IS fighters massing in Afghanistan, Putin says ahead of meeting

MOSCOW: Russian Presi­dent Vladimir Putin on Friday said hundreds of fighters loyal to the militant Islamic State (IS) group were massing in northern Afghanistan, as Moscow prepares to host international talks on the country next week.

The United States, China and Pakistan will join talks on the Taliban takeover on Tuesday, the Kremlin’s envoy to Afghanistan said.

A day later, the Taliban and other regional players will talk to Russian officials on how to rally international assistance to stave off a humanitarian crisis.

“According to our intelligence, the number of (IS) members alone in northern Afghanistan is about 2,000 people,” Putin said during a video conference meeting with leaders of other ex-Soviet states.

Pakistan, US, China will join talks

He said they had plans to move between ex-Soviet Central Asian countries disguised as refugees.

Earlier this week, Putin warned of the threat of veteran fighters from Iraq and Syria with IS links crossing into Afghanistan, while Russia’s foreign ministry said it expected the Taliban, which recently gained control of the country, to deal with the threat.

On Friday, Putin said IS leaders in Afghanistan were seeking to project the group’s influence across former Soviet states in Central Asia — which Moscow sees as its backyard — to stir up religious and ethnic discord.

‘We need to interact’

“Terrorists are seeking to infiltrate the Comm­onwealth’s territory, including under the guise of refugees,” Putin said, referring to a group of ex-Soviet countries — some of which border Afghanistan.

The Taliban, which seized control of Kabul from a pro-Western government in mid-August, are seeking international recognition and aid.

Putin’s special envoy to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov said on Friday that Tuesday’s talks would focus on trying “to work out a common position on the changing situation in Afghanistan”.

As for the talks the next day, Kabulov said Moscow did not expect any “breakthrough solutions” but would “openly state our complaints to the Afghan delegation”.

The Kremlin has reached out to the Taliban and hosted its representatives in Moscow several times in recent years.

While Moscow has been cautiously optimistic about the new leadership in Kabul, the Kremlin is concerned about instability spilling over into Central Asia where it has military bases.


Islamabad airport handles first Afghan cargo

ISLAMABAD: Commerce Adviser Abdul Razak Dawood said on Friday the government was fully focused on boosting trade and exports with Afghanistan.

He said peace in Afghanistan and strengthening of economic relationship between the two countries would help increase bilateral trade.

Talking to media on the occasion of first cargo handling from Islamabad airport to Afghanistan via road, the minister said it was a historic moment. The cargo reached the airport via a private air company WF Integral. Mr Razak said despite having a cargo handling facility at Islamabad Airport, the complex remained inactive for international transportation. “This facility would also help in despatching goods coming from other countries to Afghanistan,” he added.

Published in Dawn

Imran orders stern action against sugar hoarders

• Admits import bill increased by 53pc in a year mainly due to import of sugar, wheat, pulses, palm oil • Launches farmers’ portal to facilitate complaints registration
• PM told CCTV cameras installed at sugar mills to keep track of produce

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday ordered stern action against sugar barons involved in profiteering and hoarding adding to the misery of inflation-hit people.

“The state will take strict action against the profiteers who were the enemies of the poor masses,” Mr Khan said while chairing a review meeting on sale price and hoarding of sugar.

The PM directed the authorities concerned to make strict legislation against sugar hoarders and profiteers and ensure implementation of track and trace system of sugar mills to ascertain the production volume of the commodity.

Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar, Adviser to the PM on Accountability Mirza Shahzad Akbar, Special Assistant to the PM Dr Shahbaz Gill and senior officers attended the meeting. Punjab Minister for Industries Mian Aslam Iqbal and Punjab Chief Secretary Kamran Afzal joined the meeting through video link.

The chief secretary apprised the participants that all district administration had been directed to monitor if sugar was being sold at the price fixed by the government. The process of legislation against hoarders and profiteers was also in progress, he said.

He disclosed that closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras had been installed at sugar mills to keep an eye on the quantity of sugarcane and sugar produce entering and leaving the mills. Besides, data would also be obtained from sugar mills on a daily basis during the crushing season, he added.

Farmers’ portal launched

Earlier, the premier launched the Kisan Portal, a special category for farmers in the Pakistan Citizen Portal, expressing the hope that it would give a voice to small farmers.

At the launch, Mr Khan blamed the previous rulers for not building dams and lack of research in agriculture with the result that Pakistan lagged behind many countries in producing the required agro products. “Pakistan has reduced its research spending in the past, and the countries who had invested in research saw increased agricultural productivity. As long as you don’t do research, participate in seed development, how will your productivity increase,” he added.

The prime minister also lamented that Pakistan did not work on building reservoirs and dams, which could have helped farmers get more water for irrigation. There was a lot of uncultivated land in Pakistan that could be made use of, he remarked.

“We have a lot of land lying unattended. But we didn’t have water and never thought of it. Now big dams are being built after 50 years. We are building dams and you will see we will give more water to farmers. It can also stop the destruction from floods,” Mr Khan said.

