The government of Prime Minister Imran Khan has once again offered the opposition to sign a charter of economy to improve a faltering economy and prevent Pakistan’s return to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for bailout packages in the future. However, it appears the idea will remain a pipedream in the current situation.
The idea, initially proposed by former Finance Minister Ishaq Dar in 2017 to “draw up a common economic vision for 2018-2023,” can lead Pakistan to prosperity, if all major political parties agree not to politicise the economy of the country for their petty gains. The idea fell on dead ears in the past and it is feared it will again fall prey to politics. Differences among political parties have reached to a point, where they cannot support each other, even on issues of national interests. They are not willing to let the others take credit for the economic revival of the country.
The idea was revived by Opposition Leader Shahbaz Sharif in his opening speech during debate on the budget 2019-20, and supported by PPP Co-chairman Asif Zardari. The intent behind the proposed charter is to devise a long-term economic policy with consensus to bring the country out of the debt trap and make it self-reliant. The charter would ensure that no party resorts to politicking in the name of economic issues and that no new government will scrap all the steps of the previous government, so that consistency is maintained. Prime Minister Imran Khan is also receptive to the idea, and has agreed to the formation of a committee on the charter to consider current economic conditions and propose solutions to problems. However, PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz took an opposing stance on the charter, terming it a joke.
During his address in parliament, Planning and Development Minister Khusro Bakhtiar sought joint action from parliamentarians to save the economy, reminding the lawmakers that when the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government had come to power, it inherited massive fiscal and current account deficits. He regretted that the need to win “the next political race” had always hampered the ruling party’s commitment towards economic stabilisation. “In the initial three years, every government made efforts to stabilise the economy but later, their focus remained only on winning the next election. The time has come that the nation decides that the 18th International Monetary Fund (IMF) package will be its last,” he asserted.
In anther significant development, the government has formed a high-powered body to formulate development and economy-oriented policies of the country. The National Development Council (NDC), to be headed by Prime Minister Imran Khan, will also have Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa as one of its members. The federal cabinet approved the formation of the NDC at a meeting. This kind of a national body has been formed for the first time in the country in which the army has been given representation. Other members of the council include Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance Dr Hafeez Shaikh, Minister for Planning and Development Khusro Bakhtiar, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Commerce Abdul Razak Dawood, all provincial chief ministers, AJK prime minister, Gilgit-Baltistan chief minister, any additional minister/head of strategic body, secretary to the prime minister, secretaries of foreign affairs, finance and planning division and additional secretary of the Prime Minister Office as secretary to the NDC. According to the terms of reference, the council will formulate policies and strategies for development activities aimed at accelerating the economic growth, approve long-term planning for national and regional connectivity and provide guidelines for regional cooperation.
The government appears to be serious about its efforts to revive the economy, but its recent moves to take the opposition along with it prove otherwise. It has formed a commission of inquiry on loans obtained by PPP and PML-N governments, which has offended the opposition parties. Pakistan’s foreign debt was Rs6,690b in June 2008, which increased to Rs30,846b in 2018. Under the Article 166 of the Constitution, the ratio of foreign debt should not increase over 60pc of GDP, but the law was violated in 2012, when the foreign debts rose to over 60pc of GDP. The commission would comprise senior officials of NAB, Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Intelligence Bureau (IB), State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), Auditor General of Pakistan and Accountant General of Pakistan. The economic division secretary will be the secretary of the commission. The opposition believes the government has formed the commission to harass it.
The government believes all economic problems of the country are because of corruption and mismanagement of the PPP and the PML-N. In his recent address to the parliament, Planning and Development Minister Khusro Bakhtiar called former Finance Minister Ishaq Dar an “economic hitman” and accused the previous Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) government of failing to utilise $66 billion historic fiscal space to stabilise the national economy.
It appears the idea of a charter of economy will remain a pipedream in the present situation. The government has no option but to blame the opposition for the mess in the country. In the situation, the opposition cannot support it. There are even differences in the PML-N over the proposed charter after Maryam Nawaz opposed Shahbaz Sharif for reviving the offer. However, the inclusion of the Army Chief in the National Development Council indicates the army supports the government’s efforts to put the country on the road to prosperity. It would have been better if the opposition parties had joined the government’s efforts by shunning their past differences. It would have improved their stature in the eyes of the people of Pakistan.