Imran’s Copernican Revolution

When Imran Khan kept promising “to make Pakistan an egalitarian, modern, Islamic democratic welfare state which upholds the fundamental rights of the people in which all citizens, regardless of gender, caste, creed or religion can live in peace, harmony and happiness”, for over two decades, was he promising the moon? Imran Khan was cognisant that his left of centre agenda meant a perilous journey confronting entrenched cartels, mafias and well-linked politicians. In many discussions, he knew he had embarked on a course set for a Copernican Revolution. The selection and maintenance of aim, impetus and momentum of his assault needed temperate willpower, sincerity of purpose and a passionate desire to deliver. The march to the objective was grand. Whether the objectives have been achieved, remains another story.

In common language, this warranted a new social contract and a starting point for cleansing of the entire system. Imran Khan needed to rally a team comprising an unadulterated spirit of camaraderie with frontal, flanking and enveloping manoeuvres to strike at the foundations of elitism. His vision reflected the aspirations of people. Under the circumstances, this appeared the only option. Adhere to the constitution and strike hard at monuments of inertia and elitism with full fury.

He hammered such themes for two decades. His approval ratings soared above the rest. In 2008, Imran Khan understood that consequent to the Charter of Democracy, a national reconciliation ordinance under the aegis of COAS, USA and UK left no space for non-conformists like him. During this abstinence, PTI emerged as the biggest critic of the NRO-sponsored governments. Imran Khan’s decision in 2009 to form a shadow government, appoint choicest spokespersons and reorganisation paid immediate dividends. The people rallied. 2013 was a denial of victory through massive rigging.

While the party was getting popular, swarms of turncoats like locusts debouched on the party. Some espoused similar ideologies and PTI was their only refuge. Most significant were political cuckoos that occupy the nest of other birds and captivate people with their melodious and romantic chants. The idealists were edged out by the contrarians and so-called pragmatics. Consequently, the popular appeal of the party was mulled and ‘electable’ became the buzzword. Once in power, these individuals, elected or unelected, formed the pivot of operations. The start point for a Copernican Revolution was compromised. For as long as Trojans are embedded in the system, changes if any, will be cosmetic.

By 2018, as he edged into power with a thin majority, the lofty promises became a distant dream. As reflected in the cascade of events related to Sugar, Atta, Debt and IPPS the tone of Prime Minister’s tweets reflect that his revolutionary spirit has been tangled in a regressive bureaucratic system ably supported by political elites, technocrats and representatives of IFIs. Despite the fact that he abhors such elites, the system continues to favour the dirty.

In the backdrop of the recent Sugar Report, and subsequent award of Rs50 billion in subsidies to downstream agriculture sector, the lessons learnt the hard way were ignored and mistakes repeated. The farmer was certainly not the beneficiary. The ECC should have revisited the entire mechanics of agriculture, identified loopholes and taken remedial actions. It did not.

Within a fortnight ECC made a volte face. Suddenly the lessons conveniently ignored came to the fore. At a time when cotton is being sown and the government policy directly impacts the incentives, the Economic Coordination Committee of the Cabinet (ECC) on Thursday rejected a proposal put up by Minister for National Food Security and Research on merits of the intervention price rather than the amount.

Aren’t there two logics and principles at play? Isn’t it the same ECC that hardly a week ago approved Rs50 billion in subsidies to downstream agriculture sector (not the farmers)? But when it came to an intervention price for cotton procurement in the public sector, the proposal was opposed. This means that farmers this year will have fewer incentives to grow an already beleaguered cotton crop. A clear-cut contradiction to sugar subsidies and downstream agriculture sector, cotton is being discriminated. Mind you, cotton was once Pakistan’s premier cash crop.

The agriculturists in the cabinet lobbied for the intervention price. It was the technocrats controlling the system who argued that instead of the farmer, the middlemen would be the beneficiaries. The first opposition came from Adviser to the Prime Minister on Commerce Abdul Razzak Dawood. He argued that that textile industry was disadvantaged to regional competitors. If the government blocks local textile mills from cheaper avenues, including imports, it would mean damaging textile exports. Voila! The hackneyed mantra of boosting exports through imports! Does anyone care to read or analyse why Pakistan has become a cotton importing country?

Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh held out an olive branch. He suggested a targeted mechanism to directly benefit the deserving, instead of intervention price. He advised to formulate a long-term solution to improve quality and increase output of cotton, saying the government would provide every possible support.

Adviser to the PM on Institutional Reforms Dr Ishrat Hussain, Minister for Industries and Production Hammad Azhar and Special Assistant to the PM on Petroleum Nadeem Babar and Finance Secretary Naveed Kamran Baloch supported the counter narrative. Barring Hammad Azhar, aren’t these familiar names from Sugar Inquiry, IPPS and possibly also Debt Inquiry Commission (DIC)?

With such a blunt retort by the experts, Minister for National Food Security and Research Syed Fakhar Imam, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Minister for Economic Affairs Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar have a herculean task at hand. With Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and even Balochistan under influence, they must kick start the NIRC and PARCs to restart research that was stopped in 2012. A lot of good work in this regard is already gathering dust. But for sure, their productive endeavours in future will directly clash with the technical titans and sugar elites.

To conceptualise agriculture in a fruitful manner will remain a major task for all future politics. 2023 is far away and the country could well be set on the road to agriculture security. Given the many constraints that exist, agriculture is the only subject that can be revolutionised quickly. The ECC has to honour its words and Prime Minster Imran Khan must fully back the Ministry of National Food Security and Research. This is the Start Point to a Copernican Revolution.

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