Pakistan is facing one of worst economic and political crises at present. The political crisis is best manifested by the fact that almost half of the National Assembly (Lower House of the parliament) members have resigned while two of the four provincial parliaments were dissolved a year before the elections otherwise due in October this year-2023.

 The two provincial parliaments, in the provinces of Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, were dissolved by the former prime minister Imran Khan. His party, Pakistan Justice Party (PTI) held a majority in these two houses. He had hoped that the dissolution of the two provincial parliaments would force the federal government to announce an early general election. 

The caretaker governments in these two provinces have refused to call the elections, otherwise due within 90 days of assemblies’ dissolution. This delay is in violation of the Constitution of Pakistan. The pretext for the delay in elections is the lack of funds. But popular perception is that the delay is a manipulation by the army. The army fears a PTI victory in the elections. Ironically, in 2018, the army was accused of rigging elections to secure a victory for Imran Khan. 

There is great political manoeuvring going on at the judicial level.  The chief justices of the Supreme Court and the Lahore High Court are Imran Khan supporters. This has been manifested by the verdicts issued by the judges in several political cases, that are not seen to be just. 

Every time, the PTI moves the courts, everyone knows the verdict in advance. For instance, a Supreme Court bench consisting of three judges, known for supporting Imran Khan, ordered on April 4 that elections be held in the Punjab Province on May 14 this year. However, this 3 member bench initially included nine judges. Those judges are not supportive of Imran Khan were removed by manoeuvring by the court officials. The Supreme Court judges often issue contradictory statements. This reveals that the judiciary is as divided as any other institution in the country.

The Federal Government and the Punjab caretaker government have rejected the Supreme Court decisions regarding elections on May 14.  This public conflict between the Supreme Court and the federal government aggravates the political crisis. 

Most state institutions are stuffed with pro-PTI as well as pro-Muslim League elements. The Muslim League, controlled by the Sharif dynasty, is presently ruling in coalition with the Pakistan People’s Party (the party of the Bhutto dynasty). 

The Supreme Court has the power to remove the present government on the charge of contempt of court. However the question is: who would take over a collapsing Pakistan? 

The spectre of a military takeover is often under discussion. Pakistan’s turbulent political history is marked by 32 years of direct military rule ever since independence in 1947. When not in power, the military controls from behind the scene. At present the military establishment is posing to be “neutral”. However, they too have little credibility.

In fact, as stated above, the 2018 general elections that brought Imran Khan to power were rigged by the military establishment in his favour. When the military establishment withdrew support from Imran Khan in early-2022, his government collapsed. 

Imran Khan tried to find scapegoats for his downfall by blaming, firstly, the USA, then the military establishment and many others in his ever-changing narratives. He is ridiculed as a man of ‘U turns’. He is known to repeatedly contradict himself in different public speeches- a sign of his inconsistency and desperation to cater to the public he addresses. 

The Imran Khan government was replaced by a coalition government of Shahbaz Sharif, heading the Muslim League (after his elder brother and three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif was banned from politics in 2018). When Mr Sharif tried to implement the conditionalities of the IMF, Imran Khan regained popularity, by gaining mass support. 

The IMF has become very unpopular in Pakistan amongst the masses. Whenever there was an unprecedented price hike announced by the government, the IMF was cited as the reason. The only pretext to justify the IMF conditionalities by the PML-led coalition government is: ‘if we do not meet the IMF conditions, Pakistan will go bankrupt’. Masses have already gone bankrupt, and so has the state in real terms but a formal announcement on this bankruptcy has been delayed. 

Coupled with the severe political crises, a new upsurge of religious fundamentalism is visible. For example, terrorist attacks by the Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have increased manifold. The TTP is an off-shoot of the Afghan Taliban. They are targeting and attacking the police and military forces. They have safe havens in Afghanistan under a very helpful Taliban government. 

Imran Khan in his last days of power, released hundreds of arrested Pakistani Taliban, apparently in his bid to hold peace dialogues. In fact, known as Taliban Khan, he and some of his military backers sympathize with the Taliban. Now the security forces are paying the price of this strategy.  

The economic crises are far more severe than the political crisis. The coalition government is implementing the anti-people conditionalities of the IMF by raising the prices of oil, gas, electricity, general sales tax and every other consumer item. 

The Pakistani Rupee is losing its value almost daily against the US dollar and other foreign currencies. On 7th April, one dollar fetches over 290 Rupees, up from 150, a year ago. There are hundreds of containers full of imported goods lying at the Karachi port waiting to be cleared. The government has refused to clear the dues to be paid in dollars for these imported items. 

There has been a series of indirect taxation measures on almost all edible goods and daily consumer items during the last six months. There have been several min-budgets imposed on the people, sometimes announced without any prior notice. 

Peoples are unable to cope and are evidently collapsing,  as is Pakistan under the huge economic burden without raising wages or compensations, leaving alone adequate social security.

Pakistan is trying its best to fulfil the conditionalities imposed by the IMF to fetch the last instalment of 2 billion dollars of a 6 billion dollar loan negotiated by the previous Imran Khan government in 2019. This is the 23rd time Pakistan has taken a loan from IMF. 

Pakistan’s external debt servicing rose by 70 per cent in the first two quarters of 2022-23. Pakistan paid USD 10.21 billion in external debt servicing during this period. This at a time when Pakistan witnessed the worst climate disaster in the year 2022. Instead of suspending the debts because of the climate calamity (where Pakistan witnessed the worst flooding in decades), the IMF increased pressure to pay back even more than the last year.  

The foreign reserves are at a historic low. Pakistan’s central bank foreign exchange reserves have dropped to $4.2 billion due to recent external debt repayment.  To please the IMF and meet the conditionalities, Pakistan has increased the interest rate to a record 21 percent. Wholesale inflation is at an unprecedented level: 37.5 percent, the highest since 1973. The result is a real disaster for the working-class and middle-class Pakistanis. 

The inequalities are at a historic high in Pakistan. Deregulation, privatization, liberalization, and lower progressive taxation contributed to this extreme inequality. According to one survey, the average income of the richest is more than 16 times the average for the poorest.  According to a report by OXFAM, the country’s top 1 percent holds more wealth than the bottom 70 percent of the population. 

Pakistan’s economy is expected to grow only 0.4 percent in the current fiscal year ending June 2023. By all measures, Pakistan performs poorly compared to all other South Asian countries. 

There is no hope amongst the people, that things will improve. The ruling elite of Pakistan has miserably failed in solving the basic problems of the masses like free education, health and employment. An alternative pro-people political and economic agenda is the need of the hour. The progressive forces are weak but trying to fill the gap in some working-class areas.

Farooq Tariq
General secretary
Pakistan Kissan Rabita Committee