Only two things in life are certain, according to the person who coined the saying — death and taxes. In Pakistan, there is a third — the ever present, wholly irrational fortnightly rise in the prices of all commodities.
The poor suffer in silence. They have no alternative. As a community, they have transformed themselves into a cul-de-sac of impotent rage. There are strikes and days of mourning for different reasons, but no Egyptian-style protests. And so, all that vacuous, empathetic, feel good perception and euphoria after Nawaz Sharif’s victory in the national election has been mugged by this fact.
We now have a situation in the country, where the only people who pay taxes, are being asked to pay more taxes, and citizens who have invested their savings in fixed deposits in banks and schemes managed by the government have discovered they are now getting back less than they did last year. It’s rather like a squeeze in the game of bridge where the declarer has all the tricks but one. And to make things worse, shopkeepers have become quite blase about regularly raising the prices of their goods, which at times, has nothing to do with the value of the dollar.
The former PPP government is largely to blame even before their leaders had become accomplices to their own annihilation. They are also pointing to deficit financing as a cause for the malaise. Some are blaming the Americans, who these days, are being censured for everything that is going wrong in the country. Talking about deficit financing, the collective bill to the exchequer for the elected representatives has also risen by at least 40 per cent over the 2008 figure.
I don’t have the latest figures, but in 2008, a concerned citizen posted the average five-year cost per member of the National Assembly (after adding up all the generous perks). The figure came to Rs60 million. He then multiplied this figure by 534 and the debt came to Rs85,440, 000,000. Mind you, this does not include the bill for the salaries and perks of the freeloaders in the Senate and the provincial assemblies. So, when the government is not generating enough income to pay for this small army that is supposedly running the country, is it any wonder why the cost of the dollar has jumped from Rs60 in Musharraf’s time to Rs100 when Asif Zardari was being wheeled out as a saintly patrician do-gooder?
I wish Nawaz Sharif well. I believe that at present he is the only political leader who will be able to effect improvements in the economy and in exports. Currently, we will just have to live with the state of uncertainty and anarchy and the terror attacks financed by certain foreign governments, which as compensation, throw a few crumbs our way.
He might also just get it into his head that the time had come to make a full-throttled attack on the militants. For that, he will have to wait until certain people in the main strike force retire from service and he gets a nod from protecting the terrorists.
In his recent “sauna” in Pakistan, in the company of Nawaz Sharif, against a cluster of partisan rants in the distance, David Cameron said “Pakistan’s enemies are our enemies”. Of course, he meant the militants, not the Indians. What I would like to know, however, is whether the Pakistani prime minister asked his British counterpart for assistance from Scotland Yard or MI6 to fight the invisible enemy. We just can’t do it on our own.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 7th, 2013.