What Next For Pakistan?

Prameyanews English

Published By : Prameya News Bureau | August 15, 2023 IST

Sutanu Guru

Executive Director, C Voter Foundation

Officially, Shehbaz Sharif has completed his tenure as yet another “selected” prime minister of Pakistan. A caretaker government is in place with the caretaker prime minister being handpicked by the military in the country, otherwise known as the “Establishment”. Elections were scheduled to be held in October. But there is now no chance of happening. Even optimistic analysts keeping an eye on Pakistan say that elections would happen sometime in 2024. On paper, the reason is a census exercise that has been ordered. The real reasons lie elsewhere. The establishment wants to ensure that former Prime Minister Imran Khan, once a darling of the military, is no able to contest any elections in the foreseeable future. A lower court has already convinced him on charges of corruption and sentenced him to three years in ail. Under existing laws, he has been barred from contesting any elections for five years. But the Pakistani military wants to take no chances. He current president of the country and the Supreme Court chief justice have openly favoured Imran Khan ever since he was ousted as prime minister in 2022. The military brains are apprehensive that the two could work in tandem to get Imran back into electoral politics if elections are held in October. However, both are retiring soon and will no longer be in a position to help Imran. Then, the military can “manage” the elections that would be held in 2024.

Meanwhile, the economic crisis continues unabated in the country. Pakistan now has some foreign exchange reserves and has temporarily staved off bankruptcy and loan default. But virtually all its reserves are essentially loans taken from IMF and friendly countries and benefactors like China, Saudi Arabia and UAE. The economy continues to teeter on the edge of bankruptcy. The Pakistani Rupee is now reading for about Rs 300 to a dollar; it was about Rs 100 to a dollar in 2022. The retail inflation rate is hovering around 40%, with the prices of essential items like food, fuel and electricity rising so high that ordinary Pakistanis have no way of running their households. This column has earlier point out how citizens of the country are ding in stampedes for “atta” or wheat flour. They have no chance of getting any relief in the near future. While it has rescued Pakistan b extending loan facilities, the IMF has imposed stringent conditions. Most of them involve policies that will make the cost of living even more expensive for citizens. Indians complain bitterly when the per unit cost of electricity crosses Rs 5. People in Pakistan are already paying more than Rs 20 per unit and the rates could possibly be hiked again. There are furious protests in India when the price of petrol crosses Rs 100. It is already about Rs 300 to a litre. People in India grumble because the price of atta has crossed Rs 35 per kg. It is already more than Rs 160 per kg in Pakistan. And remember, the per capita income of Pakistan is 40% lower than that of India. One can well imagine the misery and helplessness of lower middle class and poor citizens of Pakistan.

Is there a way out of this mess for Pakistan? Many countries have gone through phrases of severe economic crisis. In the last two years, the economy of Sri Lanka had virtually collapsed. But thanks to some tough policy decisions and generous aid from India, Sri Lanka has recovered to the point where it reported an inflation rate of less than 10% last month. So it is in the realms of possibility even for the Pakistani economy to recover. Unfortunately for the people of Pakistan, that appears very unlikely at the moment. The way out for Pakistan is to create an environment that encourages investment. That needs political stability and domestic peace. Both look impossible at the moment for the country. The military will obviously “manage” the next elections in such a manner that a handpicked person becomes the prime minister. But investors will not be convinced. They wont know whom to negotiate with even if they want to risk billions setting up factories and establishments. Even domestic investors with deep pockets are shifting their factories to Bangladesh and offices to Dubai. In such a situation, why would any foreign investor set up shop? The end result is that Pakistan will barely manufacture anything that it can export and earn dollars. So the foreign exchange crisis could remain for a long time to come. 

Then there is the nightmare of terrorism. When Pakistan sponsored terrorists were doing terror sacks in India on a regular basis, jingoistic Pakistanis used to celebrate. But now the same terror groups have become Frankenstein’s monsters and are mounting suicide bomb attacks on a weekly basis. So serous is the threat that Chinese engineers and managers are scared of working on projects in Balochistan. God only knows what will become of this country that was carved out of India 76 years ago to protect “Muslims” and promote “Islam”.

Disclaimer:

This is the personal opinion of the author. The views expressed in this write-up have nothing to do with www.prameyanews.com.

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