Thursday, December 22, 2022

Rural Pakistan: New Infrastructure Driving Socioeconomic Revolution in Tharparkar

In a 2018 New York Times Op Ed titled "How Not to Engage With Pakistan",  ex US Ambassador to Pakistan Richard G. Olson wrote: "Its (CPEC's) magnitude and its transformation of parts of Pakistan dwarf anything the United States has ever undertaken". Among the parts of Pakistan being transformed by China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) are some of the least developed regions in Balochistan and Sindh, specifically Gwadar and Thar Desert. Over 70% of Thar desert's population is Hindu. 

Tharparkar: Road Built Under CPEC. Source: Emmanuel Guddu

More recently, Pakistani architect and social activist Arif Hasan has detailed the socioeconomic impact of new infrastructure in Tharparkar district, further reinforcing what Ambassador Olson wrote about how CPEC is transforming Pakistan's least developed areas. In his book titled "Tharparkar: Drought, Development, and Social Change", author Arif Hasan has highlighted the following (excerpted from Arif Hasan's recent piece published in Dawn):

1. New roads, airports, solar panels, cell towers and mobile phones are opening up opportunities for employment, entrepreneurship, education and healthcare for the Thari population. 

2. New infrastructure is empowering Thari women to challenge the long established patriarchy in Tharparkar. A major change has occurred in gender relations — males are less restrictive; there is an increase in education and hygiene; women now move around without male escorts. Women are giving up old traditional clothes for more fashionable dresses. 

3. Road construction in Thar that started in the Musharraf era (2000-2008)  has made transportation cheaper and easier. Before these new roads, the old six-wheeler kekra (WW II era American Army truck) was the only mode of vehicular transportation in the desert.  It was slow and expensive. It has now been replaced by normal Bedford trucks which are cheaper to run.   

4.  Bank loans to buy taxis are now available. Number of taxis operating in Thar has increased from 150 to over 400, while the qingqis in Mithi have increased from over 150 to over 300 since 2013. 

5. The old kekras (old American Army 6-wheelers) have been converted into water tankers; people can now actually order one by phone, to pick up potable water from Mithi and deliver it to villages. 

6. The new roads have helped substantially increase trade and commerce.  Thar’s agricultural produce now reaches distant markets — six to seven trucks per day carry onions from Nagarparkar to Lahore, and vegetables and fruit from other parts of Sindh and Punjab are now easily available in Thar.  

7. Roads have helped in the increase of salt and china clay mining. These have created more jobs, especially for those villages that are next to the mines. The lives of the families who have benefitted from this growth in the job market have changed and the first investments they make is in the building of pakka houses, with steel channel and brick-tiled roofs. Another important investment is in motorbikes, which makes flexible and faster mobility possible. People have sold their camels and donkeys to buy motorbikes.

8. Thari men now work in the garment industry in Karachi, where they save and send home Rs 10-12,000 a month.

9. Tourist traffic has grown in Thar with tens of thousands of people visiting the area every year after the rains and for the many religious festivals that the desert celebrates. Women producing traditional handicrafts are able to sell their wares to the tourists.  This creates economic opportunities for the local population. 

10. Dozens of carpentry workshops are now operating in Mithi. The carpenters have moved in from the rural areas of Thar, where they worked for the rural population, who paid them in grain. 

11. Number of retail stores has also increased — in Mithi there were 20 to 25 grocery stores in 2015, as opposed to seven or eight 10 years earlier. Earlier, the store owners used to travel to Hyderabad to buy goods but, today, because of the road and mobile phone, they just order the items from Karachi and the transporter delivers them. The clients at the stores are both rural and urban.

12. Access to healthcare units in district capital Mithi is a lot easier and faster, and has been of special importance in maternity-related cases.

13. With the construction of new roads, the villagers are now more willing to send their children to school, including girls, because schools are easier to access. 

Back in 2018, I wrote a post titled "CPEC is Transforming Least Developed Parts of Pakistan". Below is an except that talks about Thar development: 

Thar Desert:

Thar, one of the least developed regions of Pakistan, is seeing unprecedented development activity in energy and infrastructure projects.  New roads, airports and buildings are being built along with coal mines and power plants as part of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). There are construction workers and machinery visible everywhere in the desert. Among the key beneficiaries of this boom are Thari Hindu women who are being employed by Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC) as part of the plan to employ locals. Highlighted in recent news reports are two Hindu women in particular: Kiran Sadhwani, an engineer and Gulaban, a truck driver.

Kiran Sadhwani, a Thari Hindu Woman Engineer. Source: Express Tribune

Thar Population:

The region has a population of 1.6 million. Most of the residents are cattle herders. Majority of them are Hindus.  The area is home to 7 million cows, goats, sheep and camels. It provides more than half of the milk, meat and leather requirement of the province. Many residents live in poverty. They are vulnerable to recurring droughts.  About a quarter of them live where the coal mines are being developed, according to a report in The Wire.

Hindu Woman Truck Driver in Thar, Pakistan. Source: Reuters

Some of them are now being employed in development projects.  A recent report talked of an underground coal gasification pilot project near the town of Islamkot where "workers sourced from local communities rested their heads after long-hour shifts".

Hindu Woman Truck Driver in Thar, Pakistan. Source: Reuters 

In the first phase, Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC) is relocating 5 villages that are located in block II.  SECMC is paying villagers for their homes and agricultural land.

SECMC’s chief executive officer, Shamsuddin Ahmed Shaikh, says his company "will construct model towns with all basic facilities including schools, healthcare, drinking water and filter plants and also allocate land for livestock grazing,” according to He says that the company is paying villagers above market prices for their land – Rs. 185,000 ($ 1,900) per acre.


Riaz Haq said...

Thar desert is represented in the Pakistani senate by Dalit Hindu Senator Krishna Kumari Kohli

Iftekhar Hai said...

Thank you for posting this positive news about how well Hindus in Pakistan are been taken care off.

Javed E. said...

Good one.

Next time when I will go to Pakistan, I will try to use this road to Thar. IA

Majumdar said...

Brofessor sb,

Thar Parkar being Hindu majority should have gone to India. Unfortunately India's first PM the fraudia Chacha as well fluffed his lines to spite Hindus.

Riaz Haq said...

Majumdar: "Thar Parkar being Hindu majority should have gone to India. Unfortunately India's first PM the fraudia Chacha as well fluffed his lines to spite Hindus"

Not sure if Brahmin ruled India wants more Dalits!

Pakistani Hindus who migrated to India number in thousands, a tiny fraction of Hindu population of over 8 million in Pakistan. Those who were lured by the media coverage painting India as a Hindu paradise have been deeply disappointed. Many of them are low-caste Hindus who have faced discrimination by upper caste Hindus in India. They are barred from temples and assaulted for drinking from community wells.

A New York Times story featured Baghchand Bheel as a case of disappointed Pakistani Hindus who left for India hoping for a Hindu paradise. “You take these decisions sometimes out of excitement for what your life could be. Then you arrive and realize it’s much different on the ground.”

