Stranded in Doha
Khair se buddhu ghar ko aiye. Yes, alas it's back home. But what an experience to be stuck at the Doha airport amid the frenzy created by the volcanic ash
By Beena Sarwar
Who would ever have thought that a volcano with an unpronounceable name, in Iceland of all places, would suddenly erupt and disrupt the world's air traffic for days and days nearly a week as I write this.

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Hazara hassle
The people of Hazara are angry because, according to them, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa gives no identity to the non-Pakhtun population of the province
By Javed Aziz Khan
Renaming North West Frontier Province (NWFP) was the only among the over 100 clauses in the 18th Constitutional Amendment that triggered violent protests in the two main towns of the scenic Hazara division, Abbottabad and Haripur. Officially four people media reports suggests seven deaths were killed and around 100 wounded in clashes between police and locals when the latter took to streets in violation of Section 144 that had been imposed to avoid a clash between the workers of two factions of Pakistan Muslim League (PML), Nawaz and Quaid. A judicial commission has been constituted to probe the deaths during clashes.

In defence of Pakhtunkhwa
Some frequently asked questions about the Pakhtun identity
By Arbab Daud
The 18th Amendment Bill has finally been passed by the parliament and signed by the president.
The change in the nomenclature of the province of NWFP to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) was such an unexpected matter for many Pakhtuns that most of my felicitation messages were replied with "Don't try to make us an April fool". I faced a host of questions for the only reason that I belonged to a family with a background in politics. I would try to answer these queries or misconceptions I should say:

Power-less plans
The energy conference may have issued a plan for conservation, but the problem lies in implementation
By Ershad Mahmud
The two-day extensive energy conference was concluded in the midst of the worst and unprecedented loadshedding in the country's recent history. Duration of loadshedding has gone up to 14 to 20 hours a day even in big cities. Remote and small villages sometimes do not get electricity for several days resulting in violent protests. Today, Pakistan ranks among the "worst" (bottom 20) countries on the indicator of quality of electricity supply.

 

 

 

Haplessly grounded

The airline industry has been badly bruised and the lives of passengers disrupted by the Icelandic volcano

By Murtaza Ali Shah

The aviation industry has not seen anything like this. The panic has been palpable. The way we travel across the western world underwent a change after the 9/11 terrorist attack on USA, courtesy Osama Bin Laden and a generation of his maniac jihadi militant followers hell bent on wrecking terror using passenger airbuses.

But neither Bin Laden nor any other terror group either succeeded or came remotely close in bringing to a complete halt -- and silence -- the aircrafts across nearly all of Europe, affecting in the process the whole world in some ways. The ash cloud caused by an erupting volcano in Iceland, an eruption column several kilometres in height, did prove that despite all the scientific developments we the human beings remain powerless before the forces of nature and there is little that we can do to alter their course.

The current eruption beneath the Eyjafjallajoekull glacier in south-western Iceland began on March 20 and has not been ferocious -- and could have passed largely unnoticed were it not for the fact that it happened in a very busy and lucrative airspace.

Result? Most of European domestic and international airports were virtually cut off from the rest of the world, trapping and stranding millions of passengers, causing billions of pounds of losses to the world industry, and to the companies tied closely to the airline sector. Hundreds of thousands of passengers have been forced to sleep rough and in wretched conditions around the airports. Women and children across Europe, who were on Easter holidays, were amongst the hardest hit as their plans for comfortable holidays were hit hard and fast by the ash story. Down to their last pennies in foreign and strange lands, many went on hungry for hours. Fearing the outbreak of violence, heavy contingent of police were posted at the airports.

The British Airways, which was recovering from millions of pounds of loss as a result of the staff strike over pay dispute, announced on Monday that the chaos caused by the flight ban across much of Europe had cost it between 15m and 20m a day and that it would be seeking compensation from the EU and the UK government. Other European airlines have asked the EU and national governments for financial compensation for the closure of airspace, citing precedent when compensation was paid after the closure of US airspace following the terrorist events of 9/11.

