In a long TV interview with Prime Minister Imran Khan aimed at highlighting the achievements of the PTI regime, it is telling that the host signed off with the prayer that Allah will, inshallah, inshallah, look after Pakistan in the future! Indeed, the preamble to this statement was another gem of discovery: the PM keeps saying he is coming up with plans to do this and fix that, yet two years down the line we are still waiting for our prayers to be answered.
The interview kicked off with Imran Khan’s self-belief that has buffeted him through thick and thin, brought him to power and will keep him installed hereinafter. As an 11 year old he knew he would one day become a test cricketer; he knew he would accomplish great feats on the cricket ground; he knew he would build his cancer hospital and he knew, during the long years of political struggle, that he would one day become prime minister off his own bat. But, of course, the latter claim may be taken with a fistful of salt: if it hadn’t been for the Angels’ decision in 2012 to pick and prepare Imran Khan as their opening bowler and batsman against Nawaz Sharif – starting with the dharnas in 2014 and ending with the mysterious breakdown of the result-transmission system on election day 2018 – he might still have been languishing in the wilds of self-belief. And if he hadn’t been vigourously propped up since, he would have fallen by the wayside long ago.
Mr Khan says his government’s greatest achievement has been to curtail the “current account deficit”. This is the gap between forex earned, mainly through exports and Pakistani workers’ remittances from abroad, and forex spent (mainly through imports and debt payments). The CAD has been curtailed mainly because a stiff devaluation has made consumer and industrial imports prohibitively expensive and led to falling demand, made worse by a falling economy which has plummeted from GDP growth of 5.5% in 2018 to minus 0.4% in 2020. Therefore the reduction of the CAD reflects bad economic policy. It’s nothing to boast about.
The host wondered how the Covid-19 situation was not as bad as predicted. Mr Khan talked about how he had avoided a lockdown strategy to resist the infection because he didn’t want poor people to be out of jobs and incomes. Both agreed that the mysterious benevolence of Allah probably had something to do with it, even though unemployment is forecast to rise to over 25 million.
The host asked why sugar and wheat prices had shot up and what the government was doing to alleviate the misery of the masses. The PM droned on about “elite capture” of state resources and decision-making, conveniently forgetting that he had wittingly allowed his own parliamentary party and cabinet to be captured by the same elite and how his own government had abetted this elite to create these crises by bad decisions on exports and subsidies.
He was asked about rising energy prices along with shortages. He said he has a plan to compel IPPs to reduce the rates they are charging for supplying power to the government. But he didn’t explain how he intends to pay them off for hundreds of billions owed, which is a precondition for revising rates downwards. The Circular Debt (half of which is owed to the energy sector), it may be noted, has risen from PKR1250 billion to PKR2500 billion in the last two years of the PTI regime. Tax revenues haven’t risen by a rupee since the PTI government came to power.
Mr Khan’s solution for Karachi’s problems is empowered local government, quite ignoring the fact that his own PTI government in Punjab hasn’t chosen to hold local body elections and empower grass roots public representatives. Indeed, the PTI Punjab Chief Minister and government reek of political corruption, incompetence and bureaucratic lockdown.
NAB’s over-zealousness is also billed as a feather in the PM’s cap. Curiously, however, the PM’s SAPM Shehzad Akbar insists that NAB is an independent institution not tied to the PTI’s apron strings, and only recently Shafqat Mahmood, the Education Minister, was flaying NAB for giving the PTI government a bad name because it couldn’t swiftly conclude convictions of opposition politicians.
Mr Khan has repeated Pakistan’s historic refusal to have any diplomatic relations with Israel just as fervently alluding to China as Pakistan’s all-weather friend and ally. No brownie points there. But Shirin Mazari, a PTI minister, has lambasted her own Foreign Office for lethargy on pushing the Kashmir issue while Shah Mahmud Qureshi, the Foreign Minister, has picked a public bone with its all-weather friend and ally Saudi Arabia. And so on. Ad nauseam.
Under the circumstances, it beggars belief to hear PTI Minister Asad Umar claiming that “the PTI is set on a long innings”, unless of course he is referring to the coattails of the Angels rather than to any measurable achievements of his government that have endeared the party to the people.