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EDITORIAL: Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan, during a meeting on April 6, 2021 with the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf’s (PTI’s) spokespersons, termed the opposition ‘harmless’ and directed them to stop lambasting it and instead highlight the government’s achievements. While the first part of the PM’s assertion is understandable up to a point given the opposition Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) falling apart internally, the latter, highlighting the government’s achievements may prove a tall order. Even before he occupied his office, Imran Khan built his party around a round-the-clock castigation of the civilian governments of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) that preceded his entry into the corridors of power. However, what Imran Khan perhaps failed to realise is that dumping all the blame on past governments without much to show for your own is a strategy with a limited shelf life. Almost three years into its term, the PTI government’s unrelenting rhetoric is by now sounding stale, unconvincing, humourless and yielding diminishing returns. Instead, the people’s suffering under the PTI government has gone up by leaps and bounds, centering on inflation, growing unemployment, and little hope for the foreseeable future.

The PTI government’s handling of the economy has by and large, except for a few measures here and there, been found wanting during its tenure so far. Take for example the unending rhetoric of the PM and his spokespersons regarding the ‘mafias’ that manipulate the market and prices. A less pejorative and understandable description would be a ‘market economy’, which operates by and large on the principle of supply and demand, peripheral manipulation and exploitation of ‘opportunities’ presented by shortages of goods notwithstanding. Markets seldom yield to, or can be well-managed by, executive decisions. Take for example the sugar price issue. The government calculated the ex-mill price at Rs 80 per kilogram, and issued an executive order that the sweetener could not be sold higher than Rs 85 per kilogram. Predictably, the administration failed to successfully persuade traders to lower the current price of Rs 100-110. Now the Lahore High Court has stayed the lower price measure. So much for the campaign against the alleged satta (manipulative) mafia in sugar. The government’s approach to increasing poverty has centred around creating social security nets for the most needy. The concept of cash handouts though laudable has its own limitations notwithstanding the fact that it militates against the dignity, self-respect, and ability of the indigent to lift themselves up by their own bootstraps. It is the old adage about the difference between giving a person a fish gratis and teaching him/her how to fish instead that applies.

Perhaps as a corollary to the desired policy shift, the government (and Speaker of the National Assembly) have been at pains to throw the door open to an estranged and resentful opposition to help bring in electoral and judicial reforms. There is little need to remind ourselves how the opposition has been subjected to rude rhetoric and worse since the PTI came to power. To now suddenly expect the opposition to let bygones be bygones and cooperate with the treasury benches in parliament is baying for the moon. Parliament itself has received scant respect from the PM downwards, whether it is the former’s absence from the house or the verbal abuse of the opposition by the government’s ministers and spokespeople. Imran Khan once confessed after coming to power that he knew things were bad in the country but had no idea just how bad they were till he was confronted with the responsibility for running the country. If so, this underlines how poorly the PTI prepared or did its homework in anticipation of the day when it came to power. The niggling thought is that since the government’s spokespersons are likely to struggle to find the ‘achievements’ of the PTI in power to project or give a positive spin to, faced with criticism of such efforts, whether from the opposition (which is its right in a democracy) or other sources, how long will the ‘benign’ policy shift last?

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021