Pakistani troops escort wheat trucks to stop theft

ISLAMABAD – Pakistani paramilitary troops have begun escorting trucks carrying wheat to stop supplies being stolen amid shortages of flour that have inflamed anger against the government before an election, an official said on Sunday.

Pakistanis are complaining bitterly about a shortage of wheat flour and rising prices of the staple food which the government has blamed on hoarding and smuggling to neighboring countries.

Farooq Ahmed Khan, chief of the National Disaster Management Authority, said some supplies had been going missing somewhere along the supply chain.

“It seemed there could be something wrong along the chain from warehouses to mills and then to distribution points,” Khan told Reuters.

“Basically, we’re providing escorts and will monitor the entire chain so there is no chance of pilferage,” said Khan, whose authority is supervising the monitoring.

Authorities have also been given “special powers” to detain hoarders and smugglers, he said.

Khan said wheat stocks were sufficient and he described the flour shortage as “artificial”. The government was monitoring borders to stop flour being smuggled out of the country, he said.

“Within a few days thing should change for the better,” he said.

Most Pakistanis eat roti or unleavened bread at almost every meal.

In recent days, angry shoppers have been queuing for hours to get their hands on flour, adding to worries for the government in the run-up to a February 18 general election.

A top Agriculture Ministry official said the government had sufficient wheat stocks and about 1.5 million tonnes of imported wheat would reach Pakistan by the end of February.

Authorities were releasing more than enough supplies to meet demand, especially from the country’s urban population, said Ministry secretary Zia-ur-Rehman.

“There’s no shortage. Forty-two thousand tonnes a day is now being released which is more than enough,” Rehman said.

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