Pakistan: Uncertain Past, Uncertain Future

Imran Khan (Twitter)

Imran Khan (Twitter)

By Nasir Aijaz
The AsiaN Representative

ISLAMABAD: “Pakistan is passing through critical times’ and we have to take tough decisions to steer the country out of crisis” – this is what almost all the successive civil and military rulers used to say after coming into power, for over seven decades since creation of new Muslim country carved out of Indian subcontinent in 1947.

The purpose behind such utterances had been to make the citizens realize the grave situation, plunge them into state of severe anxiety so that they do not rise, or raise cry against rulers’ so-called ‘Tough Measures’, which in fact had resulted from them plundering national wealth.

Since Pakistanis were used to such typical and stereotype words like ‘our country is passing through critical times’ etc. they were not surprised when the same words were repeatedly used by former premier Imran Khan with addition of a sentence ‘But you (people) don’t have to worry.’ He used this new sentence so frequently during his three and half a year tenure till his ouster on April 10 this year through a vote of no confidence in the parliament that it became a source of mockery against him on social media.

Imran Khan’s ouster had raised high hopes among the masses who expected immediate relief from economic hardships caused by ill-conceived policies and inflation. The other major problems faced by the poor masses were prolonged cuts in supply of electricity and gas besides hike in petroleum, gas and electricity tariff that had overburdened the poor. The currency lost its value against the dollar that gave way to increase in prices of essential commodities.

And in fact it all provided a concrete ground to the opposition parties’ to move against the Imran Khan’s government. People were happy when Mr. Shahbaz Sharif, in his speech he made soon after nomination as new Prime Minister, pledged bringing down the inflation and announced immediate raise in salaries of government employees.

But unfortunately these moments of happiness and joy proved very brief as very next day, on April 12, when Shahbaz Sharif was sworn in as the Prime Minister and his cabinet was notified, the nation was taken aback by the Finance Minister Muftah Ismail’s statement that no increase in salaries is possible at the moment. On the contrary, he hinted that the new government will soon take very tough decisions to improve the economy of the country and repay the foreign loans.

Within next few days, Muftah, himself an industrialist, came up with statements that the country was under the pressure of International Monitory Fund (IMF) for slashing the employees’ salaries, raising the petroleum, gas and electricity tariff and withdrawing the subsidies offered by government in various sectors. According to him, the IMF had put these conditions for releasing the new loans to run the country’s affairs.

It took no time to fire different ‘bombs’ on masses – the ‘petrol bombs’ (unprecedented hike in petroleum prices almost doubling the tariff within one and half a month), ‘Gas Bomb’ (Sharp increase in gas charges), ‘Electricity Bomb’ (hike in electricity charges) etc. The government also withdrew many subsidies, while the duration of power cuts also increased despite scorching summer making the lives of people miserable. The suspension of gas supply to residential and industrial customers too continued, while it all was followed by skyrocketing prices of wheat flour, cooking oil, rice, pulses, vegetables and all other kitchen items making it unbearable for the poor. The fare of private as well as public sector transport including the railways, were also increased.

It all didn’t end here. The Pakistan government in its budget, announced this month for the fiscal year 2022-2023, imposed new taxes on various sectors, brought 2.5 million small shops across the country into tax net, and while playing game with government employees, announced the 15 percent raise in their salaries but at the same time doubled the income tax, being deducted every month from their salaries.

Pakistan is perhaps a unique country in a way that although every single item, from essential commodities to the cosmetics and other luxury items, cloth, garments etc. is taxed (General Sales Tax – GST), but the previous government of Imran Khan had imposed additional GST on overall buying. This government has continued this ‘extortion’, as described by the general public.

During all this, the new government took just positive step by imposing import of luxury items, cigarettes, cosmetics etc. as the country was short of foreign exchange reserves. According to a recent official report released by State Bank of Pakistan, the country’s foreign exchange reserves had fallen below the US$9 billion, hardly equal to six-day imports.

The new coalition government had taken all these measures for the sake of obtaining IMF loans, as it claimed in view of country’s weak fiscal position, but still there IMF response is awaited. According to media reports, the IMF is likely to send a draft of Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies to Pakistan authorities, which indicates that two parties – the Pakistan government and the IMF have reached to some agreement.

However, the people of Pakistan are still in the state of uncertainty, as they fear more ‘bomb attacks’ in near future. The situation is fast turning to saturation point, when there could be uprising against the rulers. This is indicative from protest rallies by the citizens and attacks on government offices in certain towns.

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