Tuesday April 23, 2024

It’s all the same

By Abdul Sattar
April 20, 2023

Socialist countries have often been accused of following one-party rule, banning other parties from participating in politics. In the past, the Soviet Union and several other communist countries established the dictatorship of one party. Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam and China are still believed to be following this system.

Democratic states claim that they grant political freedom, letting all political parties thrive. But some political scientists disagree. For instance, prominent American intellectual Noam Chomsky believes the US also follows a one-party system. Chomsky asserts that there is only one party in America, and that is the business party.

The American Left also asserts that both Republicans and Democrats follow pro-business policies. Both shower favours on the corporate world and design policies in a way that largely benefit businesses and never formulate any policy that goes against the interests of these business groups.

This behaviour is a major reason no American political party has been able to wipe out the curse of gun culture. Similarly, every US president remains under tremendous pressure from vested interests to either trigger conflicts in different parts of the world or increase the intensity of ongoing conflicts by providing arms to various belligerent groups.

One way to understand the tangible differences between political parties across the country is by analyzing their economic policies. Political organizations may spar over social and cultural issues; some may be more tolerant towards religious minorities while others might take a hard line towards them. But when it comes to the formulation of economic policies, they are more or less the same.

For instance, it was the ‘pro-Muslim’ Congress that launched Manmohan Singh who gifted India with neoliberal economics. Its arch-rival BJP loathes Gandhi’s message of brotherhood and Nehru’s non-communal approach, but it seems to be in love with Congress’s neoliberal policies initiated by Singh. Such policies in the railways and banking sectors are now threatening the layoffs of over 500,000 workers in India. But neither the Congress nor the BJP can dare oppose them.

In the UK, it was the Labour Party that turned out to be an ardent supporter of Thatcher’s ruthless economic policies that were meant to appease the rich. The ‘party of workers’ also benefited arms merchants by colluding with the US in its illegal wars. These companies immensely benefited from various invasions and attacks that were carried out during the last three decades.

The UK, like the US, created an environment of tension between regional countries, which enabled London to sell its deadly weapons to countries in the Middle East. It also supplied weapons to more than 15 brutal regimes in Africa during the last four decades. Both the Labour Party and the Conservative elite followed anti-workers policies.

In Pakistan, the PTI claims to be the champion of change while the PML-N asserts that it is an ideological political entity. Both of these parties claim to be following diametrically opposite ideologies, but when it comes to economics, these parties follow the same logic of the market. These parties or individuals have never challenged large business interest groups. All of them have come up with policies that largely benefit stock exchange brokers, construction tycoons, textile monopolies, surgical goods manufacturers and car and oil importers.

All these parties seem determined to get rid of state-owned enterprises. None of them can dare to defy market fundamentalism, parroting the mantra of a smaller government in economic affairs. All these parties consider state-run entities a burden on the national exchequer. This is why it is not surprising that from Shaukat Aziz, Shaukat Tarin and Hafeez Shaikh to Miftah Ismail, all gurus of new liberal economics are acceptable to all parties. Similarly, no matter how much rhetoric Finance Minister Ishaq Dar employs against the IMF, at the end of the day he also supports an economic ideology that is a gift of the Chicago Business School and other centres of laissez faire.

All these ideologues of neoliberal economics believe in market fundamentalism and assert that the market is the only way to achieve progress and prosperity. All of them seem advocates of trickle-down economics. When it comes to imposing tax, they all make a case for less taxes on business groups and none for feudal lords, and burden hapless people with unbearable tariffs. All of them are strongly opposed to granting subsidies as they consider them important tenets of market fundamentalism but when it comes to extending the same subsidies to the rich, they say that the poor elite of this country must get these benefits for the sake of employment and industrial growth.

It is no surprise that successive governments in Pakistan have extended bailout packages to stock exchanges to help them carry on their operations without any hiccups. From Imran Khan, Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari to General Musharraf, all governments have been kind to real-estate speculators, textile lobbies, car importers mafias and construction tycoons.

All successive governments have sold large acres of land to real-estate developers at throwaway prices at the cost of displacement of millions. None of them has ever pondered over the long-term consequences of this policy of gifting lands, which in many cases happened to be farming spaces as well.

Imran Khan and his team, despite their claims of serving the poor, came up with the idea of the River Ravi project that is likely to displace more than one million people besides playing havoc with the environment of a city that has already been converted into a concrete jungle, thanks to the policies of Punjab’s former chief ministers.

The PPP government in Sindh is also accused of extending the same favours to construction tycoons in Karachi and other parts of the province. All these political parties promote a culture of cars import, completely ignoring the railways and other means of transportation that could have gone a long way in reducing Pakistan’s oil import bill which has ballooned to over $25 billion. Almost all political parties encourage a culture of imports. Shehbaz Sharif’s laptops schemes and Imran Khan’s digitization programmes also forced the government to buy machines and devices from other countries.

When it comes to development projects, we also witness similarities between the policies of various parties. All of them built metros, highways and motorways besides launching safe city projects. All of them claimed to digitize government departments, spending billions of rupees on devices and machinery. In education all of them promoted scholarships for students at private national and foreign universities enabling these private businesses to claim a large chunk of money from the national exchequer.

Similarly, all political parties ignored basic healthcare emphasizing on advanced medical technology that triggered the import mania. It may be argued that such machines are important but preventive care could prevent millions from developing serious illnesses. Not only do the US, the UK and India have the one-party system, but Pakistan is also in the grip of the same system.

The writer is a freelance journalist who can be reached at: