Four Killed In Attack On Pakistan Stock Exchange

Paramilitary officers inspect the premisses of the Pakistan Stock Exchange building following an attack by gunmen in Karachi on June 29, 2020. Rizwan TABASSUM / AFP
Paramilitary officers inspect the premisses of the Pakistan Stock Exchange building following an attack by gunmen in Karachi on June 29, 2020. Rizwan TABASSUM / AFP

 

Baloch separatists opened fire and hurled a grenade at the Pakistan Stock Exchange in Karachi Monday, authorities said, killing four people including a policeman.

Three security guards were killed in the melee, while local police chief Ghulam Nabi Memon said all four assailants were shot dead.

“Police have recovered modern automatic weapons and explosive materials from the terrorists,” Karachi police said in a statement.

The city’s police force had earlier said six people died in the firefight but later revised the figure. A Karachi hospital where the bodies were taken confirmed the new death toll.

Pakistan’s military praised the swift response of the city’s security forces, while the Karachi police released a video of one member from a provincial security unit describing the firefight.

“I shot one of them dead…. The second guy saw me and…  he took out a grenade. I shot him twice in his hand and his weapon fell down. I then shot him in the head as he tried to pull out the grenade pin,” said Mohammad Rafiq, a member of an elite provincial rapid response team.

The video of the officer was shared widely online, with social media users calling Rafiq a hero.

The Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) claimed responsibility in a message sent to AFP, saying an elite unit of fighters had carried out the assault.

The separatists have launched a string of high-profile attacks across the country in recent years — including in the southern port city.

The BLA is one of several insurgent groups fighting primarily in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province, which has been rocked by separatist, Islamist and sectarian violence for years.

The group has targeted infrastructure projects and Chinese workers in Pakistan multiple times in recent years, including a brazen daylight attack on Bejing’s consulate in Karachi that killed four people in 2018.

In May last year, the BLA attacked a luxury hotel near the Afghan border at Gwadar, where a port development is the flagship project of a multi-billion dollar national infrastructure project funded by China.

Last year, the US State Department designated the BLA as a global terrorist group, making it a crime for anyone in the United States to assist the militants and freezing any US assets they may have.

Following Monday’s attack Pakistani authorities vowed to strike back against any group found responsible for the onslaught, promising to dismantle their networks and destroy their bases.

Violent history

“An investigation has been launched and very soon we will reach their masterminds,” interior minister Ijaz Ahmad Shah said in a video message posted after the attack.

Business continued as usual at the Karachi stock exchange after the attack.

“Trading is smooth and continuing. PSX benchmark index one of the Best Performer in Asia today so far,” tweeted Mohammed Sohail, a broker at the exchange.

For a while after the attack the bodies of at least two gunmen could be seen in a pool of blood near the exchange’s entrance.

Karachi was once a hotspot for crime and violence, with heavily armed groups linked to politicians frequently gunning down opponents and launching attacks on residential areas.

But the situation has largely stabilised in recent years following operations by security agencies against armed political outfits and Islamist militants.

Militant groups still retain the ability to launch periodic attacks in many rural areas and occasionally in urban centres.

Monday’s attack comes more than a week after a grenade was thrown at a line of people waiting outside a government welfare office in the city, killing one and injuring eight others, according to a statement from municipal authorities.

 

AFP

India-Pakistan Diplomatic Row Worsens As Dozens Of Staff Are Expelled

Indian High Commission officials Dwimu Brahms (R) and Selvadhas Paul sit in a car after their release from the Pakistan authorities for the accusation of been involved in a hit-and-run incident, as they return to India at the India Pakistan Wagah Border Post about 35 km from Amritsar on June 22, 2020. NARINDER NANU / AFP

 

India told Pakistan on Tuesday to slash its embassy staff in New Delhi by half — saying it would do the same in Islamabad — as a diplomatic spat continued between the nuclear-armed rivals.

The fractious relationship between the neighbours has worsened since New Delhi expelled two Pakistan embassy officials over spying claims in late May.

