Local transporters' strike over tax hike raises fear of Pakistan-wide fuel shortages

Employees wearing facemasks wait for customers at a gas station in Rawalpindi on May 31, 2020. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 25 June 2021

Local transporters' strike over tax hike raises fear of Pakistan-wide fuel shortages

  • Oil transporters are also protesting a proposed change in the loading system, saying it will help companies monopolize the business
  • The government has invited transporters of petroleum products for talks in Islamabad on Friday

KARACHI: Local transporters of petroleum products on Thursday announced an indefinite strike after a tax increase in the country’s budget, disrupting 80 percent of supplies from Pakistan’s port city of Karachi and generating fears of a nationwide shortage of petrol and diesel in the coming days.
“The government has increased the withholding tax from 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent which is not viable for our business,” Israr Ahmed Shinwari of the All Pakistan Oil Tankers Owners Association told Arab News.
“They are also changing the 40-year-old loading system that operated on the first-come-first-served basis,” he continued. “This will not only allow companies to monopolize the business but also deprive about 400 people of their jobs.”
Shinwari confirmed that oil supplies from Karachi had been suspended and more than 10,000 tankers were taken off the city's roads.
“The supplies in other parts of country are continuing as per routine,” he informed. “If our demands are not met, however, we will go on a nationwide strike and take more than 42,000 vehicles off the country’s roads.”
Abidullah Afridi, president of the All Pakistan Oil Tankers Contractors Association which originally gave the strike call, told Arab News that around 1,500 tankers were loaded in Karachi on a daily basis for the city and upcountry, adding that all of them had been parked by their owners to protest the government’s measures.
“We will not back off until our demands are met,” he maintained.
Shinwari confirmed the government had invited local transporters for talks in Islamabad on Friday.
If the strike continues in the coming days, it will create an acute fuel shortage in the country.
Petroleum dealers said on Thursday they had only received about 20 percent of supplies, though they added that their available stocks had so far prevented a crisis.
“We have received around 20 percent supplies through tankers which were loaded a day before and overnight,” Abdul Sami Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Petroleum Dealers Association, told Arab News.
“We have managed the situation by using our available stocks,” he continued. “We hope that a way out will soon be found or else we will have to shut down our petrol pumps.”
Meanwhile, officials of the Pakistan State Oil, a state-owned entity responsible for marketing and distribution of petroleum products, denied any supply disruption due to the strike.
They said that alternative measures would be taken to ensure smooth supplies in the coming days.
So far, the oil supplies have not been fully disrupted since a faction of transporters belonging to the Oil Tankers Owners Association has distanced itself from the protest.
“In the current economic situation, the strike is not in the interest of the country and economy, so we have decided to stay away from it,” Haji Hanif Kakar, the association’s general secretary, said.


After surviving floods, pregnant women in southern Pakistan labor for survival

Updated 03 October 2022

After surviving floods, pregnant women in southern Pakistan labor for survival

  • Around 97,49 pregnant and 2,008 lactating mothers are living at camps in Sindh
  • Nationwide 138,000 women in need of humanitarian assistance due to floods are pregnant

DADU: Writhing in pain, a feeble 20-year-old Farzana Bibi could not even muster the strength to swat away the flies that buzzed around her face as she lay inside a small tent along a highway in southern Pakistan, where hundreds like her have sought refuge after devastating floods swept away their homes last month.

It is hard to say if the worst has passed or is yet to come for Bibi.

As floods ravaged her village last month, the pregnant woman’s family was unable to get her to a doctor in time and she lost her baby. Now, she is one among nearly 15 million people affected by recent floods in the southern Sindh province, either living in tent-cities and makeshift shelters on roadsides or staying back in flooded villages, surrounded from all sides with water and struggling to live another day.

Among the survivors, the most vulnerable, doctors and officials say, are pregnant women, lactating mothers and newborns.

“It was raining there [at our village] … we could not reach here [the city] in time due to the rains… her son died in her womb” Bibi’s brother, Aijaz Ali, said as she lay next to him on a plastic mat on the dusty ground. “She is ill and complains that there is pain in her leg and body still.”

Aijaz Ali speaks to Arab News as his sister Farzana Bibi lies on a plastic mat inside a tent in Dadu, Sindh, on September 28, 2022. (AN Photo)

According to the Sindh health department, 9,749 pregnant women are living in camps across the province where 3,803 have given birth and 2,008 are lactating mothers.

