Sunday, January 18, 2015

PETROLEUM CRISIS LINGERS ON ....

PETROLEUM CRISIS
Does the suspension of four bureaucrats enough?

Amidst lingering petroleum crisis in many parts of the country, including Punjab and the federal capital, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took stern notice of the issue as soon as he landed at the Lahore airport from abroad on Saturday (Jan 17) and suspended four top bureaucrats for failing to deal with the crisis.

Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, however, managed to survive the crisis for being a close political associate of the premier amidst demands of his sacking for lack of planning and oversight.

Taking notice of acute shortage of petrol in different parts of the country, Nawaz Sharif convened an urgent meeting of top officials at the Lahore airport on his return home after a two-day visit to Saudi Arabia. The four suspended officers responsible for the crisis include Petroleum Secretary Abid Saeed, Additional Petroleum Secretary Naeem Malik, Oil DG CM Azam, and Pakistan State Oil (PSO) Managing Director Amjad Janjua. The prime minister also directed provincial governments to check black-marketing of petrol. It was decided to expedite the supply and delivery of petrol.
 
As if the misery brought on by the severe gas and electricity crises was not enough, citizens of the country are now in the grip of a massive petrol shortage, probably of the likes we have never seen before. The state-owned Pakistan State Oil (PSO) has run out of oil because it has not been paid upwards of Rs 200 billion that it is owed, making it limp and unable to purchase the necessary petrol needed to sustain the economy and the everyday workings of the people. This comes in the wake of the global drop in oil prices whereby the amenity-starved public in Pakistan was daring to breathe a sigh of relief. With the unprecedented drop in prices, consumer demand went up, especially after the availability of CNG became little more than a pipedream. But how could the powers that be let that happen? Staying true to its incompetent self, the government turned a deaf ear to the cries and pleas of the higher ups in the PSO demanding payment of dues to clear credit and purchase more fuel.
 
The circular debt issue sees the government refusing to pay the core companies that need to be paid the most and before all other concerns. These folks in power choose to pursue other avenues, other causes to ‘serve’ the public such as the Metro Bus Project and the Yellow Cab Scheme but they do not think about facilitating the people on basic provisions. How can the government justify turning a blind eye to fuel, the very essence of a thriving, working nation? Heads need to start rolling now. How can ministers responsible for this debacle be allowed to continue in this manner when an entire people has to queue for hours on end outside petrol pumps to be given rationed petrol to send their children to school, go to work and transport goods? There will soon be a riot at these pumps — in Lahore only 10 percent are operational — with people’s anger reaching flammable levels. The sheer mismanagement and idiocy of the current regime makes the energy-deprived years of the PPP seem like a term in paradise with people at least obtaining petrol to keep their motors running. The Nawaz Sharif government has employed nothing but ostriches who have buried their heads so far into the sand that they cannot hear the plight of the masses. They need to be unceremoniously sacked and bills need to be paid. There are no two ways about it. 
 
The petrol crisis has become substantially worse in the fifth day of its acute shortage. There are queues upon queues of cars and motorcycles, numbering more than 500 at a time, lined up outside the measly few petrol pumps that are open and rationing their stock. The people are losing patience and the frustration they are feeling could erupt any minute. Some petrol pumps are remaining shut because they are too scared of any potential violence and rioting if they open for business. The situation is escalating from bad to worse very quickly and if something is not done soon, the government will have a very large, very decisive problem on its hands, one that would make the August 14 onwards protests pale in comparison.


As usual, there is no one to blame but the government itself for creating this crisis. Pakistan State Oil (PSO) is helpless in the face of bills being unpaid and no credit left to its name to beg for or borrow any more fuel. A bare minimum of Rs 100 billion is required to improve the situation and that too will take a few weeks to purchase and transport stocks, replenishing the system. So far, the payment has not been made. The country’s depletion of CNG led consumers to switch to petrol, increasing demand and adding the pressure. Couple that with the substantial dip in global oil prices, with people readily using petrol for all their transport needs, and the demand supply chain simply could not cope. Many oil marketing companies were also caught slacking, not keeping the mandatory two weeks stock of reserves to help mitigate such an issue. It was a recipe for complete and utter disaster, and the government has been caught sleeping, ignoring the enormity of the issue. Does the government have a plan of action? According to the petroleum ministry, the petrol crisis might improve in another week’s time whilst other reports suggest that there really is no time frame because nothing can be done without the government moving to fix all default payments. The people will no longer listen to false promises or empty rhetoric. What is needed is a solution, a plan to eliminate all these debilitating shortages of which the petrol crisis is just one. There is no electricity for most of the day, no gas and now no petrol. We are now being told that because of the oil shortage, the power crisis will worsen. How long does the government think it has before the masses, deprived of every amenity imaginable, turn violent on the streets? 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

