In Pakistan’s Balochistan province, thousands die on ‘killer roads’ each year 

A general view of signs along a highway leading to Gwadar, Pakistan, April 12, 2017 (REUTERS)
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Updated 29 March 2021

In Pakistan’s Balochistan province, thousands die on ‘killer roads’ each year 

  • Provincial chief of motorways says 6,000 to 8,000 people are killed every year in road accidents in the impoverished province
  • Absence of dual carriageways, inadequate driver training and sparse patrolling are main factors for huge number of road deaths in Balochistan

KARACHI: In Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province, between 6,000 to 8,000 people die each year in accidents on single-lane roads nicknamed ‘killer highways’ that spread over thousands of miles, according to the provincial police chief of motorways.
Balochistan, a mountainous, desert region bordering Afghanistan and Iran, is Pakistan’s largest but most impoverished province, with a staggering 40,000-kilometer network of road infrastructure. It is also the epicenter of the $64 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a road and infrastructure development plan that aims to ultimately provide the shortest route for Chinese cargo headed for the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia.
Major roads are slated for construction under CPEC, including the road from Balochistan’s Khuzdar district to the Chinese-funded, deepwater port of Gwadar.
But for now, the absence of dual carriageways, inadequate training of drivers and lack of patrolling mean thousands continue to die on Balochistan’s roads each year.
“Roads accidents kill between 6,000 to 8,000 people annually in Balochistan,” Balochistan’s Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Motorway Police, Ali Sher Jakhrani, told Arab News. “The highways of Balochistan are killing more people than terrorism has been killing in the entire country during its peak.”
“We have been rightly spending billions of rupees to fight terrorism,” he added. “But how much do we spend on protecting the thousands who lose their lives in traffic accidents in Balochistan province?”




Activists march to raise awareness about road safety on the eve of World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims in Quetta, Pakistan, on November 15, 2022 (Photo courtesy: Balochistan Youth and Civil Society)

According to the National Road Safety Strategy 2018-2030, a report administered by the Asian Development Bank and citing police data, 6,548 people had died at the scene of an accident on Pakistan’s roads in 2016, of which 355 fatalities happened on national highways and 6,003 on provincial roads.
“In Pakistan, 9 out of every 10 fatalities occurs on a provincial road,” the report said. “There is general agreement that these figures are a significant under-estimate, with the highest level of under-reporting on provincial roads.”
According to figures compiled by another source, a local NGO called the Balochistan Youth and Civil Society (BYCS), in the last six months, 744 people were killed and 8,157 wounded in 5,451 road accidents in the province.
Najeeb Yousaf Zehri, the 28-year-old founder of BYCS, started campaigning for wider roads in the province after an over-speeding truck collided with his car on a single lane highway as he drove his family to Khuzdar from Quetta in 2013.
“I still remember the noise of silence in my ears,” Zehri said. “My head was bleeding and my eyes were full of mud.”




Activists march to raise awareness about road safety on the eve of World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims in Quetta, Pakistan, on November 15, 2022 (Photo courtesy: Balochistan Youth and Civil Society)

Data collection was the most painstaking part of his job, Zehri said, and in the absence of a centralized data bank on road accidents in the province, he had to gather figures from several sources: newspapers, Edhi centers, local journalists, medical relief centers and hospitals.
A Balochistan government spokesman, Liaquat Shahwani, told Arab News that the province was now taking steps to ensure road safety, which included making the Quetta-Karachi highway into a dual carriageway.
“Bids have been invited for a feasibility study by the federal government,” Shahwani said, adding that the Zhob to Quetta highway and eleven more intercity roads would also be constructed soon.
The Balochistan government has also decided to install trackers in buses to control speeding, Shahwani said, with 14 medical emergency response centers set up.
But promises to improve road safety have been made before, without resources being diverted, the provincial motorways’ chief said.
The federal minister for communications, Murad Saeed, did not respond to queries by Arab News.




