Politi­cis­ing Econ­omy

Enterprise - - Contents -

As gen­eral elec­tions are com­ing closer, the po­lit­i­cal tem­per­a­ture is ris­ing in the coun­try with gov­ern­ment and op­po­si­tion in­ten­si­fy­ing their bat­tle over a va­ri­ety of is­sues rang­ing from dis­so­lu­tion of na­tional and provin­cial assem­blies to the ap­point­ment of care­taker setup. But they seem to be rais­ing stakes on key eco­nomic is­sues too in the heat of ris­ing po­lit­i­cal ten­sions.

A war of words has erupted be­tween the gov­ern­ment and op­po­si­tion for the pre­sen­ta­tion of bud­get for the fi­nan­cial year 2018-19.

As gov­ern­ment’s term in of­fice ex­pires in late May, it has de­cided to an­nounce the na­tional bud­get a few weeks ear­lier. The op­po­si­tion, how­ever, ob­jects to the move and says the gov­ern­ment has no man­date to an­nounce bud­get for the full fi­nan­cial year with just few weeks left for it to stay in of­fice.

Op­po­si­tion leader in the Na­tional Assem­bly, Khur­sheed Shah has de­manded the gov­ern­ment in his meet­ing with Prime Min­is­ter Shahid Khaqan Ab­basi to an­nounce the bud­get for just 45 days when the Pak­istan Mus­lim League-Nawaz (PML-N) would be in of­fice.

To in­crease pres­sure on the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, the Tehreek-e-In­saaf chief Im­ran Khan has asked Khy­ber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Min­is­ter Pervez Khat­tak not to an­nounce provin­cial bud­get for the next fi­nan­cial year.

Op­po­si­tion lead­ers main­tain that the gov­ern­ment should leave it to the next elected gov­ern­ment to take key eco­nomic de­ci­sions.

The gov­ern­ment how­ever, has re­jected the op­po­si­tion calls and says it has the man­date to take such de­ci­sions and is adamant to an­nounce the bud­get for the full fis­cal year.

Bud­get is not the only is­sue that has be­come a bone of con­tention be­tween the gov­ern­ment and op­po­si­tion these days.

Min­is­ter for Pri­vati­sa­tion Daniyal Aziz a few weeks back made a sur­pris­ing an­nounce­ment that the gov­ern­ment would pri­va­tise the Pak­istan In­ter­na­tional Air­lines (PIA) be­fore the end of its ten­ure, trig­ger­ing a new con­tro­versy.

The pri­vati­sa­tion of state-run en­ti­ties has al­ready be­come a very ex­plo­sive is­sue over the past sev­eral years and

two peo­ple were killed dur­ing protests when the gov­ern­ment tried to pri­va­tise the na­tional car­rier a cou­ple of years back. Rekin­dling an old con­tro­versy at a time of high po­lit­i­cal po­lar­i­sa­tion is noth­ing but an at­tempt to fur­ther muddy the wa­ters.

It is heart­en­ing to see that the attorney gen­eral told the Supreme Court that the PML-N gov­ern­ment has no plans to pri­va­tise PIA in its cur­rent ten­ure.

The an­nounce­ment of the tax amnesty scheme by the gov­ern­ment at the far end of its ten­ure is an­other ex­am­ple of an at­tempt to make po­lit­i­cal gains by triv­i­al­is­ing a ma­jor pol­icy is­sue.

Legally, the move might be ten­able but the gov­ern­ment has very weak moral jus­ti­fi­ca­tion to take a ma­jor de­ci­sion just few weeks be­fore it leaves the of­fice.

The eco­nomic fun­da­men­tals of Pak­istan are very weak and it can hardly af­ford its lead­ers to fight their po­lit­i­cal bat­tles on vi­tal eco­nomic is­sues.

For­mer fi­nance min­is­ter Ishaq Dar while in of­fice had made calls for evolv­ing of a char­ter of econ­omy on the pat­tern of char­ter of democ­racy through which the po­lit­i­cal par­ties should pledge that they would not politi­cise the eco­nomic is­sues for petty gains.

His­tor­i­cally, Pak­istan missed many chances to put its econ­omy on sound foot­ing and on many oc­ca­sions lost hard won eco­nomic gains for petty po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests of its lead­ers.

Cur­rently Pak­istan’s econ­omy is pass­ing through a very crit­i­cal time as it faces ma­jor chal­lenges like the daunt­ing cur­rent ac­count deficit, stub­born en­ergy cri­sis, de­plet­ing for­eign ex­change re­serves and low ex­ports.

All these chal­lenges could be con­fronted with strong eco­nomic re­forms whose suc­cess could only be en­sured through po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity in the coun­try.

A decade or so when Pak­istan was on the up­ward eco­nomic tra­jec­tory, it lost eco­nomic gains in a mat­ter of a month be­cause of po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity.

De­spite un­end­ing fears of po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty, gen­eral elec­tions will be held on time and there are high hopes that the coun­try would see a smooth tran­si­tion of power from one po­lit­i­cal gov­ern­ment to an­other for the sec­ond time in its 70 years of che­quered his­tory.

It is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the en­tire po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship of Pak­istan as well as all stake­hold­ers to en­sure that tran­si­tion of power should ul­ti­mately lead to po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity in the coun­try that should serve as a har­bin­ger of eco­nomic progress.

With elec­tions just a few months away, the po­lit­i­cal par­ties should con­cen­trate their en­er­gies on pre­par­ing their man­i­festos. These man­i­festos should lay down in no un­cer­tain terms what the po­lit­i­cal party would do and they should spell out their strat­egy on how they would deal with the eco­nomic chal­lenges faced by Pak­istan if they came into power.

In­stead of wast­ing their time in fist fights over the past, they should fo­cus their at­ten­tion on the fu­ture.

In view of the fast de­plet­ing for­eign ex­change re­serves and ris­ing cur­rent ac­count deficit, Pak­istan in all like­li­hood would face a bal­ance of pay­ment cri­sis later this year. But so far none of the po­lit­i­cal par­ties has come up with any strat­egy as to how it would deal with the sit­u­a­tion if it comes into power.

Democ­racy is not just win­ning of elec­tions and form­ing of the gov­ern­ment. It is also a bat­tle of ideas where po­lit­i­cal par­ties should ex­plore in­no­va­tive ways to deal with the chal­lenges faced by the coun­try.

The me­dia has also a ma­jor role in bring­ing about a qual­ity change in the na­tional nar­ra­tive, where po­lit­i­cal par­ties in­stead of in­dulging just in po­lit­i­cal point-scor­ing should go through a sub­stan­tial thought process to find so­lu­tions to the many prob­lems faced by their elec­torate.

So far, nei­ther me­dia nor po­lit­i­cal par­ties have shown any in­cli­na­tion for any such de­bate. One hopes that when the elec­tion cam­paign for­mally gets un­der­way they would move away from triv­ial is­sues and fo­cus their at­ten­tion on real is­sues faced by the coun­try and its peo­ple.

The Pak­istani po­lit­i­cal lead­ers must rise to the oc­ca­sion. Lest they would face the ig­nominy of be­ing blamed as in­com­pe­tent for fail­ing to rev­o­lu­tionise the lot of the teem­ing masses.

Prime Min­is­ter of Pak­istan Shahid Khaqan Ab­basi

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