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Economic impact of street politics

Updated September 03, 2014

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A bicyclist makes his way through tear gas fired by police to disperse protesters, carrying wood for cooking as the sun sets, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Monday, Sept. 1, 2014. — Photo by AP
A bicyclist makes his way through tear gas fired by police to disperse protesters, carrying wood for cooking as the sun sets, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Monday, Sept. 1, 2014. — Photo by AP

ISLAMABAD may be shut, but Pakistan is open for business.

Factories are humming, raw materials are moving freely on the roads, people are commuting to and from work, cellular communications remain uninterrupted.

The rupee has seen some declines, more likely due to developments intrinsic to the markets themselves rather than the crisis.

Forex reserves are broadly stable, the stock market has seen good days and bad throughout this affair, and there have been only marginal declines.

Also Read: Stocks fall as political strife continues

Even the collection of taxes and recovery of bills in the power sector are normal, despite calls for ‘civil disobedience’.

Attempts to spread the rallies to Lahore and Karachi and other cities have floundered and there has been little disruption in day-to-day life anywhere else in Pakistan, with no general strikes, no closures of roads and petrol pumps, schools or offices, no halt in public transport.

Beyond this, however, the damage is huge, difficult to quantify, and of a lasting nature.

Those looking in from the outside are asking how sturdy the political system in Pakistan really is.

Talks with the IMF are at a standstill, and it is likely that the next tranche will be delayed. The World Bank is worried about the future of its massive Country Partnership Strategy, worth $11bn and announced just this April.

Meanwhile, government work has ground to a halt, and although the machinery continues to function in the rest of the country, the ministries and secretariats and committees are all on standby.

In short, whereas daily life is largely untouched, the strategic outlook for the country has suffered a considerable blow.

This is the exact opposite of what street politics is meant to do.

Crippling everyday life yields maximum political dividends and leaves no lasting damage, but harming the strategic outlook brings no political rewards and causes lasting damage to the economy.

This is why street politics usually targets the operation of daily life in the cities rather than fighting in the streets of the capital. In this case, however, the reverse has happened — we saw fighting in the streets of the capital while it was business as usual everywhere else.

It is disheartening to note that this confrontational strategy was used by the PTI, a party that drew ample support from professional and corporate circles — precisely those who are heavily invested in the strategic outlook — and a party that prided itself for its focus on the economy.

They should have reconsidered the decision to resort to street politics if they lacked the capacity to credibly wage the fight. Once the passions wane and the rallies disperse, perhaps the party leadership should reflect on the consequences of their actions.

There are some amongst them who were hailed as exemplars of professional excellence, and those people will now need to explain the merits of their decisions to a very sceptical audience.

Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2014