DAWN - Opinion; September 26, 2007

Published Sep 26, 2007 12:00am

For sustainable energy

By Dr M. Asif


THE availability of energy in any country is closely linked to economic and social stability. The per capita energy consumption is an index used to measure the prosperity of a society. Pakistan is basically an energy-deficient country. Pakistan’s per capita energy consumption is about one-fifth of the world average, giving it a ranking of 100 amongst the nations of the world.

The per capita electricity consumption was 425 kwh in 2004-2005. Over the same period, the world average per capita electricity consumption was about 2,516 kwh, almost six times more than that of Pakistan. The economic and social conditions of Pakistan are not enviable either — Pakistan’s per capita GDP and adult literacy rate standings are respectively 132 and 99 in the world.

The country has already started facing the early shockwaves of an overwhelming energy crisis that has been in the making for years. Yet all governments have turned a blind eye to it. A consistent increase in the demand coupled with stagnation in the supply has set the stage for a devastating crisis that has now come to the fore.

This summer, the gap between demand and supply grew to 2,500 MW. In the business as usual scenario, the energy crisis in the country is likely to aggravate in the days to come. This has serious implications for the economy both at the micro and macro levels.

The only solution to this crisis is to adopt a coherent and visionary energy policy on a war footing. Some of the key elements of a policy should include:

• The proactive exploitation of indigenous energy reserves such as hydropower and coal. We have at present capitalised on only 15 per cent of the available hydropower potential in the country. Here it must be remembered that in any energy scenario, hydropower is going to be the most economical choice for Pakistan.

Similarly, we have enormous coal reserves that can make a significant contribution to help Pakistan come out of the crises. Apart from one coal-run power plant, there has not been any tangible activity on this front as yet. Emphasis should also be placed on extending the nuclear power generation capacity of the country.

• Exploitation of renewable energy such as solar energy, biomass and wind power should be actively pursued. Renewable energy is an undeniable reality and the key to a sustainable energy future, though quite a few types of renewable energy technologies have not yet crossed the barrier of economic viability. For example, Pakistan is amongst the richest countries in the world in terms of available solar energy. The ability to harness solar energy in a cost-effective way is, however, still open to question.

Some solar technologies are already technically and economically mature and viable for application in countries like Pakistan such as solar water heating. It has enormous scope within the industrial, domestic and commercial sectors of Pakistan.

On the other hand, solar photovoltaic (PV) that directly converts solar radiation into electricity is a bit expensive at the moment. However, the pace at which its price is coming down and that of conventional energy resources rising could soon create a situation where solar PV is seen as a cost-effective solution.

In the meanwhile, we have to do our homework and carefully and accurately estimate our true solar potential, prepare detailed solar databases and maps, and develop computer models and prototypes so that when the technology becomes cost-effective we are absolutely ready to take it on board.

• An important element of the policy should be energy conservation. As mentioned in an earlier article, energy conservation is crucial to promoting energy sustainability, and is the process of decreasing the quantity of energy consumed while achieving a similar output to deliver financial gain. It is often the most economical solution to energy shortages. As a matter of fact, energy conservation measures can be up to four times more economical than producing electricity from conventional systems.

• It is very crucial to develop human resources in the country. This is an area where Pakistan is particularly lagging behind. We are only producing nuclear engineers and a small number of oil and gas engineers which is not satisfactory. We have to produce energy engineers and professionals in every area, conventional (oil and gas, hydropower and nuclear power) and non-conventional (renewable energy) with a proper understanding of the energy sciences.

Here some eye-opening statistics are in place. The UK is an energy-affluent country. According to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) 2006 statistics, the average per capita electricity consumption of Britain is around 6,200 kwh per year. The average per capita electricity consumption in Pakistan is around 624 kwh per year.

Despite being in such a healthy position, having per capita electricity consumption 10 times higher than that of Pakistan, the UK is still making huge investments in human resource development in the area of energy. Out of the 113 universities in the UK, more than 70 are conducting under-graduate, post-graduate and research degree programmes in areas of renewable and sustainable energy.

