Pakistanis first or Pakistan?

Why does Pakistan expect that I pledge allegiance to it? Just because I am born in Pakistan and I live within its territory? This is the criteria everyone has been taught to believe. Our state teaches doctored history to our young and makes them sing anthem and nationalistic songs so that this allegiance becomes natural to them. North Korea does the same by teaching a doctored history the children to respect the dear leader and to turn them into a “model” citizen. Our state promotes nationalism in name of Pakistan while the leaders or the ruling class enjoys our unquestioned allegiance and manipulates it to their advantage. We condemn Taliban for brainwashing the kids in madrassahs but Pakistan does the same brainwashing in schools through text books. Only the context is different, but we feel no problem.

Allegiance to state in a modern democracy is based on a social contract. A contract between state and citizens whereby citizen agrees to pledge allegiance to state and agrees to surrender certain freedoms and agrees to protect and work for it in exchange of certain guarantees and rights as consideration. The foremost guarantee is maintenance of law and order and there is a long list afterwards. It is clear that current state of Pakistan has breached this contract with its citizens in all respects (if there was one ever). We have reverted to a hunter-gatherer status of existence. But the hunter-gatherers were neither subjected to any tax nor any law; so clearly a common citizen of Pakistan is at a severe disadvantage in both ways. As a de-jure citizen of state, he/she is subjected to various taxes, laws and surrender certain economic freedoms while in the de-facto state of being a hunter-gatherer, he/she is totally responsible for him/herself.

We the Punjabis were the last in pre-independence India to agree for new state. Till 1946, we elected unionist leaders who were nationalist and against the idea of Pakistan. But after partition, we suddenly became its champions and forced the concept of unquestioned allegiance down everyone else’s throats. Similar is the case with maulvies who were deadly against division but later on hijacked the new state with an ex post “Pakistan Ideology”. Now we question the Balochi right of separation from federation and label it treason; similar to the manner we questioned the right of Bengalis. We went into a war with them, lost,  but now are made to believe by state apparatus that we are better off without them. If we lose Balochistan in future, surely our future generations would say that we are better off to get rid of it. We are masters of re-writing history and I am sure we will do that again.

Couple of years before, I drove from Quetta to Rawalpindi via Zhob valley and saw that many families were living in wilderness of Zhob valley; underneath a sheet of cloth tied on four standing sticks. They were not even in villages but living in wide open and barren valley. I still wonder that what do they eat and how do they survive because I did not see any farms nor any other economic activity going around them. Someone told me that to this day, people in remote areas of Balochistan drink water from same ponds where their animals drink and tie sheep skins as shoes. Why should the state of Pakistan expect an allegiance from them once it failed to deliver on its side of contract for 60+ years?  Due to the skewed economic system, bulk of the population does not have any chance of owning a single inch of land in our so-called “free land” except maybe six feet piece for burial (that too if they are lucky). Why should the state expect an allegiance from them once it cannot provide them an equal opportunity? But it does and declares everyone who raises a voice, a traitor. Once pushed to the wall, the thugs among these “triators” having propensity to violence lead the pack and are therefore turned into heroes. Brahamdagh and Harbiyar are simply production of Pakistani intransigence to understand the nature of its social contract with its populace. Now it has no choice but to live with their violent antics or even negotiate with them.

We must realize that creation of Pakistan was a reaction and not a long sought goal of the people of this area. We achieved Pakistan within few years of realizing that we want it. Historians are still divided on the question that whether Pakistan was a bargaining chip or a real destination in minds of Jinnah and league leaders. But the new state failed and breached the contract with its citizens. From start, it demanded allegiance and sacrifices first and told that rights and protection will come later. It doctored history and its Raison d’être by teaching to the young that ‘Pakistan came into being once the first person in Indian subcontinent converted to Islam’.  60 years later, things have gone to worst only because the focus of state is in a different direction.