After that, New Delhi accused Islamabad of torturing two Indian diplomats arrested following an alleged hit-and-run in the Pakistani capital.

The men returned to India on Monday, where they “provided graphic details of the barbaric treatment that they experienced”, the foreign ministry claimed.

“The behaviour of Pakistan and its officials is not in conformity with the Vienna Convention and bilateral agreements on the treatment of diplomatic and consular officials,” the ministry said in a statement.

“Therefore, the government of India has taken the decision to reduce the staff strength in the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi by 50 per cent.”

The ministry said it would also “reciprocally reduce its own presence in Islamabad to the same proportion”.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry said it “completely dismisses” allegations its staff in New Delhi had violated any diplomatic conventions.

“Pakistan also rejects the insinuations of intimidation of Indian High Commission officials in Islamabad,” a Pakistan ministry statement read.

“The Indian government’s smear campaign against Pakistan cannot obfuscate the illegal activities in which the Indian High Commission officials were found involved in,” the statement added — an apparent reference to a June 16 traffic incident in Islamabad that two Indian officials allegedly fled.

The Pakistan statement said it was Islamabad — and not New Delhi — that had ordered the reciprocal 50 per cent reduction to the Indian diplomatic presence in the Pakistan capital.

Both countries said the staffing cuts must be made within seven days.

The Pakistan high commission in New Delhi was allowed up to have up to 106 personnel, but in recent months Islamabad reduced staff levels to about 80, diplomatic sources told AFP.

Tensions were already high after India in August scrapped Muslim-majority region Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status and imposed a major security clampdown.

Kashmir was split between India and Pakistan in 1947 when they gained independence from Britain but is claimed by both.

Indian government forces have also been conducting numerous counter-insurgency operations in Kashmir since a nationwide virus lockdown was imposed in late March, killing dozens of alleged militants.

New Delhi regularly blames Islamabad for arming and training rebels before sending them across the border into Indian-administered Kashmir. Pakistan denies the charges.

AFP

One Killed In Blast In Pakistan City, Rawalpindi

akistani army soldiers and policemen gather at a bomb explosion site, which killed one person and injured ten, in Rawalpindi on June 12, 2020. Farooq NAEEM / AFP
akistani army soldiers and policemen gather at a bomb explosion site, which killed one person and injured ten, in Rawalpindi on June 12, 2020. Farooq NAEEM / AFP

 

At least one person was killed and a dozen others wounded in a rare bomb blast in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi on Friday, officials said.

Rawalpindi, Pakistan’s fourth-largest city, is known for its military garrison and adjoins the capital Islamabad.

The explosion took place Friday evening at a popular market, a stone’s throw from Pakistan’s heavily guarded military headquarters.

“One killed, while 12 others were injured in an explosion. The explosive was planted in an electric pole”, Rawalpindi police spokesman Sajjad ul Hassan told AFP.

Rawalpindi police chief Ahsan Younas confirmed the bomb explosion and toll.

An AFP photographer saw broken glass from shop windows at the cordoned-off site. Most shops were already shut at the time of the blast.

No group immediately claimed responsibility. Hassan said it was an attempt at “organised terrorism”.

Pakistan has seen a dramatic improvement in security in recent years.

This is the first bomb blast in Rawalpindi since 2015, the same year the army intensified a crackdown on militants.

Analysts however still warn that Pakistan has not yet addressed the root causes of extremism.

WHO Calls For New Lockdowns In Pakistan As COVID-19 Surges

This picture taken on April 24, 2020 shows a sign of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva next to their headquarters, amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
This picture taken on April 24, 2020 shows a sign of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva next to their headquarters, amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus.
Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

 

The World Health Organization has told Pakistan it should implement “intermittent” lockdowns to counter a surge in coronavirus infections that has come as the country loosens restrictions, officials said.

Since the start of Pakistan’s outbreak in March, Prime Minister Imran Khan opposed a nationwide lockdown of the sort seen elsewhere, arguing the impoverished country could not afford it.

Instead, Pakistan’s four provinces ordered a patchwork of closures, but last week Khan said most of these restrictions would be lifted.

