Power Politics: The Violence of Energy Insecurity

Posted on April 16, 2008
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Economy & Development, Law & Justice, Society
Total Views: 38486


Adil Najam

These pictures from the Associated Press are truly astounding (story in Dawn).

Riots over energy power cuts in Multan, PakistanRiots over energy power cuts in Multan, PakistanRiots over energy power cuts in Multan, PakistanRiots over energy power cuts in Multan, Pakistan

Crowds rioted in Multan – the home city of the new Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani – in protest of the massive power cuts because of the growing energy crisis in Pakistan. The office of the Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) were ransacked. A dozen cars and buses were set afire. Stones were thrown. A bank was torched. At least 13 people were injured.

The angry man with the gun in the red shirt that you see in the first picture is senior WAPDA official, Mohammad Ishtiaq, opening areal (hawaii) fire to disperse the crowd after about 10 WAPDA workers were injured. In the last picture you see an unidentified WAPDA official grabbing hold of one of the protesters.

This is the “power” politics at its very worst. The real face of energy insecurity. When life is made miserable, anger spills on the streets and so does blood. The senselessness of the violence is only compounded by the senselessness of the energy crisis that triggered the violence. And it is not even summer yet. It promises to be a summer of even greater discontent.

30 Comments on “Power Politics: The Violence of Energy Insecurity”

  1. April 16th, 2008 3:34 am

    The energy crisis has enveloped the whole country why then such violative protests in Multan, an otherwise a traditionally peaceful city? More intriguing is the fact that the historical city has its linkage to our newly installed prime minister! The man with a gun may be a wapda man but who were, the many others, gun wielding ‘protestors’ as shown in yesterday’ Dawn?

    Nonetheless, it goes without saying that our successive government have always failed in making advance planning for the future. Everything has been destroyed under political expediency and a stage has come when all of us see crisis after crisis.

    Let’s hope some serious thinking, on issues as these, from the people at the helm, this time around.

  2. April 16th, 2008 5:45 am

    ATP Friends & Adil,

    I agree it promises to be a summer of discontent galore. That said I believe the power crisis can be resolved if the new government deals with the issue on a war footing and IT MUST if we want a nation at ease with itself.

    However the acts of violence in Multan and elsewhere still trouble me for I think as a nation we are as a collective on the edge thanks to the uncertainity regarding the judges restoration, Musharraf and so on.

    Hence my appeal for calm is still relevant today, see it below and heed the message guys, lets put water on this fire:




  3. Aqil Sajjad says:
    April 16th, 2008 6:06 am

    What’s really upsetting about this power crisis is that we had once reached an ‘energy surpluss’ and it marks a serious regression.
    The energy, wheat, sugar, and looming financial crisis (due to our huge trade deficit) have become symbols of gross mismanagement and incompetence on part of the Musharraf regime.

  4. Aadil says:
    April 16th, 2008 7:03 am

    This is what I commented on another blog a moment ago;

    “Look at the wisdom (read nonsense) of the authorities at PCB who are organising YET ANOTHER FLOODLIGHT CRICKET MATCH and that too in Multan where we are seeing the loadshedding hit citizens burning the Mepco offices and beating the wapda officials. Organising day night cricket matches means we’ve got an abundance of the electricity resources that can be used for mere recreational acitivities.

    We’re the real unfortunate lot to be represented by such morons..”

  5. MQ says:
    April 16th, 2008 7:40 am

    One of the repeated slogans of Q-league government during the election was this song on TV:

    “Des ka pahiya chalta hai yeh chalta jaye ga…”

    I think we should bring back Shaukat Aziz & Co. to explain to the nation keh yeh pahiya bijli kay baghair kaisay chalay ga?

  6. Kalsoom says:
    April 16th, 2008 8:08 am

    What I was struck by was PM Gilani’s reaction to the event – although he called for restraint, he said the government would address the problem “on a priority basis.” I know the government is pretty overloaded with issues they have promised to address – the restoration of the judiciary, the lifting of media censorship, the security issue – but the food and power crises is imminent for the people of Pakistan, it is something that is affecting their daily life – those problems are the issues that lead to violence, that allow for easy recruitment by militant groups. The question is, when DOES it become a priority?

    I also wrote about the power riots in Multan yesterday (www.changinguppakistan.com), and probed similar questions.

  7. Daktar says:
    April 16th, 2008 8:20 am

    The fact that Mohd. Ishtiaq of WAPDA had to take things in his own hands and start firing and the other official is seen nabbing protesters themselves raises too many questions. I can see how they are forced to do so but really disturbed that society has broken down to a level where this has to happen.

  8. jk says:
    April 16th, 2008 9:25 am

    Why should they remain calm? They have no reason to stay calm. Things are at life and death levels now and people have nothing to lose.

