‘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.

Provincial government in Balochistan to sponsor Palestinian students at Bolan Medical College

Updated 23 sec ago

Provincial government in Balochistan to sponsor Palestinian students at Bolan Medical College

  • Tuition fees of 17 Palestinian students would be waived
  • Rs10,000 paid for hostel fee, Rs25,000 for daily expenses

ISLAMABAD: The government in Balochistan announced on Thursday it would bear the expenses, including tuition and hostel fees and a stipend, of 17 Palestinian students studying at a top medical university in the southwestern Pakistani province.

The announcement comes after the government in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province also instructed all its public educational institutions to exempt Palestinian students from tuition fees and hostel charges, and provide stipends and scholarships in light of the war in Gaza.

“Balochistan Government has issued a notification for payment of sponsorship and educational expenses of 17 Palestinian students of Bolan Medical College,” the chief minister’s office said in a statement.

“Caretaker Chief Minister Balochistan Mir Ali Mardan Domki had announced to pay the tuition fee and other expenses of the Palestinian students studying in Balochistan at the official level.”

The tuition fees of the Palestinian students would be waived and they would be paid Rs10,000 each for hostel fees and Rs25,000 for daily expenses, the statement added.

Over 300 Palestinian students are currently enrolled in Pakistani universities nationwide, including 50 in Sindh’s public educational institutions, according to the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Pakistan.

Over the years, more than 50,000 Palestinian nationals have graduated from educational institutions in Pakistan.

Pakistan mulling army crackdown against electricity theft, line losses in distribution companies — official

Updated 33 min 24 sec ago

Pakistan mulling army crackdown against electricity theft, line losses in distribution companies — official

  • Power secretary says plan to bring in army will begin with Hyderabad Electric Supply Company as a pilot project
  • Energy Minister Mohammad Ali had said in September a crackdown would start to stop power theft of $1.92 billion

ISLAMABAD: The government has “carved out a plan” to involve the army in a crackdown against electricity theft and line losses of state-run power distribution companies, the federal secretary of the power division said in an interview to a top Pakistani newspaper published on Thursday. 

The South Asian nation’s power sector has been plagued by high rates of power theft and distribution losses, resulting in accumulating debts across the production chain — a concern also raised by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) during recent bailout talks.

There are ten distribution companies in Pakistan, which are locally called DISCOs. The high performing ones, with high recovery of bills, are based in the major eastern urban centers of Gujranwala and Faislabad, as well as in the capital, Islamabad, but other state-run companies make massive losses because of low recovery rates due to theft and line losses. 

The caretaker energy minister Mohammad Ali had said in September a crackdown would start to stop power theft of 589 billion rupees ($1.92 billion).

“We have carved out a plan which is yet to be approved by higher authorities. However, the top functionaries of Power Division have made up their minds to start implementing the plan from HESCO (Hyderabad Electric Supply Company) as a pilot project,” Secretary of the Power division Rasheed Langrial told The News, one of Pakistan’s top English newspapers, referring to plans for the army to supervise a crackdown against electricity theft and distribution losses. 

“This will help identify unscrupulous elements within the DISCO and people hand in glove with theft of electricity and causing billions of rupee losses to national exchequer.”

The army has not yet commented on Langrial’s remarks but the news comes after a crackdown on dollar hoarding and smuggling that has led to a continuing appreciation of Pakistan’s national currency and which currency dealers have widely credited the country’s all-powerful army of spearheading. Tens of millions of dollars have poured back into Pakistan’s interbank and open markets since raids on black market operators began on Sept. 6.

While there have been other attempts to curb the black market when the rupee has been under stress, the latest push came after licensed dealers requested army chief General Asim Munir to take action, rather than leave it solely to the civilian caretaker government that was put in place in August to run Pakistan till elections, currently expected to be held early next year. Munir had reportedly promised dealers “transparency in dollar exchange and interbank rates.”

According to the data for the financial year 2020-21 quoted in The News, the recovery of electricity bills in HESCO was at 73.7 percent, Sukkur Electric Supply Company 64.6 percent, Quetta Electric Supply Company at 34.66 percent and Tribal Electric Supply Company at 25.29 percent.

Pakistan’s resolve to undertake power sector reforms was crucial to reaching a staff level agreement unlocking a $3 billion standby arrangement from the IMF earlier this year.

The power sector has been specifically mentioned by the IMF, which called for a “timely” rebasing of tariffs to ensure that costs are recovered. This means hiking prices for consumers despite already record high inflation.

Pakistan polls regulator to unveil final constituency list today, rejects ‘rumors’ of election delay

Updated 30 November 2023

Pakistan polls regulator to unveil final constituency list today, rejects ‘rumors’ of election delay

  • Says will approach media regulator against those spreading false news
  • Election Commission has announced vote would take place on Feb. 8

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s main election oversight body has rejected “rumors” of a delay in general elections, and plans to release the final list of constituencies today, Thursday, state-media said. 

The Election Commission of Pakistan announced earlier this month the vote, originally expected in November and then scheduled for the last week of January, would instead take place on Feb. 8, a date chosen following consultations with the country’s President Dr. Arif Alvi that were requested by the Supreme Court.

“Election Commission has decided to approach PEMRA against those spreading such false news [of election delay] so that legal action can be taken against those spreading such misleading news,” the ECP said in a statement, referring to the electronic media regulator.

“The news that election lists have not been prepared is completely false.”

Pakistan’s state news agency APP reported that the ECP would release “the final list of constituencies based on the 7th Population and Housing Census 2023 on Thursday, earlier than initially planned.”