The airspace operations started in a 'limited' way on Tuesday and the full regime of services is in airspace and at airports but the airline industry will nurse its wounds for months to come and while it will be praying that no such crippling volcano eruption occurs again, there is literally nothing it can do if there is a similar or worse repeat.

Only rail and ferry services have made profits out of the misery caused as a result of the volcanic eruption. Eurostar in particular saw a rise in passengers and put on track extra services.

Sardar Farooq Ibrahim, Pakistan's national flag carrier's UK General Manager, has seen the situation unfolding in amazement. He estimates that more than 12,000 passengers from the UK to Pakistan and nearly a double number from Pakistan to the UK were stranded after the declaration of no-fly zone.

"More passengers were coming from Pakistan because families had gone to Pakistan availing Easter break in the UK. We don't have any aircrafts at the UK airports and we are not paying any rent. All our customers were local so they returned to their homes and we didn't have to provide them lodging in the hotels," says the PIA GM while speaking to TNS.

Thousands of students were unable to make it to their classes on Monday when schools re-opened after the Easter recess, including Sardar Farooq's own children who were still in Islamabad at the time of filing of this report.

Muhammad Maqsood Sheikh, a London-based business magnate, who had booked a seat to travel to Islamabad for business meeting and then onto Azad Kashmir to check out his charity work for disadvantaged women and children, found himself returning from Heathrow on the first day of the volcanic eruption. "I had to cancel all my meetings. I cannot make any further plans unless the situation is completely back to normal and the chaos has eased."

One of the leading travel agents in London, providing tickets for travel to Pakistan, says he has not seen his ticketing business of 35 years freezing completely like this. Mahboob Ahmed of Mahboob Travels says: "The business all of a sudden shut down, it's like there is no tomorrow. This is the worst time of business ever for me."

"We, the Pakistani travel agents working with PIA, were suffering at the hands of PIA head office manipulations from Karachi, and the latest ash volcano has fallen on us like a wall of bricks."

Mahboob Ahmed reckons that many small-scale agents will be thrown out of the busy loop of the ticketing world and they will have to default and bankrupt. "The skies have cleared but the affects of the Icelandic volcano for us will remain for years."

Stranded in Doha

Khair se buddhu ghar ko aiye. Yes, alas it's back home. But what an experience to be stuck at the Doha airport amid the frenzy created by the volcanic ash

By Beena Sarwar

Who would ever have thought that a volcano with an unpronounceable name, in Iceland of all places, would suddenly erupt and disrupt the world's air traffic for days and days nearly a week as I write this.

Not in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I would be among thousands if not millions of 'volcanic ash zadgaan' (affectees) stranded in various places around the world. I've had tidal wave nightmares (trapped between an approaching wall of water and a cliff Paradise Point off the Karachi shore, to be precise) but a volcano thousands of miles away? Not on my horizon until now.

The bad news began trickling in on Thursday night as I packed for a four-day trip to Berlin to participate in a `Trialogue' between Pakistani, Indian and Afghan delegates, organised by the German organisation Fredrich Ebert Stiftung (FES). My mother, in the UK for a TESOL (teachers of English to speakers of other languages) conference, was due back Friday afternoon. We were to cross each other in the skies. Her flight was of course cancelled. Fortunately she learnt about the airport shutdown well before her departure time. Also fortunately, she had made friends with a couple at the conference, from Manchester where her flight was to depart from. She ended up staying with them for a couple of days before packing a rucksack and going to visit relatives in London as it became clear that the airports weren't going to open anytime soon.

She was fortunate she had those options. Millions of other stranded passengers did not, and have been camping out at various airports for days, paying exorbitant amounts for hotel rooms, or taking suddenly overcrowded ferries and trains to various destinations.

I set off for Karachi airport in the middle of the night assuming that this remote volcano would only affect the England airports. But Berlin was also closed, the Qatar Airways ground staff informed me. "We can book you only up to Frankfurt." Ok. I could take a train from there. I took the chance.

