Dawn Editorials 14th May 2023

Creating hurdles

A COUNTRY that doesn’t plan ahead always finds itself in trouble. In Pakistan’s case, we’ve made multiple plans for enhancing the share of solar and wind power in our energy mix to reduce reliance on expensive, imported fossil fuels and produce affordable electricity, and yet we never follow through. Why? Because our bureaucrats won’t let politicians execute a scheme where they can’t make money. Some federal ministers and parliamentarians have brought to the notice of the prime minister that 13 private, Nepra-approved solar and wind power projects with a combined capacity to produce 680MW of cheap and clean electricity remain unimplemented due to bureaucratic impediments. All the required approvals had been given for these projects — including tariffs in a range of 3.2 to 3.7 cents per kWh in 2020, the lowest tariff in the history of Pakistan — but they were not allowed to proceed due to changing policies. The projects, planned for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and Balochistan at a cost of $600m, have the potential to significantly cut the price of power generation. A summary was shared with the Prime Minister’s Office in October to propose a way forward for early decision on them but ‘no comments and feedback have been forthcoming’. The situation has forced Federal Minister for Power Khurram Dastgir to ‘advise’ the premier to not allow his ‘vision of collaboration with Turkey, China and other countries for investments in renewable energy projects to fall victim to the irresolute, myopic and indolent bureaucracy’. What else can a minister do?

Pakistan has massive potential for renewable energy, yet it forms only a fraction of the energy mix. Many international energy research institutions have advised Pakistan in recent years to pursue a more ambitious plan to tap its vast variable renewable energy potential. A German study says Pakistan has the potential to generate at least 33,000MW of solar and wind power in the next 10 years. That will result in generation cost savings of 15pc and emission savings of almost 50pc — not a bad deal for a country grappling with the twin challenges of high generation cost and climate change impacts on its flagging economy. With the world moving swiftly to cleaner, renewable energy sources — China and India plan to add 500,000MW of renewable energy by 2030 — our power bureaucracy is focused on expensive, fossil fuel-based dirty energy schemes for kickbacks.

Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2023


Forking paths

BOTH the present and former prime ministers spoke to their constituencies yesterday. Both appeared to have wildly divergent plans on how to deal with the challenges facing them.

One issued a 72-hour ultimatum for the arrest of all those involved in vandalising the Lahore corps commander’s residence, vowing to make an example of the ‘terrorists’ involved in the incident. The other urged his supporters — singling out women in particular — to take to the streets today to help bolster his cause.

It will be interesting to see how the two face off against each other in the coming days. Though it seems unlikely that they are open to engaging with each other cordially, an opportunity exists. Imran Khan has asked that the violence that broke out following his arrest be investigated independently.

In this, his views align with the prime minister’s. Could this be an opportunity for both parties to sit together, set boundaries, fix responsibility and find a way forward? Politics is the art of the possible, as they say.

It may be wishful thinking, however. The federal cabinet is fuming over court rulings in favour of Mr Khan and has decried them as a “black stain” on the face of the judiciary. The PDM coalition will protest outside the apex court on Monday. It threatens to turn into a confrontation.

Maulana Fazlur Rahman has said that if any harm comes to the protesters, “we will retaliate with sticks, fists and slaps.” The Maulana is prepared for a fight, but how does he plan to hold that protest, considering that the administration has imposed Section 144 in the capital? Will the administration relax its restrictions to allow the government to besiege the Supreme Court? How will the optics of its complicity be reconciled in the prevailing tensions between the branches of the state?

If Pakistan had a Doomsday Clock, it would be reading sixty seconds to midnight. For the first time in recent memory, the nation seems to be flirting dangerously with civil war. It is tearing itself apart under the weight of its own contradictions.

The ‘darling’ has turned ‘enemy number one’; the ‘democratic movement’ has acquired a taste for authoritarianism; and the law has lost all consistency or objectivity. As our institutions squander what little credibility they have left, the economy remains in shambles. There is a growing realisation that the social contract needs to be rewritten anew.

Amidst all this, the public’s growing anger and frustration are pushing the country ever closer to a breaking point. There is a very real possibility that we may see the unleashing of total chaos if someone doesn’t push the reset button. Free and fair elections, conducted to the satisfaction of all parties, still remain the best option in present conditions. All parties must reconsider.

Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2023


Asia Cup woes

IT’S a last ditch effort by the Pakistan Cricket Board to keep in the country a few matches of the Asia Cup that it’s due to host. Forced into a corner, with its Bangladesh and Sri Lankan counterparts raising concerns over the proposed ‘hybrid model’ that would see India playing its matches in neutral UAE, the interim committee chairman of the PCB Najam Sethi has ceded more ground. He has offered that the final be played on neutral soil. Mr Sethi was in the UAE this week for talks with the Asian Cricket Council. Last year, the Council chief, Jay Shah, riled up Pakistan by saying that the Asia Cup would have to move out of Pakistan as the Indian team was unlikely to get clearance from its government. Since Mr Sethi took charge, the board has kept in view that Pakistan would have to travel to India for the World Cup later this year and suggested a ‘hybrid model’. The PCB stressed it would adopt a reciprocal approach towards India, with Mr Sethi stating that Pakistan could play its World Cup matches in Bangladesh or at a venue acceptable to India.

The ‘hybrid model’ seemed a workable solution until the Bangladesh Cricket Board and Sri Lanka Cricket said they were unwilling to shuttle between Pakistan and the UAE. For Pakistan, hosting the Asia Cup is crucial as it is also due to hold the Champions Trophy in 2025. Therefore, it has now proposed that four initial matches be held in Pakistan. The teams can then travel to the UAE to conclude the tournament. It remains to be seen what happens next. It’s clear that the Board of Cricket Control in India is keen to see the event being shifted out of Pakistan and is exerting pressure on others to side with it. The PCB has already made many concessions. The board must now stand by its final offer.

Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2023

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