There are no two opinions about the fact that the country at the moment is in a serious economic crisis. It is also an undeniable reality that an economic meltdown does not happen all of a sudden. It is a cumulative effect of internal and external factors over a long period and the policies pursued by incumbent governments to handle the economy.
The success of the government in this regard is not only reflected through micro and macro indicators but also via the positive change in the economic situation of the people. That is the internationally agreed touchstone of evaluating economic performance of a government.
A dispassionate appraisal of the economic meltdown reveals that the entire blame for it rests with the PTI government which was ousted a month ago as a result of a no-confidence motion against former prime minister Imran Khan. While it is true that the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic, which affected the economies of the entire world, also had a negative impact on our economy, the government actually had no clue as to how to deal with the economic challenges, as is evident from its frequent change of guards at the Ministry of Finance and the launching of over-ambitious populist projects which had no relevance to the available resources to finance and implement them in the desired manner.
It is an unfortunate reality that successive governments in Pakistan, particularly elected ones, have shown irresistible propensity to pursue populist policies rather than persisting with necessity-driven economic initiatives promising long-term sustained growth. On top of it all, the rampant corruption in the higher echelons of the governments had an irretrievable adverse impact on the economic situation of the country. The government resorted to reckless borrowing from internal and external sources to keep things going which eventually kept swelling the foreign debt. The fact that successive governments have invariably been seeking IMF bailouts tells the whole story.
The PTI government was the worst as far as borrowing was concerned. While all governments from 1947 up to 2018 accumulated foreign debt to the tune of Rs24953 billion the PTI government within three and half years rule increased it to Rs42725 billion. The recorded GDP growth in 2018 was 6.1 per cent while in 2022 it stands at 4 per cent. Fiscal deficit of Rs2260 billion in 2018 increased to Rs.5600 billion. The dollar-rupee parity was 116 in 2018 and it jumped up to 189 in 2022. Inflation rate stood at 3.9 per cent in 2018 while it shot up to 13 per cent in 2022.
The number of unemployed in 2018 was 3500,000 and in 2022 the figure has gone up to 9500,000. Transparency International ranked Pakistan at 117 in its corruption perception index ranking in 2018 while it slipped to 140th place in 2022. The phenomenal increase in the prices of daily use, poultry, vegetables, sugar, flour and other items made the lives of the poor extremely miserable. People were heard crying and praying for the downfall of the PTI government.
Those who understand these issues and realities feel flabbergasted when they hear PTI stalwarts putting the blame for all the economic ills on a government which is hardly one month old and even not yet complete, thanks to some unconstitutional and illegal steps that the PTI has taken and continues to take to hamper full functionality of the new government. The precarious economic situation undoubtedly is a legacy of the PTI government. It will take a long time to fix the economic aberrations. These issues cannot be tackled with a magic wand. In the economic domain, miracles do not happen.
The incumbent government is faced with enormous challenges and really finds itself in a fix. It will have to take tough decisions dictated by economic realities at some political cost but there is no other option available to it. I feel sorry for the people who have been bearing the brunt of the run-away inflation and will have to endure it further in the days to come, if the economy is to be revived and put on the path of sustained growth.
It is said that economic growth and prosperity to a great extent depends on political stability in the country, which unfortunately was missing during the PTI’s rule. Political rivalry was transformed into political enmity and battle lines were drawn. The opposition leaders were implicated in corruption cases which were never proven in the courts of law. The apex court and the high courts while hearing cases on corruption references repeatedly remarked that NAB was being used for political engineering, which dented the credibility of the so-called accountability process. The permeating situation led to all the opposition parties coming together to orchestrate the downfall of the government which they eventually achieved through a constitutional process.
Instead of accepting his ouster in a graceful manner, Imran Khan has chosen to consign the country to further political instability. He has been running around the country to address public rallies and trying to create the impression that the whole world, including the US, opposition parties, the establishment, judiciary and ECP were part of a conspiracy to oust him from power. He has also come up with yet another conspiracy theory regarding his assassination.
Imran is a leader in his own right and in that capacity he must play a role in uniting the nation rather than creating chaos and political instability in the country which it can ill-afford. He must realize that there is always a next time. He should give up distributing certificates of traitors to his opponents because in doing that he is actually insulting the people who voted for them. He needs to be aware of the fact that those parties put together obtained far more votes than polled by the PTI. He also does not stand on a higher moral pedestal than others in view of the fact that he also has a myriad of skeletons in his cupboard and is surely not qualified to call people traitors and challenge their religious credentials.
The reality is that Imran made a slew of compromises to form his government. He accepted people whom he had been calling the most corrupt and pursuing an anti-Pakistan agenda. Even now he is surrounded by people who have extremely dubious credentials. He even accepted the MQM into his fold notwithstanding the fact that he had been accusing it of being anti-Pakistan. Now that it has changed sides, he has again started castigating and accusing it of having assassinated police officers that took part in the crackdown against the party. So where is the morality he relishes mentioning while standing on the container? His so-called jihad is power politics at its worst which is going to cause irretrievable damage to Pakistani polity.
Immediate elections are not the solution unless electoral reforms enjoying the consensus of all political parties are carried out and other contentious issues are resolved. That requires political dialogue between all political forces. For that, Imran will have to climb down from his egoistic pedestal. Politics is the art of the possible and he is trying the impossible.
He can be reached at: ashpak10@ gmail.com
The writer is a freelance contributor.
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