Opinion: Why protests over power crisis getting violent in Pakistan?
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Opinion: Why protests over power crisis getting violent in Pakistan?

This post is not meant to encourage and support people who are protesting, violently, over power outages in different parts of Pakistan’s Punjab province these days. But the post is, indeed, an effort to understand and highlight as to why people are reacting so violently this time unlike past since power suspension is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan.

One thing which has enraged the masses this time is excessive power outages as in some cases it is touching 20 hours a day, with three to four hours of power cuts at a stretch, which was never witnessed even in recent past. The nights are no exception in this power crisis thus people are having almost sleepless nights amid sizzling weather.

A report appeared on NDTV quoting health experts reads that “long power cuts, particularly at night, have led to an increase of sleep-related medical and psychiatric disorders among the Pakistani people.”

It is pertinent to mention here that temperature being recorded in most of the cities, where protests against power outages (load-shedding) are getting worse, is 44°C (111°F) or above these days. The scarcity of tap water amid prolonged power cuts has become another issue adding to miseries of the already suffering masses.

Another dimension of this crisis is related to widening gulf between poor inflation- stricken masses and the ruling elite. There is prevailing perception among people, which is true to some extent, that the politicians of ruling parties and even those in opposition are not facing these problems and are, at least, privileged enough to make alternative arrangements and avoid facing brunt of the prevailing power crisis.

It is perhaps therefore, recently, the protestors in different parts of Punjab besides damaging government offices attacked homes of parliamentarians belonging to ruling political party and those belonging to coalition parties.

On June 18, 2012 a mob of angry protestors had attacked the residence of Prime Minister’s Adviser Hamid Yar Hiraj who is a legislator from Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), a coalition partner of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). One of the protestors had died when reportedly the guards deputed at residence of the parliamentarian, in Khanewal city of Punjab province, opened fire on them.

The very next day on June 19 the house of another lawmaker, Riaz Fatiyana of the PML-Q, was attacked by angry protestors in Kamalia, another city of Punjab. According to media reports two people were killed as a result of retaliatory firing by guards present at the house of the PML-Q’s parliamentarian.

On the face of it, there is a continuing blame-game between Punjab government and Federal government over the prevailing power crisis.

The Punjab government led by its Chief Minister Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), a major political party of Pakistan, blames Federal government of discriminatory power (electricity) load management resulting in massive power cuts in the province.

While the Federal government led by Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which is opposition in Punjab, is blaming the PML-N government for energy crisis in Punjab province. To add to this, the Federal government also alleges that Punjab’s Chief Minister is himself behind violent protests against the PPP parliamentarians in the province.

But this report best describes as to how the situation has turned into crisis because of “inefficient governance, lack of forward planning, ad-hocism and failure to implement policies.”

In an opinion published in The News International Dr M Asif, who is a lecturer at Glasgow Caledonian University, says: “The crisis (power crisis) has damaged the whole social fabric of the society. Sufferings like sleepless nights, disturbed daily routines and loss of income have made life an endless physical and psychological torture for the common man. This is inhumane treatment on the part of the state machinery.”

The writer further says “People should express their anger and displeasure in an effective but peaceful manner.” This is exactly what every sane person has been suggesting to the protesting masses.

Nevertheless, one wonders as to how the people whose peace of mind has been snatched by the prolonged outages amid worsening law and order situation, political instability, increasing unemployment and ever increasing inflation will react peacefully while expressing their anger?