Road to ruin: Double tax and bandits on the Pakistan-Afghan trade route 

In this picture taken on July 27, 2021, goods trucks prepare to make their way towards the Afghan border crossing point in Chaman, Pakistan. (AFP)
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Updated 29 July 2021

Road to ruin: Double tax and bandits on the Pakistan-Afghan trade route 

  • The Taliban’s capture of a key Afghan-Pakistan border post has sent trucking costs soaring
  • Taliban are charging drivers about $1,000 as duty in Spin Boldak with Kandahar officials demanding more 

Chaman, Pakistan: The Taliban’s capture of a key Afghan-Pakistan border post has sent trucking costs soaring, with insurgents and government officials separately taxing traders, and bandits demanding bribes to allow safe passage of goods.
Thousands of vehicles cross daily from Chaman in southwestern Pakistan to Spin Boldak on the other side, carrying goods destined for Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-biggest city.
On the way back they usually ferry agricultural produce bound for Pakistan’s markets or ports.
The bilateral trade — worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year if not more — ground to a halt earlier this month after the Taliban seized the dusty border town, but resumed this week with the insurgents seemingly firmly in charge.
They have captured a vast swath of the country since early May after launching a series of offensives to capitalize on the final stages of the withdrawal of foreign troops.
While they have not yet taken any provincial capitals, they have captured a string of key border posts — with Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Pakistan — which provide vital revenue from customs duties on goods arriving in the landlocked country.
“We loaded grapes in Kandahar and on the way we have been extorted at least three times,” trucker Hidayatullah Khan told AFP at Chaman.
“Sometimes they charge 3,000 rupees ($20), somewhere else 2,000 rupees, and in some other place 1,000 rupees,” he said.
That was on top of the taxes he had to pay Taliban officials in Spin Boldak and Afghan government customs officials who have opened shop in Kandahar.
Truckers interviewed in Chaman this week told of chaos and confusion on the Afghan side of the border.
Imran Kakar, vice president of the Pak-Afghan Joint Chamber of Commerce, gave one example of a truck carrying fabric from Karachi destined for Kandahar.
The Taliban charged the driver 150,000 rupees (about $1,000) as duty in Spin Boldak, but when the vehicle reached Kandahar government officials were also waiting.
“We had to pay even higher customs duties as they don’t acknowledge the payments made to Taliban,” said Kakar.
The scenes were reminiscent of Afghanistan during its brutal civil war in the 1990s, when a patchwork of militias held stretches of key trade routes and extorted truckers and residents using the roads at will.
Hundreds of trucks were lined up Wednesday on the Pakistan side of the border, waiting for permission to cross.
On a dusty plain this week, with rugged hillocks as a backdrop, drivers and “spanner boy” apprentices tinkered with their vehicles ahead of the journey.
While the distance is just 100 kilometers (60 miles), the journey is fraught with danger.
Vehicles and roads are poorly maintained in Afghanistan, police and army checkpoints routinely demand “tea money” or more from every driver, and bandits also lie in wait — either to steal goods or demand further payment for safe passage.
There is also the risk they could be caught in crossfire during fighting between the Taliban and government forces.
Still, traders and drivers say they have little option but to keep on trucking.
“War has been going on, we know that, but we don’t have any other choice,” said Abdul Razzaq, a driver carrying hatchling chicks to Kandahar.
“Transportation of goods is the only means for us to feed our families,” he told AFP.


First in 22 years PIA flight to Damascus with water salute

Updated 6 sec ago

First in 22 years PIA flight to Damascus with water salute

  • Flight from Karachi touched down at Damascus airport on Friday, with 300 people on board
  • Syrian government welcomes the flight as 'important step' to develop economic relations

ISLAMABAD: The first Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight to reach Syria in 22 years has received a water salute at Damascus airport, the airline's chief executive confirmed in a video post on Saturday.

The flight from Karachi, carrying some 300 passengers, touched down at Damascus International Airport on Friday.

"After 22 years, #PIA landed in #Damascus with #pilgrims with an aim to promote religious tourism & restore relations with Syria," PIA chief Air Marshal Arshad Malik said in a tweet.

Syrian state-controlled news agency SANA reported the flight was welcomed by Syria's Transport Minister Zouheir Khzeim who said it was "an important step to develop the economic relations between the two countries."


NZ tour cancellation 'unfortunate' but Pakistan will pull through — PCB chief

Updated 50 min 12 sec ago

NZ tour cancellation 'unfortunate' but Pakistan will pull through — PCB chief

  • New Zealand said it was abandoning Pakistan series following ‘security alert’
  • PCB chairman urges cricket fans to support Pakistan in the upcoming World Cup

ISLAMABAD: New Zealand's sudden pullout from its first Pakistan series in 18 years was an "unfortunate scenario" but the hosts will come out of it, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman said on Saturday.

New Zealand on Friday said it was abandoning the tour over security fears. The announcement came just as the visitors were to face Pakistan at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium in the first of three one-day internationals (ODIs). The Black Caps were in Pakistan for the first time since 2003.

"It's an unfortunate scenario," PCB chairman Ramiz Raja said in a video message.

 

 

"We'll come out of it," he said. "We have experienced similar situations before, but we've always moved forward."

Pakistan has been trying to revive tours by foreign squads after home internationals were suspended in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan side in 2009. It has ever since managed to attract many foreign players, especially with the Pakistan Super League (PSL).

"I can feel your pain," Raja said, addressing Pakistan team supporters. "I urge the fans to back the Pakistan cricket team ... support them in the World Cup."

The World Cup is scheduled to take place in the United Arab Emirates and Oman from October 17 to November 14.

As many of the national team players have expressed their frustration at New Zealand's decision, he urged them to vent it through their performance on the field.

"My message to the cricket team is to let out your frustration, anger through performance," Raja said. "When you become the best team, everyone will want to play with you in Pakistan."


Pakistan PM says in dialogue with Taliban for inclusive Afghan government

Updated 18 September 2021

Pakistan PM says in dialogue with Taliban for inclusive Afghan government

  • Taliban interim government announced earlier this month includes no women or members of minority groups
  • Khan's initiative follows meetings with leaders of Afghanistan's neighbors during Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Tajikistan

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Saturday he had “initiated a dialogue" with the Taliban for an inclusive Afghan government to include representatives of the country's ethnic and religious minorities.

Khan said he took the initiative after his meetings with leaders of Afghanistan's neighbors and detailed discussions with Tajik President Emomali Rahmon on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s (SCO) meeting in Dushanbe this week, where Afghanistan has been at the top of the agenda.

“After meetings in Dushanbe with leaders of Afghanistan’s neighbors and especially a lengthy discussion with Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon, I have initiated a dialogue with the Taliban for an inclusive Afghan govt to include Tajiks, Hazaras & Uzbeks” Khan said in the tweet.

 

 

“After 40 years of conflict, this inclusivity will ensure peace and a stable Afghanistan, which is in the interest not only of Afghanistan but the region as well,” he said in another post.

 

 

World powers have told the Taliban the key to peace and development is an inclusive government acceptable to all people of Afghanistan, including women and minorities. But an all-male interim cabinet announced earlier this month, saw no members of minority groups as key positions went to veteran players of the Taliban movement, which captured Kabul on August 15.

In his address at the SCO summit on Friday, Khan said the Taliban must fulfill their promises to the international community.  

“For their part, the Taliban must fulfill the pledges made above all for inclusive political structure where all ethnic groups are represented,” Khan said. “This is vital for Afghanistan’s stability. Also, it is important to ensure respect for the rights of all Afghans, and ensure that Afghanistan is never again a safe haven for terrorists.”


'NZ killed the cricket': Dismay, frustration as Black Caps pull out of Pakistan tour

Updated 18 September 2021

'NZ killed the cricket': Dismay, frustration as Black Caps pull out of Pakistan tour

  • New Zealand said it was abandoning Pakistan following ‘security alert’
  • Black Cap squad was in Pakistan for the first time since 2003

RAWALPINDI: A wave of frustration and disappointment has swept through social media with the hashtag #PAKvNZ becoming the top trend, as New Zealand on Friday abandoned its first Pakistan series in 18 years, citing security fears.

The announcement that the series had been called off came just as the visitors were to face Pakistan at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium in the first of three one-day internationals (ODIs). The Black Cap squad, which last week returned to Pakistan for the first time since 2003, was staying at an Islamabad hotel guarded by a heavy contingent of police.

The cancellation, which followed an unspecified New Zealand government security alert, left cricket fans and officials in dismay, with Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed saying that "hidden hands conspired for the cancellation of the tour" to undermine Pakistan’s efforts for peace in the region.

Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ramiz Raja vowed action against the decision in the International Cricket Council (ICC).

"Walking out of the tour by taking a unilateral approach on a security threat is very frustrating," he said on Twitter. "Which world is NZ living in??NZ will hear us at ICC."

 

 

Many of Pakistan’s national team players also vented their upset.

"I've full trust in the capabilities and credibility of our security agencies," Pakistan captain Babar Azam said. "Extremely disappointed on the abrupt postponement of the series, which could have brought the smiles back for millions of Pakistan Cricket Fans."

 

 

Veteran cricket legends, too, felt dejected, with Shoaib Akthar saying New Zealand "just killed Pakistan cricket.”

 

 

Wasim Akram suggested "we are not hearing the whole story."

