Dawn Editorial 9 October 2020

World Bank forecast

IN a new report, the World Bank has painted a very dismal picture of Pakistan’s economic outlook for the next two financial years, saying the nation’s growth prospects will remain significantly subdued.
The report projects the economy will recover by 0.5pc during this fiscal after it shrank by 0.4pc last year — the first contraction since 1952 — owing to the pandemic. This depressing forecast may face further risk in the case of infections going up again and given the impact of resumption of economic stabilisation policies under the IMF deal.
In fact, the release of the report South Asia Economic Focus coincides with worrisome news of a surge, albeit slight, in Covid-19 cases as business picks up in the wake of a government decision to reopen the economy after virus infections peaked in June.
Read: Marriage halls, restaurants becoming Covid hubs, says Asad Umar
The report also warns that poverty is likely to rise with Covid-19 lockdowns, which have chiefly affected informal services and small industrial businesses, the two sectors in which the majority of non-farm labour is employed.
Though the bank has not given any numbers related to the increase in poverty, experts estimate the economic crisis induced by the pandemic could have pushed millions more into poverty, especially in the cities.
It is hard to dispute the projection. Yet it is also difficult to agree completely with the gloomy post-lockdown picture. The report has apparently drawn heavily on old data to make its projections, and short-term trends depicted by new economic data for the first quarter of the present financial year to September tell a more encouraging story.
The economy and businesses that were badly hit during the lockdowns have shown resilience and performed better during the last three months. GDP is now projected to expand by 2pc this year compared to the bank’s projection of 0.5pc. Many of those who lost their jobs during the pandemic are back at work, even if in certain cases they have been forced to accept pay cuts. The cash handouts given by the government under the Ehsaas programme prevented hunger in several households. The rural population was also largely spared the crop losses in spite of the desert locust attack.
There is no denying that a possible resurgence of infection still poses a major risk to the economy, and the resumption of demand-compression measures under the IMF programme is likely to keep growth muted for some time. Yet the outlook is neither too desperate nor too encouraging. There is still uncertainty hanging over the future but there are also signs of recovery.
The situation demands that the government implement the required reforms to assist struggling businesses quickly get back on their feet, and address, in the words of a senior World Bank official, the weaknesses of the “informal sectors through smart policies” and by ensuring wise allocation of meagre public resources to help the poor.



One-sided accountability

FOR the last few years, opposition parties in the country have been crying themselves hoarse over a blatantly one-sided, politically motivated witch-hunt at the hands of the anti-graft authorities. Dubbed an ‘accountability drive’, the pattern followed in hounding opponents has become increasingly predictable. Politicians critical of the government are investigated by the FIA and NAB, booked in cases —the key charges being the misuse of authority or having assets beyond known sources of income — and promptly arrested. They then languish in custody as the authorities conduct their investigations, for months on end, before there is a formal indictment and the case begins. The current drive follows Imran Khan’s campaign pledges in the 2018 election, when he vowed to jail ‘corrupt people’ who had ‘amassed billions overseas’. But two years later, and especially after this week’s on-record revelation by recently retired FIA director general Bashir Memon, this accountability drive is looking more and more like a vendetta. Mr Memon in a video interview accused Prime Minister Imran Khan of pressuring him to prosecute opposition leaders on serious charges “though there was no evidence to do so”. He also said that Mr Khan wanted senior opposition leader Khawaja Asif to be tried for treason under Article 6 of the Constitution, and several members of the Sharif family to be booked in corruption cases. Shockingly, he gave the impression that the NAB chairman was accommodating similar requests by the government, and had pursued cases that Mr Memon had protested against. Despite the passage of a few days since his claims, no official clarification has been issued by the government.
His statement lends credence to something the opposition parties have been saying for months: that the ongoing accountability drive is a venomous campaign masquerading as a quest for justice. Though Mr Memon’s allegations have come a little late in the day, the courts handling many of these FIA and NAB cases ought to take into account that there may be something more to them — not just in the case of the Sharif family but all individuals targeted in this drive. Not only must the government issue an immediate response to his statements to explain what happened, it must also reflect on the serious and long-lasting damage such a calculated campaign can have on the public’s trust in the system as well as the injustice towards those caught in the accountability net on trumped-up allegations.



Hina Jilani honoured

HINA Jilani has been chosen for many awards in her life, but the Stockholm Human Rights Award must rank as something special. It is an honour conferred annually by the Swedish Bar Association, the International Bar Association and the International Legal Assistance Consortium. It is this recognition by one’s peers that makes it an extraordinary honour. Ms Jilani has been hailed as someone who has “dedicated her life to the protection of the vulnerable through her commitment to human rights and the rule of law. She has worked tirelessly and in situations of great adversity” and has shown the “resilience and courage” to divert “from the beaten paths” and speak “truth to power”. For those in Pakistan and abroad who have followed her journey closely these remarks would conjure up images in which the lawyer and rights activist is taking on an impossible task in the face of great adversity and at huge personal risk. Their concerns would be justified.
The reference here to peers, or one’s own people, also brings to the fore all those thoughts about how this country hasn’t quite been able to benefit from the exceptional talent in its midst. There are many Pakistanis of international repute whose expertise has not been utilised; not only this, but in some cases, they are also treated as a threat to the old order or seen as rebels promoting ‘dangerous’, progressive values. Ultimately, changing values do force their way into the mainstream as their protagonists wait for bolder, more proactive rulers for a movement towards the promised change in a truly just system. A government that claims to believe in genuine tabdeeli or transformation could learn a few things from the experience of someone like Ms Jilani in the areas of rule of law, women rights, civil rights, etc. Into its third year in power, it must realise that the delivery phase has arrived, and make good on all its promises to improve lives and ensure people’s due rights.


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