Fury in Pakistan as gasoline crisis brings roads to a halt

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Monday expresses extreme displeasure over Pakistan’s severe petrol shortage

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Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Monday expressed extreme displeasure over Pakistan’s severe petrol shortage, forcing the petroleum minister to apologies for a crisis that has brought parts of the nation to a standstill.

The shortage began last week, first hitting Pakistan’s central Punjab province and the capital Islamabad, and spreading Monday to northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and parts of the country’s biggest city, Karachi.

Affected areas ground to a halt, taking many buses off the roads and prompting angry scuffles at petrol stations, with tempers fraying as people waited in long queues for fuel. Some filling stations were forced to close.

“The Prime Minister showed his extreme displeasure over the difficulties being faced by the people due to non-availability of fuel,” Sharif’s office said in a statement after he led a high-level meeting on the crisis.

Officials say the shortage was sparked earlier this month when banks refused to extend further credit to Pakistan State Oil (PSO), forcing the state-owned fuel supplier to slash imports.

Anger is growing over the shortage among Pakistanis – who already have to deal with chronic power cuts that can see them struggle without electricity for 12 hours a day or more – at a time of a global glut in oil supplies.

Solving Pakistan’s energy crisis was a key campaign pledge for Sharif in the run-up to the 2013 general election, and the shortage is heaping fresh pressure on his government.

The prime minister suspended four top officials on Saturday over the crisis and has ordered an enquiry, his office said.

Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on Monday apologized for the shortage, telling a press conference the situation had left him “ashamed” and pledging it would be resolved within “days.”

The petrol supply has been increased by 30 percent to 50 percent, Abbasi added.

“I’ve been waiting in the queue for three hours,” complained taxi driver Iqbal Khan, stuck in a queue of hundreds of vehicles in Islamabad’s G-11 neighborhood.

“Where will we go when there is no electricity and no petrol? Better that this government resign.”

A spokesperson for opposition leader Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) party said it was planning nationwide protests over the gasoline crisis.

PSO provides up to 80 percent of Pakistan’s oil.

Abbasi disputed that the shortage was linked to the company’s finances, instead pointing to higher demand.

“Consumption increased in January after a sharp decrease in petrol prices,” he said. “Closure of CNG [Compressed Natural Gas] stations and decrease in petrol prices increased the demand.”

Compressed natural gas (CNG) is widely used as fuel by Pakistani motorists as a cheaper alternative to petrol.

Pakistan closed down CNG stations in parts of the country at the beginning of winter because of a separate shortage of the gas, to help conserve supplies for people using it to cook and heat their homes.

To ease the pressure on gasoline stations, the minister said that CNG stations have been opened in Lahore and Karachi.