The numbers game?

January 26, 2022

Pakistan’s ‘revised’ economic numbers appear more of a plank to talk up the country’s troubled economy than timely evidence of a long-awaited meaningful...

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Pakistan’s ‘revised’ economic numbers appear more of a plank to talk up the country’s troubled economy than timely evidence of a long-awaited meaningful recovery.

Notwithstanding Prime Minister Imran Khan leading the ‘all is well’ official chorus welcoming a rising economy, the real clue to Pakistan's continuing economic turbulence can be found among the scores of middle to low income households across the country.

As the government pats itself on the back following the latest numbers recording higher than previously witnessed economic growth in almost 14 years, challenges emerging from increasingly over stretched household budgets offer a deeply troubling picture.

Unlike the official spin marking an economic upturn, real-life matters such as kitchen tables remaining devoid of essential proteins, notably meat, for weeks or even months at a time offer a much-needed reality check.

As Prime Minister Khan prepares for the next parliamentary elections in 2023, troubling matters like stunted growth of children from low-income households fail to figure anywhere on the official agenda. And the numerical upturn bandied about with the latest rise in growth numbers, stands in sharp contrast to troubling economic trends like the current account deficit rising to a staggering $9 billion for the first half of the ongoing financial year (July-December) – a serious jump from $1.25 billion for the same period a year ago.

That Pakistan has become subservient to foreign players – notably the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – should hardly be surprising. Across Pakistan, the prime minister’s promise of ‘tabdeeli’ or change that swept him to power in 2018 today lies in tatters. From mounting economic challenges across the mainstream neighbourhoods to a deepening crisis of governance, an honest scorecard for the past three years offers little room for celebration.

Time and again, Pakistan’s present-day rulers have pointed squarely towards exogenous factors led by an unusual jump in global commodity prices for fuelling inflation in daily lives. But that’s just part of what ails Pakistan today.

The other part is indeed the crisis of governance that has worsened during Khan’s watch. A large part of that powerful reality is evident across Punjab, which is home to about 60 percent of Pakistan’s population.

Recent events such as a failure by the provincial authorities to ensure timely provision of urea fertilizer during the wheat plantation season or the failure to prevent innocent deaths in Murree following a predictable spell of heavy snowfall, provide glaring evidence of a wider failure. If indeed Pakistan was truly an accountable democracy, Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar by now would have been shown the door. But his continuity with the apparent backing of Khan only points towards large gaps in Pakistan’s democratic structure.

Amidst the gap between the official view versus a compelling reality on the ground, the matter of little tangible support offered to the agricultural sector stands right at the heart of some of Pakistan’s most compelling economic challenges.

In recent days, a number of leaders from the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf have taken it upon themselves to almost celebrate rising incomes of farmers on the back of larger returns for one crop or another. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth, at least when witnessed close to the grassroots.

Beyond the fiasco surrounding the urea crisis, Pakistan’s farmers suffer from other short- to long-term ailments. These range from an excessive jump in the price of DAP or Diammonium phosphate – the prized chemical fertilizer leading to higher agricultural yields, to rising costs of essential inputs such as high quality seeds, fuel and electricity. Together, anecdotal evidence only shows an utter official disregard for increasingly stressed net incomes of Pakistan’s farmers, even with a jump in yields across some areas of the country

The one lesson from a jump in global commodity prices yet again must be that Pakistan needs to redouble its focus on improving food security domestically, through making agriculture far more central to policymaking. A historic failure to lift Pakistan’s agricultural output and increasing dependency over time on commodity imports has not only debilitated the country’s long overdue search for economic security.

It has also made Pakistan increasingly vulnerable to foreign players notably the IMF. Notwithstanding Prime Minister Khan’s claim of all is well with the economy, the reality across Pakistan’s mainstream only points to the contrary.

The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist who writes on political and economic affairs. He can be reached at:

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