Baghchand Bheel is of a lower caste, and when he tried to enter a Hindu temple, he was barred entry by the priest because of it, he said. And when a friend tried to drink from the community water well, he was physically assaulted by upper caste Brahmins who accused him of polluting it, according to New York Times.

What Pakistani Hindus face in India today goes back to 1947. In "The Making of Exile: Sindhi Hindus and the Partition of India", Indian author Nandita Bhavnani has written about it. Here's an excerpt:

"Many (Pakistani) Dalits who migrated (whether at the time of partition or subsequently) faced humiliation and discrimination at the hands of caste Hindus in India after Partition. In some cases, they were taken by separate ships or trains. Tillo Jethmalani, who was subsequently posted as camp commandant at Marwar Junction, recalls how one goods train filled with Dalit refugees from Sindh arrived in the middle of Rajasthan winter night, with Dalits lying freezing and semi-conscious inside the goods wagons. Even in refugee camps in India, Dalits were given separate living quarters and dining areas, thus maintaining the status quo of ghettoization."

Ahmed said...

Mr Majumdar

Dehli city of India which is the capital of India , mostly the population in this city is of Muslims , their are many Muslims living specially in old Dehli and their are more Muslims in old Dehli than Hindus . Don’t you think that Dehli should have been a part of Pakistan ?

Similarly their are many cities and states in India where majority population is of Muslims eg Aligarh , Allahabad , Hyderabad ,Ajmer and Agra . Don’t you think that these cities of India should have been part of Pakistan ?

Anonymous said...

Using your logic Kashmir should have gone to Pakistan but India illegally occupies it. Also, Nagaland etc. shouldn't be part of India but India has colonized them.

As part of partition deal only Bengal and Punjab we're divided no other provinces were divided. Sylhet being the only exception.

G. Ali

Ahmed said...

Mr Majumdar

Do you think that since India is a secular country , you should even care about wether Hindus living in majority in any neighbouring countries should join or become a part of India?

What is the point of making India as a secular state or a country when you want all Hindus living in any part of the world to live in India and join those neighbouring areas to Indian which have majority Hindu population ?

Riaz Haq said...

Designing Multilingual Classrooms: The Case of Tharparkar
Minha Khan
Stanford University

Urdu: National Language. Perhaps the most interesting finding was the strong presence of Urdu as an aspired language. Research suggests that native Sindhi speakers have a negative attitude towards Urdu because of the political history of the two languages (Siddiqui 2011, Akbar Zaidi 1991). However, not only did Urdu rank as the second language respondents most wanted to improve or learn, they also expressed a fondness towards the language. In a focus group conducted with Thar school teachers, they explained that Urdu was the national language and they were proud of it.
There are two possible explanations for the lack of tension between Sindhi and Urdu found in our research. Firstly, the works which claim that there is a tension between the two languages have used the method of historical and political analysis to define the relationship between the languages (Rahman, 1995; Akbar Zaidi 1991). The studies which claim tension between Urdu and Sindhi have been purely political and theoretical. My research adds a more personal angle to this debate but surveying individuals in the current era about their feelings towards both languages. It is possible that the historical and political stresses are now slowly dissolving as individuals are developing a sense of nationalism, or have the hopes of working with communities that do not speak only Sindhi. Articles published about the topic in the early/mid-90s may no longer hold true.
Secondly, it is also possible that the positionality of the researchers impacted the answers received (Appendix B). Some of the surveys were administered as an oral sociolinguistic survey for individuals who were not able to read the printed surveys. This means that the respondents were directly reporting to the researchers who were all from Karachi: a predominantly Urdu-speaking, urban city in Pakistan. The researcher effect may have led them to provide answers that the researchers “expected”. However, given the overwhelming favorable responses towards Urdu, and the comfort levels of the respondents during the oral surveys, we would argue that this is not the sole reason for Urdu being a highly aspired language.
Future Language Trends: Preferences of Parents and Employers. In order to understand the future language trajectory of the Thari people, we asked parents and employers how they envisioned the “languages of Thar in the future”. More specifically, we asked them what languages they would want their children to know and/or employees to be trained in. Figure 3 notes that the language of dominance remains English. However, there is also a strong presence of Urdu and Sindhi, along with some mention of Dhatki and Parkari, two tribal languages of Thar. This suggests that respondents want to hold on to their mother

Riaz Haq said...

بلوچستان: دیہی خواتین کا اسلام آباد سے آن لائن علاج

ایک غیر سرکاری ادارے نے بلوچستان کے 14 شہروں میں ٹیلی ہیلتھ سینٹرز قائم کیے ہیں، جہاں دوردراز علاقوں سے آنے والی خواتین کا علاج اسلام آباد میں بیٹھے ڈاکٹر کرتے ہیں۔

بلوچستان کے ضلع موسیٰ خیل کے پہاڑی گاؤں لوغی سے تعلق رکھنے والی عمر رسیدہ خاتون بی بی سارہ اپنی حاملہ بہو کو شہر لائی ہیں، جہاں کے طبی مرکز میں اسلام آباد سے ایک گائناکالوجسٹ ان کا آن لائن معائنہ کرتی ہیں۔

روایتی بشتون لباس میں ملبوس 50 سالہ بی بی سارہ نے انڈپینڈنٹ اردو کو بتایا کہ ان کے گاؤں کے کلینک میں ڈاکٹر نہیں ہوتے بلکہ غیر تربیت یافتہ دائیاں علاج کرتی ہیں، جو ان سے پیسے بھی لیتی ہیں۔

انہوں نے مزید بتایا کہ ’یہاں ڈاکٹر بھی بڑی ہے اور پیسے بھی نہیں لیتے، علاج بھی بہت اچھا ہوتا ہے۔‘

بی بی سارہ ان ہزاروں خواتین میں سے ایک ہیں، جو علاج کے اخراجات برداشت نہیں کرسکتیں اور نہ ہی علاج کروانے کے لیے کسی متصل بڑے شہر کا سفر کر سکتی ہیں۔

بلوچستان میں دو ہزار کی آبادی کے لیے صرف ایک ڈاکٹر موجود ہے۔ اس خلا کو پورا کرنے کے لیے نیم سرکاری ادارے پیپلز پرائمری ہیلتھ کیئر انیشی ایٹو (پی پی ایچ آئی) کی جانب سے ٹیلی ہیلتھ سینٹر کا قیام عمل میں لایا گیا ہے، جہاں بچوں اور خواتین مریضوں کا وفاقی دارالحکومت اسلام آباد کے ماہر ڈاکٹروں سے ویڈیو لنک کے ذریعے معائنہ اور علاج کرایا جاتا ہے۔

مرکز میں کام کرنے والی ایل ایچ وی زرمینہ کا کہنا تھا کہ یہاں ان کے پاس گائنی، سکن اور دیگر امراض کے مریض آتے ہیں۔

’ہم مریضوں کی ہسٹری لے کر ڈاکٹر کو بھیجتے ہیں، وہ ادویات تجویز کرتی ہیں، جس کے بعد فارمیسی سے مریضوں کو مفت ادویات فراہم کی جاتی ہیں۔‘

