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Darkness descends

The people of Pakistan had barely had opportunity to recover their breath after the horrendous massacre of 11 Hazara coal-miners in Mach, Balochistan on January 3, 2021 and the insensitivity and callousness displayed by Imran Khan on the issue when, on the night of January 9-10, 2021, the whole country literally descended into darkness. Was this national power outage symbolic of the general trend of the country being plunged into a ‘no light at the end of the tunnel’ under the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) government?

The government has, in time-honoured fashion, set up a four-man committee to investigate the unprecedented massive power breakdown. But even before this committee gets down to work, the blurry outlines of the origins and fallout of the outage are visible. It appears that ‘human error’ triggered the disaster. At least this is what media reports claim on the basis of ‘insider’ briefings. The Guddu Power Station apparently developed a fault, leading to a sudden loss of power, which then cascaded through the entire national grid, reducing the entire country to a dark and desolate hell. Seven employees of the Guddu Power Station have been suspended. The rapid spread of the outage has been ascribed to poor maintenance, leading to the subsequent failure of the protection system to respond. Reports say this underlines the mismanagement of the power sector by a government running it on an ad hoc, acting charge basis at the top for years. Even the power distribution companies (Discos) have been without regular chief executive officers for the last two and a half years. The National Transmission and Despatch Company (NTDC) has been in this state since July 2017 and the National Power Control Centre (NPCC) for more than a decade. The Central Power Generation Company (CPGC) that runs the Guddu Power Station hired a chief last year on a temporary basis from the private sector. Imran Khan’s reported annoyance at this situation shows he had no clue how the top tiers of the power sector were without permanent, appropriately appointed heads for years, including the two and a half years since he was ‘installed’ in office.

This is the third instance of such a breakdown since 2015. Latest reports say the large cities and towns have had their power restored (except for some local areas’ exception) but the smaller towns and rural areas continue to be treated, as usual, as children of a lesser god.

As to the long suffering Hazaras, they spent nearly a week in sub-zero temperatures in Quetta on the roads with the dead bodies of their loved ones, waiting for the high and mighty prime minister to deign to visit them. The ‘explanations’ (read gaffes) offered by Imran Khan for delaying his visit to the mourners made little if any sense. ‘Security’ of the prime minister was touted as one reason. The perplexed citizen would be within his/her rights to ask: if we cannot guarantee the safety and security of the highest office in the land, what will become of the rest of us? Then we heard that Imran Khan objected to being ‘blackmailed’ by the Hazara mourners to visit them before they would agree to bury their dead. Someone needs to explain to Imran Khan what ‘blackmail’ means. He thought the demand for his visit before burial would set a precedent for such incidents in future. One may be forgiven for asking: what were the so-called ‘blackmailers’ asking for? Some words of comfort from the prime minister in their hour of misery as balm for their wounds? The Hazaras know they would not get much more from the army of prime minister, federal ministers and the chief minister Balochistan. After all, they have been targeted by anti-Shia sectarian groups since 2000. The National Commission for Human Rights reported in 2018 that the Hazara community had lost 509 killed, 627 wounded in sectarian attacks in the last five years. Another independent study said 2,000 Hazaras had been killed. Even past words of comfort did not ease their pain or guarantee safety and security. Reportedly, 70,000 Hazaras have emigrated to safer climes while those left behind would leave if they could. Is this not an abject failure of the state to protect this vulnerable ethnic-religious minority?

The fact is that the misguided policy of waging the Afghan wars over the last 40 years through fanatical fundamentalist (now dubbed ‘terrorist’) groups spawned religious extremism and terrorism inside Pakistan. Despite the belated military operations against their base areas in erstwhile FATA, remnants fester inside our innards. The latest revelation is that the sectarian terrorist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has joined Islamic State (the latter’s seeming abundance of finances lubricating the ‘merger’) and carried out the Mach massacre.

Instead of introspecting on our past flawed policies that gave birth to such monsters, Imran Khan and everybody and his aunt in the power circles has ‘discovered’ the catch-all Indian basket to throw everything into. Not only does this play well with the ‘patriotic’ lobby, it ensures no one asks awkward questions about our responsibility for unleashing these monsters on the people of Pakistan in the first place. Language is now bent to this task. ‘Traitor’, ‘enemy agent’, etc, are bandied about in a latter day endorsement of the notion that the last refuge of the scoundrel is patriotism.

The power outage, mishandling of the Hazara tragedy, the gas and sugar crises, unemployment, inflation (particularly everyday food items): is this misgovernance or will a new terminology have to be invented to describe the performance since 2018 of this inept, imposed regime? Your guess is as good as mine.

Rashed Rahman, "Darkness descends," Business Recorder. 2021-01-12.
Keywords: Political science , Lashkar-e-Jhangvi , Human rights , Climate change , Imran Khan , PTI , CPGC , NPCC , NTDC

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