While the prime minister was having a meeting with provincial chief ministers to review the success of the energy conservation strategy, farmers in Balochistan observed a province-wide wheel-jam strike to protest electricity load shedding on the call of the Zamindar Action Committee. Extended power cuts are adversely affecting their crops. Agricultural productivity of the province is already low due to arid terrain and inadequate investment in development of this sector.
This protest is different from what we are accustomed to hearing from Balochistan — militancy, nationalist insurgency and, recently, target killings of non-Baloch people. This is something that cuts across the political and social spectrum, because it is a question of economic survival. In the widespread protests, all the main highways serving the province were shut down. While there has been an improvement in load shedding nationally, as the prime minister triumphantly observed, it seems that it is not equally spread amongst all provinces, and even within provinces, as some areas are more privileged than others.
Reportedly, the recent electricity crunch in Balochistan came due to destruction of seven power pylons in Naseerabad’s Chattar tehsil three weeks ago, disrupting electric supply to 40 grid stations of the province. According to Wapda officials, it could not carry out the repair work due to lack of adequate security for its repair team.
While making efforts to cool tempers raised due to electricity load shedding elsewhere in the country, the government should not leave out Balochistan. In the presence of heavy contingents of the military and paramilitary forces, it is strange why security cannot be provided to the WAPDA team for repair work. Given the sense of alienation of the Baloch people from the state, it is understandable that going out unguarded in the interior may be risky. But making it an excuse to delay work is not acceptable. The government must double up its effort to ensure a sustained supply of electricity in Balochistan at par with other provinces. The sense of deprivation and resentment in Balochistan because of the past injustices will only be further fuelled by the perception that they are once again being treated as second-class citizens.