ڈسٹرکٹ سپورٹ مینیجر پی پی ایچ آئی سید امان شاہ نے انڈپینڈنٹ اردو کو بتایا کہ ٹیلی ہیلتھ سینٹر کا قیام گذشتہ سال جون میں عمل میں لایا گیا، جس کا بنیادی مقصد صوبے کے دور دراز علاقوں میں لوگوں کو ان کی دہلیز پر طبی سہولیات فراہم کرنا ہے۔

انہوں نے بتایا کہ ’صوبے میں قائم 14 ٹیلی ہیلتھ سینٹرز میں گائناکالوجسٹ، ماہرامراض جلد، جنرل فزیشن اور دیگر ڈاکٹرز موجود ہیں۔‘

جنوبی پنجاب سے متصل ضلع موسیٰ خیل کا شمار بلوچستان کے ان پسماندہ و دور دراز اضلاع میں ہوتا ہے، جہاں کے لوگ صحت، تعلیم اور پینے کے صاف پانی سمیت تمام بنیادی ضروریات زندگی سے محروم ہیں۔

اس ضلع میں سڑک اور ٹرانسپورٹ کی سہولت کی عدم موجودگی کے باعث زچگی کے دوران اکثر خواتین دم توڑ جاتی ہیں، جبکہ نوزائیدہ بچوں میں غذائی قلت کی شرح بھی دیگر اضلاع سے کئی گنا زیادہ ہے، جس کی بنیادی وجہ غربت اور کم شرح خواندگی بتائی جاتی ہیں۔

Riaz Haq said...

Thar is solution to Pakistan's energy crisis, says Murad Ali Shah

“Chinese cooperation has proved a landmark in power generation from coal deposits in Thar,” chief minister said. “Chinese companies are increasing power generation from coal in Thar,” he further said.

Pakistan facing a formidable energy crisis that has badly affected economy of the country. The government sees energy generation from massive coal deposits in Sindh’s desert district of Thar could address the country’s energy problems.

Sindh’s Energy Minister Imtiaz Ahmed Shaikh recently announced an additional 1320 Megawatt of electricity from the Thar coal power plant included in the national grid.

He said the trial run to generate 1320 megawatts of electricity from the Shanghai Electric power plant was started today. Meanwhile, 660 MW of electricity has been added from Engro and Hubco power plants.

Sindh energy minister, while talking about the full potential of the coal power project said that a total of 2640 MW of electricity will be supplied to the National Grid from Thar coal soon.

Riaz Haq said...

330MW from Thar coal added to national grid

Hub Power Company Limited (HUBCO)’s 330-megawatt (MW) power plant, fired by Tharparkar’s coal, formally started supplying electricity to the national grid on Friday in Islamkot. Inaugurated by the Minister of State, Mahesh Malani, this fresh addition of 330MW will take Thar’s coal contribution to power generation up to 3,000MW.

Riaz Haq said...

Mismanagement complicates Pakistan’s long recovery from deadly floods

Fred de Sam Lazaro:

For decades, Karachi has been a magnet for migrants from conflict and climate disasters. Decades ago, it ran out of room. Dotting the city's outskirts are clusters of ramshackle dwellings. These have stood since the 2010 floods.

Less than a mile away, crammed under high-voltage power lines, a 2022 wave of settlers.

Sikhandar Chandio, Flood Victim (through translator):

When the water came, it came all of a sudden at night. We just managed to get out with whatever we could and had to abandon our animals.

Fred de Sam Lazaro:

Sikhandar Chandio and his wife, Sughra, were sharecropper farmers. They escaped with their four children, and were able to save one cow. They journeyed here on foot, which took a week.

Sughra Chandio, Flood Victim (through translator):

Everything was underwater. There were no facilities. There was no help, no food.

Fred de Sam Lazaro:

Today, they rely on a patchwork of charities, everyone overwhelmed by what U.N. officials describe as one of the worst climate disasters on record, slamming a country that contributes less than 1 percent of the world's greenhouse gases.

Shehbaz Sharif, Pakistani Prime Minister (through translator):

We have mobilized every available resource towards the national relief effort, and repurposed all budget priorities.

Fred de Sam Lazaro:

Pakistan took the lead at this year's COP 27 climate conference, helping to secure agreement on a loss and damage fund to help developing nations cope.

Just how those funds, if they appear, will be used is a concern.

Kaiser Bengali, Former Adviser, Pakistan Ministry of Planning and Development: But there is a fair amount of manmade responsibility for these floods, and politics plays a big part.

Fred de Sam Lazaro:

Kaiser Bengali was a government adviser during the 2010 floods, Pakistan's worst until 2022.

Kaiser Bengali:

I think it is also important to see how this fund will be utilized and how it will be implemented and whether the sociopolitical structures and the planning structures that need to be changed, made more effective happens.

Fred de Sam Lazaro:

The 1,800-mile-long Indus River, lifeblood of Pakistan's agriculture sector, has been extensively engineered with dams and canals, beginning during British colonial times and ramping up in the 1960s with loans and advisers from international lending agencies.

Has it been, in terms of food production, a reasonably good investment?

Kaiser Bengali:

Certainly. Lands where not even a blade of grass grew now produce two crops a year. It's just that one has to manage this better.

Ahmed Kamal, Chairman, Pakistan Federal Flood Commission:

Governance structure is not good.

Riaz Haq said...

Library thrives in Pakistan’s ‘wild west’ gun market town
‘Men look beautiful with jewel of knowledge, beauty lies not in arms but in education’

DARRA ADAMKHEL, Pakistan: When the din of Pakistan’s most notorious weapons market becomes overwhelming, arms dealer Mohammad Jahanzeb slinks away from his stall, past colleagues test-firing machine guns, to read in the hush of the local library.

“It’s my hobby, my favourite hobby, so sometimes I sneak off,” the 28-year-old told AFP after showing off his inventory of vintage rifles, forged assault weapons and a menacing array of burnished flick-knives.

“I’ve always wished that we would have a library here, and my wish has come true.”

The town of Darra Adamkhel is part of the deeply conservative tribal belt where decades of militancy and drug-running in the surrounding mountains earned it a reputation as a “wild west” waypoint between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

It has long been known for its black market bazaars stocked with forged American rifles, replica revolvers and rip-off AK-47s.

But a short walk away a town library is thriving by offering titles including Virginia Woolf’s classic “Mrs Dalloway”, instalments in the teenage vampire romance series “Twilight”, and “Life, Speeches and Letters” by Abraham Lincoln.

“Initially we were discouraged. People asked, ‘What is the use of books in a place like Darra Adamkhel? Who would ever read here?’” recalled 36-year-old founder Raj Mohammad.

“We now have more than 500 members.”

Tribal transformation
Literacy rates in the tribal areas, which were semi-autonomous until 2018 when they merged with the neighbouring province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, are among the lowest in Pakistan as a result of poverty, patriarchal values, inter-clan conflicts and a lack of schools.

