‘Still in trauma’: ‘Killer Highway’ in southwest Pakistan claims over 400 lives in around four years

Residents look at the wreckage of a burnt passenger bus at Bela in Lasbela district of Pakistan's Balochistan province on January 29, 2023. (Photo courtesy: AFP/File)
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Updated 02 June 2023

‘Still in trauma’: ‘Killer Highway’ in southwest Pakistan claims over 400 lives in around four years

  • More than 18,000 accidents have injured 24,768 people on the single-lane Quetta-Karachi highway since Oct 2019
  • Provincial authorities say more than 70 percent of the accidents occurred due to ‘speedy overtaking’ on the highway

QUETTA: Hajji Sharifullah, 47, lost his wife, daughter and two sons in a road crash in the southwest Pakistani province of Balochistan in January this year. His 16-year-old son, Waheedullah, managed to come out of the vehicle alive before it caught fire, but was “still in trauma,” he said, following one of the deadliest accidents on a major highway that has come to be known as the ‘Killer Highway.’

The 750-kilometer, single-lane highway stretching from the provincial capital of Quetta till the Pakistani commercial hub of Karachi in the south has claimed 436 lives in more than 18,000 accidents from October 2019 till April this year, according to the Medical Emergency Response Center (MERC 1122) in Balochistan. At least 24,768 people have been injured in these crashes.

On January 29, more than 40 people were killed after a speeding bus fell into a ravine and caught fire near the Lasbela district on the same Quetta-Karachi highway, with some bodies burned beyond recognition.

“Since that dark day, my son Waheed is still in trauma, because he saw his family members die in front of his eyes,” Sharifullah told Arab News on Thursday.

“He has not returned to normal life hence I have taken him to my village.”

Recalling his son’s words, he said the bus had been moving very fast and his wife and other passengers had asked the driver to cut down the speed, but he did not listen to them.

“I have lost my family but now I request the prime minister to take immediate measures for the expansion and dualization of the Quetta-Karachi highway in order to prevent such accidents in future,” the 47-year-old said.

Balochistan, a mountainous desert region bordering Afghanistan and Iran, is Pakistan’s largest but most neglected province, with a 40,000-km network of mostly dilapidated roads. The province is the epicenter of the $64 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a road and infrastructure development plan, which aims to ultimately provide the shortest route for Chinese cargo headed for the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia.

The provincial government has established 18 Medical Emergency Response Center (MERC 1122) facilities for eight important highways passing across the province, but seven of these centers have been operational on the Quetta-Karachi highway, keeping the vulnerability of the ‘Killer Highway’ in view.

While provincial authorities are determined to increase the number of these emergency response facilities, they point to unfit vehicles and speeding as major reasons behind fatal accidents on the Quetta-Karachi highway.

“Single-lane road and unfit passenger buses are the key reasons behind the burgeoning number of accidents on this highway, but according to our assessment, 72 percent accidents were reported due to speedy overtaking on this narrow highway,” MERC 1122 Director-General Muhammad Asghar told Arab News.

“We have been providing basic rescue training to all of our emergency teams from Emergency Services Academy, Lahore, who have been actively providing medical services during any accidents on highways.”

In April 2022, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif visited the province and directed the National Highway Authority (NHA) to expedite the dualization of the Quetta-Karachi highway and complete the vital road network in 18 months. But despite the prime minister’s directives, the dualization work continues at a snail’s pace.

Arab News repeatedly tried to reach NHA officials for a comment on the subject, but did not receive a response to the calls.

Imtiaz Shah, a former Pakistani hockey player and Olympian, was killed on the notorious highway while returning to Quetta from Khuzdar along with two other hockey players in October last year.

Shah’s brother remembers the last goodbye he said to his mother and two young daughters before stepping out of home.

“My elder brother, accompanied by senior hockey players Mujahid Butt and Hajji Mir Muhammad went to Khuzdar to undertake hockey trials under the Prime Minister National Talent Hunt Program but they never returned home,” Sadam Shah told Arab News.

“A speeding passenger bus crushed their vehicle from the opposite side when it attempted to overtake another passenger bus. Although hundreds of people die on this Killer Highway every year, the government is not taking any measures to expand the highway or prevent transport companies from violating traffic rules.”

Muhamad Fazal, 40, who has been driving giant passenger buses on the Quetta-Karachi highway for the last 20 years, says major transport companies have strict speed checks on their buses, but drivers working for local companies frequently violate the speed limit.

“Unfortunately, some of the passenger buses carry smuggled goods and Iranian fuel to Karachi, and they speed to reach there timely, which causes major accidents and sometimes fire after the accident on this narrow highway,” Fazal told Arab News.

“I have seen many drivers racing on the highways while carrying dozens of passengers which should be ended to control accidents and transport companies should expel [such] reckless drivers.”

Many single-lane highways in the Punjab and Sindh provinces have been expanded or dualized, but the Quetta-Karachi highway has yet to be expanded since the 1990s, he noted.

Pakistan army chief meets Saudi counterpart to discuss defense ties, security cooperation

Updated 8 sec ago

Pakistan army chief meets Saudi counterpart to discuss defense ties, security cooperation

  • Pakistan, Saudi Arabia’s militaries have a history of extensive defense cooperation
  • Two nations often participate in joint military exercises, Pakistan army trains Saudi cadets

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s army chief, General Asim Munir, on Friday held a meeting with the leader of Saudi Arabia’s armed forces, General Fayyadh Bin Hamed Al Ruwaili, and discussed strengthening bilateral cooperation in defense and security affairs, the army’s media wing said.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia share strong defense ties and security cooperation. An annual tradition involves cadets from the Kingdom, along with counterparts from other Middle Eastern nations, visiting Pakistan to undergo specialized army training. The two nations regularly engage in joint military exercises.

On September 9, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia launched a joint naval exercise near the Kingdom’s Al Jubail city and in August the two countries launched an inaugural joint special forces exercise to benefit from each other’s counterterrorism expertise.

“During the meeting, both sides deliberated upon various areas of mutual interest and bilateral cooperation, including defense and security matters,” the army’s media wing said of the meeting between the two generals.

A day ago, General Al-Ruwaili visited Pakistan’s Naval Headquarters in Islamabad and met a senior Pakistan Navy official.

“The visiting dignitary appreciated and acknowledged Pakistan Navy’s efforts and commitments in support of collaborative maritime security in the region,” a statement from the Navy said on Thursday.

Riyadh and Islamabad also enjoy close cooperation in trade, economy, culture, information, and investment. Pakistani expats living in Saudi Arabia are the largest source of remittances to the South Asian nation.

Pakistan open to welcoming Mohammad Amir to World Cup squad — chief selector

Updated 22 September 2023

Pakistan open to welcoming Mohammad Amir to World Cup squad — chief selector

  • Fast bowler retired from international cricket in 2020 citing discrimination, ‘mental torture’
  • Chief selector says if Amir to be considered for World Cup is willing to play domestic cricket

ISLAMABAD: Chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq said on Friday Pakistan was ‘open’ to the possibility of welcoming former fast bowler Mohammad Amir back into the squad ahead of the World Cup if he consistently performed well in domestic competitions.
Amir announced his retirement from international cricket at the age of 28 in December 2020, claiming he could no longer play in an atmosphere where he did not feel welcome in the national team.
Amir, who was jailed in 2011 for his part in a spot-fixing scandal, served three months in prison and a five-year ban from all forms of cricket before returning to the Pakistan squad in January 2016.
The left-arm bowler excelled in limited-overs cricket after that, helping Pakistan to the Champions Trophy title in 2017, but was dropped from the squad to tour New Zealand in 2020.
Questioned about the chance of Amir returning to the squad for the upcoming cricket World Cup starting next month in India, the chief selector said “the doors are open for everyone, including Amir.”
“Aamir is a great cricketer and he had decided to retire,” the official said.
“If he wants to play for Pakistan, the doors are open for everyone. If he comes back and plays first-class cricket and performs well, he will definitely be considered … I have said this before, neither the PCB (Pakistan Cricket Board) nor the selection committee closes the door [of opportunity] for anyone.”

In an interview with a local news channel when he retired, Amir said he had been “mentally tortured by the team management, subjected to frequent taunts, and felt deliberately sidelined.” 
Asked if he was leaving the sport altogether he said: “No, I’m not going away from cricket. If you have seen the atmosphere here and the way I’ve been sidelined, I got a wake-up call when I was not selected in the 35-man squad,” Amir had told Samaa TV.
“I don’t think I can play cricket under this management. I think I should leave cricket this time. I am being tortured mentally. I don’t think I can tolerate any more torture now.
“I’ve experienced a lot of torture from 2010 to 2015. I was away from the game and sentenced for my mistake. I’m being tortured again and again...”
Amir, who has 259 wickets across all formats, had retired from test cricket in 2019 to focus on the white-ball game.
He was the pick of the Pakistan bowlers in the 2019 50-overs World Cup in England with 17 wickets as they missed out on a semifinal spot.

248% surge in US visa applications from Pakistan between 2021-2022 — Gallup

Updated 22 September 2023

248% surge in US visa applications from Pakistan between 2021-2022 — Gallup

  • ‘Overwhelming increase’ in 2022 could be attributable to lifting of coronavirus travel restrictions
  • US consulate said this week it had expedited visa application process amid ‘unprecedented’ demand

ISLAMABAD: Gallup Pakistan said in a report published this week visa applications from Pakistan for the United States increased by 248 percent percent between 2021 and 2022, likely owed to the lifting of travel restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic.
The analysis draws data from the United States Department of State and covers a substantial timeframe, starting from 1998 and extending up to 2022. A primary focus of the analysis was to assess the overall volume of visa applications from Pakistanis for the United States, including a detailed examination of the numerical figures, highlighting both high and low points over the years.
The United States consulate in Karachi said this week it had expedited the US visa application process for Pakistanis and was working to reduce wait times amid “unprecedented” demand.
“Applications increased in the past decade compared to the previous one, with a notable 248 percent surge in 2022,” Gallup said in its report.
“The overwhelming increase in applications in 2022 could be attributable, among other things, to those who could not travel in the 2019-2021 period due to Covid19. The average applications decreased from 65,385 in 2015-2015 to 37,913 in 2019-2021. Once the pandemic restrictions were lifted, it would be plausible to assume that those who were intending to go to the US for business or education purposes over the past three years, applied for visas at their earliest.”
Looking at data 1998 onwards, the highest applications were received in the years 2000 (88,791), after which they saw a steep decline until the 2010s. The second highest point in application frequency was reached in 2016 (76,637), followed closely by 2022 (72,082). The average over the past 20 years, represented by the trendline, remained 47,566 applications.
“The steep decline in 2020 and 2021 may be attributed to the travel restrictions and lockdowns that were imposed due to Covid-19,” the Gallup report said. “Other than this period, Pakistan’s visa applications to the US were lowest in 2003 (24,092), followed by 2004 (24,934).”
Among different visa types, in immigrant visas, K-visa applications spiked between 2003 and 2010 while E-visa applications remained consistently low.
In non-Immigrant Visas, B-1/B-2 visas had the most applications, with a dip in 2021 followed by a rebound to 58,152 in 2022. F1 visa applications showed a rising trend, reaching 3,540 in 2022. H-visa applications fluctuated over the years, with the highest in 2001 (5,555) and the lowest in 2020 (704). A-category visa applications increased from 2008 to 2020, surpassing H-visa applications during this period.
The US consulate in Karachi said on Tuesday the demand for US visas was the highest it had ever been in the South Asian country and it was “working hard” to bring down visa appointment wait times.
“We have expedited thousands of non-immigrant visa appointments. More than ten thousand Pakistani visa applicants originally scheduled for 2024 at the US Consulate General in Karachi are receiving notice that their appointments have been rescheduled in 2023, some as early as next week,” the consulate said in a statement.
“To create added flexibility for Pakistani travelers, visa applicants can rebook appointments at either the Consulate General in Karachi or US Embassy in Islamabad.”
Starting September 25, the US consulate said, it would also start accepting new interview waiver applications for some applicants who had previously been issued US visas.
“These steps demonstrate how deeply the United States values the relationship between our two countries,” it added.

