Pakistan warns of intermittent outages for 48 hours after second major breakdown in months

A shopkeeper and workers wait for electricity at their electronic shop following a power breakdown across the country, in Karachi, Pakistan, Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. (Photo courtesy: AP)
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Updated 24 January 2023

Pakistan warns of intermittent outages for 48 hours after second major breakdown in months

  • Most of Pakistan was plunged into darkness on Monday as an energy-saving measure by the government backfired
  • The outage caused panic and raised questions about infrastructural weakness, urgent need to upgrade an aging grid

ISLAMABAD/KARACHI: Pakistan’s energy minister said on Tuesday the country could face intermittent power cuts in the next 48 hours as nuclear and coal plants would become fully functional by Thursday after a malfunction in the national grid a day earlier left millions without power.

A power failure struck Pakistan on Monday morning after, as part of an energy saving move, electricity was turned off across the country during low usage hours overnight to conserve fuel but technicians were unable to boot up the system all at once after daybreak. The breakdown hit the entire country, from the financial capital of Karachi in the south to Peshawar city in the north.

Addressing a press conference on Tuesday morning, Energy Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan said electricity had been “fully restored” at all 1,112 grid stations across Pakistan but there could be more outages in the next 48 hours as authorities worked to turn on all power plants to full capacity.

“Limited load management will be carried out in the next 48 hours [in different cities] while industry will remain fully exempt from it,” the minister said, explaining that nuclear and coal power plants would require another 72 and 48 hours respectively to be fully functional.

Electricity supply had fully resumed at 0625 hours on Tuesday at all nine electricity distribution companies, with a generation of 9,704 megawatts, he added, and Pakistan had enough furnace oil to run its power plants as per demand.

“If there is power outage in any area from now on, it will be due to routine loadshedding,” he said, referring to scheduled outages Pakistan uses to conserve energy.

Khan said Islamabad’s supply of around 1,100 megawatts to K-electric, the main distribution company in Pakistan’s commercial capital of Karachi, would be fully restored soon.

A three-member committee had also been constituted, he said, to determine the source of the fault that led to the nationwide breakdown, including if there was “external interference or hacking”:

“We are making sure that no such incident happens again ever by ensuring safety and protection measures in our system.”

While Pakistan has enough installed capacity to meet its demand, the South Asian country 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, which often result in transmission losses.

This was the second nationwide blackout in three months due to a frequency failure in a perennially troubled national grid, raising questions about infrastructural weakness and the urgent need for upgrades. Another massive blackout took place in January 2021 and was attributed at the time to a technical fault in the country’s power generation and distribution system.

“We learned lessons from yesterday that we need to invest in the distribution system,” Khan said. “There hasn’t been any investment in improving these systems from the previous government.”

Imran Rana, a K-Electric spokesperson, said electricity supply to Karachi had improved after the restoration of the connection between the metropolis and the national grid.

“All K-Electric are currently active and the restoration of power on local level is also underway,” Rana said on Twitter. “However, limited load management can be carried out in the city to keep the system stable.”

Afshan Muddasir, a spokesperson for the Lahore Electric Supply Company (LESCO) which supplies to Lahore and other major cities in Pakistan’s most populous province of Punjab, said electricity was fully restored in Lahore by 1am on Tuesday.

“But we are doing load management as it takes some time to supply power in full capacity after a complete breakdown,” Muddasir told Arab News.

Lahore was currently getting half of its demand of 3,000 megawatts, she said:

“In such a situation, we will do load management at least for 48 hours till there is full capacity.”

Pakistan’s prime minister also apologized to the nation for the power outage that disrupted normal life across the country.

“On behalf of my government, I would like to express my sincere regrets for the inconvenience our citizens suffered due to power outage yesterday," PM Shehbaz Sharif tweeted. 

“On my orders an inquiry is underway to determine reasons of the power failure," he said adding that the probe will uncover who was responsible.


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.