Power outage piles on misery for millions in Pakistan, draped in darkness

People visit a market, where some shopkeeper are using generators for electricity during a national-wide power breakdown, in Islamabad, Pakistan, on January 23, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 23 January 2023

Power outage piles on misery for millions in Pakistan, draped in darkness

  • Daylong breakdown raised frantic questions about infrastructural weakness and the urgent need to upgrade an aging grid
  • At shops and malls around the country, citizens lined up to buy battery-powered lights and candles as outage crossed 12 hours

ISLAMABAD: Over twelve hours after a nationwide power failure struck Pakistan in the latest breakdown of a perennially troubled national grid, electricity began to return to parts of the capital on Monday while a majority of the country’s 220 million people remained in the dark.

Pakistan’s energy minister Khurram Dastgir Khan said earlier in the day that power would be restored “by tonight” as the government scrambled to fix a breakdown that has raised frantic questions about infrastructural weakness and the urgent need to upgrade an aging grid.

While Pakistan has enough installed power capacity to meet demand, it lacks adequate resources to run its oil-and-gas-powered plants. The energy sector is also heavily in debt and cannot afford to invest in new infrastructure and power lines.

For Pakistanis, Monday’s nationwide loss of power was a frustrating continuation of hardships brought by an economy in a tailspin for months, with foreign reserves running out, inflation at decades-high levels and industrial growth slowing down.

An aerial view shows Pakistan's capital Islamabad during a nationwide power outage on January 23, 2023. (AFP)

In Islamabad, the capital, and the eastern city of Lahore, citizens lined up at shops on Monday to buy battery-powered lights and candles.

Parvez Malik, a 76-year-old lawyer, said candles and rechargeable lamps were sold out at all major grocery stores in Lahore.

“I finally found two lights and they were for fifteen thousand each,” he said, quoting the price of lights that usually cost around Rs2,000.

An aerial view shows Pakistan's capital Islamabad during a nationwide power outage on January 23, 2023. (AFP)

At a market in Islamabad’s elite F-6 sector, shopkeeper Adil Khan said he had not sold much all day and all that customers wanted was battery-powered lights.

“Most customers came for rechargeable lights but as compared to usual days, we had no business,” Khan said. “We have suffered huge losses because of the power outage for the whole day. The big businesses are pouring oil in generators and running their businesses but the real affectees are small businessmen like me.”

Saif Raj, who owns a computer shop in Islamabad’s Blue Area, said most shops had closed hours earlier on Monday evening.

“The market usually closes at 9pm but it’s 7pm and most of the shops have closed,” he told Arab News.

In a statement released on Monday morning, Energy Minister Khan said as part of an energy saving move, electricity was turned off across Pakistan during low usage hours overnight to conserve fuel. Technicians were unable to boot up the system all at once after daybreak, he added.

“There is no major fault … In winter the system is closed due to low demand at night and is switched on in the morning,” Khan said.

“Today morning, when the system was switched on, a huge breakdown occurred due to a drop in frequency between Jamshoro and Dadu,” he added, referring to two southern regions.

Motorcyclists and cars drive on a road during a national-wide power breakdown, in Lahore, Pakistan, on January 23, 2023. (AP)

Power began to return in parts of Islamabad after 8pm, but was still out in Lahore. In Karachi, Pakistan’s commercial capital and home to the stock exchange, the central bank and a giant port, a spokesperson for the K-Electric supply company said power was being restored “gradually.”

“Restoration of power in most parts of Karachi is expected in next three to four hours,” he said in a statement, adding that K-Electric was working with the National Transmission and Dispatch Company (NTDC) to restore power from the national grid.

Residents in most parts of the city said they were still waiting for power over thirteen hours after the outage.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif ordered an investigation into the breakdown and summoned an “immediate report” from the energy minister.

“Why did such a massive crisis of electricity arise?” the PM was quoted as asking in a statement. “Those responsible should be identified ... The difficulties of masses are intolerable.”

An aerial view of Pakistan's southern city of Karachi during a nationwide power outage on January 23, 2023. (AN photo)

Monday’s outrage reminded of one in Pakistan’s southern regions in October, when it took a whole day for power to be restored in major urban centers like Karachi, Hyderabad, Quetta and other areas of the Sindh and Balochistan provinces.

The outage was also reminiscent of a massive blackout in January 2021, attributed at the time to a technical fault in the country’s power generation and distribution system.