But attitudes are slowing changing, believes soft-spoken 33-year-old volunteer librarian Shafiullah Afridi: “Especially among the younger generation who are now interested in education instead of weapons.”

“When people see young people in their neighbourhood becoming doctors and engineers, others also start sending their children to school,” said Afridi, who has curated a ledger of 4,000 titles in three languages - English, Urdu and Pashto.

Despite the background noise of gunsmiths testing weapons and hammering bullets into dusty patches of earth nearby, the atmosphere is genteel as readers sip endless rounds of green tea while they muse over texts.

However, Afridi struggles to strictly enforce a “no weapons allowed” policy during his shift.

One young arms dealer saunters up to the pristinely painted salmon-coloured library, leaving his AK-47 at the door but keeping his sidearm strapped on his waist, and joins a gaggle of bookworms browsing the shelves.

Alongside tattered Tom Clancy, Stephen King and Michael Crichton paperbacks, there are more weighty tomes detailing the history of Pakistan and India and guides for civil service entrance exams, as well as a wide selection of Islamic teachings.

‘Education not arms’
Libraries are rare in Pakistan’s rural areas, and the few that exist in urban centres are often poorly stocked and infrequently used.

In Darra Adamkhel, it began as a solitary reading room in 2018 stocked with Mohammad’s personal collection, above one of the hundreds of gun shops in the central bazaar.

“You could say we planted the library on a pile of weapons,” said Mohammad - a prominent local academic, poet and teacher hailing from a long line of gunsmiths.

Riaz Haq said...

Library thrives in Pakistan’s ‘wild west’ gun market town
‘Men look beautiful with jewel of knowledge, beauty lies not in arms but in education’

Mohammad paid 2,500 rupees ($11) for the monthly rent, but bibliophiles struggled to concentrate amidst the whirring of lathes and hammering of metal as bootleg armourers plied their trade downstairs.

The project swiftly outgrew the confines of a single room and was shifted a year later to a purpose-built single-storey building funded by the local community on donated land.

“There was once a time when our young men adorned themselves with weapons like a kind of jewellery,” said Irfanullah Khan, 65, patriarch of the family who gifted the plot.

“But men look beautiful with the jewel of knowledge, beauty lies not in arms but in education,” said Khan, who also donates his time alongside his son Afridi.

For the general public a library card costs Rs150 rupees ($0.66) a year, while students enjoy a discount rate of 100 rupees ($0.44), and youngsters flit in and out of the library even during school breaks.

One in 10 members are female - a figure remarkably high for the tribal areas - though once they reach their teenage years and are sequestered in the home male family members collect books on their behalf.

Nevertheless, on their mid-morning break schoolgirls Manahil Jahangir, nine, and Hareem Saeed, five, join the men towering over them as they pore over books.

“My mother’s dream is for me to become a doctor,” Saeed says shyly. “If I study here I can make her dream come true.”

Riaz Haq said...

Bearing gifts: the camels bringing books to Pakistan’s poorest children
The mobile library services are an education lifeline for students in Balochistan, where schools have closed during the pandemic

Sharatoon had wanted to continue her studies, but she had to leave school and her beloved books when she got married aged 15.

Now 27, Sharatoon is happy reading again, as every Friday a camel visits her small town, his saddle panniers full of books.

She has four children, the eldest is 11, the youngest 18 months, and she reads to them all, as well as to other children in the town.

Every week, when Roshan the camel comes to her home in Mand, about 12 miles from the border with Iran, in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, Sharatoon exchanges the books she borrowed for new ones.

“When the camel came to our area for the first time, the kids were very happy and excited. Schools have long been closed in our area due to Covid and we do not have any libraries, so this was welcomed by all the kids,” says Sharatoon, who uses only one name.

Balochistan is Pakistan’s most impoverished province, blighted by a separatist insurgency for the past two decades. With a 24% female literacy rate, one of the lowest in the world, compared with a male literacy rate of 56%, it also has the highest percentage of children out of school in the country.

Roshan visits four villages, staying in each at the home of a “mobiliser” such as Sharatoon, where all the district children aged four to 16 can come to read, borrow and exchange books with one another.

“Parents and kids are excited. It is giving hope to many that they can read, and the staff members also work on mobilisation so more outreach can be done,” says Fazul Bashir, a coordinator for the library.

When Covid closed the schools across Balochistan, two women in Mand – Zubaida Jalal, a federal minister in the Pakistan government, and her sister Rahima Jalal, headteacher of a local high school – came up with the idea of a camel.

“Actually, the idea of using camels comes from Mongolia and Ethiopia,” says Rahima. “It suits our desolate, distant and rough terrains. We have received an enormous response that we were not expecting.”

The trial of the camel library has gone well and it is about to begin its next three months of rounds.

Sharatoon says: “Kids are eagerly waiting; they want to read books and keep asking me [about it]. There should be more science-related books so our kids can learn by experimentation.”

The Jalal sisters say there has been a lot of interest in the scheme from other areas, and they have just started a library in the city district of Gwadar, Balochistan, with a camel called Chirag.

Anas Syed Mohammad is a 10-year-old 4th-grade student in the town of Abdul Rahim Bazar, about 30 miles from the city of Gwadar.

Since the camel library started visiting three weeks ago, Mohammad has read a different book each time. “I loved reading Khazane Ki Talaash (In Search of Treasure). I discuss these books with my friends,” he says.

Riaz Haq said...

Bearing gifts: the camels bringing books to Pakistan’s poorest children
The mobile library services are an education lifeline for students in Balochistan, where schools have closed during the pandemic

Chirag visits five towns each week accompanied by his handler and Ismail Yaqoob, a volunteer and teacher. One day, when Yaqoob went to work in his school instead of the village, he got a call on his mobile from one of the children.

“He asked me why I had not come along with the camel. They were waiting for books,” says Yaqoob. “Children are so interested in reading and in their studies, but sadly the state does not invest in education.”

Jawad Ali, 10, who has ambitions to be a teacher, has also started borrowing books from the camel library. He says: “I am learning new things from these books and reading stories, understanding photo stories. But I want to read more books. The books are written in my native language – Balochi – but in English and Urdu as well. We want more books – and libraries and schools, too.”

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A mobile library reaching children in remote villages of Pakistan
The camel library is a unique project to improve access to literacy

There is something special about the library in Tharparkar, one of the most deprived areas of the southeastern province of Sindh in Pakistan.

This mobile library was started almost two years ago in the village of Dhano Dodandal in the district of Tharparkar. It involves loading books onto a camel, which is then taken from village to village. Recently, the project has expanded to the another village, Sokliyo.

Mehdi Raza, who supervises this project in the area of Nagarparkar, says that Dr Asghar Naqvi of Karachi put him in touch with the educational NGO Alif Laila – who provided the team with books for children.

The camel library facilitates learning for children from village to village, without the need for hefty investment. Children not only read the books themselves but also take them to the adults in their homes, which furthers spreads awareness.

Children in the small village school look forward to the two days of the week when books are brought to them by the camel library.

