Let the people decide | By Mushtaq Jan

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Let the people decide

THERE’S no denying the fact that the economy of Pakistan has reached dangerous levels. Dark clouds of default are looming high as related by none other than the ex-finance minister of the sitting government.

Our foreign reserves have depleted to just $ 6.8 billion.Out of this, $5 billion belong collectively to Saudi Arabia and China.

They had deposited this amount as a favor to give our foreign reserves a cosmetic boost, however prohibiting its utilization.

Economists have estimated that we would require at least $34 billion to meet our international payments obligations if the present situation continues unchecked.

The current account deficit is on the rise.Exports are dwindling.Foreign remittances are shrinking. Industrial growth is flat.

Inflation has reached sky high to a level of 27%.In rural areas, food prices are touching inflation of 35%. Energy and fuel prices are skyrocketing.

It is neck-breaking for the poor and the middle classes to survive within their meager budgets.

IMF was the main hope to pull Pakistan out of deep waters and had consented to release a tranche of $ 1.2 billion on 3rd November.

However, that too landed into the doldrums as IMF held it back by imposing some fresh stringent caveats directing the government of Pakistan to fulfill them before qualifying to secure the release of the anticipated amount.

Under such desperate circumstances, it has become imperative for the government to make bold and pragmatic decisions and formulate short and long-term policies to pull the country out of its dreadful plight.

Such choices and policies may include imposing more taxes, widening the tax net, removing all subsidies, raising further the energy rates to bring them at par with the production costs, cutting the import of non-essential commodities, etc.

A government that is on the verge of losing public backing would not dare implement harsh economic recovery policies.

Therefore it is quite understandable that the incumbent government could not bear the backlash of the public at this critical stage.

However, a government that comes into power with the popular backing of the people will be better placed to take radical measures to set the economy on the road to recovery and prosperity.

These measures will be effective only if they get the approval of the general masses. When the people trust their government is taking measures for their benefit, they would willingly go with it.

Such a government comes to power only with a popular vote from the masses. And to ascertain the popular vote, the pragmatic way is to hold a general election.

On the other hand, if a sitting government keeps its policy of appeasing the general public at the cost of detrimental policies to the economy, it would find it hard to function.

If there is a big gap between the spending and the revenues, between the imports and exports, as ostensibly evident now, then the only way to keep the country functional is on international borrowings.

But a country just can’t survive by being constantly dependent on international loans. Currently, the country is passing through a state of severe polarization.

There is no consensus between the players in the power corridors, especially the politicians on both sides of the divide.

It seems that the personal interests of the power players in the country have taken the main stage.

They are content ruling with their parochial approaches disregarding the interest of the country and its subjects.

This attitude is leading the country straight to a cataclysm. The more this state of affairs persists, the earlier the country will arrive at the brink of total collapse.

It is high time our leaders separated economics from politics. People deserve to know what is best for them in the longer run.

They can be effective only if their government informed them transparently about the true state of their country.

They seek the right guidance and direction from their leaders. Only then would they willingly bear all the hardships and burdens that would demand their sacrifice.

But it would be possible only if they were governed by leaders whom they trust and who nourish their confidence.

Those in power should adopt the rational approach. They must comprehend that fascist tools of repression, employed in the recent past, are no longer effective in the present era.

The kidnappings, tortures, killing of journalists and politicians, blocking of information media and news channels, etc.

would generate an adverse reaction from the masses. That is ubiquitously on display around the political arenas of this country and the world.

We must realize that we are in an information age where the news travels at the pace of light, giving rise to a barrage of rumors and conspiracy theories causing great harm to the genuine causes of reforms.

The patience of people might only be sustained for a short time. History is ripe with instances of people rising against suppression.

We have examples of the Arab spring, Sri Lankan, and the recent uprising in Iran and China.

Even the iron fist ruled Iran, and Chinese regimes bowed to the demands of the people, bending their laws.

Time is slipping out of our hands and demands immediate action. All the key players in the power corridors, especially the establishment, judiciary, and politicians, should exercise the utmost prudence.

They should reflect on their miscellaneous gross errors of the recent past and act to set right the committed chaotic approaches.

Acknowledging mistakes would be the stepping stone to prioritizing the nation over personal vanity.

Let go of the parochial approach, personal egos, and ambitions. It’s time for our leaders to embrace values like humility, graciousness, and compassion tempered with intelligence, honesty, and sincerity in solving the multiple complex problems of the population.

The people of Pakistan are eagerly looking for messiahs to get them rid of their many woes.

Only popular leaders can qualify to fill in this position. Leaders whom people would listen, understand and accept their decisions even if they have to bear some hardships.

Let them elect those who are not stubborn and are open to criticism, and take along all the key players in the process of reformation.

Only the popularly elected government will be capable enough to chart out the road map to recovery and then execute it effectively.

We feel lucky that our country is endowed with immense material and manpower resources.

All we need is to set our priorities right to harness these resources productively. Let the people decide who is best for them and the country. Let them be the master of their fate.

The solution to all the woes of the nation lies in the hands of the people. Only then can we breathe a sigh of relief.

—The writer is an engineer and contributing columnist with keen eye on current affairs, economics and technical issues related to power sector.