Activists march to raise awareness about road safety on the eve of World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims in Quetta, Pakistan, on November 15, 2022 (Photo courtesy: Balochistan Youth and Civil Society)

“We get 25 percent of what other provinces get for patrolling [roads],” Jakhrani said, adding that motorway police in the province only had eleven percent enforcement on highways from sunrise to sunset due to a lack of human and monetary resources.
“Motorway police can cover only 300-kilometer distance of the 813-kilometer long Regional Cooperation for Development Highway (RCD) that starts from Karachi and ends at the Chaman border,” he said. “And we only have enforcement on 150-kilometer of the 653-kilometer long NA-10, the highway connecting Karachi with Gwadar.”




Activists hold a vigil to remember victims of traffic accidents in Quetta, Pakistan, on November 15, 2022 (Photo courtesy: Balochistan Youth and Civil Society)

Global best practices call for a 14-hour rule for drivers of commercial vehicles, with a mandatory break after an eight hour stretch of driving.
But there is no way to patrol thousands of kilometers of Balochistan’s massive road networks with the province’s limited police manpower.
“Especially on the Quetta-Karachi road, the drivers drive for up to 72 hours without any proper rest,” Jakhrani said. “The drivers are untrained and they learn only from the accidents at a huge human cost.”


Pakistani rupee hits new all-time low against greenback

Updated 29 November 2021

Pakistani rupee hits new all-time low against greenback

  • US dollar closed at Rs176.20 on Monday despite clearance of Saudi deposits
  • Pakistani currency has lost 15.7 percent of its value since May this year

KARACHI: Pakistan’s national currency continued to lose its value against the US dollar and hit a new all-time low as the greenback closed at Rs176.20 on Monday. 
The rupee has lost its value by 15.7 percent, or more than Rs24, since May this year, when the dollar was trading at around Rs152. 
While analysts believe the rupee is weakening against the greenback due to a high demand for imports and an expectation of higher import bills for November 2021, currency dealers say the reasons for rupee’s depreciation were not clear, despite a decline in oil prices and the clearance of a Saudi financial package.
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia on Monday formally signed an agreement under which the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD) will deposit $3 billion in the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP). 
In October, SFD announced a financial package of $4.2 billion to help the South Asian nation as it struggled with depleting foreign reserves. The package includes suppling $1.2 billion worth of oil to Pakistan on credit. 
“The demand of dollar for imports is exerting pressure on Pakistani rupee besides it is expected that November import bill will be higher as well,” said Samiullah Tariq, research director at the Pakistan Kuwait Investment Company (PKIC). 
Tariq said the flow of Saudi dollars into Pakistan would improve market sentiment despite an expected high demand for dollar for imports. 
“The Saudi deposits will improve the sentiment of the market,” he said. “The deposit will increase the import coverage of the country for three months.” 
But Zafar Paracha, general secretary of the Exchange Companies Association of Pakistan (ECAP), said analysts were unable to comprehend why the dollar was appreciating in the interbank market, despite the clearance of the Saudi deposit facility and around 10 percent decline in oil prices. 
On Monday, the rupee appreciated in the open market and the US dollar traded at Rs177.80 for selling and Rs177.30 for buying. The greenback traded at Rs179 for selling and Rs178 for buying the previous day.  
“There is more supply of dollar than the demand in the open market,” Paracha said, explaining the rupee’s appreciation. 
Pakistan’s equity market jubilated over the clearance of the Saudi deposit facility, with the benchmark KSE 100 index gaining 1215.89 points on Monday. 
“Stocks closed record higher after reports that federal cabinet approved terms of $4.2 billion Saudi package,” Ahsan Mehanti, chief executive of Arif Habib Corporation said. “Strong economic outlook ahead of release of IMF tranche and surging exports, remittances and global crude oil prices played a catalyst role in the bullish close.” 


