Izzat Hayat describes the year gone by
The year that was for Pakistan was tumultuous, to say the least. It witnessed remarkable political turmoil and a horrendous economic downturn in Pakistan. Both these factors pushed back the country by years and made life miserable for the hapless people of Pakistan. On the international front Russian invasion of Ukraine unleashed a crisis that not only rattled the tenuous balance of power but also brought deep fears of food insecurity as it directly hit the supply of an essential staple people need for consumption. Russian-Ukraine also raised the spectre of a potential nuclear conflict with rather irrational Russian leadership threatening the use of nuclear weapons that were taken quite seriously by a large cross section of rational analysts. The year also witnessed the recurrence of Covid pandemic, particularly in China, with the attendant risks of it spreading further that may challenge the efficacy of the vaccines prepared to tackle it.
The year began with a sensational proclamation by the then COAS that the army has become neutral though this claim was clouded by intense doubts on part of all other relevant stakeholders. The neutrality phenomenon created more confusion than resolving issues with more questions raised about the intentions of the powerful establishment. It became quite obvious that this neutrality was declared with the intention of ditching the then incumbent political dispensation and while it opened the door of rivalry with the PTI it also encouraged the opposition alliance to gang up against the government. The peculiar ramifications of neutrality meant changing of direction of proxy political camps that were, through incentive or coercion, beholden to the establishment. Where previously these proxies were told to lend support to the political alignment put in power, in the changed situation, they were nudged and cajoled into once again supporting the erstwhile political elements that were forced out of power just recently. The state of neutrality ushered in a process that not only pushed out the political government but also rolled out a state of affairs that gave rise to intense instability in the country.
Though Pakistan was in throes of instability since after PTI regime was brought into the governance auspices that kept the national fabric on the boil by arbitrarily applying accountability thereby creating a poisoned partisanship that gradually polarised the public opinion of the country. The intensely divided polity quickly went for each other’s jugular plunging the country into a crisis that now is witnessed by many as perpetual. The situation gradually came to a head in the beginning of 2022 with a no-confidence motion tabled against PTI government. The ruling party tried to circumvent the no-confidence motion by declaring it to be the result of an American conspiracy and an attempt was made to render the process dysfunctional when before commencement of voting on the motion the then deputy speaker in a shock ruling, dismissed the no-confidence motion terming it contradictory to Article 5 of the Constitution which mandates loyalty to the state. On the basis of this action, the highly partisan president Dr. Arif Alvi later dissolved the National Assembly as well.
However, the Supreme Court took suo motu notice of the issue and set aside the deputy speaker’s ruling and the subsequent dissolution of the lower house, ordering that voting on the no-trust motion be held. Resultantly, the PDM’s no-confidence motion against Imran Khan despite no record of such a motion getting through in the past succeeded with 174 members in the 342-strong house voting in favour of the resolution. In the days to follow, PMLN Shehbaz Sharif was elected as the prime minister and the PTI, in retaliation, launched a demand for new general elections with its chairman increasingly began alleging that the establishment was behind his government’s fall. This constitutional regime change provoked a controversy that further divided the societal mores. PTI felt the brunt of changed circumstances but its leadership took on the establishment and started a series of public meetings that garnered huge public support making PTI unexpectedly winning many seats of national and provincial assemblies.
In the summer of 2022, Pakistan experienced a super flood, with more than half of its fertile land inundated at one point. Some of its tillable land is still submerged. Illegal and irregular constructions across the water routes in the north were brought down by the roaring flood waters, while the year’s accumulated farming gains were wiped out in a matter of hours for millions of the country’s poorest farmers. The most worrying aspect of this unprecedented destruction is the lack of international interest in helping out Pakistan in the moment of crisis that the governmental circles justify by stating that crisis fatigue has failed to spark the same level of national interest in helping the flood affectees that has occurred in the past.
The unprecedented and devastating floods in Pakistan wrecked havoc and its devastation has badly battered Pakistan and its entire socio-economic fabric. The already halting economy has taken a severe battering and the people are struggling to cope up with the widespread devastation. The flooding has affected over 33 million people — some 15% of the Pakistan’s population and has submerged a third of the country. The deaths are now calculated in thousands and the rains have caused damage worth billions of dollars, compounding the woes of an economy already beset by a raft of problems, ranging from a heavy debt burden and ballooning current account deficit to a tumbling currency and skyrocketing inflation, particularly food prices.
The rains have damaged vast areas where agricultural crops were at the point of ripening creating a shortage of edibles. Parts of Pakistan are still cut off from the rest of the country as flooding rendered roads and bridges inaccessible — crucially, this included areas in the nation’s southern breadbasket and consequently the prices of edibles skyrocketing particularly onions whose price has gone up by more than fivefold. It was reported that crops like cotton, rice and tomatoes have been seriously damaged. The damage to the agriculture sector is likely to widen Pakistan’s trade deficit from the current 2.4% of GDP to more than 3.5%, as the country is forced to import more food stuffs and other goods from abroad.
Pakistan will import more tomatoes, rice, wheat, cotton and other food items and provide them to people on higher prices that will make life even more difficult for the common people. Understandably, there will be more inflation in coming days because of the destruction of agriculture. If industrial raw materials are not imported then manufacturing would be hit and if they are imported the import bill will rise exponentially. It is reported that Pakistani officialdom is contemplating requesting the western countries to waive off Pakistan’s debts and help. In this context it is pointed out that after all it is the obsession of the western world with growth that has destroyed the environment, punishing countries like Pakistan, which contributes very little to carbon emissions.
Pakistan has resultantly gotten weaker and its average citizen poorer this year. Even those not directly affected by the floods have seen their diet become sparser while the caloric deficit has widened in the face of inflation and crippling price increases as wages remain stagnant. Whatever little there is to eat for the common man, is largely imported from abroad. Stories of these foodstuffs being stranded at the port during the import tightening process appear regularly with the result that the spectre of food insecurity is now widely feared. TW