TWO months into the ongoing economic adjustment and there are signs emerging of growing anxiety within the government. The IMF programme that the government signed on to in June carried some of the steepest and most challenging targets ever seen, and the task of meeting them is proving to be a herculean feat. Already there is clamour within industry circles about the rising cost of doing business coupled with collapsing demand, and reports from industry leaders suggest many manufacturing outfits are seeing an approximately 30pc decline in sales. At this rate, it will take three months before inventory levels pile up to a point where production lines could be forced to close, resulting in massive lay-offs across the economy. This comes after the large-scale manufacturing sector posted a near 54pc contraction last fiscal year, the first such massive contraction in a decade, so an intensification of the trend is hardly something the economy can afford. Coupled with this is the aggressive revenue collection drive that the government has no choice but to pursue to meet a historic 30pc hike in the revenue target for this fiscal year. This pursuit has pushed the government into a confrontation with retailers countrywide, as well as vigorous entreaties from industry because the documentation measures are resulting in a severe disruption of their distributor networks.
There are good reasons for there to be anxiety at the highest levels in times such as these, with people reeling from the multiple impacts of exchange rate depreciation, rising inflation, aggressive taxation measures, collapsing market demand, erosion of purchasing power and sales, high interest rates, to name just a few of the elements that mark today’s malaise. Meanwhile, the State Bank governor appeared before a large gathering of industry leaders in Karachi to underline the importance of building reserves, stabilising the external sector and to remind them of the pressures that built up in the economy over the previous five years, pressures that need to be released before there is any talk of growth. And the adviser to the prime minister on finance issued a rare recorded statement trying to reassure the public that some sort of plan is in the works to address people’s concerns.
Even as the disquiet in government circles is understandable, it must not yield to panic, nor should it lead to any backtracking from the tough measures adopted for stabilisation. More focus is needed to protect the poor from rising inflation and find ways to better target the adjustment onto those who can afford it. But the government now needs to signal resolve as well as a firm sense of purpose. Better communication is key to this, and the financial adviser as well as the State Bank governor need to ramp up their outreach efforts with the business community as they move forward down this difficult path.
Leaving the OIC?
WHILE founded on the noble aims of promoting fraternity amongst Islamic nations and speaking up for the rights of Muslims across the globe, the OIC has been known more for its inaction where the suffering of the world’s Muslims is concerned.
Despite counting as its members powerful sheikdoms awash in petrodollars, as well as those boasting militaries of considerable might, the OIC has mostly remained a spectator in the global arena, issuing meek statements and powerless resolutions in the face of brutal human rights abuses targeting Muslims. The crises of Palestine, Bosnia, the Rohingya and Kashmir, amongst others, are all testimony to this.
However, despite its ineffectiveness, would it be prudent for Pakistan to sever ties with the multilateral body, as suggested by former Senate chairman Raza Rabbani in the upper house on Friday?
“The bubble of an Islamic ummah has burst,” said the veteran lawmaker with regard to the OIC’s silence on the fresh violence in India-held Kashmir. He very rightly went on to point out the actions of some of the ‘stalwarts’ of the OIC — particularly the Gulf Arabs — who have awarded, pampered and showered Narendra Modi with multibillion dollar deals in the aftermath of the scrapping of Kashmir’s autonomy by Delhi.
While the sad fact is that Kashmiris today stand largely alone in their uphill battle for rights against India, it would be imprudent for Pakistan to leave the OIC in a huff.
The world’s — specifically the ummah’s — silence on Kashmir is condemnable. However, now more than ever, Pakistan must play a leading role to shake the OIC out of its slumber and realise the gravity of the situation in Kashmir as well as other trouble spots in the world where Muslims are suffering grave human rights abuses.
As stated above, the situations in Palestine and Kashmir, as well as with the Rohingyas and Uighurs, are incredibly grim, and require a concerted and firm voice from the OIC. Moreover, the monster of Islamophobia threatens millions of peaceful Muslims the world over, targeted by bigots due to the actions of a tiny minority of militants. Alone, Pakistan’s will be merely a voice in the wilderness. But by remaining within the OIC, it can convince the body to take a clear position to stand with the weak and the oppressed of the world, and respond with the collective diplomatic and socio-political clout of the Muslim world to global crises.
Human rights cell
RECENTLY, the Sindh police established a ‘human rights’ cell to ensure justice and protection of the fundamental rights of marginalised groups. The stated purpose of the specialised unit is to help the burdened law enforcement forces function more efficiently by overseeing complaints related to women, children and minorities. The move is undoubtedly a welcome one, and a good place to start in creating awareness of the concept of inalienable rights in a country where might is often right. From once being rejected as a foreign-driven agenda, it is a positive sign to see more acceptability of the language of human rights, and this is thanks to the lifelong struggles of many activists, lawyers and lawmakers. A specialised human rights unit would hopefully make it easier for disempowered groups to register their grievances with the police, which already suffers from a public relations problem, due to a lack of sensitivity in their training. For instance, when the family of 10-year-old Farishta, fearing she had been abducted, tried to register a case with the Islamabad police in May, not only were their fears dismissed, but they were subjected to callous questioning, including being asked if the child had ‘eloped’ with someone. Farishta’s mutilated body was found a few days later. Incidences such as this are the reason why ordinary citizens without connections to power are apprehensive or do not feel safe approaching the police for such sensitive matters.
Additionally, while law enforcement is supposed to uphold the rights of citizens, they are often found violating some basic principles. Thus, the human rights discourse must also extend to policing. Extrajudicial killings, torture, forced confinement (or abduction) without trial, everyday discriminatory practices and corruption are just some of the ways this noble profession to protect and serve others is tainted by mistrust. While it is unfair to categorise all police officials in a negative light, there is a lot more work to be done when it comes to improving the culture they operate in.