Pakistan mob sets fire to police station over alleged Holy Quran desecration 

Updated 58 min 40 sec ago

Pakistan mob sets fire to police station over alleged Holy Quran desecration 

  • Crowd of up to 5,000 people surrounded police station in Charsadda town on Sunday night
  • On Monday morning, 2,000 people remained outside police station burning uniforms of officers

PESHAWAR: Thousands of people mobbed a Pakistani police station, setting fire to it and nearby checkposts after demanding that officers hand over a man accused of burning the Holy Quran, police said Monday.
The crowd of up to 5,000 people surrounded the police station in Charsadda town in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Sunday night, also setting fire to more than 30 cars.
On Monday morning, around 2,000 people remained outside the police station burning uniforms of officers.
"The mob stormed the police station asking to hand over the man to them so they could burn him alive like he burnt the Holy Quran," district police chief, Asif Bahadur told AFP.
The identity and religion of the accused has not been disclosed by police, Bahadur said.
"The motive behind burning the copy of the Holy Quran is still unknown but we are investigating."
Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where even unproven allegations can stir mobs and violence.
Rights groups say the legislation is often hijacked for personal vendettas, with minorities largely the target.
A Christian couple was lynched then burnt in a kiln in Punjab in 2014 after being falsely accused of desecrating the Holy Quran. A former Punjab governor Salman Taseer was gunned down by his bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, in Islamabad in 2011 over his call for reforms of the blasphemy law.
Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman and a labourer from central Punjab province, was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 and was on death row until her acquittal in 2018, which prompted days of violent demonstrations by hardliners. She and her family later fled the country for Canada.
The country has frequently been paralysed in recent years by anti-blasphemy protests waged by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan party, often linked to the publishing of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) by a French satirical magazine. 


Islamabad, Saudi Arabia sign agreement on $3 billion deposit in Pakistani central bank

Updated 29 November 2021

Islamabad, Saudi Arabia sign agreement on $3 billion deposit in Pakistani central bank

  • State Bank of Pakistan says funds will help support country’s foreign currency reserves
  • In October, Saudi Fund for Development announced financial package of $4.2 billion for Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, represented by the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD), on Monday formally signed an agreement under which SFD will deposit $3 billion in the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP). 
In October, SFD announced a financial package of $4.2 billion to help the South Asian nation as it struggled with depleting foreign reserves. The amount includes suppling $1.2 billion worth of oil to Pakistan on credit. 
A deposit agreement was signed in Karachi by SFD Chief Executive Officer Sultan Bin AbdulRahman Al-Marshad and SBP Governor Dr. Reza Baqir, the SBP said in a statement on Monday.


“The deposit amount under the agreement shall become part of SBP’s Foreign Exchange Reserves. It will help support Pakistan’s foreign currency reserves and contribute toward resolving the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement said. 
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy deep-rooted strategic ties. Around 2.5 million Pakistani expats are living in the kingdom, and are the biggest single source of foreign remittances to the South Asian nation. 
Saudi Arabia also supported Pakistan in 2019 with $3 billion deposits and a $1.2 billion deferred oil payments facility. 
“The deposit agreement reflects the strong and special relationship and will augment economic ties between the two brotherly countries,” the SBP said.


At Pakistan Pavilion at Expo Dubai, a night to promote tolerance, inclusivity

Updated 29 November 2021

At Pakistan Pavilion at Expo Dubai, a night to promote tolerance, inclusivity

  • Acclaimed motivational speaker Muniba Mazari shares Jubilee Stage with singer and actor Meesha Shafi
  • Speakers urge people to cherish individuals who are differently-abled, unique in their own way

DUBAI: The Pakistan Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai on Sunday organized an evening of music and inspiration where speakers and musicians highlighted and celebrated tolerance, inclusivity and equality.
Exhibitors from almost 200 countries, including Pakistan, are participating, with many countries and companies looking to the expo — the first major global event open to visitors since the coronavirus pandemic — to boost trade and investment.
The Pakistan pavilion was officially inaugurated by President Dr. Arif Alvi on October 9. The Expo itself commenced on October 1 and will last till March 31, 2022. 
On Sunday, acclaimed motivational speaker Muniba Mazari shared the Jubilee Stage, one of the main event platforms at the exhibition, with singer and actor Meesha Shafi at an evening themed ‘Pakistan — Connected through Diversity.’ 
Speaking to the audience, Mazari said the world celebrated sameness and labelled those who were ‘different,’ which needed to change. 
“What about the people who don’t look alike? Those who look different, unique and want to see the world as they want to see it, people who think out of the box, those people are labelled crippled, handicapped, disabled,” she said. “Tonight, let us change this narrative and replace these negative labels with positive words like courageous and resilient.” 

