Pakistan: The Reckoning Begins
By Shahid Ur Rehman
Sanjh Publications
ISBN: 978-969-593-415-9
270pp.
 

Mismanagement of resources was a primary concern for Shahid Ur Rehman, an outstanding journalist reporting on the economic and financial affairs of Pakistan. In his over 50 years of reporting and writing, he felt anger and frustration at how blatantly the powerful elite served their own purposes while neglecting public development and welfare.

His earlier books Who Owns Pakistan (1998), Long Road to Chagai (1999) and Pakistan Sovereignty Lost (2006) had attracted wide appreciation among academic and journalistic circles in the country. Shahid Bhai (as we fondly used to call him) was giving final touches to his book Pakistan: The Reckoning Begins when he breathed his last in 2020, during the lockdown days of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The credit for bringing out the book goes to his son Arslan Shahid, who remained steadfast in his commitment to preserve the legacy of his father and make it available to readers.

The book presents the author’s insights into the energy landscape of Pakistan, with meticulous research that he kept doing throughout his life by keeping detailed notes of his interactions and interviews with the power managers in this country. There are highly informative anecdotes and pretty interesting events that Shahid Bhai was an eyewitness to. He has documented them with his absorbing style of writing that keeps the attention of the reader, despite a fairly flat subject matter that could be boring coming from some other reporter.

The posthumous publication of a book by a well-respected financial journalist takes stock of Pakistan’s energy politics and exposes how mismanagement of resources has led to the current crisis in the power sector

In his previous books and in the last one too, he kept cautioning the decision-makers and his readers about an impending disaster for the people of Pakistan in terms of extremely high inflation in energy prices, and an impending crisis in the power sector that would be hard to control.

His apprehensions seldom caught the attention of the power-managers who mostly belonged to the same elite that was pushing the country to an abyss while pretending to make attempts at solving the energy crisis. The inevitable has happened and there is no apparent solution to the power quandary we are in.

The book is a tale of mismanagement spanning over seven decades. It begins in reverse order from the rise and fall of Asad Umar and goes back to the early days of Pakistan. The book has 22 chapters divided into nine parts that outline the factors leading to the worsening mess in the power sector of Pakistan and how successive governments failed to address it in an appropriate and timely manner.

The main argument of the author is that it is mismanagement rather than any lack of resources that has led us to this lethal situation, where the national economy is struggling with heavy debts and deficit burdens.

Shahid Ur Rehman outlines the abundance of natural resources in the country which could be put to more effective and efficient uses rather than burning them in automobiles and fertiliser factories that have mostly benefitted vehicle owners and fertiliser companies at the cost of the common people.

Pakistan has faced many pitfalls on its journey to a more sustainable and safe production of energy | Reuters
Pakistan has faced many pitfalls on its journey to a more sustainable and safe production of energy | Reuters

No government in the history of Pakistan fully understood or managed to tackle the exigency that the energy sector presented. Economic instability was a primary result of the ‘wilful misdeeds’ of successive governments, and the common people who suffered had nothing to do with this. The fallout has been massive.

Part three of the book is perhaps the most detailed and informative as it contains six chapters under the title of ‘Energy Landscape.’ Chapters five to seven deal with the myths and reality of the hydroelectricity potential, nuclear ambitions and how expensive gas transmission has affected the consumers over the decades; these chapters are worth reading at least twice.

“Pakistan is blessed with hydroelectric potential of up to 50,000 megawatts, but it is generally not known that almost [all] of this potential is locked within [a] 300 kilometres gorge overlapping GKK (Gilgit, Kashmir, and Khyber).”

It is interesting to note that, by 2020, the total installed capacity of electricity generation was slightly over 35,000 megawatts, out of which nearly 15,300 MW came from independent power projects through thermal generation that depends mostly on imported fuel. Whereas the country received only 8,700 MW from hydroelectricity and only 1,400 MW from nuclear power generation.

The author goes on to describe the pitfalls that the country has faced on its journey to more sustainable and safe production of energy. India’s attempts to control water flows to Pakistan have also been discussed in detail.

Though nuclear energy production is perhaps cheaper and quicker, it is full of dangers and, for a country such as Pakistan, it will never be a safe bet. Shahid Ur Rehman gives details about how in 2014 six petitioners, including Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, A.H. Nayyar, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, Roland D’Souza and others had filed a request to the Sindh High Court that the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) be restrained from going ahead with the work of K-2 and K-3 nuclear power plants near Karachi’s coastline, which is in the active seismic zone.

The work continued and PAEC connected the 1,100 MW K-2 plant to the national grid in 2021, whereas K-3 connected in 2022 with the same capacity. So far so good, but the risk of a fallout is always there. The author quotes extensively from his interviews with the decision-makers and explains the roles that Abdus Salam, Aga Shahi, D.G. Usmani, S.N.M. Zaidi, Z.A. Bhutto and the others played in Pakistan’s efforts to acquire nuclear technology.

The book also discusses the apology that Dr A.Q. Khan had to tender to the nation at the behest of Gen Musharraf, who accused Khan of selling Pakistan’s nuclear expertise to other countries.

In the chapter on expensive gas transmission, the role of Iqbal Z. Ahmed is exposed, with details of his involvement in the power sector. The ‘LNG Saga’ outlines how Gen Musharraf and his handpicked prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, approved the setting up of an integrated LNG project in 2005.

The role that the successive PPP, PML-N and PTI governments played in worsening the energy crisis ended up in an unbridled spiralling of a circular debt trap.

This 270-page book is a treasure trove of information and insights on the energy crisis that Pakistan has been facing. It should be compulsory reading for journalists and students of Pakistan’s economy.

The reviewer is a columnist and educator. He can be reached at Mnazir1964@yahoo.co.uk

X: @NaazirMahmood

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, February 18th, 2024

Opinion

Editorial

X post facto
19 Apr, 2024

X post facto

AS has become its modus operandi, the state is using smoke and mirrors to try to justify its decision to ban X,...
Insufficient inquiry
19 Apr, 2024

Insufficient inquiry

UNLESS the state is honest about the mistakes its functionaries have made, we will be doomed to repeat our follies....
Melting glaciers
19 Apr, 2024

Melting glaciers

AFTER several rain-related deaths in KP in recent days, the Provincial Disaster Management Authority has sprung into...
IMF’s projections
Updated 18 Apr, 2024

IMF’s projections

The problems are well-known and the country is aware of what is needed to stabilise the economy; the challenge is follow-through and implementation.
Hepatitis crisis
18 Apr, 2024

Hepatitis crisis

THE sheer scale of the crisis is staggering. A new WHO report flags Pakistan as the country with the highest number...
Never-ending suffering
18 Apr, 2024

Never-ending suffering

OVER the weekend, the world witnessed an intense spectacle when Iran launched its drone-and-missile barrage against...