Chinese highway to energy heaven

Kindly let Nargis Sethi get on with job of making the Mian Sahib-contrived ‘Chinese Highway to Energy Heaven’ real.

Ikram Sehgal July 16, 2014

Flanked by his Minister of State for Water and Power Abid Sher Ali and the federal secretary, Nargis Sethi, Khawaja Asif, the federal minister for water and power, and of defence, claimed that load-shedding was necessitated because of the rapid accumulation of circular debt to Rs280-300 billion. Some private power plants had shut down, reducing the power supply by 1,500MW and taking the overall shortfall to 7,000MW. He said that the government had been forced into unannounced power outages to ‘save the system’ and it had framed short, medium and long-term plans to end load-shedding in the country. Strangely enough, he contradicted himself at the same time by admitting his government’s inability to remove deficiencies in the system.

Claiming that prevailing differences among provinces were likely to have an adverse effect on national unity, Khawaja Asif asked Wapda to coordinate with the provinces facing water issues and remove their complaints. In a letter to the editor of this newspaper, Mohammad Khan Sial scoffed at this blatant travesty: “Handing the new assignment to Wapda to remove complaints of provinces is no less than a cruel joke, it is tantamount to making the wolf the custodian of the sheep — this is being said in view of Wapda’s controversial role. Wapda has mostly provided wrong data about the availability and release of water so that it can usurp a large quantity of water to benefit Punjab.”

The present shortcomings in the energy sector notwithstanding, give credit to the Nawaz Sharif regime for assiduously pursuing investment from China. Zardari made a lot of sudden trips to China, surprising and embarrassing his hosts, but the nation had nothing to show for it. Kick-starting the process under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the prime minister recently chaired a Steering Committee on Energy Projects to fine-tune the concessions China is seeking for power purchase agreements and discussing the feasibility studies of coal-based power projects to be launched in Punjab. These include  2x660MW project at Sahiwal, 2x660MW at Rahimyar Khan and 2x660MW at Jhang, other than the solar power project in Bahawalpur.

On a ‘fast track basis’, the processing of 4,250MW coal-based power projects include a 660MW plant by HUBCO, 660MW project by Global Benefit Malaysia, 420MW project by Giga Energy, 660MW by Yunus Brothers-Lucky Cement, two projects of 660MW by Asiapak Hong Kong, 330MW project by Siddiqsons Group and another 200 MW project by Asia Petroleum. China Power International has shown interest in developing two power projects of 600MW each, while the Thar Power Company, a joint venture of Engro Energy and the government of Sindh, has also shown interest in developing two 330MW power plants in the Thar Desert. The ‘early harvest projects’ on the priority list include 870MW Sukki Kinari hydropower project, 720MW Karot hydropower project and 1,100 MW Kohala hydropower project.

At the inauguration ceremony of the Port Qasim Thermal Power Project in May 2014, Chinese Ambassador Sun Weidong reiterated his country’s readiness to further augment energy cooperation with Pakistan. “We can exactly feel the energy shortage that Pakistani people confront at present. We will like to work together with the Pakistani side to further deepen energy cooperation, including the identification of priority projects, construction of supporting facilities, and control of risks.”

Within one year, the Sharifs have successfully taken the CPEC forward to fruition; this envisages $32 billion of Chinese investment in the industrial and special economic zones besides highways, railways and other transportation facilities, including oil and gas pipelines. Underlining China’s strategic economic interest, Zhang Chunlin, the director of China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), announced that the Chinese government has allocated funds to build 1,800 km of railway line crossing the Pamirs and the Karakorams to connect the deepwater port of Gwadar. Goods from China's Xinjiang province presently travel a huge land and sea circle to reach Pakistani ports. From Urumqi via Shanghai, the distance to Gwadar is 15,858 km. The mileage can be cut to 4,712 km, and from Urumqi to Dubai from 16,833km to 5,772 km, saving precious time and making goods and commodities cost-effective.

A recent headline in The Express Tribune said it all: “Khawaja Asif looks heavenward” — invoking God’s name to decrease load-shedding, which is rampant across the country. Will the population remain patient and not get restive at the present widespread power shortages? Not only unable, but also incapable of performing both his given tasks of being the power czar and the defence minister, what else can he do except pray to the heavens?  He has good federal secretaries — consummate bureaucrat Nargis Sethi is a real plus for the water and power ministry for all the right reasons, while Lieutenant-General (retd) Asif Yasin, who will retire soon, has been excellent in the defence ministry. Unfortunately, the workload is such that even if the minister in-charge was an outstanding professional, totally committed to his task, it would be humanely impossible for one individual to give both the time and effort necessary. Neither committed nor competent, Khawaja Asif does not enjoy a reputation of getting things done; to expect miracles from him to decrease load-shedding is asking for the moon.

Heavens will not fall if Mian Sahib sheds him of one of his (Asif’s) two ministries. Not given to principles, Khawaja Asif has suddenly been ‘born again’ in a vain attempt to impress upon the khakis that whatever he said — badmouthing and spreading venom against the uniform for over a decade — was now ‘inoperative’ and should be forgotten. Mian Sahib needs to curb his trusted aides or face disastrous consequences. Let Khawaja Asif keep on invoking God’s name, as we must all do, if he should stay on in the water and power ministry.

In the meantime kindly let Nargis Sethi get on with the job of making the Mian Sahib-contrived ‘Chinese Highway to Energy Heaven’ real for the people of Pakistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 17th, 2014.

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Faruque Malik | 7 years ago | Reply

If the present government makes an issue of Circular debt as a cause of power shortage, then it is befooling the entire nation. The present government could have ended the circular debt issue by the 1.5 billion dollars (or more) it has received from it's best brotherly friends, and Mr. Sehgal knows this yet does not suggest.

Aamer | 7 years ago | Reply

As always a very well defined piece laid down with appropriate facts and figures. Power/ energy crisis are crucial issues confronting Pakistan and its citizens and what I admire about Mr.Sehgal is that he highlights the topics much needed to be discussed.

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