A familiar storm
Times may be different but the chain of events seems familiar. The political stage is all abuzz with familiar sloganeering; ‘this country is in crisis, rulers are too incompetent to lead, enough is enough, its sheer victimisation in the guise of accountability’..so on and so forth.
This is now the year 2020; two years after the general election. It all apparently triggered with the ‘March’ to Islamabad last year by JUI. PMLN and PPP were then halfhearted supporters of this political rally; but not anymore. Mutual fears and onslaught of accountability forced major opposition parties to take refuge under one umbrella; the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM); JUI Chief Maulana Fazal Ur Rehman being its leader.
After the initial confusion about rallies scheduling, PDM ironed out the differences and kicked off its sojourn with its first political rally at Gujranwala. The familiar fiery and angry rhetoric by the opposition and equally fiery counter allegations has led to a charged political arena for the weeks and months ahead.
Two weeks ago, an FIR lodged against 41 members belonging to PML-N by Shahdara Police, Lahore caused the political ripples in the country. The extreme allegation of sedition might have inadvertently benefitted the PMLN to advance its narrative of victimhood.
Rewind a bit to the year 2012-2014. Remember the arrival of Inqilab (revolution) in 2012 to save the state; “Siasat nahin Riasat Bachao” (Save the state, not politics) by Allama Tahir Ul Qadri. The next wave of this Inqilab shaped into joint rallies by PTI and PAT and resulted in camping at Islamabad during 2014 in a bid to pack up the sitting government. Election fraud in a few constituencies, narrated as 35 punctures, snowballed to the narrative of “illegal rulers” and “lutairay” etc. So, it became the self-proclaimed noble duty of the two patriotic parties to get rid of the then sitting government of PMLN. Fast forward to 2020; the target has changed but the noble cause remains almost the same. It is all too familiar even if you rewind it to the late 80’s and 90’s. It looks as if we have only travelled thirty odd years in a circle.
Sadly, beyond politics, the scenes on the economic front are too familiar as well. Public anger is raging on account of rising inflation. Prices of food items have increased by a whopping 60-80 percent on a yearly basis and in a few cases doubled as well. Wheat and sugar crises stirred political controversies last year. PM Imran Khan vowed not to spare the mafia as he passionately called out those involved in the wheat and sugar crises. Jahangir Tareen fell from grace and bowed out to rest, for the time being at least, in the UK. But the prices of sugar and wheat didn’t stabilise, rather rose to new heights. And here we are after about a year; the Cabinet has taken notice to control inflation and decided to take stern measures to tame prices in days!
The IMF has just released its World Economic Outlook 2020. It projects Pakistan’s growth rate at one percent, the average inflation rate at 8.8 percent, the current account deficit at 2.5 percent of GDP and unemployment rising by 0.6 percent to 5.1 percent during the current fiscal year. This is in sharp contrast with the targets; 2.1 percent GDP growth rate, 6.5 percent inflation and 1.5 percent current account deficit set by the government. It means a subdued economic growth rate for Pakistan coupled with the elevated rate of inflation and rising unemployment during the current fiscal year.
The country is slowly drifting into the same dilemma it experienced in the 90’s; a decade often dubbed a lost decade marred with low growth, stagnant economic output, low investments and rising public debt in the backdrop of continued political feuds. Structural problems are lingering as usual, such as economic reforms, circular debt and low revenue tax base. The government’s finance team is already into negotiation with the IMF to revive the postponed Programme. The familiar tough choices are on the table again; increase energy prices, reduce subsidies etc. IMF prescriptions are too familiar to us as one of the most frequent borrowers of the IMF.
So, here we are; again! The political scene is fully charged and temperatures are rising. The economy is fragile, struggling to recover from the impact of COVID-19 and under threat of a second wave. The country is up against the same old familiar storm. The tone set and positions dug by both opposing sides are sure not a good omen for the country. One can only wish that these gathering storms could be subdued with some lessons in sanity learnt from the past.