By General Mirza Aslam Beg
It is rather unfortunate that our ‘scientists’ who provide the stamina to the elements of national power, in the otherwise very hostile regional environment, are made controversial through a systematic propaganda campaign, thus detracting them from their noble mission. Dr. Qadeer Khan, despite all odds and obstacles, that he had to face in the arduous task of enrichment of uranium, for making nuclear weapons, ultimately succeeded in his mission to provide the much needed nuclear deterrence against India. He and his dedicated team ultimately transformed Pakistan into a nuclear capable state. It was a giant step forward for which the nation shall remain indebted to him. But the reward he got, were the allegations of nuclear proliferation, whereas, the nuclear black market had existed under the global nuclear underworld, through which, one could purchase all the technology needed to make the bomb. Dr. Qadeer Khan, who was mandated by the government, only took advantage of the existing nuclear underworld, because all other legitimate avenues for procurement were closed for Pakistan. When Pakistan detonated the six bombs in reply to India’s five ‘explosions’ and demonstrated its extraordinary power preponderance, the world at large was shocked, but it was Dr. Qadeer Khan, who had to endure the humiliation.
Pakistan’s nuclear status was considered a direct threat to India and Israel’s interests. It is in its possession that deterrence works and is also a double blessing. Beside security, it provides the opportunity of meeting the need for nuclear power generation. We therefore need to put-up at least 20-25 nuclear power plants in the next 10-15 years, to meet at least 30% of our national energy needs. Nuclear energy is relatively cheaper to produce, besides being environmental friendly.
Our power generation policy has been lop-sided. Instead of making investments in hydro- power generation, previous governments opted for thermal power which is much too expensive as it depends on oil imports and the electricity thus produced tends to become costly and has led to heavy ‘circular debt liabilities’. Thermal power is no option for Pakistan, and it must be dispensed with, gradually.
Efforts are needed to meet more of our power requirements by building dams and water reservoirs, which are by far very best and cheep, as well as tested means of power generation. There may be objections to Kalabagh Dam but there are a number of other sites, where hydal power projects can be constructed, which could save the country from the grave calamity of floods, which has immensely harmed Pakistan in terms of destruction of the agricultural infrastructure, the loss of crops, live stock and human lives. Therefore, we can not afford to ignore the hydro-power requirements, except at our own peril. In fact, we must pool our resources to build hydal power projects, to meet our national energy needs to a minimum of 25-30% in the next 10-15 years time.
Allah has bestowed on us immense reservoirs of coal, which could effectively be harnessed for meeting our energy needs. Under the able leadership of Dr. Samar Mubarakmand, a team of scientists was constituted as Thar Coal Governing Body, to supervise the production of power through the new technology of burning underground coal (UGC). On experimental basis, 100 M.W of electricity is in production and another 1000 M.W of electricity could be made available within a span of three years. As per Dr. Samar Mubarakmand, by using this technology, upto 50,000 M.W of electricity can be produced, which will be free from environmental hazards and would meet the requirements of the country for decades. Unfortunately, the lobbies that do not want this project to come into operation, have started making negative campaign against the Kalabagh dam. The World Bank, at the behest of some foreign powers has backed out from funding the project, while it has financed South Africa and other countries for undertaking similar projects. The Thar Coal Project, promises great opportunity for Pakistan. The project must be protected at all costs and developed despite opposition.
The cost of the electricity produced through Thar Coal would progressively become very very low and within the easy reach of the common citizens. Initially it may cost about Rs. 3.9 per unit as calculated by the Sindh Government. The Federal Government therefore must come forward to fund this project, and try to meet much of our national energy needs through this source. Compare the cost of production of Rs. 3.9 per unit of Thar Coal, with the cost of R. 7.9 of the thermal IPPs and Rs. 11.9 of the rental thermal power plants. If the government cannot provide the funds, it shall leave it open for the Pakistanis to find the funds for this project. This is much too good a project to be left at the mercy of red-tapism of the establishment. It is indeed a very myopic policy of the government which has already paid over rupees two hundred twenty billions for commissioning of nine rental power plants with a combined capacity of 1206 MW electricity. Unfortunately most of them are non operational yet. Neither Thermal Power Projects nor Rental Power Plants are in the national interest and must be phased-out, as soon as possible.
The ‘national will’ therefore must assert itself, to fully utilize the hydal, nuclear and coal power potentials, which Allah has bestowed on us in abundance Thus together with nuclear, hydro and coal power, the country would be self-sufficient in meeting the entire needs for a long time. It should be no surprise to know that Pakistan possess the single largest uranium deposit of about 20% of the world deposits. And while we mobilize our energies for production of hydal, coal and nuclear energy, let us task Dr. A. Q. Khan, to harness the solar and wind energies and acquire the technology to reduce our dependence on others. Dr. A.Q. Khan will deliver. He will not disappoint the nation. He is our asset, as much as are the God’s gifts of wind and the sun, illuminating our land and the skies.
People-oriented national projects would be of immense help for energy through diverse sources. One only wishes that our policy makers had a sense of national commitment, to steer the country towards self-sufficiency and overcome the chronic shortages of energy. That is precisely the reason to have ‘a National Advisory Body’ comprising scientists, experts in security and national development. India and many other countries have one such body, which caters to their requirements, whereas ours is an adhoc-oriented arrangement, where decisions are taken only to be reversed within days. We cannot afford to go on like this. We desperately need the National Advisory Body, under the Prime Minister, working on permanent basis, and to provide policy inputs for decision makers on all matters of importance. Only, in this manner, our national security interests can be fully safe-guarded. We must not bend against pressures from within or without. Franklin Roosevelt made the very apt comments: “We would rather die on our feet than live on our knees.”
General Mirza Aslam Beg is former Chief Of Army Staff, Pakistan. After his retirement, he formed FRIENDS, a ThinkTank based in Rawalpindi. Since then he has been writing for several news papers and magazines. His articles have also appeared in International papers of repute.
Now he is a regular contributor to Opinion Maker.