Saturday April 13, 2024

Beyond neoliberal policies

By Abdul Sattar
July 03, 2023

As recent events have shown, it seems that those who were behind the incident of May 9 will not be spared, and the authorities seem to have taken stringent actions against those who had a strange sense of impunity. The formation of the special committee regarding the economy also shows that policymakers really want to take drastic measures to pull the economy out of crisis.

Pakistan badly suffered because of the insane style of agitational politics that was promoted by Imran Khan. It cannot be said that the politics of resistance is always negative. In the past, many political parties resorted to street power to achieve political aims, but such resistance was meant to challenge authoritarian governments that had plunged the country into an abyss of tyrannical rule.

Fatima Jinnah and other pro-people political parties shook the foundations of General Ayub Khan's dictatorship. Thousands of trade unionists, peasant leaders, representatives of student bodies, political workers, and ordinary citizens took to the streets against the rising inflation that had turned the life of masses into a hell. They also fiercely resisted Ayub's pro-imperialist policies that had relegated the country to a Western proxy space. The dictatorship of Gen Khan was also given a tough time by the people.

The people also adopted an agitational style of politics during the dark era of Gen Ziaul Haq. They suffered harsh and inhuman punishments, but this did not prevent them from demonstrating unflinching loyalty to democratic ideals. The countries' jails were overcrowded with political workers, some of whom were also publicly lashed. Nusrat Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto, and a number of other prominent political figures were put behind bars but this did not prevent political forces from launching the Movement for Restoration of Democracy.

It was clear that these pro-people movements were meant to end the interference of non-democratic forces into political matters. But the agitational style of Imran Khan's politics appeared to be strange – and was not a throwback to politics of resistance. If anything, he seemed to wish for exclusive favours.

It was unfortunate that those who threw blanket support behind him turned a blind eye to these activities. This created a sense of impunity within the ranks of the PTI. Imran's party workers reminded the government that overseas Pakistanis could stop sending money if the demands of the PTI were not accepted. His government's officials in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa warned the IMF against releasing loans. All such offensive moves were tolerated, and this is how we ended up with the impunity within the PTI that led to the incidents of May 9. Now, it seems that this sense of impurity is no longer there. The authorities seem to have a dogged determination to go against all those who were directly or indirectly involved in the tumultuous incidents of May 9.

While actions against the perpetrators are necessary, there is also the matter of addressing the ills the economy is facing. It is positive that the government has realized the gravity of economic and financial matters. The country's people are really going through a tough time. More than 60 million are already living below the poverty line. Around 33 million were affected by the catastrophic floods of last year, plunging more people into a life of miseries and hardships. The skyrocketing inflation is making it tough even for the lower and middle classes to lead a decent life. The lack of industrial raw materials is forcing industries to shut down, rendering millions of workers jobless.

It is unfortunate that amidst this all, the country has the largest cabinet in its history. Its parliamentarians recently tried to pass a bill to increase their perks and privileges. It is also disappointing to see that the government is trying to apply the panacea of neoliberal policies to cure the ills of the economy when it is this very formula that has plunged the country into economic crises. The country may have had many economic problems but with neoliberal policies, such problems got further complicated.

For instance, we had a debt of around $17 billion during the decade of the 1980s. We were advised to sell out state-owned concerns to improve the economy. Today our external debts are around $130 billion. Our imports have risen drastically during the last four decades though they seem somehow stable currently because of the lack of dollars. Even after privatizing over 100 state-run entities since 1979, we have not witnessed the flow of foreign investment and whatever FDI was poured into the country, it added to our financial and economic woes.

Therefore, it is important that we revitalize our state-owned concerns, account for those who bought up government entities but did not invest any money, preferring to set up housing societies on the land of such entities. We immediately need to reduce some parts of institutional budgets, diverting the saved money to industries. The government must end the over $17 billion subsidies that are doled out to the super rich, letting them compete in their beloved market which, in their view, is the best solution. The use of rich agricultural land for real estate must be halted; this could prevent the specter of food insecurity in the future. The ruling elite must bring feudal barons into the tax network besides imposing agriculture tax that no government has dared to impose since 1947.

Doling out funds for mega projects must be stopped. This has just enriched a few individuals and vested interests while human development is still miserable. More than 25 million children are out of school. Around 80 per cent of the population does not have access to pure drinking water while 67 per cent are bereft of decent housing. The government should go beyond the immediate and address these issues of the people as well.

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