Fencing Iran, Afghan border may impact locals but peace first priority — Balochistan home minister

A Pakistani army soldier stands guard along with border fence at the Pak-Afghan border near the Punjpai area of Quetta in Balochistan on May 8, 2018. (AFP/File)
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Updated 08 April 2021

Fencing Iran, Afghan border may impact locals but peace first priority — Balochistan home minister

  • Mir Ziaullah Langau rules out talks with disgruntled Baloch separatist leaders in an ‘atmosphere of terrorism’
  • Says plan to make Gwadar southern capital of Balochistan not discussed at any official forum

KARACHI: Pakistan is ‘speedily’ fencing its border with Iran and Afghanistan to curb militant attacks, Balochistan’s home minister told Arab News in an exclusive interview this week, admitting that the measure would impact the livelihood of people who depended on cross-border trade but adding that maintaining peace was the government’s top priority.
In recent years, relations between Iran and Pakistan have been strained with both sides accusing each other of not doing enough to stamp out militants allegedly sheltering across their 900-km border.
In 2019, the two nations said they would form a joint quick reaction force to combat militant activity on their shared border, frequently used for trade and by minority Shia Muslims who travel from Pakistan to Iran for religious pilgrimages. The border is also the entry point of a lucrative, illegal fuel trade that authorities have struggled to crackdown on for decades.
“Our long [western] border is not safe, due to which terrorism happens on a daily basis and people’s lives are under threat,” Mir Ziaullah Langau said in an interview on Monday.
“So, the first thing you do is to [protect] the lives of people,” he said, adding that work on fencing was “underway speedily.”
Pakistan started fencing its western border two years ago, with the country’s Economic Coordination Committee allocating Rs3 billion ($18.6 million) in additional funding to fence the stretch along Iran in April last year.
Almost all border districts of Balochistan heavily rely on the illegal trade of Iranian fuel and other products, with many arguing that the complete fencing of the border would deprive a large population of its primary source of income if the government did not provide alternative means of livelihood.
Langau admitted it was the responsibility of the state to help people make a living, adding that a committee under his chairmanship was already looking into the issue.
“We are making a free economic zone and trying to promote legal businesses,” he said. “We have decided to employ people who may suffer due to border fencing in four government departments: police, levies, frontier constabulary and the provincial disaster management authority.”
Balochistan has for decades been the site of a a low-level insurgency by separatist groups seeking a greater share of the province’s gas and mineral revenue. While authorities say they have largely quelled the insurgency, sporadic incidents of violence continue to take place across the region.
Asked about the overall security situation in the province, the Balochistan home minister said it had improved though more work needed to be done.
“There was a time when we were witnessing daily suicide attacks,” Langau said. “However, the sacrifices of our security forces have brought down the number of such incidents to a significant extent, though terrorism has not entirely disappeared.”
Langau said his government believed in resolving issues through negotiations, adding that peace talks with disgruntled Baloch leaders could not happen in an “atmosphere of terrorism.”
“Our government wants to talk to everyone and resolve issues through negotiations, but terrorism should stop,” he said. “It is not possible to hold dialogue in an atmosphere of terrorism.”
The provincial home minister denied any official deliberations on the idea of turning Gwadar into the province’s southern capital.
“Balochistan is a very big province and constitutes about half of Pakistan’s landmass,” he said. “There is no harm if such a decision was taken for administrative purposes. However, this thing has not been discussed in the cabinet or any official forum.”
However, he said turning Gwadar into a capital would benefit the area’s people.
“If the chief minister and his cabinet are there in Gwadar,” Langua said, “they will be able to address the challenges faced by locals in their native environment instead of Quetta.”


