Peshawar’s heart stops briefly as arteries get clogged

PESHAWAR: Life turns miserable when the sunlight is at its peak in the afternoon amid the sizzling heat of May.

To add insult to injury, the vehicles are bumper-to-bumper on a road in Peshawar Saddar, rendering the citizens powerless.

Salim, a taxicab driver, repents his life as a cabdriver the moment he pulls up and knows that main arteries are blocked for security protocol of the Frontier Constabulary inspector general near Nauthia, one of the busiest areas of the provincial capital. And the blockade of the arteries definitely results in brief demise of the main Saddar area, which is the heart of Peshawar.

But as soon as Salim stops, his attention shifts to a phone call that he receives.

“I am in Saddar, stuck on a road. I was in University Town when you called me a few hours earlier….” he continues as the roads remain choked.

On the roadside, there is another cabdriver, who fans himself with loose end of his kameez and rests his head on the seat backwards. Drops of perspiration from his red cheeks continuously fall while his passengers in the backseat are also cursing the government due to the road blockade.

“The roads should be blocked, if necessary, for five minutes, but this is injustice that the FC personnel suspend traffic for half an hour just to provide security protocol to their chief,” the driver grumbles while speaking to his passengers, two of whom were suffering the most wearing burqas and carrying minors in backseat of the small yellow cab.

Another young man wearing a western suit was perspiring due to the summer heat. The driver accompanying him said: “I went overseas for my treatment once and there I was asked to wear pants and suit but I refused because how I can pray and attend bathroom or do other chores while wearing such tight pants and coat and that too in this hot weather in the middle of blocked road.”

The blunt words of the driver prompt the young man, who appeared to be a white-collar worker, to take off his coat while radiating a smile. He surely was embarrassed by the uncalled-for remarks of the driver.

In the meanwhile, the road reopens and the powerless and all those stranded heave a sigh of relief. Salim tells his acquaintance on the phone: “I will call you later. Our suffering has ended because the senior official has been driven past us safe and sound.”

“Why don’t they shift the FC headquarters outside our city to somewhere else and help end our daily ordeal!” he wonders.

Chitta: losing health to win peace of mind

chittaPESHAWAR: The moment night falls, Niaz Gul whispers to a colleague on duty and leaves for a few minutes of seclusion while carrying a bottle of water.

Gul, 57, has been serving as a security guard in a private company for the last several years and “going into seclusion” at the time of Ish’a prayers to have a few puffs on Chitta. It has been his routine since young age.

Chitta is a kind of smoking charas (hashish) but it does not involve using a cigarette. It involves a piece of burning ash on which a small amount of charas is placed. The smoker then uses a straw to inhale smoke while also holding water in his mouth and ultimately landing on cloud seven.

“I have been smoking Chitta since 1990,” Gul says while also boasting off its “health benefits”.“I was suffering gas trouble and a doctor told me to smoke it. Believe me, it has resolved my health issue,” he recalled. He stopped short of saying something else due to shortness of breath as he started coughing.

Abdul Majid is another young man, about 28 years of age and addicted to the same thing. He said he has been addicted to it for the last several years. He said he never went to bed without fulfilling his urge for the addiction.

He presented another theory as to why they take mouthful of water while smoking Chitta. “Water removes the oil from charas smoke and a smoker feels it is safer than smoking charas in a cigarette that contains tobacco,” he added.

He argued that sometimes it is time-consuming to smoke charas through a cigarette while Chitta takes less time. Most of the shrines have been the abode of charas smokers. During a visit to a shrine, (name withheld as those present requested anonymity), two men were seen with a Chitta.

Speaking to this scribe, one of them explained: “We know charas smoking is injurious to health, but in Chitta we hold water in the mouth, through which we inhale smoke. Thus, the water purifies the smoke and it becomes less harmful to health.”

The other man sitting there said it is difficult to suppress the urge for Chitta as soon as the weather turns into a light drizzle.