Health officials on Wednesday declared a record number of new cases in the past 24 hours. The country has now confirmed a total of more than 113,000 cases and 2,200 deaths — though with testing still limited, real rates are thought to be much higher.

“As of today, Pakistan does not meet any of the pre-requisite conditions for opening the lockdown”, the WHO said in a letter confirmed by Pakistan officials on Tuesday.

Many people have not adopted behavioural changes such as social distancing and frequent hand-washing, meaning “difficult” decisions will be required including “intermittent lockdowns” in targeted areas, the letter states.

READ ALSO: Elevated Extreme Poverty To Persist Through 2021 – World Bank

Some 25 percent of tests in Pakistan come back positive for COVID-19, the WHO said, indicating high levels of infection in the general population.

The health body recommended an intermittent lockdown cycle of two weeks on, two weeks off.

Responding to the WHO’s letter, Zafar Mirza, the prime minister’s special advisor for health, said the country had “consciously but gradually” eased lockdowns while enforcing guidelines in shops, mosques and public transport.

“We have to make tough policy choices to strike a balance between lives and livelihoods,” Mirza said Wednesday.

Punjab’s provincial health minister Yasmin Rashid, who received the WHO’s letter, said the provincial government had already given “orders to take strict action against those violating” virus guidelines.

Hospitals across Pakistan say they are at or near capacity, and some are turning COVID-19 patients away.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday that 136,000 cases had been reported in the previous 24 hours, “the most in a single day so far”, with the majority of them in South Asia and the Americas.

AFP

Fully-Loaded Passenger Plane Crashes In Pakistan

Rescue workers move a body from the site after a Pakistan International Airlines aircraft crashed at a residential area in Karachi on May 22, 2020. Asif HASSAN / AFP

 

 

A Pakistani passenger plane with nearly 100 people on board crashed into a residential area of the southern city of Karachi on Friday.

The Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) plane was close to landing when it came down among houses, sending plumes of smoke into the air that could be seen from some distance away.

Rescue workers and local residents pulled people from the debris, as firefighters tried to put out the flames.

“I heard a big bang and woke up to people calling for the fire brigade,” said Karachi resident Mudassar Ali.

PIA spokesman Abdullah Hafeez said there were 91 passengers and seven crew on board the flight, which lost contact with air traffic control just after 2.30pm (0930 GMT).

“It is too early to comment on the cause of the crash,” he said.

Rescue workers gather at the site after a Pakistan International Airlines aircraft crashed in a residential area in Karachi on May 22, 2020. Rizwan TABASSUM / AFP

 

Abdul Sattar Khokhar, of the country’s aviation authority, said the Airbus A320 was travelling from Lahore to Karachi.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was “shocked and saddened” by the crash, tweeting that he was in touch with the state airline’s chief executive.

“Prayers & condolences go to families of the deceased,” said Khan.

Foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the plane crashed into a residential area minutes before it was due to land.

The disaster comes as Pakistanis across the country are preparing to celebrate the end of Ramadan and the beginning of Eid al-Fitr, with many travelling back to their homes in cities and villages.

The Pakistan military said security forces had been deployed to the area and helicopters were being used to survey the damage and help ongoing rescue operations while offering condolences over the “loss of precious lives” in the incident.

A firefighter sprays water on a burnt building after a Pakistan International Airlines aircraft crashed in a residential area in Karachi on May 22, 2020. Rizwan TABASSUM / AFP

 

Commercial flights resumed only days ago after planes were grounded during a lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic.

Pakistan has a chequered military and civilian aviation safety record, with frequent plane and helicopter crashes over the years.

In 2016, a Pakistan International Airlines plane burst into flames after one of its two turboprop engines failed while flying from the remote north to Islamabad, killing more than 40 people.

The deadliest air disaster on Pakistani soil was in 2010 when an Airbus A321 operated by private airline Airblue and flying from Karachi crashed into the hills outside Islamabad as it came into land, killing all 152 people on board.

