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)
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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.

Outcry after suspect in Noor Mukadam murder taken to Islamabad hospital after headache complaint

Updated 04 August 2021

Outcry after suspect in Noor Mukadam murder taken to Islamabad hospital after headache complaint

  • Doctors at PIMS say Zahir Jaffer was brought in on Wednesday afternoon for brief checkup, blood pressure and temperature were normal
  • Social media erupts in outcry over “special treatment” given to Jaffer because he came from a wealthy family and was a US national

ISLAMABAD: Zahir Zakir Jaffer, the key suspect in the grisly July 20 murder of Noor Mukadam, was taken to the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) in Islamabad on Wednesday afternoon after he complained he had a headache, doctors at the hospital said, as social media erupted in outcry over special privileges for the wealthy US national.

Mukadam, the daughter of a former Pakistani diplomat, was found beheaded at a residence in Islamabad's upscale F-7/4 sector on July 20 in a case that has sparked public outrage and grabbed media attention unlike any other recent case.

Waseem Khawaja, a doctor at PIMS, confirmed to Arab News that Jaffer was brought to the hospital on Wednesday but discharged after a brief checkup.

"Zahir Jaffer was brought to the PIMS emergency room today afternoon for a checkup," Khawaja said. "He was checked for a headache and his blood pressure and temperature were also noted, which were found to be normal.”

The doctor added: “Nothing to be worried about, he was found to be in good health.”

Another doctor at the hospital, Deputy Executive Director Dr Zulfiqar Ghauri, also confirmed the news.

Pakistan’s local media first reported on the incident quoting unnamed sources, unleashing widespread condemnation from social media users who said Jaffer was being given special treatment because he belonged to the privileged elite society of Pakistan and was a US national.

“Unless every single prisoner in the Pakistani penal system goes to PIMS when they have a headache, this is a sick abuse of power,” author Fatima Bhutto wrote on Twitter. “Zahir Jaffer getting all the privileges of his wealth and influence in jail after his heinous crime is outrageous.”



“Is this facility available to the rest of the accused and prisoners as well or is it available only to rich accused?” digital and women’s rights activist Nighat Dad asked.



“Jail authorities will conveniently allow disadvantaged, under trial prisoners die in Jail when suffering from an ailment. You need to have deep pockets to get VIP treatment in jail. Let that sink in,” wrote Khadija Siddiqui, a young Pakistani law student who was stabbed 23 times in broad daylight by a former friend, who was later convicted for the crime.



Jaffer was arrested on the day he murdered Mukadam last month, on the eve of Eid Al-Aha, and remained in police custody on physical remand until this Monday, when he was sent on 14-day judicial remand to Adiala Jail in Islamabad's twin city of Rawalpindi. He will next be presented before a judicial magistrate on August 16.

Jeffer's parents — Zakir Jaffer and Asmat Adamjee — and two members of their household staff were arrested by Islamabad police on July 24 for "hiding evidence and being complicit in the crime."

The parents, sent to jail on judicial remand till August 9, have moved a bail petition against their detention. A district and sessions court in Islamabad on Wednesday reserved until tomorrow, Thursday, its decision on the bail plea.

"Today was the hearing for the bail of Zahir’s parents. Each parent was represented by a separate lawyer. Arguments were heard at length. The decision will be announced tomorrow morning," Mukadam's legal team said on an official Twitter account used to share case updates.



During Wednesday's hearing today, the parents' counsel, Raja Rizwan Abbasi, said Jaffer's parents had "publicly condemned the murder."

"We stand with the affected party, we don't stand with our son," local media quoted the counsel as telling the court.

He said the parents had not known what was happening in their house when Mukadam was there.

Within two weeks since Monday, police are bound by law to file a charge sheet (challan) in the court asking for Jaffer's trial to commence.

The gruesome murder has sent shockwaves across the country, stirring outrage over femicides and demands for justice. Many activists and social media users have repeatedly raised concerns that Jaffer might get a lenient sentence because of his wealthy background and US nationality.

In a July 27 Twitter post, the US Embassy in Islamabad clarified that US citizens in a foreign country were subject to local laws and while the embassy could check on their well-being and provide a list of lawyers if they were arrested abroad, it couldn’t provide legal advice, participate in court proceedings or effect their release.

On Sunday night, during a live Q&A session with the nation, Prime Minister Imran Khan assured the public: “If someone thinks he is a dual national and has US citizenship and will escape, let me tell you all that no one will be spared.”

Good news for Pakistan: Foreigners vaccinated with Chinese jabs can enter Saudi Arabia

Updated 04 August 2021

Good news for Pakistan: Foreigners vaccinated with Chinese jabs can enter Saudi Arabia

  • International travelers will still require a booster shot of one of four approved Western vaccines
  • Saudi authorities say there is no quarantine requirement for vaccinated people arriving in the country

ISLAMABAD: Foreign visitors who have taken two doses of China's Sinopharm or Sinovac vaccines will be allowed into Saudi Arabia, it announced on its e-visa portal, though these international travelers will still require a booster shot of one of four Western coronavirus vaccines approved by the kingdom.
This is good news for Pakistan where a majority of people have been vaccinated using Chinese jabs, and from where thousands travel to the kingdom each year for work and for the Umrah and Hajj pilgrimages. 
Saudi Arabia decided to reopen its tourism sector to international travelers from August 1 after specifying its vaccine preferences.
"All visitors arriving in the country with a valid tourism visa must provide evidence of a full course of one the four vaccines currently recognized: two doses of the Oxford/Astra Zeneca, Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines or a single dose of the vaccine produced by Johnson and Johnson," the e-visa portal said, adding:
"Guests who have completed two doses of the Sinopharm or Sinovac vaccines will be accepted if they have received an additional dose of one of the four vaccines approved in the Kingdom." 
Foreign nationals who seek to travel to Saudi Arabia are still required to provide a negative PCR test taken no more than 72 hours before their departure to the kingdom along with a proper vaccination certificate.
"There is no quarantine requirement for vaccinated travelers to Saudi," the notification on the official website said.
The e-visa portal also announced travelers entering on a previously issued tourism visa "will be required to pay an additional fee of SAR 40 at the airport ... to cover insurance for any COVID-19 related medical expenses."

OIC commission to assess Indian rights violations in Kashmir this week

Updated 04 August 2021

OIC commission to assess Indian rights violations in Kashmir this week

  • As India didn’t allow its fact-finding visit, OIC decided to assess the situation on the Indian side of the border from Pakistan-administered Kashmir 
  • Rights commission’s visit coincides with the second anniversary of New Delhi’s decision abrogate Kashmir’s special autonomous status

ISLAMABAD: A delegation from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has arrived in Islamabad to monitor and assess the humanitarian and human rights situation in Indian-administered Kashmir, the Pakistani foreign office said on Wednesday.

The OIC's the Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (IPHRC) has been urging India since September 2019 to allow its fact-finding mission to Kashmir, but New Delhi has not responded until now. The commission decided to make a visit to Pakistan-administered Kashmir and assess the situation from there.

Twelve members of the IPHRC started their six-day visit on Wednesday.
“A 12-member delegation of the Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (IPHRC) of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) will be visiting Islamabad and Azad Jammu & Kashmir from 4-9 August 2021, as part of its mandate to monitor the deteriorating humanitarian and human rights situation in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK),” the foreign office said in a statement.
“During the visit, the IPHRC delegation will travel to Muzaffarabad and the Line of Control, and interact with Kashmiri leadership, refugees from IIOJK and victims of Indian atrocities.”
The Line of Control is the de facto border that divides Kashmiri territory between India and Pakistan, which both claim it in full and rule it in part. The nuclear-armed neighbors have fought two of their three wars over control of the region.
The rights commission’s visit coincides with the second anniversary of New Delhi’s decision to scrap Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution that granted special autonomous status to the region, and divided the state into two federally administered units.
The move on Aug. 5, 2019 was followed by a crackdown on political activity, arrests of hundreds of political leaders and a series of administrative measures that raised concerns over attempts at engineering a demographic change in India’s only Muslim-majority region.
During the 47th session of the OIC’s Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) in Niamey, Niger, in November last year, the group adopted a new resolution categorically rejecting “unilateral” and “illegal” actions taken by India in Kashmir since Aug. 5, 2019 and its “continued violation of human rights of the Kashmiri people.”
“The visit would be significant in drawing international attention toward the urgent need to address the egregious human rights situation in IIOJK and for a peaceful resolution in accordance with the UNSC resolutions and the wishes of the Kashmiri people,” the foreign office said.
With 57 member states and a collective population of approximately 1.68 billion people, the OIC is the world’s second largest intergovernmental body after the UN.

