Artcile by: Ishtiaq Ali Mehkri
Notwithstanding a jittery state of governance by Prime Minister Imran Khan – at least to this day, I’m a firm believer in his capabilities to turn around! I nurse this faith in him as I have idolised him since my days of childhood, as he was a celebrity-at-heart. He is upright and impeccable in his public career. Now, while he reigns supreme at the helm of affairs, what people like me — who hail from the downtrodden and middle class — expect from him is to deliver in the common man’s context by uplifting the state of the economy, and ushering in a new spirit of reinvigorated lifestyle.
The vision for a New Pakistan is still in the woods, at least after two years in power. The point of concern is the economy. It is showing signs of stagnation. But there is a flip side, too. The State Bank, FBR, SECP, FIA, and other auxiliary governmental bodies stand empowered. This is no small achievement. The government has rectified its foreign policy direction to a great extent, and geopolitical security is at all times satisfactory.
But the problem lies in micro-economic management, and it is tatters! In the macro-economic context; corrective measures include foreign exchange regulations, buoying the confidence of expatriates, and boosting exports. The debt-servicing enigma too has been dealt prudently.
The point is there is a severe imbalance as far as issues of the common man are concerned. Inflation is persistent at neck-break speed; unemployment is rampant, and prices of essential commodities are at all time high. There is no monitoring of market forces, and the so-called mafia-cum-cartel is playing havoc.
Imran Khan had ingrained this fear, and was quite conscious of before coming into power. It is surprising to note that he and his able-Cabinet now sit pretty confused and inundated as from petrol to kerosene oil, and from sugar to wheat, as well as fresh vegetables and fruits see a price spiral. Lest to talk of cement and water hydrants (in Karachi, at least)!
A cartel continues to have the last laugh. The so-called ‘truth commissions’ and ‘investigations’ are uncalled for! The truth is quite ugly and blatant: the mafias (vultures) are scot-free and unfortunately drive power from the orbits of governance.
The status quo of the 42nd largest economy of the world in terms of GDP:
*The country is indebted under an external debt of around $98 billion.
- Around 58 percent of Pakistanis are illiterate.
- More than 50 percent live in abject poverty; and that too with an income of less than $2 a day (Rs320 average).
- Inflation is 8.91 percent.
- Unemployment, too, is now in double digits.
- Seventy percent of people are denied safe drinking water (World Bank estimates).
- 25 percent live with unsanitary drainage and contaminated water.
- 70 children die per 1000 newborns (child mortality and midwifery problem).
- Less than 24 percent have access to government hospitals; the rest at the mercy of the private sector.
So much so for a country which is a nuclear power, an agrarian economy, rich in grain basket, four-prospective seasons, abundance of water flow down the stream, stuffed with minerals and precious stones of all kinds; and last but not the least that sits on a basin that is rich in oil and gas beneath its shores and mountainous southwest. Yet we are out eagerly looking for bailout packages from the international lenders, at the cost of our sovereignty and self-respect.
The reason for this dismal state of affairs is corruption, misappropriation of resources, and an ad hoc system of outsourced governance. This is where Prime Minister Imran Khan, the heartthrob of the millennial, is supposed to act. Though he has a vision for a better tomorrow and is selflessly working on it; it won’t be a success story until he shuns the extra-baggage around him, and meticulously differentiates wheat from the chaff!
It’s high time for him to listen to critics; and not to sycophants. A learned fellow like him must indulge in introspection. He stood for change; and change is indispensable. What he is doing at the moment is smart governance against all odds. Imran Khan – the one youth voted for – was not supposed to rule, but to rewrite a new social contract. Irrespective of his wafer-thin majority, there are hundreds of steps that he could take well within his executive powers to ensure a renaissance of sorts.
Let’s take a stock of few humble suggestions:
- Pakistan faces a severe foreign exchange reserves problem. Thanks to Non-Resident Pakistanis (NRPs), the country is time and again able to save its skin because of the remittances that come it’s way. This confidence of overseas Pakistanis needs to be protected and pampered.
- Do away with luxury imports of all kinds for the next 10 years; be it automobiles; food and beverage, undesired electronic gadgets, edibles, fabrics, and even plastic and iron products. This can only be done by declassifying the taste of the nation and rationing its requirements. A rough estimate says that Pakistan footed a staggering bill of $40 billion last year in imports. This import fascination should come to an end, and rest assured we will not die without it!
- The country is in need of industrialization, and there is no dearth of local talent, expertise, and raw material. Pakistan is among the few of the rich countries in the country that could conveniently boast agrarian-industrial production. But we lack infrastructure and local production units, and taxation on industries is draconian. GST and other surcharges on industrial produce should be scrapped in order to follow the Chinese module of mass production. The country will turn rich in essence and become an export hub.
- Austerity should go beyond lip-service and find a place in our national ethos. Pakistan has an undesired non-developmental budget, and most of it is meant to retain the status quo. That includes a number of unwanted ministries and divisions (many are name-sake); a gang of white and blue-collar civil servants (deadwood by any means), and dozen-or-so allocations in the budget that are borne out of a culture of despotism.
- Through an executive order backed by law, the state should immediately attaché properties and bank assets of convicts in corruption cases and realize their money for retiring foreign debt. Enough of this cat and mouse game of trial and crying foul. The law should take its course, and all those who had looted and misappropriated national wealth should be held accountable. No two arguments in it!
- There is no need to be irked or kick-start a debate in nationalism if one goes on to ask for a review in the defense budget. We are a nation together; and high time to be realistic. There is a scholarly need to bifurcate the defense budget in combat and non-combat expenditures. While there can be no compromise in national security, thus there is no point in discussing the allocation for a defense that goes into safeguarding the frontiers and retaining our vibrant and rejuvenated armed forces. But at the same time, a poor country like Pakistan should review the on-service kingly perks and privileges, and other post-retirement deals that the civil and military bureaucracy is laden with.
- A nation of 200 million cannot go on for ages with its wheel-of-economy being rotated on imported oil. We have to seriously ponder over alternate sources of energy in our developmental index. Oil and petrol imports (irrespective of subsidies and deferred payments from our foreign friends) take away our hard-earned greenbacks. The paradigm of commutation, logistics, and production needs a critical reassessment.
- Time to ask why our mineral deposits in Balochistan, Sindh, and Gilgit-Baltistan, especially, not being excavated to this day? What about our oil and gas channels (proven By World Geological Survey) beneath the barren Balochistan terrain? When will they be tapped? What happened to the euphoria of oil discovery off the shores of Karachi? What nexus of conspiracy is hindering its exploration?
The above submissions should elicit a response from the Prime Minister. They are up for perusal and good judgment under his legitimate powers!
Prime Minister Imran Khan should realise why many of his stand- ing orders end up in limbo! Why is price-control an enigma? Who are the cahoots trying to fail the illustrious agenda of change? Are they inside the Cabinet, well-cushioned in bureaucracy or wheel- er-dealers in the corridors of power? Time to unmask and dethrone them!
Mr. Prime Minister addresses the micro-economic indicators on a personal and war-footing basis. Don’t leave it to Tigers and Wolves. It would be a joke in bad taste! The nation has reposed trust in you: curb inflation, boost employment, and ensure two square meals for all well within their means. No need to lecture the destitute on history and evolution. Do whatever you want in your powers, but please break the status quo. Time is on your side.