A ferry caught fire off a port near the Philippine capital Manila yesterday, leaving nine people missing and one injured, the coast guard said. Emergency services rescued 73 of the 82 people who had been on board the MV Asia Philippines as it burned near the port of Batangas, a coast guard statement said. They included a middle-aged woman who was taken to hospital with an unspecified injury, the statement said, adding nine other people were still missing. Two coast guard search and rescue vessels were still looking for the missing and trying to put out the blaze as of early evening, hours after the ferry caught fire about 1.85km from shore. The cause of the fire was not immediately known. The ship had sailed from the port of Calapan on nearby Mindoro island in mid-afternoon with 48 passengers, 34 crew members and 16 motor vehicles on board, the coast guard said. The vessel is authorised to carry 402 passengers, it added. The Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands, is plagued by poor sea transport, with its badly regulated boats prone to overcrowding and accidents. At least one person was killed after a fire engulfed a Philippine ferry off the central island of Bohol in June. In May, seven people were killed when a fire ripped through a ferry carrying 134 passengers and crew off the port of Real, east of Manila.
Heavy rain pounded much of Pakistan yesterday after the government declared an emergency to deal with monsoon flooding it said had affected more than 30mn people. The annual monsoon is essential for irrigating crops and replenishing lakes and dams across the subcontinent, but each year it also brings a wave of destruction. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said yesterday that more than 900 people had been killed this year – including 34 in the last 24 hours – as a result of the monsoon rains that began in June. Officials say that this year’s floods are comparable to 2010 – the worst on record – when more than 2,000 people died and nearly a fifth of the country was under water. “I have never seen such huge flooding because of rains in my life,” octogenarian farmer Rahim Bakhsh Brohi told AFP near Sukkur, in southern Sindh province. Like thousands of others in rural Pakistan, Brohi is seeking shelter beside the national highway, as the elevated roads are among the few dry places in the endless landscapes of water. A statement yesterday from Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s office said that 33mn people had been “badly affected” by the flooding, while the country’s disaster agency said nearly 220,000 homes were destroyed and half a million more badly damaged. Two million acres of cultivated crops had been wiped out in Sindh alone, the provincial disaster agency said, where many farmers live hand-to-mouth, season-to-season. “My cotton crop that was sown on 50 acres of land is all gone,” Nasrullah Mehar told AFP. “It’s a huge loss for me ... what can be done?” Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman, who on Wednesday called the floods “a catastrophe of epic scale”, said that the government had declared an emergency, and appealed for international assistance. Pakistan is eighth on the Global Climate Risk Index, a list compiled by the environmental NGO Germanwatch of countries deemed most vulnerable to extreme weather caused by climate change. Earlier this year much of the nation was in the grip of a drought and heatwave, with temperatures hitting 51° Celsius (124° Fahrenheit) in Jacobabad, Sindh province. The city is now grappling with floods that have inundated homes and swept away roads and bridges. In Sukkur, about 75km (50 miles) away, residents struggled to make their way along muddy streets clogged with flood-borne debris. “If you had come earlier, the water was this high,” 24-year-old student Aqeel Ahmed told AFP, raising his hand to his chest. Premier Sharif cancelled a planned trip to Britain to oversee the flood response, and ordered the army to throw every resource into relief operations. “I have seen from the air and the devastation can’t be expressed in words,” he said on state TV after visiting Sukkur. “The towns, villages and crops are inundated by the water. I don’t think this level of destruction has taken place before.” A national fundraising appeal has been launched, with Pakistan’s military saying that every commissioned officer would donate a month’s salary towards it. The worst-hit areas are Balochistan and Sindh in the south and west, but almost all of Pakistan has suffered this year. Images were circulating on social media yesterday of swollen rivers obliterating buildings and bridges built along their banks in the mountainous north. Junaid Khan, deputy commissioner of Swat district in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, told AFP that 14 riverside hotels had been swept away, along with two small hydropower stations. In Chaman, the western frontier town neighbouring Afghanistan, travellers had to wade through waist-high water to cross the border after a nearby dam burst, adding to the deluge brought by rain. Pakistan Railways said nearby Quetta, capital of Balochistan province, had been cut off and train services suspended after a key bridge was damaged by a flash flood. The railway bridge washed away between Kolpur and Mach in Bolan Pass, cutting off Quetta, from the rest of country for indefinite period, officials said. All four highways linking Balochistan with other provinces were blocked because of damaged bridges and landslides. Most mobile networks and Internet services were down in the province, with the country’s telecoms authority calling it “unprecedented”. The destruction of infrastructure and breakdown in communication links adds to the difficulties faced by the authorities in rescue and relief efforts in the region. “Due to torrential rains and flash floods in Balochistan optical fibre cable, voice and data services have been impacted in Quetta and rest of the main cities of the province,” Pakistan Telecom Authority said on Twitter. Efforts are being made to resolve this unprecedented situation, it added. Prime Minister Sharif said on Twitter yesterday he had met ambassadors and other senior diplomats in Islamabad “as part of efforts to mobilise all resources”.
Record monsoon rains were causing a “catastrophe of epic scale”, Pakistan’s climate change minister said yesterday, announcing an international appeal for help in dealing with floods that have killed more than 800 people since June. The annual monsoon is essential for irrigating crops and replenishing lakes and dams across the subcontinent, but each year it also brings a wave of destruction. Heavy rain continued to pound much of Pakistan yesterday, with authorities reporting more than a dozen deaths — including nine children — in the last 24 hours. “It has been raining for a month now. There is nothing left,” a woman named Khanzadi told AFP in badly hit Jaffarabad, Balochistan province. “We had only one goat, that too drowned in the flood... Now we have nothing with us and we are lying along the road and facing hunger.” Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman said authorities would launch an appeal for international help once an assessment was complete. “Given the scale of the disaster there is no question of the provinces, or even Islamabad, being able to cope with this magnitude of climate catastrophe on their own,” she told AFP. “Lives are at risk, thousands homeless. It is important that international partners mobilise assistance.” Pakistan is eighth on a list of countries deemed most vulnerable to extreme weather caused by climate change, according to the Global Climate Risk Index compiled by environmental NGO Germanwatch. Earlier this year much of the nation was in the grip of a heatwave, with temperatures hitting 51C in Jacobabad, Sindh province. The city is now grappling with floods that have inundated homes and swept away roads and bridges. In Sukkur, about 75km away, volunteers were using boats along the flooded streets of the city to distribute food and fresh water to people trapped in their homes. Zaheer Ahmad Babar, a senior met office official, told AFP that this year’s rains were the heaviest since 2010, when over 2,000 people died and more than 2mn were displaced by monsoon floods that covered nearly a fifth of the country. Rainfall in Balochistan province was 430% higher than normal, he said, while Sindh was nearing 500%. The town of Padidan in Sindh had received over a metre (39 inches) of rain since August 1, he added. “It is a climate catastrophe of epic scale,” Rehman said, adding 3mn people had been affected. The National Disaster Management Authority said in a statement that nearly 125,000 homes had been destroyed and 288,000 more were damaged by the floods. Some 700,000 livestock in Sindh and Balochistan had been killed, and nearly 2mn acres of farmland destroyed, officials added. Nearly 3,000km of roads had also been damaged.
Supporters of former prime minister Imran Khan gathered outside his home yesterday to prevent police from arresting him on anti-terrorism charges related to a weekend televised speech. There was a low-key police presence outside Khan’s residence yesterday, with around 500 party supporters gathered. Police filed charges against former cricket star Khan on Saturday over what they said was a threat in the speech in which he spoke about police torture of an aide who faces sedition charges for inciting mutiny in the military. “We will not spare you,” Khan said in the speech, in which he named the police chief and the judge involved in the case against his aide. “We will sue you.” Police cited that comment in a report seen by Reuters. “The purpose of the speech was to spread terror amongst the police and the judiciary and prevent them from doing their duty,” police said in the report. “I had called to take legal action against them (police officers and judicial magistrate),” Khan said, adding the government had nevertheless registered a terrorism case against him. “All these things show that we don’t have rule of law in Pakistan,” he said, adding that he has 16 cases against him, in addition to this latest terrorism case. “They will have to run over us before they can reach Khan,” supporter Sher Jahan Khan said outside Khan’s hilltop home overlooking the capital, Islamabad. Mohamed Ayub said he had travelled overnight from Peshawar in the northwest to show support for Khan. “We will protest and will block roads if Khan is arrested,” he told AFP. “If Imran Khan is arrested ... we will take over Islamabad with people’s power,” a former minister in Khan’s cabinet, Ali Amin Gandapur, threatened in a post on Twitter. Later in the day, a court granted Khan three days of pre-arrest bail, Khan’s lawyer, Babar Awan, told reporters, after which the protesters began to disperse. Khan was prime minister from 2018 until April this year when he was forced to step down after losing a confidence vote in parliament. Since then, he has been campaigning for new elections. Khan appeared at the main gate of his home to wave to supporters, according to a tweet posted at the official page of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. Khan was not available for comment but Fawad Chaudhry, a spokesman for the PTI, dismissed the accusations against Khan as politically motivated, telling reporters they were being used to block Khan from leading anti-government rallies. “Wherever you are, reach Bani Gala today and show solidarity with Imran Khan,” Chaudhry tweeted, referring to Khan’s home. “Imran Khan is our red line.” The use of anti-terrorism laws as the basis of cases against political leaders is not uncommon in Pakistan, where Khan’s government also used them against opponents and critics. Khan’s main goal is an early general election – the next one must be held before October next year – but the government has shown no sign of wanting to go to the polls as it grapples with major economic problems. Khan rose to power in 2018 with what political analysts said was the support of the military and he won election on a conservative agenda that appealed to many middle class and religious voters. However, under his rule the country’s economy went into free fall, and the International Monetary Fund suspended a $6bn loan programme that the new government has only just gotten back on track. Analysts said Khan fell out with the military after a dispute over the appointment of a spy chief. Khan denied ever having military support and the military, which has ruled the country for more than three decades of Pakistan’s 75-year history, denies involvement in civilian politics. Political Analyst Hassan Askari Rizvi told AFP that filing the latest case against Khan was not symbolic, but rather a genuine attempt to stifle him. “The government is using the state institutions to malign the opposition,” he said, adding ordinary Pakistanis were being hurt by the political wrangling. “The only thing left for the ruling party and the opposition is to malign each other. In the current situation, the real priority should be the economy so that the common man can get some relief.” Over the weekend, Pakistan’s media watchdog banned television channels from broadcasting live addresses by Khan, saying he was “spreading hate”. “His provocative statements against state institutions and officers ... is likely to disturb public peace and tranquillity,” the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority said.
