On the eve of the Independence Day anniversary, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif again called on opposition parties, especially the PTI, to sit down with the government to hold talks on a charter of the economy and agree on a set of policies so that the national economy is not affected by petty politics. It wasn’t the first time he’d made such an invitation since he’d been talking about it for quite some time; however, he has yet to receive a positive response.
It is to a large extent right that economics be tied to economics, not to politics which is characterized by tumult and turmoil. But sadly, this is not the case in Pakistan, because after taking power, almost all parties have been hesitant to make tough decisions – those that weigh heavily on public pockets – to restructure the economy.
Unfortunately, Pakistani politicians consider their popularity more important than the national economy. Take, for example, the case of former Prime Minister Imran Khan. In March, when Khan realized that nothing could stop the no-confidence motion against his prime ministership, he resorted to populist measures that helped boost his popularity, but at the expense of economy. He reduced the prices of petroleum products by granting subsidies, thus violating the conditions agreed with the IMF by his government.
It was a political decision, intended to ensure that in case he lost the vote of no confidence, the fuel subsidy would make it impossible for the incoming government. This was clearly about planting landmines for the next setup rather than easing the financial burden on the masses.
Getting back to the point, the call for an Economics Charter is a rational call that Khan should give the heed it deserves. Prime Minister Shehbaz does not ask for anything; he simply invites her to dialogue. So, Khan along with the leaders of the other political parties should sit down and present their suggestions on how to reform the economy.
In the absence of an Economic Charter, not a single party is willing to introduce real reforms that involve making tough decisions. If a ruling party does this, it will face bitter opposition and fierce resistance from influential quarters, including capitalists and feudal lords. Governments are also reluctant to take much-needed action to fix the struggling economy for fear that opposition parties will politicize their unpopular decision and unfairly profit from winning over the electorate.
Debate and policy dialogue take place around the world. For example, in the UK, where the Conservative Party chose Liz Truss as Prime Minister, party members held debates among themselves about the set of policies they would adopt on key issues when they took office. It was in this regard that Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak publicly debated their strategies.
Unfortunately, Khan seems to want nothing more than to return to power for his life. His conduct indicates that he also wishes to become the sole head of the Muslim Ummah. That is why he is fiercely opposed to the acceptance of the current government.
There is nothing wrong with sitting down with the government to have talks on the economy or on any other matter of fundamental interest. Khan is well advised to swallow his ego and accept the fact that his wishful thinking cannot be translated into reality right away. Thus, it would be better for him, as well as in the interest of the country, to accept the realities and to build a consensus on a Charter of the economy which the nation badly needs in these times of crisis.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 7e2022.