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Monday November 29, 2021

Masses in a mess – searching for old Pakistan

October 25, 2021

Our country is going through multiple crises causing more worries and miseries in the life of a common man. The internal political polarisation is not serving the country and the politics is not for the people but to get the power.

Both the government and opposition have failed to sit together to reduce the everyday increasing miseries. Both sides have not been able to build a consensus to create a public-friendly agenda. The recent unprecedented non-stop devaluation of rupee has given irreversible damage to the quality of life here. The most recent price-hike has shocked every fellow Pakistani. The ministerial justification has no contingent arguments to justify the price-hike and the continued depletion of rupee and the demoralised statements of the government are further increasing the national depression.

We all remember the old good days when a common man and even students used to have qualitative food. The bad governance and incompetent financial teams have brought us to the unaffordable circumstance pushing the masses below the poverty line.

I am not playing politics here but advise the government in time to revisit economy, agriculture and industry of the country as these are the only ways to increase growth rate. Let us drive back in history and view how good life was when prices were reasonable and life was easy to live. The brothers and sisters of my age would remember that in the early 70’s, despite meagre resources, minimum wages/salaries, people belonging to all classes of society could afford to buy meat, fruits and other utilities of lives.

Since 2017, Pakistan is consistent crisis, be it energy crisis, economic crisis, Kashmir crisis, security crisis, health crisis or media crisis and political crisis. The American war on terror further destroyed our economy and halted foreign investment in the country. We have seen negative fallouts of the change of government and shift of power. Moreover, the factors making our economy even worse are the IMF programme, scrutiny by FATF, Indo-Pak relations, Kashmir crisis and inflation etc., and now the damages caused by coronavirus have further devastated the whole scenario.

Here is a brief picture of prices compared to the average pay of a common man. The average income of an unskilled worker in Pakistan during 2000-2005 was Rs2500-4000 while the rate of 1 dollar against Pakistan rupee was 52-60. The Average wages increased from Rs4000 to 8000 in the year 2005-2010 while the rate of the dollar went from Rs60-85. During 2010-2015, the rate of dollar went up from Rs85-105 in 2015 while the average salary raised from Rs8000-14000. This increase in salaries was engulfed by the ever-grown monster. In 2015, the rate was 105 while the next 5 years, saw a shooting surge in the price of a dollar and constant devaluation of our currency as it went from 105 to an all-time high of 162.5 in the history of Pakistan. While the rate of dollar increased this fast, unfortunately, the minimum wages remained stagnant with a negligible increase up to Rs17500 only. Today, the minimum wage of an unskilled worker is only Rs20,000 when the average price of electricity per unit in Pakistan is Rs15.53 per kilowatt-hour (as determined by Nepra). The electricity price per unit in Pakistan varies between Rs18 to 21 today with the new increase suggested by Nepra. This rate is just exclusive of the taxes mentioned below:

General Sale Tax (GST)@17% to all consumers, Electricity Duty@5% to all consumers, Finance Costing Surcharge@43 paisa per Unit (excluding lifeline consumers), Neelum Jhelum Surcharge@10 paisa per Unit (excluding lifeline consumers), TV fees@Rs35.

So, we can say that even if we take the least consumption of electricity by a poor household standing at 250-300 units per month, the average bill, including all the taxes, would still be around Rs5000-6000. If Rs6000 go in only electricity bill of a person earning about Rs20000, how will he be able to bear other expenses with the remaining amount?

While the people are already suffering a lot, the increase in rate of dollar to 173.5 has left everyone shocked and agonised. The fall of rupee and high inflation are correlated. The inflation and fall of rupee will continue to contribute to the price-hike. The survival of the masses in Pakistan has become next to impossible. For instance, if we pick and observe the unrealistic rise in price of just one basic commodity i.e. sugar, we will know how incompetent this government has been. The price of sugar that was at one-digit place in 2000 at 6 Rs/kg is unbelievably at 3 digits place today making it 115/kg and it is increasing non-stop.

With such ordinary and slight increase in the minimum wage of an unskilled common man, we expect from them to survive this era of drastic and rising inflation. It is easier for them to commit suicide instead. In this new Pakistan, people from middle-class households are living from hand to mouth even if all the members of the family are earning, let alone one person providing for the whole family.

I just feel that my old Pakistan was better than this so-called new Pakistan with hollow slogans which are just regressions only as we haven’t seen things getting this worse ever before. In old times, we would watch TV programmes sitting with families as these were completely without vulgarity and obscenity and projected our culture and values instead. But now the TV dramas by multiple channels are such that one cannot even think about watching them with family.

The parents are unable to afford the education for their children as school fees and expenses are beyond their reach. All the corrupt politicians and bureaucrats used to be deterred from FIA in the past, whereas today, even the NAB is unable to deter these corrupts elements as they have become immune to the threat of accountability and are not scared at all from inquiries and punishments.

Old Pakistan had values, morality and respect for elders as there was no element of drug addiction, whereas now, most of the youth are on ICE which is taking our youth back to Ice Age.

I feel scared to see the statistics of students with drug addiction as there are above 70 million young drug addicts in this new Pakistan. TikTok has brought in further vulgarity in our country and society seems to appreciate semi-covered bodies under the cover of modernism in my new Pakistan.

My old Pakistan had more human values and less corruption where corrupt ones were considered as the bad eggs of the society, whereas in new Pakistan, the corrupt manage forced respect out of their wealth and power of money. In new Pakistan, a corrupt lot from various mafias are forcing their way to the parliament as a status symbol which helps them to protect their ill-gotten money. The new Pakistan has enhanced the price of a senator to 50 crores which have seized the venues for genuine middle-class to be in the parliament.

Pakistan politics has been now reserved for mafias and electable, whereas the workers of the parties are left for political slogans. Is it democracy? Will the masses respect this system where their votes are sold for self-serving purposes? Pakistan is now reserved for the corrupt and mafias who manage to get away from the clutches of law with the influence of their dirty money. The wheels of money work in this country. The children of corrupt ones are self-proclaimed princes and princesses of our country who play in world casinos and flash their money more than the Arab sheikhs.

The same generation will be taking over the Capital to rule the country in their own corrupt ways causing more problems for the masses, while the poor people will be suffering more. Honestly speaking, the parliamentary system has promoted this culture. I feel Pakistan as a state heading towards bankruptcy. We can change our system where reasonable, honest and competent people take over the governance of the country.

Watching the interviews and feedbacks of common people shows that the public is fed up with new Pakistan which has given them nothing but more price-hikes, inflation, suicides, sufferings, worst law and order situation, crimes, vulgarity, drug addictions, uncontrolled depletion of currency, wide gap between rich and poor, diplomatic isolation and so on, you name it. I can put a series of undesirable gifts given by the handlers of new Pakistan to their people.

This slogan of new Pakistan now haunts the nation day and night. We have reached a point where the nation has only one demand and prayer which is getting back their old Pakistan enabling the nation to try to refurbish it for the coming generations to avoid further chaos, instability and deterioration.

In the end, I would like to advise the authorities let us follow the Chinese model of economy with high level of industrialisation and high-yield agriculture system. Every village and town needs to be mini industrial and IT zone.

Author Note: ‘The views expressed are solely mine and do not necessarily represent the views of my party.’

The writer is Former Interior Minister of Pakistan, author of five books, Chairman Institute of Research & Reforms (IRR) Islamabad/ Global Eye. He can be reached at: rmalik1212@gmail.com, Twitter @Senrehmanmalik, WhatsApp +923325559393