Severe Weather: More Than 110 Die In Pakistan, Afghanistan

A woman walks after heavy snowfall in Quetta, Pakistan on January 13, 2020.
Banaras KHAN / AFP

 

Avalanches, flooding and harsh winter weather has killed more than 110 people across Pakistan and Afghanistan in recent days, officials said Tuesday, as authorities struggled to reach people stranded by heavy snowfall.  

At least 75 people died and 64 were injured across Pakistan, with several still missing, while a further 39 people were killed in Afghanistan, according to officials in both countries.

Forecasts suggest more harsh weather is on the way.

Pakistani Kashmir was the worst-hit area, with 55 people killed and 10 others missing, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said in a statement.

In the picturesque but conflict-riven Neelum Valley in Kashmir, heavy snowfall triggered several avalanches, including one that killed at least 19 people.

“An avalanche hit their village, 10 people are still missing,” the NDMA said.

Frequent avalanches and landslides occur in Kashmir during the winter, often blocking roads and leaving communities isolated.

Authorities have shuttered schools, while several highways and roads were closed across the country’s northern mountainous areas, according to officials.

To the southeast in Balochistan province, at least 20 people had been killed in separate weather-related incidents.

“Most of those who died were women and children,” said Mohammad Younus, an official with the provincial disaster management authority, adding that hundreds remained stranded.

Across the border in Afghanistan, more than 300 houses were either destroyed or partially damaged throughout the country, said Ahmad Tamim Azimi a spokesman for the Natural Disaster Management Authority.

“A cold snap, heavy snowfall and rains that started two weeks ago have caused damage,” he said, adding that most casualties were caused after roofs collapsed under thick snow.

Hardest hit were southern Kandahar, Helmand, Zabul and western Herat provinces.

In Herat, seven people —  all members of the same family and including children — died when their roof caved in, Azimi added.

Harsh winters often take a heavy toll in mountainous Afghanistan, and the country remains poor despite billions of dollars in aid from the international community.

 

AFP

Suicide Bomber Targets Pakistani Mosque, Kills 15

A soldier stands guard at the premises of a mosque after a bomb blast in Quetta on January 10, 2020. BANARAS KHAN / AFP

 

 

A suicide bomber targeted a mosque in southwestern Pakistan during evening prayers Friday, killing at least 15 people and wounding 19 others, officials said.

The blast took place in a satellite town of Quetta, the province’s main city. Debris and shattered glass littered the scene.

Fida Mohammad, who was attending evening prayers, said about 60 people were present at the time of the attack on the mosque, which is located in a densely populated area.

The explosion ripped through the front row of worshippers seconds after the prayer began, he told AFP.

“It was a powerful blast, people were screaming and running here and there — many people were injured because of the stampede,” Mohammad said.

Mohammad Waseem, a doctor at Quetta’s Sandeman hospital, confirmed that 15 victims had died.

The police chief of Balochistan province, Mohsin Hassan Butt, also confirmed the death toll, telling AFP: “Nineteen people are still taking medical treatment, the condition of three to four is critical.”

A police officer was among the dead, he added.

Provincial home minister Zia Ullah Langu told reporters that investigations by bomb disposal officers indicated that a suicide bomber carried out the attack.

A spokesman for the provincial government, Liaqat Shahwani, confirmed a suicide bomber was to blame.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, according to the SITE intelligence group.

A Pakistani military spokesman said on Twitter that paramilitary personnel has reached the mosque and cordoned off the area.

“A joint search operation with police is in progress, injured being evacuated to hospitals,” said the spokesman, Asif Ghafoor.

The attack comes two days after a motorcycle bomb targeting a paramilitary force vehicle killed two people and wounded 14 others at a busy market in Quetta.

– Volatile area –

Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest and poorest province, bordering Afghanistan and Iran.

It is rife with Islamist, separatist and sectarian insurgencies and attacks are frequent, even as the number of violent incidents has significantly dropped elsewhere in Pakistan.

Militants still retain the ability to carry out attacks, including on major urban centres and tightly-guarded targets, and analysts have long warned that Pakistan has not yet tackled the root causes of extremism.

Balochistan is key to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), part of Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative.

CPEC seeks to connect China’s restive western Xinjiang region with the Pakistani port of Gwadar, giving the world’s second-largest economy access to the Arabian Sea.