Hundreds of supporters of Pakistan's former prime minister, Imran Khan, gathered on Monday outside his hilltop mansion in the capital, Islamabad, vowing to prevent his arrest on anti-terrorism accusations, officials of his political party said. The move follows a police case filed against Khan on Saturday for threatening government officials in a public speech about the alleged police torture of one of his aides, who faces sedition charges for inciting mutiny in the powerful military. The protesters chanted slogans against the government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, which took over after Khan's ouster in a confidence vote in April. "If Imran Khan is arrested ... we will take over Islamabad," a former minister in his cabinet, Ali Amin Gandapur, said on Twitter, as some party leaders urged supporters to prepare for mass mobilisation. Another former ministerial colleague, Murad Saeed, told domestic television channels that the police had issued orders for Khan's arrest. Islamabad police declined to confirm this, however. The use of anti-terrorism laws as the basis of cases against political leaders is not uncommon in Pakistan, where Khan's government also used them against opponents and critics. Saturday's police report, seen by Reuters, cited Khan's comments that he "would not spare" Islamabad's police chief and a female judge for the arrest of his aide. "The purpose of the speech was to spread terror amongst the police and the judiciary and prevent them from doing their duty," police said in the report. Legal experts say the public threats put the officials' lives at stake, and actually amounted to threatening the state, so that the anti-terrorism charges apply. The military has also become a target for Khan, who has said it did not help him ward off a US conspiracy that toppled him, a charge Washington has denied. The military, which has ruled directly for over three decades of Pakistan's 75-year history, has rebuffed Khan's claim. It also denies meddling in politics. Pakistan's electronic media regulator has banned the live transmission of Khan's speeches as being inflammatory.
Pakistan’s media watchdog has banned television channels from broadcasting live addresses by former prime minister Imran Khan, ahead of his rally last night. Since being ousted from power in a no-confidence vote in April, the former cricketing star Khan has staged a series of popular anti-government protests. The ban, effective immediately, was issued late on Saturday night – the same day Khan held a rally in the capital Islamabad in which he criticised police officials and the judiciary over the arrest of one of his party’s leaders. In a notice to television channels seen by AFP, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) said that Khan was levelling “baseless allegations and spreading hate speech”. “His provocative statements against state institutions and officers ... is likely to disturb public peace and tranquillity,” it added. The ex-premier held another rally last night in the city of Rawalpindi, neighbouring Islamabad. At the rally Khan accused the government of temporarily blocking YouTube in the country to prevent people from listening live to a speech he gave at a political rally. “Imported govt blocked YouTube midway through my speech,” he said on Twitter. A spokesman for the PEMRA did not respond to a Reuters’ request for comment. Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party had said shortly after Saturday’s television ban that it would go live on “500+ YouTube and Facebook channels”. However, many social media users around Pakistan reported problems in accessing YouTube when Khan was about to address a gathering last night in the garrison city of Rawalpindi. Khan said in his speech yesterday that he was being censored for not accepting the current coalition government which had voted him out of power. He swept into power in 2018 thanks to an electorate weary of the dynastic politics of the country’s two major parties, with the popular former sports star promising to sweep away decades of entrenched corruption and cronyism. Khan remains highly popular among the country’s youth and his speeches draw top ratings on television, with highlights trending on Pakistan’s social media. Saturday night’s protest followed the arrest of a senior PTI leader, who authorities alleged had made anti-military remarks on a TV channel that was subsequently suspended. Criticising the military – which has ruled Pakistan for roughly half its 75-year history – is considered a red line. The television ban came a day after the former prime minister hurled threats against Islamabad’s police chief and a female judge for what he claimed was the arrest and alleged torture of his close aide who is facing sedition charges. His aide had called on lower and middle ranks of the military to defy orders from the top brass. A PTI senior official, Asad Umar, lambasted the media regulatory body’s move to ban Khan’s speeches. “Banning Imran Khan’s speeches telecast is another attempt to find an administrative solution to a political problem,” Umar told AFP. He added that his party will challenge the ban in court.
