Pakistani truckers travel in fear as kidnappings for ransom rise on Sindh’s treacherous highways

In this photo taken on February 2, 2023, a cargo truck driver arrives from Pakistan at the Afghanistan-Pakistan Torkham border post, in Nangarhar province. (AFP/FILE)
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Updated 18 March 2023

Pakistani truckers travel in fear as kidnappings for ransom rise on Sindh’s treacherous highways

  • Criminal gangs operate along major highways connecting Punjab and Sindh provinces, along banks of the Indus River
  • Gangs previously robbed passengers of money and valuables but have recently turned to kidnapping truckers for ransom

KARACHI: Glancing constantly in his rear view mirror, truck driver Nadeem Khan now journeys the highways between the northern and southern regions of Pakistan haunted by the memory of when he was kidnapped by a band of armed robbers last year and tortured for two and a half months before his family paid ransom for his release. 

While Pakistan’s attention has for years been focussed on the Taliban and Al-Qaeda threat on the Afghan border in the remote northwest, militants and criminal gangs have expanded their influence and won recruits in the country’s heartland of Punjab and in the southern Sindh province.

These gangs operate along major highways connecting the two provinces, and the most dangerous roads are those along the banks of the Indus River, whose tributaries flow through the Punjab region in the east and end in a large delta in the southern Sindh province. For years, the gangs have hounded passengers traveling these routes on private cars and buses, robbing them of their money and valuables.

In recent months, however, the dacoits have a new target: truckers. 

“We faced militants quite often in the past but were never terrorized so much,” Khan, 57, told Arab News, describing how he was beaten regularly and made to sleep on a cold floor on winter nights after his kidnapping last October.

“They insulted me and demanded that I make a phone call to my family and tell them to arrange the ransom amount … It was a horrible time. I had hardly any hope left of getting out alive.”

The map shows the route taken by truckers from Larkana to Kashmore. (AN Photo)

Khan was released in December after his family paid Rs600,000 ($2,138).

At a recent court hearing at the Sindh High Court, a judge said kidnappings for ransom had become an “industry” in Sindh.

Speaking to Arab News, Ghulam Muhammad Afridi, the general secretary of the Karachi Goods Carrier Association, said transporters were paying the cost of rising lawlessness in the province.

“Fifty drivers have been kidnapped for ransom since July last year,” he said.

One driver, Afridi said, was recently recovered by police after transporters threatened to shut down the Native Jetty bridge connecting the city with the Karachi port.

“The driver was recovered within 72 hours following our ultimatum,” he said. “This shows that the police have the capacity to deal with such kidnappings but face political pressure when they take action.”

Senior Superintendent of Sindh Police Tanveer Hussain Tunio in Ghotki dismissed the accusation of political influence in fighting crime, saying several important factors needed to be considered with regards the enduring problem of dacoity in the area.

“The police are only allowed to carry weapons of 7.62-millimeter caliber,” he said. “These include G3s, submachine guns, and pistols. On the other hand, the dacoits have 12.7- and 14.5-millimeter caliber weapons and anti-aircraft guns, which can even be used to shoot down commercial aircraft.”

However, Tunio said the government had approved Rs2 billion ($710 million) to procure sniper guns, night vision thermal scopes, and other equipment and weapons for police after five uniformed personnel were killed by dacoits in November.

“We should be able to clear the area within a few months with that kind of equipment,” he added.

Tunio said other than the huge disparity in weaponry, the geographical terrain also worked to the advantage of the armed groups.

“Almost 95 percent of the Katcha area [on banks of Indus River] consists of islands, posing a huge accessibility issue to law enforcement agencies,” he said. “The police have no boats, and there are no bridges.”

The official also highlighted the problem of training, saying police were trained mostly for operations in settled districts.

Another problem, the top cop said, was that criminal gangs were using new and innovative ways to trap truckers.

“We had brought the incidents of kidnapping on highways to almost zero since 2014,” Tunio said. “But the dacoits are now using social media to trap people before abducting them.”

