Pakistan says country-wide power outage could have been caused by cyberattack

Pakistan‘s energy minister said on Tuesday there was a “remote chance” that hackers could be behind a grid failure that led to two days of nationwide blackout.

Khurram Dastgir told the media that the country’s power supply has been restored.

“Today, at 5.15 in the morning, the power was fully restored,” Mr Dastgir told reporters in capital Islamabad. “All 1,112 grid stations restored within 24 hours.”

Millions of people in Pakistan were plunged into darkness on Monday as the power supply abruptly cut off in many areas, including capital Islamabad and financial hub Karachi, leaving schools, hospitals and factories without electricity.

In northern city of Peshawar, people complained of not being able to get drinking water because their pumps weren’t working without electricity, while the metropolitan city of Lahore saw its driverless Orange Line Metro Train (OLMT) shut abruptly, forcing people to walk along the railway lines.

Authorities had turned off electricity during low-usage hours on Sunday night to conserve fuel, according to a government energy-saving plan. Efforts to turn power back on early on Monday morning led to a system-wide meltdown.

The minister said an investigation will show what exactly caused the outage, which he blamed on a technical glitch, and lauded the efforts of technicians in bringing the supply grid back to functionality.

He also floated a theory that there was a “remote chance” that the outage was caused by hackers targeting the Pakistani grid’s systems and expressed faith a three-member committee set up Monday by prime minister Shehbaz Sharif would get to the bottom of it.

“We will fully cooperate” with the committee, which is expected to complete a preliminary investigation within days, he said.

Mr Dastgir also cautioned that some may still face “routine power outages” this week as Pakistan’s two nuclear power plants and coal plants have yet to come fully online.

After Mr Dastgir’s address, Prime Minister Sharif issued an apology on Tuesday for the inconvenience caused by the power outage and vowed to fix responsibility for the major breakdown.

The premier tweeted: “On behalf of my government, I would like to express my sincere regrets for the inconvenience our citizens suffered due to power outage yesterday.”

“On my orders an inquiry is underway to determine reasons of the power failure. Responsibility will be fixed,” he tweeted.

It was the second major outage in Pakistan in four months and the first countrywide blackout since January 2021 as the country suffered an unprecedented economic crisis and tried to recover from last year’s catastrophic floods that left one-third of its land underwater.

In January 2021, the country witnessed a similar blackout which was attributed to a technical fault in its power generation and distribution system.

Electricity supplies are regularly cut off across the country during low usage hours overnight, especially during winters, to conserve fuel. In the first week of January, authorities in Pakistan ordered shopping malls and markets to close by 8.30pm as part of a new energy conservation plan aimed at easing Pakistan‘s economic crisis.

Pakistan gets at least 60 per cent of its electricity from fossil fuels, while nearly 27 per cent of the electricity is generated by hydropower. The contribution of nuclear and solar power to the nation’s grid is about 10 per cent.

Pakistan, along with United Nations, also launched a multi-year plan to invite funding and technical support from countries and international insitutions for its flood-hit areas, receiving pledges for $9bn in financial aid from countries including the US and France.

The country is also in talks with International Monetary Fund (IMF) to soften some conditions on a $6bn bailout that could help it the country with its dwindling foreign exchange reserves.