‘ Tough but unpopular decisions

Finance Minister Miftah Ismail had yet not finished revealing the additional measures, he was forced to insert in proposals for the fis­cal 2022-3 to increase revenues, when the ‘breaking news’ began blinking on our mobile phones. It reported the crash of the Stock Exchange in Karachi.

Even for an economic-illiterate like me, the news smacked of communi­cating a loud NO by a peculiar group of investors relishing absolute mo­nopoly over a definite set of prof­it-yielding businesses. They obvious­ly disapproved the suggestion that to protect millions of shirtless Paki­stanis from stifling poverty, the state

must collect more from the Su­per Rich of this country.

Even after ‘the breaking news,’ the finance minister didn’t ap­pear wavering. Being a scion of a highly successful business fami­ly himself, he rather kept insist­ing that extraordinary pressures on our economy had forced such taxation. And there is no escape to it. Not only his own family, but the son of Prime Minister She­hbaz Sharif and Shahid Khaqan Abbassi, a former prime minis­ter, would also be paying the ‘su­per tax,’ he had introduced.

Miftah Ismail was delivering the winding up speech that fi­nance ministers usually make after finishing of the general discussion in the National As­sembly on budgetary propos­als. The House is instantly ad­journed after this speech.

It didn’t happen Friday. The Speaker had to give floor to se­nior ministers like Syed Khur­sheed Shah, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq and Khawaja Asif. All of them provided substantial support to the finance minister’s initia­tive. Doing this, they also took on ‘cartels’ of big businesses. The ministers had to admit that successive governments of Pa­kistan had consistently been fa­cilitating and pampering these cartels. Instead of appropriately taxing their profits, they shame­lessly kept borrowing and beg­ging from foreign countries and global lenders to meet defi­cits in annual budgets. Finally a stage has come where even the “brotherly countries” are reluc­tant to finance our deficits.

After replacing Imran Khan through a vote of no-confidence the unity government of eleven parties, found it extremely dif­ficult to avert ‘default.’ To pre­vent the same, it was forced to massively increase the prices of petroleum products. Yet, the lender of last resort, the Inter­national Monetary Fund (IMF), was not satisfied. It kept press­ing for additional measures to ensure revenue collection from domestic resources. That forced the need of enforcing ‘Super Tax’ on various cartels. But the minister after minister also kept assuring that the said tax would remain a one-time affair only. The government might be hav­ing enough resources in its kitty for getting back to ‘normal tax­ation’ by the time it starts pre­paring the next year’s budget.

The speeches, these highly ex­perienced politicians delivered in the National Assembly Friday, clearly indicated that the uni­ty or the coalition government was determined to continue rul­ing until the current National As­sembly finished its constitution­al term, sometime in August next year. It wouldn’t yield to the de­mand of earliest possible elec­tions as the former Prime Min­ister, Imran Khan, had zealously been pressing since removed.

The speeches delivered by the said ministers sounded like a well-coordinated attempt to firmly scuttle widely spread whispers in Islamabad claiming that after reaching a deal with the IMF and having prepared a budget for 2022-3, the Shehbaz Sharif-led government had lost its ‘utility.’ Around three months from July 2022 were enough to put Pakistan back on a smooth track to economic rehabilita­tion. And a caretaker govern­ment of ‘technocrats’ could easily execute what had been promised in the budget and to the IMF. That would also create a comfortable space for holding of fresh elections sometime in October 2022.

Besides Imran Khan and his supporters, a significant section of our powerful “deep state” had also been promoting the idea of holding early elections. Former prime minister, the pro­moters of fresh elections seri­ously believe, has vigorously recharged his ‘base’ since re­moved through a vote of no con­fidence. His diehard support­ers have also bought the story that these were not the “corrupt and rotten politicians of yester­years” who were able to remove him by ganging up against Im­ran Khan on their own.

They prefer to believe that the US had not been feeling com­fortable with ‘nationalist poli­cies’ of Imran Khan. Washington felt doubly offended with his visit to Moscow, too close to the Russian attack on Ukraine. That provoked a US Under Secretary of State to convey a threaten­ing message to our ambassador. When the threat failed to deliv­er, a motion of no confidence was employed to manage “re­gime change” in Pakistan.

Imran Khan and his sup­porters also believe, fervently, that a peculiar set of “Mir Jaf­fars” from within our nation­al security outfits and the su­perior judiciary behaved like “slavish collaborators of the American conspiracy” to en­sure the fall of Imran Khan. The story, which the former prime minister keeps drumming re­lentlessly, appears to have om­inously deepened divisions in an already polarized society. It is mostly presumed that call­ing for the fresh elections would help cooling and healing.

But the set of politicians that had replaced Imran Khan need no tutor to know that since forming the government, they are fast being associated with an unbearable spiral of infla­tion. They are rather perceived as harbingers of doom and gloom. They would thus hate to face voters, until able to show some positive turnaround.

With a clear intent of drum­ming the said message, the min­isters continued to repeatedly assert that rushing to the fresh election after removing Im­ran Khan, through the vote of no-confidence, was an obvious and easy option for them. Yet, they decided to form the coali­tion government to protect Pa­kistan from a fast approaching default and address issues lead­ing to economic meltdown by taking “tough but unpopular de­cisions.” Doing this, they knew too well the “political cost” of the choices they were making.

After showing their willing­ness to deal with an apparent­ly unmanageable challenge Pa­kistan faced, they now deserve more time to stay focused on turning over things to induce hope after course correction. And pushing them to early elec­tions would not be fair in the given context.

We can easily imagine the ‘tar­geted audience’ of the speeches three very seasoned politicians had delivered in the National Assembly Friday. But personal­ly I am yet not sure whether the ‘hard sell’ by them will deliver in the end or not.

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