If Indeed Economy is it By Shahzad Chaudhry
Call it consolidation. We barely got the IMF agreed to restart its programme and enable us some breathing space to burgeon reserves and give confidence to other donors to lend to Pakistan. That will come in direct support through parking, injecting cash and permitting Special Drawing Rights or by rescheduling debt giving Pakistan the chance to get its house in order. Our liabilities and due-outs are thus suitably covered for this financial year and if this government can get their marbles right they may just be able to leave behind enough to cater for the next year too. Just to be sure, Miftah Ismail, or those invested in the economic good health of Pakistan, have received IMF’s principal undertaking for a cover of another year. So far, so good.
Good enough reason to postpone any thought of a political remedy to our dysfunction through elections and a renewed mandate? There is a bare cover for this government of a constitutional shroud but it remains badly exposed in half-hearted governance. Though it keeps the system in place. A transitional government, even for a year, will not be constitutionally backed unless all parties can agree to provide it the legal blanket in the constitution for the period of its tenure — an impossibility considering the fragmentation and crass political opportunism playing across the landscape. Even strategy suggests going back to the basics when all seems lost and out of control and the basic is defined by routine existence, of which economy we decide is the kernel. Perhaps it is. Especially when we don’t know how a two-third majority Imran Khan and his blind following masses may upend the system that we so desperately need for predictability.
That brings us to the elephant, a real one in our political system, Imran Khan. Currently a political colossus by any definition he holds the cards to how we may proceed in pursuit of the chimera of stability and some order. How he got to be one from where he was placed in the pecking line and losing credibility by the day beats wisdom and refined strategic thinking. But, we are where we are and our journey ahead must begin from now. This elephant can neither be wished away nor ignored. It is not in the nature of the beast to be ignored. The more you corner it the more vicious it becomes. Good or bad, is not the issue here. We are talking of an existing situation that we have come to and must deal with. He will need to be integrated and tamed — not by force; elephants don’t like force — but with reason and recognition and respect; all which make a man wanted not dumped.
The preamble to this piece, as proclaimed, makes eminent sense to begin an engagement and a conversation. Clearly IK and his PTI have other thoughts and feel aggrieved, many think rightly, but there are times and moments when one must rise above one’s self. We currently stand at that moment in our history. Most think if we give ourselves another year and can save from the listlessness of an interim government, a very active engagement on the economic front with stakeholders outside and inside will buttress our economic assurance. And if we can save ourselves from the uncertainty of another electoral process, formulation of a new government and the time it needs to take cognizance of our existential challenges, and the related experimentation which is the bane of every new set-up, we may just find more resilience in a year to handle variations that will come with the new elections. The logic for a clearer constitutional authority and a fresh mandate too makes for a compelling argument but then it’s only a year before general elections are held. The hurt evens out. The pros may win.
Punjab has just returned to PTI’s fold and that is no mean achievement. Whoever thought of it including Providence, kudos. That makes PTI an equal stakeholder in the politico-economic landscape. Rather than keep these gains tenuous and vague for those who earned them a better strategy for the PTI is to build on the gain and add to political capital. If PTI, by great persuasion and mutual accommodation, agrees to waiting a year before general elections it will have the time to enhance its political footprint at the cost of PML-N, its chief rival in Punjab. Why give that away? Also use this time to hone skills missed in the first stint; create a pool of bureaucrats who understand PTI better and can have confidence in partnering it in governance than be faced with refusals, abstentions and rejections by the civil bureaucracy to work along.
If indeed such an arrangement can be managed despite political dysfunctionality it can create the opportunity to correct the distortions which have crept into the financial and economic sectors. The PDM and Miftah Ismail must utilise the time to reinforce the economy by taking remedial measures to keep the economy resilient against internal and external buffets. These must not restrict only to what the IMF has ordained in the garb of ‘difficult decisions’ but in a broader approach to restructure and bolster the export oriented sectors relevant to the global supply chain — agriculture, agriculture based industry and IT come to mind. Job creation and poverty alleviation come next but only with a deeper and more deliberate consideration to make such initiatives sustainable and productive in time.
In the meanwhile other than patience in avenging a wrong and forsaking personal ambition for the greater national good the PTI has a lot to reflect on. It shall first need to acknowledge that in its first stint a lot was very shoddy in both conception, formulation and implementation and a reasonably popular government was easily diverted from its main and core function into trivial deviations. It lost its purpose and lacked focus essential for a developing society and an economy. It was also short of the necessary capacity and brain-trust to deal with complex and belabouring structural problems facing the nation. Rather than focus on those it found an easy escape in what was trivial and on the fringes of its core responsibility. All that will need to be rectified and remedied with adequate preparation were it to find another chance at the helm.
For all this to happen the environment has to be made conducive. Which really means all sides must give. And someone will need to take the lead in repairing the tears and healing the wounds that we have inflicted upon ourselves. The language and the tone of the discourse needs to be dialed down, manipulation of the environment ceased, the threats contained, insinuation and disinformation against the interest of the country kept in check, institutions of the state spared the invented harangues, use of power with impunity held in check, and tolerance practiced. Then only we can give ourselves a chance. Else, we are already more than half-way down to hell. One sobering thought comes from the scientist, Newton: To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Only if we knew this we could scale some of the bile back.
If Indeed Economy is it By Shahzad Chaudhry
Published in The Express Tribune, August 12th, 2022.