Teacher Badal tells Independent Urdu he is happy that his students can access books in this novel way – and that the library is a helpful resource in their learning.

Pana Bhai, who is fond of reading, says she comes with the children of her village as soon as the camel library arrives.

Mehdi Raza explains that this service was started with just a single camel, but in the future it is hoped the project will be able expand further using more camels.

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CPEC enters phase 2: PCJCCI

LAHORE: Pakistan China Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCJCCI) on Wednesday said that CPEC after successful completion of early harvest phase has now entered into the second phase with focus on industrial cooperation, trade, agriculture and socio-economic development.

Presiding over a think tank of the joint chamber, PCJCCI President Moazzam Ghurki observed that increase in trade; investment and financial flows would bring peace and prosperity to the region through enhanced competition reducing regional disparities and social inequality.

Currently, 22 projects are undergoing fast implementation, higher in pace in comparison with any other corridor of the BRI initiative, making CPEC the central corridor of the initiative. Through Belt and Road forum participating states should promote intergovernmental cooperation, build intergovernmental mechanisms based on shared interests, trust and consensus.

PCJCCI Senior Vice President Fang Yulong said that Belt and Road Initiative reflects the far-sighted economic vision that is opening gateways of cooperation among the countries along the route. Connectivity, at the heart of Belt and Road, is primarily about linking the region to the world through economic belts to facilitate people to people interaction. He also said that Pakistan is actively engaged in the initiative and its flagship project, CPEC, is progressing in the right direction.

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Solar grids bring relief to Sindh
19-kilowatt mini-grids powered by solar energy installed in Ishaq Jokoi

Indus Earth Trust (IET), an organisation promoting green energy, has provided a life-changing solution for residents of Ishaq Jokio, a small settlement in the Sindh province of Pakistan.

The 19-kilowatt mini-grids powered by solar energy have transformed the lives of people, who have been accustomed to enduring long hours of power cuts during peak consumption in summer.

“Villages were selected according to a needs assessment survey, while the villagers provided the land where the 19-kilowatt mini-grids were installed. In this hamlet caressed by the sea breeze from the Arabian Sea, panels bred prosperity,” reported the China Economic Net.

According to the State of Industry reports from the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA), homes consume 50% of the total electricity delivered, and this demand is largely driven by cooling and lighting. The demand is estimated to increase from 106 terawatt-hour (TWh) in 2020 to 234 TWh in 2030, representing a 121% increase due to the rise in temperatures from climate change.

Pakistan’s energy problems have been exacerbated manifold by the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the global supply crisis. Pakistan’s fuel import bill surged to $23 billion in FY2021-22, a 105% increase from the previous financial year. The country’s per capita annual electricity consumption of 644 kilowatt-hour (kWh) is among the lowest in the world, which is only 18% of the world average, 7% of the developed countries’ average.

However, Pakistan’s efforts to embrace photovoltaics at all levels have started to pay off. Pakistan imported about $1.2 billion in photovoltaic modules in the last fiscal year, and in 2022, China’s photovoltaic module exports to Pakistan reached approximately $870 million, with a total installed capacity of 3.2GW, a year-on-year increase of 54% and 37%, respectively, said Liu Yiyang, Deputy Secretary-General and Press Spokesperson of China Photovoltaic Industry Association (CPIA). The Pakistan Solar Association (PSA) forecasted that the country’s import demand for photovoltaic products this year will be around $1.8 billion.

“Pakistan’s Solar Energy Market is expected to record a CAGR of 2.5% during the period from 2022 to 2027, with Net Metering-Based Solar Installations and Power Generation growing by 102% and 108% respectively,” said a KTrade Securities analyst.

A World Bank study in 2020 urged Pakistan to urgently expand solar and wind “to at least 30% of electricity generation capacity by 2030, equivalent to around 24,000 MW.” This provides huge opportunities for growth as currently, as of December 2022, Pakistan’s total domestic installed power capacity is 43,775 MW, of which photovoltaic installed capacity is 630 MW, accounting for about 1.4% only.

China’s efforts are also reaching millions of households in remote areas in the form of micro-power plants. Out of the $144 million foreign investment in PV plants in Pakistan, $125 million is from China, accounting for nearly 87% of the total.

“Pakistan and China are a perfect match for collaboration on renewable energy (solar PV) as China is a globally known giant when it comes to renewable energy technology, while Pakistan needs to move away from thermal to renewable for power generation,” stated a KTrade Securities solar PV industry report.

Recently, the Pakistan Solar Association (PSA) sent an official letter adjuring the federal government to ask SBP and other commercial banks to help in the solar imports through an annual limit of USD 800 million at a time when Pakistan is facing a renewable energy sector that is growing rapidly. The letter also urged the government to take steps to promote local manufacturing of solar panels to reduce reliance on imports and create job opportunities for the local population.

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Barrick Gold Corporation - Reko Diq Mining Company Constitutes Community Development Committee for Locally Driven Development

NOKKUNDI, BALOCHISTAN – Reko Diq Mining Company (RDMC), a subsidiary of Barrick Gold Corporation, has constituted a 25-member Community Development Committee (CDC) at Nokkundi in the Chagai district. The CDC comprises local stakeholders and community leaders who will guide the company’s social investment plan in the area.

Speaking at the event, Ali Ehsan Rind, the country manager of RDMC said: “In all its operations worldwide, Barrick strives to be a good corporate citizen and a genuine partner of the host communities in locally led development. With the formation of this CDC, representing all the key local stakeholders, I am confident that our work will become a catalyst for the social development of the local communities.”

The meeting was also attended by the district commissioner of Chaghi, the deputy director of mines (Balochistan), tribal elders, local notables and a cross-section of representatives from the district.

The Nokkundi CDC was formulated after an extensive consultative process and engagement with 62 stakeholders. Its mandate includes consultation for consensus on the selection of social investment initiatives to be undertaken by the company.

Community Development Committees
CDCs are our community development partnership model, comprised of community members, elected locally and include a representative from the company to ensure projects chosen align with the five sustainable development focus areas and adhere to our policies including procurement and accountable governance.
The formation of this CDC is a concrete step taken by RDMC to ensure that the business delivers social investment projects of significant and lasting benefit to the local communities among whom it will operate. The management of RDMC values sustainable development and mutual advantage and seeks to build a harmonious partnership amongst the communities in and around the RD project area.

Reko Diq will be a multi-generational mine with a life of at least 40 years. During peak construction the project is expected to employ 7,500 people and once in production it will create 4,000 long-term jobs. Barrick’s policy of prioritizing local employment and suppliers will have a positive impact on the local economy. The company plans to finish the Reko Diq feasibility study update by the end of 2024, with 2028 targeted for first production from the giant copper-gold mine in the country’s Balochistan province. The new Reko Diq agreement ensures that benefits from the project start accruing to the people of Balochistan well before the mine goes

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Ambitious solar project to join string of coal plants in Pakistan’s Thar district

UK-based Oracle Power tells The Third Pole about a new solar project in the Thar desert, where the company is already exploring coal, as locals express scepticism about tall promises

Millions of solar panels are set to be mounted upon swathes of soil in Block VI of Tharparkar district’s coalfields in Pakistan – news that is making waves locally. Located 380 kilometres east of Karachi in Sindh province, these coalfields are divided into 14 blocks, but so far work has only begun in blocks I and II.