Shahmim Zafar, a truck driver who was kidnapped last August, endorsed the claim, saying he was trapped after someone contacted him on a social media messaging app and called him to come see some trucks to buy. 

“When I reached there, I didn’t see any trucks but chains and a horrible time that was waiting for me,” he told Arab News.

While in captivity, Zafar said he met “a hundred victims of dacoits,” and most had similar stories of having been honey trapped bu robbers.

Israr Ahmed Shinwari, a spokesperson for the All-Pakistan Oil Tanker Owners Association, said the situation was so bad it appeared there was a “parallel government by dacoits in the Katcha region.”

“Every week, a driver or two are abducted,” he said, urging federal and provincial authorities to protect transporters.

“We witnessed lawlessness on the western route in the past,” he said, referring to militants extorting truckers moving NATO supplies for international forces through northwestern Pakistan into neighboring Afghanistan before US and allied forces withdrew in August 2021.

“Our business is already hit by inflation and rising petroleum prices,” Shinwari said. “This new menace [kidnapping for ransom] will destroy it completely.”

* Names of truckers have been changed to protect their identities

Pakistani court grants protection to Imran Khan from arrest

Updated 17 sec ago

Pakistani court grants protection to Imran Khan from arrest

  • Lahore High Court ruling provides relief to embattled Khan, who is now the country's top opposition leader
  • The former prime minister has avoided appearances before courts in Islamabad in at least three cases since November

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani court on Friday shielded from arrest former Prime Minister Imran Khan until at least next week, amid a roiling political crisis that has pitted the celebrity politician against the current government and spilled over into street protests.

Khan was ousted through a no-confidence vote in Parliament last April. Since then, the 70-year-old former cricket player turned politician has become embroiled in more than 100 legal cases against him, including graft while in office.

The ruling by the Lahore High Court was another reprieve for embattled Khan, who is now the country's top opposition leader. The court order virtually prevents his arrest until March 27 over accusations that he incited supporters from his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party to violence when he failed to appear before a court in the capital Islamabad because of hours-long clashes between his party and the police.

Since November, Khan has avoided appearances before courts in Islamabad in at least three cases, including a graft charge, when he was wounded in a gun attack at a protest rally in the eastern Punjab province. Khan says his life is in danger and that's why he is seeking bail to avoid appearances before judges in multiple cases.

Khan’s standoff with the government of his successor, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, has turned increasingly violent in recent weeks. Last week, his supporters clashed with police in Islamabad, resulting in injuries to dozens of officers.

Because of the violence, Khan could not appear before the judge in person to face indictment in the graft case. He is accused of illegally selling state gifts he had received during his term as premier and concealing his assets.

Khan has denied all charges against him, saying he is being victimized by Sharif's government.

Friday's court order was another reprieve for Khan, who is expected to lead a rally in Lahore on Saturday to pressure the government of Sharif to agree to the holding of snap elections. Sharif has said the next parliamentary elections will be held on time later this year when the parliament completes its five-year term.

Khan has repeatedly alleged that his ouster was a conspiracy engineered by his successor, Sharif, and the United States. Both have denied the charge.

But the ousted premier in recent weeks has adopted a conciliatory approach toward Washington.

On Friday, Pakistan's Defense Minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif at a news conference criticized Khan for trying to seek help from diplomats and politicians in the United States, saying for months Khan blamed Washington for his ouster, and now the former premier was approaching America to get help against Sharif's government.

Asif also defended this week's decision by the country's elections oversight body to delay elections for a provincial assembly in the key Punjab province from April 30 to until Oct. 8.

The move has drawn criticism from Khan. Wednesday's decision by the Election Commission comes months after Khan’s party dissolved the regional assemblies in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in a failed bid to force snap national elections.

On Friday, President Arif Alvi wrote a letter to Sharif, urging him to hold elections for the two provincial assemblies on time.

