No saviours in sight

Published October 4, 2022
The writer is a journalist.
The writer is a journalist.

FLOODS, an impending retirement and a new finance minister — yet little seems settled.

Most of us continue to wonder about what will come next. Partly this is due to the political turmoil and warring parties with completely divergent goals. Indeed, the distance between one side wanting immediate elections and the other for parliament to complete its term is as much as the gap between the entire night and 30 seconds, which Harry mentions in the iconic film, When Harry Met Sally.

The PDM, especially the PML-N, wants to delay elections till the very last minute, in order to gain lost ground. For them, the election is about inflation and Khan’s narrative about ‘saazish’ (conspiracy) and ‘khuddari’ (self-respect). And they need time to counter both.

So far, they have called in their numero uno ‘finance’ relative so he can fix the numbers, dollars and rupees, with both eyes on the elections. He is here to save siyasat and not the riyasat, as they were earlier waxing lyrical about.

Read: 'Rupee's guardian angel': Will the new finance minister be able to fulfil all expectations tied to him?

As for the rest, they have decided to investigate the cipher. Or is the audio leak? Or is it the saazish? It is hard to figure out, but then, mere mortals don’t really have the brains to match the grey matter bestowed on those who rule us. But why worry? Considering the track record of the Pakistani state in investigating corruption cases or Osama bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan, the chances of this investigation having a happy ending are about as high as Prince Andrew’s return to public life.

Read: Economic restructuring

But in the meantime, the government will try to make hay and label Imran Khan as the real traitor. Umeed-i-bahar rakh (hope springs eternal) and all that.

Mere mortals don’t have the brains to match the grey matter bestowed on those who rule us.

But these are just tactics of the larger strategy which is to drag the matter out. Dig up dirt through the inquiry, bring the dollar down to 170 (hello vacation, here I come), lower prices and quietly hope the PTI wallahs finally tire themselves out with the jalsas and impromptu ‘red line’ protests and fall asleep from exhaustion, while the PML-N voter steps out to buy cheap food and the PML-N sings all the way to the hustings, as they were supposed to in 2018. We are going back to the future.

But then, this is not to say that the PTI’s plans to get an immediate election are any more successful or realistic than the PML-N’s claims about being good at running the economy.

Khan has done 50 jalsas already; each one of them was ‘historic’ according to the PTI’s own social media accounts, so much so that all the heady drone shots of every jalsa have run into each other in my head and caused a mid-air collision up there. But for all their ‘show-sha’ and Khan’s bluster, the party knows, as do we, that free and fair elections cannot be forced upon the Pakistan establishment by mere street power. It is a double-edged sword — while people power does get them a bit jittery, the jitters make them a little more adamant to delay elections, for who wants the noisy ‘masses’ to choose their own government?

And the PTI knows this. So behind the signs, it too is hoping or counting on the confusion within the establishment to lead to early elections. But whether they really think it can happen. … Like the PDM, it too is counting on a bit of luck.

But in all this mess, what perhaps works to the disadvantage of the PDM more than the PTI is the instability of the present set-up; its longevity has as much of a chance as the posting of a police officer in Punjab.

Just consider: there is an unwieldy coalition at the centre, which has little but hatred for Khan as its glue and cabinet positions as its only temptation or reward. It is at loggerheads with Punjab, which it is forever plotting to get, and even if it succeeds, the government will never really be a stable one, especially as this time around, they might even put a non-Sharif in charge. The numbers will forever be in the reach of the opposition benches, whosoever sits on them.

Balochistan is surviving partly because the government is trying to include everyone on the treasury benches so no one can notice or criticise the lack of effort.

But in these long, long 10 to 12 months to elections on schedule, the economy will continue to go from bad to worse. Every decision will be made to balance the demands of the IMF with the demands of an angry electorate, and chances are that the IMF will get the short end of the stick (in the short term) and the Pakistanis (in the long run).

And regarding any long-term decision-making about the fundamentals, the reforms will continue to wait, as they did even when Miftah Ismail was in charge.

As with our television dramas, there is no respite for the long-suffering female protagonist or the people in Pakistan. For there is little hope the political parties — whichever one of them comes to power — is ready to take any steps to fix the so-called fundamentals of the economy, be it now or after the elections.

The PML-N’s Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was not off the mark when he said that the election will not solve anything as the real issue is adherence to the Constitution — his bashful way of referring to the civil-military imbalance. But even he does not want to go any further than a happy ending for the politicians.

Sadly, what we are scared of asking is that even if this imbalance were to magically fix itself — as magically as the dollar is climbing down — our victorious politicians would have no solutions or the stomach to implement existing solutions to get the economy on the right track.

One may as well give up and listen to Yeh Dunya Agar Mil Bhi Jaye.

The writer is a journalist.

Published in Dawn, October 4th, 2022

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