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From Economic collapse to Economic stability

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Islamabad (Imran Y. CHOUDHRY) :- Former Press Secretary to the President, Former Press Minister to the Embassy of Pakistan to France, Former MD, SRBC Mr. Qamar Bashir analysis :
In a recent interview, on a national TV channel Mr. Shabbar Zaidi underwent a striking transformation in his views on Pakistan’s economy. Just days earlier, he had been painting a grim picture of impending economic challenges. However, in an unexpected shift, Mr. Shabbar exhibited a newfound optimism about Pakistan’s economic prospects.

Initially, Mr. Shabbar had been attributing the failure to combat smuggling and tax evasion, especially within the real estate sector, to former Army Chief General Javaid Qamar Bajwa and the corps commander of the southern command. However, he abruptly reversed course, now placing the blame for hoarding, smuggling, and tax evasion squarely on the shoulders of Members of the National Assembly (MNAs) and the political elite.

Mr. Shabbar didn’t hold back when he attributed a significant portion of Pakistan’s current economic and financial challenges, specifically around 80%, to the policies of the PML(N) government, and the rest 20% on other political parties without qualifying his sweeping statement.

A few days ago, Mr. Shabbar strongly advocated that the solution to Pakistan’s struggling economy lay in conducting free and fair elections and establishing a fully representative government. He saw this as the ultimate remedy for the financial challenges plaguing the nation. Now, Mr. Shabbar suggested that any political party assuming power in the future would likely reverse the positive measures implemented by the interim government, potentially plunging the country back into dire economic and financial straits.

This shift in his perspective added an intriguing dimension to the ongoing economic discourse. In a somewhat unconventional move, he suggested that, instead of holding elections, the country should consider forming a national government comprising patriotic, competent, and eminent individuals from all parties. However, he didn’t elaborate on the constitutional, legal, or lawful means to achieve this objective.

Earlier, he has also been emphatic about the government’s need to officially declare a technical default, a stance he has maintained consistently. However, now he took a surprisingly optimistic view regarding Pakistan’s economic and financial prospects. He declared that the positive steps taken by the current government including cracking down on hoarders and mafias, enforcing stricter border controls, imposing a 10% processing fee on Afghan transit trade, and clamping down on illegal currency dealers, have addressed many fundamental economic and financial distortions.

Interestingly, he appeared to backtrack from his prior statement, once uttered with unwavering confidence, that there were no viable solutions to the country’s present economic and financial woes. This shift in his perspective left many wondering why he had initially painted such a doomsday scenario.

It’s possible that Mr. Shabbar’s earlier assessment was based on the assumption that the establishment would maintain its existing posture, effectively supporting the status quo regarding issues such as smuggling, illegal arms dealing, and influential mafias.

However, to the surprise of not only Mr. Shabbar but perhaps the entire nation, a new era seems to be dawning in Pakistan, a departure from the established norms and a potential shift towards addressing these long standing issues head on.

The leadership at the helm has showcased an unwavering resolve and a determination as unyielding as solid steel. Their resounding proclamation echoes clearly: “There is no choice but to rise.” In a fearless and unequivocal message to the public, they have issued a stern warning: Anyone found engaged in illegal, unlawful, anti-state, criminal activities, or corruption, regardless of their stature, whether they hold the rank of a general, brigadier, colonel, or occupy high-ranking bureaucratic positions, or even if they are at the helm of the most influential mafias, politicians, real estate magnates, business titans, or foreign actors, will be met with the full force of the state’s power, without exception or bias.

This unequivocal message seemed to be more than sufficient to instill discipline and order throughout the ranks. In response, the authorities conducted a relentless crackdown on water hydrants, which had been draining the lifeblood of the nation. Their facilities were dismantled, and their tankers confiscated.

They carried out unrelenting operations against electricity theft, disconnecting illicit connections, confiscating meters, imposing hefty fines, and placing offenders behind bars. This demonstrated an unwavering commitment to restoring law and order in the country.

The authorities have successfully identified all foreign nationals who were engaging in thriving illegal and legal businesses while fraudulently acquiring Pakistani National Identity Cards (NICs). Many of these individuals were leading comfortable lives even without proper documentation. They have been given a month to vacate the country.