AFP

At Least 10 Dead In Pakistan Mosque Bombing, Says Police

 

 

 

At least 10 people were killed and 16 others wounded in a bomb blast during evening prayers at a mosque in southwestern Pakistan on Friday, police and a doctor said.

Police chief of Balochistan province Mohsin Hassan Butt told AFP the blast took place in a satellite town of Quetta, the province’s main city.

A police officer was among those killed, Butt said, adding that the death toll may rise as some of the wounded are in a critical condition.

Mohammad Waseem, a doctor at Quetta’s Sandeman hospital, confirmed that 10 dead bodies and 16 injured people had arrived there.

Butt said bomb disposal officers were investigating the nature of the bomb as well as whether it was detonated remotely or if a suicide bomber was involved.

Nobody has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.

Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest and poorest province, bordering Afghanistan and Iran.

It is rife with Islamist, separatist and sectarian insurgencies and attacks are frequent, even as the number of violent incidents has significantly dropped elsewhere in Pakistan.

Two Indian Soldiers Killed In Kashmir Gunfight

 

 

Two Indian soldiers were killed Wednesday in a gunfight with suspected militants along the border that divides the disputed territory of Kashmir between archrivals India and Pakistan, officials said.

The two were killed during an operation to intercept Pakistani infiltrators who were attempting to cross the heavily-militarised border into India, the Press Trust of India news agency reported officials as saying.

The operation was still in progress, army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Devender Anand said in a statement.

An armed rebellion against Indian rule has raged for decades in Kashmir, and has left tens of thousands dead, mainly civilians.

READ ALSO: Trump Threatens Iran After Baghdad Embassy Attack

New Delhi accuses Pakistan of arming and training anti-India rebels and sending them across the border to launch attacks on Indian forces.

Islamabad denies the charge, saying it only provides diplomatic support to Kashmiris’ right to self-determination.

Indian-administered Kashmir has been tense since New Delhi revoked the region’s semi-autonomous status in August and imposed a security and communications lockdown.

Some of the restrictions have since been eased, including SMS services which were restored on Tuesday.

Five local politicians were released from detention last Thursday although several other prominent leaders remain in custody.

Kashmir has been split between India and Pakistan since the end of British colonial rule in 1947. The archrivals have fought two of their three wars over the territory.

Court Sentences Professor To Death For Blasphemy

Alleged Bribery: Witness Testifies As Rickey Tarfa’s Trial Continues
File photo

 

A Pakistani court on Saturday sentenced a university professor to death for blasphemy under a law that critics say is often used to target minorities and liberal activists.

Junaid Hafeez, 33, was arrested in March 2013 for allegedly posting derogatory remarks against Prophet Mohammed on social media.

Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in conservative Muslim-majority Pakistan, where laws against it carry a potential death sentence. Even unproven allegations have led to mob lynchings and vigilante murders.

Hafeez’s sentence was announced in central city of Multan, where he was a university professor at the time of his arrest, and his counsel Asad Jamal slammed the decision as “most unfortunate”.

“We will appeal against this verdict,” Jamal tolP.

“Junaid Hafeez’s death sentence is a gross miscarriage of justice and the verdict… is extremely disappointing and surprising,” Amnesty International’s Rabia Mehmood said.

“The government must immediately release him and drop all charges against him,” she added. “The authorities must also guarantee his safety and that of his family and legal representatives.”

Hafeez’s lawyer was killed in 2014 after receiving death threats during a hearing.

About 40 people convicted of blasphemy are on death row in Pakistan, according to a 2018 estimate by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.

The acquittal last October of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who had spent more than eight years on death row for blasphemy, provoked violent protests across Pakistan, leaving large swathes of the country paralysed.

Bibi now lives in Canada with her family.

While many cases involve Muslims accusing Muslims, rights activists have warned that religious minorities — particularly Christians — are often caught in the crossfire, with blasphemy charges used to settle personal scores.

AFP

Ex-Pakistan Leader Musharraf Sentenced To Death

(FILES) In this file photo taken on April 20, 2013 former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf (C) is escorted by soldiers as he salutes on his arrival at an anti-terrorism court in Islamabad.
Aamir QURESHI / AFP

 

A Pakistan court Tuesday sentenced former military ruler Pervez Musharraf in absentia to death for treason, state media reported an unprecedented move in a country where the armed forces are often considered immune from prosecution.

