Champions of charcoal: the kilns behind Sindh’s famous barbecues

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Charcoal kilns in a charcoal manufacturing plant at Gharo, a small city 67 km east of Pakistan’s seaside metropolis. Sept 15, 2019 (AN Photo by SA Babar)
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A worker stacks wood inside a charcoal kiln in Gharo, a small city some 67 km east of Pakistan’s Karachi city, and famous for its kilns and windmills, on Sept 15, 2019.
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Noor Khan takes out charcoal from a kiln in Gharo, a small Pakistani city in Sindh, on Sept 15, 2019. (AN Photo by SA Babar)
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Workers busy sorting wood for their charcoal kiln on Sept 12, 2019. The charcoal produced at Gharo is mostly used by restaurants in Karachi for barbecuing meat. (AN Photo by SA Babar)
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Bihari kabab, a Pakistani barbeque specialty, cooked over the scorching fire of charcoal at Delhi Chicken, a popular barbecue restaurant in downtown Karachi, on Sept 12, 2019 (AN Photo by SA Babar)
Updated 21 September 2019

Champions of charcoal: the kilns behind Sindh’s famous barbecues

  • Creating the perfect charcoal is a precise art, kiln owners say
  • Demand for charcoal in the busy restaurants of Pakistan’s southeastern province of Sindh remains high

KARACHI: Haroon Khan threw a matchstick into his eight ft. hut-style charcoal kiln in Gharo, a small city east of Karachi in Pakistan’s southeastern province of Sindh, that is famous for its windmills and kilns.
His men had already neatly stacked wood inside the kiln, and for two hours, Khan let the smoke from the burning wood escape through its chimney. Finally, he covered it up completely to deprive it of almost all oxygen, so the wood inside would roast gently in its own smoke.
Khan, who like most kiln’ owners belongs to the hilly Dir valley of northern Pakistan, has been in the business for years.

A worker, Noor Khan, waters down the temperature of a kiln at Gharo, a small Pakistani city in southeastern Sindh province on Sept 15, 2019. 
“After opening the kiln, the wood is watered for evacuation but still it’s hot,” Khan told Arab News (AN Photo by SA Babar)

“One must be the master of this art, otherwise he will turn the wood to ashes,” Khan said, with a hint of a smile.
For three full days, the wood will smoke itself down to a lightweight black carbon residue, charcoal, the most important element of all popular Pakistani barbecues.

This charcoal kiln in Gharo, a small city some 67 km east of Pakistan’s Karachi metropolis, and famous for its windmills, is set to be filled with wood. Sept 15, 2019 (AN Photo by SA Babar)

When its ready, the charcoal will be watered down before it is packed up for transport to Pakistan’s southern megacity of Karachi, famed for its good food.
“Once we set a fire, we wait for around three to four days and closely monitor the temperature of the kiln after short intervals, to ensure the charcoal is neither burnt nor left too hard,” Khan, who runs a small ‘factory’ of over a dozen kilns, told Arab News.

Noor Khan removes charcoal from a kiln in Gharo, a small Pakistani city in Sindh, on Sept 15, 2019. (AN Photo by SA Babar)

Malik Omar Khan, another kiln owner, said the primary raw material, wood, is delivered by dealers and procured at Rs. 150 per 50 kg, with 200 kg of wood producing 50 kg of charcoal.

Charcoal is packed up in large plastic bags, ready to be transported from this small charcoal manufacturing facility in Gharo to Pakistan’s commercial capital of Karachi, some 67 km west of here, for delivery to the city’s restaurants. Sept 12, 2019 (AN Photo by SA Babar)

There are hundreds of these small factories dotted around Gharo, with each comprising 5-6 kilns, and where thousands from northern Pakistan work. 
“But it’s not a huge business,” Malik said, and added, “The hard work of a month can barely feed a family.”
Burning charcoal requires no water, and gives off little smoke as compared to regular wood, but is often blamed for deforestation by environmentalists.

Bihari kabab and chicken tikka, both Pakistani barbeque specialties, cooked over the scorching fire of charcoal at Delhi Chicken, a popular barbecue restaurant in downtown Karachi, on Sept 12, 2019 (AN Photo by SA Babar)

Those in the food business, however, argue there is no substitute for it.
“Without charcoal, there is no barbecue and without barbecue... there is no taste to life,” Muhammad Shakeel, owner of Delhi Chicken at Karachi’s downtown told Arab News. He buys a kg of charcoal at Rs. 60.