Madhubala, a 16-year-old elephant in Pakistan suffering for years from a dental infection and pain caused by a broken tusk, finally got relief yesterday after undergoing treatment while under unique standing sedation. Madhubala is one of four African elephants being treated in Karachi by an eight-member team from global animal welfare group Four Paws, which in 2020 relocated Kaavan — an elephant dubbed the world’s loneliest — to Cambodia from Islamabad. Their visit follows an order by the Sindh High Court (SHC) in Karachi last year for Four Paws to assess the health of the animals after local animal rights activists had raised concerns in court about their well-being. Named after a legendary Indian actress, Madhubala’s eyes were taped shut, her legs tied to side-grills to support her during sedation and the subsequent treatment at the Karachi Zoo. The veterinarians had to use drills and other heavy surgical tools to extract the infected tusk which came out in bits and pieces. “Due to long-term inflammation the tissue is so fragile and thin it’s not possible to take it out at once, it is breakable,” Dr Marina Ivanova said, showing Reuters reporters the extracted tusk. An endoscopy before the procedure showed the full tusk inside measured 31cm, she said. “It now important for us to focus on postsurgical treatment, the removal of the tusk would open a big wound, so this wound needs daily cleaning,” she added. During the five- to six-hour procedure, Madhubala did not put up much resistance as she was kept sedated. “Today, we are happy to start the first unique procedure at the Zoo in standing position not in sleeping or complete anaesthesia as it could be risky for the elephant and could be fatal, which we don’t want,” team leader Dr Aamir Khalil said. “On the right side there is an abscess. The root of her tusk is sticking into her skull and the distance to her eyes is very close.” She had her eyes covered and was fastened with thick rope and propped up with steel bars to prevent her from falling during the standing sedation, which required specially-adapted equipment. “We developed very long tools to be able to clean the wound,” vet Marina Ivanova said. During the hours-long operation, Madhubala occasionally snorted as the team of vets in blood-stained clothes jostled to remove the remains of the broken tusk.
A speeding bus collided with an oil tanker in Pakistan, killing 20 people in a fiery crash overnight, police and rescue officials said on Tuesday. "Three buses were racing. One of them rammed into an oil tanker," police official Imran Shaukat told Reuters, describing the incident on a motorway near the central city of Multan. The crash triggered a fire that engulfed both the tanker and the bus, he said. The oil tanker was beyond identification to determine what company it belongs to, he said. A spokesman for the motorway police said the tanker's driver fled the scene. Officials from a state-run rescue service said the bus was bound for the southern port city of Karachi. The rescue service identified the operator as the Daewoo bus company and said at least 20 passengers had died, some of them burnt completely. An employee who answered the phone at Daewoo's Lahore office confirmed that its bus was involved in the incident and that the driver was among the dead. Senior officials at the company were not available for comment. Six passengers survived, an official of the rescue service told Dunya TV. "The fire was raging when we got here," he said, adding that most of the passengers were caught by the fire in their sleep. Deadly road accidents are common in Pakistan, mainly due to speeding and poor road infrastructure. An oil tanker overturned and caught fire in 2017 in the region, killing more than 100 people.
Separatist insurgents in Pakistan’s resource-rich Balochistan province said they shot down a military helicopter that went down during a flood relief operation on Monday, killing all six on board including a top army commander. A senior military official dismissed the insurgents’ claim as propaganda and fake news. The military said the helicopter crashed during bad weather. The Baloch Raaji Aajoi Sangar (BRAS), an umbrella group of Baloch insurgent groups, said in a statement sent to Reuters late on Tuesday that its fighters shot down the “low flying helicopter” with an anti-aircraft weapon. The group provided no evidence and Reuters could not independently verify the claim. The commander of the south Pakistan-based 12 Corps, Lieutenant General Sarfraz Ali, was among those killed on the helicopter.
Pakistan’s top court on Tuesday ruled to hand control of the country's most populous province, Punjab, to a candidate backed by ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan, triggering fresh political uncertainty in the South Asian nation amidst a crippling economic crisis. The move ramps up pressure on the federal government, made up of a coalition of parties that ousted Khan from premiership in April, as it attempts to implement tough, and unpopular, economic reforms to stave off a financial crisis. In a short order, Pakistan's Supreme Court ruled that a Khan-backed candidate for Punjab's chief minister, Chaudhry Parvez Elahi, had been wrongfully denied victory in a vote last week, and ordered he be installed as the province's premier before midnight on Tuesday. Elahi had been denied victory by the speaker of the Punjab assembly, who disregarded votes caste in his favour on the basis of them being against party line and handed victory to the candidate of the ruling coalition. The court overturned the speaker's decision. The development gives Khan's campaign for fresh elections a shot in the arm. The ousted premier has been holding protests across the country for snap general elections, which are not due until late next year. The tug of war between Khan and his opponents has already weighed heavily on the economy of the nuclear powered nation of 220 million, which is in the middle of a tough IMF programme. J.P Morgan, in a note earlier on Tuesday warned that renewed calls for early elections maintained pressure on the ruling coalition and add to political uncertainty. "The results have important implications for the government’s willingness to implement electorally challenging policies that are likely required to resume and maintain the IMF program," said the J.P. Morgan note released hours before the court verdict. Pakistan is struggling with falling foreign exchange reserves, a widening current account deficit and a sharply depreciating currency. Adding to the uncertainty, the decision may lead to a standoff between the government and judiciary. "The decision has not been accepted by the people, we will decide our future line of action after consulting coalition partners," Marriyum Aurangzeb, federal minister for information told reporters on Tuesday night.
