Prioritising issues or the capacity to deliver! | By Zaheer Bhatti


Prioritising issues or the capacity to deliver!

THERE were times when borrowing was rightly considered a curse and an insult at the cost of national sovereignty.

Governments in the past have been heard vowing to break the begging bowl, but ironically today, every coming Government marvels at their ability to borrow making a mockery of its chant of caring for the poor.

It is unbelievable that even the PTI Government is consciously placing fiscal control into the hands of international donors through the State Bank of Pakistan whom it is allowing complete autonomy in order to withdraw subsidies and increasing prices at the call of the IMF, contrary to its stated concern to bring prices down for the common man.

It is bad news because Imran Khan is falling into the trap as his team sought to bulldoze the economic surrender through Parliament following blindfolded promulgation of Ordinance by the President; an utterly undemocratic ploy in a parliamentary system.

The cumulative decline in Pakistan’s journey is so prominent that admittedly no Government can stem the rot and find remedies to all the ailments in a single tenure.

The only remedy lies in realistic recognition of the magnitude of problems and prioritizing issues not as an after-thought as being expressed by Imran Khan who, after more than half way through his term in office, finds a five-year term insufficient like all previous elected parliamentarians; promising the moon to the electorate without gauging their own capacity or the will to deliver.

Formation of Joint Investigation Teams (JITs) and Commissions has been the standard recipe of successive Governments over matters beyond their control or those sought to be shoved under the carpet.

Energy is the paramount issue for any economy which is not a recent phenomenon, but one that had been realized within the first decade of independence when a couple of Pakistan’s key hydro-electric power projects recognized as the single most proficient and cost effective source for an agrarian economy for water storage, irrigation and power generation were put into operation.

But almost half a century since, the looters and plunderers have resorted to short cuts that have only fattened their purses with hefty cuts but made the country nearly bankrupt; the only saving grace being Pakistan attaining nuclear capability despite all the odds due to the selfless resolve of a few sons of the soil.

It is a shame that an agrarian country like Pakistan in over 73 years of its creation has been able to erect barely half a dozen notable dams for irrigation and generation of electricity and a little heard hundred odd minor ones; a major one among them namely Diamer Bhasha Dam having barely begun construction.

India with similar topography has 59 large and hundreds of small dams by comparison.

We keep hearing about hydro-electric power as the cheapest form of energy citing the success story of Tarbela; the world’s largest earth-filled dam at that time, which had brought an agricultural and industrial revolution in the country, effecting a sea change in the life of the common man benefitting from cheap energy.

But instead of emulating the example for further prosperity of the nation, our legislators have been found playing political games and creating road blocks instead of acting in concert to expedite such projects.

Our successive governments have resorted to contracting what has been termed as International Power Producers offering expensive oil-based power generation raising energy prices to over 500%, and adding to the already phenomenal oil import bill in preference to the raw material namely water, which was available free of cost in the country, but allowed to go down the sea drain every year for want of reservoirs for water storage during monsoons.

The fallacious argument that hydropower generation was a long slow process and that areas in their charted course would inundate localities and habitation, are decried by the fact that had several dozen if not hundreds of small dams been commissioned from time to time during the last 50 years across the country, they would have by now not merely augmented irrigation without disturbing populations but also generated small wattage of power which would matter cumulatively. It is never too late if there is the will to correct the wrongs.

As for the larger projects, Kalabagh Dam despite having been stamped feasible by Pakistani expertise and the World Bank decades ago, has been left to the egoistic pleasure of the politicians who have made it a political issue despite an open challenge thrown by a former WAPDA Chairman Shams ul Mulk to debate the merits of the project with him at any forum.

The media which invariably engages in non-issues is no less to blame; having failed to prompt such a discourse to expose the ignorance and intent of these politicians cloaked in the apparel of representatives of the people, who are playing with the destiny of the nation.

They are the real enemies of the State; not so much the Modis of India who make no bones about their animosity.

Pakistan’s future lies in the Kalabagh Dam and the likes of it, and not the IPPs which need to be wound up soonest possible.

Making one-sided deals has been the hallmark of most Pakistani official agreements; be they the Sandak Mining Project, the IPPs, Commissioning suspect and bankrupt firms like Broadsheet for unearthing looted Pakistani wealth stashed abroad and you name what; the final outcome has been that Pakistan has ended up paying damages for non-fulfilment or cancellations instead of making any gains.

One had heard a lot about revision of IPP contracts prevailed upon by the Government but nothing concrete has been heard of them ever since, nor has any Government taken those responsible for such expensive deals to task.

Imran Khan’s PTI came to power to eradicate corruption but appears to have been taken hostage by the mafias, as the menace instead of decreasing is on the increase.

—The writer is a media professional, member of Pioneering team of PTV and a veteran ex Director Programmes.