It will be an understatement to say that Pakistan is facing a crisis. It is more than that. We are facing a catastrophe. As a nation we have not faced such a serious challenge since the 1971 Bangladesh crisis.
We are facing two meltdowns – one, economic and two, political. These twin meltdowns constitute a threat to our very existence. First, we take up the economic meltdown. During the last three months, the rupee has spiked from 180 to 220 against the dollar and the dreadful forecast is that this figure may go up to 250 in the next few months.
This means that the people may have to face a new round of back-breaking price hikes soon. Will the people accept a new wave of inflation sheepishly as before or will there be a violent reaction and street demonstrations as happened in Sri Lanka? Nothing can be said with any degree of certainty.
On the other hand, the State Bank of Pakistanhas jacked up the interest rate to 15 percent driving business to the wall. On the basis of such high interests no industry can be profitable. No wonder the media has been reporting closure of industries in Faisalabad and other areas.
As for inflation, it is going through the roof. According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, in the first week of July the Sensitive Price Index (SPI), which is based on a basket of 51 essential items, went up by about 30 percent. In other words, a person earning a salary of 30,000 rupees a month has his purchasing power cut down to 20,000 rupees. It is relevant to point out here that food inflation in Pakistan is the highest in the region. With rising inflation, the poor in Pakistan are getting poorer. Figures show that in recent months a larger percentage of the country’s population has slipped below the poverty line.
The political meltdown is manifesting itself in various forms. The Punjab political tamasha is before us. For the first time in history, two Punjab Assembly sessions were held at two different places – one in the Assembly building and the other in a hotel. Fist fights broke out among honourable members who threw all parliamentary manners to the wind. On the other hand, police used force to drive out the incumbent governor from the Governor’s House.
The PDM government, which was installed after a no-confidence motion against the PTI, never found its feet and received further battering as a result of unprecedented hikes in fuel prices and power and gas rates. Now it is facing a new challenge to its power following Imran Khan’s thumping win in the Punjab by-polls. The PTI supremo has bounced back mounting a new challenge to the PDM government.
The landslide victory scored by the PTI thanks largely to the hard-hitting campaign conducted by the Kaptaan against tremendous odds has upset all political calculations, giving a cause for worry to the powers that be. The PTI clinching 15 out of 20 seats shows which way the wind is blowing. The Punjab by-polls saw a turnout of more than 40%, which shows a groundswell of support for the PTI among the masses harried by a continuous rise in prices.
The PML-N’s loss on its home ground is a bad omen for the party. A new factor is the PTI’s rising graph in the rural areas which should give sleepless nights to party strategists. The point to note is that Imran Khan’s narrative is selling among the people and it is also going to be reflected in the next elections. The PDM government at the Centre, which hangs by a thin majority of two votes, is feeling the heat as allies too have started making disturbing noises.
With a new sense of confidence, Imran Khan has demanded new general elections. But the PDM stunned by the drubbing in Punjab has announced that the general elections will be held next year as scheduled. But how long can it hold on? Imran Khan is going to increase the pressure with his mass campaign. With rising political tension and a sense of instability, the economy will slip further and the situation would come close to a default.
In the end there will be no option but for the establishment to play its role. When it will decide to act remains to be seen.