Budget pawns Pak future

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Rizwan Ghani

IT is clear from the media that PTI government has ‘midwifed’ IMF instructions as federal budget. So the PM’s economic team deserves congratulations for continuing neo-colonization; economic domination by powerful of another nation that is politically independent, but has a weak economy. It took a few dozen advisors in the corridors of power to build a mountain of debt so that Pakistan stays in western block. Back in Washington, their bosses must be satisfied with their teams work because there is no fear of George Floyd like ‘equality’ protests due to lockdown. The translation of foreign budget from English to Urdu was a very difficult task so our economic managers and their supporters deserve fat salaries, perks, and air vouchers. If pay of public has not been increased, it is not a problem because apples are only meant for thinkers just like George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’. Government can pull many such examples from history where public had to support the luxurious life style of their ‘thinking’ ruler. In Pakistan, we should welcome colonial style ruling where our rulers ‘reluctantly’ carry the yoke of ruling because ‘nature’ has chosen them to carry this burden (Darwin).
It brings us to rosary and maulana culture in Pakistan’s politics. Our western educated rulers, like their western counter parts, start brandishing rosaries as symbol of religion in public after assuming power. In May 2019, when Italian Interior Minister rolled rosary and entrusted Italy to heavenly powers at a rally attended by four far-right European leaders to remind Europe of its Christian roots. But, Italy’s religious establishment criticized him for invocation of God at a political rally ahead of European Parliament elections. In Pakistan, the same culture is being used to avoid accountability despite astronomical increase in crimes, corruption, cartels, and mafias. So is the furor over religion in America. Trump’s Bible photo op turned into Oops moment when he brandished “liberal choice’ Bible outside a conservative church as part of his election campaign. It was an attempt to appeal to his vote bank which media believes has abandoned him after his dismal handling of economy and pandemic at home, and shrinking role of US on world stage leaving US allies in wilderness. With Merkel taking control of Europe with look East €500bn EU economic recovery package, the four East European populist leaders and Trump allies to beg to save their failing economies while Italy jumped on the new EU bandwagon.
Such developments expose Pakistan government’s strategic policy failure in terms of getting loans written off due to the pandemic, failure to shift overall direction of economy from export based to domestic consumption based, and continuation of pro-west trade based foreign policy. Two countries in our region have already secured their geo-strategic interests by taking control of pivotal territories to protect their security, economy and trade which we have failed to do so far. It has prompted opposition to blame government for its failed foreign policy. No wonder our FM is covering Coronavirus. In terms of water and food security, there is small allocation for dams (Rs 70bn) and waterways (zero) which show they are not a priority. Government should explain how Pakistan will protect these areas amidst forecasts of water wars and food scarcity and knowing that every year we lose water equal to one Arabian Sea. With more than normal rains this season yet another opportunity will be lost. If government really wants to fulfil its millions of jobs promise then provision of agriculture water for south east could deliver the desired result due to closure of Satluj River after 1971 War. Since then political parties have failed to resolve water issue and revive economy in these areas. With sugar mafia there is little hope.
This story of destroying country’s agriculture goes on. The now chastised, squeaky clean architects of fertilizer mafia are making policies. Only Rs 50bn has been allocated for agriculture against Rs 200bn plus for Ehsas program and trillions for industry, trade and businesses. As per 2019-20 data, agriculture employs 42% workforce (services and industry 35% & 25% respectively. As per GDP by sector, services 61.5%, industry 19.7% and agri 19%. Despite government’s acknowledgement of export fall, domestic consumption based economy (DCBE), the budget is disproportionately skewed. Agriculture sector can fuel DCBE, create jobs and help achieve four per cent growth rate. Exports volume is same for the last five years as per Financial Advisor to PM so it makes sense to invest on DCBE with maximum support for agri-related value addition including dairy, fruit, produce, poultry and livestock meat and allied industries. It should absorb most if not all unemployed workforce thereby slashing Ehsas programme down to Rs20 bn from Rs208. It can help us cut our import 2019 bill (fuel$2bn, cotton $1.7bn, Steel $3.1bn).
The shifting of workforce from cities to rural areas will relieve pressure on mega cities, crime and police budget (Rs117bn) and other such mega expenses. Better management not privatization is way forward. No one mentions that Pak spent $3.1bn dollars on import of iron and steel in 2019. Why can’t make it locally and use Rs18bn to run the steel mill which experts said is required to restart it while keeping 10,000 jobs. China used SOE railway to develop and run bullet trains. It is serving billions of travellers daily. It has linked entire country and brought down poverty. Finally, China is giving 5G to villages to improve DCB economy and reduce cost of living. By investing in train service, 5G and block chain for tax collection, PTI can create jobs, expand revenue and have 4 percent GDP growth rate. The test starts with imposing 7 percent tax and ending all subsidies. But this will not be allowed to happen because aim is to hollow Pakistan in this unfolding power struggle in the region and so far the job is being well done. Budget is one more step in that direction.
—The writer is senior political analyst based in Islamabad.