By Amir Hussain
Gilgit-Baltistan is grappling with a severe energy deficit, which has far-reaching ramifications for its economic and societal progress.
From a common perspective, the cause of this energy crisis is rooted in technical deficiencies, including insufficient power generation and transmission infrastructure, as well as inadequate utilization of available energy sources. The scarcity of indigenous fossil fuel reserves exacerbates the problem, with most of it being imported from other parts of Pakistan. Furthermore, the challenging topography and hostile climatic conditions make it difficult to construct and preserve power generation and the transmission infrastructure.
However, the energy crisis in Gilgit-Baltistan is not solely due to technical and infrastructure-related factors; it also stems from profound political causes. The region’s location at the centre of the Kashmir issue and its history of conflict has resulted in strategic and defence concerns that prioritize energy resources for security operations, exacerbating the energy crisis for the local population. The volatile security environment also deters foreign investment in the energy sector.
The political instability in the region, including sectarian violence, hinders local communities from collectively advocating for their energy needs, leading to a shortage of investment in the energy infrastructure. Additionally, the lack of recognition of Gilgit-Baltistan as a fully autonomous province and the limited political rights and protections for its residents prevent local leaders and community members from effectively advocating for their energy needs. The combined impact of these factors, along with the weak and ineffective GB government and the apathetic federal government, has culminated in a persistent and debilitating energy crisis
Political instability and weak governance structures in Gilgit-Baltistan have also contributed to the energy crisis. The absence of clear regulations and policies to guide the energy sector has led to a lack of investment, hindering the development of sustainable energy sources. This has resulted in reliance on non-renewable sources of energy, which are not only unsustainable but also have a negative impact on the environment. Furthermore, corruption and mismanagement have further exacerbated the energy crisis, as resources are misallocated and funding is not properly utilized. To address the energy crisis in Gilgit-Baltistan, it is imperative that the root political causes be addressed and a stable governance structure be established to create a favorable investment climate and promote sustainable energy development.
In light of this precarious energy landscape, it becomes imperative for the relevant authorities to take concrete steps towards resolving the energy crisis in Gilgit-Baltistan. The introduction and implementation of sustainable and renewable energy sources, such as hydropower, wind power, and solar energy, can play a significant role in addressing the energy deficit and high costs. Not only do these clean energy sources offer a more reliable energy supply, they also have the potential to spur local economic growth, create employment opportunities and reduce the environmental damage caused by diesel generators.
The development of a modern and efficient energy distribution network, along with a robust energy storage system, is crucial in ensuring consistent supply of electricity to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. With the increasing demand for energy in the region, it becomes imperative to adopt innovative and inclusive energy solutions that consider the unique challenges and opportunities that exist in the region.
Furthermore, the energy sector in Gilgit-Baltistan requires an overhaul, with a focus on addressing the underlying causes of the energy crisis, such as mismanagement, inefficiency, and political interference. Only through a concerted effort to tackle these root causes can the region hope to achieve a sustainable and equitable energy future.
The region of Gilgit-Baltistan, with its ample water resources, presents significant potential for generating hydropower and can play a decisive role in resolving the energy crisis in Pakistan. With an estimated hydropower capability of 60,000 MW, Gilgit-Baltistan ranks among the world’s most hydropower-rich areas. According to the Pakistan Water and Power Development Authority, the region holds the possibility of producing approximately 40,000 MW of electricity from its rivers and streams.
Hydropower can significantly contribute to resolving the energy crisis by offering a dependable and sustainable energy source. The significant hydropower potential in Gilgit-Baltistan could significantly alleviate the energy crisis in the country and provide electricity to remote and rural areas. Hydropower is also a renewable energy source that generates no greenhouse gas emissions, making it an eco-friendly solution to the energy crisis. By leveraging the hydropower potential in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan can decrease its dependence on fossil fuels and transition towards a cleaner energy mix
The cultivation of hydropower in Gilgit-Baltistan holds not only ecological advantages, but also fiscal benefits. The hydropower industry holds the capacity to generate substantial job opportunities, particularly during the construction and operational phases of the projects. Furthermore, the generation of electricity through hydropower can stimulate regional economic growth by attracting investment and boosting tourism. To tackle the energy predicament in Gilgit-Baltistan, a comprehensive and integrated policy is necessary, encompassing measures such as enhancing energy efficiency, reinforcing institutional capabilities, escalating power generation capacity, and strengthening energy transmission and distribution networks.
To effectively confront the energy crisis in the region, it is imperative to have a comprehensive understanding of its underlying causes. This necessitates a collaborative effort by the Pakistani government, the international community, and local leaders, aimed at establishing a stable and secure environment and ensuring the utilization of the energy resources of Gilgit-Baltistan for the benefit of its inhabitants. To guarantee a consistent energy supply, it is crucial to improve the transmission and distribution networks by upgrading existing infrastructure, constructing new transmission lines, and increasing the efficiency of the distribution system.
In the underprivileged and untrustworthy local administration, the reins of power are held by corrupt alliances of contractors and engineers who scheme to advance the implementation of small-scale hydroelectric power plants. To remedy this, it is imperative to create a specialized and self-governing energy department, staffed by a cohort of highly educated engineers, energy policy specialists, investment and resource mobilization experts, and a visionary team with a forward-looking approach, focused on the realization of large-scale hydropower projects using run-of-the-river technology.
To fortify this local governance structure, the government of Gilgit-Baltistan must take a proactive approach, including increasing funding for local government, enforcing anti-corruption measures, and enhancing the capabilities of the local administration to provide essential services. Despite its remarkable significance as a connecting link between South and Central Asia, and its abundant resources in water, minerals, and tourism, Gilgit-Baltistan remains beset by various challenges that pose a threat to its stability and the overall ecological stability of the Indus Basin.
The writer is a social development and policy adviser, and a freelance columnist based in Islamabad. He tweets @AmirHussain76