Muniba Mazari, an acclaimed motivational speaker, speaks on inclusivity and equality at an event organized by the Pakistan Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on November 28, 2021. (AN Photo courtesy Pakistan Pavilion)

Mazari, who is wheelchair bound since an accident crushed her backbone 13 years ago, said while recuperating in hospital for over two months, she made life-changing decisions to give back to society, started painting and adopted her son, Neil, who is now 10. 
“I decided to accept myself as I was and move on and move forward in life,” said Mazari, who delivers motivational talks around the country and beyond, and showcases her paintings globally. She was Pakistan’s first UN goodwill ambassador and named in Forbes 30 under 30, BBC’s Top 100 Women and many other global lists.
“Tonight, I am going to dedicate all these titles to all those people in the world who are unique and who are differently-abled,” she said. 
The event was also attended by young upcoming singer Maria Unera, who rocked the stage with her powerful voice while paying tribute to her mother whom she lost to cancer. 
Meesha Shafi delivered a surprise performance with Mazari and Unera as a closing to the event.
“Pakistan has a lot of reasons to be proud of at the Expo because the pavilion is very impressive,” Shafi said. “It was not just a show but there was an intention behind it and I was really glad to be part of it.” 

Singer and actor Meesha Shafi performs at an event organized by Pakistan Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on November 28, 2021. (AN Photo courtesy Pakistan Pavilion)

 


‘Impossible’ to stop Omicron variant from entering Pakistan – planning minister

Updated 29 November 2021

‘Impossible’ to stop Omicron variant from entering Pakistan – planning minister

  • Pakistan to increase testing in high risk areas, launch booster shot program for high-risk segments of population
  • Detection of Omicron has triggered global alarm as governments world over scrambled to impose new travel curbs

ISLAMABAD: Planning Minister Asad Umar, who also heads the national pandemic response body, the NCOC, said on Monday it was “impossible” for Pakistan to block the Omicron coronavirus variant from entering the country and the only protection against it was to increase vaccinations.
The detection of Omicron has triggered global alarm as governments around the world scrambled to impose new travel curbs and financial markets sold-off, fearing the variant could resist vaccinations and upend a nascent economic reopening after a two-year global pandemic.
In its statement, the WHO said it was working with technical experts to understand the potential impact of the variant on existing countermeasures against COVID-19, including vaccines.
Addressing a press conference alongside Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health, Dr Faisal Sultan, Umar stressed the need for citizens to get vaccinated, saying the government would take new measures to protect against the Omicron variant. These include increased testing in high risk areas, and the launch of a booster shot program for high-risk segments of the population such as the elderly and the immunocompromised.
On Saturday, Pakistan banned travel from six South African countries and Hong Kong following the emergence of the new coronavirus variant.
“We can take measures to delay the entry into Pakistan of this variant, we can reduce its numbers, but it will spread all around the world,” Umar said. “As we saw before, once a new variant comes, the world is so interconnected, there is so much travel, that it is impossible to stop it. So what is the solution, what is in our hands? The answer is vaccination.”
“This is a very dangerous variant but vaccination will still be effective against it,” the minister said. "So it is my appeal to Pakistanis, particularly those who've gotten one dose, to get the second dose.”
"This variant will come to Pakistan, and we have the next 2-3 weeks to reduce its threat,” Umar added.
The Omicron variant spread around the world last week, with new cases found in the Netherlands, Denmark and Australia even as more countries imposed travel restrictions to try to seal themselves off.
WHO has said it was not yet clear whether Omicron, first detected in Southern Africa, is more transmissible than other variants, or if it causes more severe disease.