Political Engineering, Not Fiscal Mismanagement, Responsible For Economic Woes
Imad Zafar in this article argues that the main reason behind Pakistan’s economic woes is the political engineering and, therefore, if economy is to be fixed, we first need a political stability in the country.
The deteriorating economic condition of the country is taking its toll on the manufacturers of the current political discourse. Never before the establishment in Pakistan has faced such a dire situation where it is finding hard to revive the economy and it seems inevitable that the fate of the incumbent PTI government is entirely dependent on how long Riyadh and Washington want to carry the burden of its unsuccessful policies. Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, who is a member of the National Development Council, recently addressed a seminar and his statement on the state of the economy is a worrying sign for the PTI government.
In his speech, the army chief said “fiscal mismanagement” has brought economic turmoil in the country. It is for the first time that he has spoken on the economy since the PTI assumed power. Given the history of the weakness of the civilian government in running the state affairs, and the hegemony of the establishment on these affairs, this statement should worry PTI as it is evident that all is not well, as he is showing displeasure over the state of the economy. However, a question arises: is it the “fiscal mismanagement” or the “political engineering” that has landed Pakistan into a self-inflicted economic crisis. Had every party been provided an equal opportunity to contest the last year’s general elections and the political cases were not taken to the higher courts to disqualify the opponents, the results could have been entirely different.
Hence, it must be realised that it isn’t the PTI which is to be blamed for this economic turmoil. In fact, it is the powers which engineered the political discourse to pave the way for the PTI to come into power. And it is now the best time to point out that why Pakistan is facing the grave economic and political crisis.
Let us start with a very simple point that the establishment has no right to sit in a committee formed by the government of a political party. The inclusion of army chief in the National Development Committee creates a division among the masses as the opposition parties’ vote bank thinks that the establishment is siding with a particular political party, especially in the wake of the allegations of pre-poll rigging in the general elections. This is the reason that the Constitution of Pakistan clearly states: “Armed forces will not intervene in political affairs”.
The army chief could have given his advice through backdoor channels instead of taking a role in the economic committee.
Another critical element adding to the economic woes of Pakistan is political instability. This political instability is a result of witch hunt against the political parties and leaders who are dissenting to what happened during the last two years in Pakistan.
If one is serious in solving the economic crisis, he will require political stability first, which can only be brought by not selecting a “particular party” as a favourite and levelling charges of corruption or treason on others.
The masses are attached to their political ideologies passionately and they feel proud in their association with the parties they like. The establishment is a stakeholder but that does not mean that it can create and dismantle political parties or political ideologies. So there is need to revisit the current strategy and to think what Pakistan has achieved as a result of dethroning an elected prime minister and bringing in a selected one.
It is good that the establishment is concerned over the crippling economy of Pakistan but it would have been much better if a few dissenting economic wizards were allowed in the seminar for a better understanding of why the economy is in shackles at the moment.
For example, Hafeez Shaikh, advisor to the prime minister on finance, served as finance minister under General Musharraf and the PPP government. The question arises if he was not able to turn the tables on both occasions how can he achieve the goal now?
The only thing Shaikh knows about the economy is to make sure that the terms and conditions of IMF should be met accordingly. But anyone thinking that Pakistan will thwart the current crisis by doing so is mistaken. Unless the capital circulates and the investors feel secure, there is no way that business activities can be generated in the country, which are essential to get out of the shackles.
Then there is a big question mark on the ability of the PTI government to run the country. A government, which takes pride in the witch hunt against its political opponents and pleasure in convicting them and spending all its energies on accusing the previous governments for the current economic turmoil, can never fix the economy.
After all, living in the past can never correct the present and future. The more time PTI spends on witch-hunting, the more the crisis will grow as fixing an economy requires a full-hearted effort and concentration on the related matters, not political victimisation.
The current atmosphere in the country is neither conducive to businessmen nor political parties. In such an uncertain environment and fear, investment and political stability cannot be ensured.
Gen Ziaul Haq was able to maintain economy because of the US-sponsored Afghan jihad, while Musharraf did the same through the war on terror, again supported by the US. This means whenever political discourse was engineered, the geopolitical developments somehow kept that artificial political discourse ticking. Right now there is no chance of any proxy war.
The US and Iran tension is growing but the US will never wage a proxy or a direct war against Iran given the ongoing trade war with China. So the influx of the US dollars that kept the previous political engineering ticking without disturbing the economy is not in the sight and this means the international financial institutions will exploit Pakistan’s weak economy.
The solution to the prevailing crisis is the midterm elections as there is no other way the political stability can be brought back. The choice is simply whether the establishment is ready to carry on with this unsuccessful artificial political discourse at the expense of the economy or is it willing to take a backseat and allow a free and fair midterm elections in the country.
To be honest, it is political engineering, not fiscal mismanagement, which has inflicted this economic turmoil on the country. The only way forward is the new political discourse that should come as a result of the collective wisdom of the masses in the form of free and fair ballot.
The author is a regular contributor at various newspapers and websites. He has been associated with various TV channels. radio, newspapers, news agencies, political, policy and media related think tanks.