Saturday May 18, 2024

Woes of resilience

By Dr Murad Ali
July 05, 2022

I came to Germany in the first week of June, thanks to a research fellowship awarded by Germany’s prestigious Alexander von Humboldt (AvH) Foundation (I must encourage Pakistani scholars to apply to AvH for the various fellowships offered by the foundation for lasting research and academic collaborations with German higher education/research institutes).

During the same period, fuel prices back in the homeland have broken all previous records. While citizens in Pakistan are asked to make sacrifices for the larger interests of the country to stabilize the nearly bankrupt economy, the ruling elites don’t care to mend their ways – showing how much our unfortunate country is an example of ‘elite capture’. This becomes worse when one observes how other countries have been progressing and investing heavily in the welfare of their citizens and how our government tries to snatch even the last morsel from the hands of our poor people.

Fortunately, my arrival to Germany also coincided with the government’s plan of the (in)famous nine-euro ticket – purchase a monthly ticket for just nine euros and you can travel all across Germany via trains, trams and buses. This ticket, however, is not valid for high-speed long-distance trains such as EC, IC or ICE. The nine euro ticket is acceptable in regional trains including RB and RE as well, which means one can travel to any German city using the same ticket but will have to change several trains and it may take longer to reach one’s destinations by exploiting the cheap ticket.

This is the first time that Germany, which is the largest economy in Europe and the fourth largest in the world, has adopted this remarkably innovative formula to provide some relief to its citizens and commuters. The nine-euro ticket is valid for a full month and the offer is for three months, ending on August 31. This is not only a tremendous relief for local people but also for tourists and international visitors like me. The offer has enabled passengers to spend less than ten US dollars a month, holidaymakers can travel any time anywhere for an entire month using local and regional public transportation systems comprising excellent buses, trams and trains.

The move is aimed to provide some relief to residents who have been distressed by increasing energy bills spurred by the reckless war in Ukraine. At the same time, the authorities also want to encourage Germans to more frequently use public transport and reduce reliance on cars and other modes of personal transportation. Termed ‘9 for 90’ (nine euros per month for 90 days), the government is providing a subsidy of about 2.5 billion euros to transport companies under the Energy Cost Relief Package to compensate them for the lost revenue caused by the scheme

When I phrased the scheme as ‘in(famous)’ I did so because there are also critical voices who assert that the public transport system is already overcrowded, and this offer has further aggravated the situation by putting additional burden on an already strained public transport system.

Of course, we cannot and should not compare the economies of Pakistan and Germany but I feel for the suffering of my country folk, more so for the poor. The current government, which seems clueless and which has been badly struggling to stabilize the fragile economy, puts the entire blame on the previous regime. The current political dispensation has repeatedly said that the ousted prime minister did not abide by the commitments made with the IMF and that the previous rulers continued to provide subsidies to the energy sector at the twilight of their regime to placate public sentiments.

While the previous Khan-led government is equally responsible for the economic mess it created during the last three years, the present government has also made the situation worse for the people. After assuming power following Khan’s ouster, the coalition government has thus far raised the price of petrol by almost Rs100 in just over a month. It had first raised the petrol price by Rs30 on May 26, followed by another price hike of Rs30 on June 2 and Rs24 on June 15 and then another increase of Rs14 on July 1. As a result, it has been estimated that overall inflation reached 21 per cent in June – the highest since the global financial crisis of 2008.

Some insightful comparisons here will not be out of place. For example, it is interesting to note that in 1980, Pakistan, in terms of income per capita, was 40-60 per cent wealthier than its three large neighbouring countries (India, China, and Bangladesh). According to one study, in 1960, Korea and Pakistan had similar per capita incomes of $100. In contrast, today Korea has a per capita income of about $31,500 and Pakistan is hovering around less than $1500. The same study states that in the late 1960s, Pakistan’s total exports exceeded the aggregate exports of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines. However, the situation is starkly different now and Pakistan is financially at the verge of collapse.

Although the Pakistani nation is widely lauded for being a resilient society, a country of over 220 million people begging at the doors of the IMF and ‘friendly’ countries for a few billion dollars gives one little optimism about the future of this country.

The writer holds a PhD from Massey University, New Zealand. He teaches at the University of Malakand.

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