Feb 8, 2011

A cry for change

Aftab Syed
Although, the flames from Tunisia and Egypt threaten to engulf the whole of the Islamic world, Pakistan being no exception, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has a different view. He claims that Pakistan’s conditions are totally different and do not warrant any change despite the Red Cross warning that Pakistan could face Tunisia-like unrest. American Vice President Joe Biden has also expressed fear that the wind of change sweeping the Arab world may one day engulf Islamabad.

Why have the people of Tunisia and Egypt risen in revolt? The Arabs were fed up with autocratic rule, rampant corruption, and repeated attempts to silence them when they demanded democratic rights. When their attempts to make the rulers realise the gravity of the situation failed, they took to the streets to air their discontent and demand the removal of their rulers. Repeated attempts to crush the uprising proved futile.

Pakistan’s situation is not too different. Immediate corrective measures to boost the rapidly deteriorating economy are required otherwise, we too, may be faced with a similar disaster. Corruption, poor governance, and unimaginative economic polices have brought the country on the verge of economic collapse, making the life of the common man miserable. Half-hearted attempts to wriggle out of the severe crisis have landed the country nowhere. Soaring inflation has sent the prices of daily use items sky-rocketing, making it impossible to make ends meet. This, in turn, has led to a rise in crime and suicide in the country.

No magic wand can help the country come out of its economic woes. Islamabad looks to the US, the World Bank and the IMF but they are reluctant to extend a helping hand. They insist on bridging the yawning budget deficit by resorting to heavy taxation in the form of RGST and elimination of subsidies. The government resorts to increase in the fuel prices in an attempt to appease them. This in turn leads to a general price hike. The silence of international donors is intriguing despite repeated appeals urging them to honour their commitments. The political parties are against the price hike and even the government fears a backlash, particularly in view of the current chaos in the Arab world. Therefore, the rulers have put increases in fuel prices on hold for now. There are also reports of downsizing the huge federal cabinet with a view to cut expenses. The Punjab government has abolished or merged some departments and the Sindh government has removed advisers. It is unlikely that these half-hearted measures will make a big difference. Loadshedding has forced closure of several industries and there are reports that some industrialists are moving their units abroad. This will only increase unemployment still further

The rapidly deteriorating law and order situation has further complicated problems that the government is struggling to solve. The country’s economic hub, Karachi, is in the grip of target killings, extortion, kidnapping for ransom. Punjab faces the same afflictions. Under existing conditions, Pakistan’s future looks bleak.

To top it all, the so-called “war on terror” has added fuel to the fire. Suicide bombings, besides claiming heavy death tolls, have served to discourage foreign investors, slowing economic activities in the country. The so-called anti-terror war has placed an additional burden on the national exchequer. Will the people of Pakistan rise in revolt too? It must be kept in mind that the country is now a breeding ground for pro-revolutionary, anti-government feelings. It is high time the rulers act, and act quickly before it is too late.

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