By the time we landed in Doha, Frankfurt airport was closed too. FES had us travelling in business class, for which I was immensely grateful, especially as we ended up having to stay at the airport for several hours.

What did we ever do without laptops and wireless internet? Sitting in the plush Qatar Airways business class lounge, I sent an email to the organisers and the other Pakistani delegates whom I had expected to meet in transit in Doha. Within minutes, a reply came from Rahimullah Yusufzai, saying he was there too. I stood up and looked around. Sure enough, there he was, sitting in a corner with his laptop. He told me that the other two delegates hadn't made it one had a direct flight to Berlin and never left Lahore, the other had a senate meeting.

So there we were, stuck in Doha. The lounge was comfortable, but the uncertainty was not. Finally, a couple of hours later, some mixed relief: Frankfurt airport was unlikely to open, we were being transferred to the Doha Marriott.

We could get our luggage from the baggage claim belt. As other stranded passengers picked up their bags and left, it became apparent we were not going to be among them. More waiting. This time in the lost luggage office. The staff, miraculously calm, took our baggage claim tags several times, trying to locate our suitcases from various containers. Stranded passengers, even children, also remained calm. There was an air of resigned helplessness everyone realised that this was one occasion that the airlines weren't to blame.

In fact, they were incurring huge losses. Qatar Airways put up all their passengers in Doha's best hotels. A group of young men informed us that because the regular rooms were full, some passengers ended up with luxurious presidential suites.

By the time we got to the hotel on Friday afternoon (Rahimullah an hour after me as his suitcase stubbornly refused to be found earlier) we were dropping with exhaustion and lack of sleep after our overnight flight. Here's the Facebook status I posted before taking a long nap: "Glad to be out of airport and in hotel. Though being stranded in Doha isn't my idea of fun, things could be worse - and they are, for thousands of other stranded passengers. For all our pretensions to power over the elements, Man is puny before Nature."

We still hoped that by the Saturday morning, flights to Europe would resume. The next flight back to Karachi was late night Saturday. The organisers stayed in touch on email providing the encouraging news that the Indians still expected to arrive following day (Saturday).

I phoned Qatar (remaining on hold for ages, who's surprised?) to book us on the direct Doha-Berlin flight on Sunday that was listed as operating as scheduled on their website. Alas, said the agent when I finally got through, if I would just look at the Travel Advisory on the home page, that and all other flights, were listed as cancelled. It transpired he was Indian, attending my call from wait for it, Muscat, Oman.

He suggested getting the organisers to cancel our flights and book us on new seats back home. "A good idea," I said.

"Even though I'm Indian?" he asked.

"Even Indians can have good ideas," I told him.

The organisers eventually had no choice but to cancel the meeting anyway. The Afghans had made it to Berlin via Brussels but the Indians could not make it either. We had no choice but to remain in the five-star comfort of the Doha Marriott (yes, it's a hard life) until Saturday night, arriving early Sunday morning. Another all-nighter without sleep.

I thought I'd step out of the hotel for a bit of shopping. Lovely drive to the city centre (Doha pop. 1.6 million). Nightmare on the way back. A traffic jam that lasted TWO HOURS. Some accident, said the Sri Lankan driver. He generously stuck to the amount we had agreed upon when he finally dropped me off at the hotel, so I let him keep the change.

Sunday morning home at last. As my father used to say whenever we came back from some aborted adventure or other: "Khair se buddhu ghar ko aiye" (the dumbos made it home safely).

 

 

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Hazara hassle

The people of Hazara are angry because, according to them, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa gives no identity to the non-Pakhtun population of the province

By Javed Aziz Khan

Renaming North West Frontier Province (NWFP) was the only among the over 100 clauses in the 18th Constitutional Amendment that triggered violent protests in the two main towns of the scenic Hazara division, Abbottabad and Haripur. Officially four people media reports suggests seven deaths were killed and around 100 wounded in clashes between police and locals when the latter took to streets in violation of Section 144 that had been imposed to avoid a clash between the workers of two factions of Pakistan Muslim League (PML), Nawaz and Quaid. A judicial commission has been constituted to probe the deaths during clashes.