A weather emergency was declared in Karachi yesterday as heavier-than-usual monsoon rains continue to lash Pakistan’s biggest city, flooding homes and making streets impassable. The monsoon, which usually lasts from June to September, is essential for irrigating crops and replenishing lakes and dams across the Indian subcontinent, but also brings a wave of destruction each year. Pakistan ranks eighth on a list of countries most vulnerable to extreme weather caused by climate change, according to the environment NGO Germwatch. The provincial Sindh government announced a public holiday yesterday in Karachi and Hyderabad in a bid to avert flood chaos, but low-lying areas — already drenched by weeks of heavy rain — were soon the scenes of devastation. “More rains are forecast in Karachi until tomorrow,” warned Sardar Sarfraz, director of the Met office. The National Disaster Management Authority said at least 312 people had died since June as a result of the monsoon rains. In Karachi, at least two people were electrocuted yesterday by power lines that fell into flooded streets — a regular cause of death in the city during the monsoon. The heavy downpour also disrupted flights and train operations in the megacity of 15mn. The worst floods of recent times were in 2010 — covering almost a fifth of the country’s landmass — killing nearly 2,000 people and displacing 20mn.
As 90-year-old Indian woman Reena Varma stands on the balcony of the house in Pakistan where she was born, visiting yesterday for the first in 75 years, she recalls her playful childhood. “I would stand here and sing,” said Varma, as her eyes filled with tears. “These are tears of joy.” Varma has vivid memories of the day she and her family left the small, three-storey home tucked away in the narrow alleys of the garrison city of Rawalpindi, where residents showered her with rose petals on her arrival yesterday. She also danced with some of the residents who beat drums as she entered the street, where she said she used to play from dawn to dusk. Her family were among the millions whose lives were thrown into turmoil by the partition of colonial India into two states, mainly Hindu India and mostly Muslim Pakistan, when British rule ended in 1947. “I’m very happy to see that the house stood intact,” she said after spending several hours inside recalling memories of a childhood spent with her parents and five siblings. At one point she burst into laughter over being unable to climb a staircase without a support, saying she had once tackled it “like a bird” countless times a day, according to a member of the family that now lives in the house. Varma’s family fled to the Western Indian city of Pune shortly before partition. She was 14 years old at the time. The rest of the family all died without seeing their former home again. Pakistan and India have fought three wars since 1947 and relations have remained tense, making travel between the two countries near-impossible. But after decades of attempts to get a visa, Varma crossed into Pakistan last week by road at a border crossing near the eastern city of Lahore. The India Pakistan Heritage club run by Imran William and Sajjad Haider, which works to highlight the shared heritage of the two countries and reunite families separated by partition, helped with the process of finally getting permission to travel. Varma urged both countries to ease their visa regimes to enable people of both countries to meet more frequently. “I would urge the new generation that they work together to make things easy,” she said. “We have the same culture. We have the same things. We all want to live with love and peace.” When she lived in Rawalpindi hers was a Hindu street, she said, but Muslims, Christians and Sikhs all lived in her neighbourhood peacefully. “I would say keep the humanity above everything,” she said. “All religions teach humanity.”
Former prime minister Imran Khan yesterday reiterated his call for early general elections while urging Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja to resign, accusing him of bias and siding with the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). In a televised address to the nation following his party Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI)’s stunning success in the crucial Punjab by-elections Sunday at the expense of PML-N, Khan claimed the rebound came despite the use of state machinery. Of the 20 seats, PTI won 15, with the PML-N of current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif taking four, and one going to an independent. Sunday’s vote was also seen as a bellwether for national elections that must be held by October next year, although Khan has campaigned across the country for an earlier poll since being losing a controversial vote of no-confidence last April. Dilating on the multiple crises that Pakistan faced, the PTI chairman asserted that the only way out was free and fair elections. But, he contended, these elections should not be conducted the way by-elections in Punjab were held. “(During the by-polls) they used all the tactics to defeat us. Police threatened our people and officers acted as workers of PML-N,” he claimed, adding that Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz had no right to manipulate the police. He also made the ye-catching claim that there were four million deceased voters included in the electoral rolls. Separately, the ex-PM alleged that the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) tried his best to turn the polls in favour of the PML-N. “I am disappointed in the chief election commissioner. How could he let all this happen? He is not competent to run (the Election Commission of Pakistan) and is biased towards a political party. He should immediately resign.” Betraying lack of confidence in the CEC, Khan cited the example of the Senate elections in 2021 in which he pointed to visual evidence of bribery, but where no action was undertaken. “In Sindh’s (local government) elections, 15% of Pakistan People’s Party candidates won unopposed, yet nobody investigated it,” he pointed out. “During the Daska by-polls, the returning officer opened all the votes against PTI. He made us lose that election.” The former PM said that despite several complaints of rigging during polls being brought before the CEC, he never punished anyone, which encouraged malpractice as no-one feared accountability. Despite all these tactics, Khan said: “We won as people came out to cast their votes like never before”. Khan reserved profuse praise for the youth and women, who, he said, came out in large numbers to help PTI contestants to win a landslide against the run of play. “I believe this is the moment in Pakistan’s history that we should be thankful for because the nation has awakened,” he said, adding, “people have finally understood the ideology of Pakistan.” Khan claimed that during his tenure an “artificial political crisis” was created. “The PTI government was running smoothly and the economic survey report (released during the incumbent government’s rule) is proof. It said that after 17 years, our growth rate increased and all the indicators showed we were progressing.” Khan has drawn thousands to rallies since being ousted, giving lengthy speeches claiming the government was imposed on Pakistan by a US-led conspiracy. He also blames the current government for soaring inflation, although most analysts agree Sharif inherited the country’s economic woes — which were given some relief last week by an agreement with the International Monetary Fund to resume a rescue package. Pakistani newspapers suggested the Punjab result was a consequence of the economic hardships currently felt by the country, which is spending nearly half its income to service dire foreign debt. To meet IMF conditions for a resumption of a $7.2bn aid package, Sharif had to remove subsidies on fuel — effectively raising prices by more than 50% in less than two months. “A bitter taste of unpopular decisions,” read a headline in the influential Dawn newspaper over a front-page analysis. The Punjab assembly vote was called after the election commission disqualified 20 members of the PTI for switching party loyalties. The result means the likely end of a short reign as Punjab Chief Minister by Hamza Sharif, the prime minister’s son.