    People sitting in their air conditioned rooms eating their parathas are always quick to call for calm. The only way to get attention and to get things done is to protest. Protest in such a way that the fat cats in the government have NO CHOICE but to make this emergency a PRIORITY.

    Pakistan has always had the resources, both natural resources and human talent, to be one of the BEST countries in the world but people are using OUR resources for personal gain.

    I say it is good to protest. With out it nothing will get done. Put the pressure up on the fat cats. It’s the only way.

  9. Tina says:
    April 16th, 2008 9:54 am

    The hot season is almost upon Pakistan, and Multan is one of the hottest big cities. People are facing a summer of sitting in their homes and businesses without air conditioners. In addition they are losing money because of the impacts on their businesses. Of course they’re angry.

    Power needs to be saved, and a huge source of waste in Multan is air conditioners. The traditional architecture of the region in the past accomodated the need for air flow and cool rooms. Look at the old houses–granted they are dark and feature very thick walls. But they are cool, or at least bearable. If you have uninsulated walls and big plate glass windows, you will need artificial cooling.

    Regardless of how this energy crisis works out, people cannot waste power on things like personal air conditioning any more. This is true for every country. Energy should be spent on manufacturing and lighting and other definite needs. Architecture should take on the challenge of designing buildings for work and living that use less power for cooling.

    That would be a start. There are a lot of other things as well.

  10. ATIF says:
    April 16th, 2008 9:57 am

    The support of violence as a tool is itself part of the problem. The tragedy is that decent people can fully understand both the point of view of the protesters and also of the WAPDA staff who started shooting. The fact that things got so bad that both had to resort to violence shows how dangerous things are and why thsi has to become the top most priority.

  11. Aqil Sajjad says:
    April 16th, 2008 11:05 am

    I couldn’t agree with Tina more. We need to promote architecture that provides good insulation and ventillation instead of wasting energy on air conditioning when it can be avoided. The govt should also consider subsidizing insulation materials for rooftops and walls etc as part of its strategy for coping with this crisis.
    In addition to this, the per unit electricity bill for housing units should increase very sharply beyond a certain reasonable no of units to discourage excessive use of air conditioning.

    Also, school and office hours in peak summer should start as early as 6 AM. At that time, the temperature is more bearable, requiring less airconditioning/cooling. The closing time for schools should then be around 11-12 o’clock and offices can go untill 2 pm or so. That is also a good time to finish because one’s productivity is low due to the peak heat. The afternoon period would then be available for resting, and there would also be more room for people to step out of the house for shopping etc or sports/recreation an hour or two before sunset instead of the night when more electricity consumption is needed for lighting. People will go to sleep earlier in order to wake up before the 6 am office time, and this will reduce the energy load at night too.

  12. jk says:
    April 16th, 2008 11:52 am

    A national movement for the conservation of energy and efficiency would be wonderful.

  13. Roshan says:
    April 16th, 2008 12:55 pm

    “The senselessness of the violence is only compounded by the senselessness of the energy crisis that triggered the violence”.
    I am scared that senselessness of brewing food crises will further exacerbate the violence. Recent FAO report estimates severe shortage of food in more than thirty five countries which may lead to food riots. By the way Pakistan is one of those countries facing food shortage.

  14. Rita says:
    April 16th, 2008 1:38 pm

    Buildings can be made so that they are naturally cool. It is being done in Bangalore. And solar home systems can power lights and fans. South Asia is blessed with sun and we should use it.

  15. faraz Waseem says:
    April 16th, 2008 2:12 pm

    Rita, I agree. We should use “solar energy” for fans and lights. We need to think out of box to resolve this crisis. There is no easy short term solution to this crisis.

  16. April 16th, 2008 4:59 pm

    Great article on this energy insecurity violence! Thank you for the research.

  17. libertarian says:
    April 16th, 2008 5:34 pm

    Tina: Regardless of how this energy crisis works out, people cannot waste power on things like personal air conditioning any more. This is true for every country. Energy should be spent on manufacturing and lighting and other definite needs.

    Hmmm … the European approach. “Reduce, downsize, conserve, live like a hermit, live like the ancestors (the cavemen were carbon-neutral!) … public transport, better architecture …”. Also known as problem avoidance. Better to solve the *%$%# problem in our generation, than to avoid it and pass “gift” it to our kids.

  18. April 16th, 2008 7:40 pm

    Life all over is tough these days USA is hitting 4 dollars per gallon for GAS ( petrol). Give the present Government a chance to prove people. Yes do the protest but do not hurt your own country by burning it.

  19. readinglord says:
    April 16th, 2008 8:10 pm

    Just see those plump faces of the fat cats of WAPDA and the lean and hungry faces of the protesters. The WAPDA is no doubt the most corrupt organization of the Pakiland which is sucking the blood of the people by abusing the distribution of power which instead of being developed by this, so called, Power Development Authority is becoming scares day by day. Nawaz Sharif had during his previous regime tried to set it right by employing army but that also made the situation worse. The present regime does not seem to realize the urgency of the situation at all and is making long term promises replete with chanting of the mantra of Inshaallah like their predecessors. So the position seems to be hopeless, Inshaallah, Mashaallah, we seem to be heading towards the Stone Age with only grass to eat as Atta (flour) is also becoming scarce.

