Common man’s blues!


Friendly Fire

Khalid Saleem

POST General Elections, the economic soothsayers and the tax-happy planners are having a field day in the Land of the Pure. Amidst the hullabaloo, the proverbial man-in-the-street is, meanwhile, learning to scrape through the hard way. Whether the latter manages to come through unscathed, or even survives the exercise, is the moot point. As things stand, portents have little to offer in the nature of consolation, least of all to the common man. It is only the lowly man-in-the-street one can easily identify oneself with. Bereft as he is of the knowledge of higher economics – macro or otherwise – and shorn of practically all that man is supposed to live by, his principle concern is less to achieve the next notch in ‘per capita income stakes’ and more to keep body and soul together until the next salvo. The question is: where does he go from here, if anywhere?
With the once rosy promises of the powers that be (“Pakistan would soon be among the Asian Tigers in terms of economic growth”) to go by, he should by all accounts be on velvet. And yet he somehow cannot help having this queasy feeling at the pit of the stomach that ‘all is not well in the Kingdom of Denmark’, and that his lot is sinking rather than rising. Meanwhile – looking at the macro picture – poverty keeps on increasing, just as the rich keep getting richer and richer. Add to this the fact that the economic whiz kids of this blessed land look forward to disposing of the family silver and you have a picture that is getting murkier and murkier with every passing day. All in all, the question that presents itself, begging for an answer is: is the micro-economy of the country moving hand in hand with its macro sibling? If not, then why not?
The portents hardly look promising. The price of property booms to high heavens; corruption touches hitherto unachieved highs and shopkeepers merrily keep on raising the prices of necessities at will. Sources of water supply – such as they are – are being polluted with impunity, just as the price of bottled water spirals upwards. Several hundred thousand children are denied places in public sector schools, while the Higher Education Commission pours billions into hare-brained schemes to produce – out of the hat – a handful of PhDs ( all in subjects of little import to a developing country like ours). The cost of living skyrockets, while the purchasing power of the common man constantly goes down.
What is the man-in-the-street expected to look forward to then? What does he give credence to: the hogwash of the statisticians/economists in the pay of the authorities, or the facts of life staring him in the face? The priorities of the nation appear to have gone horribly awry. Shouldn’t our planners – such as they are – be paying due attention to curing the ills that beset the common man, rather than nurturing of illusory statistics? Or maybe one is talking out of turn! How about a casual look over the shoulder, then? It came to pass not all that far back that the man-in-the-street was told that the country’s salvation lay down the CBM path. He swallowed the glib talk of the spin-doctors and the Foreign Office spokespersons – hook, line and sinker. Time and again, he was informed that there was more to the ‘composite dialogue’ than meets the eye. In his naiveté, he not only swallowed that line but also enthusiastically applauded every time the oracles informed him that there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
Now, he is left groping, wondering where the mirage of honourable peace with our neighbour that had been flashed before his tired eyes has vanished. All that he can discern is tattered bits of tape that had been used to paper-over the ever-widening cracks in the otherwise rotten edifice of the peace process. People are only what they have been brought up to be. Such is the way with all species. One can hardly expect fish to thrive in desert sands. The problem is the common man is asked to deal with not the natural environment but contrived and man-made conditions. When a section of the people are brought up in a bubble, so to speak, where the very atmosphere is conveniently controlled to the optimum degree, subjective rather than objective considerations take hold. Some babies born in the sterilized environment are now being weaned on ‘designer water’. Makes a sane person wonder: what on earth happened to natural clean drinking water? Is it necessary to pamper the multinationals to an extent that provision of clean drinking water figures nowhere in our set of priorities?
One cannot boast of being either an economist or a planner. Nonetheless, the school of life has taught one that no people can either survive or prosper on a diet of statistics alone. Mere figures thrust down the throats of hapless common folk just will not do. If statistics have to be quoted then let them be in a tangible, easy to assimilate form. When targeting the man-in-the-street, our advisers and planners should learn to eschew the habit of talking of macro or micro economic indicators or of strewing statistics in his path. Let the annual progress of the country be presented in simple, easily digestible, terms and not in complicated foreign jargon. The name of the game is to sort out betimes the day-to-day economic issues. Once this is accomplished, our planners may well discover to their astonishment that such ponderous issues as the economy’s growth-rate, the GDP and the like, will take care of themselves. It is the priorities that are awry!
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.

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