Pakistan Opposition Take Aim at Energy Crisis Ahead of Elections

By Symington, Annabel | The Christian Science Monitor, February 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Pakistan Opposition Take Aim at Energy Crisis Ahead of Elections


Symington, Annabel, The Christian Science Monitor


Pakistan is struggling with a worsening energy crisis that will be top of mind for many Pakistanis as they head to the polls later this year.

Right now the opposition is slamming the government on this point, claiming there's an easy solution: Pakistan is sitting on the worlds sixth-largest coal deposit, the Thar Coalfields in Sindh Province, but since the reserves were discovered 22 years ago, little has been done to develop them.

But negotiating the complex political web that has kept Pakistan in the energy dark ages is not as simple as opposition leaders suggest, say analysts. What should be a mere technical challenge has escalated as the government has become paralyzed.

It is not a lack of political will to address the energy crisis, says Adil Najam, vice chancellor of the Lahore University of Management Sciences and a leading Pakistani expert on environment and development policy. It is a lack of political ability.

For the past 22 years, plans to develop the Thar Coalfield have been stuck in limbo because of disagreements between the provincial and federal governments. The federal government wants a majority stake in any mining ventures, and has suggested a 80/20 split with the province. Though it has accepted investment from the federal government, the Sindh provincial government wants absolute control over the coalfields and has been adamant in insisting that Sindh alone should benefit from its natural resources.

So the two are in a bind: The ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government is unwilling to force development plans for fear of splitting what has traditionally been its strongest support base. Fear of creating a surge of Sindhi nationalism in the countrys second-most populous province tempered even former President Pervez Musharraf's attempt to develop the coalfields during Pakistans nine- year military rule.

For any candidate to campaign on the promise of quick fixes is to ignore the reality of Pakistans political system, says Hasan Askari Rizvi, an independent political analyst in Pakistan. It is an attractive slogan, says Mr. Rizvi, But it is overly ambitious and unrealistic.

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The next Pakistan government will be a coalition made up of diverse forces and their first priority will be figuring out how to pull together and move in one direction, Rizvi says.

Pakistan generates 38 percent of its electricity using imported oil, according to the International Energy Agency. Gas and hydro make up another third, a figure that would be higher if investment in both areas wasnt marred by political brinkmanship. Energy from coal makes up a tiny 0.1 percent of the countrys energy mix.

Despite a history of gridlock, cricketer-turned-candidate for prime minister Imran Khan has made developing the coalfields the central piece of his energy policy in his campaign manifesto. He has claimed that his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI, Pakistan Movement for Justice), can transform Pakistan from an energy importer to an energy exporter by 2016. …

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