A day after fuel prices were increased for the second time in the span of a week, PTI Chairman Imran Khan castigated the government for bowing down to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) while Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif called on the privileged classes to make sacrifices and "adopt simplicity".
On Thursday, the government increased the prices of petroleum products by another Rs30 per litre in a move aimed at reviving the stalled IMF programme. Cumulatively, the government has raised petrol prices prices by Rs60 since May 26.
The rise in fuel prices and power tariffs via the removal of subsidies introduced by the PTI government is one of the main prerequisites that the incumbent coalition government needs to meet for the resumption of the $6 billion IMF programme, which has been stalled since April.
Addressing a public gathering in Buner today, former prime minister Imran hit out at the government for "succumbing to the IMF's pressure". He claimed that the current rulers had turned a blind eye to the nation's suffering as their properties, families and assets were all based abroad.
He said that the government had increased petrol prices by a whopping Rs60, which would ultimately prove "bone-breaking" for the salaried class.
The PTI chairman claimed his government had also faced pressure from the IMF to increase prices. "But we did not give in and managed finances from different resources in order to provide financial relief to the people".
He said the incumbent government would act according to the "orders" it received from abroad, reiterating that it had been brought into power through a foreign conspiracy.
Imran went on to say that he had warned the neutrals of the economic tailspin if the foreign conspiracy against his government succeeded. "It is good to be neutral but the country's sovereignty is equally important".
The word neutral is a reference to the military, which has consistently claimed it is neutral as the country goes through political upheaval since the filing of the no-confidence motion against Imran on March 8.
He claimed he had also asked former finance minister Shaukat Tarin to apprise the neutrals of the impending economic downturn when the conspiracy was being hatched. "We can only defend the country when it is strong."
He once again gave the example of the Soviet Union, saying that it broke apart once its economy started declining.
Imran warned that a "power tariff bomb" would also explode in the days to come. He said his government had increased the tariff by Rs6 per unit during its three-and-a-half-year tenure while the current government had raised prices by Rs10 per unit in just two months.
Continuing the comparison, he said that a 20kg bag of wheat had cost Rs326 when the PTI was in government, which had increased to Rs422 in the two months since the ruling coalition assumed office.
"Similarly, the price of a 1kg bag of basmati rice was Rs40 which has now risen to Rs55. Ghee was being sold for Rs201 but its price has doubled since the new government took over."
He also expressed alarm over the country's depleting foreign exchange reserves, saying that they had declined to $9.6 billion — the same level when the PTI was elected in 2018.
"Credit rating agency Moody's has once again downgraded Pakistan's economic outlook to negative, which had improved during our tenure," the ex-PM added.
Shehbaz calls on privileged classes to make sacrifices
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif called on the privileged classes to make sacrifices and to adopt simplicity, saying that everyone would have to give sacrifices during these challenging times.
Addressing a ceremony in Gwadar, PM Shehbaz talked about the government's decision to hike petrol prices by another Rs30.
He claimed that the previous PTI government never provided the people with relief when it came to necessities such as wheat and pulses during its tenure but chose to reduce oil and petrol prices when it realised that the no-confidence motion would be successful.
"They lowered prices and laid a web to entrap us."
Up until last week, we tried our best to avoid imposing this additional burden on the people, he said. He questioned how it was possible to provide a subsidy on petroleum products when the country functioned on loans.
"We tried our best to stop it but we had to impose this additional burden because we had no option," he said.
He said that the government was aware of the people's struggles. The government and the heads of its allied parties are united on the stance that putting additional burden on the masses is akin to being unjust, he said.
"But we were forced to increase prices," he repeated, adding that he had called a meeting for tomorrow.
PM Shehbaz said that the privileged classes had the responsibility to step forward, make sacrifices, and adopt simplicity. He said that he would ensure that those who were financially blessed would keep their wealth at the feet of the poor.
"Tomorrow I will conduct a meeting [...] this starts with me, ministers, advisers, federal and provincial secretaries, government officers, politicians: Everyone will have to play their role and adopt simplicity and bear tough steps."
He said that the privileged classes, the government, the prime minister and his ministers, chief ministers, governors and officers would all have to accept these "lawful but tough" steps.
"If we work together day and night, adopt simplicity, give sacrifices, then a time will surely come where we overcome these challenges and take this country towards development and prosperity. That is my belief."