“It will be the largest [single solar plant in Pakistan] by a single entity,” says Naheed Memon, chief executive officer of the UK-based Oracle Power, the mining company behind this much-touted one gigawatt (GW) project.

If completed, the project could significantly help Pakistan to achieve its goal of deriving 60% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. However, this particular solar project is being built in the shadow of ongoing coal projects in the Thar desert. In fact, Oracle Power is developing both solar and coal in the province.

Thar’s coalfields cover an area of 9,100 square kilometres and contain over 175 billion tonnes of lignite – a poor-quality and commonly more polluting type of coal. These lignite reserves are among the largest in the world.

‘Greening’ the coalfields
The solar project’s pre-feasibility study was completed by PowerChina, a Fortune 500-listed construction group. According to an agreement signed between Oracle and PowerChina in April 2023, the companies will work together in conducting the project’s necessary surveys; it also allows PowerChina to help arrange project finance. Elsewhere, the agreement includes references to a green hydrogen production facility being jointly pursued, 250 km away from Block VI.

The agreement details Oracle’s initial technical plan for the 1GW solar project, which proposes that it be developed on the “peripheral land of the mining area, occupying less than 25 percent of the Thar Block VI, and generating power from the Thar desert from a completely renewable source”. It also says the solar plant will be “deployed outside the potential built up and impact area of any coal-related project in the future”.

“Solar in Thar is an important initiative,” says Cheng Qiang, a spokesperson for PowerChina. The company has completed one solar and 23 wind projects in Pakistan.

“We want to generate renewable power in the desert for other mining operations as well as the railway line that is in the pipeline; our solar project will offset carbon emissions from the coal that is being mined and used to fire the two power plants [in Block 2],” Cheng added.

We asked Azhar Lashari, research and advocacy coordinator at the Policy Research Institute for Equitable Development, to put PowerChina’s carbon offsetting claims into perspective: “The narrative of ‘offsetting carbon emissions’ is controversial. It is nothing but continuing ‘business as usual’ and ‘greenwashing’ on the part of banks, companies and corporations like Oracle and PowerChina. How can a solar project neutralise the carbon emissions?”

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Ambitious solar project to join string of coal plants in Pakistan’s Thar district

With a 30-year mining lease of Block VI, Oracle Power has wanted to set up a 1,320 MW coal plant since 2016, when this was included in a list of energy projects under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). But this particular project has so far stalled due to financial hurdles.

Oracle’s Memon is adamant that the company is not turning its back on coal: “We are not abandoning hydrocarbons and our coal project is under development. We will complete it and are working with private investors.” Memon does concede, however, that financing continues to be a stumbling block.

The CEO also says that “dirty fuel cannot be eliminated completely” and that it “will be a gradual transition over the next few decades”. In the interim, she says, Pakistan is in “critical need of cheap, local, indigenous fuel-based power as base load, be it coal, oil or gas”.

Doing solar right in Pakistan’s Thar
“[Thar solar] will be an excellent opportunity for Oracle to diversify from its fossil-based portfolio,” says Haneea Isaad, an energy finance analyst at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. She also says that solar will be valued by local communities and could increase the productive use of energy in the region.

But the 1GW solar project also brings with it the risk of negatively impacting local communities. The project will use a large area of land (around a quarter of Block VI’s leased 66.1 sq km) to put up around 1.52 million solar photo-voltaic panels. Despite Oracle’s agreement with PowerChina, stating that the project will be developed on “unutilized land”, Memon concedes that the solar project may mean relocating some villages. “Resettlement will be done in line with the government’s directions,” she says, with provision of “all the necessities of life, like drinking water, shelter for animals and fodder”. In some cases, Memon says low-cost housing will be considered.

Memon claims she does not know which villages could be relocated; Lashari finds this hard to believe: “Memon must know the number of villages and the population that will be displaced, because displacement and relocation is inevitable since this involves massive land acquisition.”

Lashari adds that displacement involves both physical dislocation and livelihood disruptions: “When [the communities’] land is taken away, some lose their only means of livelihood and some the only occupation they know. They also lose the nearby grazing ground for their livestock. Often the pittance some get in the form of compensation is unwisely invested and so they are poorer off than they were before.”

According to Akram Ali Lanjo, a shopkeeper in the Thar village of Kharo Jani, the local community’s most pressing need is drinking water for households and livestock. These desert families rely on groundwater, which has turned ‘very salty’. Lanjo told us: “If anyone can turn our salty water to sweet, our woes will be addressed to a large degree.”

Lanjo also says that, while the villagers have nothing against the development itself, they would never part with their ancestral lands: “We can lease it out, but never sell it. And we do not want to be displaced.”

Lanjo cites the example of the Sehri Dars village, which was “decimated”. Its residents were relocated to a new village with the same name, built by the Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company. Both Lanjo and Lashari claim that the displaced villagers are unhappy in their new location.

As for concerns around water scarcity, Memon had this to say of the project: “There will be zero consumption of water for the cleaning of solar panels, as we will bring in state-of-the-art automatic cleaning robotic technology, which will keep the solar panels clean and in optimum form for maximum power generation.”

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Ambitious solar project to join string of coal plants in Pakistan’s Thar district

Sindh government ambitions
Oracle is currently looking to bring in international financiers to invest in its Thar solar project, as the Sindh government does not have a direct incentive for such projects. Nonetheless, it is keen to get the project off the ground.

Imtiaz Ali Shah, director of renewable energy at the Sindh government’s energy department told The Third Pole, “We will facilitate and support this attractive green energy project in every way, but the company needs to come up with a solid purchase agreement, their guarantors, a final study and a firm strategy.”

However, Shah acknowledges that more needs to be done for those areas that are not on the national grid, or those facing power outages: “Tharparkar district is one of the remotest and least-developed. If all the power produced by Oracle’s solar project is used there, I would consider it a big success as it will better the lives of the locals.”

People from different companies come, do surveys, make tall promises, and never return
Akram Ali Lanjo, shopkeeper in the Thar village of Kharo Jani
Shah also hopes that the project will provide livelihood for the locals. Parasram Archand, a 22-year-old teacher in a private primary school in Kharo Jan, doubts this claim, because most of the local villagers are uneducated. “But they can do labour [at the site],” counters Lanjo, who himself remained in formal education until he was 13.

“We would ensure most labour is local,” adds Memon, “especially during the construction when the company would need up to 2,500 people. [This] will be reduced along the way to 700 to 1,000 during operation and maintenance.”

Lanjo admits to feeling hopeful when a team from the city first visited the village some months ago and talked of the potential for a solar plant. On the other hand, he remains sceptical: “People from different companies come, do surveys, make tall promises, and never return.”

