By Zia Ur Rehman

May 21, 2013

KARACHI – Pakistan depends on natural gas to power its automobiles and heat its homes, but militant attacks on pipelines have affected the country’s ability to meet growing demand for the fuel.

Pipeline attacks are causing massive financial losses to the national economy, affecting the industrial and transport sectors, and having a bad effect on consumers, Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry member Kamran Ashraf told Central Asia Online.

Vehicles May 5 wait in line at a natural gas filling station in Karachi after a one-day suspension of gas supply following terrorist sabotage of a gas pipeline. Frequent attacks on gas pipelines are severely damaging the Pakistani economy, some people say. [Zia Ur Rehman]
Gas pipelines in Balochistan have been targeted routinely, with a reported 198 such attacks in the region since 2005 – an average of about 24 per year – according to data from the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP).

Recent numbers show an increase in incidents, with 27 pipeline attacks, making gas pipelines the most frequently hit infrastructure target in Balochistan in 2012, according to the annual Pakistan Security Report prepared by the Islamabad-based think tank Pak Institute for Peace Studies. And in just April this year, 11 incidents of sabotage were reported in the area, often disrupting the supply system.

Most of the attacks have been attributed to Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants, police said.

In response, authorities and energy sector officials are condemning the attacks and taking steps –such as rationing fuel and making swift repairs to pipelines – to ease the burden on Pakistanis.

Fuel shortages and load shedding

Pakistan has been dealing with natural gas and electricity shortages for years, with a variety of factors contributing to the shortages.

Regarding compressed natural gas (CNG), for example, the country has witnessed a surge in the number of CNG-powered vehicles. Pakistan now has almost 3.5m CNG vehicles on the road, All Pakistan CNG Association President Ghayas Abdullah Paracha said, up from less than 100,000 such vehicles in 2000.

But the attacks are worsening the crisis, Ali Mujtaba, an official at Karachi Electric Supply Corporation (KESC), an electricity-providing facility, said. And the interrupted gas supplies are, in turn, compelling electricity utilities to restrict supplies through load shedding – supply interruptions – of 10 to 12 hours per day. The shortages nationwide are stifling industrial and agricultural production and causing billions of rupees in losses, he said.

The effect is being felt on various levels.

“Gas supply to natural gas filling stations is suspended three days a week, which is causing serious trouble for vehicle owners,” Karachi filling station owner Azeem Buksh said.

After an April 19 attack on a gas pipeline in Kashmor, Sui Northern Gas Pipeline Ltd. (SNGPL) was unable to supply gas to power, industrial and transport sectors as well as to household consumers, SNGPL said.

“With declining local production, SNGPL is resorting to long hours of gas load shedding for all consumer categories,” one official said, adding that, in order to minimise supply interruptions, the Pakistani government has deployed security forces to protect gas pipelines and that SNGPL dispatches repair teams immediately after every bombing.

The government is taking proactive measures, including an awareness campaign, in co-ordination with all stakeholders to protect the gas pipelines from terrorist organisations, caretaker Petroleum and Natural Resources Minister Sohail Wajahat said.

Attacks widely condemned

The militant strikes on the natural gas and electrical systems are being widely condemned by Pakistani leaders.

Caretaker Federal Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources Sohail Wajahat has appealed to the federal government to help create awareness and curb the menace of sabotage on gas pipelines.

Wajahat in an April 19 statement reiterated his commitment to maintain continuous supply of energy resources to the masses, adding that the ministry of petroleum was taking proactive measures in co-ordination with all stakeholders to protect the gas pipelines from terrorist outfits.

“Through attacking the gas pipelines and electricity infrastructure, militant outfits are trying to destabilise the country for their own interests,” Karachi-based religious scholar Qari Abdullah Madani said.

“The unavailability of gas and electricity, caused by militants’ attacks, has made the life of the common people miserable,” Madani told Central Asia Online, adding that it is also putting everyday life – especially employment and health – at risk