Pakistan origin diplomat becomes first Muslim woman appointed to head UK diplomatic mission

Updated 39 min 51 sec ago

Pakistan origin diplomat becomes first Muslim woman appointed to head UK diplomatic mission

  • Fouzia Younis, currently director communications at British High Commission in Islamabad, appointed consul general in Toronto
  • Younis has significant experience in the Middle East and South Asia, and in managing multicultural and diverse teams

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan origin British diplomat Fouzia Younis, the head of communications and public diplomacy at the British High Commission in Islamabad, has been announced as her country's consul general in Toronto, the first British Muslim woman appointed to head a UK diplomatic mission.

Younis, whose parents are from Pakistan, has significant experience of building international relationships in the Middle East and South Asia, and managing, coaching and developing multicultural and diverse teams. Until March 2020, she was also the co-chair of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Network (BAME) leading a global network of over 250 staff.

“Privileged to be appointed as His Majesty's British Consul General to Toronto,” Younis wrote on Twitter.

“Special moment as we think it's the 1st time (but don't have data) that  a British Muslim woman has been appointed as Head of a UK Diplomatic Post. I won’t be the last.”




Younis thanked her father “who used to drop me at Digbeth Coach Station at 4am so I could get to my work interviews.”

She also paid tribute to her late mother who “stood up for 18 year old me to go to uni & waited at bus stops to walk me home through dark streets.”




In a previous Twitter post in May last year, Younis announced that her mother had passed away from COVID-19, paying tribute to a woman who never went to school herself but raised four successful children, including an award-winning lawyer, a businessman and a career diplomat. 

“To the girls who look like me,  who are battling prejudice, racism & sexism from within communities & outside, who are told they can't do it, or that they don't sound or look the part. Don't let anyone dim your power.  You can change the world.”




Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves reach $10 billion — central bank

Updated 24 min 31 sec ago

Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves reach $10 billion — central bank

  • Last week, Pakistan’s depleting forex reserves shored up slightly after receiving $500 loan from China
  • Central Bank says Pakistan’s official reserves stood at $4.6 billion on March 17 after external support

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s central bank said on Friday the country’s total foreign exchange reserves stood at $10 billion on March 17 after it received $500 million from a Chinese commercial bank.
Cash-strapped Pakistan has been making desperate attempts to secure external financing to stave off a balance-of-payments crisis, with its forex reserves depleting to critically low levels, currency hitting new lows against the dollar, and inflation at a multi-decade high.
The country is trying to secure a $1.2 billion loan tranche from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), as part of its $7 billion bailout program, to keep the economy afloat.
Last week, Pakistan’s depleting forex reserves shored up slightly after the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) released the second instalment of $500 million as part of a $1.3 billion facility to the country.
"The total liquid foreign reserves held by the country stood at US$10,139.2 million as of March 17, 2023," the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) said in a statement on Friday.
It added the foreign reserves held by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) stood at US$4,598.7 million, while the net foreign reserves held by commercial banks in the country amounted to US$5,540.5 million.
"During the week ended on March 17, 2023, SBP received US$500 million as [Government of Pakistan] commercial loan disbursement. After accounting for external debt repayments, SBP reserves increased by US$280 million to US$ 4,598.7 million," the bank said.
It may be recalled that Pakistan’s official forex reserves held by the central bank fell rapidly, from $16.3 billion in February 2022 to a nine-year low of $2.92 billion on February 3, 2023. The dwindling reserves, barely enough to cover three weeks of imports, pushed the country to the brink of default.
To prevent the outflow of dollars, Pakistan imposed restrictions on imports, with the move prompting the partial closure of many industrial units and affecting exports, which provide a major source of revenue for the country.

President Alvi writes to PM Sharif, expresses concern over ‘glaring violation’ of fundamental rights

Updated 38 min 14 sec ago

President Alvi writes to PM Sharif, expresses concern over ‘glaring violation’ of fundamental rights

  • The president says ‘frivolous cases’ against politicians and journalists are tarnishing Pakistan’s image internationally
  • He also describes the election commission’s decision to postpone Punjab polls as ‘flagrant violation’ of constitution

ISLAMABAD: President Arif Alvi wrote a letter to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Friday, expressing concern over recent political developments in the country while mentioning the “glaring violation” of the fundamental rights of opposition activists and media personnel to stifle dissenting voices in Pakistan. 