When 92-year old Indian citizen Reena Varma visits her childhood home in Pakistan this week, for the first time in 75 years, she will be the only one of her family to make it back home since they left shortly before partition divided the two nations. “My dream came true,” she said, adding her sister had died without ever being able to fulfil her wish to return to the home in the city of Rawalpindi they left when Varma was 15 years old. The family of five siblings fled to the Western Indian city of Pune shortly before partition in August 1947. Although Varma was able to travel once to the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore as a young woman, she has never been back to Rawalpindi. Her parents and siblings have since died. Crossing into Pakistan by road last week after decades of attempts to get a visa, she felt a wave of emotion. “When I crossed the Pakistan-India Border and saw the signs for Pakistan and India, I got sentimental,” she said, speaking during a stop in Lahore. “Now, I cannot predict how I will react when I reach Rawalpindi and see my ancestral home in the street.” Varma’s family was among the millions of people whose lives were disrupted in 1947, when departing British Indian colonial administrators ordered the creation of two countries — one mostly Muslim and one majority Hindu. A mass migration followed, marred by violence and bloodshed, as about 15mn Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, fearing discrimination, swapped countries in a political upheaval that cost more than a million lives. India and Pakistan have fought three wars since 1947, and relations remain tense, particularly over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, which both claim in full. August 14 will mark 75 years since partition split the two countries, dividing the province of Punjab roughly down the middle. Varma remembers those tumultuous days clearly. The family worried as reports of violent incidents reached them and decided to leave, her father quitting his public servant job and Varma leaving her school. “Initially, we could not understand what happened,” she said, adding her mother never wanted to believe that the two countries had been divided. “She kept saying we will go back to Rawalpindi soon, but ultimately she had to accept the reality that India and Pakistan are two separate countries,” she said. Varma has been trying since 1965 to get a visa for Pakistan, finally succeeding this year when the India Pakistan Heritage Club and Pakistan’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar helped with the process. Varma is being hosted by Imran William, the director of the India Pakistan Heritage Club, which works to highlight the shared heritage of citizens on both sides of the border and reunite family members separated by partition. “India and Pakistan are two separate countries but we can bring peace between them through love and people-to-people contact,” William said. When Varma, who is Hindu, was leaving India for her trip she said many warned her not to travel to the Muslim-majority country, but she was not deterred. “Here I feel I am in my own town with my own people,” William said.
Former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan called again Monday for an early national election after his party seized control of the state assembly in Punjab, the country's most populous province. Twenty seats were up for grabs in the Punjab by-election, which was seen as a popularity test for the former international cricket star dismissed by a no-confidence vote in April. His Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party won 15, with the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) of current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif taking four, and one going to an independent. Sunday's vote was also seen as a bellwether for national elections that must be held by October next year, although Khan has campaigned across the country for an earlier poll since being dismissed. "The only way forward from here is to hold free and transparent elections," Khan tweeted early Monday after the Punjab votes were tallied. "Any other way will only lead to increased political uncertainty and further economic chaos." Khan has drawn thousands to rallies since being ousted, giving lengthy speeches claiming the government was imposed on Pakistan by a US-led conspiracy. He also blames the current government for soaring inflation, although most analysts agree Sharif inherited the country's economic woes -- which were given some relief last week by an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to resume a rescue package. Pakistan newspapers suggested the Punjab result was a consequence of the economic hardships currently felt by the country, which is spending nearly half its income to service dire foreign debt. To meet IMF conditions for a resumption of a $7.2 billion aid package, Sharif had to remove subsidies on fuel -- effectively raising prices by more than 50 percent in less than two months. "A bitter taste of unpopular decisions," read a headline in the influential Dawn newspaper over a front-page analysis. The Punjab assembly vote was called after the election commission disqualified 20 members of the PTI for switching party loyalties. The result means the likely end of a short reign as Punjab Chief Minister by Hamza Sharif, the prime minister's son.
