Editorial - The gas war - Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=33701&Cat=8

The level of belligerence in Punjab and the centre is growing. The Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, using a distinctly sharper tone than the one used by him before, has accused President Zardari of deliberately curtailing the gas supply to Punjab. The accusation is a serious one, given the degree of damage the gas shortage faced by the province caused all winter. The problems with the gas supply continue, even with winter beginning to give gradual way to spring. The cut-offs have paralysed industry, resulted in lay-offs and created havoc in households. If the charges Shahbaz has reiterated can be proved, they would constitute what amounts to a crime committed by the federal government against hapless people. The prime minister has denied any mala fide and claimed available gas was evenly distributed, but this, like much of what politicians say, holds only limited credibility.

The comments on the gas supply mark a hardening of lines. We can expect more angry words in the future. The president, following a meeting with key aides, has accused the PML-N of engaging in horse-trading and corrupt politics. In a typically cryptic remark, he has accused ‘our friend’ of encouraging these practices. More drama over the coming weeks would not be unexpected. Fortunately, the president has clarified there will be no attempt to dislodge the Punjab government. This is a welcome assertion — but we still do not know what lies ahead or how things will pan out in the province. The fact that the governor is a close crony of the president may become very significant indeed. The role he is likely to play is still far from certain - though we must hope good sense prevails and there are no attempts to disrupt the working of government. Concrete issues that are being raised meanwhile need to be dealt with. Gas supply is one of them. The matter has lingered on for months and, despite several rounds of meetings, remains unresolved. The problem is obviously an acute one for the Punjab government. It needs to be addressed. We also need transparency in the matter and a willingness to lay out all the cards on a common table. Punjab and the centre will need to continue cooperation at some level; this, after all, is a requirement in the running of any federation. The degree to which they succeed in doing so over the coming weeks will determine a great deal about the levels of maturity of the political leadership, particularly those in Islamabad who hold most power in their hands. We must hope, for the sake of our fragile democracy, that they will use it wisely.

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