Pakistani PM Imran Khan speaks during a meeting with US President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., on 22 July 2019 | Michael Reynolds | Bloomberg
Text Size:

Who is advising Imran Khan to oppose lockdowns as a way of arresting the spread of the coronavirus? In my opinion, and I have good reason for holding this opinion, it is the industrialists of this country who are trying to convince the top leadership of this. But the same industrialists are now backing away from their opposition to lockdowns as the army has shown itself to be in favour of the strategy.

It is quite typical of this billionaire elite to couch their vested interests in some sort of overriding national priority. In times of economic adjustment, for example, they argued that textile exporters should get preferential access to natural gas at subsidised prices to help shore up the country’s foreign exchange reserves, and thereby prevent damage to the currency devaluations that bring inflation that hurts the poor.

They did not argue that they deserve preferential treatment and access to scarce gas resources so that they can make more money. That argument would not win them any concessions from the government. As it turned out, the way they framed their argument won them the concessions, and to this day the top leadership remains an ardent fan of subsidising gas and power prices for this segment, because the argument has been internalised that doing so will have a cascading series of beneficial consequences that will ultimately benefit the working poor.


Also read: Pakistan reopens borders with China to receive medical equipment to fight Covid-19


Those of us who follow the economy and have observed the behaviour of the prime minister up close since he came to power have noticed the difficulty he has in making big decisions at critical times. He often hesitates when decisive action is needed that may well have adverse consequences in the short term, but which even basic common sense, let alone technical advice from the experts, tells us is necessary. He seems to lend his ear to all those who are arguing against such decisions, preferring the advice of those elements that echo his own fears.

Those in the business community who stand to be most hurt by the decisions that must be made find ways to disguise their vested interests in the language of some overriding national priority. This is precisely what happened in the run-up to the signing of the IMF programme, to take one example. There were many voices at the time saying that the circumstances called for an economic adjustment that would have a very adverse impact on business and the citizenry in general, with the recognition that there was no alternative. But between November and June, the government dithered, argued, bickered and even started speaking of a ‘home-grown programme’ around February or March of 2019, saying that maybe with all the money coming in from Saudi Arabia, China and the UAE, just maybe, there may not be any need for an adjustment after all.

That dithering and delay cost the country close to $6 billion, and eventually its hand had to be forced by replacing Asad Umar with an old school freelancer who had no compunctions about the costs of adjustment and who wasted no time in signing the dotted line with the IMF. I am reminded all over again of this story of how Pakistan embarked on its latest round of economic adjustment after a tortured path of dithering, pointless argumentation, while delusional hot takes floated on talk shows, all designed to obfuscate reality and deny the facts.

We are deeply grateful to our readers & viewers for their time, trust and subscriptions.

Quality journalism is expensive and needs readers to pay for it. Your support will define our work and ThePrint’s future.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

All along it was the billionaires of the business community who most dreaded the coming adjustment, even as they knew it to be inevitable. It was they who whispered complaints of the disconnect from reality that they perceived in the mind of the prime minister and his finance adviser. Later, as the adjustment got under way in earnest, it was they again who had to be called in by the army chief and told that the high interest rates and low public spending were here to stay and that they should cut out their public protestations on the direction of economic policy. They complied.

Today, all that is happening once again. It seems that one more time, the leadership has allowed itself to be talked into opposing the painful but necessary steps that the country has to take. After having climbed up the pole and publicly opposed lockdowns as a way of arresting the spread of the virus, the government finds that those who egged them on towards this path have suddenly fallen silent themselves, because the provincial authorities are moving decisively backed by the army.


Also read: Coronavirus crisis makes it clear who is calling the shots in Pakistan—Military, of course


A U-turn will now be difficult because the scale of the spread of the virus would then be blamed on the delay in ordering the lockdowns, just like the delay in getting onto an IMF programme was blamed for worsening the adverse impact of the ensuing adjustment. The central leadership’s hope now is that after a few days of lockdowns people will tire of the hardship that they bring and will begin to listen to it again. But if after that should come a spike in the number of people coming to the hospitals in dire need of critical care and quarantine, the hardship of the lockdown will again be forgotten.

Now, more than ever, the prime minister needs to make that U-turn for which he has become so famous. He is right that lockdowns will be very difficult to bear for the poor and the weak. But this is the time to support the efforts of the provincial governments that are racing to build social protection programmes and ramp up their healthcare systems and testing capabilities. Lockdowns coupled with these efforts is what it will take to get us through this challenge. The prime minister should take the lead in this and not be seen as obstructing the efforts of the provinces.

The writer is Business and Economy journalist based out of Karachi. View are personal.

The article first appeared in the Dawn newspaper’s website.

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

News media is in a crisis & only you can fix it

You are reading this because you value good, intelligent and objective journalism. We thank you for your time and your trust.

You also know that the news media is facing an unprecedented crisis. It is likely that you are also hearing of the brutal layoffs and pay-cuts hitting the industry. There are many reasons why the media’s economics is broken. But a big one is that good people are not yet paying enough for good journalism.