In a major blow to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N)-led government in the Punjab province, the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of former prime minister Imran Khan clinched an overwhelming majority in the by-elections for 20 provincial assembly seats yesterday. The seats were vacated after 20 legislators from the PTI switched loyalties to join the PML-N to enable the latter to form a government last April in Punjab — considered the power matrix. The Election Commission of Pakistan then de-seated them in May as required under the law after party chairman Imran Khan moved against them for violating the party discipline. In what was billed as the “clash of the titans” with future political fortunes hinging on the results, the PTI managed a strong comeback against all odds. According to unofficial results, Khan’s party grabbed 15 seats with the PML-N winning just 4 and one seat going to an independent candidate. The PTI is now poised to form a government in the Punjab province along with its allies, whose candidate Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, is their joint nominee for the post. Imran Khan, who was himself ousted as PM in a controversial no-confidence vote last April, ran a strenuous electoral campaign which was marred with allegations of foul play. He was quick to thank his party workers and allies for “defeating not only the PML-N but the entire state machinery”. “I want to first thank our PTI workers & voters of Punjab for defeating not just PMLN candidates but the entire state machinery, esp harassment by police, & a totally biased ECP. Thank you to all our Allies, PMLQ, MWM & Sunni Ittehad Council,” Khan tweeted. He also renewed his demand for fair and free elections in the wake of his party’s success. “Any other path will only lead to greater political uncertainty & further economic chaos,” he warned in a tweet. Earlier, PTI’s Multan candidate, Zain Qureshi, son of former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who was the first to win a seat, said many voters came out to send the “imported government” back home. The reference was to the federal government at the Centre, which the PTI alleges was “foisted upon the nation” following an alleged “regime change”, the party accuses the United States of orchestrating with the help of “local actors”. “PTI voters had a 45-50% turnout,” Zain said, adding the government did everything to rig the elections. “I have submitted pictorial evidence with the Election Commission of Pakistan,” he disclosed. PTI leader and former information minister Fawad Chaudhry urged all political parties to sit together and address the widening trust gap. “We should not stay in a state of war always,” he said. “The best solution is fresh elections.” Fawad maintained that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif should announce a date for general elections. Former planning minister and senior PTI leader Asad Umar also highlighted PTI’s struggle for the last three months after the “regime change”. “This struggle is for Pakistan now. A man (can) only put in an effort. Allah guides us to success,” he said. He maintained that the by-election proved that the “decisions of the country must be taken here and not abroad in closed rooms”. He disclosed that the PTI core committee’s meeting is scheduled to take place at 3pm later today to plan a strategy for the future. PTI leader Omar Ayub Khan said that PTI’s “landslide victory” in Punjab by-polls have proved that Imran Khan’s narrative had been wholeheartedly accepted by the people. Meanwhile, the ruling PML-N conceded defeat with some party leaders even congratulating the PTI. PML-N Vice-President Maryam Nawaz, daughter of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who led the electoral campaign for her party, opined that it should graciously accept defeat in the Punjab by-elections and submit to the will of the people. “Wherever there are weaknesses, efforts should be made to identify and overcome them,” she tweeted. Malik Ahmed Khan, Sharif’s spokesperson, also “wholeheartedly” acknowledged PTI’s “historic” victory in the by-elections. Speaking to the private Geo News, Khan said the PML-N acknowledged it had lost the Punjab by-elections. Defence Minister Khawaja Asif also congratulated the PTI and called for the results to be accepted whilst crediting the Punjab government for “carrying out transparent elections”. “People always make the right decision. Accepting public opinion is democracy,” Pervaiz Rashid, another party stalwart, conceded. Journalist Khurram Husain said the results showed that Imran Khan had “arrived” as a “genuinely popular leader in Pakistan with grass root support”.
Mango farmers in Pakistan say production of the prized fruit has fallen by up to 40% in some areas because of high temperatures and water shortages in a country identified as one of the most vulnerable to climate change. The arrival of mango season in Pakistan is eagerly anticipated, with around two dozen varieties arriving through the hot, humid summers. This year, however, temperatures rose sharply in March — months earlier than usual — followed by heatwaves that damaged crops and depleted water levels in canals farmers depend on for irrigation. “Usually I pick 24 truckloads of mangoes... this year I have only got 12,” said Fazle Elahi, counting the bags lined up by his farm. “We are doomed.” The country is among the world’s top exporters of mangoes, harvesting nearly two million tons annually across southern parts of Punjab and Sindh. The total harvest is yet to be measured, but production is already short by at least 20 to 40 per cent in most areas, according to Gohram Baloch, a senior official at the Sindh provincial government’s agriculture department. Umar Bhugio, who owns swaths of orchards outside Mirpur Khas — locally known as the city of mangoes — said his crops received less than half the usual amount of water this year. “Mango growers confronted two problems this year: one was the early rise in temperatures, and secondly the water shortage,” he said. Pakistan is one of the most water-stressed countries in the world. It also ranks as the country eighth most-vulnerable to extreme weather due to climate change, according to the Global Climate Risk Index compiled by environmental NGO Germanwatch. Floods, droughts and cyclones in recent years have killed and displaced thousands, destroyed livelihoods and damaged infrastructure. “The early rise of temperatures increased the water intake by crops. It became a contest among different crops for water consumption,” said food security expert Abid Suleri, head of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI). A rise in temperature is generally expected in the mango belt in early May, which helps the fruit ripen before picking starts in June and July. But the arrival of summer as early as March damaged the mango flowers, a key part of the reproductive cycle. “The mango should weigh over 750 grams but this year we picked very undersized fruit,” Elahi said. Known in South Asia as the “king of fruits”, the mango originated in the subcontinent. The country’s most treasured variety is the golden-yellow Sindhri, known for its rich flavour and juicy pulp.