Chaudhry Amin, the chief executive of the Lahore Electric Supply Company (LESCO), which supplies power to some of Pakistan’s most populous cities in Punjab province, said in the afternoon electricity would be restored in Lahore and its adjoining areas “soon.”

He confirmed that all LESCO grid stations had tripped, “depriving industrial, commercial and domestic consumers of electricity.”

The Orange Line Metro Train service was also suspended in Lahore, depriving millions of commuters of their usual mode of public transportation.

A spokesperson for the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) said airports were not facing any power issues while the national highways and motorway police said traffic signals in most areas of the country were not working.

“There are unconfirmed reports of restoration varying from 15-20 hours,” a statement by the highway police said. “If electricity is not restored until darkness, keeping in mind the law and order situation, kindly make sure your car and house doors are locked properly to avoid any incident.”

At a commercial area in Islamabad, Malik Faisal, who owns a plywood business, said there was no work all day and he was out with a friend as there was no electricity at home.

“I read a media report yesterday that 70 percent people want to go abroad [leave Pakistan] and from today, I am also among those 70 percent,” Faisal told Arab News. “I called all my friends today that we also need to move away somewhere because we have no future here and neither do our families.”

- With inputs from Naimat Khan in Karachi

Pakistan’s president, PM express sorrow after 50 die in twin transport mishaps

Updated 3 sec ago

Pakistan’s president, PM express sorrow after 50 die in twin transport mishaps

  • A passenger bus fell into a ravine and caught fire in Balochistan's Bela area, killing at least 40 people
  • In second mishap, 10 children were killed after their ferry capsized in country's northwest on Sunday

KARACHI: Pakistan's President Dr. Arif Alvi and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in separate statements on Sunday expressed “deep grief and sorrow” over two transport tragedies that left at least 50 people dead and renewed the debate about transport safety protocols in the South Asian country.

In the first incident, a passenger bus fell into a ravine and later caught fire in the Bela area of Pakistan's southwestern Balochistan province, where road accidents claim thousands of lives annually.  At least 40 people were killed in the accident. 

In another incident, 10 children, aged between seven to 14 years, died when their boat capsized in Tanda Dam lake near Kohat in the country's northwest, according to police.  The boat was carrying between 25 and 30 students on a day trip from a local madrassa when it overturned.

“The president has stressed authorities take practical steps to avert the occurrence of such incidents in the future,” the state-owned Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) reported, citing a statement from the president’s secretariat said.

“The prime minister has directed [authorities concerned] to ensure the provision of all available medical facilities to the injured,” the Prime Minister’s House said in a statement according to the APP. 

Balochistan, a mountainous, desert region bordering Afghanistan and Iran, is Pakistan’s largest but most impoverished province, with a staggering 40,000-kilometer network of road infrastructure.  

According to the Motorway police, 6,000 to 8,000 people die each year in accidents across the Balochistan province, mainly on single-lane roads that have infamously come to be known as "killer highways."  

“A bus going from Quetta to Karachi plunged into a ravine and caught fire at around 3 am,” Hamza Anjum Nadeem, the Bela assistant commissioner, told Arab News. "At least 39 bodies have been recovered and search for others is underway."  

Anjum later confirmed the death of another passenger, taking the count to 40.

Of these, 38 dead bodies were being moved to the southern port city of Karachi, 177 kilometers away from Bela, for medico-legal formalities, Karachi Police Surgeon Dr. Summaiya Syed told Arab News.

Balochistan is the epicenter of the $64 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a road and infrastructure development plan, which aims to ultimately provide the shortest route for Chinese cargo headed for the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia.  

Major roads are slated for construction under the CPEC, including the road from Balochistan’s Khuzdar district to the Chinese-funded, deepwater port of Gwadar. But for now, the absence of dual carriageways, inadequate training of drivers, and a lack of highway patrol mean thousands continue to die on these roads each year.  

Like road accidents, mass drownings are also common in Pakistan when aged and overloaded vessels lose their stability and pitch passengers into the water.

In July, 18 women drowned when an overcrowded boat carrying a wedding party across the Indus river in Punjab province capsized.

The South Asian country also has poor road safety controls and thousands of lives are lost to road crashes each year, particularly in the southwestern Balochistan province.

According to the National Road Safety Strategy 2018-2030, a report administered by the Asian Development Bank that cited police data, 6,548 people died at the scene of an accident on Pakistan’s roads in 2016. Of these, 355 fatalities happened on national highways and 6,003 on provincial roads.  

