Saturday May 28, 2022

Countrywide protests against high prices

The PDM and PPP held separate protests against the continuous rise in prices of petroleum products and edibles on Friday

By Bureau report & Muhammad Anis & News Report & Our Correspondent
October 23, 2021

KARACHI/LAHORE/PESHAWAR/ISLAMABAD: Opposition parties took to the streets in various cities across Pakistan on Friday to put pressure on the government amid surging inflation in the country.

Protest rallies and demonstrations were held in cities, including Karachi, Larkana, Lahore, Sukkur, Mardan, Jacobabad, Mohmand district, Ziarat, Mingora and others.The Pakistan Democratic Movement and Pakistan People’s Party on Friday separately organised protests against the continuous rise in prices of petroleum products and edibles and said that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s federal government had pushed the country to the brink of economic collapse because of its anti-people policies.

As a part of its nationwide 15-day-long anti-government campaign against inflation and the recent hike in prices of petroleum products, the PDM, an alliance of opposition parties, organised a protest at the Empress Market, Saddar, Karachi.

PDM head and Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam-Fazl’s supremo Maulana Fazlur Rehman had cancelled his visit to Karachi because of the death of the party’s senior leader Haji Shamsur Rehman Shamsi in Peshawar, the party leaders told ‘The News’. Addressing the participants of the PDM’s protest rally held after the Friday prayers, the JUI-F’s central secretary general and former deputy chairman Senate Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haidri said that the government had snatched the bread from the people with increased prices.

“The country is facing its worst crisis as the government has failed to control the economic and security issues,” Haidri said, adding that inflation has forced people to commit suicide. He said that the current government had pledged to offer one crore jobs but only in Islamabad, they have expelled around 16,000 people from jobs in one day.

The JUIF leader also said that against anti encroachment drive, the government was evicting the residents and making them homeless. Other speakers, including Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Sindh leaders Shah Muhammad Shah and Nihal Hashmi, and the Jamiat-e-Ulema Pakistan chief Shah Owais Noorani, said that the poor could not pay their house rent, utility bills or buy edibles.

Due to the “corrupt” PTI government, the poor is becoming poorer and the rich getting richer, they said. They also said that prior to the last general elections Imran Khan had publicly announced to commit suicide instead of going to the IMF. He said the federal government was following the IMF dictates. They also said that the PDM would continue its protest campaign against the government till it overcame inflation and unemployment.

Separately, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah said that prices of essential and basic food items have increased to such an extent that people have been forced onto the streets to protest against the defective socio-economic policies of the “selected ruler” inducted in Islamabad. Shah, along with his cabinet members, advisors, special assistants, and coordinators, attended the protest rally the PPP organised against the price hike at Dawood Chowrangi.

Shah said that the prices of essential commodities and basic food items such as flour, ghee, vegetables and pulses have been increased to such an extent that people could not afford two square meals. “The hunger and helplessness have forced the people to stage protests to send the selected ruler back home,” he said. “This poor country cannot afford such a naïve, inefficient and ineffective prime minister,”he said.

CM Shah said that Pakistan was a poor country and its economy had no space to absorb inefficient and ill conceived policies which were bound to snatch bread and butter from the commonman. He [prime minister] used to say that if the price of a dollar goes up by one rupee it means the ruler was corrupt and thief,” the chief minister recalled and said during his tenure dollar has gone up by over Rs50 and now people of this country have to decide who is corrupt and thief.

The CM said that he [PM] has spent his entire life out of the country and he has no first-hand knowledge of the poverty in Pakistan. “He has a very limited vision to frame the policies and his further stay in power would destroy the country, therefore he should be ousted,” he said. Shah said that keeping in view the plight of the poor people, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto has asked the party to stage protest rallies against price hike and ill conceived economic policies in every city.

Shah said that PPP alone could steer the country out of the present socio-political crisis. “Bilawal Bhutto would lead the country to bring good to the poor,” he said. “Only true people’s leaders like Bilawal Bhutto were capable to frame pro-poor policies.”

PPP General Secretary Sindh Waqar Mehdi and other leaders also addressed the rally and criticised the PTI government for its policies. The protesters raised slogans against the federal government and demanded the removal of the prime minister. Women also participated in the protest rally carrying bread (roti) in their hands to show that they could not afford it.

In Lahore, PMLN members staged a protest at the Jain Mandir Chowk while carrying utility bills and ‘rotis’ (bread) in their hands. Akin to that, party members in Muzaffargarh started a protest rally from Central Jamia Masjid to Qanwan Chowk. Members of the Jamaat-e-Islami also staged a protest in front of the Muzaffargarh Press Club during which they chanted slogans against inflation.

