Energy crisis deepens

PAKISTANIS stumbled on to 2009 in the dark, with no gas to keep them warm in the winter. Many are lining up at petrol pumps. This is not how a people should enter a new year. The energy shortage is worsening by the day, in fact by the hour. The average duration of rolling power blackouts has more than doubled to 18 hours a day of late, from eight hours in the summer. This is the situation despite the reduction of 6,000 MW in demand from the summer peak of 17,000 MW. Domestic and industrial consumers in Punjab and the NWFP are facing gas supply cuts due to a widening supply-demand gap. Adding insult to injury, the government has raised gas rates but refuses to reduce oil prices in line with the global trend. No wonder, people are protesting in Rawalpindi, Faisalabad and Lahore.

Like all bad things the energy shortage is blamed on the previous government which not only failed to see the oncoming crisis but was also unsuccessful in attracting investment to the power and gas sector for several years. However, the people have every right to ask the incumbent rulers as to what steps they are taking to remedy the situation. Did they see the crisis worsening during the winter? If they didn’t, how could they be any better than their predecessors? If they did, what did they do to augment power and gas supplies? The state, which otherwise has a strong presence in public life, was nowhere to be seen when petrol station owners, expecting a fall in oil prices, stopped buying and supplying fuel to consumers. Now the people are being told that President Asif Zardari has convened a meeting to sort things out. Officials claim that the shortages will be overcome by the end of the current year. But until then, there does not seem to be any light at the end of a very dark tunnel. The problem is aggravated with a lack of visible activity on the part of the government. A sense of helplessness prevails. A decisive remedial step now, however unlikely it may seem under the circumstances, will not only benefit the people, it will give a boost to the government which has drawn flak in recent days over its real or perceived inability to move forward.

The implications of the energy crisis for the economy are huge. The risk of an economic downturn, and consequently of widespread unemployment, will increase if the shortages are allowed to persist for long. That will have serious social and political consequences. It is high time that the government got down to resolving the problem on a fast-track basis rather than appear to wait for the end of 2009.

Teen trained to be suicide bomber feels tricked

Story Highlights
Teen is serving at least 5 years for plot to carry out suicide bombing
He says Muslim radicals at school duped him into becoming a would-be bomber
The thing he misses most about home is his mom and dad: "I miss my parents"
Detention facility is teaching jailed children a moderate interpretation of Islam
By Atia Abawi
KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- A 14-year-old who was trained to kill by radicals in the tribal regions of Pakistan now sits in a crowded classroom at a detention facility in Kabul. His only wish is to see his parents again."I miss my parents, my mom and dad," Shakirullah says in soft tones. Like others in tribal regions, he goes by one name.
Shakirullah is already a convicted terrorist for planning to carry out a suicide bombing. He says Muslim radicals lied and tricked him into becoming a would-be bomber. "I have been detained for trying to commit a suicide attack," he says.He says his recruiters told him it was his mission as a Muslim to kill British and American soldiers because they were killing Muslims. Watch teen say recruiters "cheated me" They told him that once he blew himself up he wouldn't die because God would save him for being a true Muslim.Asked what he now thinks of Americans and Westerners, Shakirullah is calm, but quick in his response."I don't know. God knows what type of people they are, whether they are good or bad. I don't know them," he says.Shakirullah now passes his hours in a cell block at a juvenile detention facility in Kabul. He is serving at least five years in detention. He is to be transferred to an adult prison in a couple of years, authorities say.He hasn't heard from his family in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan. He tried to send them a letter through the International Committee of the Red Cross but is not sure it reached them."I don't know what they are thinking. They have no news of me," he says.
On this day, Shakirullah attends a rehabilitation class, easily lost in the crowd of boys with shaved heads. All of the children are convicted for various crimes, including theft, fighting and even murder.Three boys like Shakirullah are here, all guilty of planning to kill themselves and others after being recruited by terrorist groups.With the increased violence in Afghanistan, international observers say they have seen more and more children being recruited by armed groups and national forces. The Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan with its strict Islamic rule from 1996 to 2001, has regrouped and launched a fierce insurgency."As you see in many places in the world, children are being used in armed conflict. They've been recruited as child soldiers; they've been recruited as armed groups. And the phenomena is now impacting, again, Afghanistan," says Catherine Mbengue, the UNICEF representative in Afghanistan. Watch one boy's struggle begging for food on streets.Inside the detention center, Shakirullah walks up to his cell, his sandals sliding across the tile floor.The cell block is empty and has metal bunk beds lined across the wall and a television set, ready for the times they have electricity. Shakirullah shares this space with 10 other boys. He sits in the center of the room with a blanket draped around him.He barely makes eye contact and looks away as soon as he does. He is shy, but forthright in his words. "I didn't want to do it but he forced me to go," he says of his recruiter.Rubbing his face with his hand, he says he now spends his time dreaming of his life back home in rural Pakistan. His eyes begin to water and his voice becomes softer when he talks about missing his mother.Asked what he misses most about her, he says simply, "A mother is a mother."His was a life of farming and tranquility in Pakistan, he says. It was also a life that took a drastic turn when his father decided to send Shakirullah for studies at a madrassa.He says his dad wanted him to learn more about Islam and the Quran, something he could not do himself. He says his father didn't know radicals ran the school.In the madrassa, Shakirullah learned to recite the Quran in Arabic, not his native language. He relied solely on the fanatical interpretations the mullahs were giving him."When I finished reciting the Quran, a mullah then came to me and told me, 'Now that you have finished the Quran, you need to go and commit a suicide attack.' That I should go to Afghanistan to commit a suicide attack," he says.The teenager wasn't given the chance to say goodbye to his parents or siblings when he was driven to the Pakistan-Afghan border and handed over to strangers.He says he was taken to the southeastern province of Khost, a hotbed for terrorist activity in Afghanistan. Suicide attacks have risen in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion to topple the Taliban began in late 2001, after the 9/11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon.Shakirullah says that before the police arrested him, he was learning how to drive a car but that he was not sure how he was supposed to carry out his attack.Khost is the province where a suicide car bomb went off near a voter registration site this past Sunday, killing 16 people, 14 of whom were children.At the juvenile detention facility, Shakirullah and the others are now being taught a different interpretation of Islam."The teachers educate them on Islam, and explain to them that the acts that they were doing is not right for them and for others," says Mir Fayaz ah-Din, who works and lives with the boys at the facility, mentoring them and helping them in their rehabilitation."The way you want to kill yourself and someone else -- it in itself is a big offense in Islam."
Shakirullah now says of his recruiters, "They cheated me."