Corona Virus has hit the world hard. The developed countries are reeling under its potent onslaught. Desperate cries of shortage of ventilators, hospital beds and testing equipment is reverberating through the corridors of the economic powers in America and Europe. They are losing doctors and nurses, their first line of defense against this unforgiving and indiscriminating disease. The fight for survival of human race has entered a critical phase.
Here in Pakistan the government is struggling with ugly ground realities. With public health system in total disarray, inefficient and working under capacity, the politics has taken center stage, thanks to our media.
Media loves politics. It is always good for business. A couple of fighting politicians is necessary for the health of ratings even if it weakens the entire system. Media feeds on trust deficit and political disharmony. The higher the stakes the better it is.
This is how media is treating Corona Virus where the stakes are beyond anyone’s control- with a dose of politics at its worst.
You want to know who is on an agenda ?
Identify the Anchors who are not asking questions about Corona but why Mir Shakeel Ul Rahman is arrested.
Allah is unveiling people on his own.
— Mir Mohammad Alikhan (@MirMAKOfficial) March 24, 2020
Here is the tested and tried recipe. A narrative is conceived. Usually it involves Imran Khan and his alleged incompetence. Then a story is built around that narrative. Rented mouth pieces appear as “senior analysts” in support of the story adding their own bit of juicy and often unverified details. Opinions take precedence over facts.
The best part is that their story has only one side. Anchor persons, ones who are paid to remain as unhappy as a Russian without Vodka, sift through the details to find one small discrepancy and then erect a tsunami of allegations, jump to conclusions, draw unilateral results and then have the final word. Bravo!
And all this is going on when we are fighting a war we might never win.
Everyday we are faced with new challenges. Everyday we hear that Corona has hit at the heart of Europe, the new epicenter of this disease. Everyday we learn that doctors and nurses are dying in the line of duty. Everyday, the world sleeps under a cloak of suffocating uncertainty only to rise and fight again. There is panic in the West. The strengths of the Super Power stand mercilessly exposed. The fragile frightened human nature is begging for respite.
While the West fights for our survival too. We in Pakistan, a developing third world country, with 24% of population living under multidimensional poverty, are more concerned with political point scoring by the elite politicians, who like many leaders around the world including the Royal blood, are not immune to this pandemic.
It is nauseating that in this hour of despair our veteran politicians unabashedly with the help of some media personnel aim to malign the sitting government. For the purpose of continuity this present government had to start where the previous one had left after ruling us for decades. Remember this government inherited an economically torn and tattered Pakistan at the verge of an imminent default. And we want to hold this government accountable for the countless follies and foibles of our former rulers?
After assuming power, Prime Minister Imran Khan, has been called all sorts of names. We have heard people telling him that he is incompetent, a novice unfamiliar with the traits of governance. Others are convinced that at his core dwells an obstinate fool and on the surface he is at best a struggling neophyte.
Many out there viciously criticize that his obsession with punishing the corrupt is insanely disproportionate to the attempts by the corrupt to seek an escape from punishment. His private life has been riddled with nasty jokes. His wife and children have been targeted relentlessly. In short, everyday our Prime Minister Imran Khan is reminded that he is in the wrong place for the wrong reasons.
May be Imran Khan is in the wrong place for the wrong reasons. Why?
In the last four decades we have seen multiple generations in Afghanistan brought up under the dynamics of war. Their national psyche and character are excessively influenced by the war economy. War is their way of doing business and at times it seems that Afghanis will not survive without a war.
Similarly, in the last four decades many generations in Pakistan have accepted corruption as a way of life. It is everywhere, manifested in different forms and scales. Police is corrupt so is the owner of a private hospital. Corruption in bureaucracy can be matched by corruption of sugar mafia.
Media houses are as corrupt as the gambling dens. There is corruption in legal system and there is corruption in the private education system. Fruit vendor on the street is corrupt so is the multi billionaire in Shahalmi Market. Most religious scholars are no exception either. In short, our affluent is corrupt and so are the poor. Our educated mind is corrupt and so is our illiterate soul. And this corruption infested generation has produced an infected breed of politicians, bureaucracy and judiciary, our ruling elite.