Daughter of donkey cart vendor beats ruling party candidate in Pakistan local polls

Updated 01 July 2022

Daughter of donkey cart vendor beats ruling party candidate in Pakistan local polls

  • Parveen Sheikh faced opposition from her family when she announced contesting June 26 local elections
  • Sheikh Sheikh bagged 430 votes while runner-up Manthar Sheikh got 190 votes for Khairpur municipal seat

KARACHI: When Parveen Sheikh last month revealed plans to contest local elections from her impoverished neighborhood of Saleemabad in southern Pakistan, most people in her family and larger community opposed the idea, and many even ridiculed her. 

What chance, they said, did a poor woman have in elections in an area where female candidates were a rarity and few women went out to vote?

The mother of six, however, traveled alone on May 15 to the election office in her hometown of Khairpur and submitted nomination papers as an independent candidate for a municipal committee seat. 

On June 26, she surprised her community once again when she bagged a clean victory over her rival, a candidate of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the ruling party of Sindh. Sheikh got 430 votes while the runner-up, Manthar Sheikh, got 190.

Around 24,500 candidates contested the June 26 elections for 7,164 local body seats in 14 districts of Sindh. 

“I showed resilience, asked no one and just submitted my [nomination] forms,” Sheikh told Arab News in a phone interview. 

The newly elected councilor had the support of another woman, Shehnaz Sheikh, under whose mentorship Sheikh had been working on small community welfare projects for the last three years.

“Madam Shehnaz told me, ‘If you want to contest, then stand firm’. She raised my morale and encouraged me,” Sheikh said of her mentor, who financially supports poor laborers in arranging the weddings of their daughters, helps them start small businesses and installs water supply pipelines in poor communities.  

It was Shehnaz who helped Sheikh design her election campaign and gather community backing.

“When I would go to my people, visit their homes, they would say ‘you’re our child. We will vote for you, no more for the feudal lords’,” Sheikh said. 

Soon, her husband and brother also came out to support her “but only after they saw I was getting immense respect from the people,” Sheikh said. “Our laborers and women came to my help and did door-to-door campaigns with me as late as 2am in the night.” 

Sheikh, who is the wife of a constable at the federal income tax department and the daughter of a donkey-cart vendor who sells food and toys, said her hometown had no electricity, water or sewerage system.

Resolving the problems of her impoverished community, she added, was now her top priority.

“I could not study beyond primary [5th grade], because we could not afford it. None of my nine siblings studied either,” said Sheikh, who used to sell clothes on a cart to make ends meet. 

“My elder daughter, Saman Sheikh, and other children are studying because I know the importance of education. As a councilor, I will work for the education of women and provide people with drinking water.” 

In a message to “electables,” or longtime politicians from the area, she said they needed to recognize that people no longer wanted to be ruled by feudal lords and it was time for them to “change their mindsets” according to the demands of the public. 

“Don’t consider the poor inferior,” she said. “When you give respect to the poor, it doesn’t reduce yours but instead makes you more respectable in the eyes of the people.”

Sheikh said her victory had also proved one didn’t need support or funding from a major political party to win.

“When I won, I was crying and my father was also crying as it was unbelievable,” she said.

When asked if she had a message for other women, Sheikh said:

“The basic thing is your spirit, which must always remain high. And when the people are with you, no one can defeat you.”


Pakistan increases prices of petroleum products for third time in one month

Updated 30 June 2022

Pakistan increases prices of petroleum products for third time in one month

  • The government has justified the decision on the bases of exchange rate fluctuations, rising prices in international market
  • The prices of petrol and high-speed diesel in Pakistan have now surged to Rs248.74 and Rs276.54 per liter, respectively

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s finance division announced on Thursday it had increased the prices of petroleum products for the third time in a month, as the country faces double-digit inflation and the government strives to keep the economy afloat.

Pakistan’s new administration has swallowed the bitter pill of raising petroleum prices three times during the course of this month in a desperate hope to revive a stalled $6 billion loan program offered by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The IMF had suspended the loan facility in February after the previous administration of ousted prime minister Imran Khan went against its terms and conditions by announcing subsidies worth billions of rupees for the fuel and power sectors.

