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Charter of economy

Updated June 25, 2019

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IT might sound incongruous in these times of polarisation, but there is a growing need for the political parties to agree on a ‘charter of economy’ if Pakistan is to have any hope of breaking its cycle of eternal return to the IMF.

The issue has come back to the surface of late, especially since Maryam Nawaz obliquely announced her opposition to making any ‘deal’ with the government, while Shahbaz Sharif and Asif Zardari have both supported the idea.

The logic of refusing to deal with one’s opponents because they have come to power ‘through the back door’ is fine for political purposes, but the need and demand for a charter of economy is different, and predates the present.

It is worth remembering that the idea had been floated in the past by the PML-N itself.

A charter of economy need not represent a ‘deal’ or a ‘bargain’ of any sort.

It doesn’t have to be a negotiation process where one side gives and the other takes.

It is, in fact, a roundtable discussion for all parties to concur on a minimum economic agenda they think is desirable.

There are some common things that all parties have done when in power.

For example, they have all floated bonds in international markets and taken loans from the IMF and the World Bank.

Then there are some things they have all struggled with when in power — for example, broadening the tax base and documenting the economy.

There are some areas where they do not agree with each other — for example, what to do with state-owned enterprises.

On each of these agenda items, there is a need for the parties to sit down together to discuss with each other what their position is, what actions they are willing to support, and where they draw the line.

The PPP has opposed outright privatisation, for example, preferring a divestment of stakes instead, whereas the PML-N and the PTI both now seem in favour of privatisation (even though the latter party’s manifesto does not propose privatisation as the solution to the growing burden of SOEs).

The parties need to have this dialogue with each other behind closed doors, and with the din of politics locked out.

Those members of their parties who support such a path should discuss it with those among their colleagues who oppose it and persuade them to change their minds.

Moreover, the process needs to be led by Prime Minister Imran Khan himself, otherwise it will lack the kind of credibility it needs.

This is the time for Mr Khan to show that he is capable of providing the kind of leadership the country needs.

The economic conversation has suffered as it was held hostage to political tides over the years.

It is now time to sit together and agree on at least a minimum common agenda for the economy.

Published in Dawn, June 25th, 2019