According to the latest assessment by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), around 138,000 women nationwide in need of humanitarian assistance due to the floods are pregnant and 40,000 are expected to deliver their babies in September or early October.

Medics are particularly concerned about women who cannot access medical care in time, who have complications requiring delivery via cesarean sections or those who develop postpartum haemorrhaging, both of which can be deadly or result in disability without access to specialized health care. Even before the flooding, nationally 186 women died per 100,000 live births, according to official figures.

That rises to 224 per 100,000 births in Sindh province, and 298 maternal deaths per 100,000 births in Balochistan, another province hard hit by floods.

A mother swats flies away from her newborn baby at a temporary shelter in Mehar, Sindh on September 28, 2022. (AN Photo)

At the Kakkar tent-city camp in Sindh, more than 60 women are expecting while two have recently given birth. Doctors fear for their health.

“This is a vulnerable situation because they are not getting proper treatment,” Flight Lt. (R) Musarrat Shah, a social activist who runs the tent-city, told Arab News. “For two months, to live in this tent city is not very easy for newborn babies or for pregnant ladies.”

Dr. Muhammad Ali Chandio, a doctor at the Dadu tent-city, said he feared the spread of diseases among women and newborns without proper treatment.

“If the mothers have deficiencies due to [lack of] folic acid, abnormal children are born. If there emerges a case of birth asphyxia, it can be dangerous for the kid and the mother,” Dr. Chandio told Arab News. 

A newborn baby at a temporary shelter cries in Mehar, Sindh on September 28, 2022. (AN Photo)

Health authorities, however, said the government was making arrangements for women.

“Nutritional supplements for pregnant women and children are being provided to ensure that there is some resistance to malnutrition,” Mehar Khursheed, a spokesperson at the Sindh health department said, adding that UNFPA had collaborated with the Health Department, Aga Khan University Hospital, Pathfinder and Pakistan National Forum for Women Health to provide relief to pregnant women. 

She said a record was being maintained for pregnant women, their gestation periods, delivery dates and medical histories. Ambulances were also on standby to shift pregnant women to tertiary hospitals and arrangement were in for makeshift operation theaters and women doctors.

But three government-run and private shelters in the cities of Dadu and Mehar had no female doctors when Arab News visited them last week. Women there complained they hardly had access to proper food. 

“We are starving,” said Nazia, 27, who recently gave birth to a baby girl at the Mahar tent-city. “We get a plate of rice for the entire family.”


Pakistan court accepts ex-PM Khan’s apology on contempt charges, quashes case

Updated 46 min 53 sec ago

Pakistan court accepts ex-PM Khan’s apology on contempt charges, quashes case

  • Contempt charges involve Khan allegedly threatening female judge after a close aide was denied bail in sedition case
  • Islamabad High court was expected to indict Khan, which could have led to his disqualification from politics if convicted

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court on Monday accepted former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s written apology in a contempt charge stemming from remarks against a female judge that were seen as threatening, quashing the case.

The charges are related to a speech by Khan in which he allegedly threatened police and a female judge in August after one of his close aides was denied bail in a sedition case. The Islamabad High Court initiated contempt charges against Khan but stopped short of inducting him after he apologized in a hearing last month. Instead, the court instructed Khan to submit an affidavit for consideration of the court before the next date of hearing, October 3.

“We have seen the affidavit [submitted by Khan], and we are satisfied with the written apology,” IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah said in court. “Imran Khan has demonstrated honesty and we are satisfied with his conduct.”

The chief justice then discharged the contempt notice in a unanimous decision of a five-member bench.

Attorney-General of Pakistan, Ashtar Ausaf, opposed the dismissal, citing previous judgments of the Supreme Court in which lawmakers were disqualified from holding public office for contempt of court.

Talking to reporters after the hearing, Khan said: “Justice Athar Minallah has handed down great decisions.”

Conviction in the contempt case could have led to Khan’s disqualification from politics for at least five years under Pakistani law.

The cricket-star turned politician has faced a barrage of legal woes since his ouster in a vote of no-confidence in April by a united opposition led by his successor, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

Another of the critical cases against him is related to foreign funding for his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, which an inquiry by an election tribunal has found unlawful.


5.7 million Pakistani flood victims to face food crisis — UN

Updated 03 October 2022

5.7 million Pakistani flood victims to face food crisis — UN

  • Even before floods, WHO says, 16 percent of Pakistanis were living in moderate or severe food insecurity
  • Islamabad insists that there is no immediate worry about food supplies as wheat stocks are enough

ISLAMABAD: The United Nations humanitarian agency is warning that about 5.7 million Pakistani flood survivors will face a serious food crisis in the next three months, as the death toll from the deluge rose on Monday. 

Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority reported that floods fueled by abnormally heavy monsoon rains have killed 1,695 people, affected 33 million, damaged more than 2 million homes and displaced hundreds of thousands now living in tents or makeshift homes. 

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in its latest report Saturday said the current floods are expected to exacerbate food insecurity in Pakistan and said 5.7 million people in flood-affected areas will be facing a food crisis between September and November. 

Even before the floods, according to the World Health Organization, 16 percent of the population was living in moderate or severe food insecurity. 

However, Pakistan’s government insists that there is no immediate worry about food supplies, as wheat stocks are enough to last through the next harvest and that the government is importing more. 

The UN agency said in a tweet on Monday that the agency and other partners have scaled up their flood response and delivered aid to 1.6 million people directly affected by the deluges. 

OCHA said outbreaks of waterborne and other diseases are on the rise in Sindh and southwestern Baluchistan provinces, where floods have caused the most damage since mid-June. 

Several countries and UN agencies have sent more than 131 flights carrying aid for survivors, but many are complaining they have either received too little help or are still waiting for it. 

The UN humanitarian agency also said in its Saturday report that rainfall in Baluchistan and Sindh lightened substantially over the past week, as temperatures start to decrease ahead of winter. 

“Normal conditions are prevailing in most districts of Baluchistan, while in Sindh, the Indus River is flowing normally,” said OCHA. Overall, it added, in 18 out of 22 districts of Sindh, floodwater levels had receded at least 34 percent, and in some districts up to 78 percent. 

A woman displaced because of the floods reacts to her daughter as she prepares flat breads outside her tent while taking refuge in a camp, in Sehwan, Pakistan, on September 30, 2022. (REUTERS)

The OCHA report also highlighted the ordeal of flood survivors, saying many continue to live in “unsanitary conditions in temporary shelters, often with limited access to basic services, compounding the risk of a major public health crisis.” 

It said pregnant women are being treated in temporary camps when possible, and nearly 130,000 pregnant women need urgent health services. 

“Already before the floods, Pakistan had one of the highest maternal mortality rates in Asia, with the situation likely to deteriorate,” it said. 

The UN is due to issue a revised appeal seeking an additional $800 million from the international community to respond to the soaring life-saving needs of Pakistani flood survivors. The UN said last week that “food is being delivered to vulnerable families; however, it is still not enough to meet the nutrition needs of the people.” 

Pakistan says floods caused about $30 billion of damage to its economy. 

Floods washed away thousands of kilometers of roads, destroyed 440 bridges, and disrupted railroad traffic. 

Pakistan Railways said it has started restoring train service from Sindh to other cities after repairing some of the tracks damaged by floods. 


At historic Karachi temple, Hindus eat, pray, dance during nine-day Navaratri festival

Updated 03 October 2022

At historic Karachi temple, Hindus eat, pray, dance during nine-day Navaratri festival

  • In Pakistan, the Navaratri festival began on September 26 and will last till October 4, followed by Dussehra on the 10th day
  • The devotees honour nine manifestations of their goddess, Durga, for her strength, power and ability to protect the weak

KARACHI: Men, women and children greet each other at an open space around the Shri Swaminarayan temple in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi. The attendees have gathered at the brightly lit, 234-year-old temple to celebrate the annual Hindu festival of Navaratri.  

In Pakistan, the nine-day festival began on September 26 and will continue till October 4. During this period, the devotees honor nine manifestations of their goddess, Durga, who is revered in the Hindu mythology for her strength, power and ability to protect the weak.  

The Swaminarayan temple situated in the Serai Quarters area is not only frequented by Hindus living in the neighbourhood, but members of the community from elsewhere in the bustling megapolis too.   

A worship spot is set up at the center of the open space with seating for men and women on each side, segregated with a tent. The visitors worship the goddess, donate food and other things before joining the festivities.   

It starts with children, women and men playing Dandiya Raas (a traditional dance holding short sticks in hands that traces its root to India's Gujarat) around the worship spot. This is followed by a Ram Leela act, performed by men, even the roles of women characters.   

“We celebrate Goddess Durga in Navaratri,” Gunwanti Ramesh Verma, a housewife in her early 40s, told Arab News on the 5th night of the festival on Friday.  

