PDM rallies, to be candid and fair, did not attract the kind of public response they claim; video footage would speak for itself if placed in a split screen alongside Benazir’s showing on her return to Pakistan 35 years ago, and Imran Khan’s lone showing in 2011 at the same venue; In-house PDM reservations over PML-N leadership’s performance to muster the gathering, says the rest. But this is no cause for comfort for the sitting Government which is still groping on the economic front; with principal Arab monarchies ditching it at critical moments on flimsy grounds, and the IMF forever urging further screwing of already battered common man as a precondition to any further aid package; latest raising of petrol and energy prices pointing to hapless Government compliance.
With ginger officially priced at Rs 880/- per kg, farm eggs at Rs 189/- a dozen, broiler chicken, wheat flour, sugar, pulses and vegetable registering a 50 to a 100 % hike and the open market charging at will, the helpless common man’s buying power slashed by 60% with steep devaluation of the Pak Rupee, all this cannot be attributed to the past rulers as is being stated ad nauseam by the PTI Government. On top of it, when Government of the day claims to be bringing prices down, the common man dismisses the claim with contempt as it has had enough from all rulers past and present. New incumbents are voted to power precisely to deliver to the common man what others could not, and instead of blaming the past must, get on with a plan if they had one worked out when deciding to vie for people’s representation.
It amounts to rubbing salt on badly bruised wounds when the Prime Minister every other day directs his battery of Cabinet Ministers to reach facilities to the common man and boost tourism, none of which is happening. With the tragic separation of Pakistan’s eastern wing and a free fall of the Pak Rupee then; the national kitty desperately starved of FE Reserves, required drastic measures to resurrect the Economy. It was perhaps this realization which prompted Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to nationalize industries hoping that the public sector employees would deliver to the national exchequer what was being siphoned off into a few privileged and influential pockets.
The measure though well intended, was badly executed as the public servants instead, turned this opportunity into self-seeking worker’s Movements with their Unions making demands but delivering nothing, and ZAB’s Government failing to rein in on unbridled Labour Unions bringing industries to a grinding halt besides his handling of the political crises he unwarrantedly invited, which eventually resulted in vested interests removing him from the scene. The Sharifs during their stints took some face lifting measures building motorways, air terminals, underpasses and overheads in major towns, but their farm to market roads and bridges instead of serving the farmer became a bounty for the middleman skimming major part of the earning by creating cartels leading to uncontrolled prices which the present Government is finding hard to break.
Ever since 1972 prior to which 4.7 Pak Rupees held parity with a US dollar, it registered an over 90% fall during Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s 1st tenure climbed to RS 8.68 in 1972 after the East Pakistan debacle, since when it has been on a constant decline. The second big bash has occurred in PTI’s tenure with another 60% lowering of its value by the State Bank. Continued bashing of the Pakistani currency due to its dismal economic policies, is evidenced by Bangladesh born out of Pakistan and considered a basket case by its then leadership, whose official currency ‘Taka’ rated at half the Pak Rupee on separation, today stands at nearly double its value at Rs 1.89. Shame is too small a word to express indignation over the successive Pakistani leadership which has taken cover under flimsy pretexts; the last ones sufficing in blaming Pervez Musharraf’s era for having artificially kept the Pak currency overvalued at Rs 62 to a US dollar, in contrast to Pakistan’s economic policies during the Dr Mehboobul Haq era, keenly adopted by Far Eastern countries which are prospering today. There is no justification for a Government identifying 74 lac non-filers and yet failing to bring them in the net.
In consequence of the current devaluation, the Government, as claimed, has neither boosted exports to generate income nor attracted investors due to internal instability caused by Pakistan’s myopic political leadership; the Treasury Benches refusing to sit with the opposition on matters of national importance singing the needless refrain of ‘No deal with the corrupt,’ rather than leaving accountability to the ostensibly autonomous body of the NAB which it has made controversial by a one-sided witch-hunt, and the Opposition taking to the streets and demos; foul-mouthing against the person of the Prime Minister rather than using the platform of Parliament to vote out the Government on the score of its dismal performance.
All this has encouraged further flight of capital and scared away the foreign investor whom the CPEC initiative had started to attract. The government today appears to be helpless and confused; groping to boost the dwindling economy by attempting to privatize everything under the sun such as Pakistan Railways, road transport, educational institutions, hospitals and health services, the solitary strategic industrial unit of Pakistan Steel Mills, and services like PIA the national flag carrier once rated among top Airlines of the world, and leaving nothing for itself to perform. My fears are that having endured parliamentary and quasi presidential forms of civil governments and military rule; each one of which have been dictatorial, it would be no surprise if this time the common man you claim to represent, may well ask for a referendum to determine what system of governance was left to be tried; a presidential form of government like in the United States, an Islamic rule of law or a national government.
—The writer is a media professional, member of Pioneering team of PTV and a veteran ex Director Programmes.