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DAWN Editorials – 13th February 2016

LNG: the second round

EVER since the government proudly declared the completion of the LNG terminal to be one of its emblematic successes, there has been a barrage of attacks against it, and the petroleum minister in particular, for failing to have made the arrangements to actually import the gas.

Almost a year after the terminal began commercial operations, we finally have a signature on a long-term supply contract for LNG, at a price that is lower than what most other customers are paying.

In the meantime, it has been a story of epic muddling through as the embattled minister tried to bulldoze his will through a reluctant and lethargic bureaucracy to make the arrangements for importing the fuel that he claimed would change the destiny of the country.

Makeshift arrangements were resorted to, in the meantime, as the minister attempted to get the bureaucracy to furnish the approvals he needed. Along the way, LNG was controversially declared to be a petroleum product to get around messy provincial government claims on natural gas.

But now the deal is finally done and we can be reasonably sure that regular deliveries are about to begin a full one year after the commencement of commercial operations.

It may not make for a story of tight management, but the minister has delivered and the country is one step closer to achieving a truly historic landmark as it prepares to receive the first of its regular supplies of imported gas.

This is his moment and it would be unfair to try to tarnish the scale of what has been accomplished, or to place hurdles in the way.

So despite all the attacks that his performance was subjected to throughout the year, and despite the delays, it is time to give credit where it is due.

Now comes the difficult part. How to transfer the gas which lands at Port Qasim in Karachi to its consumers in southern Punjab?

It turns out that here too the homework has not been done, and from the looks of it, we are now in for round two of muddling through our way to getting a workable LNG import scheme up and running.

Transferring the gas from the port to upcountry consumers can either be done through a dedicated pipeline, or through the SSGC network.

In the former case, the price tag is large and the gestation period long. The latter option activates provincial claims all over again.

Funding for the dedicated pipeline has not been arranged, and the controversial proposal to shift the cost onto consumers through a cess is likely to land the government in a new set of squabbles all over again. How hard the Sindh government presses its claims to the imported gas remains to be seen.

Let’s hope round two is shorter and a lot less painful than the first round.

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Karachi security

ON the day the head of the military’s media wing was in Karachi to discuss progress on the city’s law and order situation, three small explosions were reported from different parts of the metropolis.

A police station, college and school were among the targets attacked, though fortunately, there were no fatalities reported.

So DG ISPR Asim Bajwa was not off the mark when he observed that more work needed to be done to rid Karachi of terrorism and violence.

Lt-Gen Bajwa quoted a number of figures in his briefing, stating that since the commencement of the law-enforcement operation in Karachi in September 2013, there have been over 12,000 arrests.

Indeed, violent crime and militancy in the metropolis have come down in this period — a fact most independent observers will confirm. With the exception of last year’s Safoora Goth carnage, there have been no major terrorist attacks in Karachi over the past few years, and crimes such as targeted killings, extortion and kidnappings have also come down.

But as Friday’s attacks have shown, the mission is not yet accomplished. Militants very much appear to be active under the radar.

For instance, over the past few weeks Rangers’ check posts have been attacked, while earlier this month two schools in the Gulshan area were targeted with ‘crackers’. The modus operandi in most of these incidents — explosives lobbed by motorcycle-borne assailants — has been similar.

Karachi’s vastness and its seemingly unending urban sprawl provide an ideal environment for militants of all hues to melt away into anonymity, and then strike at an opportune moment.

In order to further reduce the space for militants in the city, it is essential for law enforcers to conduct intelligence-led operations to uncover extremists and their sympathisers.

Also read: More work left to be done in Karachi operation: DG ISPR

For this, along with the Rangers, the civilian intelligence apparatus, especially outfits such as the police’s special branch, must be increasingly deployed as it is these units that have an ear to the ground, especially to gauge the situation in neighbourhoods.

Moreover, considering the fact that several educational institutions in the city have been targeted, the police as well as the schools’ administrations must speed up efforts to implement the ‘safe schools’ project’.

As police officials have stated, over 100 of the city’s some 5,000 schools have been declared ‘sensitive’. Hence the state must make every effort — in an unobtrusive and sensitive way — to protect youngsters from violence.

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Pakistan’s lost universe

IF the world of science, in particular physics and astronomy, is referring to the Ligo discovery in superlative terms such as “transformational” and “the beginning of a new era” for mankind’s understanding of the universe, it is for good reason.

Albert Einstein first postulated the existence of gravitational waves, or what have been described as “ripples in the fabric of space-time” a century ago.

Also read: Gravitational waves detected in scientific milestone

Then followed 50 years of trial and error, and a quarter century was spent merely perfecting instruments that were sensitive enough to identify a distortion in space-time — in this case the collision of two black holes 1.3 billion light years away.

Finally, on Thursday, having completed the scientific arc of prediction, discovery and confirmation, physicists of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory team announced in Washington, DC: “We did it.” Researchers say that the confirmation of the existence of these waves will allow them to probe the universe, even its origins, in new ways.

A moment of such breathtaking excitement comes all too rarely in any field of study.

There is no doubt that like other great leaps of scientific understanding in the past, the Ligo discovery will galvanise further interest in astronomy and physics. But when such interest is considered in the context of Pakistan, the picture becomes immediately bleak.

Academic decline in this country is evident in most subjects, not least those included in the sciences. Both the quality of textbooks and teaching have done nothing to inculcate a sense of curiosity and wonder in our children. Rote learning, rather than an understanding of even fundamental concepts, has led the way. And few schools and colleges have science clubs that could have fostered interest in young minds.

Our students are thus deprived of a chance to come together to explore the many mysteries of the universe.

The grim reality is simple: this is a nation where even those trained as scientists can put their stamp of approval on a car said to run on water. Could there be a greater indictment?

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