“There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.”
“There is nothing worse than aggressive stupidity.”
These quotes are attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – the German poet and playwright. Well, quotes are quotes, and as an academic, I am inclined to find sources and exact page numbers. However, even if they cannot be authentically linked to Goethe, they capture the political situation Pakistan finds herself in — between an aggressively stupid leadership and its frightfully ignorant following.
Like every populist leader, Imran Khan’s utter disregard for the constitution and legal procedures is right out of the handbook of populist politics. However, it is incomprehensible to any sane person with slightest regard for the rule of law. Yet, it is impossible to engage in a constructive dialogue with the mob. Ironically, the fiercest among them are overseas Pakistanis enjoying a comfortable life under liberal democratic rule in the West.
How, if at all, can one engage with the PTI supporters on the dismal track record of the Imran Khan government? Maybe by showing them examples of economic and political miseries their leader has brought on Pakistan.
I have compiled a list of a few economic indicators through a basic Google search. A disclaimer before I start outlining them: I am not an economist, which means two things: (1) I could be wrong in my interpretation, and I most likely am, so I would more than welcome if someone corrects me in the comments, and (2) because I lack any specialized knowledge, I am at the same analytical level as any layperson. If I am getting them ‘right’ (again, please correct me), most readers will probably also get them right.
Most of the material I will be using is based on the pre-Covid 19 data to preempt any ‘pandemic excuses’ (the degree to which this pandemic affected Pakistan is yet another question). Imran Khan’s government is highlighted in the red box (assumed office on August 18, 2018), and comparisons are with previous governments. Perhaps the first year was marred by past mismanagement, but Imran Khan’s government worsened on almost all subsequent indicators. I’ll start with economic indicators and move to politics in the later half.
- The currency went into a downward spiral losing its already dismal value against the USD, which went from Rs120 when Imran Khan took power to Rs185.5 today. The rupee almost reduced by 50 percent against the dollar.
2. Immediately after Imran Khan took power, the economy took a nosedive. GDP per capita (in USD, not PPP) fell for the first time in the last 20 years (exception 2008-2009 economic crisis). — Source: The World Bank.
3. The annual GDP growth plummeted from positive 5.x % to negative 1.x % in the first two years under Imran Khan’s government. It is the worst performance in two decades at a point when the country needed sustained growth to meet domestic challenges (mainly population growth and prosperity). His financial wizards came up with ‘updated’ GDP figures to show ‘recovery,’ but it was a recovery from rock bottom, so it was bound to be positive, and it is a known fact that a state can fabricate GDP the data. —Source:The World Bank.
4. The debt to GDP ratio also climbed steeply by almost 15% points, even in the absence of any new major infrastructure project or significant cash transfers during the pandemic. — Source: SOB/Trading Economics.
5. The inflation rate reached double figures. These are official statistics, and actual inflation is most likely higher. — Source: PBS//Trading Economics.
6. Food inflation also increased, reaching as much as 25% high and has stayed in double figures. This is when real wages are declining, and many people are losing their jobs. Imagine what the poor went through. —Source: PBS//Trading Economics.
7. Imran Khan and his team tried to hide behind ‘global inflation’ rhetoric. Yes, prices were globally skyrocketing, but Pakistan stands out, even in the region. Pakistani inflation was 5 percentage points higher than South Asia’s average. The inflation rate went from an annual average of 4.7% in 2018 to 10.7% in 2020. Even war-torn Afghanistan did better than us. –Source: Asian Development Bank.
Let’s move to political indicators.
8. The quality of democracy significantly deteriorated under Imran Khan’s populist government. Pakistan declined 6 points on Freedom House’s index (democracy, political rights, and civil liberties) — from 43 in 2018 to 37 in 2021 (presumably even more in 2022).
9. Similarly, the media faced unprecedented constraints under Imran Khan’s government, that tried to impose the draconian Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) to curb freedom of expression. Pakistan moved down six places in the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index.
10. Pakistan fell 5 points on Transparency International Corruption Reception Index. Remember the ‘we’ll cleanse the system’ slogan?
Imran Khan’s rule has turned out to be more of a bane than a boon for Pakistanis. If anything, his populist government increased the political misery of an already battered nation. His divisive politics has created a suffocating environment where goons have taken over the public sphere, eliminating any possibility of a reasoned dialogue. His populist aids have poisoned the roots of the Pakistani community, and it will take us years or perhaps generations to look eye-to-eye and accommodate our political differences.
I felt the need to write this piece as a cathartic act; and to show the material harm Imran Khan and the team have imposed on this county. The more critical, ‘symbolic destruction’ of culture and values that the PTI has unleashed is impossible to quantify. There is a possibility that the Youth Brigade will reject it because they are infected by ‘alternative facts’ their leadership is desperately trying to peddle. This is the frightening age of aggressive ignorance and delusional stupidity, but some of us are still compelled by the duty to restore sanity.