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Woman From Thar Passes CSS After Studying on YouTube

Kiran Khatri, a resident of Mithi in the Tharparkar district of Sindh, recently achieved a remarkable milestone by joining the inland revenue service after successfully passing the Central Superior Service (CSS) exam.

In her own words, she holds the distinction of being the first woman from Thar to pass the exam and the sole Hindu girl from Tharparkar to accomplish this feat. She is the third Hindu girl from across Sindh to achieve this significant milestone.

Originally, Kiran had aspirations of joining the police, but she was selected for the inland revenue sector instead. Her training will commence in October, and she anticipates the substantial responsibilities that will accompany her new role.

Kiran completed her MBBS from Liaquat University of Medical and Health Sciences in Jamshoro in 2020. Following that, she pursued her house job at Civil Hospital, Hyderabad in 2021. Subsequently, she worked as a lecturer at Indus Medical College, Tando Mohammad Khan.

It was during her house job that Kiran became acutely aware of the challenges faced by doctors, motivating her to prepare for the CSS exam. Kiran diligently studied at home in Mithi, with the support of her father, who serves as a deputy director in the education department, as well as online classes available on YouTube.

Kiran utilized social media by curating her accounts to focus exclusively on CSS-related content. She is grateful for the support she received from her parents throughout her journey.

Tharparkar, the largest district in Sindh in terms of area, has a population of 1.6 million, with approximately half of the residents being Hindus. Within Sindh’s health department, Hindus represent around 30 percent of the medical staff, including a significant number of female doctors.

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CPEC Results According to Wang Wenbin of China

Bilal I Gilani
CPEC projects are creating 192,000 jobs, generating 6,000MW of power, building 510 km (316 miles) of highways, and expanding the national transmission network by 886 km (550 miles),” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters in Beijing."

Associated Press of Pakistan: On July 5, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif while addressing a ceremony to mark a decade of signing of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), said that CPEC has been playing a key role in transforming Pakistan’s economic landscape. He also said that the mega project helped Pakistan progress in the region and beyond. What is your response?

Wang Wenbin: The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a signature project of China-Pakistan cooperation in the new era, and an important project under the Belt and Road Initiative. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the launch of CPEC. After ten years of development, a “1+4” cooperation layout has been formed, with the CPEC at the center and Gwadar Port, transport infrastructure, energy and industrial cooperation being the four key areas. Projects under CPEC are flourishing all across Pakistan, attracting USD 25.4 billion of direct investment, creating 192,000 jobs, producing 6,000 megawatts of electric power, building 510 kilometers of highways and adding 886 kilometers to the core national transmission network. CPEC has made tangible contribution to the national development of Pakistan and connectivity in the region. China and Pakistan have also explored new areas for cooperation under the framework of CPEC, creating new highlights in cooperation on agriculture, science and technology, telecommunication and people’s wellbeing.

China stands ready to work with Pakistan to build on the past achievements and follow the guidance of the important common understandings between the leaders of the two countries on promoting high-quality development of CPEC to boost the development of China and Pakistan and the region and bring more benefits to the people of all countries.

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Chinese companies help in improving social sector

Islamabad: Chinese companies have enhanced their role in social development of Pakistan, while addressing the country’s economic and development issues. The companies are an integral part of CPEC. They are the torch bearer of this flagship project of BRI. They are not only helping Pakistan overcome its infrastructure problems but also investing in social development, skills, and environmental protection in Pakistan. All Chinese companies are investing in social development, but only a few have been selected for discussion, a report carried by Gwadar Pro. The Chinese companies not only helped to create thousands of jobs but also invested in building the capacity of hundreds of engineers and staff members.

According to available data, Huaneng Shandong Rui Group, which built the Sahiwal coal power invested in 622 employees for building their capacity and sharpen their skills. Further segregation of data shows that 245 engineers were trained following the need for required skills at plants. Port Qasim also contributed to building the capacity of engineers and staff members. Data shows that 2,600 employees benefited from the capacity-building and skill development opportunities offered by the Port Qasim plant. It trained 600 engineers and 2,000 general staff members.

It is a huge number, especially in the engineering category. It will help Pakistan; as Pakistan has a shortage of qualified and trained engineers. These companies also assisted Pakistan during floods and COVID-19. Second, the Chinese Overseas Port Holding Company (COPHC) is another Chines company, which is investing in social development. The major contribution of COPHC is in the sectors of education, waste management, environmental protection, and the provision of food.

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Four key trends - Newspaper - DAWN.COM

By Umair Javed

The cultural indicators are about how people understand the world around them and the degree to which they are engaged with it. The first of these relates to consumption of information, especially among young people, who constitute a majority in the country. For this, we can turn to Table 40 of the last census, which reports that 60 per cent of households rely on TV and 97pc rely on mobile phones for basic information. The corresponding figures in 1998 were 7pc and 0pc respectively.

What this overwhelmingly young population is watching on TV or through their mobiles is something that we can never completely know. But what is clear is that a lot of information is being accessed, and a lot of ideas — about politics, about religious beliefs, and about the rest of the world — are circulating. Controlling or regulating this flow is an impossibility. Will it lead to an angrier population or a more passive one? A more conservative one or one with some transgressive tendencies? So far, the outcome leans more towards anger and conservatism.

Another slow but steady sociocultural transformation is the vanishing gender gap in higher education. Men and women between the ages of 20 and 35 have university degrees at roughly the same rate (about 11pc). Between 20 and 30, a slightly higher percentage of women have a college degree compared to men. And just two decades ago, women’s higher education attainment in the same 20 to 35 age bracket was 3pc lower than men. This gap has been covered and there are strong signs that it will reverse in the other direction as male educational attainment stagnates.

What does a more educated female population mean for societal functioning? Will these capabilities threaten male honour (and patriarchy) in different ways? Will there be new types of gender politics and conflicts? And will the levee finally break in terms of the barriers that continue to prevent women from gaining dignified remunerated work? As in other unequal countries, Pakistani men hold a monopoly over economic benefits and public space. And they are unlikely to give these privileges up passively.

In the socioeconomic domain, there are also two things worth highlighting. The first is urban migration, not just in large metropolitan centres, but in smaller second- and third-tier cities as well. Fragmenting land holdings and climate change are compelling young men in particular to move to cities in large numbers. A 10-acre farm inherited by five brothers will lead to at least three seeking work outside of agriculture.

The official urbanisation rate may be at around 38pc but this is a significant underestimate. Many villages are now small towns, and small towns are now nothing less than large urban agglomerations. The perimeters of these urban areas are dotted with dense informal settlements that provide shelter — often the only type available — for working-class migrants.

Finally, the last trend is employment status in the labour force. In the last 20 years, the percentage of people earning a living through a daily/weekly/monthly wage (as opposed to being a self-cultivator, self-employed, or running a small business) has increased by 10pc. Much of this increase is taking place in the informal economy and that too in the services sector.

Starting your own business, however small, requires money, which most do not have. Getting higher-paying, formal-sector jobs first requires getting credentials and training, which again is beyond the budget of most. Large swathes of the working population will grind out a living by taking care of the needs of the better off — fixing their cars, cleaning their houses, serving them food. Given the condition of the economy, this trend is unlikely to change.