People comfort a relative of a victim near the site after a Pakistan International Airlines aircraft crashed in a residential area in Karachi on May 22, 2020. Rizwan TABASSUM / AFP

 

An official report blamed the accident on a confused captain and a hostile cockpit atmosphere.

PIA, one of the world’s leading airlines until the 1970s, now suffers from a sinking reputation due to frequent cancellations, delays and financial troubles. It has been involved in numerous controversies over the years, including the jailing of a drunk pilot in Britain in 2013.

AFP

COVID-19: Pakistani Health Workers Launch Hunger Strike Over Protective Equipment

In this handout photograph released by the Young Doctors Association (YDA) Punjab and taken on April 24, 2020, doctors wearing facemasks sit in during a hunger strike protest at the Punjab Health Secretary in Lahore.  Handout / YOUNG DOCTORS ASSOCIATION (YDA) of Pakistan / AFP
In this handout photograph released by the Young Doctors Association (YDA) Punjab and taken on April 24, 2020, doctors wearing facemasks sit in during a hunger strike protest at the Punjab Health Secretary in Lahore. Handout / YOUNG DOCTORS ASSOCIATION (YDA) of Pakistan / AFP

 

Dozens of Pakistani doctors and nurses have launched a hunger strike demanding adequate protective equipment for frontline staff treating coronavirus patients, the lead organiser of the protest said Saturday.

Health workers have complained for weeks that the country’s hospitals are suffering chronic shortages of safety gear, prompting the arrest of more than 50 doctors who called for more supplies in the city of Quetta earlier this month.

Frontline staff have been left vulnerable, with more than 150 medical workers testing positive for the virus nationwide, according to the Young Doctors’ Association (YDA) in worst-hit Punjab province.

The protesters have kept working in their hospitals while taking turns to demonstrate outside the health authority offices in provincial capital Lahore.

“We do not intend on stopping until the government listens to our demands. They have been consistently refusing to adhere to our demands,” said doctor Salman Haseeb.

Haseeb heads the province’s Grand Health Alliance, which is organising the protest, and he said he had not eaten since April 16.

“We are on the frontline of this virus and if we are not protected then the whole population is at risk,” he told AFP.

The alliance said about 30 doctors and nurses were on hunger strike, with up to 200 medical staff joining them each day for demonstrations.

Punjab’s health worker union are supporting the alliance and also demanding adequate quarantine conditions for medical staff.

Nearly three dozen doctors, nurses and paramedics contracted the virus in one hospital in the city of Multan, while seven members of a doctor’s family were infected in Lahore, it added.

“We are simply demanding justice for our community,” said doctor and YDA chairman Khizer Hayat.

Hospital staff would not escalate their protest by walking off the job, he added.

Provincial health department officials told AFP that hospitals had now been provided with adequate protection gear after an earlier “backlog” was resolved.

Earlier this month the Punjab government announced that frontline workers will be awarded a pay bonus and life insurance.

Almost half of the nearly 12,000 confirmed COVID-19 infections across Pakistan have been recorded in Punjab.

The number of infections in the country is believed to be far higher because of a lack of testing in the impoverished country of 215 million.

The Islamic holy month of Ramadan officially began in Pakistan on Saturday, with concerns that the light restrictions imposed on mosque gatherings will not stop a potentially rapid spread of the virus.

Frontline medical workers across the world have been grappling with short supplies of vital safety equipment since the start of the pandemic.

 

AFP

COVID-19: 20,000 Worshippers Quarantined In Pakistan After Major Search

(FILES) This file photo taken on March 13, 2020 shows Islamic worshippers leaving after attending the three-day annual Tablighi Jamaat religious gathering in Raiwind on the outskirts of Lahore. Arif ALI / AFP.

 

Pakistan has quarantined 20,000 worshippers and is still searching for tens of thousands more who attended an Islamic gathering in Lahore last month despite the worsening coronavirus pandemic, officials said Sunday.

Authorities said they want to test or quarantine those who congregated at the event held by the Tablighi Jamaat — an Islamic missionary movement — between March 10-12 over fears they are now spreading COVID-19 across Pakistan and overseas.