This shows how much priority forward-looking nations attach to energy. Although their established conventional energy infrastructure guarantees a mid- to long-term prosperous energy future, they are still vigorously developing renewable energy resources to avoid threats to a long-term sustainable energy future.

Pakistan, which has a nearly bankrupt energy infrastructure, does not have a single university offering any programme at any level in these areas. This is an appalling situation on the part of all relevant stakeholders, particularly government policymakers and academic and research institutes. It is imperative to develop human resource in the energy sector if we want a sustainable energy future for Pakistan.

The writer is a lecturer in renewable energy, Glasgow Caledonian University, UK.

Email: dr.m.asif@gmail.com

Terrorist mayhem

By Najmuddin A. Shaikh


PERHAPS this week’s article should have been devoted to a review of the political shenanigans that have dominated the headlines and to the detention of opposition leaders. Perhaps it should have been devoted to the “rare rebuke” contained in the US embassy statement that termed the arrests as “extremely disturbing and confusing for Pakistan’s friends”.

Perhaps it should have been devoted to the deliberations of the Supreme Court on the legality or otherwise of President Musharraf’s candidature for re-election. Perhaps it should have been devoted to the nomination by the leaders of the lawyers’ movement of Justice (retd) Wajihuddin Ahmad as a presidential candidate, and so on.

These questions do deserve analytical consideration. After all, these are issues that could determine the future political dispensation in this country and the direction it takes.

There are, however, even more ominous developments that pose a greater danger to Pakistan’s stability and continued survival as a viable entity. I am talking, of course, of the situation in our tribal areas and of the influence that the precarious situation in Afghanistan is having on those in the area who have been variously termed as miscreants, insurgents or, more realistically, Pakistani Taliban and the foreign militants for whom the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban provide support.

According to a recent report, a United Nations survey has shown that in Afghanistan there were 126 suicide bomb attacks in 2006 while up to August of this year there had been 103 such attacks.

It was also found in this survey that 80 per cent of the suicide bombers had been trained, many or most of them badly, in schools and training centres in Pakistan.

The victims were for the most part civilians.It is safe to conjecture that it is these very centres that have produced the suicide bombers who have launched a spate of attacks in Pakistan particularly since the Lal Masjid episode.

I believe that if we do a serious count we will find that the number of suicide attacks in Pakistan is beginning to reach the same levels as in Afghanistan and perhaps even Iraq.

It is also safe to conjecture that it is these very centres to which Muslims from Europe allegedly responsible for realised or thwarted bomb plots owed their training.

A revealing interview by The New York Times of a naturalised German national who was detained in Pakistan but released after the Supreme Court ordered the production and freeing of all “missing persons” against whom no concrete actionable evidence had been found, suggested strongly that the person in question, Aleem Nasir, a 45-year-old German citizen, was engaged in some terrorist-related activity.

This comes atop reports that the three plotters arrested in Denmark and Germany, while being Muslims of German and Turkish origin, had also travelled to Pakistan’s tribal areas and presumably received training there on how to convert freely available chemicals into bomb material.

Put this together with the statement from the CIA director in a talk to the Council of Foreign Relations as recently as Sept 7, ‘Our analysts assess with high confidence that Al Qaeda’s central leadership is planning high-impact plots against the US homeland. … We who study the enemy see a danger more real than anything our citizens at home have confronted since our Civil War.’

Put it together with the report that the Americans are trying to persuade the British and the Europeans that their nationals of Pakistani origin or parentage should be required to obtain visas before they can visit the United States in a departure from the visa-free travel regime that normally governs such travel. Put this together further with the arrest in America and Europe of a large group of mainly Pakistanis in a sting operation for being willing to engage in money-laundering for, among others, terrorist groups.

The image of Pakistanis and Pakistani expatriates is not one that one can be proud of. More important than the image is the question of the limits that this places on the ability of Pakistanis to secure access to the advanced education and technology that is so sorely needed if Pakistan is to make the sort of progress that its people have a right to expect.

