As motorists, both private and public, neared the end of the second week of the CNG strike, the pump owners’ representative, the All-Pakistan CNG Dealers Association’s Ghiyas Piracha, while deposing before the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Petroleum and Natural Resources, squarely blamed the government for not maintaining a uniform tax rate all over the country. The committee adopted this view as its own, condemned the government for this anomaly, and recommended imposing equal tax on all sectors, providing maximum relief to the consumer, while keeping prices at the current level. Meanwhile, the Economic Coordination Committee of the Cabinet is likely to ban the sale of CNG to vehicles with an engine capacity greater than 1000cc. This would mean that, at one stroke, vehicles which has made the conversion to CNG, will return to consuming petrol or diesel, with the horrendous consequences of a return of the smog that had begun bedeviling the entire country, and which the conversion to CNG made disappear.

It should not be forgotten, however embarrassing it might be to certain bureaucrats, that the whole process of conversion to CNG was government-driven, and it was government which put in place the taxation and other incentives that made such a conversion possible.

The National Assembly Standing Committee took up the matter because the strike has affected daily life very adversely. The strike was sparked off by the Supreme Court’s delinking of the CNG price from the international oil price, and its elimination of the excessive profits that were otherwise accruing. The strike was made more crucial after the PM’s Petroleum Advisor, Dr Asim Hussain, confirmed that the country did not have the fuel to run the vehicles that were operating on CNG. Thus, if the strike was left to continue, the country could well grind to a halt.

It is both strange and callous that, at a time like this, there is as much neglect of the Iranian gas pipeline. Pakistan has more need to use the gas, than Iran has to sell it, but there has been faster work done on the Iranian side than the Pakistani. Instead of doing its work ahead of schedule, Pakistan is hard put to complete its share of the work on time. It should not invest either time or energy in the Tapi project, which may well be favoured by the USA for political reasons, but which will only be made possible by a settling of the country, which in turn implies the USA withdrawing from Afghanistan.