  20. Rehmat Yazdani says:
    April 16th, 2008 8:20 pm

    There is no eneregy or water conservation strategy in Pakistan or if there is any then i have not seen that being implemented. I am living in Australia these days and here all the markets follow 9:00-5:00 schedule ( i guess this is the normal schedule in all developed countries) — Why can’t government of Pakistan adopt such a strategy — i remeber in Pakistan shops are open till 10:00 / 11:00 pm — besides i guess if industries are asked to operate at night then that way electricity load could also be balanced. But what to do with ‘ electricity theft ‘ and corruption in the power sector ??

  21. SJH says:
    April 16th, 2008 9:11 pm

    This is an energy crisis, that needs a solution in the very short term. Ideas on conservation are critical to the medium and long term solution but they may not provide enough to solve the immediate problem. It is a bit odd that Pakistan was able to boast of strong external surpluses and no one thought of using some of it to build a few power plants. Can someone more knowledgeable tell me when the last major power plant was built in the country?

  22. faraz Waseem says:
    April 16th, 2008 9:37 pm

    The fat guy in red looks like a “profesional goon”.

  23. Daktar says:
    April 16th, 2008 9:51 pm

    SJH, I may be wrong but my understanding is that no new new power plants were built since the last Benazir government. I think this was because the whole IPP corruption fiasco then created such a bad atmosphere that it became politically difficult to follow. Musharraf in his early years seemed to be pushing for Kalabagh but gave up on that soon once he realized that he was not willing to have this jeapordize his hold on power. The shame and surprise is that Shaukat Aziz was either unaware of uninterested in this key aspect of national management.

  24. Ayaz Siddiqui says:
    April 17th, 2008 1:24 am

    WAPDA’s new motto

    If your fans don’t work, use air conditioners.

  25. -Farid says:
    April 17th, 2008 7:23 am

    I wonder how many of the writers were sitting in an air-conditioned space while they wrote about conservation of electricity…..

    I’m all for avoiding waste.

    But this demand-management thinking has to be coupled with some supply-side thinking as well.

    Pakistan is going to need a heck of a lot more electricity. That’s an unavoidable reality.

    The more we develop, the more we will need it. The more GDP / capita goes up the more people will be able to afford A/Cs. And why shouldn’t they ? Why should air-conditioning remain a privilege for the “babus ” only ?

    The power shortage is Pakistan is a huge business opportunity. Nothing more, nothing less.

    What we need is a good power policy, which would attract investment and competition in this sector. There is money to be made here while simultaneously solving the problem.

  26. Tina says:
    April 17th, 2008 9:12 am

    The news this morning is that 7 billion dollars will be directed to Pakistan from the US for fighting terrorism. Sounds like it might more usefully given for building power plants. Someone mentioned that Shaukat Aziz does not seem interested. Of course he is not interested in electricity and food supplies–he is too busy bragging about how he can seduce in any woman in under two minutes.

    I was on the fence about Musharaff until very recently. Now I definitely think he needs to go–him and all the other high rankers in the government. They are only serving themselves. Now they are getting 7 billion dollars to mismanage spectacularly. Let some other people get a crack at doing a better job with these funds.

  27. Ayaz Siddiqui says:
    April 17th, 2008 11:00 am

    News Break

    The $7 billion will be used by WAPDA to purchase sophisticated weapons to curb terrorism

  28. Fahim says:
    April 17th, 2008 6:21 pm

    Well power shotage now has itsa own website.

    Check out:

    And there is hope for another energy source in the future, although I would prefer use of wind (almost 50% of Spain uses it) and the sun (although solar tech is still expensive for a poor country like Pakistan to go into-though may be not for
    its deep pocketed citizens.


    Canadian, Japanese team make breakthrough on vast potential energy source

  29. Syed Ahmad says:
    May 22nd, 2008 10:09 pm

    On my recent visit to pakistan i have interesting chat (gup shup) with a very passionate senior pakistani official about stifling electric problem according to him pakistan has not built a single power generating plant during Mushraf military regime and solution to current electric shortage is sindh river he states we can built hydro power plant on sindh river every 10 miles and that will not only cure the problem but even give us surplus electric. I can’t imagine if the solution is that simple why WAPDA or govt don’t act on it. Then i thought this solution may be a top secret so here I’m telling all concern pakistanis this is might be the silver bullet .

  30. Khayam Riaz says:
    December 23rd, 2011 2:47 pm

    ahhhh !!! how cruel we are………..
    GOD never gives his good to those who are not good with themselves………!!!!

Have Your Say (Bol, magar piyar say)