PAKISTAN has been witnessing a con
stant rise in the coronavirus cases and
the situation is expected to remain crucial for some time. Some experts have been criticizing the government for not imposing a lockdown. On the contrary, the Prime Minister Imran Khan believes otherwise. There is an absolute state of chaos and a feeling of uncertainty among the people. People are losing jobs, getting paycheck cuts and some are sent on unpaid leaves. As usual, most of the people are furious with the government; some blame them for the virus spread whereas others claim that the lockdown bankrupted their businesses.
These challenges are not confined to Pakistan alone; the whole world is now reeling under the effects of the pandemic. Big airlines like Lufthansa and Emirates have been forced to cut down their workforce despite being supported by the governments. Every country is trying to find the right balance between precautionary measures and economic costs. People globally raised their voices to end the lockdown because the economic cost is too much for them to afford.
In Pakistan, one segment of society completely denies the existence of the virus. Business associations and religious scholars threatened the government of serious actions, which mean those actions, which suit them. Mask, sanitizers and medicines were hoarded and are being sold at exorbitant prices. Recently a hospital bill was shared by Fakhr-e-Alam, in which the patient was excessively charged. There are even reports that people are selling their plasma in the black market. All of these things leave a question mark on the administrative agencies but it also puts a question mark on our national unity.
When the budget for the fiscal year 2020-21 was presented last week, the opposition parties protested during the whole speech with banners. Shahbaz Sharif stated that this budget has nothing to revive the economy. It is their right to oppose the decisions that are questionable but they displayed very inappropriate behaviour. Opposition parties could have assisted the government in the process but they chose otherwise.
It is not just the opposition or the public that has antagonistic nature but this applies to the ruling party members too. Recently a PTI member passed derogatory remarks against Shaffat Ali on twitter that attracted a lot of criticism. Jahangir Tareen’s name was highlighted during the investigation on sugar mill mafia. On certain occasions, we have seen federal ministers physically assaulting journalists. PTI surely lacks a clear voice that can convey the true implication of their policies.
The middle class and lower middle class of the society are the ones who are paying the biggest price for this chaos and mismanagement. Lockdown has already cost them their jobs and income and virus infection on the other hand is taking the lives of their loved ones too. When they look up to the administration, all they witness are a bunch of politicians fighting each other over baseless and useless matters with no clear strategy or plan.
The opposition should appreciate the positive steps of the government, especially the ones related to the economy. We know that a few years ago, the economy was near bankruptcy; fiscal deficits were wide and foreign reserves were dried up. Over the years, the government tried to document the undocumented economy, tried to outline mechanisms for tax collection, discouraged imports, and encouraged exports. It is important to understand that austerity measures always have a higher political cost. Bloomberg named Pakistan Stock Exchange as the best performing stock market in the world.
The government came up with refinancing schemes to ameliorate businesses. The textile sector was permitted to operate; the government didn’t stop DLTL claims. The recent budget is a big step towards providing relief as it does not impose any new taxes. Nabeel Qureshi who is an expert on the cement sector believes the reduction in FED on cement will significantly reduce the cost of material and will directly boost the construction sector. Many items are exempted from duties to provide a breathing space for the local manufactures.
The need of the hour is that both government and opposition work together to ensure stability to the country. There is no need to compare Pakistan with any other western country since there is no basis for comparison. Blaming others for the weakness, which we possess, will not solve the issues that we are facing. There is a dire need to get out of the denial we have been living in. We as individuals make up the system and society; therefore, we have the power to change it for good.
—The writer is a Karachi based freelance journalist.