Questions about Imran Khans government

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Muhammad Arif
Chairman Centre of Advisory Services for Islamic Banking and Finance (CAIF), Former Head of FSCD SBP, Former Head of Research ArifHabib Investments and Member IFSB Task Force for development of Islamic Money Market, Former Member of Access to Justice Fund Supreme Court of Pakistan.

Pakistan is still under rhetoric’swith lot of expectations and speculations. Ruling PTI and establishment are looking to be on one page, whereas PML N and PPP are striving to create some space in the politics of Pakistan.

Some recent developments are release of Nawaz Sharif with his daughter and son in law on bail, Imran Khan Visit to Saudi Arabia and COAS General Bajwa visit to China with PPP leadership striving to remain away from the jail.

These developments are going on without looking in to peoples issues. However most of media comrades and analysts are repeatedly saying that everything emerging is beautiful but the facts are otherwise.

No doubt Pakistan was required to reassess its regional issues particularly in relation to GCC and Saudi Arabia, China, India,USA, Russia, Iran and Afghanistan. For this Pakistan should have a clear vision about global as well as regional politics.

In this regard Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’srecent visit to Saudi Arabia can be the first step in the regional politics where Pakistan was pushed out of the Gulf and the Mideast in the past few years.

As globalization is pushing every country to some corner, the main reason for us to look in to GCC again is due to strategic and economic interests of Pakistan Particularly since China and Pakistan are trying to secure their interests in the Gulf and Mideast by cutting a road through Pakistan to reach the Gulf.

Pakistan faces a strategic challenge in the Gulf since the region hosts the largest Pakistani diaspora in the world, sending billions of dollars in foreign remittances. Pakistan’s oil and gas needs are supplied by Gulf States, on easy terms when needed, and Gulf States have generally supported Pakistan through western sanctions.

In 2015, during the debate on the Yemen war, pressure was created on Islamabad to abandon its allies in the Gulf. While it is true that Pakistan was busy at that time in the most crucial phase of its own anti-terror war, the disinformation campaign, exploiting fault lines inside Pakistan, tied the hands of the government and prevented it from exploring other options to support longtime allies. This dealt a blow to Pakistani strategic interests in the Gulf and provided a diplomatic opening to India that was nearly impossible before 2015. More interestingly, the episode showed how prone Pakistan is to disinformation operations by states in the region.

Destabilization of the Gulf region through Yemen threatens Pakistani interests asthis war can destabilize Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region along the lines of Iraq and Syria, basically taking down the last bastions of Arab stability and prosperity. If this would happen, it would directly impact Pakistan.

In the region USA and Israel are trying to realign their allies including Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Egypt to tighten their influence on GCC. Russia is trying through Syrian war to retain its Mideast interests. China is investing billions to link itself directly to Gulf, and Iran is spreading itself by opposing this alliance. India is also trying to realize dreams of isolating Pakistan. Anyone who tells Pakistan to abandon its presence and alliances in the Gulf is not speaking in the country’s interest.

Islamabad has been reviewing its relations across the region for some time now. However bybalancingregional rivalries like Iran and Saudi Arabia, Pakistan has to move on tight rope with basic objective to create mediatory role among fighting states and to attract investment from these countries in to projects of Pakistan.

PTIis now claiming that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government has struck $10 billion deal with Saudi Arabia by making them as third partner apart from China and Pakistan in the CPEC project. If this gets through with the consent of China than it would be a significant achievement but such investment would come to Pakistan in a long period of time and Pakistan need $ 12 billion immediately.

On front of India,Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has written a letter to his Indian counterpart, seeking to resolve outstanding disputes between the two nuclear-armed nations including issue of Kashmir. But as happens always before each UN general Assembly session, this move has gone down on the rhetoric’s and false claims of Indian Army.

On political front PTI government has still proved to be a government of a U turns whether the matter was to stay in the PM house or somewhere else or the matter was waiving away all protocols or using any special plane or to visit any foreign country in the first three months or dealing with bureaucracy like in case of Maneka or by forming a reliable and independent economic coordination committee or on issue of hike in gas prices or giving some confusing statement on CPEC.

As regards bringing money from abroad, FIA has indicated that there are some 2,700 properties owned by Pakistanis abroad. Tariq Bajwa of SBP has also claimed that the names of some 550 persons are available with the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).

