close
Advertisement
Can't connect right now! retry

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

January 29, 2020

Losing the plot?

Opinion

January 29, 2020

Prime Minister Imran Khan delivers a speech at the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, on January 22, 2020. 

In the past week as Prime Minister Imran Khan leapt up to the world stage in Davos, Switzerland, to rub shoulders with some of the world’s most influential figures – notably US President Donald Trump – Pakistan’s rank and file mourned yet another crisis back home.

The government’s utter failure to anticipate the unprecedented rise in prices of ‘atta’ in large parts of Pakistan became too compelling to be easily shoved under the carpet.

Mr Khan’s advice to one set of foreign audience, suggesting they block their eyes and ears to the media, profoundly highlighted the top leaders’ failure to proverbially read the writing on the wall. And one among his most outspoken lieutenants, Sheikh Rashid (the railways minister), yet again took the lead in uttering possibly one of the most absurd lines from recent memory.

That Pakistanis consumed more ‘roti’ during the chilling winter months-November and December, to cause a severe shortage was how Rashid chose to cover up one of the most brutal shortages from recent memory. Taken together, as the prime minister seeks to put his eye on one foreign policy ball after another, he faces a fundamentally challenging question – has the lost the plot? Since he rose to take charge of Pakistan less than two years ago, the broad image of the country today shows few signs of the yearning for change promised by the prime minister.

In this relatively short time frame, the ever yawning gap between the ambitions of Pakistan’s key leaders and the reality surrounding the country has become far too serious to be easily ignored. As Pakistan’s Cambridge educated Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi set off on a so-called peace mission to break a deadlock between Iran and Saudi Arabia, queues of consumers jam-packed already crowded markets in search of ever less affordable wheat flour or ‘atta’.

In a matter of a few weeks, the price of ‘atta’ had sky rocketed, rising 50 percent or more in many neighborhoods. Once again, the government jumped in the fray promising to tackle the crisis to bring relief to the people of Pakistan. And yet, to date there are few answers to the baffling riddle on exactly why the crisis emerged in the first place.

Ali Zaidi, the outspoken PTI minister from Karachi went on a talk show on GEO TV to unravel a rare admission of failure from the official ranks. Referring to the ill-advised choice of exporting the existing wheat stocks late last year without anticipating the coming shortages down the line, Zaidi’s public remarks have further deepened what is already a compelling impression of a government without its finger on the national pulse.

The crisis has many dimensions. On the one hand, there is indeed evidence of failure to foresee at the federal level. On the other hand, the ever worsening quality of governance across Punjab – once known as Pakistan’s all too precious bread basket – has indeed spoiled the official capacity to tackle the challenge. Meanwhile, the crisis surrounding some of Pakistan’s key crops notably wheat, cotton and to some extent rice shows few signs of a bold policy response from the government to set the pace for a qualitatively improved future. In brief, the agriculture sector shows little evidence of a concerted push to address some of the toughest challenges surrounding the matter of Pakistan’s food security.

At the end of the day, its far from clear if Prime Minister Khan has a workable plan to solve issues on multiple fronts faced by his government. The effects of mounting inflation during his tenure have come to cause more than just an average pinch across ordinary households. With inflation hovering above 12 percent, its hard to imagine exactly how the central bank will settle for the reduced interest rates that many business leaders consider a necessary prerequisite to kickstart the economy. Clearly, the plot seems to be lost at least for now.

The writer is an Islamabad-basedjournalist who writes on political andeconomic affairs.

Email: [email protected]