Real issues – Dr Farrukh Saleem

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Is the PDM the real issue? Is the Senate election the real issue? For the 32 million, largely apolitical Pakistani families neither the PDM nor the Senate elections are the real issues. For the thousand Pakistani families who are political partisans sitting on the political chessboard, the PDM or the Senate election may indeed be the real issues-their livelihood depends on it.

In 1992, James Carville, Bill Clinton’s election campaign strategist, coined the phrase “It’s the economy, stupid”. For the 32 million, largely apolitical Pakistani families, ‘It’s the economy, stupid’. To be certain, the four real issues are: food inflation, electricity tariff, absolute lack of governance and how this extreme political instability is hurting the 220 million.

Food inflation is at the very top of the list of real issues because 80 percent of Pakistani families end up spending 80 percent of their incomes on food items (roughly). Two years ago, an average family spent around Rs27,000 a year on wheat flour. Today, the same family in order to buy the same amount of wheat flour would have to come up with Rs58,000; a difference of Rs31,000 per family. This is unprecedented because never ever in the past 70 years has there been a two-year period during which wheat flour had gone up by 100 percent. This is the real issue.

Two years ago, electricity consumers in Pakistan were charged Rs1.1 trillion. Today, the same electricity consumers would have to cough out Rs 3 trillion; that’s an additional Rs66,000 a year for an average consumer. This is unprecedented because never ever in the past 70 years has there been a two-year period during which electricity tariff had gone up by a whopping 300 percent. This is the real issue.

The real issue is an absolute lack of governance and a near-complete administrative breakdown particularly in Punjab and in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The real issue is that revenge and extreme hatred have replaced parliamentary politics-and the 220 million are suffering as a consequence. Politics is about competition – not elimination.

The real issue is that neither food inflation nor electricity tariff has any end in sight. The government is about to withdraw Rs140 billion worth of corporate tax exemptions and raise the electricity tariff by an additional Rs900 billion. The gas companies want to suck out an additional Rs105 billion. Where will it all end? Debt is increasing like never before. CPEC is at a snail’s pace. The IMF has taken over. And, America’s leverage has gone up.

The PDM is not a threat to the government – never was. The government dreams of ‘eliminating’ the entire opposition and becoming the ‘only political alternative’ in that dream world. There are three real threats to the government: inflation, unemployment and poverty. To be sure, no one in the government is listening. If the government is unable to manage the affairs of the SBP then the IMF will take over. If the government is unable to manage our electricity-related affairs then the IMF will take over.

There are home-grown solutions but the real issue is that the government only has time for politics – none for real solutions. Pakistan’s current status quo has three elements in it: spiralling inflation, an absolute lack of governance and extreme political confrontation. The real question is if the status quo – with all its three elements – can be sustained. The real issue is that no one is listening-neither the government nor the opposition.

The writer is a columnist based in Islamabad.

Email: farrukh15@hotmail.com Twitter: @saleemfarrukh