This ruling elite understood that its survival depended on the continuity of a corrupt system. Therefore, it ensured that all institutions entrusted with the affairs of the state and government, willingly or forcefully, adopted a discourse that promoted corruption. Those few among us who dared to oppose this approach were made to suffer. Those who obliged were generously compensated.
However, in May 2018 our ruling elite woke up to a nasty shock. Imran Khan marched into the power corridors as Prime Minster of Pakistan. This was his first time and he was pitched against the experienced and ruthless powers of the status quo.
Imran Khan may not be new to politics but he became prime minister after unexpectedly snatching power from the jaws of our former ruling elite. The fear that he may continue as Prime Minister for the next many years beyond the initial tenure of five years has forced all the other major political parties who once shared the plunder, into a frantic huddle to preserve whatever remains in their hands. Their concerns are not misplaced especially with the ongoing aggressive but at times unregulated accountability campaign.
This corrupt elite, with dwindling patronage, feared political annihilation and desperately called upon all those who illegitimately prospered under their watch to come out to their rescue.
Their calls did not go unattended. Media moguls feeling resentful after government slashed advertisement rates, social media gurus now threatened by shrinking space and financially enabled Twitterati, all thronged the public space to paint a doom’s day scenario. Unified in their agenda and fortified by their promised gains, these forces chanted at the top of their voices that Imran Khan must not continue as the Prime Minster Pakistan.
It is said that politics is all about building or negating perceptions. There is an organized and a generously funded campaign to build a negative perception about Prime Minister Imran Khan especially around his economic acumen. To some extent this perception is gaining public approval as well with a growing number of disheartened PTI followers. But before we begin to bring down our Prime Minister let us examine what was the economic state of Pakistan when he took charge.
Remember Imran Khan, who had no experience of governance, inherited a Pakistan that was ruled by two parties PPP and PML. Both these parties had time and again viciously exposed the corruption of the other and then shook hands for mutual good. In Imran Khan they found a common enemy, someone who must be defeated, defamed and destroyed, in whatever way and by whatever means. Imran Khan was a threat to all.
Imran Khan was attacked from all sides. Media was used to punch holes in his policy decisions. Twiterrati was deployed to ridicule his every move. Negativity and despair was infused in public. His inexperience in governance was highlighted the most.
How was our economy doing under the “experienced” leadership of previous regimes? This question was conveniently pushed under the carpet.
When a new government takes over, it assumes, for continuity sake, the accomplishments and lapses of its predecessor. The new Prime Minster is not given a clean slate to start again. He must begin from where the previous ruler left. And where did our previous ruler PMLN with its repertoire of experts, left Pakistan?
Let us see.
1) When PMLN came into power our external debt was US$ 62 Billion. PMLN government after completing its tenure left a massive external debt of US$ 95 Billion on Pakistan. That is an increase of more than US$ 43 Billion in debt in its five years. Where was this money spent?
Is PM Imran Khan responsible for this debt?
2) PMLN left fiscal deficit in FY 2017-18 @ 6.6% of the GDP and that in monetary terms comes to about Rs. 2.26 Trillion. Fiscal deficit shows the difference between the revenue and expenditures of a country. Deficit means that expenditures are more than the revenues. This fiscal deficit was managed by PMLN not by increasing direct tax net/revenues but through borrowing more money. Hence the debt burden on Pakistan was further increased but the people were not taxed due to the fear of losing political support.
Is PM Imran Khan responsible for this fiscal deficit??
3) One of the reasons behind fiscal deficit is low tax collection. During PMLN tenure the tax to GDP ratio was 10.5 % in FY 2016 and 10.5% in FY 2017 which was the lowest in the region.
Is PM Imran Khan responsible for this extortive and ineffective tax structure?
