Lasting harm

Published March 4, 2023

TRACKING our economic predicament in recent months has been like watching a train wreck in slow motion. Despite the chorus of well-meaning voices asking him to act with reason and good sense, the finance minister stubbornly stuck to his guns on policies that were bound to put him in confrontation with the IMF till it was too late.

Few had believed him when he claimed soon after taking over that he could bend the Fund to his will. A country on the brink of default does not dictate terms to its creditors. He still went ahead with his ill-conceived approach. Instead of making a serious effort to address core imbalances in the economy, he wasted time needling the IMF and insisting on setting the terms of the bailout.

As a result, the ninth review of the funding programme, originally scheduled for October, remains pending even though foreign exchange inflows have rapidly dried up.

‘God-willing, next week’ is a refrain we have grown accustomed to hearing every few weeks from the finance minister. It was repeated again yesterday. Unfortunately, it seems that we may finally be out of time.

Default — once pooh-poohed as an irrational fear — is now appearing increasingly likely, however strenuously the finance minister may deny its possibility. Yet, nothing seems to humble the PML-N or Ishaq Dar.

They remain unwilling to acknowledge that much of the present mess is attributable to the bluster with which he has worked the finance ministry.

Miftah Ismail had at least seemed proactive about addressing Pakistan’s issues — something that insiders in Washington acknowledge. On the other hand, the IMF appears unwilling to trust Mr Dar, who seems to have a below-par understanding of Pakistan’s economic ailments and no stomach for needed reforms.

Thanks to him, we have reached a point where even IMF approval may not be enough to spare us further harm. Lasting damage has been done not only to the economy but also to the national psyche.

Faith in the country’s future — economic or otherwise — has evaporated. The vast majority do not have enough for three meals, and even better-off Pakistanis are vocalising fears about the country not having a stable future to offer them.

Our brightest young minds are planning to start a new life in foreign lands, having lost all hope in theirs. This damage will take years, if not decades, to reverse. The Sharifs had imposed Mr Dar on this country despite the vocal protestations of everyone who had witnessed his policies thoroughly discredited in the past.

They had ignored voices from their own ranks warning them of the disaster he could cause. They must stop insisting on supporting a man responsible for single-handedly ruining the future of millions of Pakistanis. The country must now be relieved of his burden.

Published in Dawn, March 4th, 2023

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