IT is no surprise that people in Balochistan’s Makran Division have of late taken to the streets to protest in the sweltering heat, and blocked the coastal highway linking this neglected region with Karachi. Far away from the centres of power, this was perhaps the only option they had to draw the government’s attention towards the hours-long outages that they, their families and businesses have been suffering on a daily basis for the past month. This is not for the first time that the residents of Makran Division, comprising Gwadar, Kech and Panjgur, find themselves without power for 16 to 18 hours a day. For almost a month in 2018, they lived without electricity for most of the day. However, no efforts have been made during the last three years to mitigate, let alone end, the travails of the impoverished and politically dispossessed 1.4m residents of this region — because the nation’s policymakers appear to believe that the massive investment required for tackling the issue would not prove profitable.
At the heart of the problem lies successive governments’ failure to connect these districts with the national grid or build power generation plants to directly supply electricity to the residents of this border region. Even the 300x2MW coal-fired power plants planned by a Chinese firm for Gwadar, the country’s deep-sea port often referred to by politicians as the jewel of the multibillion-dollar CPEC project, remains blocked by bureaucracy. Resultantly, people continue to depend on an erratic supply of 100MW of electricity imported from neighbouring Iran. According to Minister for Energy Hammad Azhar, the government has taken up the issue of reduced electricity supply with the Iranian envoy to Islamabad. The supply is likely to improve over the next few days. But that is not a sustainable solution for the power woes of this area. Iran itself is facing power shortages and it cuts or reduces the export of electricity to the coastal areas of Pakistan to cater to the needs of its own population. The long-term solution lies either in connecting the region with the national grid or investing in local generation projects to answer the growing demand for electricity in this area. One hopes that the government does not wait for yet another crisis and a new wave of street protests to take action. The state can strengthen its deteriorating link with its citizens only by responding to and resolving their problems in a timely fashion.
Published in Dawn, July 31st, 2021