Pakistan’s oil regulator announces crackdown against ‘illegal hoarders’ amid fuel shortage

This picture taken on January 30, 2023 shows resident Saleem Qureshi (C) filling petrol in his motorcycle at a gasoline station in Pakistan's port city of Karachi. (Photo courtesy: AFP)
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Updated 08 February 2023
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Pakistan’s oil regulator announces crackdown against ‘illegal hoarders’ amid fuel shortage

  • State minister for petroleum warns of suspending licenses of companies found hoarding oil
  • Dealers reject hoarding allegations, say 70 percent of total fuel stations are short of supply

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s oil regulator announced a crackdown against the alleged illegal hoarding of petrol and diesel in the country’s most populous Punjab province on Wednesday, where consumers are facing a shortage of petroleum products for a week now. 

Long queues of cars have been seen outside petrol stations in various parts of Punjab over the past week. Some petrol stations have also started rationing petrol and diesel to accommodate the maximum number of consumers, citing a shortage of commodities from oil companies. 

Cash-strapped Pakistan has been actively seeking an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout package for the past couple of months now. The country’s reserves, which have dipped to a little over $3 billion, are just enough for 18 days of imports. 

Oil dealers say the shortage of petroleum products has been caused partly due to the State Bank of Pakistan’s (SBP) unannounced restrictions on imports. The Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA) says it has identified at least 19 illegal fuel storages in Punjab and advised the provincial chief secretary to take “strict action against illegal hoarders.”

In a statement, OGRA said it had compiled the list, which was “identified through market intelligence to avoid deliberate shortage in the province. The authority added that it had disseminated its enforcement teams to check storages and ensure the smooth supply of petroleum products in the province.

State Minister for Petroleum Dr. Musadik Malik told reporters that Pakistan had petrol reserves of at least 20 days and diesel reserves of 29 days. However, he said despite Pakistan having adequate reserves of both, people were still experiencing shortage of petroleum products.

“There are some people in this country who are involved in hoarding [petroleum products],” Malik said. “This means they are stealing your rights, the rights of your children, the rights of those who are sick, those who have to go to their places of business and offices and those children who have to go to schools and colleges, they are stealing their rights,” he said. 

Malik warned the alleged hoarders to stop. “You won’t be able to hoard, you won’t be able to steal people’s rights. This is our resolve,” he added. “And if you continue to do so, we will suspend your licenses [to sell petroleum products],” he added. 

Pakistan Petroleum Dealers Association (PPDA) said around seventy percent of Punjab’s petrol pumps, except for the state-owned Pakistan State Oil (PSO) were facing a shortage of petrol and diesel.

“There is no question of hoarding as the petrol stations have genuinely run out of their stocks due to short supplies from the companies,” Abdul Sami Khan, chairman of the PPDA, told Arab News. 

Khan said the dealers were not at fault as oil companies were not supplying with an adequate amount of the products. 

“The small companies are conveying to their dealers that they may not be able to supply them the product after 10 days as their stocks are running out,” he said, urging OGRA to investigate the issue instead of raiding petrol stations. 

“We have no hope that this issue [the petrol shortage] will be resolved anytime soon,” he said, advising the government to start rationing the product to ensure its maximum supply across the country.


Pakistan lauds UN report on Gaza, says it confirms Israel’s war crimes and civilian targeting

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Pakistan lauds UN report on Gaza, says it confirms Israel’s war crimes and civilian targeting

  • United Nations report says Hamas’s act of taking hostages on Oct. 7 also constituted a war crime
  • Pakistan asks the international community to hold Israel accountable for brutal prosecution of war

