By Syed Talat Hussain
This sentence has become a reference point for all critics in the west, primarily the US, who want to point out the obvious omission by their opponents of the economic factors in determining voters’ choices. In case of Pakistan, the sentence is not just about the economy being the prime concern for the people to cast their votes; it relates to the fact that economic misery can actually play havoc with political stability and eventually also with the stability of the country.
There is a counter available to all the criticism of the present government that relates to, say, the judiciary or the army. In fact in a more neutral environment you can make the argument about government-army and government-judiciary relationship in both ways. For instance, you can say that the government is playing power politics with the army and the judiciary. Or you can say that the army and the judiciary is not allowing the government to govern the country. But economy is a CRITICAL issue where no circular reasoning can be made. There is only fact about this government’s handling of the economy and it is that ‘the PPP government has wrecked it’.
Without getting into statistics—because statistics can be boring and confusing—the economic situation can be described in somewhat simple terms. Pakistan economically has come to a grinding halt. The state owes too much money to every conceivable lender. The government continues to spend billions more than it makes. There is no electricity, no gas, no new viable energy project to re-start the factories and the industry that are shutting down fast. Hardly any institution works in the public sector. All wheels are jammed, including those of the national carrier.
There is no innovation and diversity in exports. We are importing like mad, and all the wrong things. No one is investing so there are no new jobs being created. Old investors are taking out their capital so the economy is actually shrinking. Millions have lost livelihoods. Savings, already weak, are plummeting. Inflation is out of control so those who have jobs are on the verge of committing suicide thinking how to make both ends meet. Frustration and anger is spilling on the roads. It is fuelling crime.
There are more policemen involved in broad-day robberies than ever before. Those in power sense the danger. Their response is to loot as much they can and shift assets abroad. The ruling elite practically lives outside Pakistan. This government has singlehandedly caused an economic meltdown of structural nature and of unprecedented proportions. Economic woes of Pakistan more than President Zardari’s relations with the army or the judiciary’s decisions are going to decide what shape national politics is going to take in the coming days. If you want to understand political trends in the country today, watch closely its economic affairs.