The fall guy

Published August 18, 2022

WITH one camp in the PML-N repeatedly undermining the party’s own government, it is no wonder that economic and political stability has been so hard to come by.

Maryam Nawaz’s public distancing from Finance Minister Miftah Ismail over the recent fuel price hike, and her assertion that her father had stormed out of a meeting in which it was discussed, were quite uncalled for. They only opened the door for the PML-N’s allies and sympathisers to also throw their punches at the beleaguered finance minister, leaving him scrambling to provide justifications.

Mr Ismail has a thankless job, but it need not be so humiliating. He cannot be faulted for exercising fiscal restraint when the IMF is breathing down his neck to see how responsibly the government behaves with public funds.

Read: Pakistan needs to ‘do more’ for double IMF payout

Mr Ismail has explained that the price increase was only to cover pricing differentials in fuel sold over the past fortnight. Under the new pricing mechanism, any fall in international oil prices will eventually trickle down to end consumers — if not in the current cycle, then in the next.

Over the past few months, as politicians across the aisle bickered and fought, Mr Ismail was clear about how he planned to clean the Augean stables of our economy. One may disagree with the path he chose, but it is difficult to criticise his commitment to the Herculean task.

Read: Two choices before government

It is unfortunate, then, that his main opposition has come not from the PTI but from a camp within his own party that remains beholden to the ideas of former finance minister Ishaq Dar.

It seems that Mr Dar has the ear of party supremo Nawaz Sharif and that he has been filling it with some troubling opinions about how the economy really ought to be managed. The Nawaz camp’s hostility towards Mr Ismail also seems to flow from Mr Dar’s well-known contempt for his younger counterpart.

Mr Dar, himself widely criticised as the architect of Pakistan’s present-day crises, seems to have had it in for Mr Ismail ever since the latter was first called in towards the end of the last PML-N regime to clean up the damage done by Mr Dar’s exchange rate policies.

Read: The Dar-shaped curve

If the government’s ship had already been looking lost at sea, it now also seems to be facing a mutiny from within. Its main opposition, the PTI, must be ecstatic. It does not make sense why the ruling parties are acting like their own worst enemies.

With stability slowly returning to the economy and domestic capital markets starting to show some signs of calm, this should have been a time to keep focus and remain steady, not to go public with a schism in their ranks. The follies keep adding up, eroding any faith left in this government. One wonders whether any maturity will be forthcoming.

Published in Dawn, August 18th, 2022

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