The Express Tribune Editorial 4 December 2019

Bullish bourse


There are signs of stability on the economic front. Macroeconomic indicators are showing improvement. Exports in the July-November period of FY20, the ongoing fiscal year, have jumped 4.8 per cent while imports have fallen 19.3 per cent, thereby cutting the trade deficit by nearly 35 per cent — to $9.5 billion. Growing foreign interest in the treasury bills has also been witnessed of late, with the volume of investment jumping to $1 billion in the first five months of FY20. American credit rating agency Moody’s has also upgraded Pakistan’s credit rating outlook to stable from negative while expecting the balance of payments dynamics to improve at the back of policy adjustments and currency flexibility.
All this appears enough for stock market investors to feel good — at least for now. The benchmark KSE index has, thus, taken a good U-turn. The index rose by 1,780 points over the last week and gained another 836 points on Monday to cross the 40,000 mark after a period of nine months, closing at 40,124 points. It was on May 25, 2017 that the index had hit its peak of 53,124 points, but ever since, it kept plummeting mainly because of the political uncertainty that gripped the country in the wake of Nawaz Sharif’s removal as prime minister over corruption allegations. The erosion at the bourse continued, as even the general election in July 2018 failed to bring the political calm needed for the economy to prosper. There did come a time when in mid-August this year, the index had fallen below the 29,000 mark, hitting a four-year low. But the last three months or so have turned out to be good for the bourse during which the index has winged past the 40,000-point psychological barrier.
The stock market is not regarded as a true barometer of the economy in view of its manipulative vulnerabilities. However, it does serve as some kind of a report card on the country’s financial health and the performance of the government’s economic managers. The latest rally at the stock market deserves to be acknowledged as a sign of the revival of investors’ confidence in the government’s economic policies.



‘Death’ of dengue


Now our winter of content has set in, as far as dengue fever is concerned. The year 2019 would be remembered as the year of the dengue as this year from 8 July to 12 Nov, 47,120 cases were reported across the country. The disease claimed 75 lives. The worst affected was the Islamabad Capital Territory where from 6 Aug to 12 Nov, 12,986 cases were reported. The death toll was 22. Authorities in the ICT say the fall in temperature has killed the dengue mosquitoes bringing down incidence of the disease to zero. The anti-dengue campaign will now be limited to case-response surveillance only. Attention will be focused on prevention in the future. The campaign for the next season will start in March next. The authorities ascribed the reason for the unprecedented virulent outbreak of dengue in Islamabad to slackness by some of the government departments concerned with public health. The authorities have admitted that this year the anti-mosquito spray campaign was launched very late.
Of course, the drop in temperature has killed dengue mosquitoes in Islamabad. The temperature has fallen in winter all over the country but it cannot be said with certainty that the decrease in temperature has also resulted in wiping out mosquitoes. The state of cleanliness in cities and towns of Sindh is highly unsatisfactory. There are un-cleared garbage dumps and gutter overflows, which are good breeding grounds for mosquitoes. From 1 Sept to 12 Nov, 12,053 cases of dengue have been reported in the province. Thirty-three deaths have occurred. There is also the long-persisting problem of fake medicines. Recently, some people connected with medicine retail trade were caught filling bottles with spurious multivitamin tablets. In 2010, the then interior minister told the National Assembly that 45-50 per cent medicines being sold in Pakistan were either fake or substandard. Take solace in the saying: The art of medicine consists in amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.



Pomp and Pompeo


The top American diplomat is blaming Iran for the protests that have been taking place across the Middle East. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo alleges that Iran is the uniting factor behind protests in Iraq, Lebanon, and Iran itself. But while protesters themselves have claimed that the issues they are rallying against are corruption, inflation and other economic concerns, Pompeo is claiming it is opposition to Iran’s clerical regime. Pompeo is right, but only to an extent. Yes, some protesters have been critical of Iran’s role in their domestic politics, but those same protesters have also been critical of the interference from the US, Russia, the Saudis, and others. In Iraq, one must remember that it was the US that backed Saddam Hussein after his rise to power and throughout the Iran-Iraq war until they eventually deposed him for becoming a liability. This birthed Daesh, which went on to tear up Syria and Iraq and remains a legitimate threat. Iran did not do any of this. It was America’s gift to the Middle East.
About Lebanon, Pompeo claims, “They want Hezbollah and Iran out of their country, out of their system as a violent and a repressive force.” But Hezbollah was born in response to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the 1980s. Israel’s aggressions have always been the hill all US leaders seem to be ready to die on. Unsurprisingly, they blame Lebanon’s problems on a group that regional leaders call “an integral faction of the Lebanese community”, and who Lebanese people say is doing a “better job than anyone else in defending Lebanese interests”. They have to. Their only other option is to blame Israel or Saudi Arabia, which President Donald Trump wouldn’t stand for. In fact, it is only in Iran where the protesters have directly opposed Iranian clerics. Yet, even here, most opposition has been targeted at austerity policies which the government was forced to adopt after the US violated the nuclear deal. Seems like a pattern.
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