Friday Nov 19, 2021
Minister for Energy Hammad Azhar on Friday threw down the gauntlet to Geo News anchor Shahzeb Khanzada to debate the country's LNG and gas issues, following which Twitter erupted with all manner of reactions.
The challenge is the latest in a series of heated public exchanges between the two.
Just a month ago, it was found in a State of Industrial Report 2021, published by power regulator National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra), that the power sector's performance is not up to the mark.
Khanzada discussed the report on his show "Aaj Shahzeb Khanzada Kay Saath" and inquired from the government about the delay in the purchase of liquefied natural gas (LNG). Azhar, in response on Twitter, had questioned the segment's reporting, saying that it is a sign of "lack of knowledge".
The minister also questioned Khanzada's "understanding" of the sector and its issues following a report on The News titled "Mr Minister! It’s Nepra report, not Geo News, which raises questions".
A week later, on October 18, Azhar appeared on the show where the two spoke about the Nepra report, with the minister maintaining that LNG had been ordered timely by the government and that the Nepra report is about load balancing.
Khanzada countered by saying that the report shed light on how the regulator was unable to obtain the fuel required despite informing the authorities concerned of the demand.
Azhar at one point said Khanzada must "calm down" and after the two spoke over one another and following a host of technical difficulties, the minister said: "Shahzeb, today the viewers, not me, will decide about your conduct."
A clip of the segment (13:23 onwards) is provided below:
In Khanzada's own words today on his show, the minister was subsequently invited six times but he refused to appear, only issuing statements critical of him and Geo News.
Then today, the minister decided to finally go toe-to-toe with the anchor in a public debate.
"I would like to challenge Shahzeb Khanzada to debate LNG and gas issues with me moderated by a neutral anchor and with independent experts. Let the people see the facts without persistent interrupting, volume controls, teleprompters etc," he wrote.
The challenge put inflation-weary and power-starved people in a frenzy on Twitter, inviting both humour and reproval.
Journalist Mustafa Chaudhry quipped: "Stop now. Will you nurse this sorrow in your heart all your life?"
Writer Bilal Tanweer recommended the minister keep his focus on the gas we power our stoves with. "Debate se nikalnay waali gas paani garam nahin karti (The gas to emerge from a debate does not heat water)," he wrote in sarcasm.
One user likened the minister to a "six year old impersonating a minister". He characterised the challenge as a "bizarre rematch" being demanded from an "unbothered and unconcerned" journalist.
"Whereabouts of the child's bruised fragile ego from weeks ago remain unknown," he added as final touches to the jibe.
Veteran journalist and ex-PEMRA chairman Absar Alam, who survived a murder bid earlier this year, joked that after an unsuccessful attempt to have Khanzada taken off air, ministers and advisers could very well resort to destroying their television sets in vexation.
Lahore-based educationist and writer Jasir Shahbaz gave props to Azhar for "cultural authenticity", calling it "peak Lahori behaviour".
"Meet me somewhere else. I'll show you, you self-proclaimed senior analyst," he said mockingly, on behalf of the minister.
One user chalked it up to "trying to get air time rather than fixing the crisis".
"Y'all too funny and incompetent at the same time," he wrote.
Some serious observations were also made given that the country is going through perhaps the worst energy crisis in history. Among these were remarks by ex-Dawn editor and columnist Abbas Nasir.
"People are suffering acute gas shortages and this man wants to debate and not accept his abject failures. Bhai, proof of the pudding is in the eating. No gas = severe incompetence. Nothing to debate," he wrote.
Nasir went on to criticise Azhar's use of the word teleprompter, correcting him to say that it is an "auto-cue" and that all professional presenters use it.
Senior journalist Khurram Hussain simply asked: "And how will this help plug our winter gas deficit?"