We have a newsroom filled with talented young reporters. We also have the country’s most robust editing and fact-checking team, finest news photographers and video professionals. We are building India’s most ambitious and energetic news platform. And we aren’t even three yet.

At ThePrint, we invest in quality journalists. We pay them fairly and on time even in this difficult period. As you may have noticed, we do not flinch from spending whatever it takes to make sure our reporters reach where the story is. Our stellar coronavirus coverage is a good example. You can check some of it here.

This comes with a sizable cost. For us to continue bringing quality journalism, we need readers like you to pay for it. Because the advertising market is broken too.

If you think we deserve your support, do join us in this endeavour to strengthen fair, free, courageous, and questioning journalism, please click on the link below. Your support will define our journalism, and ThePrint’s future. It will take just a few seconds of your time.

Support Our Journalism

7 Comments Share Your Views

7 COMMENTS

  1. People noticed the return of Nawaz Sharif’s younger brother to Pakistan on the last flight from London before the country shut all international flights. Some observers believe that the coronavirus situation may have given the army an opportunity to dump their Imran Khan baggage because he seems to have proven costly for the military’s legitimacy. Burdened by Khan’s highly inappropriate management of the state, it’s the army that has come under criticism for ‘selecting’ him. Ayesha Siddiqa

  2. Hahahaa…found no place to malign Imran Khan…World recognizes that Imran khan decision of no curfew or complete lock down is justified….even Modi has to apologize to his people for this stupid decision of complete lock down….Imran Khan is taking right decision and does not care wht Pakistani NGO media treacherously pressurized him to do….Ist you people criticise him of one decision and lately accept that he was right and media suggestion were wrong…Khan is an strong stuff …he does not come under trap of media…does what is right for the people of Pakistan, region and the world…he certainly the proud of Pakistan…Corruption supporter Pakistani media is just licking its wounds…I wounder How come Pakistani media adopted the pattern of falsely and fake narrative propaganda like Indian media, in enmity of Imran khan …this is shameful…

    • You really need to get your facts cleared. I am an Indian citizen and we have welcomed the lockdown with all grace. We respect the decision of our PM And we know it’s the only cure we have at the moment. Guys grow up and I wonder you guys are even for real or what? Why are you guys and your PM is calling lockdown a complete failure when you actually need to accept that you guys can’t afford the lockdown unlike India and your PM Is incapable of fetching the hunger of their citizens. Dude admit it instead of calling Indian and it’s PM fake. Reality check time !!

      What are guys evn trying to prove …you mean whole big countries like The USA , UK , ITALY are fools to have lockdowns ….hahahhaha bhai saro akal toh sirf aap logo mei hain …

  3. Nothing is going to happen in Terroristan despite of govt’s ill preparedness because here comes the traitors of the human being. A group of 08 doctors and so called cheap medical aid from Virus making country reached terroristan today. Their plan is to declare the situation in terroristan very worse inorder to achieve international aid, waiver off of debts and to achieve international sentiments. The virus country already have the vaccines and medicines with them to control the situation in terroristan later to prove their efficiency and helping mentality in front of the international community to counter the financial help provided by the US to the rest of the world. More worried about the silence of RUSSIA because everybody in this world consider RUSSIA as the MISSIHA and CRUSADER at times of disaster in this Globe . Dont know what happened. Probably, the world is going to the hands of the darks and evils…….. Praise the Lord

    • Russia has blessings of Vissarion…A country which respects saints and priest who are truly God consious and have taken up work to build up society from scratch…despite all odds for world to witness …its a sign for believers….russia.. .shall tide over crisis….its a shame we have lost the Midas touch of the saints….instead pushed our saints behind bars…lamented them as terrorists…rogues…and God knows what the vulgar languages have been going against all those who give up worldly life for sake of guiding society…punished indefinitely for petty crimes and unproven allegations ..saints like Sri Sri are one of
      the best and he understands the heights which true saints can go for society and its up to us not to worship political saints but saints who give not take…preach love not hate…connect not disconnect to God Almighty…guide us towards light away from darkness ..such are the teachings of saint…for those who believe…

  4. Nothing is going to happen in Terroristan despite of govt’s ill preparedness because here comes the traitors of the human being. A group of 08 doctors and so called cheap medical aid from Virus making country reached terroristan today. Their plan is to declare the situation in terroristan very worse inorder to achieve international aid, waiver off of debts and to achieve international sentiments. The virus country already have the vaccines and medicines with them to control the situation in terroristan later to prove their efficiency and helping mentality in front of the international community to counter the financial help provided by the US to the rest of the world. More worried about the silence of RUSSIA because everybody in this world consider RUSSIA as the MISSIHA and CRUSADER at times of disaster in this Globe . Dont know what happened. Probably, the world is going to the hands of the darks and evils…….. Praise the Lord

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here