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The mega undertaking (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor or CPEC) has created nearly 200,000 direct local jobs, built more than 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) of highways and roads, and added 8,000 megawatts of electricity to the national grid, ending years of blackouts caused by power outages in the country of 230 million people.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters in Beijing earlier this month that CPEC projects "are flourishing all across Pakistan," making a "tangible contribution" to the national development of the country and to regional connectivity.

But critics say many projects have suffered delays, including several much-touted industrial zones that were supposed to help Pakistan enhance its exports to earn much-needed foreign exchange.

The country's declining dollar reserves have prevented Islamabad from paying Chinese power producers, leading to strains in many ties.

Pakistan owes more than $1.26 billion (350 billion rupees) to Chinese power plants. The amount keeps growing, and China has been reluctant to defer or restructure the payment and CPEC debts. All the Chinese loans – both government and commercial banks – makeup nearly 30% of Islamabad's external debt.

Some critics blame CPEC investments for contributing to Pakistan's economic troubles. The government fended off the risk of an imminent default by securing a short-term $3 billion International Monetary Fund bailout agreement this month.

Security threats to its citizens and interests in Pakistan have also been a cause of concern for China. Militant attacks have killed several Chinese nationals in recent years, prompting Beijing to press Islamabad to ensure security measures for CPEC projects.

Diplomatic sources told VOA that China has lately directed its diplomats and citizens working on CPEC programs to strictly limit their movements and avoid visiting certain Pakistani cities for security reasons.

"They [Chinese] believe this security issue is becoming an impediment in taking CPEC forward," Senator Mushahid Hussain, the chairman of the defense committee of the upper house of the Pakistani parliament, told VOA in an interview earlier this month.

"Recurring expressions of concern about the safety and security of Chinese citizens and investors in Pakistan by top Chinese leaders indicate that Pakistan's promises of 'foolproof security' for Chinese working in Pakistan have yet to be fulfilled," said Hussain, who represents Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif's ruling party in the Senate.

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In Pakistan’s Tharparkar, single mother defies gender norms to take up drumming as profession

MITHI, THARPARKAR: Rocking a colorful Rajasthani dress, singing Marwari folk songs, and playing a drum that hangs from her neck attached to a sturdy blue strap, Maryam Naz, 40, impresses her audience with her performance standing atop sand dunes in Tharparkar, a southern Pakistani desert region where seeing a woman publicly singing or playing instruments had largely been unheard of.

Playing a drum, which is a two-headed hand drum, is common all across the subcontinent in countless folk genres, devotional traditions, and family functions. In Pakistan, most drum players are men, therefore, seeing a woman playing the percussion instrument in public is a rare sight.

But for Naz, a single mother of six children hailing from Tharparkar’s Mithi city, traditionally-defined gender norms could not become a hurdle and she chose drumming as a profession when things turned difficult for her following her husband’s death in 2016 nearly a decade ago.

“After my husband’s death, I faced many problems, I was unable to feed my children,” Naz told Arab News. “I had to earn for my children, so I decided to sing and play in public.”

Naz, who also sings in Urdu, Sindhi, Dhatki and Marwari languages, belongs to the Manganiar community, which has produced many traditional folk musicians in India’s Rajasthan and Pakistan’s Tharparkar. Members of the community are known for their unique folk style and have contributed significantly to the region’s rich cultural heritage.

She says she learned singing and playing drum at the age of eight from prominent local singer and drum player, Ustaad Soomar Faqir, while her skills were further polished by her father, who also used to sing and play drum at weddings and other events.

Naz initially sang and played drum at weddings, but she was criticized when she took it up as a profession due to cultural norms. She, however, defied the norms and continued doing what she was best at, so much so that many Sindhi-language entertainment channels invited her on shows and appreciated her music skills.

Imtyaz Dharani, a local journalist, told Arab News he reported Naz’s story for the first time on his YouTube channel, Indus Globe, in 2020.

“I saw her first time playing dholak in a wedding function in Mithi, where she was playing dholak in an amazing way,” he said. “So far I haven’t found such a woman dholak (drum) player in the Sindh province.”

Naz says it is often difficult for her to make ends meet amid rising inflation in Pakistan and due to inconsistent earnings, but she is passionate about what she does.

“I could have another profession for earning, but I was passionate [about playing drum and singing],” she said. “I did not quit.”

Nadeem Jumani, a local poet from Tharparkar, said Naz had been playing drum alongside many prominent Sindhi singers, including Sanam Marvi and Allah Dino Junejo, but she did not get her due share of fame.

“She is a very talented artist, therefore [Sindh culture minister] Sardar Shah should give her a stipend,” Jumani said.

He added that Naz’s skills should be lauded as she was challenging the gender stereotypes created by the society.

“In a male-dominated society, it is difficult for women to do a government job, but she sings and plays drum [alongside] her male counterparts,” he said.

“After her initiative, the trend is changing here as other girls from her community are also coming forward to learn drum-playing skills.”

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Solar energy empowers Pakistani women

In the desert areas of Tharparkar in Sindh province, Pakistan, employment at a solar energy plant has been a game changer for local women. In a region with high poverty levels, they are pleased to have a regular income — but can their jobs undo the impact of climate change?


Coal firm plans Pakistan’s largest industrial solar project

A Pakistani coal and power firm has contracted Karachi-based solar EPC firm Reon Energy to build a 5MW PV project to help power its mining operations, in what will be a first for Pakistan.

Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC) wants the project to be installed at its Thar Coal Block II in Sindh Province and it will become the largest private C&I solar plant for captive consumption in the country to date, it claims.

SECMC is working on Pakistan’s first open-pit coal mine in the Thar Block II Islamkot. A powerplant is being constructed by the Engro Powergen Thar Limited (EPTL) at the mouth of the mine and this is expected to start generating electricity at the end of the current year.

In a release, SECMC said it was eyeing up both energy cost savings and a reduction in carbon emissions from the solar plant. The firm has the option to extend the contract during or after project completion, wherein Reon will provide O&M services for a 15-year period and then hand over the operations to SECMC.

Syed Abul Fazl Rizvi, COO of SECMC, said: “The 5MW solar energy system will contribute benefits equivalent to planting of about 220,000 trees and will be the largest private solar PPA in the country. This is also the first-ever initiative by a mining company in Pakistan to install solar power plant for it mining operations.”

Reon Energy CEO Mujtaba Haider Khan said: “Pakistan enjoys a geo-strategic advantage for producing abundant amounts of solar energy. Advancement in solar technology has not only improved solar’s efficiency but has also led to a massive reduction in costs. This is a landmark project that’ll significantly reduce the operating cost and carbon footprint.”

He also noted that the project would create dozens of jobs.

Reon is part of the investment holding company Dawood Hercules Corporation.

The Pakistani regulator, NEPRA, recently issued its tariff determinations for 300MW of solar with tariffs significantly below grid parity.