Around this time last year, the PML-N promised to end load shedding in 60-90 days and overcome the energy crisis for good. Shahbaz Sharif still believes that his party can overcome the shortage, although the word ‘soon’ has replaced a specific date. Dar is commending himself and the rest of the government for prioritizing the energy crisis and taking steps to fix it. But beyond these general statements, the PML-N has replaced its motto from ‘yes we can’ to ‘we try our best’. This is probably for the better, considering that the head of the IMF mission to Pakistan, Jeffery Franks recently stated that it would take about 6 years for load shedding to end in Pakistan.
The fact that the media has completely missed out on this statement is shocking. The head of the IMF mission to Pakistan is well-acquainted with the problems of Pakistan, and since his job entails coming up with potential solutions, his estimate might just be correct. The government however, is painting an entirely different picture.
It was always obvious that the government could not end load shedding in three months, and now that a year has passed, let’s analyse how close they have come to solving the problem their election victory was predicated on. The energy policy of 2013 gave precedence to short term measures such as bringing down electricity theft and prioritizing cost-effective production techniques like hydel generation and coal-based production. The national grid is still losing an incalculable amount of electricity through theft, and the cost of electricity has only risen over the past year. The PML-N never meant for their political promises to be taken seriously, but at the same time this tenure will be judged primarily on whether their policies led to an increase in the overall supply of electricity in the country. Initiatives such as the coal power plant at Port Qasim are nothing more than stop gap measures, which fail on two counts. Firstly, they do not add substantial amounts of electricity to the national grid, which is still facing a shortfall of around 5000 MW, and secondly they give the public a false impression that things are taking a turn for the better. The energy policy devised by the PML-N was surprisingly well-informed about the energy crisis. Preventing theft and line losses was the way to make things better immediately and yet, it seems that the government has been reluctant to follow its own advice. If Jeffery Franks is indeed correct, we’re in for a long haul.