PMLN’s Qari Saifullah Saifi led the protest in Murree. When the protesters reached the city’s Mall Road, many tourists also joined in.

Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly and PMLN President Shehbaz Sharif appealed to the masses and asked them to join the protest against growing inflation in the country. He maintained that giving any more time to the government means that people will have to face more troubles, more inflation and more unemployment.

“The economic condition of the country and its people would not improve unless we get rid of this tyrannical government,” said Shehbaz, as he directed party leaders of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) to ensure cooperation with civic and business organisations and people’s associations and appealed to the people to join the nationwide protests against inflation. Addressing a rally of protesters, PMLN leader Saad Rafique said that PTI has “destroyed a progressing Pakistan.”

Hundreds of PMLN and other PDM parties’ workers led by MNA and PMLN Bahawalpur Division President Ch Noorul Hassan Tanveer staged a protest demonstration against price hike outside the Fareed Gate. The demonstration was addressed by MNA Ch Noorul Hassan Tanveer, MPA Malik Khalid Mehmood Waran, Dr Rana Muhammad Tariq, Deputy Mayor Bahawalpur Municipal Corporation Malik Muneer Iqbal Channar, JUIF Muhammad Aslam Advocate and others. A large number of people also protested on the Dera Shahbaz Khan Road in Kasur.

Meanwhile, the opposition political parties staged protest rallies in Peshawar and other parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to express anguish at the price-hike and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government’s failure to control the situation. The activists of Jamaat-e-Islami Youth Peshawar staged a protest which was led by Peshawar district president Ateequr Rahman. The participants of the rally brought out a symbolic funeral procession of the government during the protest. The protestors were also holding party flags, banners and placards inscribed with slogans against the rulers. The protest started from the historic Mahabat Khan mosque and after passing through different routes the protestors reached Hashtnagri where they staged a public meeting.

The JI district president flayed the rulers for making life miserable for the people through unbearable hike in the prices of essential items. He said the government had proved to be a total failure. The incompetent rulers did not have the capacity to improve the economy of the country, he said and added that the International Monetary Fund and World Bank literally controlled the economy of the country. He said the prices of items of daily use had gone out of the buying capacity of the common man and the people were compelled into committing suicides.

The JUI-F staged a protest at the Pishtakhara Chowk on the Ring Road. Mufti Naeem Jan led the protest. The protesters marched from Bara Road to Pishtakhara Chowk. They were carrying banners and placards inscribed with slogans against price-hike and inflation. Mufti Naeem Jan, Zahir Shah Advocate and Malik Noshad Khan said the PTI government had failed on all fronts. The speakers lamented that the high prices of the essential items had made life miserable for the common people.

In Mansehra, PDM’s two major component parties — JUI-F and PMLN took out a rally against the high inflation and unemployment. “The country has witnessed the highest ever inflation and unemployment. If the government does not withdraw the current hike in petroleum products prices and electricity and natural gas tariffs, we will launch a countrywide agitation for the early general elections,” PMLN central vice-president Sardar Mohammad Yusuf told the protest rally.

Another rally, taken out from the central mosque at the Abbottabad road, culminated at the Khatm-e-Nabuwat Chowk after marching through Abbottabad, Kashmir and Shinkiari roads. “How can rulers control such high inflation as they are corrupt and patronising sugar, wheat flour, cement and other mafias?” asked Sardar Yusuf. He said people were finding it difficult to arrange meals and the education of their children. Speaking on the occasion, former senator and provincial naib emir of JUI-F, Maulana Haydayatullah Shah said that days of the corrupt and fascist government were numbered.

In Bisham, PMLN provincial chief Amir Muqam led the anti-price-hike protest in Alpuri in the Shangla district. The JUI-F workers blocked the GT Road at the Shobra Chowk in Nowshera to stage a protest against the rising inflation, joblessness and lawlessness. JUIF leaders, including district deputy general secretary Qari Riazullah and others, led the protesters.

In Mardan, the protesters started gathering at the city’s Kachehri Chowk, while in Gilgit, members of the PMLN, as well as JUIF, participated in the protest rally at Ittihad Chowk. Rallies were also taken out in other areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said that the scourge of high inflation has harmed the prosperity of Pakistan. Bilawal said in a statement that the common man is facing misery due to the policies of the PTI. “Imran Khan is responsible for the current situation across the country” and claimed “the PPP alone can take the country out of crisis,” he added. He said the anti-inflation protests by the PPP across the country is a democratic move and added the scourge of inflation has destroyed the prosperity. The PPP chairman said that today the common man is being crushed through inflation due to ill conceived economic policies of the PTI-led government. “PPP’s economic policies can improve the life of the common man. Today, the PPP workers have come out to express the sentiments of the people by holding protests against inflation.”