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan applauded the United Nations on Thursday for bringing out a report on war crimes in the ongoing war in Gaza, saying it had confirmed reports that Israel was using starvation as a method of warfare while intentionally targeting civilians during its military campaigns.
The UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem and Israel, released the report on Wednesday, blaming the Palestinian armed groups and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration of grave violations of international law.
Israel besieged the Gaza Strip and launched airstrikes after a surprise attack was initiated by Hamas on Oct. 7 in what it said was a response to the deteriorating condition of Palestinian people living under occupation.
Israel’s response was widely viewed as disproportionate by the international community in which thousands of innocent women and children have so far been killed.
Israel is facing the charges of committing genocide in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that ordered an end to its ongoing offensive in Rafah.
“Pakistan welcomes the June 12 report of the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem and Israel,” said Mumtaz Zahra Baloch during his weekly media briefing. “The findings of the commission of the inquiry have confirmed reports of Israeli war crimes of starvation as a method of warfare, murder or willful killing, intentionally directing attacks against civilians, forceable transfer, torture and inhumane and cruel punishment.”
“Pakistan believes time has come to hold Israel accountable for its grave crimes,” she added. “We call on global conscience to force Israel toward an immediate and unconditional ceasefire. It is also critical to bring an end to the war on the people of Gaza.”
Baloch said Pakistan also considered the adoption of the UN Security Council Resolution 2735 while expressing hope for permanent and sustainable ceasefire and end to the sufferings of Palestinians in Gaza.
The UN commission’s report is based on interviews with victims and witnesses on both Palestinian and Israeli sides about the events of Oct. 7 and what came after that.
The commission’s chair, Navi Pillay, said it was imperative to hold all those accountable who were guilty of committing war crimes.
“The only way to stop the recurring cycles of violence, including aggression and retribution by both sides, is to ensure strict adherence to international law,” she said.
“Israel must immediately stop its military operations and attacks in Gaza, including the assault on Rafah, which has cost the lives of hundreds of civilians and again displaced hundreds of thousands of people to unsafe locations without basic services and humanitarian assistance,” she continued, adding: “Hamas and Palestinian armed groups must immediately cease rocket attacks and release all hostages. The taking of hostages constitutes a war crime.”
The commission also noted the immense numbers of civilian casualties in Gaza and widespread destruction of civilian objects and infrastructure were the outcome of a strategy undertaken by Israel with the intention to inflict maximum damage, disregarding the principles of distinction, proportionality and adequate precautions.


Pakistan raises defense budget by 17.5% to $6.15 billion amid surge in militancy

Updated 37 min 38 sec ago
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Pakistan raises defense budget by 17.5% to $6.15 billion amid surge in militancy

  • Defense spending in Pakistan draws media focus as debates over security needs and public services persist
  • Media coverage also reflects concerns about transparency, with few details available on the overall spending

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s finance minister Muhammad Aurangzeb announced a 17.5 percent increase in the country’s defense budget on Wednesday, saying the government had decided to allocate Rs2.12 trillion ($6.15 billion) for the country’s security needs in view of its geopolitical situation.
Pakistan’s defense budget consistently attracts media attention due to the military’s substantial role in both the political and economic arenas of the country.
The allocation of significant funds to defense sparks debates over the balance between security needs and other critical public services, such as education and health care.
Media coverage and public discussions also reflect concerns about transparency, with governments only mentioning the overall figure without sharing further details.
“Rs2.122 trillion will be provided for defense needs,” the finance minister said during his address to the National Assembly. “And Rs849 billion are being allocated for civil administration expenses.”
Last year, the defense allocation stood at Rs1.80 trillion ($5.23 billion).
According to Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, the allocated amount “presents an incomplete picture of the country’s actual military expenditure.”
“A significant sum of Rs662 billion [$1.92 billion], designated for retired military personnel, which equals to about 31pc of allocation for the armed forces, will not be drawn from the defense budget, rather government’s current expenditure,” it reported.
Pakistan has witnessed a surge in militant violence in recent years, prompting its armed forces to carry out targeted operations in areas adjoining its border with Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s army and other law enforcement agencies are also responsible for the providing security to Chinese nationals working on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is widely viewed as pivotal to the country’s economic security.
Militant groups have periodically targeted these Chinese workers, killing five of them earlier this year in a suicide bombing in Pakistan’s northwest while they were going to the site of a hydropower project.


One year on, Pakistanis among migrants who cheated death off Greece and continue to seek justice

Updated 13 June 2024
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One year on, Pakistanis among migrants who cheated death off Greece and continue to seek justice

  • Only 104 people survived the wreck of an old fishing boat smuggling 750 migrants from North Africa to Europe
  • 82 bodies were recovered, so hundreds of families still lack even the grim certitude that their relatives are dead