The confusion in minds is further perpetrated because of the smart manipulation of adjective “Pakistani” by our state. We are taught that we are Pakistani because Pakistan is. But people of this geographical area lived without the adjective of Pakistani before its creation and will continue to live even if this adjective vanishes.  A person born in Mughal India was not a Mughlai. He/ She only pledged allegiance to his/her tribe (in exchange of protection) and the kingdom never expected an automatic allegiance. Kingdom had the option of entering into a contract through negotiations or via force and both instruments were used occasionally. But it never expected an automatic allegiance because a person is born into its territory. Why does the state of Pakistan believe that it commands that right?

I do not mean that we go back and merge in India claiming that it was a mistake. But we must understand that we are free humans first and will be Pakistanis only once the state complies with the social contract with its population; for protection of our fundamental rights and provision of equal economic opportunities. Pakistan as a state is less important than the people living in its territory. They became “Pakistanis” because they entered into the contract with new state of Pakistan. Once the state has breached that contract, it cannot and should not expect any allegiance to the flag or the anthem.


Ration the Energy

Pakistan energy crisis is not going to end very soon. No matter how much we lament Zardari or any other future government, it is bound to stay with us for a very long time. The consumption boom fueled by Shaukat Aziz government led to a radical change in lifestyle of common Pakistani and coupled with corruption ridden mismanagement of PPP government, we are suffering the result in form of this energy crisis.

At the heart of this crisis is issue of balance of payments. Pakistan has enough installed capacity to generate required electricity. But it does not have enough foreign currency to purchase the fuels. Moreover it does not have the guts to tell people about it and keeps on lamenting past governments and making more money in name of RPPs to solve this crisis. A common Pakistani is confused that once he is ready to pay the bill, why government can’t buy fuel from his money. He cannot understand that government has printed tons of currency to distribute amongst masses for keeping the economy afloat but we simply cannot buy US Dollars from rupees. Dollars come in Pakistan either through remittances or exports. We simply do not have enough of them to cover our fuel costs. We are clearly living beyond our means.

It is time that government should start thinking about reduction in demand of energy as the cornerstone of its policy rather than supply side. ADB report on rental power project clearly identifies that better and cheaper options are available to Pakistan in tems of reduction of demand but because of being less glamorous and hard to communicate to masses, they are not being pursued. Reduction in line lossess is the first project WAPDA should embark on rather than blowing the trumpet of Kalabagh Dam which has now forever been damned due to its bad stakeholder management. As a secondary effort would be to switch the dependencies to renewable alternatives but clearly the dependency for baseload will stay on fossil fuels for a considerable period of time.

However, none of these efforts can completely eliminate the energy shortage and government should start building towards the inevitable imperative i.e. “Rationing”. It is clear that peace time public policy tools will not solve the energy shortage and we have to go on war footings to bring it back to balance. Energy rationing should be devised by government in consultation with experts in energy and economists to allow equitable distribution of resources. Currently we are in a zero sum game. Without any maximum quota, we try to consume as much energy as we can afford. All of us switch on ACs that burdens the whole network and brings it down; resultantly no one is able to use them continously. Better option would be to stop ACs altogether so that at least everyone can have constant running fans.  With shortage on one hand and excessive consumption on other, none enjoys the fruit. Energy is no more a public good which can be consumed as much as possible. To ensure that everyone gets a decent amount of energy share, electricity needs to be rationed. I leave it to experts to suggest how to do that.

Rationing also need to expand to fuel and gas because we either do not have them or do not have the money to buy them either. As I mentioned earlier that merely paying rupees at petrol station does not mean that government can use them to buy petrol from Saudi Arabia. There are many methods to introduce rationing and any or a combination of many can be utilized to achieve that. Some people will bypass and consume more but it will certainly bring consumption down to controllable limits. Weakness of our government is evident from the fact that it does not have dollars to buy fuel for power plants to supply uninterrupted electricity but it is helpless at people buying diesel for generators to produce their own electricity in an unefficient way. It does not have gas to fire turbines to produce electriicity but cannot stop people from using gas to generate electricity in their own homes. With the speed at which people are buring gas to produce their own electricity, government will have to ration gas as well very soon.

Morever the government needs to ban all those fancy imported stuff which is filling the cabinets of our superstores and whose substitute is available in local market. We do not need tooth pastes made in Malaysia once we are producing it ourselves. The foreign currency need not be wasted on unessential luxuries for a selected few once many else do not have access to basic necessities. Definitely taxes on energy and import duties are the major source of revenue to government but this dependence has played havoc with our overall economy. It’s high time we diversify our sources of revenue and check on these trends or we will continue to suffer for a very long time

Thar Coal: Myth or Reality

Thar coal is fast getting near mythical status in Pakistan. There are tall claims of 50k MW of electricity for next 50 years and cheapest possible electricity, gas and diesel. Dr Samar Mubarakmand seems to be on the offensive, appearing at every talk show propagating claims of Thar coal solving all of Pakistan’s energy problems. Listening to him gives an impression that we all will get free electricity for rest of our lives. All the hype being generated on media is towards getting more and more funding for a pilot project being run by Dr Samar and his cohorts.

Dr Samar is not naïve to know which projects are worth pursuing and which are not. He is member of planning commission and very well knows the appraisal process for large projects. He seems to give an impression on talk shows that government needs to fund his scientific efforts to save this wealth being plundered by multi-national corporations. My question to him is simple: Do you take accountability of failing to achieve your tall claims?

Mega Engineering Projects are not technical challenges only; they are political and financial challenges first. Stakeholder management is the first requirement and without it, no project can move forward. Classic example is of Kalabagh Dam. The crude way with which the project was forced forward despite concerns of various parties ensured that it will never see the light of the day. Similar efforts seem a foot on Thar coal as well with souring relations between federation and Sindh. Even if we somehow smother the differences between the two, Pakistan simply does not have the expertise to extract this coal from ground. If we try to learn it (what Dr Samar is doing), we will end up paying far more than we should. Moreover we might not need this expertise after thar coal project is complete. That is why, except state owned mining corporations of Russia (hardly a role model), mining is a private sector business that develops expertise in field once and then applies it all over the world. A government’s job is not to mine itself but to generate a competitive tension among prospective bidders to get the best commercial outcome. May it be Australia or Peru, mining should be best left to miners. Rather than focusing our efforts on learning it, we must focus our efforts in getting the best commercial deal. Try doing it ourselves and we will surely end up paying far more than we should. I wil give an example to illustrate my point. Most of us own a car. Do we all leave other stuff in life and devote the time to learning for repairing it?  In most of the cases no; because it is not worth it. In some cases it may be, but that requires a careful appraisal of all the options. In my view, Dr Samar is simply jumping to DIY option without having done any critical appraisal. If those appraisals are done, then he should show those appraisals to public rather than just big claims.

There is another question asked that given the high risk environment, who will come to invest in Pakistan? This is a very valid observation. But that very same risk will hold good for government as well, because after all it will have to raise money from same international lenders for that project. They will either refuse to finance or charge a very high premium because of high risk of investment in Pakistan. We are still struggling to finance Bhasha Dam for very same purpose. Even if a small pilot project of Dr Samar Mubarak generates some gas and diesel from thar coal, who will ascertain that it is being done economically? Dr Samar has been giving the impression that it is a technical challenge but I am afraid that it is not. The technology exists. The question to ask is that whether it will be economical to do so in case of Thar Coal?

This question can only be answered by conducting a detailed feasibility study for Thar Coal Project through expert engineering houses. That study will demonstrate the commercial potential of Thar coal. The study will also recommend the best project delivery mechanism for Thar Coal; should it be pursued in house or should it be delivered via Public-Private Partnership. A government’s aim is to find the mechanism which will give maximum “value for money”. Without such a detailed study, what Dr Samar is saying on media are mere conjectures and through them, he is merely exploiting the frustration and desperation of common person on the prevalent energy crisis for his own personal agenda.Image