“Special Court Islamabad has awarded death sentence to former President Pervez Musharraf in a high treason case,” Radio Pakistan tweeted.

The case centres around Musharraf’s decision to suspend the constitution and impose emergency rule in 2007, according to his lawyer Akhtar Shah.

The controversial move ultimately sparked protests against Musharraf, leading to his resignation in the face of impeachment proceedings.

READ ALSO: Trump Impeachment Probe: Democrats Seek To Shape Senate Trial

Musharraf has been in self-imposed exile ever since a travel ban was lifted in 2016 that allowed him to seek medical treatment abroad.

The 76-year-old has since spent most of his time between Dubai and London.

“Musharraf wanted to record his statement and was ready to visit Pakistan but he wanted foolproof security which was not provided,” lawyer Shah said.

“He is still in Dubai and sick.”

Musharraf, who was born in India’s capital New Delhi but moved with his family to Pakistan at partition, took power after ousting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless coup in 1999.

A cigar-smoking, whiskey-drinking moderate, the general became a key US ally in the “war on terror” and escaped at least three Al-Qaeda assassination attempts during his nine years in office.

His rule faced no serious challenges until he tried to sack the chief justice in March 2007, sparking nationwide protests and months of turmoil that led to the imposition of a state of emergency.

After the December 2007 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, the national mood soured further and he was left isolated by the crushing losses suffered by his allies in February 2008 elections.

Following the court’s decision Tuesday, Bhutto’s son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari tweeted: “Democracy is the best revenge”.

Musharraf finally resigned in August 2008 in the face of impeachment proceedings by the new governing coalition and went into exile.

He returned in 2013 in an attempt to contest elections but was barred from taking part in the polls and from leaving the country while facing a barrage of legal cases.

Tuesday’s ruling is the latest court decision to target Musharraf.

In 2017, a Pakistani court pronounced Musharraf a fugitive in the murder trial of Bhutto — the first woman prime minister of a Muslim country.

The anti-terrorism court has branded Musharraf an absconder and ordered the confiscation of his property.

Musharraf is alleged to have been part of a broad conspiracy to have his political rival killed before elections. He has denied the allegation.

AFP

Eight Pakistani Children, Five Others Killed In Jordan Fire

Ali Akyuz / AFP

 

 

Thirteen Pakistanis including eight children died early Monday when a blaze tore through their corrugated metal home in a rural area of western Jordan, authorities said.

Rescue services said “13 people died and three others were injured when fire broke out in a corrugated metal house” on a farm in South Shona, around 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of Amman.

The makeshift building was home to two Pakistani families working as agricultural labourers, they said in a statement.

Fire service spokesman Iyad al-Omari told state television channel Al-Mamlaka that eight children, four women and a man had died in the blaze at around 2:00 am, which was likely caused by an electrical fault.

Jordan is home to thousands of Pakistanis, many of them agricultural labourers.

House fires in Jordan are often caused by the use of cheap but dangerous forms of heating while the occupants are asleep.

AFP

Pakistan Becomes First Country To Launch New Typhoid Vaccine

Pakistan on the map. Credit: Google Map

 

Pakistan has become the first country in the world to introduce a new typhoid vaccine, officials said Friday, as the country grapples with an ongoing outbreak of a drug-resistant strain of the potentially fatal disease.

The vaccine, approved by the World Health Organization (WHO), will be used during a two-week immunisation campaign in southern Sindh province.

Sindh is where most of Pakistan’s 10,000 cases of typhoid have been documented since 2017.

“The two-week campaign beginning from today would target over 10 million children of nine months to 15 years of age,” Azra Pechuho, the health minister in Sindh province, said in Karachi on Friday.

The new vaccines have been provided by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to the Pakistani government free of cost.

After the two-week campaign, it will be introduced into routine immunisations in Sindh, and in other areas of Pakistan in the coming years.

Pakistan spends a meagre amount of its national resources on public health and a majority of its population remains vulnerable to contagious diseases such as typhoid.

In 2017, 63 percent of the typhoid cases documented and 70 percent of the fatalities were children, according to a joint press release from the Pakistani government, WHO and Gavi.

