Are Pakistanis willing for a change is an irrelevant question! They have already voted for a manifesto of change, and keep their fingers-crossed to realise a New Pakistan. But the pertinent question would be: is change really setting in? Have the foundations been laid to break the status quo, which was the cornerstone of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s obsession that ushered him into power? There is no convincing answer, even after three years with the PTI at the helm of affairs, though.
Here I would like to refer to a few of the catch-lines from former chairman FBR, Shabbar Zaidi. While he humbly bowed down after giving a try to change the revenue collection fiefdom, he confessed that it is not his piece of cake. His acumen, professional excellence and sincerity fell short of what was needed. He admitted in unequivocal terms, as he put down his papers, that the people, bureaucracy and the system are allergic to change. He said the attitude and mindset of 23,000 FBR employees is an impediment. He described the “corruption of billionaire MNAs” as “state sponsored corruption”. He rested his case in history.
Thus, the Prime Minister too seems to be in a similar fix. His sincerity hasn’t enabled him to walk the talk — at least to this day. Though there are many firsts that he had successfully introduced, it has fallen short of reforming the system in vogue. This same system is now failing him, and compelling him to behave as a smart politician, rather than a reformer or statesman. Pakistan has had enough of megalomaniac men, but what is desired is someone who can stake out politics and take bold decisions to rewrite the state of affairs.
Let’s see where we stand in terms of social mobility. The economy is in the woods. Despite bumper crops, we are importing food grains. This government started by relying on cash cushions from two Arab states and China, and even after three years, it is dependent on similar benevolent tranches. Though it had fixed the circular debt issue, it is again falling back owing to a depreciating rupee and soaring oil prices. Exports had shown an upward trajectory but seem to have fallen a victim of centripetal forces. International debt servicing remains an enigma, and it is eating into our vitals and denying a future in self-reliance.
This touch bases the debate on the much-trumpeted process of accountability. It is nowhere to be seen. The Rs500 billion or so recovered by the anti-graft watchdog is a mere window-dressing. This nation stands robbed of trillions, and parliamentary testimony confirms that more than $200 billion sit offshore. The country’s debt could be written off with the stroke of a pen, if the looted treasure of this poverty-ridden nation is retrieved in all solemnity. But, alas, that is wishful thinking! Politics of exigency and connivance will never let that happen.
Last but not least, let’s glance through the flip side of the nation’s lifestyle. We conveniently live and breathe amidst a ghetto of mafias. There are barons and cartels from sugar to wheat, and from meat to poultry — who do not pay adequate taxes but fleece on. Plus, the underworld of smuggled goods and over-invoiced constituents who run the black economy with impunity. No one can question them, and they rule the roost. Stay orders are forthcoming for them in a jiff, if their writ is ever at stake.
This phenomenon has bifurcated the society into haves and have-nots. Pakistan has evolved into two segments: the ultra-rich and the middle class. The former have no worries in shelling out money, whereas the latter has found shortcuts to stay afloat — with recourse to easy money. Thus corruption thrives. The wheeler-dealers manipulate the law and stand forgiven for embezzlement. The poor and the downtrodden — who constitute more than 50 per cent — are on the verge of extinction. They have simply given up hope in the affairs of the state, and are oblivion to vote and politics. All it means for them is procuring two square meals. It is they who want change. But the beneficiaries are calling the shots.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 2nd, 2021.
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