Pakistan is actively seeking external finances amid a mounting import bill since its foreign currency reserves have tumbled and its current account deficit has ballooned.

“In view of the fluctuations in petroleum prices in the international market and exchange rate variation, the Government has decided to apply petroleum levy partially and revise the existing prices of petroleum products,” the finance division said in a press release.

It further noted the price of petrol had been increased by Rs14.85 per liter, high-speed diesel by Rs13.23 per liter, kerosene by Rs18.83 per liter, and light diesel oil by Rs18.68 per liter.

The finance division said the new prices of petroleum products would be in place from July 1.

After the latest hike, the price of petrol in Pakistan has surged to Rs248.74 per liter, high-speed diesel to Rs276.54 per liter, kerosene to Rs230.26per liter and light diesel oil to Rs226.15 per liter.


FIFA lifts Pakistan suspension after more than a year

Updated 30 June 2022

FIFA lifts Pakistan suspension after more than a year

  • The suspension was imposed in April 2021 after a hostile takeover of Pakistan Football Federation
  • FIFA says Pakistan can still face suspension or other sanctions mentioned in its statute book

ISLAMABAD: International football governing body FIFA announced on Thursday it had lifted a suspension imposed on the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) in April 2021 due to third-party interference.

FIFA suspended the PFF last year after a dispute broke out among Pakistani football officials that was later resolved by the country’s top court whose decision was not recognized by the international body.

A group of local officials took over the PFF headquarters in Lahore by force in March 2021, sidelining the FIFA-recognized normalization committee (NC) while blaming it for not holding the federation’s elections in a long time.

FIFA barred Pakistan from participating in international competitions soon after the development, though it has now reversed its decision.

“The decision [to lift the suspension] was taken after FIFA received confirmation that the normalization committee of the PFF had regained full control of the PFF’s premises and was in a position to manage its finances,” its statement said.

FIFA informed it had warned the PFF that “undue interference in its affairs or action that could hinder the fulfilment of the mandate of the normalization committee” might lead to Pakistan being suspended again or result in further sanctions provided in the FIFA statute.

It added since the normalization committee could not realistically fulfill its original mandate until June 30, 2022, its tenure had been extended to June 30, 2023.

“This will enable [the committee] to finally carry out the tasks assigned to it in full,” the statement noted.


Government to form commission to investigate energy sector losses during ex-PM Khan’s rule

Updated 30 June 2022

Government to form commission to investigate energy sector losses during ex-PM Khan’s rule

  • Pakistan has been witnessing prolonged power outages amid a rising domestic demand for electricity
  • Hiked fuel prices in international market have made low-cost power generation difficult for the country

ISLAMABAD: The government has decided to form a commission to probe the handling of Pakistan’s fuel and power sectors by the previous administration of ousted prime minister Imran Khan, as it blames the current energy crisis in the country on some of the decisions taken in the last four years.

The announcement to establish the commission was made by Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, a senior member of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, during a joint press conference with federal minister for planning and development Ahsan Iqbal.

Pakistan has been witnessing frequent and prolonged power outages amid a rising domestic demand for electricity and as hiked fuel prices in the international market have made low-cost power generation difficult for the country.

Pakistan has slashed fuel subsidies for a third time in a month in a bid to control the fiscal deficit and secure International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout money.

Ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan had given the subsidy in his last days in power to cool down public sentiment in the face of double-digit inflation, a move the IMF said deviated from the terms of the 2019 deal.

“The prime minister [Shehbaz Sharif] has decided to form a commission that will objectively look into the losses incurred in the fuel and power sectors in the last four years and present a report to the people of Pakistan so they become aware of these developments and understand why electricity and gas have become more expensive in the country and who are the individuals responsible for it,” Abbasi said.

“It has also been decided that the commission’s proceedings will be open to the media and the public,” he added.

