Pak instability has no short-term remedy
Will unpopular economic measures give way to genuine reform or will the Sharif government baulk at taking tough measures due to the fear of buoying Mr Khan’s prospects? Expect little change till the 2023 elections
The deadlock in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and escalating tensions around allegations levelled at Imran Khan in connection with violent protests outside the election commission come at a bad time for Pakistan, and its embattled government. IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva told a German news outlet that Pakistan must function as a nation and ensure that subsidies are given only to the poor. The stern comments come days after the ninth round of talks over a $6.5 billion bailout package concluded without any pact in sight. At home, this has meant runaway inflation and a government forced to hike energy rates, and tariffs on luxury goods and imports, despite growing unpopularity. On the political side, suspense is building over the future of Mr Khan, who was disqualified last year by the election commission, and who is facing charges under the country’s Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) for allegedly threatening an additional sessions judge and senior police officers of the Islamabad Police at a rally.
The developments highlight the unfortunate reality of Pakistan today, where the structural weaknesses of the economy and polity are inflicting pain on ordinary citizens even as the political and military establishment bicker over control. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government appears stricken at the enduring popularity of Mr Khan, whose rabble-rousing style and street-smart politics are proving to strike a chord with sections of Pakistanis who are exasperated with the economic stalemate and ensuing instability. The problem lies, as the country’s defence minister Khawaja Asif admitted in an interview recently, not with the negotiations with the IMF but in the skewed models of politics and economics adopted by Islamabad. Till there is a fundamental change of course, such instability and frequent periods of crisis are likely to remain the norm. Will unpopular economic measures give way to genuine reform or will the Sharif government baulk at taking tough measures due to the fear of buoying Mr Khan’s prospects? Expect little change till the 2023 elections.