Monday July 22, 2024

How will this work?

By Saleem Safi
April 18, 2019

There is no doubt that Asad Umar is a highly intelligent person but unfortunately he uses all his intellect and energy for self-marketing. Being smart, well-dressed and articulate, he can easily impress anyone.

Coming from a marketing perspective, Asad Umar is a smooth talker and has the ability to sell ice to Eskimos. He moulds himself easily to fit in – a soldier with soldiers, a cleric with clerics, a liberal with liberals, a jihadi with jihadis and a journalist with media persons.

Asad Umar was neither a hard-core follower of the PTI ideology nor a diehard fan and admirer of Imran Khan; otherwise he would have joined the PTI right from the start. However, once he was brought into the PTI, he established his own image rather well through sheer self-marketing. The result was that he almost made it seem that it wasn’t Hameed Gul who showed Khan the path of politics but he (Asad Umar) who did that or that it wasn’t Dr Farooq Khan but he (Asad Umar) who conceived and drafted the constitution of the PTI.

Jahangir Tareen was spending money while Shah Mehmood Qureshi had experience and a vote bank. Asad had none of these, but he still he got remarkable prominence in the PTI and came at par with these two leaders – thanks mainly to his self-marketing skills and under the radar plots. He was not in a position even to win union council elections in Karachi, but through Imran Khan, and with the blessing of his patrons, he got himself elected from Islamabad. He played his cards well and hoodwinked both Imran Khan and his patrons by telling the former that he was very close to the latter and vice versa.

He managed to make only his supporters but critics as well see him as the Adam Smith and Plato of the PTI. So the whole nation was impatiently waiting to see that fortunate day that this self-assumed economic guru became finance minister to change the destiny of the country just by snapping his fingers. There were three individuals, though, who did not fall for this widespread illusion: Jahangir Tareen, Shireen Mazari and this writer.

I was fortunate indeed to get a chance to understand Asad Umar a few years back and I reached at the conclusion that he is not an expert of the economy but a politician of the Chanakya and Machiavelli breed. Although he presents himself as a professional economist, in reality he seems to be someone from the field of marketing. And in the field of marketing, the product he focuses on is his own self.

Unfortunately, even after becoming finance minister, he has continued to focus on self-marketing instead of the dwindling economy. Being a good strategist, he started to present a bleak picture of the economy so that he could establish his personal credentials and later on claim to be the saviour who brought the Pakistani economy out of the woods. He started to tell the world and the nation that the Pakistani economy was in a terrible condition. As a result, the people of Pakistan and investors abroad both lost trust in our economy.

It was probably Asad Umar who also got the prime minister to propagate on every national and international forum that Pakistan has the most corrupt people that its economy is in such a bad shape. This negative propaganda undermined the credibility of the people and economy of Pakistan and shattered the trust of international institutions and investors. Had we approached the IMF right from the start, the situation would have not gotten this out of control.

Now after eight months in government, our self-assumed expert says that the economy has come out of the ICU into the ward. But the fact is on the contrary: the staggering rise in inflation and unemployment, depreciation of the rupee in front of the dollar and deceleration of GDP growth has pushed the nation to the ICU from the ward.

I am no expert on the economy, but on the basis of the ground realities, I have realized that the economic conditions in this country are getting worse with each passing day. My home gas bill has never exceeded Rs4000, but it reached to Rs37,000 in February and Rs28,000 in March. Similarly, the medicine I used to buy for Rs200 is now available in the market for Rs350. In such a situation, how can I believe and claim that all is well on the economic front? In the prevailing economic scenario, showing a rosy picture of the economy needs the courage of Imran Khan and the slippery tongue of Asad Umar. I have neither of these.

All the economic experts – except Asad Umar – say that the economy is deteriorating. First, the Asian Development Bank and now the World Bank has presented a gloomy picture of our economy.

While I do not know much about the economy, I know that people like Dr Farrukh Saleem understand Pakistan’s economy more than Asad Umar. Dr Farrukh is not a critic of the PTI like us; he supported and contributed more to the PTI’s success in the last five years than Asad Umar. As recognition, Asad Umar appointed him spokesperson of the finance ministry. His analysis on the Pakistani economy is shocking. A glimpse of his insight about the current position of the economy could be read in one of his recent articles in these pages: ‘Is it working?’ (March 17, 2019) ).

Dr Farrukh Saleem has stated that in August 2018, the liquid foreign exchange reserves with the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) stood at $10 billion and had reached $15 billion after borrowing $3 billion from Saudi Arabia and $2 billion from the UAE. But as of March 8, 2019, liquid foreign exchange reserves with the SBP stood at $8.1 billion. Similarly, in August 2018, circular debt stood at Rs1.1 trillion. By January 2019, the circular debt had soared to Rs1.4 trillion and the PTI government added Rs260 billion in 137 days. Likewise, foreign investment during July-January FY2018 was $4.1 billion which shrunk to $1 billion in July-January FY2019.

In a nutshell, Pakistan’s economy is on a nose-dive due to glaring incompetency and mismanagement on the part of the government. The voters are shocked and the vote-counters are worried. Everyone is wondering seriously how long this can work.

The writer works for Geo TV.