ATHENS: Desperate hands clutched at Ali Elwan’s arms, legs and neck, and screams misted his ears, as he spat out saltwater and fought for three hours to keep afloat in the night, dozens of miles from land.
Although a poor swimmer, he lived — one of just 104 survivors from the wreck of a dilapidated old metal fishing boat smuggling up to 750 migrants from North Africa to Europe.
“I was so, so lucky,” the 30-year-old Egyptian told The Associated Press in Athens, Greece, where he works odd jobs while he waits to hear the outcome of his asylum application. “I have two babies. Maybe I stay(ed) in this life for them.”
Thousands have died in Mediterranean Sea shipwrecks in recent years as migrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa seek a better life in the affluent European Union.
But the sinking of the Adriana a year ago Friday in international waters 75 kilometers (45 miles) off Pylos in southern Greece was one of the worst. Only 82 bodies were recovered, so that hundreds of families still lack even the grim certitude that their relatives are dead.
Elwan, a cook whose wife and children are in Cairo, says he still gets phone calls from Egypt from mothers, brothers and wives of the missing.
“We (left) home to get best life for family and until now (their families) know nothing about them,” he said.
And after a year there are only hazy answers as to why so many lives were lost, what caused the shipwreck and who can be held answerable.
Migrant charities and human rights groups have strongly criticized Greece’s handling of the sinking.
The Greek coast guard, migration ministry and other officials did not respond to requests for comment ahead of the anniversary.
Authorities had a coast guard boat on the scene and merchant ships in the vicinity during the trawler’s last hours. They blame smugglers who crammed hundreds of people into an unseaworthy vessel — most in an airless hold designed to store a catch of fish — for a nightmare voyage from Libya to Italy.
They also say the Adriana capsized when its passengers — some of whom wanted to press on for Italy after five dreadful days at sea, others to seek safety in Greece — suddenly surged to one side, causing it to lurch and turn turtle. And they insist that offers to take the migrants off the ship were rebuffed by people set on reaching Italy.
Elwan — who says he was on deck with a clear view of what happened — and other survivors say the lurching followed a botched coast guard attempt to tow the trawler. He claimed the coast guard hurriedly cut the towline when it became evident the Adriana would sink and drag their boat down with it.
“If you find the ship (at the bottom of the sea), you will find this rope” still attached to it, he said.
But the logistics make such a feat nigh-on impossible, Greek authorities say, as the ship rests some 5 kilometers (more than 3 miles) down, at one of the Mediterranean’s deepest points.
The coast guard has denied any towing attempt, and allegations that its vessel tried to shift the trawler into neighboring Italy’s area of responsibility.
A naval court began investigating last June, but has released no information on its progress or findings. Separately, in November Greece’s state ombudsman started an independent probe into authorities’ handling of the tragedy, bemoaning the coast guard’s “express denial” to initiate a disciplinary investigation.
Last month, a Greek court dropped charges against nine Egyptians accused of crewing the Adriana and causing the shipwreck. Without examining evidence for or against them, it determined that Greece lacked jurisdiction as the wreck occurred in international waters.
Effie Doussi, one of the Egyptians’ defense lawyers, argued that the ruling was “politically convenient” for Greek authorities.
“It saved the Greek state from being exposed over how the coast guard acted, given their responsibility for rescue,” she said.
Doussi said a full hearing would have included testimony from survivors and other witnesses, and let defense lawyers seek additional evidence from the coast guard, such as potential mobile phone data.
Zeeshan Sarwar, a 28-year-old Pakistani survivor, said he’s still waiting for justice, “but apparently there is nothing.”
“I may be looking fine right now, but I am broken from the inside. We are not getting justice,” he told the AP. “We are not receiving any information about the people of coast guard ... that the court has found them guilty or not.”
Elwan, the Egyptian, said he can still only sleep for three or four hours a night.
“I remember every second that happened to me,” he said. “I can’t forget anything because (I) lost friends in this ship.”
The journey that preceded the wreck was also horrendous.
Survivors said Pakistanis were confined in the hold and beaten by the crew if they tried to stir. But Arabic-speaking Egyptians and Syrians enjoyed the relative luxury of the deck. For many, that spelled the difference between life and death when the ship capsized.
“Our condition was very bad on the first day because it was the first time in our life that we were traveling on the sea,” Sarwar said.
“If a person ... tried to vomit, then they used to say that you have to do it right here on your lap, you can’t get (outside),” he said. “On the fifth day, people were fainting because of hunger and thirst. One man died.”
Elwan said he left for Europe secretly, telling his wife he would be away for months, working at an Egyptian Red Sea resort.
He’s upset that he’s still to be granted asylum, unlike many Syrian survivors who, he said, have moved on to western Europe.
“Only people from Egypt can’t get papers,” he said. “I’ve been working for 10 months to send money for my family ... If someone says come and move rubbish, I will go and move this rubbish, no problem for me.”
If he gets residence papers, Elwan wants to work in Greece and bring his family over.
Otherwise, “I will go to Italy, maybe Germany. I don’t know.”


