Religious minorities in Pakistan witnessed a tough month while observers warn of even tougher times ahead as Prime Minister Imran Khan vacillates between trying to forge a pluralistic nation and his conservative Islamic beliefs, reports AP.
A Christian was gunned down because he rented in a Muslim neighbourhood in northwest Peshawar, not far from the border with Afghanistan.
Another Christian, pastor Haroon Sadiq Cheeda, his wife and 12-year-old son were beaten by their Muslim neighbours in eastern Punjab and told to leave their village. The attackers screamed “you are infidels.”
“Imran Khan no doubt wants a more tolerant Pakistan, wants more accommodation for minorities, but the problem is he nullifies all of this by empowering extremist elements, so much so that it seems they can dictate to the state,” said Zahid Hussain, analyst and author of two books that track militancy in the region.
The spokesman for Khan’s religious affairs ministry, Imran Siddiqui, dismissed complaints that minorities have reason to be concerned. He said in every religion there are “aggressive” clerics but neither Pakistan nor the prime minister were unduly pressured by them.
The most vulnerable of Pakistan’s minorities are Ahmadis, in Pakistan it is illegal for Ahmadis to call themselves Muslim. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom declared Pakistan a “country of particular concern” in its 2020 report released last month because of its treatment of minorities.
The report said Pakistan would have to end a ban on texts and publications of Ahmadis if it wants to get off the commission’s watch list as well as re-examine the cases of many non-Muslims and Muslims facing blasphemy charges.
China's domestically-developed marine observation satellites will study the distribution of coral reefs in the South China Sea, and facilitate their protection and restoration.
State broadcaster CCTV reported that the National Satellite Ocean Application Service will cooperate with a coral reef research centre in Guangxi University to monitor coral reefs in the South China Sea with the help of marine satellite and high-resolution satellite data, reports Xinhua.
They will combine sea surface temperature data obtained from remote sensing satellites to locate the coral reef bleaching and analyse surrounding sea temperature, providing support for coral reef protection and restoration in the South China Sea.
According to the report, the South China Sea has seen coral reef degradation in the past 50 years, and the monitoring of the coral reef ecosystem is critical for the management and sustainable development of coral reef resources.
China and India have made positive progress in their latest talks on a long-running border dispute that turned deadly in last month, a Chinese official said.
Top commanders from the two sides held their fourth round of talks on Tuesday, a month after the deadly clash between their soldiers in the Galwan Valley, where India is building a strategic road connecting the region to an airstrip close to China, said a Chinese spokesperson on Wednesday.
India says 20 of its soldiers were killed in the June 15 clash and that there were casualties among the Chinese as well.
However, China hasn’t confirmed any casualties on its side.
“The two sides have made positive progress on pushing forward the disengagement of the front-line troops on the western section of the border and easing the border tension,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a daily briefing on Wednesday.
Hua called for concrete actions by India to implement the consensus the two countries have reached and jointly safeguard peace and tranquility along the border.
There was no immediate comment by India's defense ministry or the army.
Last week, India's external affairs minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, said Indian and Chinese troops were disengaging from the standoff along the countries’ undemarcated border.
It’s very much a work in progress, Jaishankar said, adding that both sides agreed on the need to disengage because troops are deployed very close to each other.
The disputed border, known as the Line of Actual Control, covers about 3,500 kilometers (2,175 miles) of frontier and stretches from Ladakh in the north to the Indian state of Sikkim in the northeast.
India and China fought a border war in 1962 that also spilled into Ladakh. The two countries have been trying to settle their border dispute since the early 1990s but without success.
Fresh lockdowns are being reinforced in several parts of India as the confirmed coronavirus cases is approaching one million.
India on Wednesday registered nearly 30,000 new cases and 582 more deaths, raising its total to more than 936,000 cases and over 24,000 fatalities.
The actual numbers, like elsewhere globally, are likely to be far higher due to limited testing and poor surveillance, experts say, reports AP.
A two-week lockdown that started on Thursday has been imposed in Bihar, an eastern state with a population of 128 million and a fragile health system.
Since Saturday, Bihar has recorded over 1,000 cases a day despite limited testing.
Nearly 2.5 million poor migrant workers who had been stranded during India’s initial lockdown of the entire country have returned to the state after losing their jobs in large cities.
In Bangalore, a key technology hub in southern India where offices for major tech companies like Amazon and Apple are located, the government ordered a weeklong lockdown from Tuesday evening.
The initial boost that India’s economy received in June after the nationwide lockdown was relaxed is being halted by these localised lockdowns in high-risk areas, experts say. Economic indicators like labour participation rates and electricity consumption are down this month compared to June, according to the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy, an independent think-tank.
India’s minister for small and medium businesses, Nitin Gadkari, said last week that experts were predicting a loss of $133.3 billion in the next year.
Authorities are now increasingly trying to focus their lockdowns to shield the economy from further losses, and nearly a dozen states are turning to localised clampdowns in areas where many cases have been detected. Referred to as “containment zones” by public health officials, these can be as small as a few houses on a street in New Delhi, the capital.
Jayaprakash Muliyil, an epidemiologist at Christian Medical College in southern India, warned that the country's actual death toll from the coronavirus could be much higher due to the absence of a robust mechanism to report deaths in rural areas.
“We don’t have the infrastructure,” he said.
Dr Ashish Jha, director of Harvard’s Global Health Institute, said that with new cases accelerating, India’s strategy must focus on keeping case numbers as low as possible and saving as many lives as it can.
“The standard stuff is the standard stuff: You have got to continue testing and isolation ... make sure there are few to no indoor gatherings,” he said.
Jha warned that India has to ensure it continues acquiring supplies and has enough beds for people who will need to be hospitalized in the coming days. “You can’t overprepare,” he said.
At least 15 people were killed in a flash flood in Indonesia’s South Sulawesi province, an official said Tuesday.
The flood also left an unknown number of people missing, reports AP.
“Fifteen are reported dead and we are still looking for more casualties since access to many locations is still blocked by the mud,” North Luwu district official Indah Putri Indriani said.
She said the flooding, that began on Monday evening and was triggered by heavy rains, caused three rivers to overflow.
Mud and other materials carried by the floodwaters covered roads and thousands of houses, she said.
National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Raditya Jati said the flood affected more than 4,000 residents of six sub districts in North Luwu.
“The provincial road is covered in mud and that blocks access to the main command post and the affected areas,” Jati said.
Heavy rains cause frequent landslides and flash floods in Indonesia, where millions of people live in mountainous areas or near flood plains.