EDITORIAL: Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s “urgent” Rs23 billion grant may have put out the fire in AJK for now, but it would be foolish to assume that this was all that was needed to put a lid on the discontent in the valley.

Regardless, the first lesson to be drawn from all this is that the government has still not learnt to handle preventable crises before they explode onto the streets; or it just never cared and still only bothers to sprinkle funds here and there whenever things get really out of control.

For, even senior PML-N leader Rana Sanaullah admitted, in a rare moment of self-accountability, that AJK’s problems – runaway inflation, unfair taxation, and a bloated, parasitic elite – had been simmering for a long time and should have been addressed much earlier.

The second most important lesson, at least for the government, is what can happen when people are forced to bear record inflation and unemployment for too long, while their incomes are stagnant or dropping in real terms, and an over-sized, over-privileged elite is allowed to eat off the fat of the land and lord over them.

Yet it’s not just that the government ignores these issues; it is, actually, part of the problem because it tailors policies to suit the top of the food chain – at the cost of the lot at the bottom, of course – and thrives on the colonial structure of the state whose size alone guarantees that ordinary people will continue to be exploited to pay for it.

Hence, the fear that the future might bring much stiffer challenges than the past. The people have now understood that the only thing that can keep Pakistan from defaulting is an active IMF programme, which will impose a very tough tax and subsidy regime which, like always, will hurt the middle- and lower-income classes because the government hasn’t yet dared tax the big fish – agriculture, real estate, wholesale, retail – enough to create adequate fiscal space.

So, what’s to be expected in the next fiscal, when the government celebrates signing another EFF with the IMF whose “upfront conditions” will inflate utility bills, stoke cost-push inflation and make life unaffordable for millions more across the country?

And since we would be on an IMF programme at that time, what if the prime minister is not allowed the leverage to dole out funds to handle protests? What happened in AJK over the last few days is an ominous sign of what is waiting to happen across the country if the government does not undertake immediate reforms.

It’s shameful that it took at least four deaths and many more injuries to take steps that should have been taken a long, long time ago. But it’s much worse that the government still seems blissfully unaware of the storm that is gathering in front of everybody’s eyes.

It is effectively sleepwalking into a nightmare scenario and dragging the whole country along with it. If it really thinks that the AJK protests were an isolated, one-time thing, then there’s much more suffering in store for the people.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024


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KU May 19, 2024 11:22am
This incident is the result of utilities overbilling n corrupt practices of public servants n was simmering since one year. Its not over, economic issues are making life miserable for people.
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Aamir May 19, 2024 03:29pm
You have just ignored the main point of overpopulation that is destroying the poor masses. They have to adopt a one child policy like China to come out of the poverty trap.
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