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Editorial | PM’s Conspiracy Theory On Price Hike Indicates Govt’s Nervousness

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Prime Minister Imran Khan’s latest statement on the price hike does little to clear the air on the economic troubles facing the Pakistani state and society. But it feeds into a general culture of conspiracism. The PM said that there is a conspiracy underway to derail the government by “hoarders” who seek to raise prices to unreasonable levels.

It comes in the wake of the Finance Minister Dr. Abdul Hafeez Shaikh’s highly publicized pronouncements on the price of tomatoes on the market – which is some 5 percent of what most Pakistani consumers actually pay for that vital food item.

One wonders how that squares with the PM’s view that price hikes are a real thing – but that they are driven by some invisible hand other than that of the market!

In any case, the problem is much deeper. The PM is not unique in promoting such unfounded ideas. They have become intrinsic to how urban Pakistanis see themselves, their society and their place in the world.

Commentators have been pointing out for decades now how conspiracy-mongering takes the place of analysis in our country. In such an environment, wild finger-pointing takes the place of dignified self-criticism. And policy failures are explained in terms of the evil intentions of ill-defined opponents rather than structural issues.

Ordinary Pakistanis themselves often seem far more interested in a conspiracy theory to explain away any given problem. It seems that titillation, catharsis and shedding responsibility are more attractive options than actually understanding the roots of a problem.

This sort of thinking does little to help in any sphere: be it foreign policy, domestic security concerns, relations with the opposition, etc. But it is perhaps most damaging in the field of the economy. The Pakistani economy, much like that of any other country with a massive population, is a complex machine. Many variables and moving parts have to be considered. This should be the domain of informed opinion and precise thinking. But replacing that with random pronouncements means putting the livelihood of millions of Pakistanis at the stake. And even more importantly, it means putting their faith at risk – of which urban Pakistanis have reposed much in the current ruling party.

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The government must think very seriously about playing with the confidence which urban Pakistan places in it. This is not just about the reputation of one party or a few leaders. It is about the confidence of investors and consumers. Conspiracy theories might be able to help mollify criticism on various policies, but they cannot raise investor confidence, consumer spending or the willingness of producers to produce.

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