A state of dysfunction - Kamila Hyat - Friday, April 29, 2011

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=44249&Cat=9

With the temperature rises of summer, the first instances of loadshedding are being experienced. Life, for those who can afford them, revolves around talk of generators, UPS devices and the endless challenges of keeping them functional. For the rest, there is of course no choice but to suffer.

Even before summer arrives in earnest, there have been protests in towns in Punjab over power outages that last up to 20 hours. Even in Lahore, cuts of three hours or so are becoming routine. No one appears to say exactly why it is so.

There are scattered claims of major flaws, other Wapda personnel say this is simply loadshedding, like the gas cuts in winter that had people cooking their meals on bits of wood. No one is willing to say precisely what the problem is. This, of course, adds to anxiety among people as to what may lie ahead.

Solutions seem to be in sight. India is reported to have offered to sell electricity to Pakistan. Surely nothing would be simpler than pulling a few cables across the Wagah border. But, mysteriously enough, no one seems to be jumping for joy at the prospect of power from India.

Is there an ideological reason for this lack of enthusiasm, we wonder? Are there fears that power from an “enemy” state could somehow seep into innocent minds and poison them?

Even though the offer has yet to take any concrete form, surely we should be doing more to push it through. For the same reasons every possible effort should be made to acquire electricity from somewhere or the other. Vague talk has been heard of obtaining this from the Central Asian Republics or Iran but nothing seems to have materialised thus far.

What is the reason for this? Why is there so much indifference? Is the lust for profit and illegitimate gain a factor? Is incompetence involved? It is evident that in this, as in the case of so many other crises, there are more questions than answers floating around..

Oddly enough, solutions such as exploiting the coal of Thar have not been adequately explored. Even work on smaller hydro-electric projects has not taken off at an urgent pace. The result is not only a dramatic disruption in domestic life but a devastating impact on industry and commercial ventures. Many businesses have been crippled already. Others will be, if things continue as they are now and more concrete efforts to resolve the energy crisis are not made.

The rather half-hearted approach we have seen over the past three years has led us nowhere. All that has changed is that the scale of the crisis has grown. And those in power seem to do nothing more than twiddle their thumbs and make occasional statements promising rapid change.

Chronic power outages affect many. But these are not the only examples before us of state dysfunction. We see dysfunction everywhere. Very little seems to work, and we are all surprised when it does.

Even a flight taking off on time brings delighted relief from passengers. Well-meaning travel agents with the interests of their clients in mind advise against flying with the PIA, given its tendency for long delays or even the sudden cancellation of flights.

Even though there is still good within the state, and in fact, plenty of it, much of it has dissipated within the pools of inefficiency and neglect that grow quickly in size.

While all these factors influence the lives of millions and consume tremendous energy and time, they are not the only examples of a state that has lost its map to the future. Take the case of the tribal areas; no one seems to know what is going on.

The issue of North Waziristan and the operations of the Haqqani network there have the Americans up in arms. The conviction that the ISI remains in cahoots with the aging warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani and his sons has now been clearly expressed – and denied. It is unclear if the civilian and military leadership sees eyes to eye with each other on this, or indeed other issues.

President Zardari, regarded as the blue-eyed boy of the Americans, must be concerned about losing the favour of his key ally. Certainly, he has few at home, and even traditional allies, the Saudis, judging by the Wikileaks documents and fly-on-the-wall accounts, do not seem especially impressed with either his intellect or his sense of protocol.

It sometimes seems as though we live in a kind of mad house. The attempt to reopen the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto case and the dishonour done to the former prime minister by having Babar Awan defend him, makes little sense. There are other matters that are far more important in our current times. There is also the risk of the whole matter being turned into a farce.

An attempt to retry the 1929 murder of Ghazi ilm-ud-din Shaheed has also been reported. Who knows what other cases, perhaps dating back decades or centuries, may be put before the courts – consuming time that could be better spent resolving today’s problems.

We see also an increased collapse of the rule of law. The incident in Karachi in which a cracker was lobbed into the Defence residence of a trader who declined to pay five million rupees in extortion money, reflects still bolder action by the mafia that appears to have engaged in this business for many years. Quite evidently despite all the claims made, no one is able to stop them or protect those who wish only to go about their businesses without facing a threat to their lives.

There are other examples of a state of anarchy. We hear of them every day. In the north there has been little attempt to bring life back to normal for people who have remained caught up in conflict for years. An international agency reports that many school buildings are so badly damaged that children are unable to attend classes. The volatile security situation and the sense of fear left behind by the Taliban meanwhile mean that female teachers are reluctant to resume their professions.

So how will all this change? It is time to think deeply about the situation we face. Nothing can be resolved in one stroke but the process of putting things right needs to begin immediately. For now, there is no sign of this happening.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.

Email: kamilahyat@hotmail.com

No comments:

Post a Comment