Every new government in Pakistan has accused its predecessor of ruining the economy. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) administration is no exception, but its leader, Prime Minister Imran Khan, has a different attitude. In addition to being sensitive, sincere, optimistic, altruistic and empathetic, he is a visionary.
Apart from his two-decade political struggle, he established a state-of-the-art cancer facility, Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre in Lahore, almost 24 years ago, as well as Numl University in Mianwali in 2008. Both were completed with funds contributed by Pakistanis at home and abroad.
Because of his sentimental and frugal behavior, Khan, while in opposition in 2013, voiced extreme criticism of the government led by the Pakistan Muslim League for negotiating an aid program with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). However, because of the country’s current economic problems and the legions of cartoonish and selfish ministers in his party and a hamstrung and stubborn opposition, he had to change his mind. After robust discussions within the party and almost nine months of negotiations with the IMF, the PTI government finalized a bailout package.
Khan, then and now, has been faced with both internal and external political challenges. There was much debate among the opposition and ruling parties about whether or not the government should negotiate with the IMF. The former was in favor while the latter struggled to reach a consensus. Then finance minister Asad Umar negotiated with the IMF, but no agreement was finalized during his short tenure.
The country has a parliamentary system, but it has become quite irrelevant and has ceased to have a linchpin role during the last 10 months of PTI rule. Cartoonish politicians of both the ruling and opposition parties are dithering, while Khan, leader of the house, doesn’t even bother to enter Parliament. Consequently, the communication gap between the opposition and ruling parties delayed the IMF program. Instead, therefore, Islamabad obtained financial aid from China, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
The external difficulties were the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the IMF and Washington’s behavior toward Khan’s government. The Pakistan-US alliance ended in 2017, and since then a rift, further amplified by Khan’s government, has existed between Islamabad and Washington. For instance, the American media generally and The New York Times specifically have made derogatory remarks about the rise of Khan.
The Pakistan-US alliance ended in 2017, and since then a rift, further amplified by Khan’s government, has existed between Islamabad and Washington
The US viewed former prime minister Nawaz Sharif more favorably during his tenure than it currently views Khan. This is because Khan strongly objected to CIA drone strikes in Pakistan. At a talk hosted by the World Affairs Council in Houston, Texas, Daniel Markey, author of the book No Exit from Pakistan, said that by criticizing US foreign policy generally and the drone strikes specifically, Khan was merely “playing mischief.”
Dr Hafeez Sheikh has been made an economic adviser to the prime minister and is tasked with fixing and stabilizing the economy. The renowned economist served the finance minister of Pakistan between 2010 and 2013 and was minister of finance and planning in the Sindh provincial government between 2000 and 2002. He was also a member of Pakistan’s Senate from 2003 to 2018.
According to Sheikh, the US$6 billion IMF package will be delivered over a period of three years, while an additional amount of between $2 billion and $3 billion is likely to come from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank at a lower interest rate.
All the opposition parties have been discussing the formation of a grand alliance to launch a campaign against the government. However, they are more focused on exacting political revenge, pressuring the government, and winning the next election than they are on formulating an economic plan.
The so-called opposition consists of the elites that have ruled Pakistan for decades. The people in Pakistan can be divided into three socio-economic strata – the landlords or feudal lords (bureaucrats, industrialists and politicians belong to this class), the military, and the common masses.
The first class enjoys sophisticated health facilities and excellent access to quality education in Pakistan and abroad. The second class also have significant resources reserved for them.
The third class is truly a third class, lacking even basic healthcare facilities, proper food, and quality education. For instance, according to United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) education specialist Rubina Nadeem, last year, Pakistan had the second-largest number of out-of-school children in the world – 22.6 million. Most illiterate citizens belong to this third class. “The Water Gap – The State of the World’s Water 2018,” a report by the NGO WaterAid, said 21 million people lack clean drinking water.
What Khan needs to prioritize right now is the implementation of structural reforms, turning myopic and short-term policies into long-term strategies, and reducing economic inequality. However, the opposition, ignoring the ground realities, wants to hinder the government.