Ever since the discovery of massive coal deposits in Tharpakar in 1991, governments that have come in to power have made the public dream of a day without the energy crisis, and have attached these hopes to Thar coal. Two decades later, this government like the old ones, has once again identified Thar coal as the answer to all our problems, and the ground breaking ceremony held by Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari may have finally set things in motion. Or not.
The previous PPP government, under the leadership of Zardari had made promises to the public of shifting the reliance of the energy sector from gas and oil to coal, but failed to do so in the five years of their mandate. One of the first things the PML-N did after coming in to office was to make a framework of the new energy policy of the country which included initiating mining in the sixth largest coal deposit of the world. The Thar deposits have been divided in to 12 blocks, out of which only the first one is about to become operational. The $1.6 billion project is about to commence under the guidance of the Engro Corporation alongside the Sindh government. Additionally, foreign investment by China and other countries as well as private firms is being sought, because Pakistan cannot currently afford investment on such a massive scale.
Hands were shaken. Pictures were taken. And a hole was dug in to the ground. Oh, and there’s an airport too, which is reportedly set to by completed by June. So what now? Both the Sindh and the Federal government are salivating at the thought of finally kicking off the gargantuan task, and are getting ahead of themselves by making lofty promises such as opening an industrial park in the area, alongside the usual claims of building new roads and housing projects that will save the lives of those that will work on the mines. But are these plans realistic? Foreign investment in the project might not be so easy to come by, considering that the world is becoming increasingly more environmentally friendly by the day, in addition to the usual skepticism that comes with injecting money in to a country not many people trust. This project cannot be another one of the many plans that are never completed such as the Iran gas pipeline. Considering the amount of investment going in to Thar, and the potential this site holds for the future stability of the energy sector of Pakistan, let’s hope that the 23 years already wasted is enough time to finally get this going.