Shahmir Kazi analyses the year-long governance of the coalition government
The coalition government of the Pakistan Assessing PDM government took over from the PTI regime on 10 April 2022 plunging the country into deep state of instability that is ongoing. It was the outcome of a protracted tripartite tug of war between the PTI government, opposition parties and the military establishment. The struggle witnessed the establishment getting aligned with the opposition parties and waged a campaign against the PTI government accusing it of poor governance, political victimization of opponents, mismanaging the economy and messing up the foreign policy. The PDM succeeded in ousting the PTI government through a no-confidence movement that was overtly supported by many dissenting members of the PTI and the covert assistance of the establishment. The tenure of the PTI government was known for abundant vilification of its opponents and unfortunately this tendency soon spanned out and the PDM government could not counter it.
The governance structure that the PDM inherited was badly fractured owing to the intense intervention of the establishment that launched a political party and catapulted it to power but harmfully underperformed. The economy around the PDM government was collapsing and it appeared a folly on part of the alliance to accept this onerous responsibility that apparently had no chances of success. It was quite apparent that the political economy of Pakistan was simply unviable wholly held to ransom by a parasitic kleptocracy devouring its own kind for survival. It was in this intricate web that the PDM found itself in right after taking over the reins of government. It was widely assumed that the PDM government with the stated desire to rescue the country and the economy was capable of turning things around at the time. Already the IMF programme had gone off-the-track and Pakistan has lost all credibility with the lender because the PTI government had allowed a petroleum subsidy that was simply disastrous for the struggling government.
Despite the anticipated expertise supposedly at the disposal of PMLN the leading party of the PDM government delaying rolling back the petrol subsidies was an early signal that the prime minister and his cabinet were woefully unprepared to act decisively. It took the PDM a long time and tremendous reluctance to do away with this subsidy and it could manage to do it in six weeks indicating that it was badly riven setup. The dithering was not just limited to raising petroleum prices and it soon became clear that the dispensation was simply not up to the mark belying the widely claimed expertise by the PMLN. Not only the so-called expertise proved to be ineffective but also the prime minister himself looked highly unsure as reflected by his assertion that the PDM government was prepared to announce elections and that this decision was not taken only because Imran Khan announced a long march towards Islamabad. To lend more credibility to the impression of infectivity of the PM, he repeatedly pointed out that it was not him but his elder brother, Nawaz Sharif, who was calling the shots.
The magic man of PMLN Ishaq Dar crowed a lot from London before the PDM came to power and then started maligning the then-finance minister for his policies that, according to Dar, was plunging the country into irretrievable financial disaster. But when he came back and took over the financial ministry, his actions soon elicited sharp criticism from many quarters and faced insurgency after insurgency from members of his own party. His so-called invincibility as an economic czar was soon in tatters and he still has not found his feet. Claiming that dollar would soon fall below Rs.200 he became laughing stock in the country particularly when he started getting rhetorical about the IMF programme that refused to pay any attention to his bluster and hardened its attitude. The result was that the IMF programme failed to materialise and the worst part of the entire scenario was that Pakistan’s benefactors hit the pause button causing the economic downslide to pick-up speed. Pakistani policy makers tried their best to lobby their case in almost all the western capitals but to no avail and very soon Pakistan reached the edge of financial meltdown.
Over the last one year the coalition government continued to harm both its credibility among international lenders and its popularity at home. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif seemed lost at sea delegating the management of the economy to a man who seemed to have little understanding of the economy and was more interested in political gimmickry. Dar’s belief that somehow the price of the US dollar was reflective of economic vibrancy and success added fuel to the fire as it created a yawning gap in the formal and informal exchange rate of the rupee, leading to declining formal flows of much-needed foreign currency into the economy. Remittances shifted to informal market, exports declined and the markets began buying dollars to safeguard their wealth. Rather than let the currency depreciate, import curbs were placed to save scarce foreign currency and the result was that supply-chains began to grind to a halt, leading to shortages of necessities such as medicines and unprecedented inflation. For the common people things could not get worse and they are still suffering in silence but there is a limit to their resilience.
PDM government started off with the largest cabinet in the country’s history as it paid for loyalties of the assistance rendered by its associates. However, from the policy angle the government itself to be just rudderless. The decision making of the dispensation is marked by vacillation and dithering with the result that its main coalition partner, PPP, has made an obvious effort to distance itself from the tough, unpopular economic measures the PDM government was obliged to take for IMF bailout. PMLN has failed to gain control of the Punjab government despite several efforts and this failure is rated to be its biggest setback. Perhaps the most disastrous aspect of the policies pursued by the coalition government was and is the absence of any serious initiative and discussion among political parties on the multiple challenges facing the country. The situation has been exacerbated by the fact that the state institutions have become the target of partisan attacks in the raging political battle.
It appears that the situation has come to a pass where the confrontation between the state institutions may prove an existential threat for the country. The country is already beset by economic difficulties and the raging battle between the government and judiciary may cause incalculable harm to the country. In the midst of all this the one-year performance of the PDM appears to be a dismal failure and the only option for it to redeem its lost cause is to rectify all mistakes committed by it. PDM is now actually at crossroads and is under tremendous distress apparently unable to find a way out of the crisis. The time is curiously tenuous and no one knows what is in store for the country. If the PDM fails to do discharge its responsibility in a way that proves beneficial to the country, then there is hardly any chance that the country may not come out of the current crisis it faces. TW
Shahmir Kazi works in the private sector with interest in socio-political affairs