Wednesday May 22, 2024

Choking on politics

By Dr Farrukh Saleem
January 08, 2023

Everyone knows that the only way out now is the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Saudi Arabia’s assistance can delay the inevitable but Saudi Arabia is not an alternative to the IMF, nor is China. Getting back into the IMF programme will mean two things: a 20 per cent devaluation of the rupee and food inflation of over 40 per cent. The PDM government feels that it has already sacrificed enough of its political capital – and is in no mood to surrender more.

PM Shehbaz Sharif is doing all he can to break the deadlock with the IMF. The PTI feels that more chaos is in its political interest. The intra-elite power struggle goes on as everyone else suffers. Yes, the PDM government knows full well that our only way out now is the IMF. Question: What is the PDM-government waiting for? Answer: Imran Khan’s disqualification.

Choking “happens when an object lodges in the throat or windpipe blocking the flow of air.” Question: Should we go back to the IMF or not? Answer: That’s the dilemma; a “situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two or more alternatives, especially ones that are equally undesirable.”

Question: What if we do not go back to the IMF? Answer: There will be a sovereign default followed by a shortage of petrol, diesel, life saving drugs, cotton, wheat, crude oil, cooking oil, medical supplies, coal and LNG. Right in front of our eyes Sri Lanka choked on politics. The vicious cycle in Sri Lanka started with a ‘currency crisis’ followed by devaluation, hyperinflation, fuel shortages, food shortages, loadshedding, medicine shortages followed by violent street protests and then troop deployment.

The three things that take place in a ‘normal’ state are: politics, a security policy and an economic polity. We have become an ‘abnormal’ state in the sense that the only thing that takes place in our country is politics. We neither have a security policy nor an economic policy. A ‘normal’ state does two things: maintains order and undertakes development. We just choke on politics. A ‘normal’ state makes roadmaps. We just live on hopes of handouts-no roadmap.

Hope is a “feeling of expectation for a particular thing to happen.” Desire is a “feeling of wanting something or wishing for something to happen.” For example, we are ‘hoping’ that Saudi Arabia will give us $3 billion. For example, it is our ‘desire’ that China and Saudi Arabia will give us $13 billion. A plan, on the other hand, is a “course of action that is carefully thought out and intended to achieve a specific goal.” A roadmap is a “plan that outlines the major milestones and key actions that need to be taken in order to achieve a specific goal.” Imagine, the future of 232,166,278 Pakistanis now depends on hopes and desires – no plan, no roadmap.

Here are the four things that we would have to do: get back into the IMF programme; adopt ‘exchange rate realism’, debt restructuring and deep structural reforms-in that order. This is no rocket science but choking on politics is our top priority. Red alert: choking can be a life threatening emergency.

The writer is a columnist based in Islamabad. He tweets @saleemfarrukh and can be reached at: