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The inflation debate in Pakistan

PM Imran Khan and his cabinet are providing many justifications for the soaring price inflation: a spike in global commodity markets, flawed policies of earlier governments and their corruption, etc. But none is convincing enough for the public that has been struggling to cope with a sustained onslaught of elevated food and energy inflation for more than two years.

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The internet is abuzz with intense clashes between overseas Pakistani and some resident Pakistanis over their respective perspective of inflation in Pakistan and comparable prices. While it is a recognized fact that constructive debate on any subject brings out facts that can identify a way to tackle the situation & lead to general improvement, debate with rancor and hostility really removes the focus from the debate point & makes it personal.

Actually, the debate has led to a situation where both sides are attacking each other & questioning their credentials rather than tackling the subject. Plus add to the unsavory fact that the internet is crammed with fake accounts, multiple accounts, cyber teams who are more interested in making the debate bitter & creating bad blood rather than taking it towards any constructive conclusion makes clashes more likely.

Read more: High inflation anxiety creeping into Fed: Expert

Overseas Pakistanis point of view 

The way PMLN and PPP cyber team members and supporters attack overseas Pakistanis certifies the fact that they have given up on winning over any significant percentage of overseas Pakistanis and now simply tackle them as PTI supporters. It was something fated to happen as the overseas Pakistanis, more exposed to some kind of democracy and accountability in the system, have been able to follow the actions of the PTI government particularly Imran Khan very intensely and could see the difference of approach between them and the past government.

This has led to a situation where you hardly find any PMLN or PPP supporters abroad except some beneficiaries who have been sent there or the absconders themselves. PMLN & PPP has actually given up on the overseas Pakistanis vote as well and thus their tooth and nail opposition to electronic voting machines and giving the right to overseas Pakistanis to vote.

The overseas Pakistanis having access to much more information than allowed in some of the Asian countries can really see that the inflation trend is worldwide, and it is linked, connected or offshoot of different factors Covid-19 being one of them. That leads them to conclude that inflation in Pakistan is not due to the PTI government, but it would have happened irrespective of whichever party was in power. That is not to say that the PTI government is totally blameless; they have contributed to making the situation as it is by their incompetence or lack of action but to blame them solely is hardly fair.

Read more: WATCH: Ali Amin Gandapur advises nation to eat less sugar, flour to control inflation

How inflation has affected everyone?

This galls the PMLN & PPP supporters as they have nothing else to decry but the inflation and prices factor and to get that denied robs them of the few teeth they are left with. Overseas Pakistanis show the gas (petrol) prices in their countries and point out that it has touched the peak in the last few years. But they also point out that rising petrol prices have not led to instant maximizing of all essential item pricing as well. In western countries, the trade actually depends on keeping the profits reasonable & increasing their revenues by selling high quantities.

This is due to the open market, high level of competition, price-sensitive market, and a tendency to keep profit reasonable. Add to that they have consumer resistance groups that can actually seriously hurt products if they decide to boycott them. This is the reason that prices during Thanksgiving, New Year and Christmas really go down as all kinds of offers are given and the holiday season sees almost 80 % of the total year product sold. Compared to that the Pakistani markets where traders are used to earning ridiculous rates of profit without even paying taxes.

Traders in Pakistan raise their prices even reacting to a rumor of petrol price increase without justification, there are too many middlemen in between, the market is controlled by some bigwigs leading to a not monopolistic but duopolistic situation. It’s interesting that in the USA very high petrol prices nowadays have not really led to the same type of price increase that would have and in the past did happen in Pakistan.

In Pakistan, the traders are always highly protected, not used to paying taxes, not used to any consumer resistance, not used to government regulating profit as past governments were traders themselves and that prompts them to push for their own prices. When we look at the international situation two things become clear, one that the inflation is worldwide, and two Pakistan has an artificial pricing situation dictated by political & monetary interests.

Read more: Kaptaan will fix everything: PTI assures public as inflation surges

Pakistani social media creates the perception that it’s a total disaster in Pakistan

As if there is an Ethiopia-like situation in Pakistan. A famine-like scenario is unfolding, people are starving, unemployment is through the roof. The situation is dire. However overseas Pakistanis observe two things economic activities are going on, despite covid-19 restrictions markets are moving, you can see the hustle and bustle in the market, the construction industry can be claimed to be booming, exports are high (exports means products are being made and making products involve economic activities and revenues). Family contacts back home say the situation is difficult but not impossible.

They debunk the hysteria created by the media by saying that they are politically motivated and while the difficulties are there, life is going on. It’s not to say the poorer sections of the society have become millionaires or poverty has gone out of the window but after touching a nadir the situation is improving.

The tendency or the need of the political opposition in Pakistan to use social media to push their point across & the usage of semi-educated cyber teams who descend into abuse in absence of a good narrative really create some bad blood. Social media has a strong presence of cyber teams as well as foreign-sponsored teams whose target is to damage Pakistan. They try to pour oil into the fire to make it worse. That needs to be resisted at all costs. The debate between resident Pakistanis and overseas Pakistanis about their loyalty to Pakistan is ridiculous. It’s like comparing or questioning two brothers who love their mother the most. The debate is counterproductive and regressive.

Read more: Inflation rises year-on-year to record 8.4pc in August

As for the political parties, it is strange that they seem to have given up on overseas Pakistanis. Politics is all about winning over people. One who is opposed to you can be brought to your side. That’s what you do in politics. The action of giving up and starting to demonize & criticize the overseas Pakistanis indicates that they have understood that they can not fool the media exposed & educated people to hide their criminal tendencies so it’s better to abandon trying to woo them. An unsavory situation that can only be improved when we don’t have political leaders of parties facing corruption cases. Let’s hope that happens sooner rather than later.

 

The author has worked for Unilever for 25 years. He is a professional translator/interpreter of five languages and is also a certified computer trainer. He is currently living in Virginia, USA. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.