“Objections concerning the new constituencies for the national and four provincial assemblies were deliberated and concluded on November 22,” APP reported.

Pakistan’s parliament was dissolved by the president on then Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s advice on Aug. 9, setting the stage for a national election amid political and economic crises. A caretaker administration subsequently took over with the constitutional mandate to hold new elections in 90 days.

However, as the outgoing Sharif government had approved the results of a new census in August, the election commission was constitutionally bound to redraw hundreds of new constituency boundaries based on the fresh population count, delaying the election by several months.

Meanwhile, there has been widespread speculation in Pakistan that elections may be delayed even beyond February. The opposition party led by former premier Imran Khan says there are plans to delay polls as Khan’s popularity, even from behind bars, grows.

Analysts have said any delay in the election could fuel public anger and add to uncertainty in the nuclear-armed nation.

The last general election in July 2018 was won by the party of the cricketer-turned-politician Khan, who was sworn in days later as prime minister for the first time.

Khan has been at the heart of political turmoil since he was ousted as prime minister in a no-confidence vote last year, raising concern about Pakistan’s stability. He has since been convicted and jailed in a graft case, following which he has been barred from taking part in any election for five years.

Khan has accused the powerful military, which has ruled Pakistan intermittently since independence in 1947, of being responsible for his ouster. The military has denied the charge.

In addition to the legal issues that could crop up if the vote is delayed, the side-lining of Khan, the country’s most popular leader according to polls, will cast doubt over the credibility of the elections.

Arab-Islamic ministerial committee meets at UN headquarters to discuss Gaza war

Updated 30 November 2023

Arab-Islamic ministerial committee meets at UN headquarters to discuss Gaza war

  • Meeting led by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan
  • Ministers call for lasting peace, implementation of two-state solution

RIYADH: A ministerial committee assigned by the Joint Arab-Islamic Extraordinary Summit held a meeting on Wednesday at the UN headquarters in New York, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The meeting was led by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan and attended by representatives from China, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt, Palestine, Turkiye, Indonesia, Malaysia and the UAE.

The agenda focused on recent events in Gaza, including the outcomes of the humanitarian truce for Palestinian prisoners and efforts to achieve a ceasefire.

The meeting underscored the role of the UN Security Council’s permanent members in protecting civilians and enforcing international humanitarian laws, and highlighted the need to establish secure channels to allow urgent humanitarian aid to enter Gaza.

The ministers reiterated their call for lasting peace through the implementation of resolutions supporting a two-state solution and the creation of an independent, sovereign Palestinian state based on 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

The committee also urged the global community to consistently apply international legal and moral principles, and to protect Palestinians in Gaza and the occupied West Bank from the Israeli army and violent illegal settlers.

Pakistan PM in Dubai to attend World Climate Action Summit under COP28

Updated 30 November 2023

Pakistan PM in Dubai to attend World Climate Action Summit under COP28

  • Kakar plans to use the conference to call for early operationalization of loss and damage fund
  • There is no consensus between governments yet on who will pay for fund, where it will be located

ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar arrived in Dubai on Wednesday where he will attend the World Climate Action Summit being held this week during the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP 28.

World leaders, business luminaries and civil society members are descending on Dubai this week for the opening of the United Nations’ annual climate change conference (COP28), which will run from Nov. 30 to Dec. 12 and look to address some of the most-pressing issues related to what experts say is a rapidly accelerating climate crisis.

Pakistan, one of the most vulnerable nations to climate change, has set up its own pavilion and will use the conference to remind wealthy countries of their “crucial” responsibility in supporting climate-vulnerable nations and the need for “equity and justice” in global climate policies, the planning ministry in Islamabad said in a handout last week.

Pakistan Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar (left) is being received by the Minister for Justice of the United Arab Emirates, Abdullah Sultan bin Awad Al Nuaimi and Pakistan Ambassador to the UAE, at Dubai's Al-Maktoum International Airport on November 29, 2023. (Photo courtesy: PMO)

Last year’s summit in Egypt came on the heels of record floods in Pakistan that killed over 1,700 people and caused more than $30 million in damages to the economy. This year’s conference comes as Pakistan, while only contributing 0.9 percent to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, remains one of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change.

A deal to create a “loss and damage” fund was hailed as a breakthrough for developing country negotiators, headed by Pakistan, at COP27 in Egypt last year, overcoming years of resistance from wealthy nations. But since the summit, governments have struggled to reach consensus on the details of the fund, such as who will pay and where the fund will be located.

“The Prime Minister will head the Pakistani delegation at the 28th Conference of Parties,” Kakar’s office said in a statement after he was received at Dubai’s Al-Maktoum Airport by UAE Minister for Justice Abdullah Sultan bin Awad Al Nuaimi, Pakistan’s ambassador to the UAE and other diplomatic staff.

“The Prime Minister will attend the World Climate Action Summit on December 1 and 2.”

Kakar plans to use the conference to call for the early operationalization of the loss and damage fund and argue for the inclusion of developing countries in the fund, not just least developed states.

A special UN committee tasked with implementing the fund met for a fifth time in Abu Dhabi earlier this month, following a deadlock in Egypt last month, to finalize recommendations that will be put to governments when they meet in Dubai next week. The goal is to get the fund up and running by 2024.

Prior to arriving in Dubai, the prime minister was in Kuwait where he signed ten major investment deals. Earlier this week he also signed multibillion dollar investment and bilateral cooperation agreements with the UAE.