By Haider Abbas
Pakistan which could climb from its ninth most powerful army status in the world to seventh position, according to the latest Global Firepower List-2023, had been plunged into darkness, as per EditionCNN 1 on January 23, which has thrown all life out-of-gear. What however is also more than intriguing, is the fact that this Pakistan shameful stint, from being powerless, a abominable feat though, has happened for thrice in the last three years! Nothing far worse could have come to Pakistan at the moment, when Pakistan is reeling under extreme economic crisis, International Monitory Fund loan delays, floods devastations etc to be coupled with this now nationwide electricity outage.
What however also needs to be seen, is that this blackout had come, on the very day, when a news from Pakistan was reported that PM Shahbaz Sharif was planning to implement a 30% hike in power-bills and a 70% hike in gas-prices, as per News 18 2 , so as to meet to IMF ‘bailout package conditions’. Obviously, if the government is slated to implement the IMF recommendations, it is likely to stoke more inflation towards rising commodity prices while the petrol/diesel prices have already reached a record high-crossed the Pakistan Rs 200 mark. How this cash starved nation negotiate with these grappling high-tide, particularly when local elections are also round the corner by April, and general elections by after August, is to be seen, or may be elections might see a postponement too.
The crisis are looming large on the whole of Pakistan, amid the reports, that electricity has being completely restored in all the 1112 grid stations, informed Radio Pakistan 3 on January 24, but how the chaos ensued due to it will take a long time for recovery. The 24-hours ‘no supply of power’ had led to schools shut-down and hospitals cramped, which all happened due to ‘voltage-surge’, as per Pakistan Energy- Minister, Khurram Dastgir, which has also been shamelessly acknowledged too. An inquiry has been launched into it.
It is estimated that around 220 million people of Pakistan were stranded to a halt. Factories and industries took to the major brunt, when the reported ‘voltage-fluctuated’ to make Karachi’s stock exchange become absolutely sterile. Karachi is the financial capital of the country. Millions craved for drinking water in Peshawar, as pumps are powered by electricity. Metro trains, in Lahore etc, were all halted to make commuters fend for themselves.
The sorry state of Pakistan, however, has come only due to its economic and financial crisis, which the country is right now deeply into, as there is a reported ‘financial-crunch’ to even upgrade the much needed power-network and the ageing infrastructure. Hence, this electricity-outage, is there to stay! These power outages can happen to the most developed nations in the world too, but happen more frequently where there is no economic stability. India too had witnessed it in 2012 as many states and more than half of population inside India had sunk into the blackout then, as Northern Grid had failed. India took it as an alarm-call and upgraded the Northern Grid. There hasn’t seen any such mishap in the last decade. However, in 2020, due to Chinese cyber-attack, Mumbai-the proverbial India’s financial capital, had underwent a power-outage. The story was broken by New York Times 4 on February 28, 2021, but was denied by China. The Maharashtra Energy Minister Nitin Raut had called it as a sabotage, reported The Print 5.
What makes Pakistan to again-and-again get into this crisis? This is primarily due to Pakistan producing nearly 60% of its electricity from fossil fuels i.e. from coal and natural gas , 23% by hydropower and about 10% from nuclear and solar power. Since, the country is in economic doldrums it simply lacks resources to even run its oil and gas powered plants. This sector is very heavily in debt; hence, Pakistan is in no position to further invest in infrastructure and power lines.Therefore, the only remedy for Pakistan is to shut-down shopping malls and wedding-halls early, organize marriage functions during the day time and even slash-down the production of bulbs and fans too, informed OutlookIndia 6. There is a general sense of desperation which pervades through Pakistan now.
What however Pakistan had also been doing, so as to save money, was a discreet exercise, to switch-off electricity during low usage hours overnight in order to conserve fuel across the country. This is what has backfired on the face of Khurram Dastgir as FinanceYahoo 7 has reported that the same trick was on play this time too, but it boomeranged as ‘technicians (were) unable to boot up the system all at once after daybreak’. Since, Pakistan is a single-time-zone country, therefore, the standard practice was to put-off the electricity-supply of the whole nation at night, as an alibi to save energy! This is how, thus, Pakistan was forced to ‘step by step’ descent into complete darkness.
How on earth can a nation imagine of such temporary tactics which can gravely wreck a havoc on economy, industry, farming and what not. What matters here all the more is that how come the ‘whole-grid’ system at national level, got drubbed by a mere turn-off and turn-on, despite the tall claims that China, as a part of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)project, was to enhance Pakistan power and energy projects ? CPEC too is in a limbo.
India, has leant it lessons well and despite India much under-developed, yet India has come forward to export electricity to Bangladesh, tells Business-Standard 8 which is also a step to use ‘infrastructure as a part of diplomatic outreach to neighbours,’ while there have also been reports that India imports electricity from Nepal, which results in ‘11 billion USD income to Nepal’, as per KathmanduPost 9. Nepal also imports electricity from India. Can such a situation ever occur between India and Pakistan? Perhaps not in any near future.
The writer is a former UP State Information Commissioner and writes on international politics.