Hazara is mainly dominated by the two factions of PML, but emotions run high against the Nawaz group since its leadership failed to give them any representation in the new hyphenated name of the province. PML-N was the first one to oppose the renaming of the province as Pakhtunkhwa after which marathon meetings were held between the top leadership of Awami National Party and PML-N that finally developed consensus over Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The people of Hazara are angry that PML-N must have stressed over Hazara-Pakhtunkhwa or Abasin-Pakhtunkhwa instead of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa that has no representation for the non-Pakhtun population of the province, mostly from Hazara.

Since the amendments were approved first by the National Assembly and later by the Senate, hurdles were created on innumerable occasions in renaming the NWFP as Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. All these efforts, however, failed to convince President Asif Ali Zardari not to sign the bill that was finally done on April 19 in a historic gathering of the top politicians from treasury and opposition benches. Even after the completion of the entire process of renaming NWFP, Hindko-speaking population belonging to Abbottabad and Haripur are fighting persistently to get a separate province status for the Hazara division.

Headed by a former district nazim of Abbottabad, Haider Zaman, a movement with the name of Tehrik-e-Sooba Hazara has been launched to get a separate province status for the division. A number of lawmakers and leaders of the PML-Q and other parties are part of the movement while many workers of the PML-N are silent or open supporters. A website soobahazara.com has also been launched to support the purpose. Some leaders of the PML-Q and Pakistan People's Party Sherpao, supporting a separate Hazara province, had also voiced for a Seraiki province in south of Pakhtunkhwa.

A provincial cabinet member in the Awami National Party-led government, Qazi Mohammad Asad as well as three MPAs, Gohar Nawaz of ANP, Qalander Lodhi of PML-Q and Wajihuzzaman of PML-Hamkhayal have presented separate resolutions in favour of the Hazara province. They are to take up the issue in the coming session of the Pakhtunkhwa Assembly. It is not yet known as to whether the ANP has taken any action against its cabinet member and a lawmaker for opposing its stance. The gesture, however, shown by the two lawmakers has earned them a lot of popularity in Haripur and Hazara.

Qazi Asad, whose spouse was also an MPA from another province, was supporting PML-Q in the previous assembly. Akhtar Nawaz, who was replaced by Gohar Nawaz after his killing, was supporter of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal. The two are presently supporting the ANP.

"The Hindko-speaking population dominates the Hazara division. Since they were not given any representation in the new name, we want a separate Hazara province for ourselves," said Mazhar Abbasi, a resident of Numli Mera in Abbottabad.

The PML-N feels trapped as PML-Q seems to have taken over the Hazara politics from them over the single issue. The situation has forced the top party leadership of PML-N to support the stance of the local populace. Provincial head of the party, Sardar Mehtab Ahmad Khan Abbasi, has tendered his resignation to Mian Nawaz Sharif as a protest over the issue. Though his resignation has been rejected, Abbasi stresses he would not withdraw from his stand. Sardar Mehtab is the one who had removed Abbasi from his name after being elected chief minister of the province and had wished to be called Sardar Mehtab Ahmad Khan instead of Sardar Mehtab Abbasi.

The stand of the PML-N leadership and workers in Hazara has also influenced the stance of Mian Nawaz Sharif who had agreed over the name of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, probably not expecting such anger from the people of Abbottabad and Haripur. "If a separate province is the desire of the people of Hazara, the PML-N will support their stance. However, the people should not be trapped by the PML-Q leadership's propaganda," the PML leader Mian Nawaz Sharif was quoted as saying in the media. "We believe in unity and cohesion and people must reject those promoting the politics of separatism. Some elements are playing politics over the bodies of those killed in Hazara," he stressed while lauding the people of Hazara for always supporting him and the PML-N.