Pakistan PM uses New York visit to pitch new investment council to the world

Updated 22 September 2023

Pakistan PM uses New York visit to pitch new investment council to the world

  • Pakistan in June set up Special Investment Facilitation Council, a civil-military forum, to attract foreign funding
  • SIFC has identified five sectors as priority namely IT, agriculture, defense, minerals and mining and energy

ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar is using his visit to New York this week to attend the UN General Assembly to meet business and thought leaders and stakeholders and make the case for improved business climate in Pakistan and its potential for foreign direct investment in a range of sectors.
Pakistan in June set up a Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) — a civil-military hybrid forum — to fast-track decision making and promote investment from foreign nations, particularly Gulf countries.
The council has identified five sectors as priority, namely agriculture, mining, information technology, defense production and energy, as the South Asian country deals with a balance of payments crisis and requires billions of dollars in foreign exchange to finance its trade deficit and repay its international debts in the current financial year.
“Attracting foreign investments in all sectors of Pakistan’s economy is the government’s top priority,” Kakar was quoting as saying in a statement released after he met a delegation of the US Pakistan Business Council (USPBC), on the sidelines of the annual session of United Nations General Assembly in New York on Thursday evening.

Pakistan's Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar addresses the SDG Summit Leaders Dialogue on the sidelines of the 78th UN General Assembly session at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on September 20, 2023. (Photo courtesy: PMO)

He told the group his government was focused on creating a business-friendly environment and would welcome all suggestions.
 “The government believes in no-holds-barred foreign investment regime, and has constituted the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) to facilitate foreign investors, bolster their confidence and expedite project implementation in priority areas of agriculture, IT, energy and minerals and mining,” a statement from Kakar’s office said.
He said the US corporate sector “must look at ways and means” to enhance its “very long and productive” relationship with Pakistan, identifying agriculture, IT, pharmaceuticals, health and digital banking as sectors where US companies could enhance investments in Pakistan.
Esperanza Jelalian, USPBC President, told Kakar the body would “continue to engage with the government of Pakistan to seek mutually beneficial ways of enhancing cooperation.”
Speaking earlier in the day at the Council on Foreign Relations, Kakar welcomed the revival of the Pakistan-US Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) after a gap of eight years, saying the forum should pave the way for enhanced investment in Pakistan.

“The United States is our largest export destination. Over the past year, Pakistan’s total exports to the US reached an impressive $ 8.4 billion,” Kakar said. “We need to work on US investment in Pakistan.”
As caretaker prime minister, Kakar said, he was making it a “priority” to improve Pakistan’s business climate and attract US capital and expertise.
“More than 80 US enterprises are already operating and thriving in Pakistan, contributing to our mutual prosperity. This constitutes a good infrastructure for investment on which we can build further investment partnership,” the PM added.
On Thursday, Kakar also met the CEO of Rio Tinto Group, a global leader in mining and minerals, and discussed investment opportunities in Pakistan.
He briefed Jakob Stausholm about the country’s vast untapped mineral reserves, valued at over $6 trillion, which include substantial deposits of gold, copper, and rare earth metals.
“The prime minister outlined Pakistan’s robust economic vision, emphasizing the government’s commitment to sustainable growth through efficiency enhancement, reduced business costs, regulatory improvements, increased productivity, and higher investments,” a statement from the PM’s office said.

