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Civil society in Pakistan outraged

world Updated: Sep 01, 2008 00:02 IST
Vinod Sharma
Vinod Sharma
Hindustan Times
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Pakistanis are known to keep their sense of humour even at the worst of times. But an SMS in circulation is proof as much of their angst against the ruling class: “Due to severe shortage of sincere politicians and electricity, the light at the end of the tunnel has been switched off.”

Yes, the civil society here is outraged by the politicos’ lop-sided priorities; the unending power-tussle that has put governance on the back-burner. Away from the federal capital, on the streets of Karachi, Peshawar, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Quetta, people are crying hoarse over rising food shortage and power slippages that, in some cases, last as long as 16-hours a day.

Entrepreneurs are losing business, common people their cool and little children their sleep in the oppressively humid weather conditions. Attendance is down at offices, in schools and private work places, there being no ready data of the man hours lost.

Overhead expenses of luxury hotels have shot up by several thousands rupees per hour in keeping generators whirring during long electricity cuts.

Experts blame the crisis on fiscal mismanagement inherited from previous regimes and the government’s inability to pay Independent Power Producers (IPP). “It’s a problem of circular debt. We have the capacity to generate 14,000 MW of thermal power, of which 4000 MW isn’t there because of non-payment to IPPs,” said Khalid Hussain, a senior writer on economic affairs.

The problem can be overcome through a staggered repayment schedule. “But our politicians,” he said, “are busy playing their own games. There is no quality supply but power tariff has been raised by a staggering 31 per cent in utter disregard of depleting savings and incomes and rising prices.”

Even daal-roti has become unaffordable in a country where people love their roti with boti (a piece of meat). Flour is sold at Rs 20-25 per kg, pulses at Rs 100 plus and ghee for Rs 165 a kg. The cost of living is up by 33-35 per cent with little or no signs of an early respite.

Special arrangements for the holy month of Ramazan starting early September for supply of staple foods at controlled rates have had early hiccups. A leading newspaper ran a report out of Rawalpindi with the caption: worst atta shortage belies government claims.

Lack of basic checks and controls has encouraged rampant hoarding, profiteering and clandestine exports to Afghanistan where consumer goods are dearer double-fold.

Then there is that uncontrolled price inflation at the retail end by the neighbourhood grocer, who too has a family to feed. The picture would look more horrid with 20 per cent unemployment rate, minus the youth lured into militancy.

Post-September 6, ‘President’ Asif Zardari’s first task will be to show fellow Pakistanis some light at the end of the tunnel. How? A question worth a bag of wheat-flour!