Cold feet

Published May 13, 2022

IT was never expected that the old hands brought in to steady the ship would take so long to find their feet. Despite wave after wave tossing domestic capital markets as panic grows over the new government’s inability to start with fixing the economy, the PML-N seems caught up in ‘private’ consultations.

The sudden announcement of PML-N ministers’ being summoned to London — with the 10-member delegation led by the prime minister comprising the ministers of defence, information, planning, power, finance, railways and others — has not been well received by those still awaiting important policy decisions that can prevent markets from sinking further.

Read more: PML-N's quagmire: To call early elections or not?

The absence from office of key members of the cabinet despite the alarms blaring at full volume back home has left many concerned at just how paralysed the PML-N seems to be. It is quite clear that important individuals in the PML-N are aware that they do not have much time on their side. Key among these are Ishaq Dar, Maryam Nawaz and Khawaja Asif, who have made public statements in recent days that seem to place them in the PML-N’s ‘cut losses and run’ camp.

Mr Dar seems quite opposed to the sensible approaches proposed by Finance Minister Miftah Ismail with respect to tackling the economy. Ms Nawaz feels that it will take years to fix “Imran Khan’s mess”, and that a few months will not be enough — which has widely been interpreted as her suggesting that the PML-N needs a longer mandate than the year or so left in this Assembly’s tenure.

Then there is Mr Asif, who suggested that we may be heading for elections as early as October this year; however, he had to walk back his remarks after PPP co-chair and coalition partner Asif Ali Zardari called a hurried press conference to publicly contradict that position and assert that there could be no elections before electoral and NAB law reforms were carried out.

The PML-N talk with the media in London did not throw much light on whether the party would be making the tough but necessary decisions to protect the economy or taking a more populist route. The former is the responsible way to lead with an economic crisis so dangerously close; the latter a self-serving strategy that may succeed in preserving political capital for the party, but at severe cost to the economy.

Whatever the case, electoral and accountability reforms alone cannot be the crutch on which this government hobbles to the next election. Tough decisions need to be taken as early as possible to protect the economic interests of millions of Pakistanis, who will ultimately foot the bill for further indecision. While the PPP may have its own priorities, the PML-N needs to decide firmly what its course of action will be. It’s time to lead or get out of the way.

Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2022

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