Friday, May 15, 2020
Dr. Kamal Monnoo
Pakistan, a nuclear power, albeit one where nearly 30 percent live by or under the poverty line, supports one of the youngest populations of the world with nearly 3 million entering the job market every year amidst a paltry annual GDP growth rate that hovers around the 3 percent mark. The financial budget consistently runs in a deficit (by some account close to a double digit deficit), periodic external account pressures invariably force successive governments to enter into compromising (on sovereignty) debt agreements with institutions such as the IMF, and one without a (decision-making) seat or special status on any of the key global forums or institutions, such as the G-20, FATF, WTO, IMF, WB, WHO and others. Today, in the midst of the twin crises that we face – the coronavirus pandemic and an imminent meltdown of the Pakistani economy – it is imperative that we re-examine some of the foundations of Pakistani society, understand why they are failing us, and fight for a fairer and more efficient nation.
The absurdity and the cruelty of our health system is now apparent to all like never before – a state health system plagued by corruption, lack of transparent management, an in-disciplined bunch of young doctors and paramedics and a case of sheer neglect spanning over decades by now. As tens of millions of Pakistanis are losing their jobs and incomes as a result of the pandemic, many of them are also losing the option to take care of themselves, should they or any of their family members falls sick. That is what happens when healthcare does not get its due allocation in annual budgets and the right of everyone to basic healthcare is not guaranteed. As we move forward beyond the pandemic, a key legislation that we need to pass should be on mandatory minimum (constitutional) budgetary allocation to healthcare in future national budgets with a guaranteed right to healthcare to every man, woman and child – available to people employed or unemployed, at every age.
Rich people do indeed get the virus and rich people do also die due to it. However, it is also true that poor and working-class people are suffering higher rates of sickness and are dying at much higher rates than the affluent; and this despite a skewed testing percentage whereby very few poor are tested in any case in the total number of COVID-19 tests carried out.
COVID-19 is vicious and ironically, rather opportunistic in attacking people with pre-existing conditions and weakened immune systems. For a wide variety of socio-economic reasons, it is the poor and the working class in this country who fall in exactly this category, as they suffer higher rates of ailments like stress, depression, blood pressure, diabetes, asthma and heart diseases – and thereby are the most vulnerable to the virus.
Since the data we have is limited and the testing is fairly narrow-based, we do not even know the actual damage that may exist in this category. Poor people in general have lower life expectancies than the affluent, and this tragic unfairness remains even truer with regard to this pandemic. Further, a pandemic situation or not, there are simply some hard realities of life that one has to contend with and there is no escaping them. While doctors, minister and chief ministers tell us that we should isolate ourselves and stay at home, the reality is that most working people do not have such an option. When you are living paycheck to paycheck, and you lack medical coverage, staying home is not an option. If you are going to feed your family and pay the rent, you have to go to work. And the people for whom it is necessary to earn living on a daily basis, it means leaving your home and do work that requires them to interact with other people, who may or may not be carrying the virus. Anyway, having said all this, the good news is that if there is any silver lining in this horrible period of pandemic and the looming economic collapse that we are experiencing, it is that finally it is beginning to dawn on the majority to rethink the basic bedrock of Pakistan’s value system.
Should we continue to use obsolete styles of management and governance that are rife with incompetence, greed, political-opportunism, and conflict-of-interest or should we go forward in a new direction? The choices we face today are the same choices that perhaps Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew faced back in 1959 or President Franklin D Roosevelt grappled with in the 1930s, which convinced them that in order to get to a truly developed society, economic rights must be considered human rights. This was true more than 80 years ago and it remains true today.
The new Pakistan that we fight for should look inwards, end starvation, ensure basic necessities for all and more importantly, do so by ensuring education and skill development on war footing in order to become competitive in the global economy. The country must undertake strong industrialisation and construction programmes that generate sufficient employment while at the same time end homelessness. At the end of the day, it is the government’s duty to see to it that our communities are free of pollution in our air and water, and that we come across as standing with the responsible nations in combating the existential threat of climate change. For leaders, love and respect comes only from performance and while there is no denying that bringing about fundamental changes in a society and a country tend to be herculean tasks, they at least need to set the direction right. It is now time for us to think ahead and showcase how this pandemic has made us wiser and going forward, what can we do differently to change our fortunes, post COVID-19. In Nelson Mandela’s words: “It always seems impossible until it is done. Let’s go to work and get it done.”
Pakistan: Minor Hindu girl abducted and forcibly converted to Islam, watch how influential Islamic cleric Mian Mithoo makes her embrace Islam
In the incident which was reported from Barjhundi in Ghotki area of Sindh province, Pakistan, a thirteen-year-old Kavita Kumari was abducted and allegedly taken to Mian Mithoo, who then forced the Hindu minor to embrace Islam.
Past incidents where Mian Mithoo has been instrumental in converting Hindu underage girls
The notorious Islamic cleric Mian Mithoo
Ghotki riots pre-planned by Mithoo to cover up abduction of Hindu girl
By IMAD ZAFAR
As the country struggles with an economic crisis and a pandemic, the PTI regime fails to come up with a coherent plan.
The hybrid regime ruling Pakistan – a political party backed by the military establishment – has been doing everything to suppress the opposition and dissenting voices in the press but has failed miserably to change the economic fortunes of the country or to bring normalcy to the political discourse.
Faced with the Covid-19 pandemic, Pakistan is paying the price for failing to devise a plan to stop the spread of the disease and lacking a strategy to keep the economy ticking: economic turmoil and possibly human lives lost.
There is clearly no strategy to strengthen the health-care system, and both the government and its backers are only concerned about getting loans and aid from the international financial institutions and friendly countries.