In this handout photo, taken and released by the Prime Minister's Office, Pakistan Caretaker Prime Minister Anwar-ul-Haq Kakar (left) gestures during a meeting with Rio Tinto Group head, Jakob Stausholm, on the sidelines of the 78th UNGA Summit in New York on September 21, 2023. (Photo courtesy: PMO)

“He underscored the role of the Special Investment Facilitation Council, which acted as a single-window platform, simplifying procedures and fostering an investor-friendly environment.”
The prime minister invited Stausholm and his team to visit Pakistan and explore investment opportunities further.
“CEO of Rio Tinto Group thanked the prime minister for the invitation and assured that his team would liaise with the relevant authorities to explore investment opportunities in Pakistan’s mineral and mining sector,” the statement said.

Naseem Shah is ruled out of the Cricket World Cup in a big injury blow for Pakistan

Updated 22 September 2023

Naseem Shah is ruled out of the Cricket World Cup in a big injury blow for Pakistan

  • Naseem sustained shoulder injury during Asia Cup in Sri Lanka
  • Shah was replaced by Hasan Ali in a 15-member squad

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan sustained a big blow after its ace pace bowler Naseem Shah was ruled out of the Cricket World Cup on Friday due to a right shoulder injury.
Naseem sustained the injury during the Asia Cup in Sri Lanka. He was replaced by Hasan Ali in a 15-member squad announced on Friday. The World Cup starts on Oct. 5 in India.
Hasan played his last ODI in June last year against the West Indies but was dropped due to his indifferent form in 50-overs cricket.
“Hasan is an experienced bowler and has performed well in mega events in the past,” chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq said in Lahore while announcing the squad.
“We were forced to make one change because of an unfortunate injury to Naseem Shah. We needed someone who could bowl with the new ball. He (Hasan) bowls well with both old and new ball, and is a team man. His presence lends energy to the team.”
The Pakistan Cricket Board said Naseem has been advised to undergo surgery, following a thorough medical examination and consultations with leading medical experts and is expected to recover in three to four months. It means the mercurial fast bowler is certain to miss a test series against Australia after the World Cup.
There were doubts over the fitness of fast bowler Haris Rauf, who missed out the last Super 4 game against Sri Lanka after sustaining an injury during the game against India.
“We had a few injury scares in the recent Asia Cup, but I am glad to share that all the players are fully fit and are eager to perform for their country in the all-important tournament,” Inzamam said.
“I have received encouraging reports from our medical panel about Haris Rauf. He has started to (shadow) bowl at the National Cricket Academy and will be available for selection.”
The core of the Pakistan team is the same which competed in the recent Asia Cup under captain Babar Azam, but couldn’t qualify for the final after losing to archrival India and Sri Lanka in the Super 4 portion of the tournament.
Spin all-rounders Shadab Khan and Mohammad Nawaz both retained their places in the side with leg-spinner Usama Mir as the other spin option for Pakistan. Pakistan didn’t tinker with its batting lineup with left-hander test specialist Saud Shakeel as the only surprise inclusion in the 15-member side.
Pakistan is scheduled to play two warm-up games against New Zealand and Australia before it takes on the Netherlands in its opening World Cup game on Oct. 6 at Hyderabad.
Pakistan squad: Babar Azam (captain), Imam-ul-Haq, Fakhar Zaman, Abdullah Shafique, Saud Shakeel, Salman Ali Agha, Iftikhar Ahmed, Mohammad Rizwan, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Nawaz, Hasan Ali, Mohammad Wasim, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Haris Rauf, Usama Mir. Reserves: Zaman Khan, Abrar Ahmed, Mohammad Haris.