css Academy
Register Now

Politics of economy

  Published June 15, 2022

THE slide seems unstoppable. The finance minister’s balancing act in the budget has failed to end the anxiety. The free fall of the rupee against the dollar continues as inflation marks a new high. The government’s hopes of sealing the IMF deal and the promise of a bailout from friendly countries have yet to be realised. The spectre [آسیب] of default stares us in the face. 

Both the government and the opposition seem to agree on the severity of the situation but blame each other for the crisis. With the reversal of their respective roles, the narrative has also changed. Just a few months ago, while in the opposition, the PML-N was out on the streets protesting against the spiralling[جکڑ دینیوالی] cost of living and accusing the PTI government of selling out to the IMF. 

But now in government, the PML-N leaders’ tenor [مقصدِ کلام] has changed completely. Inflation is being driven by rising international commodity prices, we are now told. External financial support is deemed critical to prevent insolvency [قرض ادا نہ کر سکنے کی کیفیت]. While conceding that the increase in fuel and electricity prices will stoke[بھڑکانا، بڑہانا] inflation, the finance minister contends that the measures were necessary in order to reverse the devastation caused by mismanagement in the past four years. 

Miftah Ismail’s budget speech echoed the PTI finance ministers’ accusatory rhetoric blaming successive governments for the mess. He has promised to put the economy back on track. While warning of tough times ahead, he has pledged to set “strong foundations of economic development that is based on sustainable growth”.

It is politics that has put the country’s economy in a perpetual state of crisis.

It is a familiar mantra that was adopted by previous finance ministers as well. It is certainly a very tall order given the short span of the government’s term. The budgetary proposals are not very different from the previous ones except for some change in emphasis and the tweaking [مشین کے پرزے ٹھیک کرنا]of taxation measures. 

As one senior PML-N leader admitted, the budget proposals reflect the agreement with the IMF made by the previous government. There are no fundamental structural changes that could ensure sustainable economic growth. The budget document also reveals the predicament [مشکل] of a government trying to meet IMF requirements, with an eye on the coming elections. Giving the narrow political and fiscal space available, there is little room for initiating any structural reform. In fact, it is more a matter of how to manage the economy and prevent an economic meltdown. 

Most economists consider the growth target of five per cent set in the budget and keeping the inflation rate to slightly over 11pc implausible. It is all about keeping the failing economy afloat with external support. That has been the story of our economic policy over the decades, irrespective of who has been in power. Any claim of wizardry [جادوگری] seems far-fetched.

Read: Economic cost of political instability

Not surprisingly, in a role reversal, the PTI is now shouting itself hoarse, accusing the PML-N-led coalition government of surrendering to IMF diktat. Imran Khan rejected the budget, terming it ‘anti-people’ and ‘anti-business’. 

His warning against increasing petroleum and electricity charges is no different from the statements made by the PML-N and other parties when they were in the opposition. Surely the former prime minister cannot be held responsible for all that has gone wrong with the economy, but some of his economic policies and financial measures have certainly worsened the crisis. 

During his almost four years in office, Imran Khan struggled to chart the clear policy direction required to not only stabilise the economy but also initiate the much-needed structural reforms. The PTI government has an unenviable record of having four finance ministers in less than four years. 

Curiously, when the economy showed signs of stabilisation in the third year, he suddenly brought a new finance minister — a banker who took a complete about-turn on policy direction, breaking away from the course of stabilisation. He went for a growth strategy without considering macroeconomic weaknesses. Last year, the PTI government’s budget reflected that new expansionary economic policy. However, most of the budgetary measures were later rolled back under IMF pressure. That helped pave the way for a new tranche [ایک جزو، کھیپ] from the Fund announced in February this year. 

The PTI government had agreed to increase petroleum prices and rationalise electricity tariff. Yet weeks after the agreement, the prime minister announced a major cut in petroleum prices and the lowering of electricity tariffs. 

It was a reckless populist political move on the eve of the no-confidence vote, causing massive fiscal haemorrhaging. The decision could not save Imran Khan’s government but has done irreparable financial damage and made negotiations with the IMF much harder. 

Even as he criticises the policy of the current government, the former prime minister must also take responsibility for aggravating the crisis. The PTI may boast of having achieved an economic growth rate of 6pc in the last financial year but that has also worsened the current account deficit. 

It was the same situation in the last year of the previous PML-N government that had recorded a similar growth rate, which was accompanied by a balance-of-payments problem, leaving no option for the PTI government but to go to the IMF. 

This has been a vicious cycle from which the economy has never come out. It is more of a political problem that has put the economy in a perpetual state of crisis. No wonder we have the dubious record of approaching the IMF for a bailout 22 times. Rarely have we completed the programme. 