More than 100,000 people went to the meeting, organisers said, undeterred by government requests for it to be cancelled as the virus hit the country.

In northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, authorities have so far quarantined 5,300 Tablighis or Islamic preachers who attended the Lahore meeting.

“Health officials are conducting tests for coronavirus and some of them have tested positive,” Ajmal Wazir, a spokesperson for the region, told AFP on Sunday.

Wazir said thousands of Tablighis from his province were stranded in other regions because of the closure of major highways across the country.

About 7,000 have been quarantined in the central Punjab city Lahore, while in southern Sindh province up to 8,000 Tablighis have been quarantined, government officials said.

Dozens more have been forced to self-isolate in southwestern Balochistan province.

READ ALSO: COVID-19: China Says It Has Sold Nearly Four Billion Masks Abroad

The Tablighi mosques and the movement’s other places of worship were shut down or marked as quarantine centres at the end of March.

At least 154 worshippers who went to last month’s Jamaat had tested positive for coronavirus, with two fatalities, authorities told AFP.

Coronavirus has killed at least 45 people in Pakistan but with only limited testing available, observers worry the number is far higher.

Tablighi Jamaat is considered one of the world’s largest faith-based movements, with millions of followers, particularly in South Asia, and sends preachers to countries to spread Islam’s ideas.

Numerous foreign nationals attended this year from countries including China, Indonesia, Nigeria and Afghanistan, organisers said.

About 1,500 foreigners are now quarantined in Pakistan, but others left the country without being tested.

Gaza’s health ministry confirmed last month its first two cases of coronavirus were Palestinians who had attended the gathering.

Pakistan’s science minister Fawad Chaudhry earlier expressed exasperation that the event had gone ahead, blaming the “stubbornness of the clergy”.

Organisers said they cut the gathering short following advice from the authorities, however at the time they said it was due to rainy weather.

Similar Tablighi Jamaat congregations held in Malaysia and India during the coronavirus pandemic have been blamed for spreading the virus to other nations.

AFP

Villager Fakes Death To Avoid COVID-19 Lockdown In India

People keep their bags inside marked areas on a street as they wait to receive free rice distributed at a government store during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Hyderabad on April 1, 2020. NOAH SEELAM / AFP.

 

A Kashmiri villager faked his death and travelled more than a hundred miles in an ambulance with four others in a desperate bid to circumvent India’s virus lockdown and return home, police said Wednesday.

Hakim Din was being treated for a minor head injury at a hospital in Jammu when an ambulance driver suggested the 70-year-old fake his death to get past checkpoints, police said.

Din and three other men wanted to return to Poonch, a far-flung region in Indian-administered Kashmir close to the de facto border with Pakistan.

The region’s Superintendent of Police, Ramesh Angral, said the four men and the driver travelled more than 160 kilometres (100 miles) in the ambulance, passing many checkpoints using a fake death certificate from the hospital.

“The ambulance was stopped at the last checkpoint before they could reach home,” Angral told AFP.

“A policeman there immediately figured out that the man lying covered inside the ambulance could not be dead.”

READ ALSO: Kyrgyz Health Minister, Vice Premier Sacked Over COVID-19 Response

The men were arrested and quarantined separately, Angral said, adding that they faced charges of “cheating and defying the government’s prohibitory orders”.

There are no known coronavirus cases in the Poonch region.

India imposed a 21-day nationwide lockdown from last Wednesday to fight the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

There are more than 1,600 cases, including 38 deaths, in the vast nation of 1.3 billion people, according to the government.

The nationwide lockdown comes in the wake of a long-running curfew in Kashmir, imposed as New Delhi scrapped the restive region’s semi-autonomous status on August 5.

Some aspects of the curfew were gradually eased in the following months, allowing Kashmiris to travel outside their homes and villages.

But some Kashmiris have been left stranded in cities and unable to return home to their villages after the sudden nationwide lockdown announcement.

Internet access, which was cut in the earlier lockdown, has remained severely restricted with only 2G access.

