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Pakistani Teenager Umer Javaid Fights Disability with His Feet

The last census in Pakistan was done in 1998. Since then, no new data has been collected on the number of disabled.

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Umer Javaid. Image Source-VOA
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Pakistani Teenager Overcomes Disability with His Feet

He could have gone through life feeling sorry for himself. He had the perfect excuse, after all — he was born without hands. But his father would have none of it.

Umer Javaid’s father taught him to use his feet for everything usually done with hands: eating with a fork, drinking out of a glass, typing, painting, throwing a ball and playing video games.

Today, he is so used to it, he hardly thinks about his missing limbs.

And even though he is only in the ninth grade, he is already on the road to financial independence.

“I once made a painting that was sold for 5,000 rupees ($50),” he said. “I have already sold 155 of my paintings.”

Javaid’s story, however, is hardly representative of life for the disabled in Pakistan.

Related Article: Learning Disability: Things we need to know

Activists lament that the country lacks the most basic understanding of disabilities, or how best to use resources to deal with them.

Asim Zafar, president of a local NGO for the disabled called Saaya, recalls that his parents and grandparents spent all their savings trying to cure his polio before finding out that the disease had no cure.

On a larger scale, a lack of reliable data reflects the society’s lack of interest in its disabled population.

No recent numbers

The last census in Pakistan was done in 1998. Since then, no new data has been collected on the number of disabled. People rely on a World Health Organization report from 2010 that says that about 15 percent of the world population is somewhat disabled, and 2 to 4 percent severely disabled.

Wheel chair distribution at Saaya, a NGO in Pakistan. Image source: Saaya association.com
Wheel chair distribution Ceremony at Saaya, a NGO in Pakistan. Image source: Saaya association.com

It does point out that the numbers are not evenly distributed around the world, and that vulnerable populations are more at risk.

Given the number of suicide attacks in Pakistan during the last decade, in which more than 50,000 people have died; a devastating earthquake in 2005 that injured more than 100,000; the presence of chronic diseases; and a lackluster health care system to deal with them, many activists fear the disability rate in Pakistan may be much higher than the WHO figures.

No accommodations

Facilities to accommodate all those people, however, remain a dream.

Public spaces, transport and toilets are often not handicapped accessible. Regular schools are not designed to accommodate disabled children.

The government provides special schools for the disabled, but they are limited to relatively bigger cities and have limited capacity. Even that facility ends at 10th grade.

“When they go to a regular institution after 10th grade, they encounter a completely different environment,” Zafar explained.

Getting to the institution alone was a challenge for those who could not afford a private car or a cab every day. Once there, they had to contend with a lack of toilets for the handicapped, or classes that were up a flight of stairs with no elevator access.

The odds were stacked so high against them, he said, that those who started college were more likely than not to drop out after a few days.

The problems continued into the workplace, where a similar lack of facilities and transportation options kept most disabled people out.

Wheelchairs that could provide freedom and mobility to a person with disabilities were a rarity in Pakistan, according to Zafar. His NGO imported used wheelchairs from Japan and repaired them to hand them out for free to those in need.

Javaid said he is a good example of how the disabled can become productive members of society. All they need is a training in how to take things into their own hands — or in his case, feet. (VOA)

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Taliban And The U.S. Set To Meet in UAE

The United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan 17 years ago and the war with the Taliban has since killed nearly 150,000 people, including Afghan civilians

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USA, afghanistan, taliban
U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, talks with local reporters at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, Nov. 18, 2018. VOA

A Pakistan-arranged meeting between U.S. and Taliban officials will be held Monday in the United Arab Emirates to push a political settlement to the war in Afghanistan.

The special representative for Afghan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, will lead the U.S. team at the talks in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the gulf state, a senior Pakistani official privy to the development confirmed to VOA on Sunday.

The official, requesting anonymity, said Islamabad has facilitated the dialogue after President Donald Trump wrote to Prime Minister Imran Khan earlier this month seeking his cooperation in bringing the Taliban to the table for peace negotiations.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, in a brief statement sent to VOA, has confirmed participation of its political negotiators in Monday’s meeting with American officials, but said that representatives of the host country, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia will also be in attendance.

Imran Khan, Taliban
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks during a press conference in Putrajaya, Malaysia, Nov. 21, 2018. VOA

Initially, it was Khan who disclosed on Friday that Pakistan-aided talks between U.S. and Taliban officials would take place on December 17, though he would not say where.

The Pakistani prime minister, while speaking in the northwestern city of Peshawar, explained his country has agreed to assist in Afghan peace efforts because Washington has changed its position by requesting help, instead of saying Islamabad is not doing enough, as U.S. leaders have previously insisted.

A spokesperson for the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday hailed Khan’s remarks and support for a political reconciliation in the war-ravaged neighboring country.

“The United States welcomes any actions by the Pakistani government to promote greater cooperation, including fostering negotiations between the Taliban, the Afghan government, and other Afghans,” the spokesperson told VOA.

“Special Representative Khalilzad has met, and will continue to meet, with all interested parties, including the Taliban, to support a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan,” noted the U.S. embassy official.

taliban, afghanistan
Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai, right, head of the Taliban’s political council in Qatar, takes part in the multilateral peace talks on Afghanistan in Moscow, Nov. 9, 2018. VOA

 

In his speech on Friday, Khan said that if peace were achieved in Afghanistan, his country will be the immediate beneficiary in terms of security, economic stability and regional connectivity.

Khalilzad, is visiting regional countries to gather support for Afghan peace talks. He is 14 days into an 18-day visit to the region and has already visited Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Belgium.

Since taking office in September, the Afghan-born U.S. special envoy has held two meetings with the Taliban in Qatar, where the insurgent group operates its so-called “political office.”

But those talks have been for the sake of talks, say insurgent and Pakistani officials.

Demands, accusations

Pakistani officials privy to Khalilzad’s interaction with the Taliban have told VOA that until now no progress has been achieved because the insurgents adamantly demand “a date or timeframe” for all U.S. and NATO troops to withdraw from Afghanistan before the Taliban decides to participate in an intra-Afghan peace process.

Afghanistan, Taliban
Security forces inspect the site of a deadly blast in the center of Kabul, Afghanistan, Nov. 12, 2018. VOA

 

Washington has long maintained Taliban leaders are sheltering in Pakistan with covert support from the country’s intelligence agency. Washington has been urging Islamabad to use its influence to bring the insurgents to the negotiating table.

Pakistani officials say their influence over the Taliban has significantly declined over the years because the insurgents have gained control over large areas of Afghanistan and continue to pose serious battlefield challenges for U.S.-backed Afghan security forces.

Also Read: U.S. Welcomes Pakistan’s Actions Towards Peace in Afghanistan

The United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan 17 years ago and the war with the Taliban has since killed nearly 150,000 people, including Afghan civilians, security forces, insurgents and more than 2,400 American soldiers, according to an American University study released recently.

The longest war effort in U.S. history has also cost Washington nearly one trillion dollars. The Taliban has expanded its insurgent activities and currently controls or hotly contests about half of Afghanistan. The conflict is said to have killed more Afghan civilians and security forces in 2018 than in any other year. (VOA)