Alvi’s letter comes at a time when the government has registered a slew of cases against former Prime Minister Imran Khan and leaders of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. Khan has also criticized the police and other law-enforcing agencies for abducting and torturing his party supporters and charging them with terrorism and sedition. 

The president, a close Khan ally, quoted various constitutional provisions related to freedom of speech, dignity of citizens, and the right to fair trial in his letter, adding that their spirit and mandate had been “clearly transgressed.” 

“Events have taken place in the recent past highlighted by the print, electronic and social media about glaring violations of Fundamental and Human Rights that need to be brought to your notice to ensure remedial measures and preventive action,” he said. 

“Multiple fake and frivolous cases have been registered against politicians, workers, journalists and media persons,” he added. “Houses of political workers have been raided and citizens abducted without warrants and lawful justification.” 

The president said such incidents had tarnished the image of the country, adding they could have serious repercussions for the future of democracy and the state of human rights in Pakistan. 

He also mentioned the Election Commission of Pakistan’s decision to postpone the Punjab polls from April 30 to October 8 in a recent proclamation while describing it as a “flagrant violation of the Constitution ... by the executive authorities and government departments.” 

Alvi said Article 220 of the Constitution required state institutions to help the election commission hold free and fair polls, though the relevant departments had seemingly failed to extend such cooperation. 

He also blamed the prime minister for not holding any meaningful consultation with him over policy issues. 

“The Prime Minister, being head of Government, is responsible for the safeguard of Human Rights as well as Fundamental Rights of every citizen of Pakistan as enshrined in the Constitution,” he said. 

The president added: “It is further emphasized that all concerned executive authorities of Federal and Provincial Governments should be directed to refrain from abuse of Human Rights and also to assist the [Election Commission of Pakistan] to hold general elections in provinces of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, within the timeframe in compliance of Supreme Court’s Order dated 1st March, 2023, to avoid further complications including Contempt of Court.”

Pakistan presents prestigious gallantry award to Saudi defense attaché

Updated 24 March 2023

Pakistan presents prestigious gallantry award to Saudi defense attaché

  • Major General Awad Bin Abdullah Al-Zahrani was given Hilal-e-Imtiaz for strengthening security ties between the two countries
  • Commander of Bahrain National Guards Shaikh Mohammed Bin Salman Al-Khalifa also received Nishan-i-Imtiaz from the president

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan government has given the second highest civilian award to Major General Awad Bin Abdullah Al-Zahrani, the Saudi defense attaché in the country, to acknowledge his services in promoting and strengthening security ties between the two countries.

The Hilal-e-Imtiaz or Crescent of Excellence is bestowed upon both civilian and military officials, and is open to Pakistani nationals and foreign citizens who have made significant contributions to the country’s security or national interests, world peace, cultural or other public endeavors.

The award is given to prominent individuals on Pakistan Day, celebrated annually on March 23 to commemorate the adoption of the Lahore Resolution in 1940, which called for the creation of an independent sovereign state for the Muslims of the Subcontinent.

“Heartiest felicitations to Maj Gen (Pilot) Staff Awad Bin Abdullah Al-Zahrani, the Defense Attache of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on being awarded Hilal-e-Imtiaz (Military) by the President of Pakistan,” Senator Sehar Kamran, a former Pakistani parliamentarian, wrote in a Twitter post.

Al-Zahrani also received the award for his personal efforts in facilitating the early supply of relief goods during the unprecedented floods in Pakistan last year, which claimed 1,700 lives and affected over 33 million people.

In addition to the Saudi official, Shaikh Mohammed Bin Salman Al-Khalifa, the commander of Bahrain National Guards, was also awarded the Nishan-i-Imtiaz or Order of Excellence award.

During Thursday’s ceremony, President Dr. Arif Alvi presented awards to 135 citizens and foreign nationals in recognition of their contributions to their respective fields.

Among the recipients were 49 officers and soldiers of Pakistan’s army, navy, and air force, including the families of four martyred troops.