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October 4, 2020

Non-issues

Opinion

October 4, 2020

Who met whom, when and where? Who invited whom? What did they talk about? Did they talk about Maryam Nawaz? Will Mian Nawaz Sharif come back? Can the opposition bring people out onto the streets? How does any of this matter? Here are the five things that really matter: price of wheat flour, medicines, sugar, electricity and gas. Around 80 percent of Pakistanis end up spending more than 70 percent of their income on food.

What matters is that the price of wheat flour has gone up from Rs35 a kilogram two years ago to Rs65 a kilogram. What matters is that the price of medicines has gone up a whopping 200 percent in a matter of just two years. What matters is that the price of sugar has gone up from Rs55 a kilogram two years ago to Rs100 a kilogram. What matters is that electricity has gone up from Rs10 a unit to Rs17 a unit in just two years. Would prices come down if Mian Nawaz Sharif is brought back?

Inflation means more poverty. Two years ago, 70 million Pakistanis were living below the line of poverty. Now there are 90 million Pakistanis living below the line of poverty. This is what really matters. Yes, they should all meet but as a consequence of their meetings the accumulated burden on 90 million poor Pakistanis should come down – not go up.

We cannot do FATF without the ‘establishment’. We cannot do Gilgit-Baltistan without the ‘establishment’. We cannot do Karachi without the ‘establishment’. We cannot handle Saudi Arabia without the ‘establishment’. We cannot deal with China without the ‘establishment’. This creates a vacuum. Aristotle called it ‘horror vacui’ or nature abhors a vacuum – and the ‘establishment’ gets sucked into this vacuum. We have become a state that is in a state of perpetual conflict. For the 220 million Pakistanis, this is all a zero-sum game.

From non-issues we run to scapegoats. The ‘mafia’ has increased the price of sugar. The ‘mafia’ is the scapegoat here. The real issue here is that the government either has no policy or its policy has completely failed. The IPPs have increased the price of electricity. The IPPs are scapegoats here. The real issue here is that the government either has no policy or its policy has completely failed. Question: Why have we taken Rs15 trillion in new loans in the past two years? Answer: Because previous regimes were ‘corrupt’. Corruption is the scapegoat here. The real issue here is that the government either has no economic policy or its economic policy has completely failed.

From non-issues to scapegoats to duality of power. A ‘hybrid regime’ means unclear rules of the game. When the rules of the game are unclear, the system marches towards dysfunctionality. The powers that get sucked into the vacuum then increase the system’s hybridity. Increased hybridity means two things: one player becomes more visible and other players within the system get even more confused.

We are in a vicious circle of poverty – a ‘circular constellation of forces tending to act and react to one another in such a way as to keep Pakistan in a state of permanent poverty’. Let's go back to real issues. Put an end to our perpetual political conflicts. No scapegoating, please.

The writer is a columnist based in Islamabad.

Email: [email protected] Twitter: @saleemfarrukh