How will Dr Asim Hussain handle this winter?
Dr Asim Hussain is a dangerous man, in every sense of the term. There are few people in Asia that would personify ‘weapon of mass destruction’ as seamlessly as Pakistan government’s Adviser on Petroleum and Natural Resources does. He would stand upright facing the Senate with a triumphant expression, as though about to unravel a breakthrough in String Theory; his eyes still dreary after a continuum of sleepless nights – courtesy nightmares featuring CNG kits disguised as 16th century demons – and then out of nowhere he would drop a bomb as nonchalantly as a butcher chopping away on his favourite mutton joint. Furthermore, not only is his butchery clandestinely brutal, the array of bombs that the man has at his disposal is perilous enough to scare the daylight out of the lion’s share of 180 million people. Even so, this latest dynamite specially designed for the frosty days, might just surpass all previous explosions.
While the cabinet was busy exercising their little grey cells with regards to Ramadan in the latest meeting, Dr Asim was hell bent on extricating his TNT. And when the curtain was raised, what was unveiled was the CNG industry’s funeral shouldered in unison by Petroleum Ministry, the Finance Ministry and the current ruling party.
Dr Asim has announced that gas supply to CNG stations all over the country, would be cut off completely this November and December, owing to the demands of gas management. The word ‘management’ here is of course euphemism for a shambolic circus, which has seen our government failing on a multitude of fronts as the demand-supply disparity of gas in our neck of the woods created a gaping hole cavernous enough to gulp the entire economy. While the IP (Iran-Pakistan) and TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) pipeline projects have failed to materialise – owing to an assortment of political animosity and failure in sifting pressing needs from trivial agendas – the LNG import bidding war has also been more of a lost cause. Uncle Sam twisted our arm on the pipeline front, exporters conjured up disappearing acts one by one on the LNG front; and all this while gas load shedding prevailed all over the country.
It is hard to decide whether Dr Asim’s decision is more catastrophic or the rationale provided by the former petroleum minister. He clarified that since the gas availability this coming winter would be akin to a parching reservoir, the government would have to cut off gas supply to either the CNG stations or the households – with the former being the obvious choice. And when asked about the possibility of catering to the needs of both the segments of society, Dr Asim glared defiantly – as if endeavouring to say “Oh, you’d like that, wouldn’t you?” sardonically – before claiming that the government unfortunately had “no other option.” It’s like sleeping through your lectures throughout the semester, only to get a rude awakening the night before the exam, where you realise that you have ‘no other option’ but to fail. And if there’s one thing that this government has succeeded in doing; it’s failing again and again.
As things stand there are around 3.5 million vehicles – over one-fourth of total vehicles in the country – that are powered by CNG, making Pakistan the third largest country in terms of CNG vehicles. Pakistan is also at the apex of the ‘highest number of CNG filing stations’ list. But there are many other stakeholders in the CNG sector, which are anxiously monitoring the events as the government gradually phases out CNG from Pakistan. A large chunk of CNG kits are locally manufactured and hence this phase-out would see thousands of jobs vanishing within the blink of an eye. And also, the countries that have made massive investments in the industry would be deterred away from future engagements, as Dr Asim trigger’s the timer on this ‘historic’ time bomb.
Hence, with the countdown to CNG’s extinction instigated, it goes without saying that the latest sting in this winter’s tale would ensure that mercury rises on many a front this November and December. CNG is set to blast its way into mythology with one final bang, as Dr Asim and his chums leave gas stations bordering on haunted graveyards, and the legacy of a promising sector shredded to the stature of a cataclysm.
The writer is a staff member and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org