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Imran’s survival at stake

It appears that Imran Khan is concerned only with the satisfaction of his ego irrespective of its consequences for the system, society and the national economy.

R.K.KAUSHIK | New Delhi |

Imran Khan came to power on 18 August 2018. He had expressed his intensions very loquaciously when he said he would countenance no corruption. That he was selected by the establishment was well known. The establishment headed by the Army Chief General Bajwa in its wisdom decided that the rule of the Nawaz Sharif family should be wrapped up.

In his fifteen months, Imran has got trapped by his own rhetoric and perhaps his own experience of a 20- year-old tussle with the PML-N in Punjab. From the moment he entered politics, the PML-N marked him as their equal. From digging up dirt on his personal life to cases against his then wife, Jemima Khan, the PML-N has in the past pulled no stops to discredit Khan and he hasn’t been able to forget it. And then there is his own endless rhetoric about corruption and punishing those who have looted money

It is very clear that the Imran story is a failed play in Pakistan. The Pakistan economy is collapsing. The yearly trade deficit is almost $21.2 billion in the current year (2019-2020). After taking over, Imran got aid of $8.1 billion for his country from China, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Malaysia. Also, he was able to get a package of $6 billion from IMF. The total Budget of Pakistan is $46.5 billion. The defence, intelligence and para-military takes away almost half of the Budget (42 per cent at present).

It is already known that Pakistan will need to borrow around $22 billion from external sources just this year. Pakistan’s external debt will jump to $110 billion. Improvement does not seem to be on the cards. The government has to continue borrowing additional funds in the next five years to keep the fiscal deficit within targets. While Pakistan might pay back almost $8 billion in debt before the end of the year, this will be offset by the much higher projected borrowing.

It appears that Imran Khan is concerned only with the satisfaction of his ego irrespective of its consequences for the system, society and the national economy. Dissatisfied with opponents languishing in jails, he changed jail laws to make lives of inmates as painful as possible. The venom and vindictiveness against the opposition is clear to everyone.

It is not just Nawaz Sharif who has been made to go through treatment that has aggravated his ailments. Former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is reportedly lodged in a death cell with solitary confinement in defiance of basic human rights and violation of the relevant laws. He too is badly in need of medical treatment. PM Khan is setting a bad tradition.

This brand of politics using populism as a veil to cover nationalistic and sometimes extreme ideologies is gaining currency in political arenas. Imran couldn’t improve either the working of the government or the economy. Inflation is becoming intolerable for ordinary people. Unemployment is rising exponentially. The discontent amongst the populace is palpable to everyone.

The upcoming days are going to be very challenging for the Imran government, with several agitated sectors – doctors, traders, and businessmen – giving a new life to the politics of Jamiat Ulema-e Islam Fazl (JUI-F) and particularly Maulana Fazlur Rehman. The growing inflation, the reduction in the purchasing power of the average consumer, the failure to meet the quarterly goals set by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the losses being incurred by local industry are prompting several others to join the opposition in their criticism of the government, and judging by the number of people out to support their leaders, the support being offered is massive. More than PPP at this point, PML-N is willing to participate in anti-government politics because of the ailment of their leader Nawaz Sharif and his delayed bail.

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has decided to keep Pakistan in the grey list till February next year, when a final decision will be made regarding the country’s status based on the efforts of the government.

The IMF has said that economic growth will slow down further to 2.4 per cent of GDP in the current year, which also means that jobs are likely to be scant.

In the first week of October, tycoons from across Pakistan met COAS Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa to air some ‘serious concerns’ regarding the direction of the economy, an unresponsive government that does not keep its promises and how the NAB had made the business climate inhospitable by harassing and arresting members of their fraternity. The next day a different group of tycoons met Imran with the same set of complaints. Most of these problems are linked to the abysmal condition of the economy.

Now there’ll be more meat, as they say, in additional allegations of political victimisation with Nawaz naturally paraded as the principal exhibit. Even convicted and apparently out of the picture for a long time, Nawaz Sharif has managed to outmanoeuvre the government in more ways than one.

Lord Salisbury, who served as Britain’s foreign secretary, remarked in the 19th century that “the only bond of union that endures” among nations is “the absence of all clashing interests”. His salient comment is as relevant today as it was in the past.

Imran government faces growing tensions with India and Afghanistan which are not so simple to tackle. The world knows that foreign policy, defence policy, internal security and nuclear policy are the domain of the Establishment. But now finance and TV and Press have been added in it.

The powerful Establishment controls the Fouji Foundation which has assets of more than Rs 50,000 crore. The Establishment’s private wealth is more than $20 billion at present. The coups d’etat which took place in Pakistan have been gleefully upheld by the superior courts by misinterpretation of law, nay constitution. It is a fact that the judiciary acts as per the desires of the Establishment and has very rarely confronted it except during the period of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry in 2007.

Imran can’t depend upon the Establishment (Army and ISI) perpetually as it acts in mysterious ways. The survival of his government is definitely at stake, if things don’t improve on the economic front. In that situation he may be dispensed with sooner than later.

The writer is a senior IAS officer of the Punjab Cadre.