Islamabad: Aggressive “exercise” sorties by Pakistan Air Force (PAF) jets and closure of airspace over northern areas including Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir has moved the country to the edge driving down the stock market, according to media reports from Islamabad on Thursday.
“Despite the confusion, Inter-Services Public Relations and the PAF’s media directorate chose to keep mum and the official silence only fuelled rumour mills,” the Dawn reported.
A senior military official quoted by the newspaper rejected reports about any change in the alert level over the past few days. However, he noted that “extreme vigilance” was being exercised in view of the “current threats from India”.
Official details about the exercises will be released in the coming days, Dawn said. Pakistan has closed airspace over the northern areas – including PoK, Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral – and the M1 and M2 motorways.
The M1 is a 155-km east-west motorway, connecting Peshawar to Rawalpindi where the Pakistan military is headquartered.
The 375-km M2 motorway is a north-south artery connects the capital city of Islamabad with Lahore, which is only around 50 km from Amritsar.
According to Pakistan media reports, PAF jets were seen landing on and taking off from the motorways, which military officials said was part of a routine training exercise called ‘Highmark’.
“Usually held every five years, this exercise is one of the largest undertakings by the PAF and requires months of advance planning,” Dawn reported.
Due to the closure of airspace, PIA flights from Islamabad to Gilgit and Skardu had also been cancelled. A top PIA official told Dawn that a ‘Notice to Airmen’ (NOTAMS) had been issued three days ago, informing about the airspace closure at different times on Sept 21, 22 and 24 due to the exercise.
Dawn said that the closure of the M1 and M2 motorways at multiple points — between Kala Shah Kaku and Sheikhupura/Gujranwala on the M2 and near Peshawar-Nowshera — was announced by National Highways and Motorway Police (NHMP) through a press release issued a day earlier, but the reason for the close was attributed to “construction work”.
The over-flights by jets participating in the PAF drills also fuelled speculation that caused a sharp decline in the stock market, with the KSE-100 benchmark index dropping a massive 569 points to close at 39,771 points, according to reports.
Dawn said that as small investors ran for cover, the market fell by 1.41pc, wiping out gains netted in the month of September.
Banks, companies and mutual funds remained stable, but panic selling was triggered by individual small investors, who were dabbling in “penny stocks” that usually generated the biggest volumes in the market.
Former Karachi Stock Exchange chairman Arif Habib blamed the tumbling stocks on the hype created by the electronic media about tensions between Pakistan and India, which gave the impression that a confrontation was imminent, Dawn reported.