At least seven people were killed, and 15 others were injured after a passenger bus collided with a truck in Balochistan's Killa Saifullah district this month.    

In June last year, 22 people were killed when a passenger bus veered off a narrow road and fell into a ravine in the same district.

PM calls for 'global unity' to fight Islamophobia after desecration of Holy Quran in Denmark

Updated 29 January 2023

PM calls for 'global unity' to fight Islamophobia after desecration of Holy Quran in Denmark

  • Danish far-right politician torched a copy of the Holy Quran on Friday near a Copenhagen mosque
  • PM Shehbaz Sharif says desecration of Holy Quran 'highly offensive' act, calls on world to denounce it

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif called for "global unity" to fight Islamophobia on Sunday amid increasing incidents of the desecration of the Holy Quran in Denmark and Sweden last week. 

The prime minister's comments came after a far-right Danish politician torched a copy of the Holy Quran on Friday near a mosque and outside the premises of the Turkish embassy in Copenhagen. 

Rasmus Paludan, known for his extremist stance towards Muslims, pulled a similar stunt in Stockholm last week. Paludan said he would repeat the act every Friday until Sweden is included in the NATO alliance. Turkey, whose support is crucial for Denmark to join the military alliance, has spoken out against Copenhagen's bid to join NATO. 

Paludan's Islamophobic acts have triggered anger among the Muslim community worldwide and evoked strong condemnations from Pakistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other Muslim countries around the world. 

In a Twitter post, Pakistan's prime minister condemned the "highly offensive" incident, calling on the civilized world to denounce it as well



"The need for global unity to fight Islamophobia couldn't be more urgent than it is now. We are deeply hurt," he wrote on Twitter. 

Pakistan's foreign office on Saturday issued a strong statement against Paludan's act, describing it as "a senseless and deeply offensive" action. 

"This repetition of the vile act leaves little doubt in the minds of Muslims around the world that freedom of expression is being blatantly abused to spread religious hatred and incitement to violence," it had said. 

Pakistan has to abide by tough IMF conditions out of ‘compulsion’ — defense minister

Updated 29 January 2023

Pakistan has to abide by tough IMF conditions out of ‘compulsion’ — defense minister

  • IMF wants Pakistan to reestablish market-based mechanism to determine Pakistani rupee's value
  • Defense Minister Khawaja Asif says government would try not to burden citizens under IMF’s conditions

ISLAMABAD: As Pakistan increased petrol prices by Rs35 per liter, Defense Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif said on Sunday that the country had to agree to “very tough” conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) out of “compulsion” to address its economic woes.

The IMF’s mission is scheduled to visit Pakistan on January 31 to discuss the resumption of its $7 billion loan program, as Islamabad desperately seeks another loan tranche to shore up its foreign exchange reserves. Pakistan's forex reserves have declined to a staggering $3.6 billion, not even enough to cover a month of imports.

Earlier today, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar announced jacking up prices of petroleum products in the country by as much as Rs35 per liter. The minister said the decision was taken due to the Pakistani rupee's recent devaluation and up to an 11 percent increase in global fuel prices.

The hike in prices of petroleum products is part of the IMF's conditionalities to revive the stalled loan program, which requires Pakistan to do away with expensive energy subsidies. The price hike is expected to further increase decades-high inflation in the South Asian country. 

The global lender also wants Pakistan to reestablish a market-based mechanism to determine the value of the Pakistani rupee, which fell to a record low of 269.60 against the dollar in the open market this week. Such a mechanism is a key prior action for the country to receive IMF support.

“The IMF program, which we had to re-enter because of the [current] circumstances and out of compulsion, has set very strict and tough conditions for Pakistan,” Asif said on Sunday, speaking to reporters.

He added the government would undertake efforts to ensure the common man would not have to bear the economic burden of IMF’s conditions.

“We will try that only those belonging to the [upper] socioeconomic class will have to bear the economic burden of this crisis,” he said.

Answering a question related to the acute dearth of forex reserves in the country and the ensuing depreciation of the rupee against the dollar, the defense minister said people who have a foreign currency account in the country would still be able to withdraw “some” of their money in dollars.

“If someone here has a dollar account and wants to withdraw money from their banks, they can do so but in small amounts. For instance, if someone wants to take out money to pay for their children’s school fees, they can do so,” he clarified.

