Dawn Editorials 13th May 2023

Petrol subsidy

IN yet another attempt to break the deadlock with the IMF for the revival of the stalled $6.5bn support programme, the government has ditched its much-hyped, politically motivated fuel subsidy plan for low-income segments of the population. Yet, the chances of an early resumption of the much-needed funding facility look quite slim despite the government’s U-turn on its proposal to charge affluent consumers a higher price to cross-subsidise petrol for low-income groups, which have been hit very hard by rising inflation, which soared to 36.4pc last month. Many had expressed their doubts over the viability of the scheme from the very start, even before the IMF had demanded its details from the fiscal authorities. The government gave its commitment to the lender days after Minister of State for Petroleum Musadik Malik said the administration aimed to address the IMF’s concerns before implementing its new fuel subsidy plan.

Although the Fund has pledged to “continue engagement with the Pakistan government on the loan despite the ramp-up in political tensions” after the arrest of Imran Khan triggered violence across the country, the lender doesn’t appear in a mood to relent on its condition for Islamabad to arrange significant additional financing to revive the programme that is crucial for Pakistan to resolve its acute balance-of-payments crisis. Pakistan says it cannot secure additional financing from other multilaterals before the IMF signs the agreement. Ishaq Dar recently approached some IMF executives for unlocking its dollars, but without success. Apparently, the IMF decision to delay the staff-level agreement seems to be driven by a growing trust deficit. The Fund is also worried about the viability of the programme post-budget as the elections approach. The ministerial statements of giving relief to voters ahead of the elections, and the announcement of half-cooked schemes like petrol subsidies, have only widened this mistrust. Unless the lack of trust is bridged, the chances of the IMF programme’s revival will remain bleak.

Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2023

Grave mistakes

AS in all things, moderation goes a long way in politics. The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf will realise this, as the consequences of the whiplash violence triggered by Imran Khan’s arrest start to manifest.

The unusually aggressive reaction from the military in response to the vandalism of its facilities, bolstered by the unanimous condemnation from government leaders, suggests that the PTI may soon face a serious existential challenge.

It bears noting that the public reaction to Mr Khan’s arrest may not have been as volatile had the party not insisted on setting a so-called ‘red line’ on his arrest. This, along with persistent messaging that Mr Khan was in mortal danger at the hands of certain elements, seems to have triggered sympathisers to react violently when he was finally picked up.

The PTI leadership should have immediately condemned the violence and strongly urged its supporters to desist from creating trouble for themselves. But it desisted.

Violence is a sign of desperation. It rarely yields long-term benefits. Considering the quantum of lives lost, injuries suffered, and arrests made since the PTI went on the warpath last year, its ‘narrative’ has already proven rather costly to the party itself.

Arrest and incarceration have been, rather unfortunately, almost a rite of passage for Pakistani politicians. It was foolish of the PTI to assume that it could avoid the treatment meted out to other political leaders who were equally, if not more, popular in their heyday.

Maturity would have demanded that the PTI leaders braved the challenge individually, as a personal sacrifice for their political cause, and not let their well-wishers get in harm’s way. Perhaps the party is still learning. But this particular lesson is not likely to come easy.

Mr Khan should perhaps not have been arrested, and definitely not in the manner in which he was. The ugliness with which the state went after him seems to have validated the fears held by his party and contributed to the violent backlash. It is, therefore, incumbent upon the government and the establishment to also make amends.

The overwhelming power they currently enjoy should not blind them to the fact that they have essentially issued a declaration of war against a large segment of the Pakistani citizenry. Grave mistakes and miscalculations have been made by both sides. Both must show flexibility and review their terms of engagement.

Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2023

Turf war

IN the fraught times we are living in, there is much that can be read between the lines of even an offhand greeting. PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s summoning to the Supreme Court on Thursday was anything but ordinary.

The government, correctly sensing that the former prime minister was about to walk, had gone on the offensive from the moment national media reported that the country’s top court had demanded that Mr Khan be produced before it by NAB within the hour.

While the PDM leaders were still throwing barbs at the highest court of the land, the chief justice’s nonchalant greeting to Mr Khan on his arrival in court was splashed on TV screens nationwide. “Nice to see you,” he said.

The troubling spectacle of the PTI chief’s arrest may have momentarily distracted attention from the fact that there is a fourth player in the ongoing tussle over ‘supremacy’ within the corridors of power.

Yesterday’s events saw it saunter right back into the limelight. That the two phone-call recordings were ‘leaked’ to the media shortly after Mr Khan’s Tuesday arrest were deemed illegal by the Supreme Court indicated, among other things, the frustration of certain quarters. ‘Match fixed’, the caption to one screamed.

Whoever has been illegally snooping into the private conversations of Pakistani VIPs was clearly quite miffed. The army’s senior command had earlier made it clear that PTI sympathisers’ decidedly discourteous behaviour towards their institution following Mr Khan’s arrest would be considered a ‘dark chapter’ in Pakistan’s history.

The Supreme Court, it seemed, couldn’t care less. Although technically it simply upheld what has long been held to be principle, it was difficult to ignore the complaints of the decision being the ‘fastest-ever relief’ granted to an embattled former prime minister.

Pictures of a smiling Mr Khan, snapped once with fist raised in what seemed to be a gesture of victory, and again with a hand pressed against his heart, seemed more than a little odd after the images of general mayhem that had haunted television screens for the two preceding days.

The country now seems primed for a progressively ugly showdown in the days and weeks to come. None of the leaders, political or institutional, who are invested in this tug-of-war appear ready to take a step back.

If anything, they seem prepared to climb two steps up the escalation ladder. Mr Khan’s insistence on pointing fingers even after securing bail from the Islamabad High Court yesterday does not bode well.

‘The gloves are off’ seems to be a tired cliché at this point. One prays we never reach the ‘daggers drawn’ stage. There is an immediate need to defuse the prevailing tensions at this point. The country cannot bear the stress much longer.

Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2023

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