An activist of Pakistan Muslim Leauge Nawaz holds a light bulb in her mouth during a rally in Lahore, against widespread electricity shortages in the country. (Arif Ali/AFP)
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — In the militant-infested northwestern city of Peshawar, hundreds of businessmen recently marched in a mock funeral procession — but not to protest bombings or kidnappings. The “corpse” they carried was an electric meter.
In other areas of the country, shopkeepers have threatened mass suicide to protest 18 to 20 hours of power blackouts every day. Mobs are descending on utility offices to destroy records and meters, and they have attacked political parties’ headquarters during riots that sometimes turn deadly.
This month, Pakistan tumbled into sovereign default for the first time in its history because the government failed to reimburse millions to independent power providers — more proof that, after years of mismanagement and neglect, the nation’s energy sector is in extremis.
Now some experts suggest that the power crisis is more of a threat to Pakistan’s stability than is terrorism — a bitter outcome given the massive amount of aid the United States has poured into energy projects here over the decades.
A long-running Islamist insurgency has carved 2 percent from the nation’s GDP, said Sakib Sherani, a former government economic adviser, whereas rotating daily blackouts — referred to here as “load shedding” — have resulted in a 4 percent loss.