“Pakistan has proven that our security measures for international games is of the highest order, making Pakistan one of the safest places in the world to play cricket today.”

 

 

As Pakistan has been trying to revive tours by foreign sides after home internationals were suspended in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan side in 2009, it has already managed to attract many foreign players since, especially with the Pakistan Super League (PSL).

"PSL & other teams visiting Pakistan is evidence of our hospitality & security arrangements. We will continue our efforts," bowler Shadab Khan wrote. "Pakistanis love cricket so much, we have worked really hard to bring cricket back here."

 

 

Former West Indies' skipper Daren Sammy, head coach of PSL's Peshawar Zalmi franchise, said he's been playing in Pakistan for the past six years: "I’ve always felt safe. this is a massive blow to Pakistan."

 

 

Officials, too, questioned New Zealand's move.

Maritime Affairs Minister Ali Haider Zaidi tweeted at New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardem saying he is “appalled” by her support of the team’s decision to leave. “Sadly, global politics has won over the great game of cricket!" he wrote. "There were no security threats!”

The chief minister of Punjab, Usman Buzdar, the province that has the Rawalpindi stadium in its jurisdiction, said security was "foolproof."

"Extremely disappointed & gutted by New Zealand Cricket Board's unilateral decision to call off the series."
 

 

"The brief period of international cricket seems to be over before it really began,” sports journalist and culture critic Ahmer Naqvi tweeted.  

But some others, like Islamabad United general manager Rehan Ulhaq, are more hopeful.

"Pakistan cricket will rise from the ashes just like it always has."
 

 


‘Thank god’: British-Pakistanis excited to return to families after UK lifts travel restrictions

Updated 18 September 2021

‘Thank god’: British-Pakistanis excited to return to families after UK lifts travel restrictions

  • One-way fare from Islamabad to London can currently cost up to £2,165, though the flights are still overbooked
  • A stranded IT professional from London says UK authorities should have ‘thought of us as British, not just Pakistanis’ to avoid playing politics on the issue

ISLAMABAD: A British-Pakistani, who arrived in Islamabad in July to see his ailing mother but could not return to London due to the UK government’s travel restriction on Pakistan, said on Saturday he anxiously wanted to hold his daughter once again.
Imran Niazi had to leave his wife and daughter behind in Britain while traveling to Islamabad but found himself stranded here due to the UK government’s “red list” requirements which expected him to undergo a costly 10-day hotel quarantine amid rising coronavirus concerns.
UK officials decided to place Pakistan on its red list in April due to a surge in COVID-19 delta variant cases in the country and added the South Asian state to its safe list on Friday.
“I am anxiously waiting to hug my 12-year-old daughter,” Niazi told Arab News. “This was a stressful time, and thank God, the UK has eased its travel restrictions.”
He said that much of his time in Islamabad was spent making video calls to his family.
“Hopefully, I will be joining them in about two weeks,” he continued.
Almost all airlines including British Airways, Emirates and Virgin Atlantic have resumed their operations from Pakistan, but they are either fully booked or their fares have gone extremely high due to the growing travel demand to the UK.
The one-way fare from Islamabad to London can currently cost between £1,800 to £2,165, though it used to be around £300 before the UK travel restrictions.
“I’ll obviously wait for at least two weeks to book my flight as this fare is too high for me to afford,” Niazi said, adding his real estate and security services business in London had already been “badly affected” due to the pandemic.
All those traveling to the UK from Pakistan need to be fully vaccinated with Pfizer, AstraZeneca or Moderna, otherwise they will require a booster shot of any of these vaccines before taking a flight.
Mirza Khalil Ullah, who runs a property business in Mill Hill, London, came to see his relatives in Karachi in February but got stuck in the country.
“We British-Pakistanis have got this relief after a very hard time,” he said. “I would request all Pakistanis that they should not do anything that can put us in trouble again or tarnish Pakistan’s image.”
He said he had taken the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine and was planning to get a Pfizer shot before booking his flight.
Another IT professional from London, Amir Faisal Awan, was also stranded in Pakistan for the last five months due to the travel restrictions.
“It has been a horrible experience,” he said while adding that his father was suffering from dementia and could not stay in confined places.
“The British government should have thought [of] us as British and not just Pakistanis,” he complained. “They should have facilitated us instead of involving us in their political issues. I am really excited now and just want to be back with my family. It was a very bad feeling that I had my passport and ticket but could not fly back to them.”
Rafiq Saya, a businessman based in Ireland, came to Karachi to negotiate a deal but got stuck here for months.
“It has affected my business in Ireland and kept me away from my family,” he said, while welcoming the UK government’s decision to remove Pakistan from the travel red list.
“It is a great thing for everybody since we can now go back to work and be with our families again,” Saya added.