There has never been any serious effort to carry out fundamental structural reforms to put the country on the path of sustainable economic growth. We remain largely a rentier [کرائے کی اکانومی] economy dependent on external help, with little incentive to break the shackles. 

Political instability perpetuated [جسکو دوام ملے] by the frequent interruption of the democratic political process has been one of the major reasons for the absence of a long-term reform strategy needed for sustainable economic growth. There is a need for continuity in policy. That can only happen if all political forces agree on some basic charter of economy. 

The writer is an author and journalist.
Twitter: @hidhussain

Published in Dawn, June 15th, 2022

The expectation of privacy

  Published June 15, 2022

WE live in a world in which we are watched nearly all the time. When we step outside our homes, surveillance cameras installed by our neighbours or inside shops that we visit are watching us. This constant surveillance in public or semi-public places is not a problem. By and large, when we leave the home, we do expect to be ‘seen’. The difference with near-constant public surveillance is that what humans did approximately, cameras do perfectly. 

This has revolutionised security services; there is no doubt about which employee dipped into the cash register, who broke into the ice cream store or held up the bank. Somewhere, if not everywhere, there is a camera, and that camera has seen and recorded whatever has happened. Human eyewitnesses make mistakes all the time, are duped by their own eyesight, conditions, memory and even their own prejudice. On the contrary, cameras never lie. 

But things get complicated when it comes to the private and semi-private sphere. Should it be permissible, for instance, for your boss to record you while you are at work? Cameras could make it unnecessary to actually be at the office. As long as your boss can see a streaming telecast of you at your computer, nothing else seems necessary. This idea is already problematic. While your employer has the right to make sure you are performing your tasks and duties, should they really be able to record you all day long, know what you eat at lunch, see which co-workers you speak to and how many times you do it? 

Different people have different styles of working. Would the installation of cameras reduce acceptability of this kind of difference? Some work better by taking frequent breaks. Others get work done faster than others. One’s presence at the computer, after all, does not mean that actual work is being done. If the work product is the goal, then why bother with surveillance? Not to mention that male bosses or co-workers can also use such recordings to harass women in the workplace. 

The proliferation of vloggers, Instagrammers and TikTokers means that people can remove the division between the public and the private.

Already we have entered the realm of the relatively intrusive. When a company hires a person, they have a contract for that person to do certain things. They do not buy an employee’s entire existence for a number of hours. Do the rights to these recordings belong to the employer or the employee? What happens if the employer provides the recordings to a third party? Should the employer be required to obtain permission from the employee or employees in question? Should an employer be able to share footage of employees on social media and earn royalties from it?

That is the working world. Our private lives, once protected, are also now commodifiable. The proliferation of vloggers, Instagrammers and TikTokers means that people can remove the division between the public and the private that has existed for centuries. Given that companies such as YouTube pay $0.18 per view means that people who are producing content (which appears to be a euphemism for making your private life available to all) are engaged in lucrative careers, if you choose to watch their channels. Most of the time, the more private the divulgence the more the views, and so on. 

Here is where consent becomes an issue. Currently, Pakistan does not have robust legislation on privacy within these private realms. Like most other countries, the rules do not quite cater to a world in which each person has a camera and can compromise the privacy of another. For instance, if someone makes a video of you while you are in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, you may not want the entire world to know that you are seeking help for a personal medical problem.

Beyond this, we all know the problems that can be caused when videos of young people forced to take part in sexual acts are used as a means of blackmailing them. This trade is said to be flourishing in Pakistan, because when the outcry over one or two publicised cases dies down, the traffickers of child pornography simply go on doing what they do. Particularly notable here is the absence of the religious establishment, which is so vigilant about policing everything and everyone else in the country. It would be so refreshing to see protests by religiously inspired parties to surround the homes and habitations of those who make and proliferate child pornography.

There are also some cases in which the usual power dynamics of private interactions can be reversed. There are cases in which abused women have been able to tape repeated instances of abuse occurring within the private sphere. This has transformed cases that were dismissed, because it was the word of one party against another. Because cameras do not lie, abusers are exposed, and previously powerless women are able to get abusive men punished by the law. 

More often than not, however, it is still abusers who are using cameras to victimise the powerless. Pakistan has numerous cases in which private videos have led to the murders of women. While the proliferation of cell-phone technology is a good thing, it is still men who by and large understand and control it. Pakistani society is patriarchal and is still used to blame women for everything that happens. The only thing more powerful than the truth the camera tells is the delusion of a country that always blames women even if the debauchery and cruelty is clearly visible to every other human being on earth. Perhaps one day, a long way into the future, Pakistanis will get around to considering how cameras everywhere and blackmail all the time is transforming the debate over privacy and surveillance. 

