Shahbaz’s fifteen months in power


Waheed Hussain

Fifteen months of performance of the Prime Minister Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif coalition government has mixed kind of marks sheet. His fragile administration was struggling to overcome challenges like political instability, economic recession, worse law and order situation in the country, while the terrorists (TTP and other groups) and criminals focus were on the tribal districts of Khyber Pakhtoonkhawa bordering Afghanistan and Baluchistan.

Imran khan was and still is the political challenge to present outgoing multiparty government, it’s not that Imran is Nansel Mandela (the leader who liberated the South African nation from the decades old apartheid) his political opponents lack clarity of ideas, self-confidence, and future course of action.

Shahbaz Sharif with his economic and financial team tried to give support to the sliding economy. The dollar unbridled jumps put both Mifta Ismail and Ishaq Dar as finance Ministers, in the catch twenty-two situation. Even though before taking charge of finance ministry, Ishaq Dar, bitterly castigated his own party senior member, Mifta Ismahail for failing in controlling the depreciation of rupee against dollar. During his interviews with the media from London, he used to say that the actual price of a dollar should be less than 200 rupees, meaning by that he was challenging the competency of his own finance minister (Mifta Ismahail). What happened, when he took over the charge of the ministry, the dollar which was trading around Rs. 223 suddenly jumped up to Rs. 285. The actual problem was that the country was short of dollars. The State Bank of Pakistan, Foreign Exchange Reserves were depleted to such a low level that for many months the imported goods were stuck at the Karachi Port, and the government was not allowing the Letter of Credits to be issued as the amount was supposed to be paid in the dollars, which could further put pressure on the foreign currency in the country.

So that was one of the biggest challenges to Shahbaz administration. His government tried to convince the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to resume the Extended Fund Facility (EFF) program singed by the PTI government in 2019 and release the due tranche, however, the Fund kept this government in waiting for almost over 14 months. To satisfy the IMF, the government continues burdening the masses with new taxes in the energy sector, including petroleum products.  

The electricity and gas prices including the petroleum products were increased many times. But the irony was that the mistress (IMF) was not willing to agree resuming the program and release the direly needed dollars.

The fund was pushing the government for more financial discipline, reducing budget deficit, restructuring the economy, market-based exchange rate, tied monetary policy, reducing energy sector circular debts, and most importantly increasing (FBR) revenues. IMF gave a very tough time to this government. Due to the government agreement with the IMF, it has been increasing the prices of electricity. In the current month of July consumers paid hundreds of billions of rupees extra as compared to the previous months’ bills to the power companies. A family which lives in two bed apartments with only one air conditioning facility had to pay Rs. 45000 bills, which used to be Rs. 5000-8000 a couple of years back.

The other day the Prime Minister of Pakistan defended the decision of increase in the electricity tariff, with the argument that it was due to IMF conditionalities. So, like PTI, this government totally relied on the IMF and friendly countries to provide dollars, increased prices of all products especially food items, and accused Imran Khan government of inflation.

The exposed trick of our successive governments had been that when they came into power, they blamed the previous government for the price hike and other ills in the country. Imran in 2018 held PML (N) responsible for the inflation and so was the strategy of this government accusing Imran Khan of all troubles that we as nation are facing. People have always been clueless how to find the solution to their problems and get relief. One argument of this government is very valid that for addressing numerous issues including the economy, a government needs at least full one tenure that is five years’ term for the government to complete. In this situation the then the PDM government must re-think their decision of removing Imran from government when his popularity was down to dust. Whatever was the reason, the fact is, that the present government failed to provide relief to public from inflation and this will haunt it in the any future elections. 

There is a strong impression among the masses that Sharif’s and other PDM political parties’ leaders took over the power to clear themselves from corruption cases, through either new legislation-laws or changing the course of investigations by NAB and FIA.

The Prime Minster Shahbaz Sharif, his sons and other family members have been declared innocent from all the corruption and money laundering cases. Similarly, Maryum Nawaz was also cleared by the courts. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s lifelong disqualification would be over, as the government has introduced a law where the disqualification of any public office holder would be only for a period of five years. Some analysts believed, PTI did not oppose this law, as if, the PTI chairman was disqualified in any one of the cases, that he has being facing in various courts, the punishment under the newly enacted law would automatically end in five years’ time.  

The problem in our political structure is that one day a politician and public office holder is being accused of corruption and mismanagement of resources, misuse of official authority in power, while another day his/her file is either closed or being cleaned up.

If Prime Minister Shahbaz, his family and Maryum Nawaz got relief, it means that there were some serious flaws in the cases, laws, as well as in the investigation process executed by NAB or FIA. The culture of victimization of political opponents must end, so that the governments should utilize all their energies on providing relief to the masses for which they were being voted to power.

On the political front this government unfortunately could not succeed in narrowing down the differences with the opposition. Political polarization remained very high, after the removal of Imran Khan through a legitimate vote of no-confidence. Imran khan was behaving like an angry young man accusing the establishment of the change of guards at the PM office. while on the other hand PDM government wanted to settle scores with khan and benefited from all the blunders Imran made in the last fifteen months.

Though there were some contacts between the PTI and PDM government, neither of them was serious about talks. If we look at the series of events that took place during the last 15 months, we can easily say that Imran Khan’s stubborn attitude created political instability in the country. His superman-like approach and irresponsible public speeches-media talks polluted the whole environment. He wanted to conquer Constitution Avenue by running over the state institutions. Imran Khan’s use rather misuse of social media created a vacuum in his decision-making process. His unilateral decision making like a civil dictator created unlimited problems for him and his party. May 9 was an ill-calculated decision. The party’s disintegration process continues. The problem is that the political uncertainty is affecting the economy and masses. Although the Prime Minster has announced that interim setup will take over the government next month but still there are doubts and misgiving about the political future of Pakistan. Until there is political stability, the economic stability and prosperity will remain a dream. There is confusion, hopelessness, uncertainty among the public. People have been listening to many promises in the past. They are sick with the hollow slogans being made by the politicians. They need bread and butter with respect and honor.

The writer is a senior print and broadcast journalist. He has anchored talk  shows on leading Pakistani channels.