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Govt promises to fix ailing energy sector

Khawaja Asif, minister for water and power, promised on Thursday to fix the country’s ailing energy sector in three years, laying out an ambitious plan to tackle crippling power shortages that have devastated the economy and sparked violent protests.

Blackouts lasting more than half a day in some areas have infuriated many Pakistanis in this nuclear-armed nation of 180 million people, prompting the new prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, to declare tackling the crisis one of his top priorities.

“The whole thing is a nightmare,” said Asif, describing the current state of his sector. “We are going for a surgery. There will be a lot of pain. A lot of discomfort. But once the patient is up and about, running, then he will say that the pain was worthwhile.”

Asif said his first step was to plug a 500 billion rupee ($5 billion) financing hole, known as ‘circular debt’ – a vicious cycle of unpaid bills running through the entire power-generation chain – and to reduce the length of power cuts.

“The elimination of power cuts completely will take place in three years, God willing,” he said.

The government had already paid $3 billion of the circular debt in its first 40 days in office and plans to pay off the rest by the first week of August, Asif said.

For this, at least 10 hydroelectric power plants are in the pipeline, which Asif predicts will come online by 2016.

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