Mango farmers in Pakistan say production of the prized fruit has fallen by up to 40 percent in some areas because of high temperatures and water shortages in a country identified as one of the most vulnerable to climate change. The arrival of mango season in Pakistan is eagerly anticipated, with around two dozen varieties arriving through the hot, humid summers. This year, however, temperatures rose sharply in March -- months earlier than usual -- followed by heatwaves that damaged crops and depleted water levels in canals farmers depend on for irrigation. "Usually I pick 24 truckloads of mangoes... this year I have only got 12," said Fazle Elahi, counting the bags lined up by his farm. "We are doomed." The country is among the world's top exporters of mangoes, harvesting nearly two million tons annually across southern parts of Punjab and Sindh. The total harvest is yet to be measured, but production is already short by at least 20 to 40 per cent in most areas, according to Gohram Baloch, a senior official at the Sindh provincial government's agriculture department. Umar Bhugio, who owns swaths of orchards outside Mirpur Khas -- locally known as the city of mangoes -- said his crops received less than half the usual amount of water this year. "Mango growers confronted two problems this year: one was the early rise in temperatures, and secondly the water shortage," he said. Pakistan is one of the most water-stressed countries in the world, a problem made worse by poor infrastructure and mismanagement of resources. It also ranks as the country eighth most-vulnerable to extreme weather due to climate change, according to the Global Climate Risk Index compiled by environmental NGO Germanwatch. Floods, droughts and cyclones in recent years have killed and displaced thousands, destroyed livelihoods and damaged infrastructure. "The early rise of temperatures increased the water intake by crops. It became a contest among different crops for water consumption," said food security expert Abid Suleri, head of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI). A rise in temperature is generally expected in the mango belt in early May, which helps the fruit ripen before picking starts in June and July. But the arrival of summer as early as March damaged the mango flowers, a key part of the reproductive cycle. "The mango should weigh over 750 grams but this year we picked very undersized fruit," Elahi said. Known in South Asia as the "king of fruits", the mango originated in the Indian subcontinent. The country's most treasured variety is the golden-yellow Sindhri, known for its rich flavour and juicy pulp.
Intense floods killed dozens of people and left hundreds homeless in Pakistan, officials said yesterday, as heavy monsoon rains battered the country. In the southern province of Balochistan, 57 people, including women and children, were killed after being swept away in flood waters, according to Ziaullah Langove, the disaster and home affairs advisor to the province’s chief minister, adding that eight dams had burst due to the heavy rains. Hundreds more were left homeless after their homes collapsed in the rain and flooding, he said, adding monsoon rains were continuing. In north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province two people, including a six year-old, died and four were injured when their house collapsed due to rain, according to a district official statement. Heavy rains have lashed the country in recent days, leaving large swathes of Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, inundated with water. Pakistan’s Navy said it was joining efforts to evacuate citizens and deliver rations and fresh water in Balochistan.
A kid goat with extraordinarily long ears has become something of a media star in Pakistan, with its owner claiming a world record that may or may not exist. Simba is now living a pampered existence in Karachi, where he was born last month with ears that were strikingly long — and have grown further to reach 54cm (21 inches). Breeder Mohamed Hasan Narejo says he has approached Guinness World Records to see if his charge can be included as the Greatest Of All Time, although a category for “longest-eared goat” does not currently appear on the organisation’s website. “Within 10 to 12 days of his birth he was already appearing in all the national and international media — and won a beauty contest,” a proud Narejo says. “Within 30 days he became so popular that even a famous personality might take 25 to 30 years to achieve this level of fame.” Simba’s ears are so long that Narejo has to fold them over his back to stop the little bleater from standing on them. He has also designed a harness so that Simba can carry the lengthy lugholes around his neck. Narejo is wary of the attention Simba has attracted — including from rival breeders — and has resorted to prayer and tradition to try to fend off any ill will. “We recite Qur’anic verses and blow on him to cast away the evil eye,” Narejo said. “Following a long tradition we inherited from our elders, we have fastened a black thread around him that is fortified with Qur’anic verses.” Narejo plans to raise Simba as a stud to promote the image of Pakistan as a top goat breeding nation. “Simba’s Pakistan name must roam the whole world,” he said.