Home Latest News Pakistan Easing Rules to Facilitate Afghans: Fawad

Pakistan Easing Rules to Facilitate Afghans: Fawad

by Newsweek Pakistan

Photo courtesy PID

In post-cabinet briefing, information minister warns of impending gas crisis; welcomes ECP intent to utilize EVMs in local body polls

Pakistan’s federal cabinet on Tuesday decided to facilitate the registration process of international non-governmental organizations working for the welfare of Afghans as part of measures to avoid a looming humanitarian crisis in the war-torn state.

In a press briefing after a weekly meeting of the federal cabinet, Information Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said it had been decided to make it easier to officials of international NGOs to obtain Pakistani visas to help ensure aid for the people of Afghanistan. He said the process of obtaining visas to Pakistan for Afghans was also being improved, with the time required for security clearance being reduced from 30 to 15 days. Transit visas for Afghans immigrating to other countries via Pakistan had likewise been extended to 60 days, he said, adding this included travel by both land and air routes.

The government was making all-out efforts to provide every possible assistance to the Afghan people to prevent a looming crisis, said Fawad, noting that Islamabad was hosting an Organization for Islamic Cooperation Foreign Ministers’ Summit on Dec. 19 to discuss various issues related to Afghanistan.

Gas crisis

“People accustomed to using cheap gas need to change their habits,” said the minister, as he warned of a looming gas shortage. He claimed that the country’s gas reserves were depleting by 9 percent annually and in a few years the country would no longer be able to provide any supplies for domestic consumers.

Alleging that gas to cities was subsidized by the government, he said this model was not sustainable and there was a need to restructure the sector to secure maximum utility from available reserves. To a question, Fawad admitted that the price of oil had decline in the international market, but claimed “it hasn’t reduced enough” to have an impact on domestic prices. The government has, on the directions of the International Monetary Fund, decided to impose the maximum permissible Petroleum Development Levy on fuel prices, preventing it from passing on to consumers any global decline in fuel prices.

The minister said that the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA) had presented its one year (2019-20) report before the cabinet, adding that some 10 companies had been awarded licenses to provide gas to consumers through imports. A comprehensive policy would be launched in future to avoid incidents of gas cylinder explosions, he added. He also hailed the country’s urea fertilizer sector, claiming it had continued to work efficiently and achieved “record” production of 34 million metric tons despite a gas shortage.

EVMs

Fawad reiterated that the Ministry of Science and Technology had informed the cabinet that it was ready to provide electronic voting machines (EVMs) to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). He advised the ECP to issue a tender for the EVMs in line with its requirements, and recalled that the devices had been initially proposed by the Pakistan Peoples Party in 2012, followed by then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif in 2017, who had directed the ECP to determine how it could be utilized in elections. That report, according to sources, had noted that the devices would not be suitable in Pakistan’s context.

He said the cabinet had welcomed the ECP’s decision to use EVMs during local government elections in Islamabad, adding that around 4,000 devices would be required for this.

On the ongoing protests in Gwadar, the minister said that Planning Minister Asad Umar and Defense Production Minister Zubaida Jalal would soon visit the Balochistan district on behalf of the prime minister to listen to and address the grievances of its residents.

He said the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led government had already announced Rs. 700 billion package for south Balochistan, adding that if the people of Gwadar still continued to face problems then the government would rethink its strategy. He claimed that the government was spending more to ensure clean drinking water to Gwadar than to Islamabad.

COVID-19

The information minister said Special Assistant to the P.M. on Health Dr. Faisal Sultan had briefed the cabinet on preventive measures against the Omicron variant of COVID-19. He said lawmakers had emphasized the need to increase the pace of vaccinations, maintain social distance and wear masks. He said it was heartening that 25% of Pakistan’s population had been fully vaccinated and urged the roughly 20 million who had only received their first dose to get fully inoculated as soon as possible.

Fawad said the Sugar Sector Reform Committee’s report had contained several proposals, including deregulating the sector, to minimize the government’s role in fixing prices. “The report will now be available for public debate before any final decision is taken,” he added.

He said Adviser to the P.M. on Finance Shaukat Tarin had updated the cabinet on inflation, claiming that the weekly inflation rate had come down by 0.07 percent as the cost of sugar, flour and other household items had decreased. “I advise you not to look at the data of the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics and check the prices in markets yourselves,” he told journalists.

He claimed that prices of essential commodities, apart from ghee and tea leaves, were cheaper in Pakistan than its neighboring states. He reiterated the cabinet’s concerns of prices of essential commodities being higher in Sindh and urged the provincial government to take steps to alleviate this.

The information minister said the cabinet had also approved an amendment to the bilateral air route between Pakistan and Tajikistan to reduce air distance and travel costs. Similarly, he said, the Kazakh Air Company had been allowed to start operations between Pakistan and Kazakhstan to provide direct air travel between both countries and boost bilateral trade. He said the cabinet had directed the Aviation Division to finalize air travel agreements with all Central Asian countries to promote bilateral trade. An amendment to the existing air travel agreement between Pakistan and Iraq had also been approved to increase commercial flights between them.

The cabinet was informed that Pakistan had petrol and diesel stock for 27 days. It was also told, said Fawad, that 75 exploration licenses had been awarded and revenue of Rs. 29 billion generated.

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