“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
This is the opening of novel A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. It is anchored in the French Revolution. The canvas of the novel in question is crowded with characters that carry equally opposite social, political, and economic conditions of the wealthy and the disadvantaged classes in Paris respectively.
It is an apt description to be used in the context of today’s Pakistan when, on the one hand, the rich are enjoying luxurious lives; while on the other hand, the poor are struggling under the yoke of economic decline unleashing inflation and food insecurity.
After having ascended to the throne, PM Shehbaz Sharif said he would sell his clothes to provide cheap flour to the population. His words has come true with the difference that it is now the shirtless who are not only selling their clothes but also vital organs in order to get the commodity.
The case in point is the ongoing wheat flour crisis and subsequent inflated rates by cruel profiteers compelling the vast majority to queue up for subsidised bags of flour at sale points, which either have the insufficient supply or remain closed. Various videos uploaded from nook and corner of the country going viral have depicted horrible tales of men and women crying out for a bag of flour outside the sale points.
Both helplessness and humiliation of the ordinary that are in majority, at these spots just for the bag of flour to feed their hungry children, do demonstrate utter economic deprivation.
An elderly lost his limbs in a stampede while struggling to have a bag of low-priced flour in District Mirpurkhas, Sindh. Wailing over the dead body of their loved father, the hungry children said had they been aware of the impending danger to the life of their beloved father, they would not have compelled their father to go for the same. Thus, he earned the badge of “first martyr” of the current crisis. Who will facilitate and feed the children already tucked into poverty?
Madhan all Menghwar is a donkey-cart owner in Tando Alahyar, Sindh. His agonising story was published in a regional newspaper that reported on how he was selling one of his kidneys to buy flour to feed his five children. He was quoted as saying he couldn’t see his hungry children as a result of which he was to choose between committing suicide and selling his vital organ so that he could ensure food delivery to his starving children.
Not only this, the flour crisis is at its peak in Larkana – PPP’s citadel as the Deputy Commissioner concerned admitted that there was a flour shortage in the district. There were even reports of the subsidised sale points in the city being closed.
This paints the true picture of the crisis in question, especially in the province with PPP in the third consecutive stint of power. Let us not forget that the PPP’s manifesto is: Bread, Shelter, and Cloth. However, tales of Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta, Gilgit Baltistan and AJK about the current crisis of flour faced by multitudes of the population are not different as the same mindset is in decision-making centers.
Faced with public fury, what PM Shehbaz Sharif offered was that the provincial governments were solely responsible for the unfolding flour crisis.
The provincial chief ministers have issued customary directions to the deputy commissioners concerned to ensure the availability of flour and take those behind hoarding and black-marketing to the task. The customary commands usually fall on deaf ears.
Who cares for the common class bearing the brunt of bad governance and subsequent humanitarian crises? The logical question that arises is: What is the reason behind the fledgling economy unleashing abject poverty in a resource and agriculture-rich country?
The answer is short-term economic policies presided over by the ruling elites and the accumulation of wealth by hook or crook by the same. It has undoubtedly ushered in a stagnant economy and subsequent shrinking purchasing power the vast majority is faced with.
If one looks around there has already been a partial closure of industrial units or downright shutdown of the same that has resulted in layoffs. Measure the magnitude of stagnant industrial activity. Diamond Industries Ltd suspended its manufacturing operations until further notice because of adverse economic conditions and the non-availability of imported raw materials.
Earlier, Suraj Textile Mills Ltd, Nishat Chunian Ltd, and Kohinoor Spinning Mills Ltd have also announced production cuts partly because of high operational costs and low demand. Besides, KIA Motors permanently shut down its. Shahra-e-Faisal dealership in Karachi; Pak-Suzuki announced a temporary shutdown of Automobile, Motorcycle Plants; Indus Motors announced to temporarily shut down its Production Plant; Fauji Fertilizer shut down its DAP Plant as market conditions worsened.
Last but not the least, over 150 Textile Mills suspended their operation under the same circumstances. This combination of a partial and complete shutdown of industrial operations is said to have left 2 million people unemployed. Industrial activity lubricates the engine of economic growth subsequently underpinning commercial activity like the sale and purchase
Those in the saddle of various industries have conveyed their concern in no uncertain terms that the government has made it difficult for industrial units to import raw materials as it’s battling a severe shortage of dollars. The authorities are trying to minimise the outflow of dollars by restricting imports of all kinds — a move that’s resulting in industry-wide production shutdowns. Economic analysts believe the decision by the central bank to restrict the imports of industrial inputs for saving dollars is counter-productive.
However, emerging political instability and consequent industrial sterilisation may unleash unimaginable crises leading to an economic emergency. Amidst the economic crisis, the public is offered a lollipop’ that things are going to change, but the promised change remains a pipe dream. On the heels of inflation emanating from the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) dictated policies, none other than the PML N undermined Dar’s predecessor Muftah Ismail based on the grounds of him being unable to turn around then worsening economy.
A narrative was fed to the population that Ishaq Dar with his magic band was coming to control economic vulnerability and clip the wings of the dollar. Despite Dar being in the saddle of the finance ministry, things have not changed. It thus has reaffirmed, instead of a change of faces, Pakistan needs long-term economic policies and political stability- a prerequisite to economic growth and international investment the very buttressing ingredients for our national fragile economy. The million -dollar question is how come the wealth of powerful politicians, parliamentarians, and beaurocracy has astronomically increased, but the vast majority of the country can’t afford to buy a bag of flour.
Tune in to the television and one will hear present rulers passing the buck to the previous rulers. Placing the blame at the door of predecessors is nothing but pulling wool over the eyes of cash-starved Pakistanis. Both the past and present rulers are naked in this bath called perpetual economic bloodbath. We have not reached this level in a particular stint of power by any successive political parties.