Pakistani authorities to transport pilgrims to Mina tonight ahead of start of Hajj on Friday

Updated 13 June 2024
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Pakistani authorities to transport pilgrims to Mina tonight ahead of start of Hajj on Friday

  • Chaudhry Salik Hussain says Hajj pilgrims will get notification of animal sacrifice on 10th of Dhul Hijjah
  • He meets with representatives of private Hajj companies, asks them to provide proper facilities to pilgrims

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Hajj Mission in Saudi Arabia will start moving pilgrims to Mina tonight, said the country’s religious affairs minister Chaudhry Salik Hussain on Thursday, marking the beginning of the annual Islamic pilgrimage from Friday.
The Hajj pilgrims gather in Mina on the first day of Hajj, where they spend time preparing spiritually before heading to the plain of Arafat.
The Day of Arafat is considered the most significant day of Hajj where pilgrims engage in deep prayer and reflection, seeking forgiveness and blessings.
Following this, they proceed to Muzdalifah at night to collect pebbles, then move to perform the symbolic stoning of the devil at Jamarat, culminating with the celebration of Eid Al-Adha through the ritual of animal sacrifice.
The Pakistani minister visited the residences and hospital of Hajj pilgrims and inquired about the well-being of people performing their spiritual journey this year.
“Pakistani Hajj pilgrims will be taken to Mina between Thursday and Friday night,” he said. “The country’s Hajj mission is continuously working on facilities at Mina and Arafat. The Hajj assistants and paramedical staff will also be with the pilgrims at Mina.”
The religious affairs ministry has told pilgrims they will receive information about the animal sacrifice through the Pak Hajj app.
“All pilgrims who have deposited the sacrifice amount at the ministry will have their sacrifice completed between Dhuhr and Asr prayers on the 10th of Dhul Hijjah,” the minister said.
He also interacted with the representatives of private Hajj companies and instructed them to provide best possible facilities pilgrims.


Pakistan’s finance chief pushes tax reforms matching IMF guidelines following budget presentation

Updated 13 June 2024
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Pakistan’s finance chief pushes tax reforms matching IMF guidelines following budget presentation

  • Muhammad Aurangzeb says the government is striving to digitize tax system for improved revenue collection
  • He says that he wants to take the country to a more sustainable tax-to-GDP ratio in the next three to five years

ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister for Finance and Revenue Muhammad Aurangzeb emphasized on Wednesday it was crucial to widen the tax net by removing the “non-filer category” after presenting the first federal budget of the newly elected Pakistani administration which he said was in line with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) requirements.
The non-filer category includes those individuals or entities who, despite earning taxable income, do not file returns and refuse to be formally documented or contribute to the tax base as required.
Pakistan has faced significant challenges with tax evasion and a low ratio of tax filers compared to its population. A considerable number of potential taxpayers either avoid taxes altogether or do not file their returns, which leads to substantial revenue losses for the government.
Speaking to Pakistan’s Geo TV, Aurangzeb said he wanted to take the country to a sustainable tax-to-GDP ratio in the next three to five years.
“I don’t understand this term of non-filer,” he said. “This is the only country where there is a category of non-filers. What is a non-filer? Either you are paying taxes and you are on the active tax list or you are not.”
“The eventual end goal is that we have to eliminate this non-filer category from this country,” he added.
The government has set an ambitious revenue collection target of Rs13 trillion, which comes to about $47 billion, in the next fiscal year raise the overall tax-to-GDP ratio of 9.5 percent.
The minister said the budget had introduced punitive measures for those who refused to file taxes so they thought twice before refusing to bring their income on record.
Asked about the enforcement of tax reforms, he said the government was striving to digitize the whole system.
“The end-to-end digitization will help us with several things,” he said. “Why don’t people want to come into the [tax] net? They are afraid of being harassed. They think they will not be treated properly. The more we remove the human intervention in FBR [Federal Board of Revenue], that is the way to create trust and earn trust.”
Aurangzeb said the government had decided to treat health, education and agriculture as priority sectors and protected the salaried class.
However, he reiterated that the government’s aim was to move a direction where everyone was contributing to the national economy.