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Shahbaz a Saviour, or…..

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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 :
Shahbaz Sharif’s government will end at midnight today (10th August, 2023), two days earlier than the customary duration of the government and the assembly, giving the caretaker government an additional month (30 days) of power. The holding of the next general election on the basis of the new census and giving the election commission the power to fix the timing of the government has very successfully and cleverly circumvented the express constitutional provisions to hold elections within 90 days, if the assemblies are dissolved before the mandated period. Surprisingly, there is no qualifier for the government’s decision to dissolve the assemblies two days sooner, even in the absence of reason, logic, or appropriateness.

While attempting to list the accomplishments of the outgoing government, I was assisted by none other than the Prime Minister himself, who, in an interview with a renowned anchorperson of a national channel, enumerated his accomplishments, which are as follows.

We restored thousands of flood victims who had lost their lives, cattle, and homes. We waived their electricity payments and assisted them in returning to their normal routine.

The IMF refused to return to the broken accord, and it was only days before the program’s expiration that the government persuaded the IMF to sign an agreement for a $6 billion bailout package, which helped us stabilise the economy and supply much-needed foreign exchange.

We not only protected the political regime, but we also spared the country from another round of martial law.

One of my greatest achievements as Prime Minister has been to keep the implacable coalition of 14 parties that were pooled apart from one other under one umbrella, as well as to keep the establishment in good humour.

The country was experiencing the worst type of foreign isolation. The kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), which has aided Pakistan during some of its most difficult times, has been estranged following the former prime minister’s public declaration that we do not require KSA’s assistance to resolve the Kashmir issue. The United States was irritated, China was marginalised, and European countries were dissatisfied. Soon after taking office, our government repaired the broken links and was able to regain their trust.

The government also made tangible efforts to improve the business climate, such as cutting regulations and simplifying the tax system, which would aid in the expansion of foreign investment and job creation.

On the political front, Shahbaz Sharif turned the tables on Imran Khan, who is now facing the same humiliation and indignation that he subjected the PML(N) leadership to, throughout his tenure.

He, like Nawaz Sharif, is imprisoned, and only God knows whether he will see the open sky in his lifetime. Like the PML(N) leadership, the entire PTI leadership is either imprisoned or in hiding to avoid immediate indignation, humiliation, and suspected torture. However, unlike the PML(N) leadership, who did not defect the party while being subjected to the most heinous forms of torture, the majority of PTI loyalists have left the party and joined newly formed or existing parties. As with the PML(N), the public did not come out of their homes to protest the arrest of the PTI Chairman this time around.

The groundwork has also been set for Nawaz Sharif’s fully exonerated homecoming. He will be granted pre-arrest bail, and all cases will be quashed, just as they have been quashed against the whole PML(N) leadership. Interestingly, the former Army Chief was the one who pursued the Sharif family, and now the new army chief is the one pursuing the former prime minister.

The prime minister highlighted the rationale for the foundation of the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) as well as its mandate. According to him, whether one realises it or not, the role of the establishment is central to our national discourse. They have been relevant in economic, political, and financial matters during times when martial law was in effect and most of the time while civilian rule was in effect. The SIFC is simply an attempt to formalise this position in four national economic engines: agriculture, information technology, minerals, and defence production, while the rest of the areas fall outside of its jurisdiction. However, article 245 of the constitution states that “the Armed Forces shall, under the direction of the Federal Government, defend Pakistan against external aggression or threat of war, and, subject to law, act in aid of civil power when called upon to do so.” Since a new law has been enacted providing legitimate protection to the SIFC constitution, I will leave it to the jurist to consider the legitimacy of the army chief as a member of SIFC.

Soon after taking office, Shahbaz’s government claimed that the country was facing the worst financial and economic circumstances. However, identical sentences have been echoing in our ears following every change of government since Pakistan’s creation.

When Mr. Nawaz Sharif took over as Prime Minister from the PPP in 2013, he stated, “The state of the economy is beyond imagination.” “The economy is in shambles.” “There’s a crisis of confidence.” “We must make difficult decisions in order to turn things around.” Despite the fact that the GDP growth rate was 4.7% during the PPP administration, it was higher than the previous decade’s average of 3.5%. The rate of inflation was 7.7%. Foreign exchange reserves grew from $10 billion to $16 billion, while the debt-to-GDP ratio fell from 63% to 56%.

In his August 2018 address to the nation, Imran Khan stated that the country is facing a “historic economic crisis” with a large budget deficit, a high current account deficit, a declining foreign exchange reserve, a rising debt burden, a low tax-to-GDP ratio, and a weak investment climate. Despite the fact that Nawaz Sharif’s GDP growth rate was 5.4%, inflation was 6.1%, foreign exchange reserves climbed from $18 billion to $24 billion, and the debt-to-GDP ratio reduced from 62% to 58%.

When Shahbaz Sharif became Pakistan’s Prime Minister in April 2022, he stated, “The country is facing a serious economic crisis.””Default is a possibility.” Despite the fact that GDP growth averaged 5.8% during Imran Khan’s tenure, which was greater than the previous five-year average of 5.2%, inflation was maintained from 8.8% to 12%. Foreign reserves rose from $10 billion to $20 billion, remittances from $22 billion to $30 billion, and foreign investment rose from $2 billion to $5 billion.

However, after the Shahbaz Government left office, the numbers were not as good as in the prior examples. According to the Pakistan Economic Survey, real GDP increased by 0.29% in FY2023, while per capita income fell to $1,568 from $1,765 last year due to currency depreciation, lower GDP growth, and expanding population. The investment-to-GDP ratio was 13.6% in FY2023, down from 15.6% in FY2022. In FY2023, the industrial sector experienced 2.94% negative growth, while the services sector experienced 0.86% growth.

According to a recent World Bank assessment, economic development is likely to decline, with real GDP growth slowing dramatically to 0.4 percent in FY23 due to tighter fiscal policies, high inflation, high energy prices, and import bans. For the first time in more than 20 years, agricultural output is anticipated to fall. With supply chain disruptions, lower confidence, higher borrowing costs and fuel prices, and heightened uncertainty, industry output is anticipated to shrink, and households will remain exposed to economic and climate shocks.

Since Pakistan’s creation, the cyclical up and down of the economy has been a common feature preceding the change of any government, owing to our inability to grow our country as strong and indomitable. The world powers and their tools, international donor agencies, hold our pride, dignity, and sovereignty hostage.

Their first and most powerful technique is to attach conditions to loans and grants, forcing weaker countries to implement policies that are not in their best interests. The second essential tactic is to trap weaker countries in debt by lending them more than they can repay. The third strategy is to use sanctions to penalise non compliant countries, and the fourth tool is to manage the politics of weaker countries by using aid to reward countries that implement policies that they favour, and withholding help from those that do not cooperate.

The Shahbaz Sharif government is gone, and history will decide whether it was a saviour or not, but a new interim government is on the way. Many laws and procedures have been altered to bolster the caretaker, demonstrating the establishment’s urgency to continue its push to improve the economy and fundamentally improve four sectors under its purview.

We have many examples where military intervention in civilian matters has been successful to some extent, but there are also many situations where such a model, after providing a kickstart, left the field to civilian institutions, which then led the nations to the pinnacle of glory.

According to the most recent democracy ranking, wealthy countries rank high on the democracy scale. Norway ranks first with a score of 9.8, while the United States ranks 26th with a score of 7.9, India ranks 46th with a score of 6.9, Pakistan ranks 102 with a score of 4.3, and Afghanistan ranks 166th with a score of 0.3. We may also boost our economy and prestige by climbing the democratic ladder.

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