AFP

Hundreds Of Indian Sikhs Make Historic Pilgrimage To Pakistan

The Shrine of Baba Guru Nanak Dev at Gurdwara Darbar Sahib is seen in Pakistan’s town of Kartarpur near the Indian border on November 8, 2019. A corridor that will allow Sikhs to cross from India into Pakistan to visit one of the religion’s holiest sites is set to open on November 9, with thousands expected to make a pilgrimage interrupted by decades of conflict.
AAMIR QURESHI / AFP

 

Hundreds of Indian Sikhs made a historic pilgrimage to Pakistan on Saturday, crossing through a white gate to reach one of their religion’s holiest sites, after a landmark deal between the two countries separated by the 1947 partition of the subcontinent.

Cheering Sikhs walked joyfully along the road from Dera Baba Nanak in India towards the new immigration hall that would allow them to pass through a secure land corridor into Pakistan, in a rare example of cooperation between the nuclear-armed countries divided by decades of enmity.

Some fathers ran, carrying their children on their shoulders.

Buses were waiting on the Pakistani side to carry them along the corridor to the shrine to Sikhism’s founder Guru Nanak, which lies in Kartarpur, a small town just four kilometres (2.5 miles) inside Pakistan where he is believed to have died.

“Generally people say that God is everywhere. But this walk feels like I’m going to directly seek blessings from Guru Nanak,” Surjit Singh Bajwa told AFP as he walked towards the corridor, crying as he spoke.

At 78, he is older than India and Pakistan, who have fought three wars already and nearly ignited a fourth earlier this year.

For up to 30 million Sikhs around the world, the white-domed shrine is one of their holiest sites.

However for Indian Sikhs, it has remained tantalisingly close — so close they could stand at the border and gaze at its four cupolas — but out-of-reach for decades.

When Pakistan was carved out of colonial India at the end of British rule in 1947, Kartarpur ended up on the western side of the border, while most of the region’s Sikhs remained on the other side.

Since then, the perennial state of enmity between India and Pakistan has been a constant barrier to those wanting to visit the temple, known in Sikhism as a gurdwara.

Pilgrims on both sides of the border hoped the corridor might herald a thaw in South Asian tensions.

“When it comes to government-to-government relations, it is all hate and when it comes to people-to-people ties, it’s all love,” one of the Sikh pilgrims, who did not give his name, told Pakistani state TV as he crossed.

Among the first pilgrims was former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who told Pakistani state media that it was a “big moment”.

The opening even inspired a singular message of gratitude from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan for “respecting the sentiments of India”.

For his part, Khan said a day would come “when our relations with India will improve”.

“I am hopeful that this the beginning,” he told the pilgrims at the shrine.

– Sacred land –
For years India had been asking Pakistan to grant Sikhs access to the shrine.

Many believe it has happened now because of the friendship between Khan, a World Cup winning cricketer-turned politician, and India’s Navjot Singh Sidhu — another cricketer-turned-politician.

“When Sidhu asked me to open the border, I kept it in my mind,” Khan told devotees Saturday.

He compared the situation to Muslims being able to see holy sites in Medina, but never visit.

The opening comes just days ahead of the Guru Nanak’s 550th birthday on November 12 — an anniversary of huge significance for the global Sikh community, and which may also have played a role in the timing.

Sikhs from around the world have been arriving in Pakistan ahead of the celebrations for days already.

An estimated 7,000 were at the shrine to hear Khan’s speech, though it was not clear how many had come via the corridor and how many had arrived from elsewhere. Indian officials said just 700 were expected to cross through the corridor Saturday.

Many were emotional, some in tears. Others posed for selfies before a giant gold- and silver-coloured kirpan, the dagger which Sikhs must carry with them at all times as an article of their faith.

The Sikh faith began in the 15th century in Punjab, a region including Kartarpur which is split today between India and Pakistan, when Guru Nanak began teaching a faith that preached equality.

There are an estimated 20,000 Sikhs left in Pakistan after millions fled to India following the bloody religious violence ignited by partition, which sparked the largest mass migration in human history and led to the death of at least one million people.

“Life is short,” said one of the Indian pilgrims, Davinder Singh Wadah.

“Everyone has to go… so why not enjoy life and make this world a heaven, and I think this initiative is the beginning of it.”