4) PMLN left a current account deficit of more than US$ 18 Billion. The current account deficit shows the difference in payments in our imports and exports. Deficit means that Pakistan was paying more to other countries than those countries were paying to us. Our imports bill was far higher than our exports. This deficit was also met with more borrowing.
Is PM Imran Khan responsible for this current account deficit?
5) December 2014 to June 2016 saw oil prices plummet. This was a huge opportunity for Pakistan to gain economic momentum. But PMLN instead of passing the full benefit of low oil prices to the consumers enhanced the taxes on oil imports.
6) When PMLN assumed power in 2013 our exports were recorded at US$ 25.12 Billion. In 2017 our exports witnessed a steep fall to US$ 23.4 Billion.
Is PM Imran Khan responsible for this fall in exports?
7) PMLN artificially kept our rupee overvalued despite calls from experts to bring it down. This overvaluing reportedly cost Pakistan another US$ 7 Billion which added to our debt burden.
8) PMLN initiated massive non-developmental expenditure like metro bus service and orange adding to our fiscal deficit.
Is PM Imran Khan responsible for all this?
9) The gluttonous Public Sector Enterprises (WAPDA, STEEL MILLS, PIA and others) have cost us around Rs. 1.5 Trillion in debts and liabilities over the years.
Is PM Imran Khan responsible for mismanagement, inefficiency, corruption and excessive staffing in these PSEs?
10) PMLN left foreign exchange reserves at US$ 17 Billion and current account deficit at US$ 18 Billion?
11) PMLN allowed the circular debt in the power sector to reach Rs. 1.14 Trillion despite a huge decline in oil prices during its tenure from December 2014 to June 2016. Low priced oil had a directed impact on the cost of production of electricity.
Is PM Imran Khan responsible for this circular debt?
12) Public schools and hospitals collapsed making education and health a withering dream for the masses.
Is Imran Khan, who built cancer hospitals, in three major cities of the country with public funding, responsible for the collapse of public health sector?
In August 2018 Imran Khan entered the political arena as the Prime Minister. And do you know what he had to do immediately? Arrange a payment of US$ 11.5 Billion in debt servicing.
Here is the picture.
Imran Khan was never part of the ruling elite. Imran Khan was not part of the federal government. Imran Khan was never part of policy formulation at national level. Imran Khan had always strongly advocated against this unnatural debt build-up and had often referred to the book titled “Confessions of an Economic Hitman” by John Perkins in support of his message.
With only US$ 17 Billion in the national kitty, Prime Minister Imran Khan who had no role in this debt emergency, had to bear the task to rescue the state of Pakistan. And lest we forgot who got us into this mess in the first place, it was PMLN and PPP.
Imran Khan had always opposed the idea of approaching IMF. He stood by his word and adopted a different approach. In a short period of time Imran Khan convinced UAE and Saudi Arabia to help Pakistan in this hour of need and he was not disappointed. China too stepped forward. This effort resulted in the arrangement of US$ 9.2 Billion which saved Pakistan from imminent default.
But the economic hitmen had hit Pakistan hard. With limited time at hand and billions of dollars to arrange, Imran Khan, hesitantly opened negotiations with IMF and was successful in getting a handsome relief package of US$ 6 Billion followed by other international donors.
I ask my fellow Pakistanis in general and disgruntled PTI youth in particular as to how can they blame Imran Khan who is in power for only 18 months, for a forty years old mess we are in? If Imran Khan so wished he could have easily followed the past practices? What or who would have stopped him from doing that? He could have borrowed more dollars to artificially control the value of rupee. He could have avoided increase in tax net and documentation of economy and allowed businesses to flourish.
He could have played around with the growth figures to show how grand his tenure has been so far. That would have made us all very happy and satisfied. But what about Pakistan? Do we actually care what would have happened to Pakistan?
