NationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 33

Heading towards chaos

Hyperinflation in Pakistan has made the lives of the poverty-stricken population of the country miserable to the extent that survival has become impossible for them. On the other hand, the thin middle class of Pakistan has also been severely affected by skyrocketing prices of staple commodities and most of its members have been pushed below the poverty line. Only members of the razor-thin upper class seem to be in the position to withstand the wave of hyperinflation.

When the poverty-stricken lower class is pushed below the poverty line and middle class members face extreme difficulties to survive and keep a mediocre standard of living, are not they going to clash with members of the upper class? Definitely, they would and this is a recipe for disaster and, therefore, there could be no two opinions that we are heading towards chaos. There are other important reasons for the ultimate situation in Pakistan which needs to be discussed while solutions are identified and debated.

First of all, there are many reasons for an unprecedented price hike in Pakistan. The foremost and immediate cause of hyperinflation in Pakistan is the rise of prices of commodities, like oil and energy, in international markets. Prices of oil used for energy and edible oil have reached record high levels in international markets. As Pakistan could not produce most of the petroleum products and edible oil it consumes it has to import them. The prices of petroleum products and edible oil in Pakistan could only be kept in check if the people of Pakistan curtailed their consumption. This is not happening as most Pakistanis are not mending their old ways of consuming petroleum products and edible oil. In other words, the living style of most Pakistanis remains unchanged, particularly in terms of consumption which prevents the country from reducing the use of oil products. In this situation, prices are growing without any check when international markets of petroleum products and edible oil have become extremely volatile.

Petroleum products are so critically important for all other sectors of the economy and their prices completely depend upon the former. For instance, movement of people is dependent upon petroleum products and if their prices surge, obviously people would have to pay more for their consumption. The prices of petroleum and edible oil and with it other commodities are dependent upon the levels of their consumption. As Pakistan is one of the most populous countries of the world, the fifth largest nation on the globe to be exact, it has immense consumption needs of petroleum products and edible oil and along with it each and every commodity. Successive governments’ population policy has miserably failed to reduce the population growth or to keep it under the limits. According to economists, a country could only have sustainable development and economic growth if its GDP growth is at least three times more than its population growth. In other words, if the population is growing by three percent, GDP growth must be more than 9pc. There is hardly any country in the world today where GDP growth is above 9pc. For Pakistan, whose real population growth is more than 3 percent, all government claims to the contrary notwithstanding, GDP growth is merely around 5 percent, which in real terms may be less than that. In this context Pakistan, one must tell with a heavy heart, cannot attain sustainable development.

The most critical factor which has been responsible for unprecedented hyperinflation and price hike in Pakistan has been the docile, inept, half-cooked, myopic and simply foolish policies of successive governments. At a time when Pakistan’s key neighboring countries, including China and India, have become global economic giants despite being the first and second most populous countries in the world respectively, Pakistan, which has six times smaller population than China and five times smaller population than India, could not have sustainable economic development. The underlying reason has been that successive governments, whether elected or unelected regimes, have been focusing more on their personal corruption and abuse of power rather than providing the state with a development framework that could address the issues of the economy and development and fulfill the basic needs of the people.

On the other hand, governments have been concentrating more on physical security issues of the state instead of human and economic security concerns. Economic security and development, again claims to the contrary notwithstanding, have never been the priority of the state. In other words, there has been a disconnect between society and the state. While the very purpose of the state is to organize society so that an environment could be created for the development of citizens. Unfortunately, social control in Pakistan has been at the minimum level and economic miseries are compounding.

People are after money and resources to survive in an environment of extreme insecurity and in this situation they are least bothered about how they could be attained but they have to get them anyway. This is the situation which results in chaos and this is exactly what is happening today in Pakistan. The fact of the matter is that strife has been going on for quite some time in the country. Take the example of Balochistan, where a large number of youths got fed up with the discriminatory policies of the state and took up arms. On the other hand, the wave of militancy and terrorism that engulfed former FATA regions and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, especially Malakand division and southern districts where thousands of people have been killed since 2005, is also a key indicator. The situation in more mainstream or mainland provinces, like Punjab and Sindh, has not been significantly better. Take the example of Karachi, the capital of Sindh province and the largest city of Pakistan, where street crime, extortions, kidnapping and prostitution have been widespread. The state had to carry out several military and police operations to restore a modicum of normalcy in the metropolis. However, the fundamental issues of the people, including the availability of even safe drinking water, have not been addressed for decades. In Punjab, the political situation has worsened. Thus, the state is unresponsive. So when the state is unresponsive, most issues and miseries of people are multiplying, particularly in terms of growing poverty and hyperinflation.

No force can stop the country from more chaos unless some drastic measures are taken by those in the saddle despite the fact that they are not competent enough to do so.