Now coming to economy the Finance Minister Asad Umar, in his first supplementary budget, has reversed some of the rare progressive measures taken in the last PML-N budget, such as by allowing non-filers to buy cars and properties banned by previous government, while further strengthening the reactionary fiscal and financial stabilization adjustments in preparation for becoming an eligible beggar from both bilateral and multilateral donors, including probably the IMF. Fiscal cuts have been applied to the Public Sector Development Program (PSDP) by Rs 305 billion—not on unsustainable current expenditures, including the ministries and divisions rendered superfluous by the 18th amendment and ever-increasing defense expenditures. The burden of taxation has been further added on the back of already taxed and the masses to the tune of Rs 183 billion—not including Rs 375 billion to be paid by consumers on account of increased prices of gas and petroleum. Overall impact of all the adjustments is to the tune of 2.1 percent of the GDP or Rs 814 billion. With these measures the finance minister expects to bring down fiscal deficit from 6.6 per cent of GDP to 5.1 percent of GDP (Rs 1.9 trillion), instead of what he in his revised estimates projected to be 7.2 percent of GDP.

These measures are going to increase inflation up to 8-10 percent, decrease growth, at least by one per cent of the GDP, from 5.8 percent to less than five percent resulting in higher unemployment. The trade and current account deficits would still remain high in the absence of drastic measures to expand tax net and drastically cut current expenditures, curb luxurious consumptions and expand export base both quantitatively and qualitatively. The supplementary budget indicates that Mr. Umar is probably preparing to beg another bailout package from the IMF, besides filling the empty coffers with more bilateral loans from Saudi Arabia, China and other sources. Prime Minister’s visit to Saudi Arabia, COAS General Bajwa’s damage controlling visit to China to ensure the continuity of CPEC and US Secretary of State Pompeo’s assurance not to hinder any IMF deal followed by Naval Chief’s trip to the US to remain a partner in maintaining maritime stability show the desperateness of the new power-block to ensure conflicting client-patron relationships. The results, however, won’t be dissimilar to the Imran Khan government’s predecessors because it is treading the same beaten track of structural adjustments for macroeconomic stabilization in the fiscal sphere alone.

Much publicized but superficial austerity measures like selling of PM House buffalos along with some minor adjustments in expenditure won’t save more than some peanuts (some estimates indicate Rs 3 billion saving only) as compared to a huge budgetary deficit. Blind hopes from the heavenly windfall gains from the miraculous return of looted billions will take time to dash to the ground. Similarly, a vengeful, politically motivated and selective accountability of the leaders and officials of the two previous governments, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in particular, is not likely to bring back the plundered national wealth, which is mindlessly being projected to be in the vicinity of the cost equal to four Bhasha dams. Again we are being sold the mantra of a huge dam for which we do not have enough resources and the people are being asked to contribute their last pennies in the belief that it will solve all issues related to climate change and the looming water crises, despite ecological damages and human displacement, and scarcity of water notwithstanding.

Despite social-liberal intelligentsia’s skepticism of the “regime of change”, Imran Khan’s continuous rhetoric to address poverty, illiteracy, mal-nutrition, endemic diseases, lack of clean drinking water, homelessness, de-forestation and under-development of neglected regions did make some sense. However, there is not even a one-liner in the empty mini-budget speech of the fiancé minister to cover any of the much touted social issues. Nor is there any indicator from over dozens of “task forces”, filled with the same old bureaucrats that could sustain the momentum of an otherwise false “change”. The notions about the “change from above” with a messiah as supreme helmsman should have come to grief with the induction of evil gentry at the top of the PTI before the elections and selection of the federal and two provincial cabinets consisting mostly of the same lot that the PTI had stood against for over two decades.

The real question that has to be asked now is not about stupid economy and the solutions being sought by the proponents and beneficiaries of neo-liberal economics that the prime minister so profusely continues to reject. These are the questions of political economy that need to be addressed before any exercise at reforms, i.e., character of the regime underpinned by the dominant social and neo-colonial structures of the same rotten status quo. Given the nature of power structure, propped up by a questionable electoral exercise, no big social change can be expected.

However except some symbolic and tertiary measures to keep a hapless mass of people in an illusion of change with some cosmetic changes. Until this neo-colonial shackle is broken, the people are condemned to live in hell, despite their doubled and tripled labor. Without a government of the poor by the poor and for the poor, the gulf between the rich and starved Pakistan(s) will continue to widen.

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