A worker sorts wood for a charcoal kiln at Gharo city, some 67 km east of Karachi on Sept 15, 2019. (AN Photo by SA Babar)

At Gharo, Khan says he sells one kg for Rs. 40 and the rest goes to dealers who collect it from Gharo and transport it to Karachi for sale at restaurants. 
“Karachi is a sea of people. There are a hundred [kilns] here, but (even) if you double the number, the demand will not decrease,” Khan said.

Legislators, stakeholders decide to revive defunct Pakistan Steel Mills

Updated 21 October 2019

Legislators, stakeholders decide to revive defunct Pakistan Steel Mills

  • Senate body decides to clear Rs14-15 billion of workers’ dues in 18 months, Senator Aurangzeb Khan tells Arab News
  • The mill’s closure has cost the country Rs50 billion during the last 14 months: Stakeholders

KARACHI: Pakistan’s legislators and stakeholders on Monday decided to revive the country’s largest lossmaking public sector megacorporation, the Pakistan Steel Mills, and clear about Rs15 billion belonging to its workers, a senator and stakeholders confirmed to Arab News on Monday.

A meeting of Senate’s Standing Committee on Industries and Production was held to review the revival plan of the Pakistan Steel Mills which has remained non-functional since June 2015 after witnessing a decline in its production since 2008.

“The steel mill will be revived and for that, we have scheduled an advisory meeting in the next 15 days that will determine our future course of action. Today’s meeting was attended by professionals and they have informed us that the mill is 100 percent in working condition. They also maintained that some vested interest groups do not want to run the steel mills,” said Senator Aurangzeb Khan, member of the standing committee.

“When and how to restart the steel mills will be decided in the next meeting,” he assured.

The Pakistan Steel Mills was constructed in 1973 under an agreement signed between the country’s administration and the erstwhile Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) in 1971. The Soviets also agreed to provide technical and financial assistance for the construction work.

The senator said that the accumulated dues of workers and stakeholders had increased to around Rs15 billion since the closure of the mill.

“The steel mill is closed and the workers’ dues have accumulated to Rs14-15 billion. Today we have decided that the dues will be paid in 18-month installments of Rs5 billion which will be released in six months each,” Khan said.

Pakistan is also seeking Chinese and Russian help to revive the steel mills, though the stakeholders informed the senate body they could revive it on their own with local expertise.

“We don’t need any Chinese or Russian experts; we can run the mill with local expertise. Machinery and specialists, if needed, will be allowed to hire,” Mumrez Khan, the convener of the PSM Stakeholders’ Group, comprising employees, pensioners, suppliers, dealers, and contractors, told Arab News.

The incumbent government of Prime Minister Imran Khan is looking at various options to revive the steel mills that include induction of professional management, but no final decision has so far been made in this connection.

“The daily losses are estimated to be around Rs120 million due to the closure of plants,” Mumrez Khan claimed, adding that during the last 14 months of the current administration the closure of the mill has cost the country Rs50 billion.

The stakeholders made the revival of the mill contingent on the reconstitution of the board of directors by inducting relevant experts and professional management.

They also insisted on initiating the accountability process against people responsible for its closure, asking the government to refer their cases to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and instruct the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to recover the mill’s dues.

“The steel import tariff must be rationalized to provide level playing field to all the competitors in the country,” Khan added, claiming that “the revival of the steel mills will add Rs100 billion revenue.”

“I have informed the legislators that the accumulated losses of the steel mills have jumped to about $11 billion due to the closure of plants and imports of steel products,” he said.

Pakistan is also mulling to privatize this lossmaking public entity but no decision has so far been taken. However, it was decided that the defunct entity would be revived before taking any final decision regarding its privatization.

Spread over an area of 18,600 acres with 10,390 acres for the main plant, the Pakistan Steel Mills is located 40 kilometers from Karachi in the Port Qasim vicinity. The PSM had a production capacity of 1.1 million tons of steel which was expandable to 3 million tons per annum. The main PSM products included coke, pig iron, billets, cold-rolled sheets, hot-rolled sheets, and galvanized sheets.