World Bulletin / News Desk
Pakistan's government, facing public anger over severe petrol shortages, promised on Monday the crisis that has led to long queues outside petrol stations would be solved within a week.
Already frustrated by crippling electricity and gas shortages, Pakistanis have accused the government of not acting fast enough to preempt a decrease in domestic fuel supplies at a time of falling global oil prices.
The crisis started this month when the cash-starved state fuel importer slashed petrol imports by half and skipped overseas fuel oil purchases altogether, worsening power cuts and leading to petrol shortages around the country.
"This is the height of incompetence and gross mismanagement by the government," said opposition senator Saeed Ghani.
The anger over the government's handling of the crisis has added to the list of problems facing Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his authority already weakened by months of opposition protests last year.
At a meeting chaired by Sharif on Monday, the government decided to buy additional petrol to defuse the crisis.
"From today we have started buying 15,000 metric tonnes of petrol and in the next 5-6 days it will be much easier to buy petrol," said Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.
The state importer says it buys up to 90 percent of fuel oil and petrol abroad, but this month it was forced to cut purchases because it had not been paid by its customers on time.
The government subsidises electricity, but rarely pays the subsidies to power companies on time. They, in turn, cannot pay for their fuel imports, leading to a buildup of unpaid bills referred to as "circular debt".
Some ambulance services were forced to suspend their work because of fuel shortages, media reported. On the streets, disgruntled motorists said they were running out of patience.
"This government should be ashamed of itself," said one man, Akhlaq Ahmed. "How can they run this country if they can't even manage petrol distribution in the capital?"