TERRORISM A LA MODE

Terrorism has many faces. The sooner we recognise this, the sooner all the recent hoopla about crushing terrorism in the wake of the Peshawar barbarity will assume concrete, comprehensive and effective shape. The attack by baton-wielding fanatics on a peaceful candle-lit vigil to commemorate the fourth death anniversary of murdered Governor Salmaan Taseer at Liberty Chowk, Lahore, must surely be counted amongst the long chain of terrorist or terrorist-inspired attacks ov
er the years. The attackers did not even spare the media covering the vigil, subjecting them, as the video footage shows, to pushing, shoving, kicking over their equipment, letting the media personnel feel the sharp lash of their batons, etc. The police on duty remained bystanders, allowing these fanatics to take the law into their own hands. When after the attack, the SP police in charge of the area was asked on television why this was so, he lied through his teeth that no police were deployed at the site of the incident and that the police had only responded to a distress call after the event. Anyone familiar with any manifestation at Liberty Chowk over the years knows that no matter how big or small the protest, police are always deployed there. Eyewitnesses confirm police were on the spot but did nothing to stop the violent attack on peaceful demonstrators. Although the protestors have registered a report at the local police station, the chances of action being taken against the offending maulvis, all of whose faces were caught by the cameras, are slim, to say the least. Nor is it likely that the police who did not perform their duty to uphold the law, protect the right of the protestors to peacefully express themselves, and prevent such an untoward incident will even be punished. For one, the police deployed there probably share the mindset of Salmaan Taseer’s cowardly coldblooded killer Mumtaz Qadri, who too was a policeman of the special security detail of the late Governor when he riddled him with bullets from behind as he left an Islamabad restaurant. Second, who does not know the penchant and tricks of the police when one of their own has broken or fallen foul of the law they are supposed to defend? No, we are not hopeful of an outcome that upholds the law, the rights of the protestors to peaceful assembly, or the fundamental principles of a democratic society. We now look to the Punjab government of Shahbaz Sharif to see what if any action it takes on the matter. If it does nothing, or muddies the water to get the attackers and the police guilty of dereliction of duty off the hook, not only will it blacken its face, it will encourage the revival of the accusations against it of being soft on terrorism and terrorists.
 
Salmaan Taseer did not do anything to deserve the fate he suffered. He bravely stood up for a poor illiterate Christian woman falsely accused of blasphemy and, in one more miscarriage of justice under these controversial laws, Aasia bibi was sentenced to death, a verdict shamefully upheld by the Lahore High Court. The inherent problem in blasphemy cases is the tendency of the courts to rely on hearsay and less than credible witnesses’ word against that of the accused. In a trailer of what many fear will happen when the military courts being touted as the panacea to terrorism start operating, blasphemy accused are subconsciously or even explicitly presumed guilty even before they come to trial, that is if they have not been killed first by vigilante mobs, as happened to the Christian couple in Kot Radha Kishan who were tortured and then thrown into a brick kiln. The fact that the woman was five months pregnant did not sway the beasts who carried out this murder. There too the police did nothing to prevent the crime. Clearly, Aasia bibi and the Christian couple in question were considered children of a lesser God.

The tragedy of Salmaan Taseer’s assassination was compounded by his abandonment by his own party, the PPP, and all other forces in our insane society. Had that not been so, had the courage to confront obscurantist maulvis who exploit religion for their vested interests, including defending the blasphemy laws as if they had descended straight from heaven, been on display four years ago, perhaps Pakistan would not have suffered many other tragedies since. Even now, after the Peshawar massacre of schoolchildren, it may not be too late to salvage this bruised and wounded society. But for that, terrorism in any shape or form, including the intolerance, violence and violation of the law and democratic right of peaceful assembly and protest on display in Liberty Chowk must be dealt with severely and crushed. Courtesy DT