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Sunday May 22, 2022

Poor economy

May 11, 2022

Khan continues to use the US regime change conspiracy slogan in every speech, and even in his tweets, to ensure people remain enraged about his exit.

This powerful narrative is only gaining momentum, and Khan’s popularity among Pakistanis, especially the youth, is building a powerful anti-US sentiment, putting constant pressure on the current Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) coalition government to call for early elections.

As all eyes remain on the political crisis, Khan has successfully diverted the nation’s attention from the economic turmoil his own government created. An easy way to distract Pakistanis from their economic woes was to raise the spectre of a foreign conspiracy. By endorsing politics of extreme resentment against opponents, inciting violence and mocking state institutions, Khan and his party managed to shift all the focus from his government’s miserable economic performance.

With the PTI in power, the country’s public debt, for the very first time in history, skyrocketed to a whopping $99 billion or Rs18 trillion, which paved the way for the fragile economy’s freefall. Adding more fuel to fire, the country’s inflation rate only witnessed an upward trajectory. In the last months of 2021, the PDM narrative to send Khan’s government home gained more political momentum, with the inflation rate remaining in double-digits for most parts of the year.

The upward trend started from 5 percent in January 2021 to touching a 20-month high of 11.5 percent in November 2021. In one interview, Khan himself acknowledged this with the fact that the soaring inflation rate did give him numerous sleepless nights. When asked about the steps his government took to contain the skyrocketing inflation rate, Khan went on record to say that he didn’t join politics to know the prices of potatoes and tomatoes.

To make matters even worse, the PTI government had empowered its politicized Tiger Task Force to monitor food prices, without any judicial or executive powers in place. According to the law, this was always the job description of district administrators, who kept their heads scratching after the inauguration of the force. In 2020, Senator Raza Rabbani, on the floor of the House, said that Mussolini in fascist Italy had created a very similar force. The opposition was never taken on board for any economic policy, even when the Covid-19 relief funds were being announced by the PTI government. There was never a shared consensus on any economic direction.

In September 2020, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who is also Pakistan’s newly appointed foreign minister, brought more than 12 democratic political parties on the same table to form the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), which aimed to end Khan’s government due to the country’s dire economic outlook. The eight-hour multi party conference ended on the constructive note that the opposition would explore all democratic options, including resignations from parliament or a no-confidence motion against former PM Khan. The latter option became more effective. Even though the PDM itself, for some time, became dormant due to internal differences, the movement inevitably became a hit in light of the country’s deteriorating economic conditions. The PDM’s work to oust Khan from his office started years ago, contrary to his argument of a US regime change conspiracy, which emerged only in April 2022.

Now as newly elected prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, vows to steer the country’s economic wheel out of grave danger, the PTI has managed to successfully bury all of its serial mismanagement in the economic sector behind without any scrutiny or accountability. With this narrative, Khan will be conveniently blaming the current government for any economic shockwaves the country witnesses in the near future. More so, he has endorsed politics of extreme resentment and hate among the people with the spectre of a foreign conspiracy. With polarizing politics inside the Pakistani parliament and even on the streets, the country’s economy is left on the ventilator.

The writer is a lecturer in foreign policy.

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