PML-Q emerged to be the major beneficiary of the situation as the entire Movement for Hazara Province is being spearheaded by its leaders from the area. Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and provincial president of the party Amir Muqam were much vocal against Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. They are still active in the mountainous area trying to wipe out PML-N.

But the ANP leadership and its provincial government have no intention to give enough importance to their demand, believing it was not just. Senior Pakhtunkhwa Minister Bashir Ahmad Bilour termed the creation of a new province out of question. "We have struggled for sixty years to rename NWFP as Pakhtunkhwa. The provincial government will not take up the issue of a separate province," said Bilour.

Offended in Abbottabad and Haripur, the Pashto-speaking populace of the division has also launched a movement to get a separate division status for the Pukhtoon-dominated Battagram, Kohistan and Mansehra districts of the Hazara division. The MNAs and MPAs elected from these areas have openly jumped into the field to support Abasin division, in reaction to the demand for a separate Hazara province.

"The reaction of the Hindko-speaking people in Abbottabad and Haripur was not against Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa but against Pakhtuns. The upper districts of Hazara division were demanding separate administrative set-up since long and I along with three other MPAs had already submitted a resolution in the provincial assembly demanding a separate division with the name of Abaseen. It should comprise Battagram, Kohistan, Shangla and Pakhtun-inhabited areas of upper Mansehra district," remarked Shah Hussain Khan, a Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Fazl) member of provincial assembly from Battagram.

Seven districts in the south of Pakhtunkhwa make three separate divisions Kohat, Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan, but on the other hand five large districts make a single Hazara division and seven other expanded districts make Malakand. It was always hard to better administer the two divisions from Abbottabad and Swat.

Mahmood Alam, a lawmaker from Kohistan, supported the idea saying administratively the divisional headquarters, Abbottabad, is quite far from their area which is causing problems to the residents. He proposed a separate division with its headquarter in Bisham. "Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is a reality now and everybody should accept it. Irrespective of their party's affiliation, the people of the area were unanimous to have a separate division," said Alam.

Akhtar Javed Khan, president of Pakistan People's Party (PPP), and Bara Khan, president Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf Battagram, backing the stance of MPA Shah Hussain, said the 'prejudice' shown by non-Pashto speakers in Abbottabad and Haripur and parts of Mansehra has fuelled the emotions of the people in the upper districts.

 

In defence of Pakhtunkhwa

Some frequently asked questions about the Pakhtun identity

By Arbab Daud

The 18th Amendment Bill has finally been passed by the parliament and signed by the president.

The change in the nomenclature of the province of NWFP to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) was such an unexpected matter for many Pakhtuns that most of my felicitation messages were replied with "Don't try to make us an April fool". I faced a host of questions for the only reason that I belonged to a family with a background in politics. I would try to answer these queries or misconceptions I should say:

The Khudai Khidmatgars actually liked Hindus and that is why they joined Indian National Congress and avoided helping Muslim League in the formation of Pakistan?

The Khudai Khidmatgars or Red Shirts were suppressed by the British government during 1930s. The British rulers started using FCR (locally named as Black Law) to punish and incarcerate political workers. The indiscriminate firing by the rulers on processions in Qissa Khwani and Bazar Kalan in Peshawar, Takkar (Mardan district by that time) and many more incidents caused heavy human losses to the Red Shirts. The top leadership was in jail and they unanimously decided to join or get support of a political party at the national (Indian) level so that the rights of Pakhtuns could be secured and they could get a national level recognition in India.

A two-member committee was formed to visit Muslim League and get support for the Red Shirts. The Muslim League outrightly rejected the friendship of or merger with the Red Shirts because the first resolution passed by the All India Muslim League in 1906 was quoted as saying that "the party should promote the feeling of loyalty" among the Indian Muslims towards the British Government, while the Red Shirts were in direct confrontation with the Britons.

The dejected Pakhtuns joined Indian National Congress, which wholeheartedly accepted its new friends with elation. Most of the Red Shirts by that time decided never to join Muslim League.

