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The Express Tribune Editorial 27 June 2020

Power protests


Prolonged power outages during summer months in Sindh, including capital Karachi, Hyderabad and other urban areas, have become an important characteristic of life. This situation has been persisting since the early 1980s and change does not appear to be on the horizon. This summer too, it is the same old story. For around a fortnight, K-Electric has been subjecting Karachi and other urban areas of Sindh to hours-long unannounced power cuts making life miserable for the people. This is happening when temperature has soared to 40 degrees Celsius and above. Prolonged power cuts have been occurring even at night in different localities of Karachi and Hyderabad.
Annoyed by the persistent deterioration in electricity supply in various localities of Karachi and Hyderabad, consumers have started to hold protest demos urging KE and Hyderabad Electric Supply Company to improve power supply. For want of electricity, whole life gets upset. The power suppliers are, as usual, advancing unconvincing arguments for their failure to ensure proper supply of power. Protesters say the government has asked people to stay indoors to protect themselves from the coronavirus, but how can they stay inside home in this hot weather when several spells of prolonged power outage are occurring during 24 hours. In a way, power cuts are aiding in the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
The National Electric Power Regulatory Authority has taken notice of the situation and asked K-Electric and other power utilities of Sindh to alleviate the sufferings of the people. This year power supply was expected to improve as most shops, offices, and educational institutions are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. This should have resulted in reduced consumption. Things, however, remain unchanged. Moreover, K-Electric has replaced old wires with cables to eliminate power theft. The power utility formerly blamed power outages on pilferage. Unfortunately, the new cables have not benefited consumers.


All’s well?


Yes, Prime Minister Imran Khan does insist that all is well — be it the government’s response to Covid-19, the state of the national economy, or his foreign policy. The PM spoke to the National Assembly — making only his 13th appearance in the house in nearly two years — on Thursday during the ongoing budget session and defended the overall performance of his team. He looked well in control as he deliberated upon, with the help of statistics, the various challenges his government is trying to come to terms with.
To start off with, the PM claimed success on his strategy to counter the coronavirus in the country. He reiterated the logic behind his aversion to a full-fledged countrywide lockdown, saying that since the day one there had been no confusion in his mind about the need to balance measures to fight the virus and protecting the economy, thereby preventing the people from going hungry. Even though, four months on, Pakistan is still struggling to plateau the infection curve, the PM is absolutely correct that our country is no Europe, New Zealand or China which could have opted for a complete lockdown with gay abandon.
When speaking on the prevailing financial situation, the PM mentioned the “sinking” economy that his government had inherited featuring a high current account deficit, a controlled exchange rate regime “detrimental” to exports, and huge public debts — something that, according to him, had dragged the country to the verge of default. While he cherry-picked to manage face-saving in front of his rivals, the various SBP reports paint an even gloomier picture of the economy during his two years in power. With his UN General Assembly address on Kashmir being the only highlight of his foreign policy so far, the PM mostly repeated the popular rhetoric that he was so very fond of while in the opposition.
In a pleasant break from his customary bashing of the opposition, the PM’s speech in parliament carried a hint of his desire for a new beginning with the opposition. His 86-minute speech in the lower house, however, kicked up quite a controversy when he called Osama bin Laden a martyr — something that contradicts our official policy on the matter and that risks a global reaction.


Annexation warning


Over 1,000 lawmakers from across Europe have urged their leaders and those of other world powers to stop Israel from moving ahead with its plan to annex parts of the West Bank which it is already illegally occupying. They said it would be “fatal to the prospects of Israeli-Palestinian peace”. The UN secretary-general and the UN peace envoy for the region have also called on Israel to roll back its plans if it has any interest in properly resolving the Palestine dispute.
It would, of course, be unfair to blame Israel as a whole. There are good people in the country who have been protesting on behalf of the Palestinians. Unfortunately, power in Israel rests in the hands of a far-right fanatic. We in South Asia are all too familiar with what happens when countries fall under such leadership. But unlike South Asia, there is only one world power that can stop Israel in its tracks, but that country is currently led by the most incompetent leadership team in its history. It was, in fact, the explicit backing of US President Donald Trump that gave Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu the confidence to go ahead with this entirely illegal move. The Trump peace plan for the Middle East was to give Israel everything they have historically demanded, then throw in some extras that even the most extreme groups didn’t think they could get. The Palestinians were expected to be happy to be allowed to exist.
This is why the European leaders even directly called him out for how his “plan departs from internationally agreed parameters and principles”. Interestingly, they did not refer to Netanyahu, at all in the letter, knowing that he is a pawn in this game. They also know Trump doesn’t really care about Israel. He only made the offer to help him get Jewish and Evangelical Christian votes in the upcoming US election. And while it is unlikely that Europe’s leaders will take the unprecedented step of placing sanctions on Israel, it is not impossible.
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