In a country where electrical blackouts are so severe they sometimes extend to 20 hours a day, the prime minister is loosening his tie and rolling up his sleeves
in a bid to resolve the economy-crippling energy problem.

He is doing this by instructing government officials to loosen their ties and roll up their sleeves. Literally.

Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf issued a directive last week that permits high-level functionaries to work in their shirt sleeves — or alternatively,
salwar-kameez, the loose tunic and baggy pants that are the national dress of Pakistan — rather than the traditional coat and tie. He said this would let workers do their jobs in the hot summer months without electricity-
hogging air conditioners.

Likewise, in winter, civil servants are encouraged to wear warm woolly sweaters to negate the need for natural-gas-guzzling heaters.

The recently installed Ashraf previously served as the top federal energy official. In that position, he was widely blamed for not handling the growing power crisis that inflicts misery on the public and has devastated some vital sectors, including mining and textile manufacturing.

Although this may be remembered as the Pakistani premier’s Jimmy Carter cardigan sweater moment — the former U.S. president once appeared on television wearing a sweater to ask his fellow Americans to lower their thermostats — Ashraf might be on to something.

Blaring air conditioners during the four to five months of the year when temperatures can top 110 degrees are the primary reason the electricity load has increased 70 to 80 percent in recent years, said Syed Tanzim Hussain Naqvi, a retired official of the Water and Power Development Authority.

Meanwhile, power generation has been stagnant.

“We have not been generating electricity in the last eight or nine years,” Naqvi said. “The load is increasing, but the generation capacity is standing still.”

The sartorial plan is being implemented in two ministries — the Cabinet Division and, aptly, the Ministry of Water and Power — and will expand to other government divisions if it is deemed successful.

A new dress code might make a small dent. But for a real solution, Naqvi said, the government must impose a three-step plan of upgrading the existing power stations in the country, expanding coal production and building two or three dams to take advantage of hydroelectric sources of power.

“These are just notional gimmicks that have little impact on the ground,” said veteran energy reporter Khaleeq Kiani of Dawn, an English-language daily.

Kiani recalled previous failed attempts to implement seemingly simple changes to cut back on energy — including a decision by all the provincial and federal governments to close businesses after sunset. Those plans remain unimplemented.

Other energy-saving initiatives include cutting the six-day workweek down to an energy-friendly five and imposing a strict 10 p.m. curfew on wedding halls, where flashy light displays are in vogue.