Many mobile phone users have also been unable to access the internet on their devices.

AFP

250,000 Pilgrims Mass In Pakistan Despite Coronavirus Warnings

A resident (R) wearing a facemask as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus offers Friday prayers along with other Muslims at a mosque in Rawalpindi on March 13, 2020. PHOTO: Aamir QURESHI / AFP

 

Hundreds of thousands of Islamic worshippers gathered in eastern Pakistan this week amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, ignoring government warnings that such events could propagate the disease.

Organisers late on Thursday curtailed the annual Tablighi Ijtema congregation, which had drawn people from across the country, but cited rainy weather as the cause.

The early closure came after about 250,000 people had already congregated in camps near Lahore since Wednesday for the five-day festival.

READ ALSO: Canada PM’s Wife Tests Positive For Coronavirus

“Most of the people have returned to their homes but still tens of thousands of people are here. They will return today,” one of the event’s organisers Ehsanullah, who goes by one name, told AFP on Friday.

Pakistan has only recorded 21 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and no deaths, but officials have tested fewer than 500 potential cases in the country of about 215 million, where health care is frequently inadequate.

Many countries are advising against large gatherings in a bid to slow the spread of the highly communicable virus. Some nations — like France and Italy — have banned them altogether.

The federal government has yet to enforce nationwide measures to contain a possible outbreak, leaving provinces to act independently. Organisers of the Tablighi Ijtema were free to ignore government advice to postpone.

“The government asked us to cancel the gathering because of the coronavirus, but our elders and organisers decided that the gathering will proceed as planned,” Ehsanullah said.

The movement was founded by religious scholars more than five decades ago and focuses exclusively on preaching Islam.

It usually sees hundreds of camps and sub-camps set up on a dusty site outside Lahore to accommodate people from across Pakistan, giving the gathering a festival feel.

Schools in three of Pakistan’s four provinces are closed for March and authorities are conducting basic screenings of passengers arriving by air from overseas.

Prime Minister Imran Khan was set to meet with his national security team later Friday to discuss the global coronavirus crisis.

AFP

Pakistan Shuts Afghan Border As Coronavirus Cases Rise To Four

 

Pakistan is closing one of its two border crossings with Afghanistan for a week to prevent the spread of coronavirus, officials said Sunday.

The announcement comes a day after Pakistan detected two new cases of the virus bringing the total number of infected patients to four.

Officials said the Chaman/Spinboldak crossing point would close from Monday, but the second point at Torkhum in the northwest would remain open.

Pakistan is sandwiched between China and Iran — which are both fighting major outbreaks — sparking fears about the country’s ability to cope with an epidemic of its own.

The country has suspended all flights to Iran and closed land borders.

Pakistan and Afghanistan are divided by the “Durand Line”, a 2,400-kilometre (1,500-mile) frontier with Villages straddling the border and mosques and houses having one door in Pakistan and another in Afghanistan.

The virus has now killed more than 2,900 people and infected over 83,000 worldwide, with an increasing number of new cases being reported each day.

AFP

Coronavirus: Fear And Panic Hit Afghanistan, Pakistan Over Possible Spread

Pakistani and Iranian flags flutter on the closed Pakistan-Iran border in Taftan on February 25, 2020 as fears over the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus escalate following an outbreak in neighbouring Iran. Banaras KHAN / AFP.

 

With porous borders, creaking hospitals and large illiterate populations, Afghanistan and Pakistan face a potentially devastating health crisis after the new coronavirus erupted in neighbouring Iran.

Islamabad has closed official border crossings while Kabul has suspended all travel to the Islamic republic, which has reported 15 deaths out of nearly 100 infections — making it one of the hardest hit countries outside the virus epicentre China.

But experts fear the measures could prove ineffective with thousands of people — refugees fleeing violence, Shiite pilgrims, smugglers and migrants looking for work — likely crossing the long, poorly patrolled frontiers every day.