The Khudai Khidmatgars were not in majority in NWFP at the time of partition, and the referendum succeeded in favour of Muslim League?

At the time of Partition, Dr. Abdul Jabbar Khan aka Doctor Khan Sahib, the elder brother of Bachaa Khan (Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan), was the chief minister of NWFP and Red Shirts were in complete majority in the assembly. The undemocratic dismissal of the government of NWFP, through MA Jinnah's direction, by Cunningham, the then governor of NWFP, and posting of a hypocrite Abdul Qayum Khan (a Kashmiri living in Peshawar) as a new chief minister of the province moved the Red Shirts further away from Muslim League. Yes, I am calling Abdul Qayum Khan a hypocrite because he banned his own written book "Gold and Guns on the Afghan Frontier" after clinging to the power.

MA Jinnah decided to conduct the referendum in NWFP by asking the basic question "Do the people of NWFP want to be a part of Pakistan or India?" But the infuriated Red Shirts suggested that the basic question of referendum should be "Do the people of NWFP want to be a part of Pakistan or do they need a separate Pukhtoonistan?" Jinnah was wary of the breakaway of the NWFP and ignored the demand of the majority and thus Red Shirts boycotted the referendum and paved the way for thumping success of the Muslim League.

Wali Khan made National Awami Party (NAP) to separate Pakhtuns from Pakistan, and that is why he formed ANP after NAP was banned?

It is a sheer misconception by most of the young people of our generation that they mix NAP with ANP. NAP was a party formed by almost all progressive and nationalist thinkers in Pakistan. NAP had Maulana Abdul Hamid Bashani, Mian Mahmood Ali Kasuri (father of ex-Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri), Pir Aminul Hassanat aka Pir of Manki Sharif, Mian Iftikharuddin (the president of All India Muslim League Punjab Province at the time of Partition), GM Syed, Abdul Majeed Sindhi, Khair Bakhsh Marri, Shahzada Abdul Karim (Brother of Khan of Qalat) and many more likeminded people. Khudai Khidmatgar was one among many political parties in the NAP. It is wrong that NAP was made by Wali Khan or Bachaa Khan, rather they were very active members of that party.

Secondly, NAP supported Fatima Jinnah in her presidential elections against a dictator i.e. Ayub Khan. The separatist mentality of NAP is totally out of question as it supported the sister of MA Jinnah against a dictator.

Thirdly, ZA Bhutto banned NAP and the progressive forces joined hands against the regime by forming United Democratic Front (UDF) which was later converted into Pakistan National Alliance (PNA). After Ziaul Haq's takeover in 1977, the PNA was converted into Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD). The MRD was later changed to NDP. At last in 1986, ANP came into being. In short, the NAP never directly changed into ANP

This name of KP is a first step towards dismemberment of Pakistan. Now the people ranting slogans for Pakhtun identity would ask for unity with Fata and Pakhtuns of Balochistan, and finally they would ask for joining Afghanistan?

When Pakistan came into being in 1947, Pakhtuns of this country were divided into six administrative regions i.e. NWFP, FATA, Balochistan and three princely states of Dir, Swat and Chitral. The demand for unification of Pakhtuns is thus very rational. But over the years, the unification of Pakhtuns became synonym to dismemberment of the country.

Do we have to follow the family of Bachaa Khan or be a member of ANP to support this new name for NWFP?

No. We do not have to follow the family of Bachaa Khan or be a member of ANP to support the new name for NWFP. All of the leaders of major political parties of Pakistan have put their signatures on the draft of 18th Amendment and it doesn't mean that all of them have to follow the family of Bachaa Kahn. Name can never solve economic and development problems of any nation. It just gives us identity.

Why did Bachaa Khan prefer to be buried in Afghanistan than Pakistan?

The personal preference of Baacha Khan to be buried in Afghanistan should better be explained by Bachaa Khan himself, but since he is no more with us, I think that during his life whenever he was rejected by Pakistan, he was accepted by Afghanistan. Whenever his properties were confiscated by Pakistan, Afghanistan gave him home and property. He describes in his autobiography that his conditions in jails of English rulers were much better than the jails of Pakistan.

Daniel Goleman in his best selling book "Emotional Intelligence" writes that "Our emotions have a mind of their own, one which can hold views quite independently of our rational mind." We hope that our new generations start using their rational mind as well, without losing their emotional intelligence. We have got our identity after a long struggle and now it is time to solve our security, economic and development problems through hard-work, commitment and dedication.

 

 

Power-less plans

The energy conference may have issued a plan for conservation, but the problem lies in implementation

By Ershad Mahmud

The two-day extensive energy conference was concluded in the midst of the worst and unprecedented loadshedding in the country's recent history. Duration of loadshedding has gone up to 14 to 20 hours a day even in big cities. Remote and small villages sometimes do not get electricity for several days resulting in violent protests. Today, Pakistan ranks among the "worst" (bottom 20) countries on the indicator of quality of electricity supply.

Cutting across the socio-political divide, people took to streets against prolonged and unannounced loadshedding. At various places, these enraged protesters damaged private and public properties and vehicles, and conventional mishandling by brute police forces was quite evident.

Ironically, the ongoing power shutdown has not only adversely affected people's daily lives, but also paralysed the country's industry. Trader community has also actively joined protests and laid off their employees to slash their economic losses. The low-income factory workers have become the worst victim of the current power crisis. The threat of unemployment looms large in the lives of these workers as consideration of two-day weekend and early closure of markets have been finalised by the Energy Conservation Committee.

Despite having serious deliberations in the energy conference and back to back high-level meetings, the government could not find any concrete plan of action ensuring uninterrupted electricity on war footing. On the other hand, critics doubt the government intention to sincerely solve this problem. Indeed, the failure to overcome crisis of this sorts is symptomatic of deeper issues in planning, policymaking and management related to the entire energy sector.

Arshad Abbasi, an environmentalist and a visiting research fellow at Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), is of the view that the current power crisis is manipulated by vested group to create justification for controversial rental power stations. He further stated that some of the power generation projects are about to start power production, but elements within the government are not interested in linking up these projects with the main transmission line just to safeguard their own petty interests.

Presently, the electricity demand is over 15,000 MW whereas power production stands at 10,248 MW a gap of about 4,871 MW. Hydroelectric plants produce 2,612 MW, thermal plants give 2,450 MW and Independent Power Producers (IPPs) churn out 5.185 MW electricity.

It is believed the power generation can be quickly improved if the government pays circular debts facilitating IPPs to commence electricity production to their capacity. The dramatic increases in loadshedding started in 2008 when major federal and provincial governments institutions stopped paying their electricity bills to Wapda, resulting in non-payment to the IPPs. Thus a chain reaction ensued as IPPs could not furnish payments to the oil companies and they stopped payments to refineries and oil or gas companies. Consequently, IPPs had to reduce their production to a minimum level. It is stated they are now generating less than 50 per cent electricity out of their total capacity. Unfortunately, the government has utterly failed to sort out this circular debt problem and revive IPPs production to a maximum level.

Electricity connections of consumers are quickly cut off on the non-payment of electricity bills by the power distribution companies. On the other hand, country's top public sector organisations such as Pakistan Steel Mills, Pakistan International Airlines, Pakistan Railways and even key offices of federal and provincial governments are in default of billions of rupees.

"Only one-third hydel electricity is being generated currently due to shortage of water. Equally, the closure of Chashma Nuclear Plant has also affected the situation. However, the situation may improve as water inflow in dams is expected to increase in a month. Additionally, some of the Independent Power Projects (IPPs) such as Saif Power and Engro are expected to be functional in a month," Water and Power Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf was quoted as saying.

The ongoing energy crisis is just a tip of iceberg. Pakistan is most likely to face a major energy crisis in the years ahead if effective and visionary steps are not taken. Besides, the recent protests can easily assume the shape of an effective political movement against the sitting government.

 

 


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