“For nine days, we perform Dandiya Raas and worship [Durga], wear nice clothes, make delicious desserts and celebrate the occasion together.”   

 

A large number of women and children from the Hindu community gather to celebrate Navaratri at the Shri Swaminarayan temple in Karachi, Pakistan on September 30, 2022. (AN Photo)

After running through nine nights, Navaratri concludes with Dussehra on the 10th day.   

“When Lord Rama had a war with Ravana, Bhagwan (Lord Rama) needed a lot of force. Praise for Goddess Durga was held for two days, after which the goddess herself emerged,” Sunita Mukesh, a 31-year-old beautician, told Arab News.   

"The goddess then handed over the manual to Lord Shri Rama Chandra. Hence, we worship Goddess Durga for nine days and celebrate Navaratri with full zeal."  

Ravana is burnt on Dussehra, the 10th day of Navaratari, which signifies the triumph of good over evil.   

Women and girls form a circle to perform Dandiya Raas in an open space close to the Shri Swaminarayan temple in Karachi, Pakistan on September 30, 2022. (AN Photo) 

“On the 10th day, Ravana will be burnt here [Shree Swaminarayan Hindu Temple],” Jawaharlal Advani, a member of the managing committee at Shri Swaminarayan temple, told Arab News.   

"Ravana isn't burnt anywhere else in Karachi."  

As Navarati marks the celebration of the strength of Goddess Durga, it is often aligned with women’s empowerment. Hindu devotees worship their goddesses for nine days staring from Shailputri on day one, followed by Brahmcharini, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skandamata, Katyayani, Kaalratri, Mahagauri, and Siddhidhatri on day nine.   

“The way men and women walk side by side in today’s time, we worship these goddesses during the nine days and give importance to them,” said Roshni, a 24-year-old corporate employee who only gave her first name.   

For some, Navaratri is a time of religious reflection and fasting, while for others it is a time to dance, feast and celebrate. Among the fasting customs are observing a strict vegetarian diet and abstaining from alcohol and certain spices. 

The Shri Swaminarayan temple is lit up for Navaratari festivities, with men and women seated on either side of a tent in Karachi, Pakistan on September 30, 2022. (AN Photo)

“Throughout the nine nights, Navaratri is celebrated at all Hindu temples in Karachi, Pakistan and the entire world,” said Jyoti Maheshwari, a journalist by profession.   

"We observe fast for nine days, alongside worship, while men, women and children gather at the temple and perform Dandiya, Garba, etc." 


Pakistan PM says ‘deeply obliged’ to China for increase in volume of flood aid

Updated 03 October 2022

Pakistan PM says ‘deeply obliged’ to China for increase in volume of flood aid

  • Pakistan is reeling from the aftermath of deadly floods that have cost an estimated $30 billion 
  • Deluges have affected 33 million people, forced Islamabad to seek debt relief from the world 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Sunday said he was “deeply obliged” to the Chinese government for helping flood-affected people in the South Asian country, increasing the aid volume to RMB644 million ($90 million). 

Pakistan is reeling from the aftermath of catastrophic floods that have killed nearly 1,700 people since the onset of monsoon season in mid-June. 

The deluges have affected more than 33 million people, washed away crops on millions of acres and cost an $30 billion in economic losses, with hundreds of thousands forced to stay in shelters and out in the open. 

On Sunday, PM Sharif thanked the Chinese government, Communist Party of China (CPC), Red Cross Society of China and the People’s Liberation Army for the relief assistance. 

“Our Chinese friends continue helping the flood victims in Pakistan,” the Pakistan premier said in a Twitter post. “Total volume of aid has increased from 400 million RMB to 644 million RMB.” 

China is a key economic and political partner of Pakistan, pushing ahead with a $54 billion economic corridor that will build infrastructure and give Beijing an outlet to the Indian Ocean, although Chinese interests have also faced attacks from separatists. 

Last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also called on Pakistan to seek debt relief from China. The South Asian country owes about 30 percent of its external debt to Beijing. 

Pakistan’s economy is facing a balance of payments crisis, a widening current account deficit, a slide in its currency to historic lows, and inflation crossing 27 percent. 

PM Sharif last month appealed to the world and rich nations for immediate debt relief, saying what had been done was commendable, but “it’s far from meeting our needs.” 

Sharif, who was in New York to attend the UN General Assembly, said Pakistan had taken up the debt relief issue with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and world leaders.