Asif also said the country’s imports, which had to be halted due to the dwindling reserves, were “gradually being relaxed.”

“Our exports are gradually being relaxed, so we will hopefully recover from the economic [turmoil] soon,” he said. “Slowly and gradually, things are being streamlined.”

Pakistan secured a $6 billion IMF bailout in 2019, which was topped up with another $1 billion last year. However, the lender then stalled disbursements in November due to Pakistan’s failure to make more progress on fiscal consolidation and economic reforms.

Pakistani FM heads to Moscow today as efforts on to finalize oil deal

Updated 29 January 2023

Pakistani FM heads to Moscow today as efforts on to finalize oil deal

  • Russia last week conceptually agreed to provide cheap crude oil to cash-strapped Pakistan on easy payment terms
  • Bhutto-Zardari will meet his Russian counterpart and deliberate upon the 'entire spectrum' of bilateral relations

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari will be leaving for Moscow today, according to the Pakistani foreign office, amid efforts to finalize an oil deal between cash-strapped Pakistan and Russia. 

This is Bhutto-Zardari maiden visit to Russia since becoming the foreign minister last year. It follows the visit of a Russian delegation to Islamabad to attend the 8th Pakistan-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission (IGC) meetings in Islamabad earlier this month.  

The Russian delegation signed multiple memoranda of understanding with Pakistan in different sectors and also conceptually agreed to provide cheap crude oil to the cash-strapped South Asian nation, which has been struggling for months to meet its energy needs amid a severe forex crunch. 

In view of Pakistan’s deteriorating economic conditions and its forex reserves declining to a staggering $3.6 billion, Russia has also said it will allow Islamabad to pay for the energy imports in currencies of friendly countries. 

“Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari will undertake an official visit to Moscow at the invitation of Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov from 29-30 January 2023,” the Pakistani foreign office said in a statement on Saturday. 

“The foreign minister will hold official talks with his Russian counterpart where the two sides would deliberate upon the entire spectrum of bilateral relations and exchange views on regional and international issues of mutual interest.” 

Over the decades, Pakistan-Russia ties have seen many ups and downs, mainly due to the Islamabad’s alliance with Washington. But in recent years, relations between the two states have warmed up as a countermeasure to proximity between India and the United States (US) on world issues. 

On Friday, Reuters reported that Independent Russian oil refiner Forteinvest had clinched a deal that will see 1,000 tons of Russian gasoline sent to Pakistan by land for the first time. 

The development came days after US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said “now is not the time” to bolster economic ties with Russia, as the West continues to find ways to curtail Moscow’s finances due to its invasion of Ukraine. 

The Pakistani government, however, reiterated that the South Asian country would go ahead with the oil deal with Russia, adding that all deals will be finalized by March and oil will arrive in Pakistan by the end of April.  

Earthquake jolts Islamabad, adjacent Pakistani cities — USGS

Updated 29 January 2023

Earthquake jolts Islamabad, adjacent Pakistani cities — USGS

  • This is the 3rd time in a month Islamabad, parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa felt tremors
  • The residents of Islamabad share their experience on Twitter, calling it a ‘massive jolt’

ISLAMABAD: A magnitude 4.4 earthquake jolted the Pakistani capital of Islamabad and nearby cities on Sunday, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) said, with many residents of the capital describing it as a “massive jolt” on Twitter.

According to the USGS, the earthquake struck at around 12:45pm Pakistan time, with its epicenter located 25.5 kilometers away from the capital at a depth of 32.4 kilometers.

However, Sabir Khan, a senior meteorologist at the National Seismic Monitoring Center (NSMC) in Islamabad said the magnitude of the earthquake was recorded 6.3 on the Richter scale, the state-run APP news agency reported.

No casualties have so far been reported in its wake.

“Stay safe Pakistan! It was a massive jolt,” Zubair Faisal Abbasi, an Islamabad resident, wrote o Twitter.

“Quite strong shaking in Islamabad #earthquake,” said Sana Jamal, another Islamabad resident.

This was the third time in a month that the Pakistani capital experienced tremors.

On January 19, several parts of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces were shaken when a 5.6-magnitude quake hit Islamabad, Charsada, Peshawar, Nowshera, Mardan, and Shabqadar, the National Seismic Monitoring Center (NSMC) said.

Tremors were felt in Islamabad and parts of KP on January 5 as well.