Talking about the situation of farmers in the country, the premier said that all research pointed to how small farmers paid the highest prices when buying something from the market but sold their crop at the lowest price compared to those with major land holdings.

“Farmer used to work hard and take his sugarcane to sugar mills. He would be defeated from both sides — first they (sugar mills) made farmers wait in long lines. When I travelled in winter, trucks used to be queued outside sugar mills and they would get low prices,” he recalled.

“Ninety per cent farmers have small landholdings but their problems have never reached those in power,” he said.

The government, he said, had introduced Kisan Card to provide direct subsidy to farmers. Now a small farmer would get money directly through the Kisan Card, he announced.

Farmers also needed insurance, he said, adding that banks would be more than willing to give loans if the farmers’ crops were insured.

53pc hike in import bill

The prime minister admitted: “Our import bill has increased 53 per cent in one year. The pressure on the rupee increased because we imported 4m tonnes of wheat, we imported sugar and pulses and the [price of imported] palm oil nearly doubled.”

He said Pakistan was taking help from China to increase agricultural productivity as the agriculture sector was also made part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

“The most expensive and nutritious vegetable, Avocado, is being sold for Rs600-Rs700 per piece here. Its tree starts giving fruit in four to five years. We have a lot of land for [planting avocado trees]. We have to [grow] new crops as our population increases.”

Discussing salient features of the portal, the premier said farmers would be able to directly call the chief secretary’s office with the help of Kisan Portal. According to the PM Office, 123 dashboards have been set up in relevant institutions at the federal and provincial level.

Published in Dawn,

Govt hikes petrol price by Rs10 per litre

The federal government on Saturday raised the price of petrol by Rs10.49 per litre and that of high speed diesel (HSD) by Rs12.44 per litre.

According to a notification issued by the Finance Division, the new price of petrol, effective from Oct 16 (today), is Rs137.79 per litre while high speed diesel will sell for Rs134.48.

Meanwhile, the prices of kerosene and light diesel oil (LDO) were increased by Rs10.95 and Rs8.84 per litre respectively. The new price of kerosene is Rs110.26 per litre and that of LDO is Rs108.35 per litre.

This is perhaps the first time for which data is publicly available that all the four major petroleum products are being sold above Rs100 per litre in the country.

The notification stated that oil prices in the international market had risen around $85 a barrel which was the highest since October 2018.

“Importantly, entire energy chain prices have witnessed a strong surge in the past couple of months due to higher demand for energy inputs and supply bottlenecks,” it further stated.

The government had absorbed the pressure of increasing international rates and provided “maximum relief” to consumers by keeping the petroleum levy and sales tax to a minimum, the Finance Division said.

“Therefore, prices worked out by Ogra (Oil & Gas Regulatory Authority) have been approved,” it added.

It is pertinent to mention here that the government had raised the price of petrol by Rs4 per litre at the start of the month as well.

Govt took a hit of billions to ensure minimal burden passed on to public: minister

Minister of State for Information Farrukh Habib defended the price hike, saying it was still lower when compared to the international petroleum prices as he blamed global inflation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“In the last 15 days, petroleum prices rose by 13.5pc globally but we have increased the rates by only 8pc,” the minister said in a media talk delivered in Faisalabad. “The difference was absorbed by the government. We chose to take a hit of billions on our revenue but ensured that the burden passed on the public of this hike was as low as possible.”

“Coal, through which electricity is generated and is used in a lot of our industries … it’s price has risen from $50 to $250. We import all of the edible oil. Its price has gone up from $500 to $1200 and $1300. This is extraordinary inflation that has taken place in the entire world.

Habib cited a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reportedly saying that it was the greatest surge in inflation since 1970.

He detailed the government’s plans to curb inflation and held the previous governments responsible for the energy crisis the current government is embroiled in.

Petrol bomb will push people to the brink of starvation, says Shehbaz

PML-N leader Shehbaz Sharif blasted the latest hike in petrol prices, calling it “utterly shameful” and saying it would “push people to the brink of starvation”.

“No words to describe the extreme cruelty this selected PTI regime has inflicted on the people in the form of yet another increase in the prices of items of daily use,” he tweeted.

Hike would make common man’s life go from bad to worse: PSP’s Kamal

Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) Chairman Syed Mustafa Kamal criticised the federal government for raising the price of petroleum products, which he said was akin to forcing the common man up against the wall.

“This has been repeated so many times that it now sounds strange even to say that the government does not [care for the common man],” he said while delivering a media talk in Karachi. “Forget giving them 10m jobs, the ones who already had jobs are now unemployed as well.

“This hike in prices of petroleum products [would make] the life of a common man go from bad to worse. You don’t give gas in the winters and electricity in the summers so the common man has been forced against the wall.”

Petrol and HSD are two major products that generate most of revenue for the government because of their massive and yet growing consumption in the country. Average petrol sales are touching 750,000 tonnes per month against the monthly consumption of around 800,000 tonnes of HSD. The sales of kerosene and LDO are generally less than 11,000 and 2,000 tonnes per month, respectively.