Even in Afghanistan, we have not had a story to compare with the report that the militants have captured and are holding somewhere between 200 and 300 soldiers along with five officers of the Pakistan Army. All of them apparently surrendered to the militants without firing a shot. Their release is now being sought through a jirga at which the militants have demanded the release of arrested colleagues, the dismantling of army check posts and the implementation of the Sara Rogha agreement, including clauses that are not part of the written agreement but regarding which the militants insist there had been verbal agreement.

What does this suggest about the military skills of the soldiers deployed in the tribal areas, and even more ominously, about the much vaunted discipline of the forces?

After all, even relatively unskilled soldiers could have put up a semblance of resistance to what was said to be a small group of militants. What does it say about our ability to provide air or helicopter gunship cover for our convoys in the region? After all, these helicopters are meant to be the weapons platform of choice to back up “boots on the ground” in that difficult terrain.

On Sept 23, this newspaper had the following headlines, “Suicide bomber killed” relating to happenings in Tank, “Policeman killed, two others kidnapped” relating to Swat and “Soldier, two women killed” relating to Bajaur Agency. These three events were the tip of the iceberg.

In Bannu, Kohat, Mardan and Darra Adamkhel, girls’ schools are closing down one after another, video cassette shops are being bombed or shut voluntarily, barbers associations are passing resolutions imposing a fine on any member who shaves a beard all under the threat of the militants who are now apparently as free to operate in the settled districts as they have been in the tribal areas.

Nobody now dares visit Swat’s deservedly famous scenic spots. Now girls’ schools in Taxila are under threat and no one can afford to dismiss them as the work of crank callers.

This is the greatest threat to Pakistan’s survival as a moderate tolerant state. This is what those who put “Pakistan first” should be focusing on. If this means living with an otherwise unacceptable political dispensation then that is what must be accepted. Do not look in these circumstances to MMA dissidents.

It is the price paid to them earlier that exacerbated the problem. Pakistan does not have the capacity to cope with any further exacerbation.

Can history be rewritten?

By Hafizur Rahman


I DON’T have to call ex-President Milosevic a blood-thirsty killer of Muslims in Bosnia. The United Nations effectively did that in due course. But was Milosevic alone in his almost pathological hatred of Muslims? Wasn’t it a sign of an inferiority complex in a powerful bully that infected the Serbians at that time? I cite his case only as an example.

In every country that goes to the extent of undertaking ethnic cleansing, genocide, mass murder of another race, there is a strong opinion within that very country opposed to this barbaric exercise. We accuse India of using the same tactics against Muslims in Kashmir, and yet there are human rights people in that country and a vocal press which strongly denounces such activity.

Why did no one in Serbia oppose Milosevic in this dirty work reminiscent of the Holocaust? Is it that an entire nation was devoid of human feelings?

The answer lies in the teaching of history. The Serbs were taught from the cradle that the Turks had once conquered their homeland and ruled it for 400 years; that they used to take away young boys to Istanbul and bring them up as Muslim Janissaries and then employ them against their own people.

All this was hundreds of years ago, but sordid details of the Turkish rule are even now purposely ingrained in youthful minds in Serbia. The result is that the Serbs grow up with a hatred for Muslims. It’s something like the Hindu revenge syndrome against the long Muslim rule in India.

Intellectuals all around the world ask: can’t history be rewritten in a way as to expunge it of bitterness and animosity — relics of events many centuries old — without distorting the truth? Just as the Muslims of India are helpless against the powerful Hindu community today, the Muslims of the Balkans are equally incapable of inflicting harm on the Serbs and the Croats. So why not forgive and forget?

I can’t take the liberty of advising my South Asian brothers and sisters across the border, but I certainly can expect sane elements in the Pakistani society to think about revising school and college textbooks so that they reflect history somewhat rationally. Or even subjectively if you like, but without calling the Hindus double-faced crooks and hypocrites who were out to shed Muslim blood.

Let us not forget that it was always the Muslims who invaded India, and that too not for the glory of Islam. Only Muhammad bin Qasim came for a valid reason and remained to conquer, for in those days conquest was considered a legitimate activity.

