It is the height of summer and the second week of the holy month of Ramazan. There are riots across the country despite the heat and a gathering sense of a population reaching the end of its tether. The nation has been driven to the brink of despair by a catastrophic failure of governance, an institutionalised inability to manage the national power generation and distribution infrastructure that is now close to causing widespread civil disorder. Last Saturday and Sunday saw the situation deteriorate still further with rioting and destruction of property, large demonstrations in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab and to a lesser extent in Sindh, which anecdotally appears to be less affected by loadshedding compared to the rest of the country. On Monday, President Zardari announced that he was taking ‘strict notice’ of the power problems and was convening the umpteenth high-level meeting to get on top of matters. Political mud-slinging is the order of the day, with Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif claiming on Sunday that his province’s loadshedding woes were a direct result of the ‘malicious and vengeful attitude’ of the Presidency.
It is the politics of power that has spread the cancer of circular debt, the appalling irony of which is that it is a cancer which can be cured by the relatively simple expedient of everybody in the circle paying what they owe to everybody else. This is not the economic equivalent of rocket science. Power generation and distribution has become deeply politicised, rather than managed as a state utility outside the political realm. Our leaders seem unable to resist the opportunity to make literal and metaphorical capital at every turn, and if the population and the economy suffer then so be it. The chairman of the Public Accounts Committee is threatening to resign over the issue of unequal loadshedding – something that the prime minister ordered an end to ten days ago. By contrast a seemingly-sanguine Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Qamar Zaman Kaira blandly assured a sweltering nation that the current crisis was caused by a windstorm in Muzaffargarh and all would be well within two or three days – a statement that borders on arrant nonsense. People may not have power but they do have a vote. And their intelligence has been insulted long enough. It is likely that many voters remember the dark days of 2012 when they come to put their ‘X’ on the ballot paper come election day.