Economy not in turnaround, rather it is in ICU, say economists

In recent weeks the Imran Khan government has boasted about an ‘economic turnaround.’ Economists, however, maintain that this is false and misleading and that the economy is actually in intensive care.

According to Anjum Altaf, Dean of School of Social Sciences at LUMS, the so-called economic boost “comprises declines in the current account and fiscal deficits and increases in FDI and remittances. All these are misleading indicators but one is especially egregious and contradictory. Why is the increase in remittances considered part of the economic turnaround and something that governments consider worthy of praise? The increase in remittances is an outcome of greater economic distress in Pakistan. It is a false signal reflecting economic failure, not success.”

According to Altaf, “Before patting themselves on the back for ever-increasing remittances, policymakers should think through this phenomenon with understanding and empathy. Remittances grow for two reasons: individual migrants send back more money and the stock of migrants increases as more Pakistanis emigrate. The explanation for the first component has been provided above; it reflects the economic distress inflicted on working-class families by rapid inflation in Pakistan. But what is the explanation for the increasing number of Pakistanis seeking work abroad? It is the inability of the domestic economy to generate a sufficient number of jobs paying enough to sustain families of individuals entering the labour market. It is again a reflection of economic failure, not success.”

Finally, “The Pakistani economy is in intensive care and the indicators the prime minister has cited as evidence of an economic turnaround have behaved in exactly the same manner as they have after almost each of the previous 22 or so IMF hospitalisations. The real turnaround requires the creation of decent jobs which, in turn, calls for structural reforms and a framework for economic growth. While this may take time, progressively driving remittances down by providing jobs at home should be adopted by the government’s team as a leading measure of the success of a real economic turnaround. Involuntary migration forced by economic desperation is a blight on the face of the nation, not something to celebrate.”

Imran Khan loses his nerve as Maulana comes to Islamabad

The ‘Azadi March’ of JUI-F leader Maulana Fazlur Rahman appears to be in full steam. Various convoys from Baluchistan, Sindh, KPK and Punjab are on their way to congregate in Islamabad. The government attempts to prevent this rally from taking place is ironic considering that Imran Khan and his supporters held Islamabad hostage for 126 days during August and December 2014 for his own ‘Azadi March’ (Tsunami March).

Strong government pressure and censorship has ensured that the mainstream media has not covered the march but the JUI-F and its affiliates as well as opposition parties have been using social media to broadcast videos and photographs of the progress of the march.  

Over 100,000 JUI-F workers and madrassa students are expected to participate in the march, in addition to any opposition workers and volunteers.

According to news stories, “JUI-F Baluchistan’s central convoy from Quetta left for Islamabad to participate in the Azadi march as party workers traveled on buses, vans and private vehicles, while the provincial leaders, including Balochistan’s Amir Maulana Abdul Wassay left in a caravan equipped with modern facilities.”

Similarly, “The Azadi March caravans have entered Punjab. A JUI-F member told SAMAA TV that the agenda was to stay at Multan, but the plan has now changed. It has still not been decided where we will stay, he said, adding that there will be no more speeches for the day. The marchers reached Daharki after Sukkur Monday evening. The were preparing to gather at the Fatima Jinnah Town Housing Scheme.”

At a speech addressing the marchers, Rahman said, “The war has been announced and now [the party] cannot retreat. We are moving forward with full confidence. We have to protect the Constitution, democracy and Pakistan because the incumbent government has put the survival of the country at risk. The Constitution has been made a joke in this country. He [Prime Minister Imran] has ruined the economy, and a country with a devastated economy can’t survive. We approached the masses against him and took out 15 million marches and now we are able to help the people get rid of the government.”

While many Pakistanis disagree with Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s anti liberal, misogynist and retrograde social views it is important to recognize that the issue on which he is doing this — the people’s stolen mandate— has got him wider support than just his politico-religious base.

How weak or paranoid can a state be, if it is threatened by art?

The Pakistani state has always felt threatened by intellectuals and artists demonstrated in latest incident on Sunday October 27 in Karachi when an art exhibit taking place in a public park was shut down forcefully by plains clothes men belonging to the V Corps of Pakistan’s army.

The installation, “The Killing Fields of Karachi,” by artist Adeela Suleman illustrates the story of Naqeebullah Mehsud, a 27-year-old aspiring model from Pakistan’s tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, who was killed in a police encounter in January 2018. The exhibit features symbolic gravestones representing the 444 people allegedly targeted in extrajudicial killings under the supervision of senior police official Rao Anwar.

When the artist and human rights activists like Jibran Nasir, held a press conference to condemn the closure, Afaq Mirza Director General of parks, Karachi, barged in, asserted that “the installation was not what the city administration signed up for” and removed all the microphones from various media outlets.