Ruling party nominee becomes new PM of Pakistan's Azad Kashmir region

Updated 04 August 2021

Ruling party nominee becomes new PM of Pakistan's Azad Kashmir region

  • PTI leader Abdul Qayyum Niazi secured 33 votes in the 53-member legislative assembly
  • Niazi described as a ‘vibrant and genuine political worker’ by Pakistan’s information minister

ISLAMABAD: Abdul Qayyum Niazi, a politician belonging to the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of Prime Minister Imran Khan, was on Wednesday elected as the premier of Pakistan's Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) region.
AJK is administered by Pakistan as a nominally self-governing entity and constitutes the western portion of the larger Kashmir region, which has been the subject of a dispute between India and Pakistan since 1947.
Over 3.2 million voters were registered to elect a 53-member assembly in the region for a five-year term. Out of 53 seats, 45 are general, while eight are reserved for women, technocrats and religious scholars.
Niazi secured 33 votes in the legislative assembly polls, Pakistan’s state-run media reported. His rival and a joint opposition candidate Chaudhry Latif Akbar only got 15 votes.
“He [Abdul Qayyum Niazi] is a vibrant and genuine political worker whose heart beats with the [party] workers,” Pakistan's information minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said in a Twitter post.

The PTI won the recent elections in the region which were held on July 25.
Kashmir is an internationally recognized disputed region between India and Pakistan. The two South Asian nuclear neighbors claim its territory in full but only control it in part.
Over the years, Kashmir has witnessed border skirmishes between the two countries along the Line of Control and violence has severely limited tourism in the area.

Pakistan military says it has fenced 90 percent of border with Afghanistan

Updated 04 August 2021

Pakistan military says it has fenced 90 percent of border with Afghanistan

  • The announcement comes at a time when the Taliban have stepped up military offensive in neighboring Afghanistan
  • Pakistani security officials say fencing has reduced over 80 percent illegal cross-border movement between the two countries

TORKHAM: The Pakistan military said on Tuesday it had fenced 90 percent of its border with Afghanistan to prevent cross-border movement that have caused security problems in the past, saying it was resolved to complete the project before winter sets in.
The military’s media wing, ISPR, took a group of journalists to the region at a time when the Taliban have stepped up their military offensive in Afghanistan ahead of a complete withdrawal of US forces from the war-battered country.
The Afghan administration in Kabul has frequently accused Pakistan of supporting the insurgent group, though Pakistani officials deny the allegation and say they will stand with an inclusive political government in the neighboring state in the aftermath of the US withdrawal.
“We have completed 90 percent of the fence on this difficult terrain,” Col. Rizwan Nazir, a Pakistani military official, said while briefing journalists at the Big Bang military post along the key Torkham border crossing.
“The remaining 10 percent of the fence at the western border, which was left due to heavy snowfall, will be completed this summer.” 

Col. Rizwan Nazir, a Pakistani military officer, briefs a group of journalists about border management at Torkham in Pakistan’s Khyber district on August 3, 2021. (AN Photo)

Pakistan started fencing 2,611 kilometers of its border with Afghanistan in 2017 when militants launched several attacks on its country’s military posts.
Nazir said the fence was erected in a diverse terrain that included lowlands, high peaks and glaciers.
“The border has also been covered by live feed of surveillance cameras,” he said, adding that the mechanism had already brought down about 80 percent of illegal cross-border movement.
“There was a total of 78 notified formal and informal crossings along the porous [Pak-Afghan] border before fencing began,” the officer. “It was a persistent threat and allowed unrestricted and unchecked movement. Now we have only five formal crossing points between the two countries due to the fence.”
The barrier which now meanders between the two countries consists of two sets of chain-linked fences separated by about two meters of distance which has been filled with concertina wire. The double fence is about 4 meters tall, and the military has installed surveillance cameras to check any movement along the border.

Pakistani troops patrol a fence along the Pak-Afghan border near Torkham in Khyber district on August 3, 2021. (AN Photo)

Afghanistan has never recognized the porous border that cuts through the Pashtun heartland, diluting the political influence and power of its country’s largest ethnic group that lives on its both sides.
“In 2007, a total of 72 percent area bordering Afghanistan was controlled by miscreants,” Nazir said. “After that, the country’s security forces launched 17 major operations to clear the area and re-establish the state’s writ.”
He said the government was in the process of installing an integrated transit trade management system at the border which would be firmly in place in 2023.
“There are five crossing points along the border, but Torkham is the busiest and most historic,” Nazir added. “About 65 percent of trade between two countries take place from this border crossing.”

 Journalists attend a media briefing during their visit to a hilltop Big Bang military post near the Torkham border crossing in Khyber district on August 3, 2021 (AN Photo)

Asked about the recent closure of the border due to the pandemic, he said it did not have much of an impact on the movement of cargo vehicles between the two countries.
“The transit trade is proceeding but with standard COVID-19 precautions,” he continued, adding that only the entry of visitors had been closed due to the rising number of coronavirus cases in Afghanistan.

Pakistani and Afghan troops seen on their respective sides of the Torkham border between Pakistan and Afghanistan on August 3, 2021. (AN Photo)