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By Imtiaz Gul

25-June-2007, The News

Pakistan is experiencing the hottest summer ever — both politically as well as meteorologically; the controversy that began on March 9 with the suspension of the Chief Justice continues to generate heat and has obviously discomforted the ruling elite to the extent that Mushahid Hussein, the general secretary of the ruling Muslim League, called on the president to convene an all parties conference to sort out political matters, an old trick that he pulled out of his sleeve to signal his unease with the political turmoil. Ostensibly it was this turmoil that brought Richard Boucher, the US point man for South Asia to Islamabad in an attempt to advocate political sagacity and respect for the constitutional norms and requirements.

As far as the choking heat, as of mid-June, it has taken many lives, given tens of millions sleepless nights and extremely uncomfortable days in the absence of power outages, and made millions run around for water even in cities like Karachi. Excessive heat of course is a natural phenomenon linked to global warming. But power outages are certainly not.

That is why if looked at dispassionately, the two issues offer a glaring analogy; both the power outages as well as the controversial suspension of the Chief Justice appear to be the direct consequence of a malaise that sits deep in the body politic of Pakistan. Lack of management, absence of vision for the future and contempt for rule of law (read constitution).

Since October 1999, Pakistanis have more than often heard the promises of good governance, respect for rule of law, improved management and capacity building. But what happened to the Chief Justice, a matter still under intense debate that tore the promise of respect for rule of law to pieces. Yet, several other areas, too, offer glaring examples which fly in the face of the virtuous talk given by almost everybody that matters in the government.

Let us start with WAPDA; never before have millions cursed this thoroughly corrupt organisation. That tens of millions of Pakistanis have virtually been going through hell — day and night — reflects the inefficiency and apathy of this monolith. Every year tens of thousands of new electronic gadgets — air conditioners, freezers etc. — are making their way into homes and offices. Yet, not a single megawatt has been added to the national grid since June 1997, when WAPDA fell under the command of General Zulfiqar Ali Khan.

The General lorded over the organisation for almost six years, kept rejecting every private proposal for hydel power generation on the pretext that producers were asking for a higher price. The general, for dubious reasons, also refused to shift the WAPDA headquarters from Lahore to Islamabad, where a huge building was constructed but eventually rented out to a national university.

A private company, for instance, came up with at least two hydel projects in Kashmir and the Northern Areas but both were blocked at the WAPDA headquarters on the pretext of higher prices, with the result that the organisation is paying more than 8 cents to all thermal power producers, whereas those proposing hydel, run-of-the river electricity, had been asking for 4.7 cents only.

General Syed Mohammad Amjad, had travelled down to Karachi to fix KESC. One only hopes he can deliver because Karachi’s power and water problems are enormous. Most friends we know have been short of sleep and rest for the simple reason that power outages in the massive city have averaged at least ten to twelve hours a day in certain localities; and for fairly long periods even in posh localities. Everyone is curiously watching as to what extent the otherwise sincere and honest General Amjad delivers in the face of a mafia that comprises the WAPDA bureaucracy, traders and those who live off the “kunda connection.”

The acute power shortages in cities like Peshawar (so close to the Warsak and Tarbela Dams), Karachi, Multan, Faisalabad and Lahore only underscore the lack of vision and strategy during more than six years of military rule in WAPDA. For what reasons did the authority turn down scores of proposals for hydel power generation which is open to discussion. One thing is quite clear that the energy crisis largely benefits the private companies that are producing thermal power, more or less the same way the cartel of oil companies pocketed billions when international prices rose; they made a killing while the consumers suffered.

A glance at national highways also explains the “vision and efficiency” of the National Highway Authority (NHA). The authority has been floating in billions and thus treated as a milking cow.

This institution, too, has also been under a general’s command for over a decade now. But a look at N.5 – the national highway – and other roads under its purview present a bleak picture. Large sections of major roads remain either in disrepair or are almost always under construction, a clear reflection on the quality of work that the NHA undertakes or pays for. The roads elsewhere are also in a shambles; the stretch between Mardan and Malakand on the way to Chitral leaves you rattled and shook up.

What merits mention here is that accountability has little to do with the NHA; soon after the government formation after the October 2002 elections, the MQM minister for communication attempted to dig out about Rs400 million that appeared to be unaccounted for. He wrote letters, asking the NHA to explain the fate of the missing millions, but the then general in charge of the institution stonewalled the minister’s jibe at him and his colleagues. Eventually the letter on the financial anomaly was sent further up the chain but nothing happened and the missing millions remain unaccounted for and the minister was compelled to resign.. Meanwhile, urgent repairs of vital roads linger on. So much for rule of law, efficiency, management and accountability in the last eight years. Probably, sooner rather than later, other instances of violations and flouting of the golden promises will also surface.

(The author heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad.

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk