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Pipedreams And Ruling Elite: Imran Khan’s Gas Reserves Claim Isn’t The First And Certainly Not The Last

“In a country where people are always looking to hit the jackpot through whatever means available – be it a Double Shah, a Cooperative Company, or an under the table business or land deal – instead of going through the hard grind, rulers using the same tendency for their own political advantages shouldn’t come as a surprise”, writes Awais Saleem

After months of speculations and anxious wait, news is finally out that the drilling in the sea near Karachi hasn’t resulted in any discovery of oil and gas reserves. Several independent analysts had already expressed reservations about the enthusiasm being shown by none other than Prime Minister Imran Khan himself. Needless to say that they were dubbed as the prophets of doom.

Interestingly, the day when the Prime Minister was asking the public in a televised gathering to pray in thanksgiving at such a discovery, his special advisor on petroleum was pouring cold water on all such hopes through a press statement. He clearly mentioned that the drilling company had found no signs of a reservoir and was readying to pack up and leave.

Some valid questions have been raised on the Prime Minister’s tendency to jump the gun, much to the chagrin of the tabdeeli crowd. They are quick to blaming the non-discovery of gas reserves on the media and accusing the media professionals of celebrating something which in reality is a “national loss.”

Agreed that it is a national loss, but was it the media who asked the Prime Minister to go public with such reckless statements without any tangible results in hand? Was it the media who encouraged the Prime Minister to raise hopes of the general public for an overnight turnaround at a time of extreme financial distress? Such questions are of course Greek to the chest-thumping enthusiasts of tabdeeli.

If scapegoating the media wasn’t enough, conspiracy theories behind the non-discovery of reserves have already started kicking in. Some are smelling rat in the “American” company supervising the drilling process. It must be a Zionist conspiracy who don’t want to see Pakistan prosper, right? There are still others who are trying to find an Indo-American nexus behind the company’s alleged reluctance to find the reserves that are very much there. It seems nobody knows about those reserves better than the PTI-backed WhatsApp groups and social media pages.

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But is it the first time any government has shown such pipedreams to the public? Is it the first time the nation has had their hopes of a fairytale future raised and subsequently dashed in the blink of an eye? In a country where people are so much in awe of stories of miracles, ruling elite using the same to their advantage should come as no surprise.

Does anybody remember the then Prime Minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto waving a bottle in the parliament and claiming discovery of oil reserves that would solve all problems of Pakistan? Nobody knew what was in that bottle. It goes without saying that the said the oil reserves remained confined to that bottle and extinguished with Bhutto’s term in power.

There are several such instances in recent memory as well. The all-powerful General Musharraf told us that Reqo Dik mountains in Balochistan were full of rare minerals and it was just a matter of time before these reserves would change the fortune of Pakistan. We were also made to believe that the unrest in Balochistan was only because Western powers didn’t want Pakistan to dig out these minerals and prosper. The unrest has only increased in later years and Reqo Dik rarely features in debates anymore. Even General Musharraf has hardly ever referred to these minerals following his ouster from power.

When People’s Party came into power, energy crisis was rearing its ugly head. President Zardari, after a visit to Iran, informed the nation that their government was going to build a gas pipeline jointly with Iran and through Central Asian states. Together with rental power plants, this gas pipeline was hailed as the magic wand that would solve all the energy problems in the country. Almost all independent analysts raised objections on the proposed project at the risk of being called anti-national.

Five years passed, PPP lost power, and gas pipeline has been relegated to a long list of non-starter projects. There are still people out there who think that this project never materialised only because United States had raised objections over Iran’s involvement in it. The questions about lack of funding and risky route jeopardising the feasibility doesn’t even merit attention with such conspiracy theories abound.

PML-N and the House of Sharifs had a special fascination for such promises of a better future and miracles. All their infrastructure projects, however illogical and overpriced, were to change the country’s destiny overnight.

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So much so that Shahbaz Sharif in a public gathering announced that they had found gold reserves near Chiniot when they were searching for copper reserves in the first place. How nice. Do we need any other evidence of divine benevolence for the land of the pure? Only one problem. There was no such discovery on-ground other than this announcement. Whenever a PML-N stalwart recalls the accomplishments of his government next time, pay attention and see if gold discovery features in that list? I doubt it will.

The latest fiasco of the nonexistent gas reserves about to change fortunes of a country in serious financial straits is only the latest in the long list of pipedreams. I am afraid it is not going to be the last. Therefore, before you start chest-thumping at the very announcement next time, take a deep breath and think about all the times such announcements actually resulted in false alarms previously.

And if you can, also think about why the ruling elite thrives on such tactics? In a country where people are always looking to hit the jackpot through whatever means available – be it a Double Shah, a Cooperative Company, or an under the table business or land deal – instead of going through the hard grind, rulers using the same tendency for their own political advantages shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Discovery of hidden reserves is an ongoing and long-drawn process. It always has a 50-50 chance of success or failure. The best way to approach it is with caution and professionalism. Even if such a discovery is made at some stage, it requires careful planning for extraction and optimum utilisation.

Those falling for irresponsible and premature chest-thumping and subsequent peddling of conspiracy theories are as much to blame as those making these promises for vested interests in the first place.

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