When pressed by journalists on who ordered the closure of the exhibition Afaq Mirza, asserted that it was not the city administration but rather the Fifth (V) corps. Ironically, the fifth corps of Pakistan’s military is responsible for defending Karachi and most of Sindh province in case of war, but it appears that even art exhibits are now considered the same as fighting a war.

HRCP: State must respect teachers’ right to livelihood

A state that fails to respect teachers’ right to a decent livelihood will end up failing its people. This is the key finding of the fact-finding mission of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) condemned the use of force by the police to disperse a peaceful protest by teachers at D Chowk, Islamabad, on 23 October.

According to the HRCP’s fact-finding team “a large police contingent raided the protest camp and arrested over 200 protestors, including women and, allegedly, their accompanying children. The protestors, most of whom teach at remote schools under the Basic Education Community System, say that they cannot subsist on the salary they receive – a paltry Rs8,000 a month. Many have received no increments in the last two years; still others are waiting to be paid ten months’ back-salary. Their services have not been regularised, which means they constantly face job insecurity. After staging a sit-in in 2018, they were assured by the interior minister, federal ministry of education and joint secretary for education that their employment would be regularised within a year. This has not happened. Yet some 700,000 students are taught under this scheme, which spans 137 districts and employs almost 12,000 teachers.”

HRCP noted, “The state’s response has been shockingly disproportionate. Protestors have accused the police of locking women inside containers on the pretext of safety while using water cannons and batons to disperse other protestors outside. While those arrested have been granted bail, many protestors say that their belongings were seized by the police and that they do not have the funds to secure bail. The police have said that the protestors attempted to enter the Red Zone, necessitating force. HRCP urges the government to respect people’s right to peaceful assembly and to meet their demand for a living wage and regular employment without further delay.”

JUI ‘Azadi March’ Threatens Selected Govt

After years of using dharnas to combat corruption and protest against the then ruling parties, Imran Khan’s PTI led government looks weak and silly in opposing a dharna led by the JUI of Fazlur Rehman.

On October 31st, the Azadi March organised by Jamiat Ulema Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) is scheduled to enter Islambad. The party will organize rallies in cities around the country on October 27 and then all those rallies are scheduled to enter Islamabad together on October 31.

Other opposition parties, including the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) have announced support for the march. On Friday, the PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League-N) announced its support for the JUI march. Shahbaz Sharif announced “that a massive rally will be held in Islamabad on October 31 to present a joint list of demands by the opposition. “Despite the support that Imran Khan enjoys, he has failed the country and is placing the burden of his failures on the shoulders of our institutions,” said Sharif, as he addressed a press conference in Lahore. “If even the most far gone of governments had received just 25 per cent of the support he has received, then Pakistan would have been soaring high in the skies of progress,” he continued.”

The government’s response has been to argue that not only was the march anti-government and hurt the country’s image. Foreign Minister Qureshi “referred to the PTI’s own sit-in in the federal capital in 2014 and said that such moves rarely meet with success. “If someone thinks that with governments can be sent packing with sit-ins, they are wrong. We have a 126-day experience of this. We are not novices,” he said. “It is not that we fear them [the JUI-F march participants], I must stress on that,” he added. He urged Fazl to come to the negotiating table, assuring that “we are ready to listen to it [JUI-F’s concerns] and if a reasonable solution emerges, we will accord that a priority”. “Pakistan is now fighting the Kashmir cause at international fora so a unified stance must be presented on it.”

According to Babar Sattar “There is nothing that the Maulana is threatening to do that the PTI and PAT and then the TLP, supported by the PTI, didn’t do before. So talk of immorality of the JUI-F’s purpose or the threat it poses to the state or to public interest or the abuse of madressah students or the need to use force to thwart the protest march is all rather rich coming from the PTI.”

Further, “The PTI’s diatribe against the JUI-F dharna, and efforts to employ the law to scuttle it is certainly seeped in hypocrisy. The PAT brought to the fore this anarchist style of politicking in the recent past. But it was the PTI that effectively patented it in 2014, used it to paralyse the PML-N’s government and drain legitimacy out of it. It sought approval and legitimacy from the ‘umpire’. It supported the TLP dharna and employed bigotry as the tool to hammer the last nail in the PML-N government’s coffin prior to Election 2018. And it succeeded.”

Further, “Our state doesn’t pay heed to the genuine grievances of those who speak softly. It takes note and responds only to those with the ability to create nuisance. We have a polity driven by the logic of force and not legitimacy or moral authority. Our state has nurtured a society also driven by schadenfreude and not concepts of right and wrong backed by principle. IK might be reaping what he sowed, but Maulana’s politics and those supporting it, including

the PML-N and PPP, are only reinforcing the predatory character of our state and society.”

The final irony is that JUI hardly represents liberal democracy, embraces religious bigotry against Ahmadis and Shias and is engaging in religion-based politics just like PTI. But in Pakistan’s intrigue-based politics, that is how civilian governments, even those selected by the military, are threatened.