Pakistan fails to meet power demand in Gilgit-Baltistan despite huge potential

People in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan-administered Kashmir are facing acute power shortages despite the mountainous area being the

world’s most hydropower-rich area after the South Pole and North Pole. The failure of the Islamabad government to use the electricity generation potential has affected socioeconomic development in Gilgit Baltistan. Even the much-talked China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project could not bring a single hydropower unit to Gilgit-Baltistan.

Notably, the region hosts 40,000 MW of the total 60,000 MW hydropower potential of Pakistan.[1][2] However, Pakistan could manage to generate just 174 MW of hydropower in Gilgit-Baltistan while the demand is up to 452 MW.[3] The region has a population of less than two million, yet Islamabad failed to meet its energy requirements.[4] There have been different policies and announcements regarding building hydropower plants in Gilgit-Baltistan over the years. However, none of the announced and planned hydropower plants ever took off.

People in the region have been facing acute power problems for decades. The load-shedding schedule often crosses 22 hours every day, halting commercial, social, and educational activities, and thus leading to huge inconvenience for the people.[5] The power cuts for longer hours become challenging during winters in the region, which remain under snow for about six months every year.[6] Even the transmission lines and existing energy infrastructure are in bad shape thanks to poor maintenance and reported corruption, costing millions of rupees to go down the drain.[7][8]    

Anger has been brewing in Gilgit-Baltistan over the lack of development and power crisis. People regularly hold protests. But the government did not do anything, they complained. Yousuf Nashad, a local journalist from the region, said people in Gilgit Baltistan have been living in harsh conditions as Pakistan has denied basic rights to them.  “Despite having abundant water, we neither received education nor electricity in the last 75 years. We didn’t receive anything,” he said.[9]  

Deedar Karim, a research associate at the Pak-Afghan Youth Forum, said it is impossible to live in the harsh winter of Gilgit-Baltistan, “where the freezing breeze solidifies blood in vain”. He blamed the corruption and poor electricity management of the power department for the energy shortage problem.[10]

The protests by local people are often met with ruthless reactions from the Pakistan government. In 2022, people protesting against long power cuts were arrested under anti-terrorism charges.[11] “Gilgit-Baltistan is a picture of bad governance these days,” said a protestor.[12] “The situation is so bad that we cannot iron the clothes of our children and they have to wear crumpled uniforms to school”, said one person from Gilgit.[13]

Ali Rehmat, project assistant at the Islamabad-based research institute Sustainability and Resilience Development Program, held the Pakistan government’s apathy for the power crisis and poor development. “The Gilgit-Baltistan region is known as the ‘water reservoir of Pakistan’ with more than 7,000 glaciers. Despite these resources, the region suffers from a lack of electricity access,” he said. “Most policies emphasize the need and prospects of building renewable energy resources, but the strategy and framework for its execution remain missing.”[14]

Islamabad-based social development and policy adviser Amir Hussain called out the Pakistan government’s priority on defence activities over local people’s energy needs and ignorance responsible for the energy crisis in Gilgit-Baltistan. “Political instability and weak governance structures in Gilgit-Baltistan have contributed to the energy crisis,” he said. “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.”[15]

Gilgit-Baltistan is an underdeveloped area, which lacks employment opportunities due to poor industrial growth. Power shortage has played a crucial role in the region remaining backward. The energy crisis caused damage to agriculture and tourism sectors as well.[16] “Electricity shortage in Gilgit-Baltistan causes serious inconvenience to the inhabitants and businesses,” Karim said.

Ume Ayman, vice president of Gilgit-Baltistan Youth Parliament, said Gilgit-Baltistan will have to face an energy shortfall for a long time as there was neither political will nor any improvement in governance. “Education, health, energy, and governance have received major setbacks resulting in degradation of institutions and depreciation of growth and development,” she said. “The electricity crisis of Gilgit is affecting the lives of ordinary citizens – and the crisis is real.”[17] 


















Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *