Friday Jun 03 2022
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Imran Khan is jeopardising Pakistan’s attempts to fix its economy: Economist

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Ousted prime minister Imran Khan gestures as he travels on a vehicle to lead a protest march in Islamabad, Pakistan May 26, 2022. — Reuters
Ousted prime minister Imran Khan gestures as he travels on a vehicle to lead a protest march in Islamabad, Pakistan May 26, 2022. — Reuters

Ousted prime minister Imran Khan is "jeopardising Pakistan's attempts to fix its economy" as he rallies his supporters and workers to march to Islamabad and causes disruption, an article published in the Economist said Thursday. 

The publication said that "ritualised displays of street power, in which political parties rally their supporters and lead them towards the capital, are a favourite tactic for anyone trying to rattle the government".

The article added that in the current situation, no one is keener on rallying supporters to Islamabad than Khan and since being ousted from office — through a no-confidence vote in April — he has refused to sit at home and is adamant about marching to the capital.

Khan has refused to sit at home as he blames a United States-backed conspiracy that led to his ouster. The PTI chairman also maintains that the incumbent "imported government" has worked "hand in glove" with foreign powers.

However, when he came to the capital on May 26, he called the sit-in off and gave the government a six-day ultimatum for calling early elections, which has expired. The government claims there weren't enough people in his march, therefore, he cancelled it. But Khan has persistently claimed that he called off the march to prevent bloodshed.

Given the scenario, it is "hard to see" why Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif — the younger brother of a three-time premier Nawaz Sharif — would "agree to call early elections".

"His government, less than two months old, has taken tentative steps towards repairing relations with the West. But it has not yet devised a strategy to tackle the economic crisis it inherited. In part that is because Mr Khan’s protests have kept it distracted," the article read.

Shehbaz also "failed to seize the political initiative" as last month, he went to London to seek advice from Nawaz — who has been there since 2019. The move caused speculations that the decisions were being abroad.

Coming back to the economic issues, Pakistan's foreign reserves, according to the publication, are at their lowest level since 2019 and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme is also stalled.

In part, it is because of Khan as his government had originally agreed to cut power and petrol prices, but later they decreased it.

"The country is running deficits on both its budget and its current account. It needs some $37bn worth of financing for the fiscal year beginning in June, reckons the finance minister," the article read.

However, in its bid to revive the IMF programme, the incumbent government massively raised the price of petroleum — boosting hopes of getting the loan.

"The currency and the stock market rallied slightly in response to the move. A bail-out will also unlock credit from allies such as China and Saudi Arabia, which are unwilling to extend more help without assurances that the IMF will release the bail-out money."

And to obtain the bail-out money, the government is likely to take unpopular decisions — as indicated by Finance Minister Miftah Ismail that the government will introduce reforms before the budget.

But there's still an issue. "The IMF is unlikely to take seriously a government that may not be in power for more than a few weeks, particularly given the risk that Mr Khan might return to power."

Despite early elections not appearing to be possible, according to the publication, Khan does not seem to be giving up hope.

But in the country's interest, it needs stability to progress.

"To fix its economy, Pakistan badly needs stability. It will spend the coming months with anything but," the article read.