Page last updated at 18:04 GMT, Monday, 19 January 2009

Frustrated by Pakistan power cuts

BBC News website Pakistan editor M Ilyas Khan felt worn down by aspects of life in Karachi, with its pollution, power cuts, traffic jams and street criminals. Would a posting to Islamabad solve his problems? Here he explains why things are never as simple as they seem.

For nearly six months, I had been looking forward to the "excellent" experience of living in Islamabad - the city of Pakistan's elite where the air is clean and life smooth.

Protest against power cuts in Pakistan
Power cuts are a problem across the whole country, including Islamabad

But after a month in the capital, I don't feel that way any more.

Islamabad is still a beautiful city, with its forests and green belts stretching dreamily against the backdrop of the Margalla hills.

It is also the most coherently planned city in Pakistan, with regularly laid out sectors and plenty of road signs. There is simply no chance a stranger could lose their way here even if they tried.

But here the merits end, at least for me.


During my first month in the city, I have discovered that power cuts here are as unpredictable as in any other city, although there are fewer of them.

Islamabad skyline
Life in Islamabad has pros and cons, it turns out

Islamabad may be the seat of Pakistani power, but it's not without its power cuts and these can certainly make your life miserable.

I had been told that there were only about five or six blackouts of one hour each in a day, and that they occurred according to a pre-determined schedule.

So I set about adjusting my work pattern to that of the power cuts.

A part of my job is to file daily news prospects to various departments within the BBC first thing in the morning.

After reporting for duty in Islamabad last month, I discovered that the first power cut of the day - in the area where the BBC bureau is located - occurred at 1000.

Here I am, stranded in Islamabad for over a month, incommunicado and beaten down by surprise power cuts

This was good enough for me. I would reach the bureau between 0800 and 0830, read newspapers, check news websites, watch TV for latest developments, ring up my sources for clarifications and then file the news prospects by 0930 local time.

Barely three days later, just when I had finished the usual chores and was about to key in the prospects, the power went off - at 0900.

"Looks like they have changed the timings," Uncle Rehmat, who looks after the kitchen at the bureau, said.

For someone like me, who uses his wife's laptop with battery support of not more than five minutes, there was no question of filing prospects in time to meet the deadline.

This went on for a few days. Then I decided to drop the idea of filing early prospects.

Instead, I decided to come in at 1000 when the power would have been restored and file alerts for developing news stories to the South Asia desks in London and Delhi.

But this new experiment was similarly doomed to failure. I arrived at the bureau at 1000 only to find that the power authority had decided to revert to the old schedule and the power had just been switched off.

Logon troubles

An alternative working arrangement, which I had put in place in Karachi, was to have power back-up for my desk-top computer and TV at home.

When I arrived in Islamabad, I came across attractive advertisements for internet and TV packages and immediately applied for one.

A courteous lady at customer service promised to deliver the package in less than a week.

Street scene in Rawalpindi
The capital does not have the same chaos as other cities

But it took two weeks to arrive.

And when engineers did come over to set up the connection, they immediately ran into trouble. The TV came on, but the internet line would just not connect.

It took four hours to discover that someone else was using my username and password even before I could log on. I was shocked.

The engineers then did a strange thing, which they didn't tell me about. They logged me on through someone else's username and password, and left.

I discovered this three days later, when my internet went down.

I have lost track of the number of hours I've spent on the telephone to technical support staff.

All of them sound nice and polite on the telephone, but none appears to feel under any obligation to acknowledge that he or she has understood my problem and reassure me that help is on its way.

So here I am, stranded in Islamabad for over a month, incommunicado and beaten down by surprise power cuts.

And time is ticking away...

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