Saleem Qamar Butt
Pakistan's Politico-Economic Crises; Perils of Losing Hope
We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope. ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
PM Imran Khan formed Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf government along with coalition partners in August 2018, raising public hopes with the great promises of providing justice at the door steps to the needy, eradicate poverty, eliminate corruption, revive economy, finish foreign loan dependence, punish alleged national wealth plunderers and recover looted money, improve social sector with priority to health and education sectors………a tall order that is bound to take a long time, consistent sincere efforts by a competent team for each challenge at hand. During the last ten months, the primary challenge confronted and somewhat settled by the PTI Government was avoiding the economic default followed by laying hands on the former rulers and allies who had allegedly indulged in mega corruption, that seems to be picking up pace and with that political temperatures are rising. However, what is more worrying is that PTI is fast losing public confidence and support due to the mess created at every tier of the government and in every department due to haze attached with the announced half baked policies and non-cooperative bureaucracy majority of which had thrived on the cunningly weaved cobweb of corruption in connivance with their political masters in the last many decades. The lower and upper middle class especially the white collared and people involved in manufacturing, construction, trade, agriculture and small industries are worst struck and forced to close their businesses giving further hype to unemployment and poverty….thanks to fear and panic spread by the concerned ministries and departments. The ever increasing swarms of beggars on the roads and streets bear testimony to the fact their poor masses are becoming even poorer. Any institution that is ‘National’ or ‘Government’ in Pakistan stands as an emblem of inefficiency, corruption, discourtesy and evasiveness, which needs incumbent government’s immediate attention as its public feedback system appears to be suffering from deliberate malfunction.
Most analysts opine that in the foreseeable future, Prime Minister of Pakistan will continue to struggle with an economic slowdown of his own making, which is faced with the challenges of reducing Pakistan's trade and fiscal deficit, austerity measures will further diminish demand in Pakistan's consumption-driven economy thus slowing growth and the slowdown will offer the country's two main opposition parties an opportunity to challenge PM Khan and draw away concentration from the corruption scandals that has weighed them down. Pakistan's economy is characterized by frequent alternation of growth and recession. After the latest spell of growth, rising fiscal and trade deficits are now forcing the government to cool the demand for imports and implement austerity measures. To rein in the country's unsustainable trade and fiscal deficits, the government has hiked interest rates, allowing the Pakistani rupee to weaken, and cut public spending. The free ride given to dollar is also a source of worry for those who need dollars for business (import and export) and study abroad, besides its impact in increasing the foreign loans. Pakistan's economic depression stems from its dependence on imports. The country lacks a competitive export vat of higher value-added items, with cotton products, leather and rice accounting for 69 percent of exports. In the other ways, Pakistan imports large quantities of machinery, electronics, metals and oil — its most expensive import — which together account for half of Pakistan's $60 billion in annual imports. As a result, Pakistan has run a persistent trade deficit, which totaled $36 billion in 2018. As austerity measures dampen demand for imports, raise the cost of capital and allow the rupee to weaken in the months ahead, Pakistan's economy is bound to enter a lingering retard as consumption drops and joblessness rises. A drop in Islamabad's investment in development projects, a key source of growth in the industrial sector that also boosts the economy's large service sector, will aggravate the slowdown. However, implementing these measures may result in further impede the growth, and thus creating opportunities for the political opposition. As the hot summer settles down by mid August, culprits under scrutiny may find it easier to bring small managed crowds on major road junctions in and around main cities, choke traffic to make it look million marches and drive government crazy with lacklustre administration at its disposal, which may result in embroiling military. Hence, there is little time available to the PTI government to sift essentials and sequence mega problems to be settled in a manner that least bothers the public at large and corrupt bigwigs in the dark and grey areas bear the brunt rather than hard-working honest middle class people in white areas.
Nevertheless, while listening to IMF and FATF demands may be unavoidable, yet, any conditionality that is counter-productive for the “Safety” and “Well-being” of people of Pakistan cannot be considered in national interest of Pakistan. The unbearable increase in fuel and energy prices, unchecked and uncontrolled price hike in daily use commodities especially the food items and irrational application of direct and indirect taxes is badly impacting the masses at large and hugely undermining the public confidence, which need to be addressed urgently. The harassment and panic that has gripped the public in Pakistan due to non-specific rhetorical statements from government side is prone to economic backlash and a huge political price. The earlier PTI Government let the public confidence be restored and allow the economic activities to catch up especially in the real estate, construction sector, small and medium industrial growth and export; the better for the country as well as for the government. The agriculture sector being our mainstay need to be revolutionized both scientifically and technically with fine balance in growth, export and local consumption by higher yield and by adoption of culture of agriculture as was done by China after suffering from years of famine and hunger.
PM Imran Khan needs to remember what Napoleon Bonaparte had said, “A leader is a dealer in hope”. Hope is a belief that tomorrow will be better. It is the shining light at the end of the tunnel. Hope is what sustains the pressures and challenges of today: that there is a hope of a better tomorrow. Let your policy decision not take away hopes of your masses as the perils can be unimaginable and consequences unintended. Please do not let your voters say after you complete your term that ‘The more you observe politics, the more you've got to admit that each party is worse than the other’. ~
2nd July 2019
· Saleem Qamar Butt, SI (M) is a retired senior Army officer with rich experience in Military & Intelligence Diplomacy and is a writer and consultant on geo-strategic analysis for newspapers, magazines and Pakistan Television Network. (Mail: email@example.com, Website: www.sqbutt.com )