Experts say gas price hike may have disastrous impact on politics, economy

In this file photo, Pakistani cooks work to prepare Iftar outside a shop in Rawalpindi on Oct. 29, 2003. (AFP)
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Updated 24 January 2020

Experts say gas price hike may have disastrous impact on politics, economy

  • OGRA has recommended up to 214 percent hike in gas tariffs for tier-1 majority consumers
  • Pakistan seeks to increase the revenue of SNGPL and SSGC to Rs534.1 billion by introducing new rates

KARACHI: While the government remains indecisive on the new gas rates suggested by the petroleum division, experts warn the proposed tariff increases will be detrimental to the financial interests of ordinary consumers and may have disastrous political and economic consequences.
The Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA) has sought the government’s approval to increase the revenue of utility companies, the Sui Northern Gas Pipeline Limited (SNGPL) and Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC), from Rs500.3 billion to Rs534.1 billion.
If approved, the gas prices will go up by 192 percent and 214 percent for the domestic consumers of the SNGPL and SSGC, respectively. These domestic consumers also constitute the biggest chunk of gas users in the country.
The approval will also affect the special commercial users of the SNGPL and SSGC who will pay 221 percent and 245 percent more, respectively.
Any change in gas tariffs will come into effect from February 2020.
While the Economic Coordination Committee of the Cabinet has not decided to raise the gas tariffs so far, the government has been warned against the move since the underprivileged sections of the society are already hit by high inflation.
“The increase in the gas tariff at this stage will be disastrous when the cost of doing business is already unbearable,” Dr. Shahid Hassan Siddiqui, senior economist, commented on Thursday. “The inflation is hovering at about 13 percent as the government has already made multiple upward revisions in the cost of electricity, gas and other inputs.”
“The industries are in a critical condition,” concurred Zubair Motiwala, chairman of the Council of All Pakistan Textile Associations, while talking to Arab News. “They are suffering due to increased cost of doing business. How can industries operate if input costs are jacked up every now and then? The government should not raise gas rates.”

In this file photo, a worker carries a cylinder of Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) at a gas distribution centre in Peshawar on April 29, 2015. (REUTERS)

The rate of inflation increased by 12.6 percent in December 2019 as compared to an increase of 12.7 percent in the previous month and 5.4 percent in December 2018. The government, more recently, is striving to control the supply and prices of wheat flour and sugar.
“It is very difficult for us to run the business. I have not seen such a situation in my 65 years of life,” Fazal Kareem Abbasi, President of General Naanbai Association, told Arab News. “If the government raises gas rates, we will instantly increase the price of bread by Rs3,” he warned.
Some economists blame the $6 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) program for higher inflation and slowing economic growth in Pakistan. The country had availed the program in July last year.
“I warned against going to the IMF since it was clear that it would ask the government to increase the prices of utilities etc. The income of the people has also declined. The current situation may lead to lawlessness and economic instability,” Dr. Shahida Wizarat, senior economist, told Arab News.
As the final decision on the matter rests with the federal cabinet, analysts believe the government may not approve such a significant jump in gas prices in its present form, though they warn it may become inevitable in the long run.

Mudslide at mine kills four in southwestern Pakistan

Updated 24 July 2021

Mudslide at mine kills four in southwestern Pakistan

  • Mudslide in Sharag area of Balochistan province occurred after torrential rains
  • The 200-foot-deep mine had partially collapsed and was closed after the accident

QUETTA: A mudslide at a mine in southwestern Pakistan killed four coal miners and injured two others on Saturday following heavy monsoon rains, officials said.

Local government administrator Amir Khan said that by the time rescuers reached the area hit by the torrent, the 200-foot-deep mine had partially collapsed.

He said the mine, located in the Sharag area of the Harnai district, Balochistan province was ordered closed following the incident.

Such accidents are common in Pakistan’s coal mines, where safety standards are not widely respected.

Pakistan, China to jointly oversee security of CPEC projects after Dasu blast

Updated 24 July 2021

Pakistan, China to jointly oversee security of CPEC projects after Dasu blast

  • FM Shah Mahmood Qureshi is in China on a two-day visit that started on Friday
  • Pakistan reiterates support for China's 'national interests' in Taiwan, Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong and South China Sea

ISLAMABAD: The foreign ministers of Pakistan and China on Saturday vowed joint efforts for the security of Beijing-sponsored infrastructure and development projects in Pakistan, after nine Chinese workers were killed in the country's northwest last week.

Shah Mahmood Qureshi and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, made the statement as the Pakistani foreign minister is in China on a two-day visit that started on Friday.

While the Pakistani foreign office said the visit is part of regular high-level exchanges between the longtime allies, it comes after the Chinese workers employed at the Dasu Hydropower Project were killed in a bus explosion in Pakistan's northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The Dasu project is part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a $65 billion investment plan aiming to link Pakistan's southwestern deep-sea port of Gwadar with the Chinese autonomous region of Xinjiang.

China had initially called it a bomb attack but backed away from the assertion after Pakistan stated it was an accident. Later Beijing sent a team to help investigate the matter jointly with Pakistani authorities.

"Both sides expressed their firm resolve to expose the culprits and their reprehensible designs through the ongoing joint investigation, give exemplary punishment to the perpetrators, ensure comprehensive safety and security of the Chinese projects, nationals and institutions, and prevent recurrence of such incidents," Qureshi and Yi said in a joint statement.

As the ministers reiterated their support for each other's "core national interests," they said "the two sides will continue to firmly advance the construction of CPEC."

Pakistan expressed its commitment to the "one China" policy of Beijing, which sees Taiwan as its province, and support to China over other disputed territories. 

"Pakistani side also expressed its firm support to China on core issues of its national interest, such as Taiwan, Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong and South China Sea." the statement said.

This year, Pakistan and China are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations with more than 100 celebratory events, which the ministers said are "demonstrating warmth and deep sentiments of their unshakable fraternal bonds."

Pakistan makes COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for domestic air travel

Updated 24 July 2021

Pakistan makes COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for domestic air travel

  • Decision comes as Pakistan grapples with a surge in infections fueled by local transmission of the more aggressive delta variant
  • The country of 220 million people has so far administered COVID-19 vaccine doses to nearly 25 million people

ISLAMABAD: Coronavirus vaccination will be mandatory for passengers on Pakistan's domestic flights from Aug. 1, the National Command and Operations Center (NCOC), the government's central body dealing with the pandemic, announced on Saturday.

The decision comes as the country is grappling with a surge in infection cases fueled by local transmission of the more aggressive delta variant of the coronavirus, which officials have reported is reaching alarming levels in the country's major cities.

Officials have also raised concerns the delta variant could have spread during last week's Eid Al-Adha holiday as people traveled to and from cities to their hometowns across the country.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases on Friday crossed the one million mark since the beginning of the pandemic last year. Over 1,841 new infections and 32 deaths have been reported in Pakistan in the last 24 hours.

"From August 1, a coronavirus vaccination certificate is required for domestic air travel," the NCOC said in a statement.

The country of 220 million people has so far administered COVID-19 vaccine doses to nearly 25 million people.

Pakistan last month started easing wide-ranging coronavirus restrictions as infection numbers showed a steady decline. As they are now increasing again, local authorities are imposing new curbs and seeking new ways to accelerate vaccination.

Sindh province, were reports from the megacity Karachi said last week some public and private sector hospitals have reached capacity, will impose new restrictions from Monday, closing educational institutions, places of worship, and banning mass gatherings.

As 85 percent of coronavirus patients seeking treatment in Sindh were unvaccinated, according to the province's COVID-19 taskforce, to speed up vaccination the local government is planning sanctions against those in the province who had not received their jabs.

Murtaza Wahab, spokesperson of the Sindh government, said on Friday they would request the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to block SIM cards in the cellphones of the unvaccinated.

UN warns Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan reunification poses threat to the region

Updated 24 July 2021

UN warns Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan reunification poses threat to the region

  • Pakistani Taliban or TTP, in disarray in recent years, are fighting to overthrow the Pakistan government
  • UN says the group has increased its financial resources from extortion, smuggling and taxes

ISLAMABAD: The recent reunification of the militant Pakistani Taliban poses a threat to the whole region, the United Nations has warned in a recent report.
Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is an umbrella of militant groups fighting to overthrow the Pakistan government and responsible for attacking military and civilian targets especially in the country's borderlands with Afghanistan.

It has been designated a terrorist group by the United States but been in disarray in recent years, especially after several of its top leaders were killed by US drone strikes on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghan border, forcing its members into shelter in Afghanistan or to flee to urban Pakistan.

Bolstering their bid to re-establish themselves northwestern Pakistan, the group struck an alliance in July last year with half a dozen small militant factions. Since then, the TTP has stepped up attacks on security forces in the region, raising fears of a revival of their insurgency with support from the Afghan Taliban, especially as US forces continue to pull out of war-torn Afghanistan and the Afghan Taliban capture more territory.

While the Afghan Taliban have on several occasions said they would not allow the militant Pakistan Taliban — which they say are a separate entity —to use Afghanistan’s soil against Pakistan, according to the UN the group's cross-border activity has been on the rise.

"Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) continues to pose a threat to the region with the unification of splinter groups and increasing cross-border attacks. TTP has increased its financial resources from extortion, smuggling and taxes," the UN Monitoring Team said in the report released on earlier this week.

A United Nations report in July last year said more than 6,000 Pakistani militants were hiding in Afghanistan, most belonging to the TTP.

The report said the group had linked up with the Afghan-based affiliate of the Islamic State group or Daesh, which had its headquarters in eastern Afghanistan.

The TTP has claimed responsibility for many high-profile assaults in Pakistan, including an armed attack on a school in Peshawar in 2014 in which 134 children and 19 adults were killed. The TTP also claimed the 2012 shooting of then teenage activist Malala Yousafzai, targeted for her campaign against Taliban efforts to deny girls education.

Pakistan began fencing its 2,600 km porous border with Afghanistan in 2017 to prevent militants crossing into the country and says it has completed nearly 90 percent of the work.

Saudi foreign minister to arrive in Islamabad next week

Updated 24 July 2021

Saudi foreign minister to arrive in Islamabad next week

  • Saudi FM will arrive on July 27 to meet Pakistani leaders and review progress on agreements signed during PM Khan's Riyadh visit
  • PM Khan visited Saud Arabia in May to sign several deals on political, economic, trade, and defense cooperation

ISLAMABAD: Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud, will arrive in Islamabad on an official visit on July 27, Pakistani government and Saudi embassy officials confirmed on Saturday.

It will be Prince Faisal's second state visit to Pakistan within a year. He was in Islamabad in December 2020 for talks with Pakistani leadership.

“The Saudi foreign minister is expected in Islamabad on a day-long visit during the next week, during which bilateral relations and cooperation in various fields would be reviewed,” Prime Minister Imran Khan's special assistant on the Middle East, Tahir Ashrafi, told Arab News, while a Saudi embassy official said Prince Faisal is scheduled to arrive on Tuesday.

"Saudi foreign minister is visiting Pakistan on July 27," the embassy official said, adding the visit is a continuation of "high-level engagements between the two countries which started with the visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, followed by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to the kingdom."

The crown prince was in Islamabad on a high-profile visit in February 2019, during which Saudi Arabia signed investment deals with Pakistan worth $20 billion.

PM Khan visited Riyadh in May, with an entourage of Pakistan's top officials to sign several agreements on political, economic, trade, and defense cooperation.

According to Ashrafi, progress on the agreements will be reviewed during Prince Faisal's upcoming visit, which "will also focus on future cooperation between the two countries."