Millions of Pakistanis continue to suffer from inflation and poverty, but the country’s political elite continually comes up with new narratives to deceive the poor. Leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Imran Khan and Maryam Nawaz, think their political rhetoric can help the 220 million people who are struggling due to the policies of international and regional financial institutions and the country’s ruling elite.
Khan seems determined to show that he can help Pakistan overcome its many problems, and he places the blame for these problems on the country’s politicians and institutions. Maryam says that locking up Khan would solve all the problems. Neither leader has any sort of welfare programme that could help more than the world’s 80 million poor people. And they don’t seem to care that widespread starvation is a real possibility; food is already scarce for the poor. Both seem unconcerned about the over 33 million victims of the 2022 floods. The two heads of state rarely bring up the flood victims who have been forced from their homes.
Maryam seems more concerned with bolstering her own standing within the party than she does with ending her support for Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, whose misguided economic policies have led the country to the brink of financial collapse. Maryam is quick to criticise Khan over the Toshakhana case and the cost of his helicopter rides, but she has remained silent as the federal cabinet has grown to include numerous members of the Sharifs’ and other PDM leaders’ extended families and friends.
After more than eight years of PTI rule in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Maryam has every right to question Imran Khan’s performance and is within her rights to bring up valid concerns about the province’s lack of infrastructure. But shouldn’t she question her uncle’s performance as chief minister of Punjab’s PML-N? Why shouldn’t she be curious as to why the vast majority of the 25 million children who are not in school are residents of Punjab, a region that remained under her family’s rule for so long? Should she not explain why Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif was unable to rein in the monstrous head of fanaticism responsible for the weekend’s violence in Nankana Sahib?
Hundreds more inquiries might be posed to her. Even if she can’t get to every question, she should take some time to evaluate how her family-run government is doing. One of the highest concentrations of poverty in India is found in the state of Punjab. It lacks sewage treatment plants in many of its urban centres. Industrial effluent treatment systems are also lacking in some of the province’s larger urban centres. However, due to the PML-ties N’s to a sizable number of business leaders, no one can force the construction of these facilities. Punjab remains a centre of growing religious intolerance, and it also has the highest rate of female victimisation in India.
In contrast to the PML-own N’s demands for constitutional protections, those of workers, students, and minorities are routinely ignored. In factories owned by PML-N allies, millions of workers are prevented from joining unions. While many brick kiln owners assert that they are supporters and local leaders for various political parties, their families’ brick kiln work portrays a picture of modern slavery. These parties, including the PML-N, are notorious for evicting poor people from slums in the name of anti-encroachment drives, and it is widely believed that influential land grabbers from Islamabad to Lahore are closely associated with these parties.
Khan, who is well-known for performing political flip-flops, is also working on a new story. To begin, he claimed that the United States was behind plots to overthrow him. Then he started blaming Zardari and Shehbaz, and now he’s accusing various other people of plotting his downfall. As far as Khan is concerned, the way forward for the country is not to devise a plan to deal with the current problems, but rather to attack his political opponents. While he is quick to detail the many ways he was pushed out, he remains silent on the subject of the “Project Imran” that ultimately propelled him to power.
His party still held governments in Punjab, KP, Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), and Azad Jammu and Kashmir after he was removed as prime minister, giving him a second chance to serve the people. Unfortunately, he went ahead and caused political mayhem in the country. He held rallies all over the country to spread his hoax conspiracy theory, but he never offered any proof. Instead of working to better the lives of people in those four areas, he led campaigns against the government. His ally, Pervaiz Elahi, the chief minister of Punjab, appeased the religious right by adding to the difficulties faced by the country’s minorities. The former chief minister of Punjab was relentless in his pursuit of those who opposed the forced relocation of residents in preparation for the Ravi development project.
Khan dissolved the provincial legislatures in Punjab and KP after he failed miserably to achieve his goal. His party’s top officials even went to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to discourage it from lending to the country before it was dissolved. His actions belie his assertions that he values America.
Khan discusses the problems of extreme poverty and a lack of progress for humanity. However, he has yet to reveal how many people were rescued from poverty thanks to his policies. Is there evidence that this problem of stunted growth declined during his presidency? Were there any efforts to provide shelter for the homeless? Can you estimate the number of public and private institutions of higher education, public and private hospitals, and community health centres that were established during his presidency? Some sixty million people were below the poverty line when he took office. The current estimate is well over 80 million.
Maryam and Khan, it seems, are equally clueless about how to solve the country’s problems. Both seem to think that a story is all that’s needed, but the truth is different. Currently, the national debt is well over $120 billion. In the coming weeks, the ruling elite will likely unleash a wave of brutal inflation, which could force millions of people into poverty. The country has been plagued by extremism for some time, and the situation is only going to get worse from here on out. How could this battle be effective against militants if the coalition backing fund and US drones weren’t present?
Cost increases for businesses of all sizes will lead to layoffs and increased unemployment. A poor street vendor’s suicide in Tunisia in 2011 sparked widespread unrest, led to the fall of the country’s authoritarian rulers, and set off a chain reaction across the Arab world.
It’s time for our elected officials to devise solutions to the country’s suffocating poverty and soaring inflation. They can’t keep relying on enticing stories that get them nowhere and can’t be applied to the current crisis. The country requires effective measures, not empty promises.