Smuggled Iranian Gas and a Predawn Dash Lead to Fiery Crash That Kills 13


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — At least 13 people were killed in a fiery collision between a passenger bus and a pickup truck carrying smuggled Iranian gasoline early Friday in southwestern Pakistan, officials said.

The deadly collision happened around 4 a.m. Friday in Killa Saifullah, a remote district in Baluchistan Province. “Thirteen people were burned to death in the collision. One person miraculously survived without any injuries,” Atiqur Rehman, the deputy commissioner of the district, said in a telephone interview.

The official said it was raining and snowing around 2:30 a.m. on Friday when officials received information about the movement of four Datsun pickup trucks carrying smuggled Iranian gasoline in the district.

“They were intercepted by law enforcing authorities, but one pickup truck managed to break through the security cordon,” he said. “Later, we learned that there had been an accident of a bus and the pickup truck.”

The commuter bus was traveling from Dera Ghazi Khan in Punjab Province to Quetta, Baluchistan’s provincial capital. Both vehicles caught fire and fell into a 10-foot ditch after the collision.

Smuggled Iranian fuel is typically much less expensive than legally sold fuel in Pakistan, and Pakistani officials have long struggled to stamp out its sale. In Mr. Rehman’s district alone, the authorities confiscated 15,000 liters (about 4,000 gallons) of Iranian fuel just last month, he said.

The smugglers move late in the night, sometimes in small convoys of old pickup trucks filled with oil cans, he said.

Despite being rich in natural resources, and the site of billions of dollars’ worth of Chinese development projects, Baluchistan is one of the most troubled places in Pakistan. The security forces have used a heavy hand in fighting a long-running insurgency there, Islamist militant groups often target the Shiite minority population, and much of the Afghan Taliban leadership is still based in Quetta.

Officials say that smuggling has long been a factor in Baluchistan, aided by the province’s badland borders with Iran and Afghanistan, and driven by deep poverty and unemployment among residents.

“They are playing with fire only because they are very desperate,” Dr. Jehanzeb Jamaldini, a senator from Baluchistan Province, said of the poverty problem.

Senator Jamaldini said that the government had not done a good job providing alternative jobs and better economic conditions in Baluchistan, creating an opening for the sale of cheaper Iranian gasoline that should be allowed anyway to benefit residents.

But Pakistani officials say that smuggled Iranian fuel drains around $400 million from Pakistan’s economy each year.

An official of the Pakistan State Oil company told the country’s Senate this year that smuggled Iranian oil was still easily available in Quetta, the provincial capital, and elsewhere in the province.

“We have to shut down 159 petrol outlets in Baluchistan where Iranian petrol is freely available at fuel stations, and it is cheaper,” Umar Shafi, the official, was quoted as saying by the local news media.

The smuggled gasoline also finds its way to other Pakistani provinces, including Sindh Province and the economic hub city of Karachi.