Pakistan Mourners Bury Victims Of Train Fire

 

Distraught relatives gathered Friday for the funerals of some of the 74 people killed when fire ripped through a crowded train in Pakistan, with many of the victims residents of a single town.

Sobbing family members crowded a government building in Mirpurkhas overnight as the first bodies covered in white cloth began arriving by ambulance from the scene of the disaster.

After morning prayers, with women watching from nearby rooftops, more than a hundred men attended the first funeral — of a car mechanic named Mohammad Saleem, who was in his late 40s.

It was held at the Bismillah Mosque, from which at least 42 pilgrims had left to board the train one day earlier, bound for a religious festival near Lahore.

According to officials, as some of the passengers cooked breakfast around dawn on Thursday two of their gas cylinders exploded, sending flames racing through three carriages as the train passed near Rahim Yar Khan, in Punjab province.

At least 74 people died, some after jumping through windows on the still-moving train to escape the blaze.

Rescue officials found bodies and some injured passengers along a two-kilometre stretch of track, Dawn newspaper reported.

The train was a daily express service that runs between the southern port city of Karachi and Rawalpindi, adjacent to Islamabad.

Trains on that route can reportedly hit speeds of up to 110 kilometres (68 miles) per hour. Local media said that the speed may have helped fan the flames.

Journalists were allowed inside the interior of the carriages early Friday. The fire appeared to have burned them entirely, with virtually no space visible that was not blackened and charred.

One of them — Wagon No.12 — was carrying mainly people from Mirpurkhas, the town’s deputy commissioner, Attaullah Shah, told AFP.

“There was never such a tragic incident to happen to Mirpurkhas,” he said.

Mirpurkhas commissioner Abdul Waheed Sheikh said ten of the bodies had been confirmed as being residents of the town so far.

Twenty-four Mirpurkhas residents were among the injured.

But at least another 45 are still missing, he said.

Officials in Rahim Yar Khan have said many of the bodies are charred beyond recognition and will have to be identified through DNA testing — a process that could take up to one month.

Shah said the government was arranging to send families of the missing from Mirpurkhas to the hospital in Rahim Yar Khan where the bodies have been taken.

 ‘Mistake’ 

Mirpurkhas, a town of some half a million people surrounded by farms and mango orchards, was largely shut down Friday as businesses closed in mourning.

“These were such people that we can not ever forget them,” Mohammad Anwar, the 57-year-old headmaster of a government school, told AFP at the Bismillah Mosque.

He said that among the missing was his nephew, as well as the mosque’s imam. Most of those who left from the mosque had known one another or lived nearby.

Mahmood Iqbal wept outside his home as he told AFP how his two sons were missing, one son-in-law was killed, and one brother-in-law was wounded.

When he looks at his grandsons, he said, he “can’t hold my tears”.

“I am praying to Allah, that they might come back from nowhere. I am waiting for a miracle,” he said.

Yawar Hussain came to the deputy commissioner’s office overnight in the hope of finding his brother Mohsin, 20.

Clutching a photograph of his brother posing in a starched beige shalwar kameez and sunglasses, the 23-year-old described rushing home after hearing of the accident.

“I consoled my father, and my mother and sisters were crying,” he said.

Train accidents are common in Pakistan, where the railways have seen decades of decline due to corruption, mismanagement and lack of investment.

Gas cylinders are supposedly banned on trains. Pakistan’s railways minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed said Thursday it had been a “mistake” to allow the cylinders on board, and Prime Minister Imran Khan has ordered an inquiry.

But criticism, particularly of Ahmed, was growing as observers said there have been more than 70 railway accidents in the past year, including several major fatal ones.

Sabir Hussain Kaimkhani, a member of the National Assembly’s railways committee, told AFP the accident rate has increased “due to negligence”.

Kaimkhani said that alarm systems and emergency brakes in many trains are missing or broken, and that passenger carriages do not carry fire extinguishers.

Ahmed, who has refused to step down, denies the allegations and says the train in Thursday’s tragedy stopped when someone pulled an emergency brake.

AFP

Over 30 Pakistani Migrants Found In Lorry In France

 

More than 30 migrants from Pakistan have been found hidden in a lorry in southern France, prosecutors said Saturday.

They said the driver, who was also from Pakistan, was detained.