The virus has spread to more than 25 countries, killing over 2,700 and infecting 80,000, mostly in China. But new outbreaks in Europe, the Middle East and in Asia have fanned fears of the contagion taking hold in poor nations which lack the healthcare infrastructure to cope.

Afghanistan announced Monday its first virus infection involving a patient who had recently been in Iran where millions of Afghans live.

Afghan television and radio broadcasts have begun advising people on how to prevent transmission of the virus, while residents have rushed to buy face masks — straining supplies and sparking a tenfold increase in the cost of a single mask at some pharmacies in the capital Kabul.

“We are worried, we don’t have a proper functioning health system and the borders are open. All we can do is take some preventive measures and pray to God to help us,” said Ihsanul Haq, a government employee.

Afghanistan’s healthcare system is in tatters after more than four decades of war, with the few available hospitals focused mainly on basic care and trauma. They lack the expertise to deal with infectious diseases.

“It could be a disaster if the virus really spreads all over the country. There aren’t that many health centres,” said Wali, a Kabul-based physician, who specialises in viral infectious diseases.

“The government is doing what they can to contain the spread of the virus. But it is very difficult.”

Adding to the challenge of limiting the spread of the virus is the Afghan tradition of greeting family and friends with handshakes, hugs and kisses.

A largely illiterate population also makes it difficult to educate people about ways to stop the transmission.

“People are illiterate, you can’t get the message through to them,” Wali said.

– Unprepared –

Across the border in Pakistan there are growing fears over how the country would deal with a potential outbreak.

Islamabad has a history of failing to contain infectious diseases such as polio, tuberculosis and hepatitis.

Adding to the challenge, hundreds of thousands of quack doctors are thought to be working across the country and scandals involving the use of dirty needles in healthcare settings have eroded public trust in the system.

“If such a contagious illness were to enter the country, one can only imagine the toll it would take on the already overburdened and under-resourced healthcare system,” read an editorial in the English daily Dawn.

Indeed, some Pakistani students trapped in the Chinese city of Wuhan — where the virus was first detected in December — told AFP recently they were nervous about returning to their country if authorities were to evacuate them.

“We are worried about how the authorities are going to treat us when we go back to Pakistan — some students who went back told us the officials treated them very badly,” Ruqia Shaikh said.

While Pakistan has closed land borders with Iran, it has maintained air travel to and from China — increasingly a source of trade and commerce for the country.

“There is a limited concept of prevention unfortunately. I fear it’s not well prepared at all for any health emergency,” Pakistani public health expert Arshad Altaf told AFP.

Pakistan this week moved quickly to quarantine at least 270 people near the Iranian border after a group of pilgrims returned and briefly mixed with other residents.

That came hours after Pakistan sealed off its frontier with Iran in southwestern Balochistan province, which remains vulnerable to a public health emergency.

Decades of fighting a separatist insurgency and militant violence, along with neglect from the central government, have left the impoverished area with little infrastructure.

Ziaullah Langove, Balochistan’s home minister, said there were nearly 10,000 Pakistanis still in Iran, mostly students and pilgrims that Iranian officials were planning to send back in small groups.

At the Taftan border crossing long queues of trucks waited in hope of being allowed into Iran, as residents and officials donned surgical masks.

“There is no information sharing whatsoever,” said resident Khuda Baksh, chiding officials for failing to keep locals informed about the situation.

“There is fear and panic among the public, our business and lives are at risk.”

AFP

US Praises Pakistan For Jailing Alleged Mastermind Of Mumbai Attack

Vice Principal Gets Life Imprisonment For Raping 12-Year-Old In Ekiti
File Photo

 

The United States on Wednesday praised Pakistan’s jailing of the alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attack, a step long sought by Washington as well as India.

The conviction “of Hafiz Saeed and his associate is an important step forward — both toward holding LeT accountable for its crimes, and for Pakistan in meeting its international commitments to combat terrorist financing,” tweeted Alice Wells, the top US diplomat for South Asia.

She was referring to Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group that both Washington and New Delhi hold responsible for the siege of the Indian financial capital that killed 166 people.

LeT is the militant wing of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa Islamist charity led by Saeed.