The PML-N leader said the previous government had “destroyed” the energy sector of the country.

He also said its policies had led to the depletion of Pakistan’s foreign currency reserves, added to its circular debt and increased economic woes.

The planning minister blamed Khan and his cabinet members for not making long term fuel procurement contracts on cheaper rates in time.

Pakistan's monthly fuel oil imports are set to hit a four-year high in June, latest Refinitiv data shows, as the country struggles to buy liquefied natural gas (LNG) for power generation amid a heatwave that is driving demand.

Pakistan had cut fuel oil imports since the second half of 2018 as LNG prices were low, but it had to at times switch back to oil since July 2021 because of sky-high LNG prices.

The country's fuel oil imports could climb to about 700,000 tonnes this month, after hitting 630,000 tonnes in May, according to Refinitiv estimates. Imports last peaked at 680,000 tonnes in May 2018 and 741,000 tonnes in June 2017.


Pakistan rupee gains by 0.13% after China inflows, hopes of IMF deal

Updated 30 June 2022

Pakistan rupee gains by 0.13% after China inflows, hopes of IMF deal

  • Statistics reveal Pakistan’s national currency depreciated by 30% against US dollar in the outgoing fiscal year
  • Analysts warn against political uncertainty and its adverse impact on Pakistan’s economy and currency

KARACHI: Pakistan’s rupee continued to gain against the US dollar on Thursday, appreciating by 0.13% as the market reacted to “positive vibes” from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and increase in forex reserves in the wake of the inflows from China, currency dealers and analysts said.

The rupee increased in value against the dollar by Rs0.27 before closing at Rs204.85 in the interbank market.

Pakistan’s national currency has taken a battering during the outgoing fiscal year 2021-22, losing its value by a whopping 30% and touching an all-time low of Rs211.93 against the US dollar on June 22, according to the central bank’s data.

Pakistan’s fast-depleting foreign exchange reserves, a huge import bill and delay in the revival of a $6 billion loan from the IMF have caused the rupee to rapidly depreciate over the past few weeks.

On Tuesday, Pakistan received a Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies (MEFP) from the IMF for the combined 7th and 8th reviews, the development being considered an important one for the resumption of the loan facility.

“Since positive vibes are coming from the IMF front, the rupee is constantly gaining value against the dollar,” Zafar Paracha, senior currency analyst, told Arab News.

“Today, it was trading at Rs203.50 and was expected to close at Rs203,” he continued. “However, the demand pushed the value of the rupee toward the lower side by the end of the day.”

Paracha said after the recent development on the IMF front, the business sentiment had changed and a downward trend in the value of dollar had been observed in the market.

“Besides, exporters are also selling their dollars in the market while importers are holding back due to currency fluctuations,” he noted, explaining that the demand for the dollar was slow and the supply was high, which was causing the rupee to appreciate.

Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves increased last week when China deposited RMB15 billion (roughly $2.3 billion) into Pakistan’s central bank, a few days after some Chinese banks signed a loan agreement with Pakistan.

Inflows from China and progress in Islamabad’s talks with the IMF had caused the rupee to gain strength, currency dealers said.

“The government has played a key role in its talks with the IMF and it is expected that the authorities will sign an agreement with the fund in July 2022,” Malik Bostan, president of the Forex Association of Pakistan, told Arab News, adding that inflows of $2.3 billion from China had also contributed to the appreciation of the Pakistani rupee.

Bostan said reports of former finance minister Ishaq Dar’s arrival in Pakistan next month had also changed the market sentiment and induced exporters to sell their dollars.

“Dar is known for keeping the dollar in check, so exporters have started selling their dollar holdings,” he added. “Due to this, dollar sales have increased by around 30%.”

Dealers and analysts said the country was expected to receive financial support from friendly countries such as Saudi Arabia and other donors after the completion of the IMF review.

However, they warned against political uncertainty in the country and its adverse impact on Pakistan’s economy and currency.