Truth be told: It is the sickle-called exploitative economic model and manipulative monetary mechanism institutionalized by the elites that have left the population without enough cash to feed their families, and the same predatory network is at play depriving the country of enough dollars to maintain day-today -business activities?
On January 12, the office of the Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP) informed the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that Rs19 billion of the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) had been illegally distributed among 143,000 government officials.
As per the available details, during the scrutiny of the audit report of Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety Division, Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed, a member of the PAC, asked the BISP secretary Yousuf Khan about the status of the inquiry into the distribution of funds among government officials in 2020.
In response to the question posed by Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed, BISP secretary Yousuf Khan told the committee that of the 143,000 ineligible beneficiaries who were in the government service, 2,500 had been working in BS-17 and above. This financial dishonesty by those entrusted with the task of reducing poverty through BISP disbursements is just a symptom of loot and plundering of money aimed at poverty alleviation by civil servants.
What those at the helm of the country’s affairs need to realise is that the economic slaughter of the majority caused by colonial considerations is akin to a national tragedy. In a country where the salaried class finds it hard to keep their kitchens running due to the high cost of living, one can imagine the economic hardships faced by ordinary people. To make matters worse, recently, two gas companies – Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL) and Sui Southern Gas Company Limited (SSGCL) were allowed by the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA) to hike their prices by 74.42 percent and 75.35 percent respectively.
It beggars the belief that a hike in the commodity will be applied from July 2022. The Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority also, to one’s utter dismay, fixed a uniform rate for all categories of consumers, including domestic, tandoors, commercial, general industries, and export-oriented industries.
Undoubtedly, the spike in tariff will put an extra burden on the pocket of domestic subscribers already facing back-breaking utility bills, with some seeing their rates triple.
UNDP’s Pakistan National Human Development Report 2020, threw light on the murky environment called monopolies and cartels having highlighted that “poor regulation by the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA) and the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA) increases the cost burden on end consumers and hinders socio-economic development.”
Many had raised their eyebrows at the increase of the military budget by 6% to Rs 1.45 trillion, and increases as high as 150% in the bureaucracy’s allowance, and the nod given by President Arif Alvi for 10% increase in the salary and daily allowance of the Supreme Court and High Court judges respectively on the advice of the PM. This whopping increase in the salary and allowance of the already privileged sections were granted, while quotidian citizens were asked to bear the brunt of toughest economic decisions.
Instances such as these do demonstrate both deep-rooted double standards and structural imbalances. Today, under the heavy weight of the International Monetary Fund’s policies, people are demonstrating with unprecedented anger against unjust economic arrangement and a horridly unequal distribution of wealth. Tomorrow, they will be asking questions and demanding answers. If things do not improve, they will make sure that their voice is heard and that questions are answered.
According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), around four million children are still living near contaminated and stagnant flood waters. It stated that those children are vulnerable to water-borne diseases. Acute respiratory infections among children have increased dramatically in flood-affected areas, and an estimated 1.5 million children are still in need of life-saving nutrition interventions.
Abdullah Fadil, UNICEF’s Representative in Pakistan, lamented over the situation: “the rains may have ended, but the crisis for children has not. Nearly 10 million girls and boys are still in need of immediate, life-saving support and are heading into a bitter winter without adequate shelter. Severe acute malnutrition, respiratory and waterborne diseases, coupled with the cold, are putting millions of young lives at risk. It has to be kept in mind that the deprived majority lives in vulnerable areas. Because of various reasons elaborated above, a public perception has deepened in recent years that there are literally two Pakistans: one is for the privileged sections of society which is the developed and prosperous part of the country, with enough resources to address their needs; the other is for the vast majority which is underdeveloped, poverty stricken and unable to meet their urgent needs.”
The 2023 edition of the Global Risk Report released by the World Economic Forum highlighted the multiple areas where the world is at a critical inflection point. Those with access to power must look into this insightful analysis if the cap fits Pakistan in terms of various imminent risks.
Various nations have risen from the ashes of destructive wars and political turmoil with the sheer will of their visionary political leadership and prudent policymakers’ foolproof economic choices.
According to the Henley Passport Index, Japan has the world’s most powerful passport. Whereas, Pakistan with all of its assets, natural resources and minerals, and rich agriculture has been reduced to an economic basket case – a proverbial wasteland with crushed dreams, malnourished children, ill-educated youth, religious and political orthodoxy, and economic meltdown – always to be found with a begging bowl.
The political circus plays out on the floor of assemblies, and in certain provinces, is a proof of elected representatives losing sight of public welfare, even during crises like the present one. Torrential rains and subsequent flash floods fueled the prices of vegetables, fruits, and other commodities of daily use. For the first time in recent years, the prices of chicken have exceeded the price of beef, making it beyond the reach of ordinary people especially low-income informal workers such as domestic workers, daily-wage workers and agricultural workers. The prices of pulses (daal) are also on the rise.
No political structure can remain intact if it does not feed the deprived majority. According to Thomas Carlyle, the French revolution was the result of the bitter misery of the poor in late seventeenth-century France; it was the revolt of the hungry against the well-fed, of the oppressed against the oppressors. This should be really an eye-opener for the Pakistani elites presiding over this brutal and discriminatory economic model.
Ethnic and parochial considerations run deep in this society of ours, ultimately undermining any meaningful political movement for the restoration of rights like the equal distribution of wealth and political representation enshrined in the constitution of Pakistan. However, inflation and the subsequent loss of purchasing power is a common problem being faced by ordinary people throughout the country.
Hunger has no borders and no ethnicity. We are reminded by human history that the deprived and the hungry did unite to attain desired results, when the ruling classes failed to ensure that everyone was fed.