Speakers at a public seminar organised by the left-wing Awami Workers Party at the National Press Club on Sunday concurred that Pakistan’s ruling class including the establishment, the PTI and the PDM government, is uninterested in addressing the deep economic crisis that has condemned tens of millions of working people to unprecedented food inflation, unemployment and general economic hardship. “All are concerned only with taking and keeping power, and thereby reinforcing the debt-ridden status quo as well as rapacious grabs of land and other natural resources,” the seminar emphasised.
Scores of progressive political workers, intellectuals, students, trade unionists and working class residents of the twin cities gathered for the dialogue amidst calls for all progressive forces to come together and build a genuine challenge to the status quo beyond what was described as the “game of thrones” that afflicts Pakistan’s body politic.
AWP leaders Aasim Sajjad and Ammar Rashid said that the mainstream media continues to focus on sensational tussles within the corridors of power while the everyday miseries of working people become increasingly unbearable. “In the meantime the establishment and real estate tycoons like Malik Riaz continue to grab land with impunity while big traders and industrialists engage in hoarding and other forms of rent-seeking,” they opined. In their view, all of this is explained both by the incompetence of the ruling class within Pakistan and the “back-breaking conditionalities” imposed by the IMF and bilateral donors who ostensibly keep the economy afloat whilst also making it a “safe haven for unaccountable investors and hell for working people and natural eco-systems.” They said that there is no short-cut out of this mess and only a meaningful long-term strategy would work. Such a strategy, in their view, would seek to redistribute resources and shift focus from speculative to productive investment, while breaking free from the IMF and other foreign creditors and thereby “providing a future to Pakistan’s 150 million youth.”
The Director of the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) in Karachi, Dr. Akbar Zaidi, said that while the PTI government exacerbated Pakistan’s economic woes through unprecedented borrowing and amnesties to the rich, the Shehbaz Sharif-led government has adopted similar policies in the name of keeping the foreign exchange rate stable and saving the country from default. He said that a genuine break from the status quo and a programme that privileges the welfare of the working masses would levy taxes on real estate and other highly profitable sectors, undertake land reforms, reduce non-productive expenditures including the defence budget, make enduring peace with neighbouring countries and open borders for trade, and initiate employment-generation industrialisation, particularly in rural areas.
Mariam Mohsin of the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) said that Pakistan is fast turning into a banana republic in which the ruling class as a whole remains committed to an unsustainable model of resource extraction and geopolitical rents to serve the interests of external patrons, whilst at the same time giving free license to speculative lobbies, contractors and patriarchs at all levels of society to profit from people’s misery and exploit nature without concern for future generations. She said that women and girls, particularly those who work as domestic servants and home-based labourers, are the worst effected by the status quo. “Even educated women and girls have few prospects for a better life, unemployment rates now almost 50%,” she noted.
Ex-senator and PPP leader Farhatullah Babar lamented that mainstream parties did not have a meaningful consensus to reduce the economic and political footprint of the military establishment and also meet the needs of the working masses. “In fact, most electables have no vision other than to do the establishment’s bidding and sustain their own local fiefdoms,” he noted.
The conference concluded by appealing to all progressives forces to unite to hold accountable the IMF, the country’s security establishment and the “various economic mafias that are making the lives of the working masses miserable.” In the absence of a genuine progressive alternative, the participants noted, “palace intrigues” will continue to take precedence over real people’s concerns. In such a context, they expressed concern that the situation of the working classes, oppressed genders and ethnic peripheries will get worse.
“Ultimately, Pakistan’s already conflict-ridden society, economy and polity will spiral towards complete collapse,” they warned.
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