Chickening out

That the Pakistani rupee has been in a freefall isn’t entire the incumbent government’s fault. That they haven’t done anything to address the problem is a critical flaw contributing to the currency’s plunge. That they still don’t seem to have an idea as to what that solution is going to be is absolutely criminal.

The Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf government can talk all about what their predecessors, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, might’ve done to the economy, but the continued inaction, nay cluelessness, is something that can only be put down to the current leadership’s incompetence. The fact that the government’s expression of self-love over its 100-day performance overlapped with the rupee touching 144 against the US dollar – retracing the all-time low – is sufficient commentary on the state of affairs.

Having castigated their predecessors’ ‘begging bowl’, the PTI government decided to go to the International Monetary Fund themselves. Fair enough, there’s often significant daylight between pre-election rhetoric and what transpires thereafter, but what has been particularly perplexing is the government’s refusal to actually own the solution it was mapping out, often giving mixed signals about going to the IMF, when that has long been established as the only possible way out.

What that has meant that ‘100 days’ on, the IMF package still isn’t any closer, with the next date for talks set in January. This has only been made possible owing to the government’s inclination towards maintaining its populist rhetoric combined with the general cluelessness as to what needs to be done.

The $6 billion bailout from Saudi Arabia, which owed a lot to the diplomatic support that Islamabad provided amidst the row over journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing, is what has saved the country from an emergency situation on the economic front – with similar circumstances fast approaching.

Money has been sought from literally everyone – China, Malaysia and UAE – with the reported to be on the verge of providing another stopgap solution similar to what Saudi Arabia did. But while these temporary fixes will give Pakistan some breathing space to prolong the IMF bailout, the extension of those negotiations is only necessitated by Islamabad’s failure to accept the fund’s terms.

Pakistan can’t really afford transparency over dealings with China, and the Financial Action Task Force’s regular reminders of everything that’s wrong with the counterterror policies isn’t something the state seems to be interested in complying with either. For, both would contradict the roadmap that it seems to have defined for itself, spearheaded by you know who.

This is where the buffalo selling austerity drive sprung up – as a distraction from addressing the difficult questions facing Pakistan’s economy, which are intertwined with the state’s regressive diplomacy and masochistic security policy. The latest attempt to do the same is the chicken and egg idea that the Prime Minister himself has put forth.

It is evident that his advisors just skimmed through what they were actually trying to sell, selling PM Imran Khan short, making him a convenient target for trolling – as ever. For, while he did cite Bill Gates’ chicken plan that he seemed to have lifted, PM Khan didn’t seem to have any idea which version of it he wants to pursue. The idea bombed in Mozambique, while it was a success story in Brazil – only owing to state intervention and support, which the premier conveniently, or obliviously, didn’t seem to touch on.

With the currency freefalling, reserves depleting, and the government refusing to take ownership of a crisis that it is throwing ludicrous ideas at, there are talks of scapegoats being prepared from within the financial heads, starting from the very top.

After buffalo drive and chicken miracles, maybe it’s fitting that the incumbent government is now looking at scapegoats and sacrificial lambs. All to avoid critical reflection, and hence confrontation, on the policies that are predetermined by the powers that be.


The writer is a Lahore-based journalist.


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