Pakistan Opposition Take Aim at Energy Crisis Ahead of Elections
By Annabel Symington
Right now the opposition is slamming the government on this point, claiming there’s an easy solution: Pakistan is sitting on the world’s sixth-largest coal deposit, the Thar Coalfields in Sindh Province, but since the reserves were discovered 22 years ago, little has been done to develop them.
But negotiating the complex political web that has kept Pakistan in the energy dark ages is not as simple as opposition leaders suggest, say analysts. What should be a mere technical challenge has escalated as the government has become paralyzed.
“It is not a lack of political will to address the energy crisis,” says Adil Najam, vice chancellor of the Lahore University of Management Sciences and a leading Pakistani expert on environment and development policy. “It is a lack of political ability.”
For the past 22 years, plans to develop the Thar Coalfield have been stuck in limbo because of disagreements between the provincial and federal governments. The federal government wants a majority stake in any mining ventures, and has suggested a 80/20 split with the province. Though it has accepted investment from the federal government, the Sindh provincial government wants absolute control over the coalfields and has been adamant in insisting that Sindh alone should benefit from its natural resources.
So the two are in a bind: The ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government is unwilling to force development plans for fear of splitting what has traditionally been its strongest support base. Fear of creating a surge of Sindhi nationalism in the country’s second-most populous province tempered even former President Pervez Musharraf‘s attempt to develop the coalfields during Pakistan’s nine-year military rule.
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