Life for the common man in Pakistan is becoming more miserable with each passing day because of rising inflation and economic turmoil. Perhaps delusion and rhetoric can convince Prime Minister Imran Khan’s blind followers that everything is fine in the country, but this does not change the fact that his poor decisions and misplaced governance have worsened the economic woes of Pakistan. Here is a brief summary of the performance of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government’s 13 months of rule.
Since Khan took charge of the government, the economy has gone into shambles. The decision to devalue the Pakistani rupee against the US dollar resulted in a heavier foreign-debt burden, inflation and price hikes, and then the PTI government’s inability to decide whether or not to seek an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout package resulted in uncertainty in the country.
In the first fiscal year of PTI rule, Pakistan’s debt and liabilities surged from 29.88 trillion rupees to 40 trillion rupees (US$255 billion). This means PTI added 11 trillion rupees (more than $70 billion) to the public debt in one year. In contrast, the previous government of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in five years added far less to the debt.
PTI borrowed a whopping $16 billion in foreign loans in just one year. This is the highest amount of foreign loans taken in a single year by any government in Pakistan.
However, despite taking in loans and aid, the PTI government has not been able to provide relief to the masses. Also, the stock market continues to witness a bloodbath despite the PTI government giving a bailout package to the big stockbrokers.
The increase in debt and liabilities and the devaluation of the currency have left the masses at the mercy of inflation and soaring prices of everyday commodities like sugar, vegetables, and poultry. Not to mention the huge rise in utility bills. The agreement with the IMF on unrealistic terms and conditions that included a rapid increase in tax collection also shattered the confidence of investors and the business community.
Auto industry, real estate in decline
The overall economic condition has affected many business sectors in the country, but two of the main sectors bearing the brunt of the unsuccessful policies of PTI are the auto industry and real estate.
First, the imposition of property tax slowed sales and purchases in the real-estate sector, and then the income tax on business almost crushed the small and medium-size real-estate companies and brokers. However, big real-estate corporations like Bahria Town and the Defense Housing Authority continue to grow because they are the products of influential individuals and institutions.
Meanwhile, the auto industry is in deep crisis. It recorded a year-on-year decline of 50% in car sales in July. The devaluation of the currency led to higher car prices at the same time as inflation weakened the purchasing power of potential customers. Auto companies such as Honda and Indus Motor Company (Toyota assemblers) have started to fire their staff. In July, Honda shut its plant for 12 days, while Indus Motor reduced production to five days a week. This resulted in the loss of jobs for thousands of workers associated with the auto industry in Pakistan.
Inflation and unemployment on the rise
In August, the inflation rate in Pakistan was recorded at 11.63%. That was the highest inflation rate since May 2012 when the Pakistan Peoples Party was governing the country. The rising inflation and stagnant business activities are increasing the unemployment rate. PTI came into power on the promise of providing 10 million jobs to the masses, but so far it has only been able to reduce the employment rate instead of increasing it.
Education sector funding decreased
One of PTI’s main campaign promises was to bring in reforms for the education and health sectors. However, contrary to its claims, PTI while presenting its first budget decreased the allocations of funds for education by 2o.5%. The higher-education budget was also reduced and Pakistan became the country that spends the lowest percentage of its gross domestic product in the region on that sector, at 2.4%.
Weakening government institutions
In a bid to settle scores with its political opponents, PTI has used state institutions like the National Accountability Bureau, the Anti Narcotics Force and the judiciary. As a result, these institutions became weaker and now they have lost their credibility in the eyes of a large segment of the masses.
Pakistan Railways, which was put back on its feet by the PML-N government, was under PTI left at the mercy of incapable and inefficient ministers like Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad, who instead of doing his job as railway minister loves to get media attention and threaten India with a nuclear attack. The same is the case with such institutions as the police, where political influence and nepotism have been used to appoint and transfer high officials.
Rise in state-sanctioned crime
PTI promised to deliver justice to everyone. However, in reality, since PTI took charge extrajudicial killings and arrests have been on the rise. From the Sahiwal massacre to the recent killing of a mentally unstable man, the PTI government has shown no intent to bring the culprits to justice.
Then there has been a massive crackdown on political opponents, many of whom are sitting behind bars without any charge against them being proven in a court of law.
Curbs on freedom of expression
The PTI government invented a new way to curb freedom of expression and to control the mainstream media. Dissenting journalists were forced to quit their jobs as PTI first stopped paying for government advertisements, and then gradually persuaded the owners of TV stations not to show the true pictures of the results of its miserable governance. Since PTI had the backing of the powers that be, the media were controlled easily, and most of the time PTI does not face the criticism that was faced by its predecessors.
Dissent is considered a crime by the PTI regime and it has successfully propagated through the media the premise that whoever disagrees with government polices is a traitor or is taking bribes from the opposition parties or from foreign spy agencies.
Unsuccessful foreign policy
Though the domain of foreign policy has never been under the control of the civilian governments in Pakistan, the last government of the PML-N asserted some authority in shaping the foreign-policy narratives. As a result, it was sent packing, and PTI learned the lesson that in order to complete its tenure it is better to take the dictation of the military establishment on foreign policy.
However, most of the blame for the failures in the foreign-policy domain has always been borne by the civilian governments, and PTI is no exception. The inability of the PTI government and its backers to pre-empt the move of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to annex Jammu and Kashmir has not only left the people of that state at the mercy of New Delhi but it has also brought immense criticism from within Pakistan of the PTI government. Then Imran Khan’s inability even to win the support of Muslim countries on the issue of Kashmir has also left Pakistan in a state of global isolation as far as that issue is concerned.
The slow progress on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is annoying the Chinese as well. So Pakistan remains isolated in the global diplomatic community and it needs an immediate change of narratives in its foreign policy in order to get some sympathy internationally.
This is only a brief overview of PTI’s and Imran Khan’s 13-month rule. If Khan can shake off his narcissism and control his ego, and try to unite the political parties for a consensus on foreign policy and for solutions to the economic turmoil, things could get better. Otherwise, he cannot survive in power for long.