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Economic scorecard

In his address to the nation on September 15, former prime minister Imran Khan, who is perhaps the first opposition leader in Pakistan to address the nation through electronic media whenever he wants, compared his government’s economic performance with that of the PML-N government from 2013 to 2018 and the current coalition government led by PM Shehbaz Sharif.

The PTI chairperson used selective economic data to build a narrative that the economy was on the right track before he got ousted from power. He added that during his rule, GDP growth was 5.8 per cent, exports were rising and the economy was ready to start its journey towards prosperity and high growth. But the ‘regime change plan’ through the vote of no-confidence abruptly ended this journey in April 2022.

Khan now believes that since then, the economy has been going downhill and that the government is not capable of dealing with the deepening economic crisis. The solution, according to him, is fresh elections. He seems confident that the people of Pakistan will bring him back to power.

It was fascinating to see how Khan carefully used the selective figures in his speech to support his narrative. He compared the current prices of several commodities with that in March 2022. But he failed to mention that Pakistanis experienced a high inflation rate in his 44-month rule.

The inflation rate went from 4.8 per cent in 2018 to 13.9 per cent in April 2022. The price of one unit of electricity went up from Rs10 in 2018 to Rs18 in April 2022, and the price of sugar went up from Rs52 to Rs100. The sugar and wheat crises hit Pakistan during his rule, which allowed big businesses and cartels to earn billions of rupees and profit off of this crisis.

Pakistan’s economy for the first time experienced a negative GDP growth of 0.5 per cent. Unemployment and poverty increased. Khan left behind a weak economy, a high inflation rate and a weak rupee. It is true that inflation has doubled since the coalition government came to power. But this government is only responsible for the price hike in the last five months, and it was Khan’s government which led the country to the current economic crisis. Khan tried to shift the blame on the current government by telling half truths in his address.

Even though the economy was already standing on shaky ground when this government took power, the current economic team has made the matters even worse instead of providing relief to the people. The current neoliberal policies have intensified the crisis, resulting in record high inflation.

Two things were missing from Khan’s speech. First, nothing was said about the promised 10 million jobs and five million houses. He did not reveal how many jobs were created and how many low-cost houses were built during his 44-month rule.

Before coming to power and during the first two years of his rule, Imran Khan used to tell the people how the PML-N and PPP governments sunk the country into a debt crisis due to corruption and economic mismanagement. But he failed to tell us why his government took record loans in 44 months; no government in the history of Pakistan ever accumulated so many loans. He also forgot to tell us about the record high imports during his tenure.

Second, he didn’t mention anything about the reforms carried out by the PTI government, which came into power with the slogan that it would bring real change. The party promised to bring this change through meaningful reforms, during its election campaigns, but no such reforms were introduced during its rule. The PTI also made the promise to free the economy from the clutches of cartels and the elite, but it didn’t deliver on its promise.

Even when the party was in power, party leaders kept repeating that the elite had captured Pakistan’s economy, politics and state structure and took no measure to end this elite capture.

In his recent speech, Khan had nothing to say on why the PTI government failed to implement the promised reforms in the governance structure, the judicial system, the economy, the civil service and the police.

The PTI government opted for incremental adjustments in the political, economic and administrative systems instead of introducing real reforms to create the promised Naya Pakistan.

Cosmetic measures, empty promises, U-turns, mere slogans and rhetoric were the hallmark of the PTI government. Its ill-preparedness and confusion in policymaking were exposed in its term.

In its election campaigns, the PTI used to say that its action plan would fix the longstanding structural issues that continue to plague governance, the federation and the economy, besides strengthening security.

Contrary to its promises of reforms and change, the PTI did nothing to weaken the status-quo. In line with the neoliberal and free market economic philosophy and policies, the PTI government’s economic measures and policies strengthened the status-quo.

Right-wing reforms always strengthen the status quo and domination of the ruling class. As a right-wing populist party, the PTI adopted similar reforms to strengthen the status quo and followed the policies that benefitted the ruling class and the elite. There was no difference between the policies of the PTI government and those introduced by the PML-N and PPP governments.

Civil service, police and judicial reforms are essentially about decolonizing the colonial state structure and introducing drastic changes in socioeconomic structures. Reforms can never transform or replace the existing system; they only make repressive and exploitative systems more acceptable for the working class.

The PTI clearly showed that it had no concrete plan or policy to enhance productive capacity and boost agricultural and industrial production. Industrialisation is still a distant dream. Land reforms and the modernization of agriculture are necessary to reduce rural poverty. The desire to reduce poverty and unemployment cannot be realized without investing in efforts to increase the productive capacity of the industrial and agricultural sectors.

Khalid Bhatti, "Economic scorecard," The News. 2022-09-20.
Keywords: Economics , Economic structures , Economic reforms , Economic mismanagement , Imran Khan , PM Shehbaz Sharif , Pakistan , GDP , PMLN , PPP