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

Published in Dawn, June 15th, 2022

Similar births

  Published June 15, 2022

IN a comment titled ‘Pakistan’s recognition of Israel is now inevitable’, published last week in the liberal Israeli daily Haaretz, Kunwar Khuldune Shahid suggests that the pressure from “the godfathers of normalisation with Israel, namely Saudi Arabia and the United States” is becoming harder to resist.

That may well be the case. There’s nothing new about the US pressure, and there have been occasions over the decades where Islamabad toyed with the idea of succumbing to it. Ziaul Haq, if memory serves, was the first head honcho to publicly point out the affinities between Pakistan and Israel. And Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, the foreign minister under Pervez Musharraf, enjoyed a tête-à-tête with his Israeli counterpart in Turkey in 2005.

The initiatives didn’t go anywhere, and at those junctures Saudi Arabia is unlikely to have officially been supportive. It’s hard to tell, though. Links between Israel and the Arab Gulf states existed long before they were publicised, at least at the ‘security’ level. It may well be possible to track back the turning point to the first invasion of Iraq in 1990-91, after the Saddam regime was stupid enough to assume that its occupation of Kuwait would entail no serious repercussions at the geopolitical level.

Read: Historic summit with Arab states to ‘deter’ Iran, says Israel

All the same, it was more than a couple of decades before most of the Gulf states could pluck up the courage to acknowledge that their repressive and distinctly undemocratic polities potentially made them perfect partners for a powerful, US-backed, nuclear-armed entity that identified itself as the region’s only democratic power.

What is wrong with recognising Israel?

That was always something of a farce, given the military rule over the dispossessed Palestinians since 1967 in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. But then, the supposed sympathy for the so-called Palestinian cause in the Arab and broader Muslim worlds never amounted to much beyond occasional lip service.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that Israel’s formal rapprochement with the Gulf region came after it had ripped off its hypocritical mask. The two-state ‘solution’ was never really an option for the Zionists, and Benjamin Netanyahu deserves credit for making this patently obvious — as he does for persuading the likes of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, in collusion with the Trump administration, to discard their respective masks.

As for Pakistan, its unacknowledged compatibility with Israel stretches back to their mutual origins, within a year of one another, as states carved out by colonial powers on a confessional basis. What’s more, despite diplomatic overtures from the Soviet Union, both of the new nations decided at their incipience to attach themselves to Uncle Sam, studiously ignoring the post-colonial momentum towards non-alignment during the Cold War.

Despite the parallels, there are obviously significant differences in the circumstances of birth — not least the fact that Israel had a far more extended gestation period, given it was effectively conceived with the Balfour Declaration of 1917, back when Pakistan’s founder was still an Indian nationalist. Mind you, Indian nationalism had a very different meaning from its abhorrent current incarnation. And, three decades later, both Mahatma Gandhi and Mohammad Ali Jinnah were hostile to the idea of a Euro-Jewish state being implanted on Middle Eastern soil — not out of hostility to European Jews but in empathy with Palestine’s inhabitants.

Read: 'Great change': Israeli president says received delegation of Pakistani expats

All the same, the creation of both Pakistan and Israel involved a vast degree of displacement, frequently accompanied by violence. And both have been faced with fissiparous tendencies in the intervening decades. Israel has been a ‘security state’ since its inception; Pakistan morphed into one not long afterwards.

Pakistan’s founding father, on viewing from the air the post-partition refugee encampments in Punjab, is said to have buried his head in his hands and expressed his despair. His Israeli equivalent, David Ben-Gurion, privately acknowledged that had he been a Palestinian, he would have resisted Israel in the same manner.

All that is in the now distant past, of course, but that does not mean it can be ignored. In terms of the steadily deteriorating status of the Palestinians in both Israel proper and the occupied territories, recognition by Pakistan will make no difference whatsoever — regardless of whether it is endorsed by the pretty meaningless Palestinian Authority.

It’s perhaps worth noting that the fondness for Israel among the Arab Gulf despots has come to the surface in the wake of the Zionist state’s drift to the far right, with no illusions about a path back to the days when the illusion of an ideological divide was kept alive.

It could be argued that Pakistan is at a similar stage of discarding the illusion of a military-civilian divide. Embracing a fascism-inclined nation would neither be a surprise nor a travesty. Many would say just do it.


Published in Dawn, June 15th, 2022

Site Menu
User Name:
Signup or
Forget your password?
Apply Online Now !!!
Job Search
| | | | |
Copyrights © Nova CSS Academy
Powered By XTRANZA®