The post-pandemic fiscal deficit according to government insiders is expected to reach 9.4%, while the poverty rate is expected to rise from 24.35% to 29%, and in the worst-case scenario, it could reach 33.5%. Also, at least 3 million people will likely lose their jobs, a million in the industrial sector and the rest in the services sector.The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has already projected negative-1.5% growth for Pakistan’s economy this year. The automobile sector has seen a 52% decrease in sales, and for the first time in the country’s history not a single car was sold in the month of April. Tax collection from the services sector in the month of March was 20% short of target because of the imploding economy.
But if one examines any aspect of the current regime, one will find that since Day 1 of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) assuming power it has been a tale of blunders and incompetence in the domains of economy, foreign policy, and governance.
Even in these testing times when the country is faced with economic distress due to the pandemic, opposition leaders are being sent notices by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in regard to very weak and vague corruption allegations.
Most recently, a former prime minister and stalwart of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, along with his son was sent a notice by the NAB on Thursday in regard to a scandal involving the import of liquified natural gas (LNG). The day before, Abbasi in the National Assembly had taken the PTI government to task, not only pointing out its inability to govern but also by challenging it to present even a two-page plan on combating the pandemic.
Of course, neither the government nor the establishment has any plans or vision to free the country from its shackles. In fact, if any among them had any vision they would not have interrupted the economy of the country that was growing at 5.8% annually, and just to increase their share of the cake got rid of the non-obedient prime minister Nawaz Sharif in the blatantly rigged general elections of 2018. It is no secret that the help the Imran Khan-led PTI has received from the establishment is unprecedented, as no Pakistani government in the past has enjoyed such overwhelming support from the military elite. However, from the economy to governance and from foreign policy to political discourse, everything has gone gradually into decline.The famous “Bajwa Doctrine” thought to have been perceived by Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa to help the PTI government and to remove the PML-N from the power chessboard while cutting the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) down to size may have brought some good results for a while as far as the power brokers were concerned. The PML-N is out of power and the PPP is not only fighting the pandemic but also has to save its government in Sindh province, which could easily be toppled at any time on the tried and tested formula of leveling corruption charges against it and imposing governor’s rule.
So given this situation, the Bajwa Doctrine should have been prevailing by now, and the country should have been at least seeing a little bit of stability on the political front and a good future as far as the economy is concerned. But this is not the case, as the doctrine itself is flawed and the person the establishment chose to implement the doctrine, Imran Khan, is not up to the task.
So not only has parliament become a laughing stock as most of the cabinet members along with the prime minister are playing the role of opposition instead of the government, but their ignorance about running state affairs has virtually made them all a joke in the eyes of a large section of the masses.
Yet many do not bother to criticize the PTI government any more; rather, they blame the Bajwa Doctrine for the problems the country is facing, as it was this doctrine that brought PTI to power and paved the way for a journey that has no goal other than clinging to power and keeping the status quo intact.
The “corrupt” Nawaz Sharif according to Imran Khan and his backers ate up the resources of the country and destroyed the economy, whereas the fact of the matter is that now lacking Sharif’s mega-projects like highways, Metro bus service, big power plants and reforms in health and education, Pakistan has achieved nothing as far as infrastructure or reforms are concerned.
Likewise, former finance minister Ishaq Dar is constantly blamed for maintaining the economy artificially and accused in imaginary corruption cases, yet the reality is he transformed a weakened economy to 5.8% GDP growth in 2018. No sane mind can believe that Dar was maintaining the economy artificially, as none of the global financial institutions came to that conclusion. So, in a nutshell, we are back to the era of General Pervez Musharraf, when during the last days of his dictatorship, Pakistan was faced with a severe economic crisis and the establishment was blamed openly by the masses for interfering in politics and as a result, bringing the country to the verge of economic collapse.
At the moment it is an undeclared coup where the men in the establishment are mostly calling the shots and even are appointed to key posts.
The economy is in shambles, and since neither Khan nor the architect of the prevailing doctrine has the ability to turn the tables and fix the economy and government issues, the controlled media and spin doctors are given the task of repeating 24 hours a day that both the PML-N and PPP are responsible for the mess, and that it was their corruption that not only increased the external debt but also resulted in the demise of social sectors like health and education.
It indeed is nothing less than a joke as a country where dictators ruled directly for almost three decades and for the rest of the time the military establishment either ruled indirectly through hybrid regimes or by manipulating the political discourse, it needs no genius to find that it is the establishment and its propaganda that always uses politicians and democracy as the scapegoats for its failures.
The question, however, is how long this Bajwa Doctrine will persist, as with every passing day the country is paying the price for the misadventure of bringing Imran Khan to power and in the process making the economy weak and vulnerable.
Perhaps it is time to put this doctrine to rest, or else it will be a dead-end street from where not even a genuine political leadership will be able to push the invisible forces back. As they say, life punishes those who come too late.Neither Sharif nor Zardari has anything to lose in this battle, as they being experienced and season politicians know that with the deteriorating economy and now with the pandemic that will cause a global recession the establishment will not be able to keep intact the current status quo, and the frustration of the masses will prove the catalyst for a regime change.So the doctrine that in the start was about ruling the country through PTI for 10 years has to be replaced, as the dwindling foreign reserves and the crippled economy will not give any further margin of error to Prime Minister Imran Khan or the establishment.It is not a matter of how this doctrine will collapse, as it is already collapsing under the weight of its own failures. The question is how long this doctrine will be kept intact by force, and at what cost. It is the cost factor that always has to be kept in the mind, as in the Musharraf case we paid the cost of a surrendered foreign policy while General Ayub Khan and General Yahya Khan cost us the debacle of East Pakistan.
Fingers crossed that the final scuttling of this doctrine will prove beneficial for the strengthening of democracy and the country.