The question of who would lead the economic team and whether Pakistan should resume trading relations with India revealed the poor thinking and decision-making process under the current government.
One wonders whether this trend continued during the remaining period of this government mandate when it would be able to meet the enormous challenges facing the country’s economy or not.
The government abruptly sacked Abdul Hafeez Shaikh as finance minister just weeks after Prime Minister Imran Khan vigorously campaigned for his election as a senator to secure him as prime minister of finance.
Even after losing his election to opposition candidate Yusuf Raza Gilani, the prime minister placed full trust in Shaikh, but all of a sudden he was deprived of that trust for what is described as his inability. to curb the constant rise in inflation.
Shaikh was replaced by Minister of Industry Hammad Azhar with the hope that the young and energetic minister from Lahore would stem the rising tide of inflation with a vigorous approach.
Just a day after assuming the leadership of the ministry, the enthusiastic minister chaired the meeting of the Economic Coordination Council which enabled the private sector to import sugar and cotton from neighboring India. The decision was taken to address the sweetener shortage and to counter the impact of reduced cotton production in Pakistan.
All of this was seen as a sign of a thaw in relations between the two estranged neighbors following the resumption of the 2003 ceasefire pact agreed to by their military commanders in February.
But less than 24 hours later, the ECC’s decision was not only overturned, but a message was also quietly conveyed to the minister that either his new assignment is temporary or he would see his powers curtailed if he stayed on. this post.
The announcement regarding the new de facto finance minister came from candidate Shaukat Tareen himself who offered him to be the organizer of the Economic Advisory Council to be set up under the leadership of the Prime Minister and which he could take the succession as advisor to the PM on financing provided that he has been cleared of a NAB case.
Such haphazard decision-making does not bode well as it sends false signals to the country’s business community as well as to international institutions that deal with the government.
The government and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have just agreed to relaunch the $ 6 billion loan program which has been suspended for more than a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Under the new conditions, the government is to take measures to ensure the autonomy of the State Bank of Pakistan, increase the electricity tariff to control the huge circular debt and remove tax exemptions. But the proposed measures drew negative reactions from the opposition, as they would further increase inflation.
Such a situation is untenable for the government, which is already facing public anger at the high inflation.
Hafeez Shaikh seemed to have been made a scapegoat in this scenario and a new economic team is currently being put in place to deal with the situation.
The new finance minister as well as the new economic czar who has been introduced have hinted that the government may push for renegotiation with the IMF to ease the new conditions.
There is no harm in renegotiating the terms of the deal with the IMF, but the way the current government has handled economic issues since its inception raises doubts as to whether these will be approached cautiously in the future. the future.
Everyone who runs the country’s economy, including the Prime Minister, has painted a rosy picture and conveniently overlooks the deep malaise plaguing the economy.
Pakistan does not need a firefighting approach to attack the economy. It takes a well thought-out strategy to manage the economy, forcing the government to make a set of painful and difficult decisions.
Such a strategy can only be successful if the people of the country are taken in full confidence. In addition, he also needs political stability in the country to ensure the success of this strategy.
At a time when the government and the opposition are hardly on good terms and the latter are determined to send the government to pack its bags, developing such an action plan is next to impossible.
Government ministers invite the opposition to talks on electoral reforms. They must also urge the opposition to develop an economic strategy to lift the country out of the economic quagmire.
Former finance minister Ishaq Dar once rejected the idea that the government and the opposition should develop an economic charter modeled on the democracy charter signed by former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.
At present, there is no chance of reaching such an agreement between the government and the opposition, but they could use parliamentary form to ensure the smooth passage of critical laws on economic issues.
Pakistan has lagged behind in economic progress compared to all of its South Asian counterparts.
Bangladesh’s economic data released on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of its independence celebrations should open the eyes of Pakistani leaders.
From per capita income to foreign exchange reserves and exports to the health sector, Bangladesh is well ahead of Pakistan in all areas.
A country known to the world for its poverty, political instability, coups d’état, food shortages, floods, cyclones and deaths is now expected to join the league of developed countries within the next 15 to 20 years.
It takes deep soul-searching on the part of Pakistanis and their leaders to understand why a country that has shared 23 years of history with them has taken a leap forward in all walks and spheres of life.
The government must first put its own house in order and avoid the growing impression that it is acting in paranoia. It must strengthen its decision-making process which requires close coordination between all levers of government on key issues concerning the country. He must keep in mind that the success of his economic strategy depends to a large extent on the political stability of the country and that he must take measures to address this issue as a priority.
The writer is a senior journalist based in Islamabad
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