Special flight with 1st batch of Pakistani students from Bishkek lands at Lahore airport

Published May 18, 2024
Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi receives the first batch of Pakistan students from Bishkek at Lahore’s Allama Iqbal International Airport late on Saturday. — PTV
Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi receives the first batch of Pakistan students from Bishkek at Lahore’s Allama Iqbal International Airport late on Saturday. — PTV
Crowds of students flood the streets of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on May 18. — 24.kg/APP
Crowds of students flood the streets of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on May 18. — 24.kg/APP

A special flight carrying the first batch of Pakistan students from Kyrgyzstan capital of Bishkek landed at Lahore’s Allama Iqbal International Airport late on Saturday after several foreigners were subjected to mob violence last night.

Kyrgyz police said they had mobilised forces in the Central Asian nation’s capital yesterday to quell the violence, in which hundreds of Kyrgyz men attacked buildings housing foreign students, including Pakistanis.

What we know so far

  • Locals attack international students after video of fight with Egyptians goes viral on social media
  • Kyrgyz media outlet describes violence as “protest against foreigners”
  • Kyrgyz deputy PM meets Pakistan ambassador, assures situation is under control
  • Pakistan embassy says 5 Pakistanis injured, asks nationals to remain indoors; India issues similar instructions
  • FO hands demarche to Kyrgyz envoy
  • PM Shehbaz orders FM Dar, Kashmir Affairs Minister Amir Muqam to go to Bishkek

According to Pakistan’s embassy in Bishkek, foreign students living in the Kyrgyz capital, including those from Pakistan, were attacked by locals in the aftermath of their brawl with Egyptian nationals on May 13.

Kyrgyz private media outlet 24.kg reported that a “spontaneous protest against foreigners” that began last night in Bishkek ended this morning after police came to an agreement with the rioters and they dispersed a little later.

The report quoted the Kyrgyz health ministry as saying 29 people were injured in the violence. The country’s foreign ministry, meanwhile, said 14 foreigners were discharged from hospitals after treatment.

The Pakistani embassy in Bishkek reported there were no deaths. “Moreover, Kygyz Ministry of Internal Affairs has also issued press releases stating that the situation is under control,” it said.

State-run Pakistan Television (PTV) said that a special flight with the first batch of Pakistani students from Bishkek arrived at the Lahore airport.

The students were received by Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi.

There was a lack of clarity on the number of students in the flight with the state broadcaster saying 30, 140 and 180 in separate posts on X.

“Transport facility will be provided to students belonging to other cities. Pakistani students in Kyrgyzstan are children of the nation. The prime minister immediately took steps to protect Pakistani students after this incident,” Naqvi said.

He said other students would also be brought back with more flights scheduled for Sunday.

He had earlier arrived at the airport to receive the first batch of students.

FM Dar, Amir Muqam to leave for Bishkek

Meanwhile, a statement carried by PTV said Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif decided to send Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar and Kashmir Affairs Minister Amir Muqam to Bishkek after monitoring the situation throughout the day and remaining in touch with the ambassador in Kyrgyzstan.

The two will leave for the Kyrgyz capital on Sunday morning via a special flight.

“Despite the satisfactory situation, it has been decided to send this delegation to provide necessary support and facilities to Pakistani students.

“The foreign minister will hold meetings with senior government officials in Bishkek and ensure the provision of medical facilities to the injured students,” the statement said, adding that Dar will also review issues regarding repatriation of Pakistani students.

An earlier statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said PM Shehbaz ordered Muqam to go to Bishkek immediately to provide assistance and support to Pakistani students.

“Engineer Amir Muqam will meet Pakistani students, listen to their problems and ensure that Pakistani students do not face any kind of difficulties in the current situation,” the premier said.

He added that the embassy should ensure support of the injured Pakistani students with the best treatment facilities.

The embassy “will not leave the sons and daughters of Pakistan alone in difficult times”, PM Shehbaz said.

He further said that officials should ensure the immediate return of those students who wanted to return to Pakistan at the government’s expense.

PM Shehbaz earlier said his office was in touch with the Pakistani embassy and “constantly monitoring the situation”.

“Deeply concerned over the situation of Pakistani students in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. I have directed Pakistan’s ambassador to provide all necessary help and assistance,” the PM wrote on X.

At least 12,000 Pakistanis are studying in Kyrgyzstan.

FM Dar earlier today said the reports of mob violence against Pakistani students in Bishkek were “extremely concerning”.

“We have established contact with the Kyrgyz authorities to ensure the protection of Pakistani students,” he said in a post on X.

