Like clockwork, as summer approaches, power cuts and accompanying riots become the norm in many parts of the country. This time, the scene of the first protests is Punjab, where the usual power outages have become even worse due to a decrease in oil supply and damaged pipelines. While understandable, the violent protests end up being counter-productive. Often the target of the protests are the offices of power companies, their transformers and transmission lines, destroying which only exacerbates the situation. People have a right to make their anger felt, but there are certainly better ways of doing so. It’s going to be a long, cruel summer and constant protests will not produce more electricity.
For now, there is precious little the government can do. The fact remains that we simply do not produce enough electricity. International oil prices remain so high that our import bill has become prohibitively expensive. Our crumbling infrastructure certainly needs to be upgraded but the process will be a long and arduous one. Previous governments have been more interested in PR stunts like introducing daylight saving hours and two days off in a week rather than tackling the crux of the problem. Political posturing also hasn’t helped as parties have held hostage governments who tried to reduce electricity subsidies.
A longer-term solution exists in the form of the Iranian gas pipeline. In its waning days, the PPP government finally made progress on that long dormant issue. The one major obstacle lies in the form of the US, which has been making not-so-subtle threats of sanctions should we go ahead with the pipeline. Exploration for gas has come to a halt as few foreign firms are willing to venture into Balochistan. Solving the power crisis will have to be a priority for the new government that is sworn in after next month’s elections. Whether it goes through with the pipeline or considers an alternative, the next government will have to demonstrate courage and will that eluded our previous leaders.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 10th, 2013.