In a decisive move, the government cracked down on powerful foreign currency dealers who were shamelessly, ruthlessly, and criminally depleting the nation’s financial resources. These dealers were either selling Pakistan’s precious foreign currency reserves to foreigners or to those who had amassed ill-gotten wealth for hoarding, all under the impunity and protection of influential mafias. They have been apprehended, their ill-gotten and illicit currencies confiscated, and their businesses shuttered, ensuring that they can no longer operate with impunity.

Since our inception, we’ve witnessed a disheartening pattern: Over 80% of the Afghan Transit trade, once it reached Afghanistan, was illicitly funneled back into Pakistan. This nefarious operation occurred under the collusion and protection of law enforcement agencies. It inflicted grievous wounds upon our economy, decimating the local industry due to the influx of foreign, inexpensive, and substandard goods. Additionally, it deprived the national exchequer of crucial taxes and duties.

What is even more alarming is that this detrimental practice continued for decades, despite a clear understanding of its adverse consequences, with successive governments, politicians, establishments, and law enforcement agencies choosing to turn a blind eye to the issue.

They all were busy accumulating unimaginable wealth by letting this deplorable practice continue unabated, benefiting the Afghans and Afghan government and inflicting infectious and incurable wounds to the country’s economy and its financial wellbeing.

The Afghan government and its people, who were the primary beneficiaries of this deplorable illegal process, became increasingly audacious and confident. They believed that this practice would persist due to perceived political obligations, a notion that was, unfortunately, validated by Pakistan’s historical appeasement policy toward Afghanistan. Despite being fully aware of the severe harm it caused to Pakistan’s interests, successive governments and establishments pursued this policy.

This complacency reached a point where it threatened the very existence of Pakistan. Afghanistan not only provided shelter to secessionists, separatists, and rebels from within Pakistan but also offered safe havens to groups like the TTP and Baloch insurgents. To date, they continue to refuse to take action against these elements and even enable them to launch terrorist attacks from Afghan soil into Pakistan. These attacks have resulted in the loss of numerous innocent lives, including law enforcement personnel, all with complete impunity.

When pressed to take measures against criminals and terrorists operating from its territory, Afghanistan not only sidestepped responsibility but also shifted the blame onto the government of Pakistan and its law enforcement agencies. They accused Pakistan of complacency and taunted them, insinuating an inability to control and restrain their own citizens, deflecting responsibility for addressing the pressing security concerns emanating from their soil.

Their audacity reached such levels that they even cultivated Afghans who had found shelter, sustenance, clothing, and business opportunities in Pakistan, turning them into facilitators, abettors, and accomplices for launching terrorist attacks within Pakistan. They seemed confident that Pakistan’s government, in an attempt to maintain favorable relations with the United Nations and adhere to its appeasement policy toward the Afghan government, would continue to turn a blind eye.

However, what they didn’t anticipate was the transformation in Pakistan’s stance. Under the leadership of the resolute Army Chief and a government determined to prioritize national interests above all else, Pakistan has adopted a different mindset. It is now prepared to take decisive steps in its own national interest, without hesitation, fear, favor, or discrimination, and without showing mercy when required.

As someone who has witnessed numerous governments and establishments not only turning a blind eye to but also benefiting from a wide range of illegal activities and processes, including the Afghan transit trade, smuggling of petroleum products, goods, and foodstuffs from Iran, as well as the hoarding and smuggling of essential commodities such as wheat, sugar, oil, fertilizer, cement, and more to various countries, including those in Central Asia, it was disheartening.

The export of wheat and sugar when it was urgently needed domestically, followed by their expensive import, often accompanied by substantial government subsidies, reflects a troubling pattern. This, coupled with rampant corruption, widespread gas, water, and electricity theft, and the unchecked looting of state resources with impunity, paints a stark picture of the challenges Pakistan has faced in combating these longstanding issues.

The recent actions taken by the interim government and establishment are like a melodious tune to our ears. For a long time, we yearned to witness strong actions against these criminals. The failure of successive governments to address these issues had caused us countless sleepless nights and drained away much of our hope for progress and development, especially when we saw neighboring nations and countries worldwide advancing steadily.

Deep down, we always believed in the resilience of our nation and the strength of our institutions. We knew that we could achieve great things, provided we had the determination and will to do so. Thankfully, the current administration has demonstrated this much-needed resolve and commitment. We have begun to witness a shift in the right direction, a change that even someone like Mr. Shabbar Zaidi, known for his doomsday scenarios, has applauded as life-saving measures taken by the interim government.

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