EDITORIAL: Penetrating Punjab? - Tuesday, April 12, 2011

In a ‘mammoth’ rally in the heart of Punjab, the MQM apparently seems to be looking towards making some significant inroads into the province. However, the congregated cacophony and shrill telephone calls do nothing to hide the fact that, no matter what the Karachi-based party claims, moving in on Punjab turf will still be a long time coming for the MQM.

It is estimated that the rally, which took place in the football ground opposite Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, played host to some 10,000 MQM supporters. Now this may appear to be a significantly large number but when one considers that these people were from all over the country, the numbers that turned up seem rather diminished and less than encouraging. There are reports that this rally was one of the most expensive ones to hit the political scene, a claim that is probably not without merit as many are calling it a “rental rally” - transporting MQM supporters into Punjab from Karachi and other cities of Sindh. In a democracy, every political party and every individual has a right to partake of political activity anywhere in the country. But it is still worth asking just how the MQM believes it will turn Punjab’s and the nation’s situation around.

During his telephonic address, party chief Altaf Hussain once again reiterated his love for ‘revolution’ (although sceptics doubt what exactly he understands or means by that term). Citing an 18-point agenda where he promised the abolition of the feudal system and capitalism, along with the economic woes of the masses and even issues such as honour killings and watta satta, he held some sway over his ‘captive’ audience. However, Mr Hussain failed to mention how he would solve all the problems addressed in his 18-point framework. It is all very well to talk about obliterating ills but by not detailing how he would change the system for the better, the rally did not deviate from the usual rhetoric that is far removed from the ground realities - a useful tactic for the purposes of a rally but not much else. MQM leader Farooq Sattar has been quick to point out in a follow up to the rally that the MQM only wants a “peaceful” revolution. That implies that if one has to wait for the MQM to obtain a two-thirds majority in parliament for such an agenda to take effect, the party will have an uphill task ahead. For the moment, just to get its foot in the Punjab door is proving a tougher nut to crack than the party high command may have envisaged.

The MQM has taken offence at the last-minute change of venue to the football ground instead of the stadium but in this day and age of mind-numbing terrorism, the party ought to be thankful for small mercies that the rally passed off peacefully and without incident.

With the MQM attempting to make inroads into Punjab, the PML-N ought to start taking note. So far, the MQM may not have much of a foothold here but if poor governance and shoddy civil and economic policies continue to rule the Punjab roost, low rally attendance can bloat into a more significant Punjab-based vote bank for the party that is looking to unite Karachi and Punjab on its underlying ideology of “Pakistaniat”. There is much room for improvement; let us see it emerge from within the present ruling circles of Punjab instead of it being transported here. *

SECOND EDITORIAL: Overcoming the energy crisis

Inaugurating a three-day energy conference in Islamabad, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has underscored the need to develop new energy sources and announced the formation of a government-industry energy council. Pakistan is going through the worst energy crisis of its history. The increasing gap between energy demand and supply has mandated the search and development of new energy sources. A semblance of concerted efforts to contain the energy crisis started last year through an energy summit presided over by the prime minister and participated in by the chief ministers of all the four provinces. The conference laid out short-term, medium-term and long-term goals as part of a comprehensive strategy to meet the energy crisis. However, these goals have been met only partially. Short-term goals concentrated on the conservation and equitable distribution of the energy shortfall among all sectors of the economy. Medium-term goals envisaged addition to the power generation capacity through the installation of rental power projects (RPPs) and independent power producers. RPPs have become victims of allegations of corruption. Although the prime minister claimed the government has added 1,700 MW to the national electricity grid, this covers only a small gap in supply and demand. The situation has been aggravated by the Middle East crisis skyrocketing international oil prices. The government has been forced to forgo part of the revenues it earns from taxing various stages of the petroleum import and refining process to avoid burdening the masses. Pakistan’s energy sector’s heavy dependence on oil and gas based projects has compounded our energy problems. Talking of long-term goals, although we have vast coal reserves, the requisite focus and expertise for the development of these reserves is lacking. Pakistan has had a successful experience with hydel power. However, the construction of new mega-dams has become a subject of controversy. Only one big dam, Bhasha-Diamer, is in line, but it will be a long time in coming. In this situation, run-of-the-river projects and small dams are another option for hydro-electricity before the government. There is another very big sector of renewable energy whose full potential has not been explored by the government. Research is needed to tap solar, wind and tidal energy, which have become cheaper with the advent of new technology.

Despite all these available options, there does not seem to be an overall direction and policy to cover all the areas in a nuanced and timely manner under a national umbrella. The government-industry council announced by the prime minister might shake up the ossified bureaucracy and provide just the impetus required for fresh thinking on how to resolve these problems in the shortest possible way if industry lends its expertise and takes the initiative. Without this, let alone development, even the existing economy cannot survive. g

Source : http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2011\04\12\story_12-4-2011_pg3_1

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