Meanwhile, light rain continued in the city on Thursday. This was kind of weather that according to Chitta smokers lured them to have a smoke.

“When it rains, a charas addict cannot help it,” he said as he put a hand in his pocket and took out a small amount of charas. He called it “Malangi Bootay” (saints’ plant).

While many are addicted to Chitta and other forms of charas smoking, they present different theories to assure it is not that much bad for health. However, medical experts pointed out that both tobacco and charas, are extremely injurious to health. They said it may cause chest infections, cancer, anxiety and other health ailments.

Dr Farman Ali Shah of the Khyber Teaching Hospital told this scribe that charas smoking affects all the vital organs of human body including heart, lungs, kidney, brains, etc.“It damages the cells of all organs. Cognitive powers are affected the most,” he said, adding that besides medical complications, it also leads to financial issues as the contraband is very expensive.

Dr Fakhar Zaman, who works for a private healthcare organisation, told this scribe that charas is a chronic addiction and its property as an addition in itself is a negative trait. He also said that charas addicts often face emotional and psychological disturbances like losing temper, intolerance, etc, in addition to ailments like chest infection and damage to brain cells.

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Ray of hope: thalassemia patient leading happy life after marriage

wedding

By Muhammad Shahid

PESHAWAR: Life has changed dramatically for Zahid, a 22-year-old patient of thalassemia, after he entered into wedlock last weekend.

“Compared to my unmarried life, I feel more satisfied now,” he says, “Even my physical symptoms have improved. Previously I suffered body aches but now the condition has improved a little bit.”

Zahid, a resident of Shabqadar tehsil in Charsadda district, helps his father at a shop selling Charsadwal Chappal.

“I caught the disease when I drank too much of a medicine while I was five-year old,” he claimed, and ever since he has been treating his disease through blood transfusion and other medicines.

A thalassemia patient needs blood transfusion thrice or twice a month. Zahid says he had been transfusing blood through the Frontier Foundation – a private welfare organisation providing treatment facilities to thalassemia patients – since 2003 as previously he used to avail the service at another organisation, Fatimid Foundation. However, he says that nowadays he is using medicines and has not undergone blood transfusion for the last several months

Dr Fakhar Zaman of the Frontier Foundation disputed the claim of Zahid and said that thalassemia is a hereditary disease and cannot be caused by any food or infection.

He also said that recently they had started administering some medicines to patients to increase the duration of their blood transfusion.

“Zahid has also started using the medicines that have increased duration of blood transfusion,” he added.

When donors donate blood, it is then processed and several elements of blood are separate for treatment of different patients.

“We separate red blood cells, fresh frozen plasma and platelets. Red blood cells are needed by thalassemia patients, the plasma by hemophilia patients and platelets are required for treatment of cancer patients,” stated Dr Fakhar of Frontier Foundation.

He said the lifecycle of plasma is six months, that of red blood cells is 30 days and platelets just five days, after which these elements of blood expire and are no longer able to be used in patients’ treatment.

Chairman of the Frontier Foundation, Sahibzada Muhammad Haleem, said they set up the organisation in 2003. He added that since its inception till February 2016, the Foundation has received 165,407 bags of blood in donation.

He added that currently they are having 2015 thalassemia patients and 224 hemophilia patients registered at our foundation and all of them are being provided treatment facilities to them.

“One transfusion costs about 3000 rupees per patient,” he said, adding that they also provided services to patients of hemophilia, which is a bleeding disorder.

Sahibzada also said that thalassemia’s only treatment is bone marrow transplant.

However, Dr Fakhar said the success rate of bone marrow transplant in Pakistan nowadays is very low.

“At international level, Italy has a high success rate of bone marrow transplant, almost 99 percent,” he said.

Besides Frontier Foundation, there are several other organisations that are providing blood transfusion services to patients. Fatimid Foundation, Khun-i-Jigar Foundation, Hamza Foundation, etc are a few of them.

Thalassemia is a fatal disease but most people lack awareness about it. Another problem is that there are few people who donate blood.

Dr Fakhar, while quoting a Health Department survey, said: “About 2% Pakistanis donate blood. There would be no shortage of blood for patients of thalassemia, hemophilia and others if at least 4% of Pakistani population donates blood.”

Aslam Marwat, head of Khun-i-Jigar Foundation, told this scribe that cousin marriages should be avoided to prevent thalassemia.

However, he claimed that the disease can be cured through Tibb-i-Nabavi, a treatment through herbs. He said that he knew a friend who got well by treatment of an herbal practitioner in Wah cantonment.

The case of Zahid may bring hope into the lives of thousands of thalassemia patients who are fed up and living a life of despair. The wedding of Zahid is something unique because there are very few cases of thalassemia patients’ marriage. Medical experts say a thalassemia patient can marry a normal person and there are chances that their children would be healthy but still there are chances of the children’s suffering too. And if both the partners are thalassemic, the children are also expected to be thalassemic.

Cloud of uncertainty hangs over future of PIA, employees

downloadThere has been much debate in recent months over the proposed privatisation of the national flag-carrier, the Pakistan International Airlines. The PIA employees staged protests in recent weeks and it resulted in casualties in Karachi too, when the security personnel resorted to violence at demonstrations. However, the PIA employees resumed duty and ended protests after being assured by authorities to resolve issues amicably.

Though the employees have rejoined duties, they are still concerned about their future and many fear losing jobs.

Shad Muhammad Shah, president of one of the workers’ union, People’s Unity, says that eight employees of the airlines in Peshawar had received show-cause notices for staging protests. He said negotiations with the government were underway and they were hoping that their grievances will be addressed.

About their next line of action, he said the joint action committee having representatives of various PIA employees’ unions like Air League, People’s Unity and others, was authorised to take decisions about any new line of action.

Rahat Iqbal, president of the Air League, said PIA was earning money as most passengers have to wait in order to get a seat on its flights.“The PIA is often short of space for the passengers. It is wrong to say that the PIA is not earning,” he added. He said they called off the protests as the negotiations with the management are underway.

Earlier, there were reports that the employees may be laid off through golden handshake but the management clarified through a press release on February 27 that there is no such proposal under consideration.

The PIA management has stopped giving free domestic and international tickets to many protesting employees in the wake of the protests.

However, the employees narrate another story with regards to their issues. An official of the airlines based in Peshawar told this correspondent on condition of anonymity that the PIA employees were underpaid.

“I have served PIA for more than 13 years and now I am getting Rs50,000 salary,” he said.

To a question about overstaffing in the PIA, he said successive governments had recruited staff through nepotism in the PIA. “Still it has little effect on the PIA’s revenue as the staff salaries aren’t high,” he argued.

Another employee, who also wished not to be named, said: “There is no canteen for us. We bring food in plastic bags from a far-off hotel.”

He added that the company had not given them uniforms for the last four years while the service cards have also expired and yet to be renewed.

Another senior officer of the airlines said that the ‘open sky’ policy implemented by the government in 1992 has caused losses to the PIA.

“This policy provided the foreign airlines with access to Pakistan and they started expanding their operations. As a result, the PIA suffered,” he added. He also added that a major reason behind PIA’s financial issues was the appointment of senior management officials by the successive rulers through nepotism and high salaries.

“The current managing director is a foreign national and is drawing a high salary in addition to other benefits,” he added.

“Flights to coastal areas like Panjgur, Turbat and Gilgit, Skardu and Chitral do not earn the PIA any profit, but the government has to run those PIA flights for public service,” stated Malik Taj from the PIA’s passenger and traffic handling department at the airport in Peshawar.

He said that being the national airline the PIA also offers discounts to various segments of the population like students, defence department and journalists.

That being said, some of the things are associated with the privatisation of the airline. For instance, the first is that if privatised, the airline is likely to lose the word “Pakistan”, as it will no longer remain “national”. Secondly, a private airline won’t like to fly to remote and financially unviable destinations where the PIA is currently flying as part of public service. And thirdly, the privatised airline is also likely to stop offering discounts to various segments of Pakistani population, like defence department, students, journalists, etc.

