Khan’s twenty-two year long trek, toil, trial and trauma to access Pakistan’s power monolith, controlled in the last four decades by two political families and a few generals, in a macabre, uneven civilian and military tug-of-war, is a thoroughly and frequently documented story.
Pakistan was an excruciatingly abysmal microcosm of gigantic issues on August 18, 2019, the day Khan took the oath to “discharge my duties, and perform my functions, honestly, to the best of my ability…always in the interest of the sovereignty, integrity, solidarity, well-being and prosperity of Pakistan; …That I will not allow my personal interest to influence my official conduct or my official decisions; …That, in all circumstances, I will do right to all manner of people, according to law, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.”
Economy was the iceberg that threatened to smash Pakistan’s weak financial indexes into shards of bleakness and gloom, shredding to bits the threadbare lifejacket of short-term relief thrown to the drowning millions of Pakistanis. The Pakistan that Khan took the reins of, without resorting to hyperbole and sensationalism of facts, was a textbook disaster-on-the-verge-of-turning-into-an-apocalypse.
The indefinable strategy of the last government of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), headed by Nawaz Sharif, and later Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, of borrowing “…to spend on grand infrastructure projects such as metro buses and expensive power generation units, might have helped temporarily boost GDP growth for the short term, but did little to structurally enhance productivity by directing investment towards much needed human capital development and export-oriented industries that would ensure sustainable economic growth.”
Jubilant at winning the 2018 elections, the idealistic Khan, in his trademark optimism, pledged to do his best to change the reality of Pakistan teetering on the abyss of “unsustainable current account imbalances, fast disappearing foreign exchange reserves, and potential default situation on external debt obligations.” Pakistan surrounded by hostile neighbours was faced with a precarious internal framework falling apart like hastily placed dominoes. Khan, it seems, had little idea of how bad things truly were until he started working the very next day.
Khan, as prime minister, promised to change the life of the common man while creating future agendas, focusing on proofreading existing policies, rebuilding of institutions and eradication of systemic and systematic flaws gnawing at the very foundation of long-term economic stability. A strong economy is the crux of a country where the solid quality of life is a given not a diurnal fight. What Khan received as an inaugural gift was a landmine which once stepped on would unleash for 220 million Pakistanis “…significant rupee depreciation, steep energy price hikes, rising inflationary pressures, high-interest rates, and low economic growth.”
In June 2018, when Khan was a mere parliamentarian and head of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the third largest party and a very robust opposition force, PML-N government had an economic report card marked in so much red it was as if it was aflame. Note with attention: The “total public debt and liabilities increasing from Rs 16.3 trillion in June 2013 to Rs 28.9 trillion in June 2018…breach[ing] the mandatory limit of 60 percent set under the Fiscal Responsibility and Debt Limitation Act 2005. Total public debt and liability [was] over 86.8 percent of GDP by June 2018.”
There was more, in the doomsday journal of economic failures handed to Khan’s government. The Sharif government’s finance minister “…Ishaq Dar made the maintenance of Pakistan Rupee parity at 104 against US dollar a primary indicator of economic strength…the Real Effective Exchange Rate rose from a near fair value of approximately 104.37 in July 2013 (as published by SBP) to a massively overvalued 127 by April 2017. Such gross overvaluation not only stimulated demand for imports but also ensured the decimation of Pakistan’s export competitiveness.”
An uphill task
There is much that should be included but is beyond the comprehension of a layperson like me who comments on the aftermath of things, big and small, rather than on the nitty-gritty of the how and why. What I know is that the PTI government with an almost empty treasury had to fight the effects of “…PML-N’s consumption/import-led economic growth” that “had exhausted itself and was coming to its logical outcome. The depletion of the foreign exchange reserves reached a point where there were inadequate funds to meet debt obligations or to cover imports for the next three months.”
And that the Khan government faced “…a current account deficit running at more than $1.5 billion per month, and as much as $7.5 billion payments of debt and interest due over the next nine months.”
Despite his vows to never resort to largesse of friends of Pakistan for a bailout for any of its financial morasses, and to not take an IMF loan, Khan was forced to make ‘U-turns’ on his principles for the better good of Pakistan. Long-time friends–China, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar–stepped up, and the inevitability of a larger calamity took a hiatus. A brief one.
From August 2018 to October 2019, Khan and his team of ministers and advisers have been trying to fix the economy. Easier said than done. Amidst debacles of the resignation of Asad Umar, Khan’s finance minister, and rescinding of the appointment as adviser of the world-renowned economist, Atif Mian, after a backlash related to his Ahmedi faith–Khan should have remained steadfast in his decision–what is in indisputable fact without citing government-issued figures: things are on the mend.