The discovery came after 39 people, all believed to be Vietnamese nationals, were found dead in a refrigerated truck in Britain last month, laying bare again the risks of illegal migrant routes to Europe.

The group of 31 Pakistani migrants was discovered during a routine check on a motorway near the Italian border on Friday, French prosecutors said.

The migrants, who included three teenagers, were handed over to the Italian authorities in accordance with immigration procedures.

“We will try and establish if we can trace it back to a network and backers as we always do in this type of case,” the prosecutors’ office in the southeastern city of Nice said.

AFP

At Least 74 Killed In Pakistan Train Fire

In this handout picture taken and release by Punjab Emergency Service Rescue 1122 on October 31, 2019, residents gather beside the burnt-out train carriages after a passenger train caught on fire near Rahim Yar Khan in Punjab province on October 31, 2019.  AFP

 

At least 74 people were killed and dozens injured after cooking gas cylinders exploded on a train packed with pilgrims in Pakistan on Thursday, some dying after leaping from carriages to escape the inferno, authorities said.

Television footage showed flames pouring out of three carriages as people could be heard crying during the incident, in a rural area of central Punjab province.

Some of the passengers — many of whom were pilgrims travelling to one of Pakistan’s biggest religious gatherings — had been cooking breakfast when two of their gas cylinders exploded, Ali Nawaz, a senior Pakistan Railways official, told AFP.

Many Pakistanis carry food on long train journeys, but gas cylinders are supposedly banned. Pakistan’s railways minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed later told reporters that it had been a “mistake” to allow the cylinders on board.

Dozens of people crowded along the tracks staring at the burning carriages, which had been disconnected from the rest of the train, television images showed.

Firefighters rushed to the scene near Rahim Yar Khan district. Rescue workers and soldiers could also be seen, as bodies were carried away covered in white sheets.

“A cylinder exploded and I don’t know how, fire erupted everywhere,” one survivor, Muhammad Imran, told AFP from a hospital in Rahim Yar Khan.

“I jumped out of the train to save my life. There was a whole line of people behind me, they pushed,” he said.

Muhammad Nadeem Zia, a medical superintendent at the hospital in Liaquatpur, the nearest town, told AFP some of the victims were killed by head injuries sustained as they leapt from the moving train. He said at least 44 people had been injured.

Those hurt were being rushed to hospitals in the nearby city of Bahawalpur and elsewhere in Rahim Yar Khan district. Officials said many of the bodies were charred beyond recognition.

Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was “deeply saddened” by the tragedy and had ordered an urgent inquiry.

 Religious pilgrimage 

Khan said the train was the Tezgam, one of Pakistan’s oldest and most popular rail services, which runs between the southern port city of Karachi to the garrison city of Rawalpindi, neighbouring Islamabad.

It had been diverted to facilitate the religious pilgrims travelling to Lahore.

Passengers were travelling to attend the annual Tablighi Ijtema, one of Pakistan’s biggest religious gatherings, which each year sees up to 400,000 people descend on a tented village outside Lahore for several days to sleep, pray and eat together.

The majority of those killed were pilgrims from southern Sindh province, Nawaz said.

The Tablighi Ijtema, which begins Thursday and concludes on Sunday, 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 the dusty site outside Lahore to accommodate people from across Pakistan, giving the gathering a festival feel.

Stalls sell cooked food, raw chicken and meat, vegetables and fruit, and even electrical appliances and batteries for mobile phones at a subsidised rate.

Railways minister Ahmed said it had been “tradition” for authorities to allow people travelling to the festival to board trains carrying cooking cylinders.

“I admit our mistake… this will not happen in the future,” he told journalists in televised comments from the nearby city of Multan.

“A tragedy that could have been avoided but ever since I can recall while travelling by train no baggage check or restrictions enforced,” human rights minister Shireen Mazari tweeted.

‘Could have been avoided’ 

Nawaz said two of the carriages were economy coaches, while one was business class, and that up to 88 passengers can fit into each.

Train accidents are common in Pakistan, where the railways have seen decades of decline due to corruption, mismanagement and lack of investment.

In July, at least 23 people were killed in the same district when a passenger train coming from the eastern city of Lahore rammed into a goods train that had stopped at a crossing.

Accidents often happen at unmanned crossings, which frequently lack barriers and sometimes signals.

AFP