And this thing about calling names. I read a letter in a newspaper some time ago about an Indian diplomat in Islamabad paying a friendly Muslim family a social visit. According to the letter, a small boy of five or six, coming to know that the guests were from India, began to shout, “Hindu kutta!”

Who taught him that? His elders or a biased book on social studies digested by his senior brothers and sisters? In any case it can hardly be his fault for he was too young to know what he was doing. But his family should have been ashamed of his uncivilised behaviour.

I remember some years ago there was a cultural gathering in New Delhi about which a sketchy report appeared in our press. Apparently organised as a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi, it was attended by Dr Mubarak Ali, the well-known Pakistani historian.

I am not personally acquainted with the professor but I have been reading his articles; and once, for a couple of years, he was director of the Goethe Institute, the German cultural centre in Lahore. No other Pakistani names were mentioned.

At this gathering, Dr Mubarak Ali called for rewriting of the subcontinent’s history and correction of what he called “historical aberrations” so that the hatred and misunderstanding prevailing between the people of India and Pakistan could come to an end. He said textbooks in the two countries had been systematically distorted and that the time had come to reverse the trend.

In his opinion, history had to be written in a way that would promote tolerance between Indians and Pakistanis and put historical events in their correct perspective. He was heartened by the fact that the rulers in the two countries had realised that “we have wasted 60 years in internecine quarrels”.

Indian actor-politician Sunil Dutt, husband of the late Nargis, was also there and he too spoke on the subject. He said, “The subcontinent’s historians have a special role to play. They should write and present history with great care so that their writings do not create tension and spread disaffection among the people.”

As I’ve said the report was sketchy and probably did not do full justice to the speeches made there.

For example, as an historian Dr Mubarak Ali must have said much more than just the above. What was quoted in the report about rewriting history to end friction was too simplistic. The history of the subcontinent where it deals with the interaction between Muslims migrating from the Middle East and Central Asia and the resident Hindu communities from the Khyber to Cape Comorin is a complex business.

The interaction covered religious differences, military overlordship, economic impact, conversions and social changes, and it would not do to indulge in new distortions to correct old ones.

If such an exercise is ever undertaken, the aim should be to write a history that is true and realistic, quoting the differing versions of observers and historiographers from both the communities in cases where conflict of opinion has always existed, as in perceptions about Shivaji and Mahmud of Ghazni. I cannot think of two more appropriate examples of the sharp cleavage between concepts of Hindus and Muslims about hero worship of historical figures.

And if some good is achieved, and the minds of the two peoples are rid of prejudices that create bitterness and animosity, what a grand state of affairs could result!

In another 50 years, we would be living like normal neighbours, never fighting and never reviling one another for what had happened in the past. The only thing is that cricket matches between India and Pakistan may lose the sting and madness of the Battle of Panipat they evoke now. Many of us will miss that.

Musharraf: a diary of failures

By Naeem ul Haque


NEVER in the history of this country has there been a period of such unabashed and shameful political narcissism.

Ours has become a government “of one man, by one man and for one man”, to distort a quote of Abraham Lincoln. Today, the nation stands bewildered at the attempts of an unpopular government to give itself a Caesarean rebirth.

An air of pervasive myopia has engulfed the entire government approach to issues during the last eight years. A critical look at Musharraf’s years in power unfolds a history of monumental failures in the spheres of foreign affairs, economic policy and political development.

Ad hocism and short-term solutions have exacerbated the overall situation to an alarming degree, and major issues confronting the nation remain unresolved. It is in the field of foreign policy where Musharraf’s myopic stance stands most exposed.We must start from the Kargil misadventure planned by Musharraf when he was army chief but not yet the president.

This event led to the death of at least 600 Pakistani soldiers and international embarrassment and humiliation for Pakistan. This ill-planned and ill-timed adventure was totally against the foreign policy objectives of the then government of Nawaz Sharif and ended in a complete fiasco.

