peace and counter-terrorism efforts.

Biden, who till Friday, has carried a tradition of not engaging with any of the Prime Minister in Pakistan during his tenure, has not only reached out to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif but effectively has also put forward the lens through which US looks at its relationship with Pakistan along with expectations from the new government in Islamabad.

The US President emphasised the sensitivity and critical nature of “pressing global and regional challenges,” assuring Islamabad that it would continue to work with it and Shehbaz Sharif-led government to counter the menace of terrorism.

“The enduring partnership between our nations remains critical to ensuring the security of our people — and people around the world — and the US will continue to stand with Pakistan to tackle the most pressing global and regional challenges of our time,” said Biden’s letter to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

“That includes advancing our shared vision for a future of greater health, security, economic growth, and access to education for all. Through our US-Pakistan Green Alliance framework, we will also continue to strengthen our climate resilience, support sustainable agriculture and water management, and assist with Pakistan’s recovery from the devastating floods in 2022. And, the US remains committed to working with Pakistan to protect human rights and promote progress,” Biden’s letter added.

Biden did not interact with former Prime Minister Imran Khan after his victory during 2018 nor did he speak to Shehbaz Sharif when he took charge of the Prime Minister’s office after removing Imran Khan through a vote of no-confidence in April 2022.

While Biden’s letter to PM Shehbaz Sharif signifies the value Washington gives to Pakistan in terms of its regional relevance and importance; one thing that the letter also indicates is that Washington still looks at Islamabad through the lens of counter-terrorism, regional and global security in reference to terrorism.

Despite the fact that US is not longer engaged in Afghanistan and its level of priority for Pakistan is not what is used to be after its withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021; Pakistan’s regional role in countering terrorism retains it as a key player for the Biden administration.

The Biden administration seems to be ready to work with the newly-elected Pakistani government, despite the widespread allegations of rigging and ballot fraud.

It should also be noted that despite difference of opinion about the current government set-up in Pakistan and broadly debated power centre still with the military establishment; the American military establishment still seeks a working cooperation with Pakistan.

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Asia News Columns PAKISTAN

Millions of Pak women are crippled by early marriages

Child marriages forced over 631,000 female students to either not attend school or leave classes midway due to early marriages, writes Dr. Sakariya Kareem

High rates of child marriages are crippling the lives of girls in Pakistan, forcing them to leave schools, bear children at tender age and manage families when they should have been swinging free with friends in parks and river banks.

The country witnesses over 600,000 child marriages in a year. As a result, Pakistan is home to nearly 19 million child brides; 1 in 6 young women are married in childhood.

The Pakistan Demographic Health Survey 2017-18, pointed out that 13.5 per cent of girls and 2.6 per cent of boys in Pakistan were victims of child marriage. The survey said 3.6 per cent of girls in the country get married before the age of 15; 18.3 per cent get married before the age of 18. The rate of child marriages was 23 per cent, all of which caused a financial loss to the national exchequer to the tune of $800 million.

Child marriages lead to an extraordinarily high rate of mortality, according to a joint research report of UN Women and the National Commission on the Status of Women, a national organisation working to improve the condition of women in the country. The report estimated that early childbearing and ignorance of reproductive health practices lead to high mortality, costing the country Rs 636 billion in a year. Early marriages also cause an annual increase of 21 per cent in the birth rate of children and 22 per cent in the death rate of children.

The joint UN report had much more stark reminders. Child marriages forced over 631,000 female students to either not attend school or leave classes midway due to early marriages. Of these, 360,000 were from the Punjab, 136,000 from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 170,000 from Sindh and 28,800 from Balochistan.

Child marriages have been cited as one of the main causes of domestic violence. About 14 per cent of the cases of domestic violence in the Punjab were attributed to early marriage. The rate was 42 per cent in Sindh, 53 per cent in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 50 per cent in Balochistan.

Early marriages also force women to leave the job market abruptly. This numbers about a 21 per cent reduction, estimated to be an indirect annual loss of Rs 26.8 billion in wages.

Although Pakistan signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990 under which marriage under the age of 18 was a violation of the human rights of children, the state has hardly done anything concrete to prevent such a large number of child marriages.

Experts cite poor health and sexual exploitation as two important outcomes of child marriages. Amjad Latif, advocacy and communication manager of Rahnuma, a member organisation of the Family Planning Association of Pakistan, said those who visited their medical facilities faced health problems due to early marriage. She pointed out that young girls also faced sexual exploitation due to ignorance and lack of financial independence.

A large number of women in Pakistan thus remain bonded to a practice which causes serious health and emotional problems. The state, despite conventions and speeches, remains oblivious to the critical needs of at least half of its population.

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