Dawn Editorial 4th April 2024

Pessimistic view

UNSURPRISINGLY, the World Bank has given a pessimistic prognosis of Pakistan’s moribund economy. On Tuesday, it said the country’s economic growth is expected to pick up — slightly — from the current fiscal year (after contracting 0.2pc last year) but would remain below 3pc for the next two years as “policy constraints to sustainable economic growth remain unaddressed”. Unless a major structural reform programme is durably implemented, growth will remain muted amid continued low investment, persistent external imbalances, distortionary fiscal policies, and a large state presence in the economy, the bank warned in the biannual Pakistan Development Update.

Even the latest growth estimates for Pakistan hinge on “continuous fiscal consolidation and a new bailout programme from the IMF”. Neither the prognosis nor the warning is new. The lender had explicitly stated a few months back that debt-ridden Pakistan’s current economic model was not working since it had fallen behind its peers, with progress in poverty reduction now starting to reverse, and the benefits of growth being accrued to a narrow elite.

Pakistan’s options are few at this point: it can either head towards the abyss or get its act together to dodge economic devastation. Najy Benhassine, World Bank country director for Pakistan, is hopeful that the nation’s ongoing macroeconomic crisis could be the “Pakistan moment”, provided the authorities undertake bold structural reforms to put the faltering economy on the correct track like so many other countries have done on finding themselves on the brink of an economic disaster.

Nonetheless, his message is clear: the only way forward for Pakistan is to implement broad-based reforms on a sustainable basis. “The structural reforms needed to durably improve the economic outlook are known,” he said. Will policymakers heed the advice?

Over the last several months, global lenders, IFIs and credit rating agencies have been forthcoming in their views on the existential threat facing Pakistan’s economy as its external and fiscal imbalances continue to constrain its ability to import essential goods and make foreign debt payments. Their message of urgent reforms is often punctuated with their worry over the ruling and business elites’ proclivity to digress from the path and return to their profligate policies as soon as international reserves improve and the external sector stabilises.

Although the current government has repeatedly pledged to implement reforms for sustainable economic revival, a definitive policy direction is missing. Some progress has been made to privatise loss-making PIA, for instance, but the government is yet to spell out a holistic policy for scores of other SOEs.

Economic policy confusion is a major concern for creditors and investors. The prime minister must understand that his plans to boost productivity and exports will not work without the articulation of an unambiguous policy direction for the economy and deep structural reforms.

Published in Dawn, April 4th, 2024

Violating lives

FROM ordering live burnings and forced marriages to rape, jirgas persist as a parallel justice system that violates human rights. The influential in rural settings opt for tribal institutions over courts of law to coerce the weak into either settling for compensation or issue rulings that favour the oppressors. Therefore, what happened in Tandlianwala, Faisalabad, is unsurprising. A police inquiry into an ‘attempted’ rape case of a 12-year-old boy declared that the suspect mentioned in the FIR was acquitted “on the mediation of a jirga/ panchayat, a blatant violation of the Supreme Court judgement”. The accused cleric, Abubakar Muavia, was cleared on March 30, when the police presented him in court to seek an extension of his physical remand. The apex court’s landmark judgement in 2019 had said that jirgas and panchayats were unconstitutional and did not fall under any other law to the extent that they arbitrate on civil and criminal issues. While this case will now be reinvestigated, the fact is that as long as ‘councils of elders’ exist as fora for mediation and negotiation in the four provinces, the law will continue to be flouted to preserves social hierarchies.

What this society cannot afford is to see abuse in seminaries as isolated instances. Children routinely endure cruelty, exploitation, rape and sexual abuse at the hands of clerics. News about students being pushed from madressah rooftops, battered with sticks and subjected to extreme violence that makes their eyes bleed appears with shameful regularity. They are windows into the darkness of spaces where predators intimidate to foster an environment of impunity. Besides, scores of unregistered seminaries are difficult to monitor. These crimes cannot stop unless the state makes registration and stringent regulation mandatory. An international study conducted a couple of years ago shows a favourable shift: 80pc of the population in the tribal areas of former Fata was against jirgas. Delayed judgements and pending cases, a hostile environment for the marginalised in police stations, particularly women, minorities and the poor, and illiteracy are factors that create a lack of trust in the judicial system and prevent people from challenging the social and legal implications of jirgas. Hence, as the Asian Human Rights Commission observed in 2016, the “jirga’s antidote is a fair and functional justice system” to save future generations from abuse.

Published in Dawn, April 4th, 2024

On the right track

AT last, amid murmurs of dissent over new rules and allegations of manoeuvring, the Pakistan Football Federation Normalisation Committee has taken a significant stride towards completing the task it was assigned to do nearly four and half years ago. The composition of the FIFA-appointed PFF NC has been changed and Pakistan was banned during that time but in announcing the results of elections in 75 districts, it has shown much-needed signs of progress. The Haroon Malik-led NC was under fire for the delay in holding fresh elections at the crisis-stricken PFF. Last month, it was given another extension by the global football body FIFA until December 2024 to complete its mandate. The first step towards holding elections — club registration and scrutiny — took a long time and then the NC drew the ire of Pakistan’s football fraternity by giving newly registered clubs the right to vote, when the PFF constitution allows this right two years after initial registration. Stakeholders claimed the move was aimed at impacting the vote bank. There were also issues with the voting process being carried out on WhatsApp. Fortunately, the initial results of the first 75 districts were not met with much resentment. The committee must now hold elections in the rest of the districts across the country; it says the process will resume after Eid.

There is hope that matters are on track and that eventually an elected PFF will emerge. The status will allow the PFF to access a greater tranche of funding through FIFA’s Forward Programme to develop the game in the country. The response of fans during Pakistan’s recent 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers showed the national appetite for the sport. An elected set-up can build on that. But for now, the reins are in the NC’s hands. District-level elections will be followed by provincial-level elections. Then elections for PFF president will be held. It is a long road but at least the journey has begun.

Published in Dawn, April 4th, 2024

April 24, 2024

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