Riotous demonstrations

Demonstrations in PakistanThe record loadshedding that has struck the nation with a vengeance these days has compelled the people to stream out into the streets in increasing numbers. In sheer desperation, they have been protesting for the past several days, not peacefully, not even just noisily, but in a riotous manner, demonstrating their anger at the authorities by burning a grid station, vehicles, tyres and buildings, pelting stones and damaging property and blocking main thoroughfares – anything that came their way became their target.

Watching the scenes of violent and rowdy protests in the towns, which have been affected the most, it appears that the entire nation has unleashed its wrath at the government for its listlessness in the face of public suffering. As things threatened to go out of hand, the powers that be woke up to pacify the crowds, with the Prime Minister issuing orders for an immediate release of Rs 11 billion to the Ministry of Petroleum and National Resources to be passed on to the fuel supply and power producing companies to set the electricity generation process rolling.

With the shortfall between production and consumption crossing 8,000MW and resulting in shutdowns of between 14 and 20 hours, it would have been unrealistic to expect that the situation would remain calm, even though many a critic has been taunting the Pakistanis with words like a “sleeping nation”. An outraged PML-N President Mian Nawaz Sharif not only assured the people that his party was with them, but also called upon the party workers to come out and join them in their protests. He asked for a timeframe for overcoming the power gap.

Inside the National Assembly, both the PML-N and MQM lodged their strong protests and staged a walkout on Monday. Latest news indicates that all the PML-Q Federal Ministers have handed their resignations from the cabinet to their party head, as a show of dissatisfaction at the frustrating government failure to make this basic facility available to the people.

It is a moment of serious reflection. The government is proving a disastrous failure in every field of its responsibility. Experts believe that given the will the power gap could have been bridged by now. Had the old generating units replaced or repaired, work on the planned power stations started and the hydel potential even partially utilised, the nation would not have been suffering from the woes of blackouts. The criminal neglect in ignoring the construction of big water reservoirs at suitable sites like Kalabagh is a major reason for the lack as well as high cost of electricity.

National interests and, indeed, common sense demand that setting aside provincial and parochial biases, the Kalabagh Dam project is taken up without delay. The help of the Chinese, who are reportedly ready to augment our hydel production capacity, should be immediately sought. And work must begin straightaway on laying the required infrastructure for receiving natural gas from Iran.