Later, as “chief executive” of the country, Musharraf made a mess of the tremendous goodwill available to him at Agra when his euphoric bravado during a “live” breakfast meeting with Indian editors resulted in the collapse of the summit. Years later, we are still struggling to find common ground with India in the midst of lacklustre initiatives.

The repercussions of Musharraf’s post 9/11 acquiescence in American demands, without any national debate, have now become obvious. Hundreds of Pakistani soldiers have been killed and continue to be killed by fellow Pakistanis in Waziristan. They have even laid down arms and deserted the army to avoid confrontation with fellow citizens. As a virtual civil war rages in Waziristan and Pakistanis continue to die, America and the Americans feel safe thousands of miles away from this boiling cauldron.

The Israeli initiative taken by Musharraf also turned out to be a big flop. It seems that Musharraf’s main idea was to cultivate the Jewish lobby in America for building support for his regime. The plight of the Palestinians was hardly on his agenda. Throughout his eight years of rule, Musharraf has never once directly condemned Israel for its atrocities in Palestine.

As a result of this initiative, Musharraf has not only lost face with the Palestinians but also with the Israelis as their hopes for promised recognition failed to materialise.

In spite of being the only Muslim nuclear power, Pakistan’s prestige among other Muslim countries remains low. Musharraf tried to hold an Islamic summit in Islamabad earlier on when he suddenly flew off to a number of countries to extend personal invitations to Muslim heads of state. Their response was unenthusiastic and Musharraf had to settle for an insignificant and embarrassing meeting of five foreign ministers in Islamabad. For fear of annoying the Americans, Musharraf did not invite Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Pakistan.

It is difficult to imagine that Musharraf will take an anti-American or pro-Iranian line in case of an American attack on Iran. After eight years of Musharraf, our relations with neighbours Iran, Afghanistan and India remain uncomfortable, and disagreements on important issues persist.

On the economic front, the Musharraf regime has virtually ignored the poor of the country. It is difficult to find any evidence of Musharraf ever visiting a slum or sitting with the poor during his eight years. His regime failed to evolve any concrete economic plan, preferring to run the economy on an ad hoc basis. No wonder that a recent Asian Development Bank report has talked about Pakistan lacking an economic vision.

The much-touted foreign exchange reserves are barely enough to finance five months of import. This is alarming, specially when compared to neighbours India and China. The dream of Pakistan becoming an Asian tiger has been abandoned as Shaukat Aziz & co have realised the futility of their lopsided economic policies. The economy today is confronted with two major crises — the shortage of power and wheat.

Inflation, specially food inflation, has broken all records, and coupled with unemployment has led to an alarming growth in the number of people living in absolute poverty. Estimates of people living in absolute poverty have risen from 45 million to about 50 million.

At the same, the VIP culture has flourished in Pakistan like never before. Top government functionaries live and behave like viceroys. The main duty of the police in this country is now to protect these VIPs. Routinely the roads are blocked for VIP movement, even ambulances have to wait.

In the social sector, Musharraf’s record is miserable. Health services remain pathetic and very few hospitals have been set up by the government during the last eight years, leaving it mainly to the private sector to cater to the growing needs of the teeming millions.

Today, a majority of Pakistanis do not have access to decent and affordable healthcare. In education, the teaching standards of government schools have gone down drastically and thousands of schools, especially in the rural areas, do not have teachers or have been closed down.

As Musharraf seeks a dubious second term, millions of rupees of government money are being spent on the publicity of his “achievements” and those of his cronies in clear violation of election rules.

Musharraf himself has become obsessed with the “billions” his government claims to have spent on various schemes and projects and has been quoting figures incessantly in his talks as if he should be judged on the basis of how much his government has spent rather than achieved.

On the political front Musharraf has defied the Constitution and law many times. He has applied the law selectively, co-opting corrupt and criminal elements in his government, while prosecuting political opponents for similar crimes. He has made the office of the prime minister into a joke, making all important decisions himself. In fact he has become the president, prime minister, army chief and head of the Muslim League Q, all rolled in one. The nation needs a change. Pakistan needs to move ahead.



© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007

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