“I have instructed our ambassador to Kyrgyzstan to fully facilitate them.”

Muqam also said that the Pakistani government was in contact with the Kyrgyz authorities to ensure the protection of its students in the incidents of violence in Bishkek.

In a statement, the minister expressed concern over the violent clashes in Kyrgyzstan and asked the students to stay in touch with the Pakistan embassy, adding that the safety of Pakistani students was more important to the government

He confirmed that no Pakistani student died in the violence.

Condition of injured Pakistan out of danger: ambassador

Hasan Zaigham, Pakistan’s Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, posted a video update on X on the situation. He said “local extremist elements” had attacked six hostels of international students and their private residences last night in Bishkek, injuring 14.

He said one Pakistani, Shahzeb, was under treatment in a hospital and he had visited the student on the prime minister’s instructions. “His condition is out of danger,” the ambassador added.

Zaigham sent the prime minister and deputy prime minister had given special instructions to provide every possible service to Pakistani citizens in the country and that the Kyrgyz government had also assured of ensuring the security of foreigners with the police constantly in action as well.

“We have been told that some suspects have been arrested.”

Zaigham said embassy officials were constantly working since the morning to help address queries and concerns of Pakistanis with over 500 calls answered so far on emergency numbers. The ambassador appealed to the Pakistani community in Kyrgyzstan to not believe news on social media without verification.

Talking to Geo News programme ‘Naya Pakistan’ later, he said the situation was normal in Bishkek after 6am and all events were from the past night.

“The traffic is normal, markets are open and public transportation is running. The situation in the city is normal but yes, Pakistani and international students are in a panic.”

He said he had talked to Kyrgyz authorities who had reassured him that they were tackling the matter as a “top priority” with the Kyrgyz president monitoring the issue himself personally.

However, the ambassador’s account was disputed by student Hamid Tariq. He said the situation was calm throughout the day however students were seeing activity via social media about people gathering around hostels again, adding that there were concerns of another attack.

“There are still chances of an attack,” he said.

Tariq said reassurances of the situation having returned to normal were only true for the Kyrgyz locals.

“It is not under control for us, we cannot go outside to the shops to buy something,” he said, adding that some students and workers were expelled from their apartments.

“Where should these people go, the Pakistan embassy should take care of them, they should at least solve their food and shelter issue,” he said.

“I think the ambassador is ill-informed. He said in his first statement that three or four are injured. […] maybe they are trying to hide the matter […] You must have received videos where dozens of students are severely injured,” he said.

“We have evidence and videos of them being dragged,” Tariq added.

A Pakistani medical student in Bishkek, Dr Muhammad Taqi, also similarly told Dawn.com that while the situation appeared to have calmed, he and other foreigners were readying themselves for a “second attack”. Taqi hails from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Shangla region.

“They (the mob) attacked girls’ and boys’ hostels throughout the night,” he added.

He criticised the federal government for its delayed response on the matter and called for safe passage to the airport to evacuate students.

A statement from the Kyrgyz government was published by 24.kg, in which it condemned “attempts to provoke violence and unrest on interethnic grounds due to the dissemination of untrue information on social media”.

Some hostels of medical universities in Bishkek and private residences of international students including Pakistanis were attacked, APP reported, quoting a Facebook post by the embassy.

However, contrary to posts circulating on social media, the Pakistan embassy said that so far, they had received no confirmed reports of the death or rape of any Pakistani student.

On the other hand, Foreign Office (FO) Spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch earlier shared in an update on X that five Pakistanis had been injured, one of whom suffered a jaw injury.

Zaigham also took to X and urged all Pakistanis in the capital to “remain indoors until the situation return[s] to normal”.

He added that his office was liaising with local authorities to ensure students’ safety and posted numbers for an emergency helpline.

The numbers shared were: +996555554476, +996507567667 and +996 507567667.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has activated its Crisis Management Unit (CMU), with Pakistani nationals in Kyrgyzstan and their families urged to contact the unit at the following numbers: 0519203108, 0519203094

The CMU’s email address was also provided. cmu1@mofa.gov.pk

The FO spokesperson conveyed a message from Ambassador Zaigham in a post on X. “The embassy of Pakistan is in contact with the Kyrgyz authorities to facilitate Pakistani students,” she wrote, adding that the students’ safety was of “paramount importance” to Zaigham and his team.

In a separate post, Mumtaz shared a post from the Pakistani embassy’s X account of emergency helpline numbers.

“Amb Zaigham & his team are available on these emergency numbers (both numbers on WhatsApp). They have responded to hundreds of queries by students and their families,” she wrote.

