Options to deal with prevailing crisis

By: Ashraf Mumtaz      Published: 12:44 PM, 19 Oct, 2021
Options to deal with prevailing crisis
File photo of a protest against the price hike.

The latest raise in prices of petrol and other fuels, and enhancement of electricity tariff have pushed up the prices of almost all items of daily use, making most people of all walks of life cry. The cruel step was like the proverbial last straw on the camel’s back, and now the common man is finding it hard to survive. 

There is no effective price control mechanism in place, nor is the government in a mood to enlighten the people with limited resources what they should do to make ends meet. 

The price-hike will be used by the power-hungry opposition parties as ammunition against the government. The Pakistan Democratic Movement has already decided to take to streets, details thereof are being worked out. 

Some parties like PML-N and JUI-F that had abortively tried to oust the PTI government shortly after the 2018 elections find the latest situation most conducive for the advancement of their agenda. 

The PDM leaders met in Islamabad on Monday after which Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the coalition head, told the media that a series of protests and rallies would be staged across the country from Oct 20 onwards against rising inflation and increasing cost of essential items. 

“Rallies and demonstrations will begin from the district level while all PDM component parties will meet at the provincial level,” he said, adding that coordinators would be appointed to successfully execute the campaign against the government. 

“We will go a step further and hold wheel-jams and long march, step by step”, said the leader from Dera Ismail Khan. 

On the other hand, left with no convincing argument to defend its failures, the government continues to hold the flawed policies of the past governments responsible for the present meltdown. It is shameless to pin the responsibility on the previous governments after three years in power. Such lame excuses don’t convince the electorate. They will judge the present rulers by their performance compared to the rosy pictures of the PTI rule they used to paint before the 2018 elections.   

Now that the ruling PTI and opposition are shifting blame on each other, rupee is losing its value every day. It has already nose-dived and is soon expected to hit the ‘sod’, the lowest point. 

Instead of acquainting the nation with steps it plans to control the disastrous situation, those at the helm are rubbing salt into their wounds, saying that there will be no relief for another six months.    

In this situation if the opposition parties stepped up their protest campaign, the rupee will witness free fall, delivering a more serious blow to the already weak economy. The rupee notes of all denominations will be reduced to pieces of paper. 

To set things right only a few options are available. Let’s discuss those options and their suitability/implications one by one: 

Option No. 1 is to replace Prime Minister Imran Khan with some other PTI leader. 

This is non-starter because nobody in the PTI will like to offer himself as a replacement to the cricketer-turned-politician, nor anyone is in a position to keep the party intact or perform better. The moment Imran is out of the seat, the party is gone.  

Also, nobody will be able to garner parliamentary support required for the prime minister. 

Multan’s Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the incumbent foreign minister, is an ambitious person and many years ago he also harboured the desire to replace Imran. (His brother had revealed this to the media). 

But at a time the national economy is in serious crisis, he is less likely to offer himself as a candidate for the top slot.  

Option 2 may be picking somebody from the opposition to run the system.  

This too is not workable because of the yawning gap between the PML-N and the PPP. 

If somebody from the PML-N (like Shehbaz Sharif) is brought to the fore, the PPP will not support him because of its interests linked to the next elections. The PPP is dreaming of forming its government at the centre and in case a PML-N man heads the system now the PPP’s future chances will be blighted.  

At the same time, if the PPP stays away from the process, the PML-N will not be in a position to get the required parliamentary support. 

Fresh elections are also not an option in the present situation because the very same leaders now on the scene will be among the contestants. The exercise is not likely to bring any improvement to the situation. Also, this option is linked to a nod from the army, which is awfully busy on other fronts.   

This being so, the only viable alternative left is that the treasury and opposition should sit together, discuss the country’s problems at length and take decision on steps required to arrest the slide and save the common man from perishing. This is their duty as parliamentary parties. 

They should take collective decisions on running the economy, dealing with the IMF and other lending agencies, relations with the military establishment, and dealing with the Taliban government in Afghanistan. 

But for this to happen both sides will have to rise above their personal egos and interests. They will have to adopt a patriotic approach, collective good of the country. 

The protests, as decided by the opposition, will only aggravate the situation. This course will ruin whatever is left of the economy so far.