Due to devaluation of rupee, increase in taxation and consistency of inherited problems, the worst downside for the average Pakistani is inflation. Without any increase in their earning capacity, the cost of everyday items and utility bills cuts like a knife that has serrated edges. The agony of Pakistanis is not invisible to Khan, the lessening of which is taken as the most important priority of his government. What is constant: Khan’s short and long-term steps to build the economy.
What is also constant is a barrage of scorn, criticism and condemnation of every good little thing Khan undertakes to band-aid the huge wounds inflicted on millions of Pakistanis through decades-long governance and economic disasters of Nawaz Sharif (thrice in power), Benazir Bhutto (twice in power), General Pervez Musharraf (in power for seven years through a coup) and Asif Zardari (once in power). No sustained and long-term change is an overnight phenomenon, and Khan acutely aware of that is doing all he can to provide short-term relief.
Pakistan’s condition, circa October 2019, is not Khan’s doing. To blame him for the inherited hell that he is trying to undo, one step at a time, is not just counter-productive it is also downright petty, petulant and misplaced. The ‘Imran Khan-hate’ is no longer just a political tagline. It is a full-fledged raison d’etre of a phenomenon that is dark, increasingly dangerous and detrimental to the very concept of political opposition.
No democracy works unless there is a vibrant, free media and a strong opposition that keeps the government on its toes. Political opposition is a constructive force that highlights wrong steps, fallacious policies and harmful programmes. Political opposition becomes an eldritch cabal when its sole agenda is recapturing of power through overthrowing of a government that is not guilty of the destruction of the country. Power is bestowed through vote in a democracy.
There is not much to say about the unnatural nexus of traditional political foes and ideological rivals uniting to oppose Khan’s government. Enraged by Khan’s demolition of their club of two families–Bhutto-Zardari and Sharif–for the top position, and their growing political irrelevance due to a merciless process of financial accountability, with the singular goal to overthrow Khan the ‘mulk-bacho’ (save country) brigade has planned a march to Islamabad on October 27.
The 2017 protest-Sharif-dismissal machine, created by the PML-N, endorsed by other anti-Khan parties, fuelled on sensationalism of reality and distorting of facts, and propelled on the propaganda of a herd made up of heads of parties, former ministers, current parliamentarians, media persons, social media activists, and those that wear the lanyards of liberal and intellectual and are anything but that, is in full action mode since Khan became the prime minister of Pakistan.
In the absence of no real allegation or crime to hit him with, the easiest bullseye is Khan’s concern for the regular Pakistani, the aam aadmi. The attacks on Khan are so many and so often it won’t be long when he is attacked for just being.
Pakistan battling issues within and on its borders have a leader in Khan who accepting the flaws and missteps of the past, and acknowledging the cost of those misadventures, is working, literally, every day to change things. What he needs to have: solid policies and good governance. What will keep him vigilant: healthy and constructive criticism from public, media and political opposition. What he receives is anything but that.
The noise now resembles incoherent screeches in a dark jungle. The attacks are personal, and increasingly ugly. The attacks are not on previous rulers’ destruction of Pakistan but on Khan’s vow to model Pakistan on Riyasat-e-Madinah. The attacks are on Khan’s austerity drive; shelters for homeless; the idea to give nationality status to Afghan refugees; construction of toilets for the underprivileged; billion-tree tsunami; Insaf Sehat card scheme; affordable housing scheme; destitution mitigation through livestock; opening Governor Houses for the aam Pakistani; call for water conservation and imperativeness of more dams for a water-scarce Pakistan; free treatment of the poor at the SKMH; Asia bibi’s release; handling of TLP; Indian pilot Abhinandan Varthaman’s release; construction of Kartarpur Corridor for Sikh pilgrims; Ehsas programme for the short and long-term assistance and rehabilitation of the lowest-income strata of society; madrassa reforms; dialogue with Taliban; condemning Islamophobia at UNGA; globalisation of the Kashmir issue through relentless advocacy, calling himself the ambassador of Kashmiris; and opening of langars (soup kitchens), an initiative in collaboration with the Saylani Welfare Trust…
the attacks on Khan continue like a daytime soap with no end date.
Holding a prime minister or a president accountable for plunder of national coffers, playing havoc with the constitution of the country, and misusing governmental power for personal and familial aggrandizement is one thing. That is what Khan did. Hurling insults on the good deeds of a leader and planning the overthrow of a one-year-old government that is doing much more than damage control is merely a manifestation of an agenda that is beyond the wellbeing of Pakistan.
Insulting Prime Minister Imran Khan for feeding the poor is simply another display of the moral bankruptcy of an increasingly irrelevant cabal of… I really don’t know who these people are.