Permitting the permitless: Lawful taxicabs banned, permitless being allowed at UoP campus

Muhammad Shahid

PESHAWAR: While the University of Peshawar is taking measures to boost security on campus, the permitless taxicabs are entering the varsity freely and it may pose security threats.

The university administration has banned yellow cabs but the cabs of other colours are freely roaming in the campus.

Driver of a yellow cab, Abdullah, told this scribe that he was having proper permit with his vehicle but complained that the university administration was not allowing his vehicle to enter the campus.

“Those cabdrivers, who are illegally plying various routes because they don’t have permits for the vehicles, are let enter the campus but we, having proper permits, are not allowed to enter the university campus,” he added.

He said that some people never travel in cabs that do not have permits because that can prove risky.

Explaining the possible risk, the driver said that in case there is some contraband with a passenger and the police seize the material during checking, a cabdriver with permits can prove that he is just a driver and not involved in any illegality. However, if a taxicab driver is not having permit, he would also be arrested along with the wrongdoer since it cannot be established whether the car is a taxicab or a private one.

A policeman at the campus told this scribe that they have been directed to stop entry of cabs into the campus.

When told that many cabs are entering the campus, he said those vehicles were private and not cabs.

“We really don’t know whether the other vehicles are cabs or private cars, that is why we don’t care if they enter the campus, but we don’t let a yellow taxicab to enter the campus,” stated a cop deployed at a gate of the university.

It may be mentioned here that some cabdrivers entering the campus tell the policemen at the gates that their vehicles are not taxicabs but private ones and thus they dodge the policemen.

A driver of a yellow cab told this scribe that the university administration should allow the cabs having permits to enter the campus and ban those that do not have permits because permitless cabs are illegal.

Once this scribe entered the campus in a red-colour cab and the campus police did not even ask whether the vehicle was private or a cab.

The driver said: “If asked, you should not tell the policemen that it is a cab. We will just tell them this is our private car,” the driver told this scribe while entering the campus.

An employee of the campus, while seeking anonymity, told this scribe that there were some employees of the campus owning taxicabs of other colours (not yellow).

“If they allow the yellow cabs, most people then don’t like to travel in their (university employees’) cabs because yellow cabs are preferred by the public,” he added.

Kamran, an employee of a public sector organisation and a frequent visitor of the campus, stated that the idea of ban on the taxicabs was a bad one.

“Sometimes students are having luggage and it becomes very difficult to take the luggage to hostels late in evening when university’s own transport service is not available,” he added.

Another student, Jawad, told this correspondent that the authorities should allow the cabs with permits to enter the campus and ban those taxicabs that do not have permits.

The security in-charge of the campus, Dr Fazal Sher, told this scribe that they had banned all taxicabs, whether yellow or others, but because yellow cabs are identified easily, those cannot enter the university premises.

“Sometimes we allow a cab to enter the campus if it is carrying a patient or a disabled person,” he added.

He said that at times they also allowed a cab if it was carrying foodstuff of traders who have shops on campus.

Mullagori tribespersons ‘between a rock and unsafe water’

JAMRUD, Khyber Agency: Members of the Mullagori tribe in Khyber Agency are suffering from various diseases, particularly dental problems, owing to unsafe drinking water.

Though the marble factories in the area are profitable for the locals, these are also contaminating water in the area and causing health issues.

During a visit to the area that has been named after the Mullagori tribe living there, this correspondent found that most of people had dental problems. An elder in the area said that drinking water was the cause of the disease because it was impure due to presence of marble factories in the area.

Mullagori area houses a number of marble factories and the waste passes various places through drains. Locals say they have been asking the government to make sure the waste from the factories doesn’t flow freely in the open, but to no avail.