Meanwhile, the government came under criticism in the National Assembly for devaluation of Pakistani currency against dollar as PMLN parliamentary leader Khawaja Asif said the governor of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) be given a shut-up call for giving political statements instead of talking about monetary policies.

The National Assembly session on the last day faced lack of quorum soon after the question hour and had to be prorogued before time. The issue of devaluation of currency came under discussion when the treasury benches defended monetary policies of the government, holding the PML-N government responsible for keeping the rate of Pakistani rupee at an artificial level.

Khwaja Asif said that two days back, the SBP governor gave a statement that the devaluation of rupee is benefitting six to seven million overseas Pakistanis but he was cruel enough to ignore the plight of 220 million Pakistanis living in their country. The PML-N leader said it was a political statement on the part of the State Bank governor who should only talk about the government’s monetary policies. “If he desires to give political statements, he should contest elections and come to this house,” he said and pointed out that it was on record that Prime Minister Imran Khan while in opposition used to say that the foreign loans burden increases by billions of rupees if the currency is devalued by one rupee. “The State Bank governor is presenting a different scenario while Imran Khan while standing on container used to say that foreign loans increase due to depreciation of currency.

Khwaja Asif alleged that people like the SBP governor act like IMF liquidators for Pakistan and he is not running the State Bank, rather he is rendering the country as bankrupt. “Such people will leave the country and we the elected representatives will have to be answerable to people,” he said, regretting that there is no mechanism for accountability of these people. He said the country has become bankrupt while the foreign loans burden has reached an unbelievable level. He told the House that the State Bank governor was also called to the Public Accounts Committee where he refused to respond to queries about hot money worth three billion dollars. “Unknown people were allowed to make earning at the interest rate of over 13% and then the same money was sent abroad,” he said. Khwaja Asif said the SBP governor just told the PAC meeting that it was a secret as to who owned the hot money.

PML-N member Qaisar Ahmed Shaikh observed that by increasing the rate of dollar from Rs 120 to Rs 175, the government has played havoc with the national economy. Parliamentary Secretary for Commerce Aliya Hamza Malik said the economy is going in the right direction and the government knows what should be done. She said imports increased due to import of spare parts for the country’s auto industry and IT industry and COVID-19 vaccination and other related equipment. “If the opposition says, we will stop importing wheat and sugar,” she said and added the country’s exports crossed the figure of over 25 billion dollars last year due to prudent polices of the government. She said gas prices have been rationalized for export-oriented sectors. She said 50 per cent relief in electricity tariff for small and medium enterprises was granted till June this year and customs duty of two per cent on 1623 tariff lines has been removed. She said duties on 112 tariff lines have been reduced to implement the “Make in Pakistan Initiative”.

Federal Minister Omar Ayub said the PML-N government got 23.6 billion dollars loan and the incumbent government had to pay nine billion dollars in interest on it. “The interest on those foreign loans makes 90% of our total debt servicing every year while the PML-N government also kept dollar rate at Rs 100 artificially,” he said and pointed out that the PML-N government left foreign exchange reserves sufficient for only two weeks. “The PPP government was better than the PML-N government which left two months foreign exchange reserves,” he said.

Meanwhile, the House was informed that the value of Pakistani rupee depreciated against dollar during the current fiscal year from Rs 157.54 per dollar in June 2021 to Rs 172.78 per dollar on October 18, 2021, reflecting a depreciation of 8.8pc. This is in contrast to rupee’s appreciation of 6.7 per cent in FY-21. The movement in rupee is primarily a reflection of the balance of payment position of the country. During the first two months of the current fiscal year, the current account has recorded a deficit of $2,290 million compared to a surplus of $838 million in the same period last year.

The House was informed that since May 2019, Pakistan has adopted a market-based flexible exchange rate system, where the exchange rate is determined by the market demand and supply conditions and the trend in the exchange rate is generally a reflection of external balance of payment conditions of the country.

Responding to a question, Prime Minister’s Adviser on Parliamentary Affairs Baber Awan said the government has taken various steps for reviving economy, accelerating pace of economic growth and creating employment in the country. He said the government took several initiatives which include a construction package, a textile package, Kamyab Jawan initiative, employment generation through CPEC and Pakistan’s Green Stimulus Package to strengthen the economy. He said despite all constraints, around 2.32 million jobs were created in the first year of the government.