PM Raja Pervez

ISLAMABAD: Following in the footsteps of his predecessor Yousaf Raza Gilani, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on Tuesday asked estranged Baloch leaders to hold dialogue with the government to help ease the situation in Balochistan, as he directed the Water and Power Ministry to make efforts to reduce load shedding and ensure that there were no power outages during  Sehr and Iftar timings in the coming holy month of Ramadan.

“The coalition government is committed to resolving the critically important issues of energy on top priority basis. Balochistan is our priority and I invite all Baloch leaders in and outside Pakistan to come and sit across the table in finding an amicable solution to the Balochistan issue,” the prime minister said while chairing the first-ever meeting of his cabinet.The prime minister urged the management of PIA, WAPDA, Pakistan Railways, Pakistan Steel Mills and other state enterprises to focus on their operational efficiency.

He said Pakistan valued its relations with the Islamic world, the US, China, the EU, Japan and all its neighbours, including India and Afghanistan. Ashraf acknowledged that Pakistan-US relations were “passing through a very delicate and critical phase” but said that Islamabad would not make “hasty and emotional decisions that do not auger well” for the country. He said that the NATO supply routes to Afghanistan were blocked because of an unprovoked attack on a Pakistani checkpost. “The unconditional apology from the US for this blatant attack is the demand of the parliament and we shall proceed always keeping our national interests in view,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Ashraf arrived early to chair the first cabinet meeting and ordered the initiation of proceedings with only five ministers present.There are around 60 ministers and advisers in the cabinet who were supposed to be present in the meeting. A source told Pakistan Today that the early start of the cabinet meeting left the latecomers high and dry and most of them showered praises for the prime minister. “Mr Prime Minister, you have set a precedence of good governance leading the way yourself by coming on time to the cabinet meeting. We promise that in future, we will also come on time,” the source quoted a minister who arrived late as telling the prime minister.

Ashraf also showed graciousness and accepted the apology of his team members, directing them to report to him on a daily basis about the load shedding situation in their hometowns.“It was Deputy Prime Minister Chaudhry Pervez Elahi who felicitated the newly-elected prime minister and expressed full support of his party to him. He said the government had only few months and during this period, the government should make efforts to provide maximum relief to the masses,” the source added.

Elahi urged the PM to focus on resolving the crisis in Balochistan and start fresh efforts to bring the rebels to the dialogue table, which could be a major success of the government.“During the meeting, Minister for Commerce Makhdoom Amin Fahim showered praises on the Chaudhry brothers, saying Shujaat Hussain and Pervez Elahi were rendering remarkable services to strengthen the democratic process,” the source added.

Briefing the cabinet, Water and Power Secretary Imtiaz Qazi apprised the meeting that since the first meeting on June 23 on the subject, almost 2,000MW of electricity had been added to the national grid and another 1,000MW would be added during the next two to three days.The minister for petroleum said he had issued instructions regarding the release of 28,000 tonnes of fuel for power plants to increase electricity generation by 1,500MW within the next two to three weeks.

The PM asked the minister for railways to make special arrangements for early transportation of the fuel so that it could be used for power generation.Minister for Information Qamar Zaman Kaira dispelled the impression created by a section of the press that more than 600MW of electricity would be taken out of the KESC system for use in the national grid.The minister said an equal amount of electricity would be available to KESC by making its gas-fired plants operational.The PM also directed the energy committee to plan cutting line losses and theft of electricity that had been incurring huge losses to the power sector. He also underscored the importance of collecting arrears to make the sector sustainable. – PT