The Mullagori tribe lacks social development and so far there has been no book or research article to introduce it to the world. An elder said Mullagoris had migrated from Afghanistan and settled in the area that falls in Khyber Agency and is sited close to Mohmand Agency. However, there is an ongoing debate on the origin of Mullagori tribe. Some say they are the descendents of Mohmand tribe since their language resembles the latter. Others say Mullagoris are a sub-tribe of Shinwari while some say they are a separate tribe of Pakhtuns.

 

Unlike several other tribal areas, the Mullagori area is poppy-free and its residents usually depend on the marble deposits found in the hills. There are around 100 marble factories that are a source of livelihood for the Mullagori tribesmen and the residents of nearby villages that fall in the settled district of Peshawar.

 

The area consists of two major parts – the Khakata Mena (lower area) and Lowarha Mena (upper area). The ‘Tatara’ hill, a tourist resort, separates the Mullagori tribepeople from the Afridis, while the river Kabul serves as the boundary from the Mohmand tribe.

 

The Mullagori tribe, however, is lagging behind in education and health facilities. “People have been suffering health problems but authorities have not even tested drinking water in the area to confirm that it is the contaminated water that is the problem,” stated Waleed, a Mullagori tribesman.

 

A retired subedar of the paramilitary Frontier Corps, Sabz Ali, said the Lowara Mena of Mullagori area does not have the water contamination problem. “There are marble factories, which release waste in the open, thus causing water pollution in the Khakata Mena,” he added.

 

Medical Superintendent of the Jamrud Hospital, Dr Samin, said they had received reports about the dental problems among the members of the Mullagori tribe last year.

“We asked the locals to send us samples of drinking water but we have not received any so far,” he added. He said the area falls under the domain of Khyber Agency’s agency surgeon. The agency surgeon could not be reached for comments.

Asbanr valley: life in a naturalist wonderland

A view of one of the villages in Asbanr valley, Lower Dir district.

A view of one of the villages in Asbanr valley, Lower Dir district.

Muhammad Shahid

ASBANR VALLEY, Lower Dir: As the sunrays fall on the green hills in Asbanr valley of Lower Dir district, the wheel of life begins turning gradually, with children on way to schools, farmers to their fields and so on.

Aslam, about 17, has the knack of walking through an ever-flowing stream in the valley, amid lush green forests and towering hills.

Aslam has given up schooling at a tender age when he was a student of class-VIII, and so are most of the youth in the valley.

“Take to the left; be careful, your feet may slip on the wet rocks of the Khwar (stream),” he says jumping from one stone to another.

Most of schoolchildren give up schooling in the valley because they have to either go abroad to earn or manage affairs of the house at their village.

For around 40,000 souls of this naturalist wonderland, life is as simple as pie: getting up at the crack of dawn, going to the fields, running errandes and getting into a peaceful sleep after daylong activities.

Besides their subsistence farming, scores of families also rely on the overseas earning as they own small lands that cannot earn them adequate profits. The agricultural produce are mostly wheat, rice, maize and vegetables.

Asbanr valley, part of Chakdara tehsil of Lower Dir district, is around 37 kilometres from Malakand.

It is the border area between Lower Dir and Swat districts. Swat and Lower Dir headquarters Timergara are located on its eastern and western sides, while the high mountains of Upper Dir are located in its north and Chakdara in its south.

The valley houses several villages including Shorshing, Butt Qilla, Abbeshah, Guli Bagh, Kashmir Dherai, Bamboli, Qilla Shah, Banda Shah, Kumbar, Hayatabad, etc. Having an area of almost 120 square kilometres, the valley is home to a population of around 40,000 individuals.

But it requires perseverance to travel to the valley due to the rough patch as the area lacks metallic roads. Though the valley is just 15 kilometres from the main Chakdarra bazaar, the travel up to main Asbanr valley takes almost two hours due to the zigzag and rough route that has several bends and slopes.

However, upon reaching the place, one is amazed to see the beauty of nature in the valley and forgets the difficulties suffered on the way. Though locals live a tough life, the fact remains that the valley is a magnet for tourists.