Is Raja Pervaiz Ashraf serious? One couldn’t help asking this disheartening question hearing the prime minister speak at a public gathering after visiting the site of the Thar coal gasification project this Thursday. The government is striving hard to provide maximum facilities to the masses; it has launched a number of successful development and welfare schemes; the country is taking rapid strides in addressing major issues like the energy crisis – these were just a few of the PM’s dubious assertions. At some point, the prime minister even blithely declared that the PPP needed no lessons in politics and democracy. “Who understands these things better than us?” he asked. And all this while the tide of poverty rises and the gap between demand and supply of power turns into a gaping abyss. Yes, the PM thinks the completion of the Thar coal power project will bring about a revolution in Sindh and the entire country, but the former minister for water and power has nothing much to say about how inefficiencies in the power sector – which cause billions of rupees in losses – will be bridged. And of course, in making these declarations, the PM also paid no heed to this week’s political happenings and the havoc his own and his government’s impudence in the face of the law are wreaking on both the political landscape and the democratic project. Indeed, if the larger picture was confused in the prime minister’s protestations, there was an even more frightening disdain for the detail.
While the prime minister complained about the government’s detractors, saying the countdown to the PPP government’s dismissal had begun the day it assumed charge, he failed to mention some of the legitimate grievances against his government or demonstrate that it had even attempted to resolve them. Pakistan’s economic woes are uglier today than ever: expenditures are bigger, incomes lower, prices higher and debt larger. All the fiscal fundamentals are skewed. Electricity prices have been jacked up manifold and yet, the sector is on the verge of collapse. The government’s energy team has focused mostly on the generation side of things – after all, RPPs and IPPs are where the money is – and totally forgotten about transmission and distribution losses, caused more by corruption than technical shortcomings. Circular debt, getting consumers to pay bills, slashing leakages – those are not even on the PM’s radar. Neither is the need for a long-term policy to block Pakistan’s not-so-slow descent towards economic collapse and meltdown. Hack down a tree, then climb onto its stump and start making a speech on the virtues of conservation – that’s the kind of government we have on our hands. The politics of denial – more than of reconciliation and consensus – is what this government has perfected. In the real world, however, indifference towards the people’s problems, by any other name, still smells just as foul.