Why do we forget that our previous regimes recruited cronies, promoted relatives, doled out posts, destroyed all state institutions, vandalized our political culture, distributed jobs for allegiance, sidelined accountability and made political compromises at will while melodiously reciting Jalib and Faiz. They are the ones who encouraged and rewarded corruption creating a society bereft of all norms and decency. Our rulers of the past were nothing but a farcical embodiment of principles and morality. Do we want them back?
Of course we do. I once noted that a national and political environment that promotes powerful but regressive individuality over state institutions and progressive ideologies will create an oligarchy where a small group of people controls a country. This is the case in Pakistan.
The facts and numbers given above, show that Pakistan was heading towards an economic crisis. The writing on the wall was indistinctly and shockingly clear. It was on account of policies of the previous governments that Imran Khan had to take some tough and bitter decisions to save Pakistan from becoming a defaulter state.
Let us take a moment to introspect. Pakistan is hub of black money parked in the real estate, bond market and even the banking sector. Tax evasion is rampant followed by money laundering. Bribery, injustice, inequality, extortion at public offices and many other forms of corruption are ominously present here. State institutions are crippled by corruption, unable to provide for even the basic needs of its citizens.
The question is whether this situation was created in the last one and half year by Imran Khan?
A just mind will surely agree that the current malaise that afflicts us is rooted in the previous regimes and the forces that controlled it. The irony is that there are many who still yearn for the return of the erstwhile plunderers hoping that this eventuality would resume inflow of their share of the loot.
Imran Khan took some drastic measures as the circumstances demanded such actions. These unpopular decisions may dent his political capital. The real question is whether his intentions were right?
Dear Pakistanis ask your selves:
Should we pay taxes or not? Should we discourage money laundering or not? Should we be part of documented economy or not? Should we allow the rich and poor disparity cross all reasonable limits? Should Pakistan not offer equal opportunities to all qualified and eligible? Should we continue to make roads and bridges while millions of our children are out of schools and the sick without medical care? Should the police and patwaris continue with their oppressive inhuman treatment of the masses? Should public offices, our service centers, continue to dehumanize the populace? Should rich get away with murder under the umbrella of protocol and poor incarcerated for petty theft?
Traders and businessmen will not pay taxes. They are not used to it. Our landed aristocracy will not pay taxes because no one dare ask them to. Doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects and real estate builders do not pay taxes. Our corporate giants with their team of auditors will avoid taxes as it is their right to do so. We will buy real estate, misdeclare the value and avoid paying the actual tax.
We will undervalue imports and over value exports to suit our businesses. We will smuggle goods to make easy profit. Hoarding and profiteering are our favourite pastime. We will not keep assets in our name but create fictitious front men, benamidars, to hide our real wealth. We will buy offshore companies for money laundering. And all this is perfectly fine.
A society that has turned corrupt would not want any of the above questions to be answered in the affirmative. Our individual interests compete with Pakistan’s interest. That is a debilitating and an irreparable dichotomy. It is our resolve that our house, be it small or big, must see all the springs and Pakistan, the state that endures our apathy must bear the brunt of every autumn.
One thing we must remember, the state of Pakistan is not unarmed or helpless. It has the means to correct our discourse. We must therefore pray that Pakistan does not return in kind what we have been throwing at it for the past seventy years. I am sure we will not be able to withstand our state’s retribution against its own people.
As for the Corona Virus, the human race will survive but at a cost. Once the appetite of this ravenous pandemic subsides we will see new power centers being created. Unfair economic tilt will be readjusted. Monarchies may turn into democracies and democracies may be redefined. We will have a new world order. This time, however, the world will have no part in it.
Faisal Zaman is a lawyer with more than 25 years of professional experience. He has also worked with the apex regulator of the corporate world and has acquired intrinsic knowledge about core corporate issues as well the working of a federal institution. His legal practice involves transactional & contractual drafting, mediation, advisory and research assignments within one or multiple jurisdictions. His main areas of interest include social, legal and political discourse in Pakistan as well as past & emerging global trends. Faisal Zaman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.