The FO spokesperson advised people to contact the embassy on WhatsApp.

In an update shared by the FO, Charge d’Affaires of the Kyrgyz Embassy Melis Moldaliev was called to the foreign ministry for a demarche by Director General (ECO & CARs) Aizaz Khan.

He conveyed the deep concerns of the government about the reports and urged the Kyrgyz Charge d’affaires that the Kyrgyz government should take all possible measures to ensure the safety and security of Pakistani students and citizens residing in the country.

Hours later, the FO shared a statement about a meeting between Pakistani Ambassador Zaigham and Kyrgyz Deputy Foreign Minister Imangaziev Almaz in connection with the “incidents of violence in Bishkek”.

“Ambassador Zaigham strongly raised the concerns of Pakistani nationals particularly the large number of affected Pakistani students and their families,” the statement said.

He urged the Kyrgyz government to prioritise safeguarding Pakistani nationals. The Kyrgyz deputy foreign minister informed him authorities “have controlled the situation which is now back to normal”.

He said that the Kyrgyz Police was providing security to all the hostels and the matter “is being directly supervised by the Kyrgyz president”.

Deputy Foreign Minister Almaz assured the ambassador that the Kyrgyzstan government would take legal action against the perpetrators yesterday’s attack.

“He shared that fourteen foreign nationals, including some Pakistanis, were discharged after first aid. One Pakistani national remains under treatment.”

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kyrgyz Republic also issued a statement about the meeting, saying: “During the meeting, the Pakistani side was informed about the incident involving foreign citizens and the measures taken by the law enforcement authorities of Kyrgyz Republic to suppress illegal actions and ensure public order.”

“The Kyrgyz side also asked the Pakistani side to conduct explanatory work among representatives of the Pakistani mass media on the non-dissemination of inaccurate information on the incident,” it added.

At the same time, the Kyrgyz deputy minister assured the Pakistan ambassador that the situation was under the control of the competent authorities of the Kyrgyz Republic.

A later statement by the Kyrgyz foreign ministry said that “destructive forces in foreign media, especially in social networks on the territory of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, are deliberately disseminating absolutely false and untrue information about the situation in the Kyrgyz Republic.”

It reiterated that the situation in Bishkek was “currently calm and fully under control” with all necessary measures implemented to ensure security, peace, and stability.

“The ministry urges media representatives, the blogging community and international partners to rely exclusively on official and verified information from the competent authorities of the Kyrgyz Republic.”

According to APP, multiple social media posts also reported violence at hostels housing foreign students in Bishkek, enclosed with footage and imagery, with many appealing to authorities to provide help to the students.

The Indian embassy in Bishkek also warned its students to stay indoors, writing in a post on X, “The situation is presently calm but students are advised to stay indoors for the moment.”

Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar also took to X and advised students to “stay in regular touch with the embassy, as well as instructing them to remain indoors.

What happened?

According to a post issued by the Pakistan embassy on Facebook, there were several incidents of mob violence against foreign students in Bishkek since Friday night.

Quoting Kyrgyz press, the notice said that the situation boiled over after a video of a fight between Kyrgyz students and medical students from Egypt was shared on May 13.

It added that some hostels at medical universities in Bishkek and the private residences of international students including Pakistanis were attacked. “The hostels are inhabited by students from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh,” it read.

“So far, the violence appears to be directed against all foreign students and not specific to Pakistanis,” the notice stated.

A more detailed chronology of the events was released by the Kyrgyz interior ministry.

It said that on May 13, four individuals trailed foreigners into a Bishkek hostel and snatched the belongings of residents while tearing down doors.

It said that some hostel residents joint up and fought off the four men after they barged into rooms where female residents were present. It added that three of the men ran away while the fourth was beaten and later sent to a hospital.

The ministry said a video of the altercation was uploaded to social media on May 17 (Friday), adding that it “did not explain the true circumstances of the incident, which caused public outcry and mass discontent among young people and led to local unrest”.

The ministry further said: “On the evening of May 18, young people dissatisfied with the events that took place began to gather … and by approximately 10pm the number of those gathered had grown from 500 to 700 people.

“Those gathered demanded a proportionate response from law enforcement agencies against those responsible for the fight in the courtyard of the hostel.”

The ministry said that four foreigners were detained in a criminal hooliganism case while two of the four men who instigated the affair by roughhousing hostel residents were identified as Kyrgyz locals.

Additional input from APP and Reuters and additional reporting by Muhammad Taimur.



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