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When Imran wins the election

Fast forward to October, or November – or whenever the government calls the general election – and, ceteris paribus, behold the spectacle of PTI’s (Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf’s) tsunami delivering “haqeeqi azadi” to a country on the brink of ruin. That’ll teach everybody who conspired against Imran Khan a good lesson; from Donald Lu, the face of US President Joe Biden’s plot, to “neutrals” who brought back “corrupt thieves” and all the “traitors” and “infidels” who didn’t vote for him and “lotas” who took bags of money to ditch him, especially “do takay kay sahafi”, the “lifafa” journalists who were paid by their masters to ask for evidence every time he told them who was out to kill him.

But, what then?

Will the economy, the country’s number-one problem, bounce back because Imran will be back in control? He seemed to think so when I had the opportunity to ask him about his party’s solution to the mess when he hosted foreign correspondents in Lahore’s Zaman Park in mid-December. There will be a legitimate government and an end to political uncertainty, he said once he had taken Gen Bajwa, foreign conspirators, the government and also the media to the cleaners. And then expats, who only trust him, will flood the exchequer with foreign exchange, and institutional lenders will not take long to follow, and that’ll be that.

But what if the market rallies and rupee strengthens, just like in April when the “cabal of crooks” replaced him, and then the sentiment peters out in the absence of solid reforms? You can bet that Moody’s will not revise its Caa1 rating with negative outlook, effectively junk, no matter how many legions of PTI’s social media trolls are unleashed on it. Nor will Fitch be impressed enough to revise its deep negative outlook for the rupee. And what if rich Pakistanis living abroad, too, decide to wait for reserves to bloat a little, at least the threat of default to pass, before they throw their hard earned dollars and euros into Pakistani bonds?

The PDM (Pakistan Democratic Movement) government isn’t likely to play ball with the IMF (International Monetary Fund) beyond the 9th review in an election year, so the main choice, in the best case scenario, would still be between striking a deal with the Fund and accepting its harsh upfront conditions or nosediving into default. Imran Khan has said before that he’d rather die than go to the IMF, then he came to power and promptly went to the IMF, and even though he’s attacking the present setup for going back to the IMF, he’ll have no choice but to do the same as soon as he comes back to office. At least he won’t have to worry about public backlash, because even if his decisions stoke hyperinflation and eat into his supporters’ savings, crooked politicians pushed into the opposition, or preferably jail cells, will still be to blame.

It’s also going to take a lot more than just willingness to sign on the dotted line to revive the bailout programme. The Fund would remember how his administration torpedoed the EFF (Extended Fund Facility) at least two times in the last fiscal year. First right at the beginning, when Shaukat Tarin’s expansionary budget violated already agreed upon conditions, and later had to be abandoned. And then when Imran cut and froze petrol and electricity prices in the face of the no-confidence motion, effectively booby trapping the economy for the next administration. Or maybe his landslide win and high public approval will put the IMF in its place and dilute its conditions. Time will tell.

There’s more.

No doubt he commands unflinching support in all segments of Pakistani society – young and old, men and women, teenagers all the way to octogenarians. And, let’s not forget, a big bulk of his voters also come from the extreme right, including the fringe that supports outfits bent upon spreading sharia with bombs and bullets, like TTP (Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan). That brings us to Pakistan’s number-two problem: the resurgence of terrorism.

Even as (almost) all Pakistanis were blaming the decision to negotiate peace with TTP for its latest putsch, and mourners were still burying the 100 or so dead from the Peshawar mosque attack, Imran said TTP was angry because the present government broke pledges that his government made with the terror outfit. It’s public knowledge, after all, that he offered to house thousands of TTP fighters in South Waziristan, to “mainstream them”, wanted them to open a formal office in KP (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), and even released many hundreds of their prisoners, tried and convicted enemies of the state, as a “goodwill gesture”. But since they didn’t budge from their demands of releasing more prisoners, reversing the FATA-KP merger and handing South Waziristan over to their control lock, stock and barrel, what “broken pledges” was he exactly talking about?

And if Imran comes back to power and gives them what they want, and the bloodshed ceases for a while, will it be a victory for him or TTP?

None of that matters in the PTI universe, of course. What does matter is that Imran will be prime minister again, even if he is forced to do the same things to rescue the economy that his opponents are doing right now, and those opponents will be in jail, even if TTP’s terrorists are out of it.

Shahab Jafry, "When Imran wins the election," Business recorder. 2023-02-02.
Keywords: Political science , Foreign exchange , Inflation rate , Political administration , Terrorism , Gen Bajwa , Khyber Pakhtunkhwa , Zaman Park , TTP , FATA

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