Trouble in Pakistan’s Heartland

Faisalabad formerly known as Lyallpur, is the third largest city in Pakistan. It is an important industrial centre which plays an influential role in the development of Pakistan’s trade and economy. City’s surrounding countryside has seen expanded production of cotton, wheat, vegetables, and fruits, which form 25% of Pakistan’s exports. The city has major railway repair yards, engineering works, and mills that process sugar, flour, and oil seed. Produce includes super phosphates, cotton and silk textiles, hosiery, dyes, agricultural equipment, and ghee. Above is an image of Faisalabad’s prestigious University of Agriculture, which was founded in 1909. 
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POWER SHORTAGE JOLTS THE CITY OF TEXTILES

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by Umer Farooq

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Standing in the corner of his large factory, textile magnate Mian Aftab Ahmed pondered the future. “I am completely helpless and hopeless,” he said.

His giant textile machines produce a deafening noise when in full swing, but Ahmed spoke amid pin-drop silence. Since 2007, when Faisalabad started facing crippling shortages of electricity and natural gas, his factory has been running at 35 to 40 percent of its capacity.

Faisalabad, Pakistan — Standing in the corner of his large factory, textile magnate Mian Aftab Ahmed pondered the future. “I am completely helpless and hopeless,” he said.

Ahmed’s predicament could well describe the situation across Faisalabad, Pakistan’s third-largest city and its industrial hub. The deteriorating economic climate is transforming the city into fertile ground for Islamic extremist movements, and a potential base of terrorist activity in Pakistan’s heartland.

Pakistan’s growing electricity demands have exceeded what its power grid can supply, resulting in sporadic shortfalls. But the primary reason for the power outages is not only lack of capacity, but the government’s inability to make payments to private power producers. The aging electricity distribution system, which breaks down frequently, also aggravates the situation further.

The official statistics tell a grim story. According to the Faisalabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FCCI), the city’s industrial sector has seen a 50 percent reduction in its production capacity. The district office of the Enterprise and Investment Department estimates that the energy crisis has forced more than 300 textile factories to shut down. Industrialists and labor leaders, however, believe the department is underreporting the number of closed-down factories. Sheikh Abdul Qayyum, a former FCCI president, said that at least 600 textile factories in the city shut down for at least three days every week due to the disruption in the natural gas supply.

Industrialists, however, are loath to go on the record to discuss how Faisalabad’s deteriorating economic conditions are helping extremist and sectarian groups. “I will only speak about street crimes and the negative impact they are having on the business environment,” said Ahmed. The city’s businessmen enjoy seeing their names placed next to those of religious and sect leaders on the banners that adorn the city’s main markets. Any kind of relationship with sect leaders, who sometimes appear more powerful than the state itself, is seen as a source of security in Faisalabad’s unstable social environment.

As industrial activity in Faisalabad comes to a gradual halt, unruly public protests are becoming the new normal. Slogan-chanting, window-smashing crowds have taken to the streets in recent months to protest the lack of jobs. A protest in early March continued for a week and on some occasions turned violent, with workers burning down the office of the power utility company and attacking a local bank. The incident was similar to the January 2009 electricity protests in the city, when industrial workers, traders, and even some small-mill owners brought life to a standstill for three days.

Faisalabad, the backbone of Pakistan’s textile industry, is home to hundreds of large-scale and medium-sized businesses, as well as a cottage industry of 60,000 power looms. Conservative estimates from labor organizations and industrialists suggest that the industry provides jobs to more than 2 million skilled and unskilled people. But over the past three years, the city’s businesses have suffered at least a 20 to 25 percent increase in the cost of production.

“I don’t think I will be able to sustain the production process at the present cost until coming December,” said Sheikh Saeed, a leading producer of cotton cloth. He says his factory is on the brink of closure while at least five other factories located next to his have already closed down. “We are thinking of shifting to trading.”

An industrialist of Saeed’s financial standing has the means to shift to another profession. But no easy alternatives are available for the workers he employs. Mian Abdul Qayyum, a labor leader who runs the Labour Qaumi Movement, a local organization comprising textile workers, claimed that more than 100,000 industrial workers in Faisalabad have already lost their jobs during the last two years.

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  4. […] 1.  Trouble in Pakistan’s Heartland […]

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